At the end of the previous Chapter it was stated that he who discards the scriptural injunctions and acts according to the promptings of his desires cannot attain the highest knowledge. Arjuna had a doubt about the fate of those who worship with faith but who do not know the scriptures or are indifferent to their rules. For an average man it is difficult to be proficient in the knowledge of scriptural codes to guide his living although he has sufficient faith or Shraddhaa to lead a nobler way of life as enunciated in the scriptures.
Hence this Chapter deals with the questions whether it is sufficient if one lives with faith for a life of good conduct or is it necessary that he must know the scriptures in order that his faith will be subservient to the injunctions laid down in the scriptures. In short, the question raised by Arjuna is whether even without the knowledge of the Sastras, blind faith alone can take the seeker far.
Shraddhaa is that powerful force from within propelled by which all the faculties of a person act in their respective fields. It gives direction to a man's determination and endows him with character.
Instead of giving a direct clarification to Arjuna’s doubts, Sri Krishna gives an analysis of the concept of `faith' as obtained in the various fields of man's endeavors viz.
•his physical indulgence (Ahara)
•his dedicated activities (Yagna)
•his self-denial (Tapas)
•his charity (Dana)
He explains that faith is of three different types depending upon the nature of temperaments (Gunas) which an individual entertains in him. He concludes that the actions of those who are devoid of faith are as good as not done.
Since three types of faith have been expounded in this chapter it is called “Yoga of the Division of the Threefold Faith”.
ye shaastravidhimutsrijya yajante shraddhaayaanvitaah
tesham nishthaa tu kaa krishna sattvamaaho rajas tamah // 17.1 //
O Krishna, what is the condition of those who, neglecting the ordinances of the scriptures, perform sacrifices with faith? Is it that of Sattva, Rajas, or Tamas?
Neglecting the ordinances of the scriptures: To an ordinary man who is ever full of anxieties and confusions of daily activities, planning his life as directed in the scriptures is somewhat difficult. But a sincere seeker may have a faith in the higher way of life and devotion to ideals preached in the scriptures.
Perform sacrifice with faith: The word sacrifice includes all selfless activities undertaken by an individual for the general welfare of the society.
What Arjuna wants to know is whether these selfless activities undertaken with detachment and faith by those who do not willfully defy the rules of scriptures but are ignorant of them, come under the category of unactivity (Sattva) or of activity (Rajas) or of inactivity (Tamas).
The answer given by The Lord is an exhaustive analysis of the three types of faith involved in all human endeavors.
THREE KINDS OF FAITH
sri bhagavaan uvaacha
trividhaa bhavati shraddhaaa dehinaam saa swabhaavajaa
saatvikee raajasee chaiva taamasee cheti taam shrinu // 17.2 //
Sri Bhagavan said
Threefold is the faith of the embodied, which is inherent in their nature - the Sattvic, the Rajasic and the Tamasic. Hear now about it.
Faith inherent in nature: The nature of man consists of his latent tendencies created by his actions, good or bad, in his previous lives. The faith of each man takes the shape, color, and quality given to it by his nature, svabhava, the stuff of his being, his innate substance. Man acts according to his nature; he cannot easily change it. One can transform a worldly nature into a spiritual nature only with the help of insight gained through the study of the scriptures with an indomitable determination. This faith is of three types viz.,the Sattvic, the Rajasic and the Tamasic.
sattvaanuroopaa sarvasya shraddhaaa bhavati bhaarata
shraddhaaamayo'yam purusho yo yacchraddhah sa eva sah // 17.3 //
The faith of every individual is in accordance with his nature, O Bharata. Man is the nature of his faith; as a man's faith is, so is he.
The Lord says that faith is of three kinds viz. Sattva - the divine, the good, Rajas - the undivine, the passionate and Tamas - the diabolic, the dull. Faith is not acceptance of a belief. It is striving after self- realization by concentrating the powers of the mind on a given ideal. It governs our view of life which in turn conditions our desires, thoughts and actions. It is the pressure of the Spirit on humanity. It is the force that urges humanity towards what is better, not only in the order of knowledge but in the whole order of spiritual life.
The goals which religions offer prove effective according to one's faith in them. Hence an individual's physical activities, psychological behavior and intellectual maturity are controlled by the kind of faith entertained by him. If one's faith is of wrong type the expressions of his personality would also be erroneous.
The word ‘shraddhaaa’ usually translated as ‘faith’ is not a mechanical belief or acceptance of the words of a holy man or a book. It is an affirmative and reverent attitude toward supersensuous truths. Through faith a man is intuitively convinced of the existence of the Reality underlying the universe and his capacity for realizing that Reality. It is not imposed from outside, but is produced by the tendencies that are the results of his past actions. The intensity of this faith accounts for the passion he pursues an undertaking. This faith is a man’s appeal to himself or to something present and compelling in him or in universal reality for his way to fullness and perfection.
So a man is made of his faith; he is that faith and that faith is he. The truth he sees is determined for him by his faith. If a man’s innate tendencies are characterized by sattva, then his faith will direct him to the pursuit of knowledge and happiness. If they are characterized by rajas, then his faith will direct him to the pursuit of action ending in pain and suffering. If it is characterized by tamas, then his faith will lead him to ignorance and delusion.
yajante saatwikaa devaanyaksharakshaamsi raajasaah
pretaan bhootaganaamshchaanye yajante taamasaa janaah // 17.4 //
The Sattvic or pure men worship the gods; the Rajasic or the passionate worship the Yakshas and the Rakshasas; the others (the Tamasic or the deluded) worship the ghosts and the hosts of nature-spirits.
Worship means offering one's devotion at some altar or the other and seeking a fulfillment from the benefit accrued from his invocations.
Men of Sattvic temperament, because of their serene composure and tranquil disposition seek their fulfillment at an altar of Divinity indicating their impulses.
Rajasic people who are men of action and ambition worship the demi-gods.
The Tamasic people worship the dead spirits to satisfy their lower urges.
Thus the choice of an altar depends upon the quality of urges or the kind of Shraddhaa in a devotee and this Shraddhaa is the effect of his own Guna or temperament predominating in him.