Etymology of Guna

Guna is defined as the characteristic by which people are attracted towards a particular substance. In other words guna is meant as quality, mode, property, predicament etc. Guna in this context shall be considered as ‘physical property’ since all the other constituents of the Dravya i.e. Rasa, Virya, Vipaka & Prabhava will denote mainly the ‘chemical properties’. In general sense guna may be considered as property.

Charaka defined Guna as the character or property which will remain in a Dravya with inherent relationship. At the some time it will remain inactive and maintain a non-inherent relation (ashmavaya Karana) with the actions/effect (karma).

The difference between Dravya and Guna is that the former is the seat of both Guna and Karma while the later is not.  As the guna is inactive in nature, it can not perform association (Samyoga) or dissociation (Vibhaga) reactions like karma. This is the significant difference between Karma & Guna. However both Guna & Karma will have inherent relationship with the Dravya.

In the end it may be concluded that is really difficult to draw a clear definition of guna on the base of exact characteristics. It is because, rasa can be assessed by rasanendriya,Virya is assessed by it action and vipaka is denoted by change in original form. However Guna cannot be assessed like the above factors since it is linked with different senses. For example – cold & hot (seta & Ushna) are known through touch unctuous & non-unctuousness (Snigdha-Ruksha) are known through sight.

We understand various materials only because of their properties of qualities (gunas) as these impress us through our senses. The qualities of compounds reflect those of their molecules. The qualities of molecules are determined not only by those of the atoms that compose them but also the manner or mode in which they combine in substances. Their qualities are mutually determining. In other words, the qualities implicit in the elemental substances which are designated as the karma or cause, become actualized in the karya or effect i.e., the substances which arise as the result of the combination and permutation of ‘Paramanus’. This is based on the principle, “The properties that exist in the causative factor are seen to manifest in the resultant factor.

Gunas mainly classified into three groups-

  • Vaisehika gunas (Specific qualities of senses)
  • Samanya gunas (general qualities used in treatment)
  • Atma gunas (qualities of the soul)

Out of these the Samanya gunas are again sub-divided into two classes i.e.;

  • Gurvadi gunas or Sareeraka gunas (qualities of human body)
  • Paradi gunas or Chikitsopayoga gunas (qualities related to treatment)

Gurvadi gunas will denote the common properties of tissue (dhatus) of human body as well as the drugs (dravyas). Hence they are termed as Sariraka gunas by Kaviraja Gangadhara.

Paradi gunas are very essential during administration of the drugs. Therefore may be considered as Chikitsopayoga gunas.

Both these groups are representing the general qualities of Panchabhutas. Thus they are called as “samanya gunas”. However, shabda, sparsa, rupa & gandha are the specific qualities/properties of each bhuta individullay. Hence are known as “vaiseshika gunas.”

Both Samanya and vaiseshika gunas are related to the physical or material world.