Chapter 14 – Guṇa-Traya Vibhāga Yoga (The Yoga of Understanding the Three Modes of Material Nature)
In Chapter 13 - Prakṛti-Puruṣa Viveka Yoga (The Yoga of Differentiation) of Swami B.G. Narasingha's Bhagavad-gītā, Kṛṣṇa describes the three elements of existence - the field, the knower of the field, and the object of knowledge.
परं भूयः प्रवक्ष्यामि ज्ञानानां ज्ञानमुत्तमम् ।
यज्ज्ञात्वा मुनयः सर्वे परां सिद्धिमितो गताः ॥१॥
śrī-bhagavān uvāca –
paraṁ bhūyaḥ pravakṣyāmi jñānānāṁ jñānam uttamam
yaj jñātvā munayaḥ sarve parāṁ siddhim ito gatāḥ
Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa said: I will now describe to you that knowledge which is the greatest of all types of knowledge. By knowing this, all the sages were able to attain perfection and reach the highest destination.
इदं ज्ञानमुपाश्रित्य मम साधर्म्यमागताः ।
सर्गेऽपि नोपजायन्ते प्रलये न व्यथन्ति च ॥२॥
idaṁ jñānam upāśritya mama sādharmyam āgatāḥ
sarge’pi nopajāyante pralaye na vyathanti ca
By taking shelter of this knowledge, one attains My nature. He is neither born during creation nor does he suffer during universal annihilation.
In previous chapters the modes of material nature, goodness, passion and ignorance (sattva-guṇa, raja-guṇa and tama-guṇa) have been mentioned and in this chapter they will be described in greater detail. It will also be described how one can cross beyond the material modes and become free from the cycle of birth and death.
मम योनिर्महद् ब्रह्म तस्मिन्गर्भं दधाम्यहम् ।
सम्भवः सर्वभूतानां ततो भवति भारत ॥३॥
mama yonir mahadbrahma tasmin garbhaṁ dadhāmyaham
sambhavaḥ sarva-bhūtānāṁ tato bhavati bhārata
O Bhārata, the vast expanse of material nature is My womb which I impregnate and wherefrom all living beings manifest.
सर्वयोनिषु कौन्तेय मूर्तयः सम्भवन्ति याः ।
तासां ब्रह्म महद्योनिरहं बीजप्रदः पिता ॥४॥
sarva-yoniṣu kaunteya mūrtayaḥ sambhavanti yāḥ
tāsāṁ brahma mahad yonir ahaṁ bīja-pradaḥ pitā
O son of Kuntī, all forms of life that are born in this world are ultimately born from the great womb of material nature, and I am the seed-giving father.
सत्त्वं रजस्तम इति गुणाः प्रकृतिसम्भवाः ।
निबध्नन्ति महाबाहो देहे देहिनमव्ययम् ॥५॥
sattvaṁ rajas tama iti guṇāḥ prakṛti-sambhavāḥ
nibadhnanti mahā-bāho dehe dehinam avyayam
Goodness, passion and ignorance are the modes born of material nature. These modes bind the immutable individual being to the material body, O mighty-armed hero.
तत्र सत्त्वं निर्मलत्वात्प्रकाशकमनामयम् ।
सुखसङ्गेन बध्नाति ज्ञानसङ्गेन चानघ ॥६॥
tatra sattvaṁ nirmalatvāt prakāśakam anāmayam
sukha-saṅgena badhnāti jñāna-saṅgena cānagha
O virtuous Arjuna, amongst these modes, goodness is free from impurities. It gives knowledge and frees one from distress. It conditions one to pleasure and knowledge.
रजो रागात्मकं विद्धि तृष्णासङ्गसमुद्भवम् ।
तन्निबध्नाति कौन्तेय कर्मसङ्गेन देहिनम् ॥७॥
rajo rāgātmakaṁ viddhi tṛṣṇā-saṅga-samudbhavam
tan nibadhnāti kaunteya karma-saṅgena dehinam
O son of Kuntī, you should know that the mode of passion manifests desire, hankering and attachment. It binds the embodied living beings to their actions.
