Perennial Psychology of the Bhagwad Geeta

  • By Swami Rama
  • January 2002
The Profound Knowledge of the Three Gunas

1. Again I shall teach you the transcendent knowledge, the highest of sciences, knowing which, all meditator have gone from here to supreme adepthood.

2. Resorting to this knowledge, reaching homogeneity with Me, they are not born even at the new cycle of creation, nor do they suffer at dissolution.

Having described the field of action and the knower of the field, Sri Krishna now leads Arjuna beyond the spheres of the field so that he can attain supreme knowledge. The knowledge that fulfills the purpose of life and leads one to completeness is considered to be the highest knowledge. There are many steps to that supreme knowledge, the final stage of attainment being complete liberation. When the Self is realized, the aspirant no longer fears birth or death. Here Sri Krishna describes that state that is beyond life here and hereafter. He says that when the universe returns to its primordial state after its dissolution, there is manifestation again. But the realized being remains unaffected by both annihilation and manifestation. He is one with Atman and is not subject to change, death, and rebirth. He has reached a state of immortality that gives him freedom from all bondage.

3. My maya is the womb (yoni), identical with Me, who am the great Brahman; I impregnate that; from there the birth of all being occurs, O Descendant of Bharata.

4. All the forms that arise in all the species, O Son of Kunti, I, Brahman, am their seed-giving father, the great origin (yoni)

The supreme Self is self-existent and is the father of all, and Prakriti is the mother of the entire universe. The supreme Lord sows Its seed in Prakriti from which are born and arise all beings. Thus the whole universe manifests. Every aspirant should know and remember that his vessel of life contains the seed of the supreme Lord. He is the child of the Lord, and just as a child, he only needs to allow the seed to grow so that he becomes the father. When the student becomes aware of this truth that the supreme imperishable seed of eternal life is already within him, he makes efforts to allow it to grow. Then he attains Godhood: the human being eventually becomes divine.

5. Satva, rajas, tamas-these attributes born of Prakriti bind the immutable body-bearer in the body, O Mighty-armed One.

6. Of these, sattva, illuminator and healthy because of its immaculateness, binds through the attraction of pleasure as well as the attraction of knowledge, O Sinless One.

7. Know rajas to have the nature of attraction and color, producing craving and attachment. O Son of Kunti, it binds the body-bearer through attachment to action.

8. Know tamas to be born of ignorance, the stupefier of all body-owners. O Descendant of Bharata, it binds through negligence, sloth, and sleep

9. Sattva causes attachment to happiness, rajas to action, O Descendant of Bharata. Tamas, however, veiling knowledge, causes attachment to inattention

All that we see here, there, and everywhere, all the objects of this universe, have been manifested by the three gunas of Prakriti. With the help of these three gunas, Prakriti manifests the universe. Sattva, rajas, and tamas are distinct, yet they function in coordination withone another. The sattva guna is peaceful, calm, and serene; rajas is active, sensual, and full of desires, attachments, and enjoyments; tamas produces sloth, inertia, confusion, delusion, and ignorance. The aspirant should always be vigilant, watching that tamas and rajas remain tamed with the help of sattva so that he can continue on the path undisturbed and undistracted. In order to accomplish this, earnest effort should be made, and one should meditate regularly.

When sattva is predominant

the aspirant remains serene and happy. Elevating thoughts dawn during that time. The sattva quality is full of delight, enlightening, and very helpful for maintaining mental and emotional equilibrium. Without it, psychosomatic imbalances that lead to various kinds of disorders occur. When the sattva quality is not predominant, one experiences a lack of calmness, happiness, and joy. The mind then remains in a state of turmoil, full of conflict and confusion. But when the sattva quality is cultivated by the aspirant, he remains in a state of perpetual joy.

Rajas creates raga (attraction or attachment) and dvesha (aversion or hatred) toward the objects of the world. One whose life is controlled the objects of pleasure. He is never satisfied and is always seeking new sources of pleasure. That way of being can lead to hypertension and many other diseases does not allow the student to discipline and control himself. Often the student functions under the sway of unconscious habits of a rajasic nature and acts without knowing and understanding why he is doing so.

Tamas is sloth and inertia;

it produces ignorance and destroys the sense of discrimination. It creates delusion, and then one cannot decide things on time. Thus it leads one to inaction. A lazy aspirant remains in a state of sleepiness and lethargy, and in such a state of mind the aspirant goes through negative withdrawal. For him life is full of gloom; he does not experience joy or delight. Such people become fat and flabby and are prone to disease. Tamas leads one to many illnesses; tamasic people become passive and suffer from all the diseases related to passivity. They do not want to move; they remain in a semi-conscious state. They are controlled by negative emotions; they are depressed, dependent, and helpless. Life becomes burden some for them.

