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What is Sattva?

Have you crossed paths with people who get quick results without putting in too much effort? Yes, that does seem unfair. But, according to ancient Vedic texts, that extra shot of luck comes from having high sattva! The very nature of sattva is it bestows luck and brings clarity in an individual. So, the higher the sattva guna is in you, the more effortlessly your work gets done. It is also said that bliss can only be experienced through sattva. But what is this precious sattva?

What is sattva?

To give you an example, fresh vegetables and fruits are high in sattva and when we consume them, we feel light and energized—the features of anything that is sattvic. Sattva is the purest quality (guna) of matter and an important Ayurvedic principle.

Everything from what we put in our body, the environment, our sleep cycles and quality of sleep, our lifestyle, spiritual practices, our thoughts and actions—everything influences our mind, and our mind influences them. There are three qualities to this interaction between our mind and matter, called trigunas—sattva, rajas, and tamas.

In life, we move through the cycles when each guna dominates. For example, we need tamas guna for sleeping or physical rest; for getting started with some activity, we need some rajas; and for spiritual growth and pure action, we need more sattva. While one may seem more ideal and necessary to reach the highest truth, we need all the three gunas in the right balance for living the fullest life.

What does Sattva represent?

It is the subtlest of the three gunas and is related to birth or creation. You will see that a restless or lethargic mind is seldom creative. So, one needs more sattva in life to be creative. Mind-wise, it represents high prana or life energy, clarity, purity, sacredness, lightness, and an intention to serve. It enables one to have a delusion-free state of mind. It also fuels your capacity to enjoy the senses fully, while being centered. Sattvic people are usually more spiritual, happier, full of enthusiasm, light, unencumbered by their past, nor worry about the future. They are honest, righteous, and pleasant.

One needs more sattva in life for attaining higher truths of life. Though after a point, an effort to lead a sattvic life also needs to be dropped, to achieve moksha.

To quote the ancient revered text of Srimad Bhagavatam, “Mind and sense control, tolerance, discrimination, sticking to one’s prescribed duty, truthfulness, mercy, careful study of the past and future, satisfaction in any condition, generosity, renunciation of selfishness, faith in the Guru (Master), being embarrassed at improper action, charity, simplicity, humbleness, and satisfaction within oneself are qualities of sattva guna.”

How can you boost Sattva in life?

Want more sattva in life? The answer lies in what Ayurveda calls the dinacharya, or ideal routine in accordance with your dosha constitution, apart from factors like the company you keep, connection with nature, spiritual practices like pranayamas and meditation, spending time in silence, spiritual retreats, service, among other factors.

1. Sattva through foods. To have more sattva, have more light, less spicy or richly-cooked meals made using fresh herbs, spices, and vegetables that are in the season. Make sure your choice of ingredients counters your dosha imbalances. Sattvic meals are light on the stomach, do not make you feel dull after the meals, and help you retain clarity of mind. These meals are not too high on sugar, salt, or oil content. Non-vegetarian fare and certain foods like onion and garlic can reduce sattva.

When you have had a highly energizing day—say you have served a lot of people, mediated, or chanted a lot—you may feel the sattva is too high and you are unable to rest/sleep. On those days, having a slightly heavy meal can rebalance the sattva.

When your digestion is good, when your digestive fire is robust and no toxins or ama are accumulating in the body, then you will experience high sattva all through the day. That is a very good indicator of healthy you are.

2. Meditation. There is a very interesting cause-effect relationship between sattva guna and meditation. You need to bring your body and mind in a sattvic state to meditate well through pranayamas or deep breathing techniques. Also, regular meditation is the surest way to boost sattva every day in your life. Meditation helps clear out unnecessary karmic impressions stored in our consciousness that’d become the root of future action, this way increasing the sattva component in our lives.

Meditation practiced, particularly during the Brahmamuhurat—about 90 minutes before sunrise—gives you the highest amount of sattva. Also, the twilight hours are very conducive for meditation.

3. Yoga. Yoga is a highly sattvic practice. Some forms of yoga can help contain excess rajas, taking you gradually to a more sattvic state, which is centered, energized, and calming. And yoga is just as effective in nudging you to make a transition from tamas to more sattva.

4. When do you wake up? The early mornings are high on sattva. If you miss being awake those hours, you miss a healthy dose of sattva guna. So the adage of early to bed and early to rise, are indeed fruitful ways of increasing sattva in life, apart from giving you a headstart for the day.

5. Connecting with nature. Whenever you are in the company of mother nature, you will find yourself experiencing high sattva because nature, unlike concrete jungles, is very sattvic. For example, it is hard to feel a lot of sattva on the busy streets of Manhattan. But walking through the woods at our campus here in the Blue Ridge Mountains, you can instantly feel a gush of prana along with the sattva!

6. Pranayamas or breathing techniques. When your prana, or life force, is high, sattva rises too. So, if you are feeling low, check your prana or life energy levels. You will find that your prana is low when you are undergoing negative emotions or low feelings. With the help of powerful breathing techniques or pranayamas, you can simply increase your prana level, and turn this game in your favor. Once your prana level is restored, your sattva is bound to go up.

7. Spiritual discourses/wisdom. An exercise for you  on days when you’re feeling low, dejected, or depressed— listen to a talk by an enlightened master or read books of wisdom. You will see, that your mind is uplifted, more open, light, and sattva is high. Even in sharing knowledge, you will find sattva guna gets rekindled.

8. Give rest to your senses. Overindulgence in sensory activities can increase tamas and rajas gunas. It is a good idea to take some time off in the day, and a few days in the year, to switch off from the objects of the senses, give them rest, and turn inwards. Giving deep qualitative rest to your senses by eating less, keeping silence, keeping an inward eye, limiting sexual activity can increase the sattva meaningfully. Try a Silent Retreat for real rest!

9. What kind of company do you keep? The company you keep actively determines your state of mind, state of emotions, personality, and interest or disinterest in knowledge. If you are in the company of people who are constantly complaining, are anxious, finding faults, engage in habits that bring down prana, you will find yourself doing the same thing. This will bring down your sattva and prana levels. Satsang is the company of truth, company of that which uplifts your spirit.

If you are in Satsang that is, you keep the company of people who lead spiritual lives, who spend time engaging in spiritual knowledge, who are happy and positive, you will see their sattva rubs off on you and subconsciously they start shaping your interest in learning higher truths of existence. 

10. Lastly, be kind.  Care for and share with the people around you. This is the surest way of increasing your sattva. The spiritual merit that you get from the blessings of the people you help, by sharing resources or sharing spiritual wisdom, takes you further along your spiritual journey towards leading a more sattvic life.