तमस्त्वज्ञानजं विद्धि मोहनं सर्वदेहिनाम् ।
प्रमादालस्यनिद्राभिस्तन्निबध्नाति भारत ॥८॥
tamas tv-ajñānajaṁ viddhi mohanaṁ sarva-dehinām
pramādālasya nidrābhis tan nibadhnāti bhārata
You should know that the mode of ignorance bewilders all embodied beings, O Bhārata. It binds them through confusion, laziness and excessive sleep.
सत्त्वं सुखे सञ्जयति रजः कर्मणि भारत ।
ज्ञानमावृत्य तु तमः प्रमादे सञ्जयत्युत ॥९॥
sattvaṁ sukhe sañjayati rajaḥ karmaṇi bhārata
jñānam āvṛtya tu tamaḥ pramāde sañjayaty-uta
O Bhārata, the mode of goodness conditions one to happiness, the mode of passion creates attachment to perform action, and the mode of ignorance covers knowledge and creates bewilderment.
रजस्तमश्चाभिभूय सत्त्वं भवति भारत ।
रजः सत्त्वं तमश्चैव तमः सत्त्वं रजस्तथा ॥१०॥
rajas tamaś cābhibhūya sattvaṁ bhavati bhārata
rajaḥ sattvaṁ tamaś caiva tamaḥ sattvaṁ rajas tathā
Goodness overpowers passion and ignorance, passion defeats goodness and ignorance, and ignorance overcomes goodness and passion. Thus the modes continually fight for supremacy.
Material nature is compared to a womb and Śrī Kṛṣṇa says that He is the seed-giving father (ahaṁ bīja-pradaḥ pitā). The combination of material nature and the living beings thus gives rise to the multitude of life forms which are in turn bound by the modes of material nature and forced to act under their influence.
The mode of goodness is characterised by freedom from impurities, that which gives knowledge, frees one from distress and conditions one to pleasure and accomplishment. Passion manifests intense desire, hankering and attachment and binds the embodied being to his actions. Ignorance is that which bewilders all embodied beings and constrains one through confusion, laziness and excessive sleep.
The three modes of material nature thus condition one to the illusion of happiness, the attachment to perform action, and bewilderment due to an insufficient fund of knowledge. The combinations of the modes of nature are endless, each fighting with the other for supremacy. Due to this, the embodied living beings are in a constant state of confusion as to the purpose of life and the consequence is the suffering of birth, death, old age and disease.
सर्वद्वारेषु देहेऽस्मिन्प्रकाश उपजायते ।
ज्ञानं यदा तदा विद्याद्विवृद्धं सत्त्वमित्युत ॥११॥
sarva-dvāreṣu dehe’smin prakāśa upajāyate
jñānaṁ yadā tadā vidyād vivṛddhaṁ sattvam ityuta
When the light of knowledge illuminates all the senses of the body, it should be understood that the mode of goodness is most prevalent.
लोभः प्रवृत्तिरारम्भः कर्मणामशमः स्पृहा ।
रजस्येतानि जायन्ते विवृद्धे भरतर्षभ ॥१२॥
lobhaḥ pravṛttir ārambhaḥ karmaṇām aśamaḥ spṛhā
rajasy-etāni jāyante vivṛddhe bharatarṣabha
O best of the Bhārata Dynasty, when the mode of passion is most predominant one is under the influence of greed, selfish activities, ambition, restlessness and hankering.
अप्रकाशोऽप्रवृत्तिश्च प्रमादो मोह एव च ।
तमस्येतानि जायन्ते विवृद्धे कुरुनन्दन ॥१३॥
aprakāśo’pravṛttiś ca pramādo moha eva ca
tamasy-etāni jāyante vivṛddhe kuru-nandana
O descendant of Kuru, by the influence of the mode of ignorance, then darkness, laziness, confusion and delusion are manifest.
