What does the word GUNA mean

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Guna is a commonly used Sanskrit word. It is used by people, who do not even know Sanskrit, as it is present in almost every Indian language. The widely used meaning of the word ‘guna’ is property, but it is necessary to see the other meanings and the origins of this word. This is a Sanskrit word. Sanskrit is a classical language like Greek, Latin, and Persian. And in Sanskrit, as in most classical languages, most words are derived from a stem or root.

The word ‘guna’ can been derived from the root gun, which means to advise, multiply, and invite. It can be also derived from the root gana, which means to count or enumerate. The word ‘guna’ can also be derived from the root grah, which means to seize, take, adopt, grasp, hold, take side, stop, arrest, catch, capture, imprison, take possession of, captivate, overpower, eclipse, rob, abstract, gain, win, obtain, receive, accept, keep, acquire, collect, store, include, undertake, undergo, begin, observe, apprehend, understand, learn, admit, and approve.

The word ‘guna’ means a good quality, merit, virtue, excellence, eminence, effect, result, efficacy, thread, string, rope, cord, bow string, the string of a musical instrument, a sinew, attribute, and property. The word ‘guna’ also means a multiplier, coefficient, or the number of fold or times, in the case of numbers. The word ‘guna’ denotes any one of the three properties belonging to any created thing: sattva, rajas, and tamas. An object pertaining to any of the sense organs or sense objects can also be called ‘guna’, like the objects connected to the senses of sight, smell, touch, sound, and taste. The word ‘guna’ also means a secondary element, a subordinate part, excess, abundance, superfluity, an adjective, and a word subordinate to another word in a sentence. It can also mean a quality inherent to a rasa or mood. It can also mean the property of the meaning or class of words. 

‘Guna’ can also mean one of the six strategies used by a statesman for politics with other countries: sandhi, peace; vigraha, war; yana, march or expedition; sthana or asana, halt; sanshraya, seeking shelter; and dvaidha or dvaidhibhava, duplicity. A sense organ can also be called ‘guna’. ‘Guna’ also means a subordinate dish and it is also one of the names of Bhima. It also means a species, subdivision, or a kind or category. It can also mean leaving or abandoning. 

Different branches of Indian philosophy treat the word ‘guna’ in different ways. The Sankhya system of thought considers everything to have a balance of the three gunas of sattva, rajas, and tamas. The Nyaya system says that there are universally seventeen or twenty-four gunas, according to the early and later scholars respectively. In the Vaisheshika philosophy ‘guna’ denotes one of the seven padarthas, categories.

The sixteenth and eighteenth chapters of the Bhagavad Gita enumerate different categories of actions based on the three gunas of sattva, rajas, and tamas. In Ayurveda, ‘guna’ denotes one of the twenty fundamental properties of a substance. In Sanskrit grammar, ‘guna’ refers to the strengthening of the simple vowels by a preceding a. According to Advaita Vedanta, one has to transcend the three gunas and attain to one’s true nature.

Author is Editor of Prabuddha Bharata, monthly magazine of the Ramakrishna Order.

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This article was first published in the June 2018 issue of Prabuddha Bharata, monthly journal of The Ramakrishna Order started by Swami Vivekananda in 1896. This article is courtesy and copyright Prabuddha Bharata. I have been reading the Prabuddha Bharata for years and found it enlightening. Cost is Rs 180/ for one year, Rs 475/ for three years, Rs 2100/ for twenty years. To know more https://shop.advaitaashrama.org/subscribe/

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