The entire universe is a drama enacted by the gunas. The three gunas exist in everything, including all human beings. They are the motivating force in the drama of life. Almost everywhere, one guna is predominant and the other two are relatively dormant. They are hardly ever in a state of equilibrium. Equilibrium is experienced only by those sadhakas who practice physical, mental, and spiritual discipline.

14. When a body-bearer comes to death during an increase of sattva, then he attains the immaculate worlds of those of high knowledge.

15. Upon dying in rajas, one is born among those who are drawn to action. Similarly, dying in tamas, one is born among stupefied species.

Those who have realized the Self, who are in the Self, and who have become one with the Self are never reborn. Those rare sages become inseparably one with the supreme Self and are beyond the influence of the gunas. They have crossed the mire of delusion and maya. They are liberated forever.

If the sages who have cultivated sattva guna prefer to stay in the highest of heavenly states when they depart from this mortal world, they can do so. And if they wish to be reborn, they take birth in the homes of wise parents. But those people who cast off their bodies under the predominance of rajas are reborn in the homes of those who are active in attaining worldly pleasures and the objects of the world. If tamas is predominant when one drops off the body, he is reborn in a dull, dumb, and desolate family, a family in which sloth and inertia rule.

16. The fruit of a meritorious act is sattvic and stainless, but the fruit of rajas is pain, and the fruit of tamas is ignorance.

17. Knowledge is born from sattva and greed from rajas; inattention and stupefaction as well as ignorance arise from tamas.

18. The sattva-dwellers rise upward; the rajasic remain in the middle; tamasic ones, remaining under the influence of base qualities, move downward.

How can one have a pleasant death and prepare himself for the life hereafter? Life is but a brief sentence, ending with a comma and no period. By analyzing life between the two commas of birth and death, the profound knowledge of the whole sentence is not grasped. The whole of life thus remains unknown. Death is a preparation for another birth, and death and birth are two transition points that mark the next step in the path of light. Life should be a preparation for the never-ending journey to the infinite.

Those who perform good actions without attachment to the fruits of their actions are sattvikas. Their actions and fruits are totally dedicated to the whole of mankind, and they are liberated from the bonds and ties of karma. Even after dropping their mortal bodies, they are born again to perform more actions, for actions are like worship for them. They rejoice in being born again and again to breathe an eternal prayer and to perform their actions skillfully and selflessly. Actions performed in such a way are sattvic and liberating. But those who perform actions with selfish motivation are rajasic, and their actions lead to pain. Such people presume that death is painful and remain tormented by the fear of death. And those who are tamasic remain in the darkness of ignorance, completely dependent on fate. Fate leads them to lowly rebirth.

From sattva arises knowledge, from rajas desire is born, and from tamas comes ignorance. Those who have profound knowledge of sattva march upward toward the summit; those who are rajasic can only go up so far and remain in the middle; those who are tamasic are not aware of their path, their potentials, or the creative aspect of life.

21. With what characteristics is that one endowed who has transcended the three gunas, O Lord? What is his conduct? Having transcended the gunas, in what manner does he conduct himself? The Blessed Lord said

22. Illumination, activity, as well as delusion, O Pandava-he is not adverse to these when they are operant nor does he desire them when they have ceased.

23. He who sits in neutrality is not moved by the gunas; he observes merely that ‘they operate with one another’ and does not respond.

24. A like to pain and pleasure, Self-dwelling, beholding a lump of clay, stone, and nugget of gold as the same, holding the pleasant and unpleasant as equal, endowed with wisdom, alike to praise or censure,

25. A like in honor and dishonor, equal to the friendly or hostile sides, renouncing all endeavor, he is said to have transcended the gunas.

Arjuna wants to know how to recognize one who has gone beyond the gunas, and he asks how such a person behaves. Sri Krishna says that sattva emanates light, rajas activity, and tamas delusion. In all conditions, whether he is a success or a failure, the person who is sattvic remains content. Finally he goes beyond all the gunas. He remains aloof and unaffected in all situations. In the midst of the play of the gunas, he is neither inspired by sattva nor angered by the play of tamas. No matter what happens, he remains undisturbed, knowing that all the plays and melodramas are arranged by the gunas. He is not imbalanced in either gain or loss. Sattva does not imbalance him, and he is not affected by the grief and sorrow created by rajas and tamas. He maintains his evenness equally in honor and dishonor. Observing such signs and symptoms, the aspirant can identify one who has risen above the play of the gunas.

Here ends the fourteenth chapter, in which the three gunas and the state beyond are explained.

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