यदा सत्त्वे प्रवृद्धे तु प्रलयं याति देहभृत् ।
तदोत्तमविदां लोकानमलान्प्रतिपद्यते ॥१४॥
yadā sattve pravṛddhe tu pralayaṁ yāti deha-bhṛt
tadottama vidāṁ lokān amalān pratipadyate
When an embodied being dies under the influence of the mode of goodness, he reaches the higher planets wherein those of great intellect reside.
रजसि प्रलयं गत्वा कर्मसङ्गिषु जायते ।
तथा प्रलीनस्तमसि मूढयोनिषु जायते ॥१५॥
rajasi pralayaṁ gatvā karma-saṅgiṣu jāyate
tathā pralīnas tamasi mūḍha-yoniṣu jāyate
When one dies in the mode of passion, he is reborn amongst those who are attached to worldly activities. If one dies in the mode of ignorance, he takes birth again in the womb of unintelligent people.
In the above five verses the characteristics of the three modes of nature are further described as well as their influence over the embodied living being at the time of death. When one dies in the mode of goodness, illuminated by knowledge, he reaches the higher planets where those of great intellect reside. When one dies in the mode of passion, characterised by greed, selfish activities, ambition, restlessness and hankering, he is reborn amongst those who are attached to worldly activities. And when the most unfortunate amongst men die in the mode of ignorance, characterised by darkness, laziness, confusion and delusion, they take birth again in the womb of uncivilised people or even worse, descend into the animal kingdom to become dogs, cats and beasts of burden.
कर्मणः सुकृतस्याहुः सात्त्विकं निर्मलं फलम् ।
रजसस्तु फलं दुःखमज्ञानं तमसः फलम् ॥१६॥
karmaṇaḥ sukṛtasyāhuḥ sāttvikaṁ nirmalaṁ phalam
rajasas tu phalaṁ duḥkham ajñānaṁ tamasaḥ phalam
It has been said that the result of good deeds is purity, the results of passionate activities is misery, and the result of actions in ignorance is bewilderment.
सत्त्वात्सञ्जायते ज्ञानं रजसो लोभ एव च ।
प्रमादमोहौ तमसो भवतोऽज्ञानमेव च ॥१७॥
sattvāt sañjāyate jñānaṁ rajaso lobha eva ca
pramāda-mohau tamaso bhavato’jñānam eva ca
Goodness gives birth to knowledge, passion gives rise to greed and ignorance breeds illusion, confusion and a lack of knowledge.
ऊर्ध्वं गच्छन्ति सत्त्वस्था मध्ये तिष्ठन्ति राजसाः ।
जघन्यगुणवृत्तिस्था अधो गच्छन्ति तामसाः ॥१८॥
ūrdhvaṁ gacchanti sattva-sthā madhye tiṣṭhanti rājasāḥ
jaghanya-guṇa-vṛtti-sthā adho gacchanti tāmasāḥ
Those in goodness attain the higher realms, those in passion remain in the middle (the Earth planet) and those in ignorance descend to the lower planes of life.
नान्यं गुणेभ्यः कर्तारं यदा द्रष्टानुपश्यति ।
गुणेभ्यश्च परं वेत्ति मद्भावं सोऽधिगच्छति ॥१९॥
nānyaṁ guṇebhyaḥ kartāraṁ yadā draṣṭānupaśyati
guṇebhyaś ca paraṁ vetti mad-bhāvaṁ so’dhigacchati
When one perceives that there is no other active agent except the modes of nature, and he knows the Supreme, he attains My nature.
गुणानेतानतीत्य त्रीन्देही देहसमुद्भवान् ।
guṇān etān atītya trīn dehī deha-samudbhavān
janma-mṛtyu-jarā-duḥkhair vimukto’mṛtam aśnute
By transcending these three modes that appear within the body, one becomes liberated from the miseries of birth, death, old age and other miseries. Then one tastes the nectar of immortality.
Bewilderment and conditioning under the modes of material nature is difficult to overcome, but it is possible when one cultivates the knowledge of Bhagavad-gītā and applies oneself sincerely to the process of bhakti-yoga. The knowledge attained through the study of Bhagavad-gītā enables one to transcend the modes of nature because such knowledge is in itself transcendental and free from the defects of mistakes (bhrama), illusion (pramāda), cheating (vipralipsā) and false perception (karaṇāpāṭava). In other words, the knowledge contained in Bhagavad-gītā is perfect and complete. By transcending the modes of nature, Śrī Kṛṣṇa promises that one will be liberated from the miseries of birth, death, old age and disease and one will taste the nectar of immortality. This is also confirmed in the Īśopaniṣad as follows:
vidyāṁ cāvidyāṁ ca yas tad vedobhayaṁ saha
avidyayā mṛtyuṁ tīrtvā vidyayāmṛtam aśnute
One who transcends ignorance (avidyā) and attains transcendental knowledge certainly rises above the influence of repeated birth and death and tastes the nectar of immortality. (Īśopaniṣad 11)
The contemporary world view of advancement of knowledge is that knowledge is attained through direct evidence, experiment, hypothesis and speculation. This process of acquiring knowledge is called āroha-panthā, or the ascending process. However, the ascending process of knowledge relies completely on the mind, intelligence and senses and is thus subject to the four material defects of mistakes, illusion, cheating and false perception. Accordingly, no scientific knowledge is perfect, nor can it be perfect. Truly, by the admission of many scientists, they never really attain the end of knowledge. The more they learn, the more there is to learn, or the more they learn, the more they discover that their predecessors were wrong. In any case, scientists admit that they do not have perfect knowledge – death comes and another generation of scientists is reduced to dust.
Knowledge that is descending from Śrī Kṛṣṇa and through the guru-disciple paramparā is known as avaroha-panthā and is free from material defects. Bhagavad-gītā means the words of Śrī Kṛṣṇa – hearing which enables one to achieve the perfection of life before death comes.
कैर्लिङ्गैस्त्रीन्गुणानेतानतीतो भवति प्रभो ।
किमाचारः कथं चैतांस्त्रीन्गुणानतिवर्तते ॥२१॥
arjuna uvāca –
kair liṅgais trīn guṇān etān atīto bhavati prabho
kim ācāraḥ kathaṁ caitāṁs trīn guṇān ativartate
Arjuna inquired: O Kṛṣṇa, by what symptoms can one who has transcended these three modes be known? How does he act and how does he transcend these three modes?
प्रकाशं च प्रवृत्तिं च मोहमेव च पाण्डव ।
न द्वेष्टि सम्प्रवृत्तानि न निवृत्तानि काङ्क्षति ॥२२॥
उदासीनवदासीनो गुणैर्यो न विचाल्यते ।
गुणा वर्तन्त इत्येवं योऽवतिष्ठति नेङ्गते ॥२३॥
समदुःखसुखः स्वस्थः समलोष्टाश्मकाञ्चनः ।
तुल्यप्रियाप्रियो धीरस्तुल्यनिन्दात्मसंस्तुतिः ॥२४॥
मानापमानयोस्तुल्यस्तुल्यो मित्रारिपक्षयोः ।
सर्वारम्भपरित्यागी गुणातीतः स उच्यते ॥२५॥
śrī bhagavān uvāca –
prakāśaṁ ca pravṛttiṁ ca moham eva ca pāṇḍava
na dveṣṭi sampravṛttāni na nivṛttāni kāṅkṣati
udāsīnavad āsīno guṇairyo na vicālyate
guṇā vartanta ity-evaṁ yo’vatiṣṭhati neṅgate
sama-duḥkha-sukhaḥ svasthaḥ sama-loṣṭāśma-kāñcanaḥ
tulya-priyāpriyo dhīras tulya-nindātma-saṁstutiḥ
mānāpamānayos tulyas tulyo mitrāri-pakṣayoḥ
sarvārambha-parityāgī guṇātītaḥ sa ucyate
Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa replied: One who does not like or dislike the presence of illumination, attachment or delusion or laments their absence, who remains dispassionate and is not affected by the modes, who remains unwavering, who is equal in both happiness and distress, who remains content in the self, who sees no intrinsic difference between a lump of earth, a stone and gold, who remains undisturbed in both favourable and unfavourable circumstances, who is wise, to whom insult and praise are equal, who considers honour and infamy to be the same, who is impartial towards both friend and enemy, and who renounces all mundane activities – such a person is considered to be beyond the modes of material nature.
मां च योऽव्यभिचारेण भक्तियोगेन सेवते ।
स गुणान्समतीत्यैतान्ब्रह्मभूयाय कल्पते ॥२६॥
māṁ ca yo’vyabhicāreṇa bhakti-yogena sevate
sa guṇān samatītyaitān brahma-bhūyāya kalpate
One who performs service to Me in bhakti-yoga without deviation, transcends these modes of material nature and is qualified for liberation.
ब्रह्मणो हि प्रतिष्ठाहममृतस्याव्ययस्य च ।
शाश्वतस्य च धर्मस्य सुखस्यैकान्तिकस्य च ॥२७॥
brahmaṇo hi pratiṣṭhāham amṛtasyāvyayasya ca
śāśvatasya ca dharmasya sukhasyaikāntikasya ca
I am the foundation of the immortal, imperishable Brahman, who is the basis of eternal dharma and supreme bliss.
The symptoms of one who is free from the modes of nature are herein described. Such a person is equally disposed to the dualities of the material world. Such a person is not affected by happiness and distress because he knows the temporary nature of both. The liberated person is content in the cultivation of the self and is not motivated by wealth or distressed by poverty. He sees gold, dirt or a simple stone as the same (sama-loṣṭāśma-kāñcanaḥ). He is wise, considering infamy and honour the same and has no enemies, as he is impartial to both friends and foes. These are the characteristics of one who is transcendentally situated above the three modes of material nature. Śrīmad Bhāgavatam confirms this in the following way:
sāttvikaḥ kārako ‘saṅgī rāgāndho rājasaḥ smṛtaḥ
tāmasaḥ smṛti-vibhraṣṭo nirguṇo mad-apāśrayaḥ
One who works free of attachment is in the mode of goodness. One who works with personal desire is in the mode of passion. One who works without discrimination of right and wrong is in the mode of ignorance. But one who takes shelter of Kṛṣṇa is understood to be transcendental to the modes of material nature. (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 11.25.26)
The liberated person is always situated in bhakti-yoga without deviation because he knows Śrī Kṛṣṇa as the immortal, imperishable Brahman, the giver of eternal wisdom in the form of Bhagavad-gītā and the fountainhead of supreme bliss.
ॐ तत्सदिति श्रीमहाभारते शतसाहस्रयां संहितायां
श्रीमद्भगवदीतासूपनिषत्सु ब्रह्मविद्यायं योगशास्त्रे श्रीकृष्णार्जुनसंवादे
गुणत्रयविभागयोगो नाम चतुर्दशोऽध्यायः।।
oṁ tat saditi śrī-mahābhārate-śata-sāhasryāṁ saṁhitāyāṁ
śrīmad bhagavad-gītāsūpaniṣatsu brahma-vidyāyāṁ yoga-śāstre śrī kṛṣṇārjuna-saṁvāde
guṇa-traya-vibhāga-yogo nāma caturdaśo’dhyāyaḥ
OṀ TAT SAT – Thus ends Chapter Fourteen entitled Guṇa-Traya Vibhāga Yoga from the conversation between Śrī Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna in the Upaniṣad known as Śrīmad Bhagavad-gītā, the yoga-śāstra of divine knowledge, from the Bhīṣma-parva of Mahābhārata, the literature revealed by Vyāsa in one hundred thousand verses.