Perennial Psychology of the Bhagwad Geeta

  • By Swami Rama
  • January 2002

Three Modes of Conviction 

  1. Those who sacrifice, endowed with faith but abandoning scriptural injunctions, what is their status, O Krishna, is it sattva or rajas or tamas?The Blessed Lord said
  2. The faith of the body-bearers is of three kinds, born of their nature, which is sattvic, rajasic, and tamasic; do hear thereof.
  1. Everyone’s faith develops according to his mind’s essence, O Descendant of Bharata. Thus the person consists of faith. Whatever one’s faith that indeed is he.

  2. The sattvic ones sacrifice to deities; the rajasic ones to demi-gods and powerful semi-human beings (yakshas and rakshasas); others, the tamasic ones, sacrifice to ghosts and to multitudes of other beings.

In this chapter Arjuna asks Sri Krishna to describe the various modes of shraddha. The word shraddha means conviction. The devotee reveres the objects of his devotion with full conviction and faith. Human beings can be divided into three categories according to the predominance of sattva, rajas, or tamas. Arjuna wants to know which quality is dominant in those who have shraddha yet do not accept the teachings of the sages and the authority of the scriptures. Sri Krishna replies that the tendency of one guna or another to be predominant is a result of the samskaras that one carries from the past. In spiritual people the sattva guna is predominant; those who are active are motivated by rajas; and those who are inert, lazy and dull are under the sway of tamas.

The type of faith a human being has is in accordance with this natural disposition. The aspirant who has the sattva quality predominant in his life performs religious rites according to the teachings of the scriptures. One who performs religious rites under the sway of rajas worships the gods with the desire to fulfill his selfish ends. The tamasic person also has faith, but he engages in superstitious worship. That class of people does not make efforts. Those of a sattvic nature devote their time and energy to doing good, whereas rajasic people remain active in fulfilling their desires, and those who are tamasic do not do anything, for although they have expectations and desires they remain dependent on others.

  1. Those people who undertake terrible ascetic practices, which are not enjoined by the scriptures, conjoined with hypocrisy and ego, possessed of the power of attachment,

  2. Those unwise ones, weakening the group of elements in the body and also Me, who dwells within the body-know them to be of demonic determination.

Those who are influenced by tamas are full of sloth and inertia and always depend on others whom they expect to fulfill their desires. When they do engage in practices, those practices are distorted and reflect their obstinate natures. They sometimes practice severe penances that are contrary to the injunctions of the scriptures. For example, many such aspirants fast for several days to remove their mental blocks. They think that fasting will purify both their minds and bodies. They are obstinate and capriciously make up their own way of sadhana and suffer as a result. They are neither self-reliant nor do they rely on the teachings of the scriptures. They create suffering for themselves and for others. Such aspirants do not improve and are not fit to follow the path of spirituality.

The aspirant should create a balance in his day-to-day activities. When one leans to observe his capacities and abilities, he does not go to extremes. But the student who torments his body, mind and soul is not suitable to the path of spirituality.

  1. The favorite food of everyone is also of three kinds; so also sacrifice, ascetic endeavor, and charity. Listen to their distinctions.

  2. Those that increase life span, mental essence, strength, health, comfort, and pleasantness, that are flavorful, unctuous, stable, and satisfying to the heart are the foods that are favored by the sattvic.

  3. Bitter, sour, salty, excessively hot, pungent, dry and burning are the foods favored by the rajasic, causing discomfort, depression, and illness.

  4. Not fully cooked, flavorless, smelly, stale, leftover by others, not fit, as an offering is the food favored by the tamasic.

When one analyzes the behavior of aspirants, three distinct qualities are noticeable in their actions, even when they offer gifts and charity. Those who are sincerely generous and love others do charity without any expectation, but those who perform actions selfishly and do charity with the expectation of acquiring name and fame are rajasic and tamasic people.

We all know that food plays great part in human life. The best selling of all books are not bibles or other spiritual books but cook books. Our eating habits in the modern world both in the East and in the West create disasters in human life. The human being is obsessed with food; so much so that it seems that one is born only for eating. Modern man eats many times a day without knowing what comprises a nutritious diet. Taste has become predominant instead of nutrition in the formation of our dietary habits. Artificial foods are increasing daily. We have lost the sense of food value, and we eat foods that are unhealthy.

Food that is not fresh or unnutritious, that is leftover and full of spices or grease is unhealthy. Overeating and eating unfresh food and food that is full of fat and spices create many diseases. The mind and body are inseparable; if proper food is not supplied to the body, the mind is affected. Such tamasic food makes the mind dull, passive, and inert.

On the other hand, rajasic food agitates the mind and creates hypertension; it is also unhealthy for the liver and hard on the kidneys. Rajasic food satisfies the senses, but it is not healthy physically or mentally. It is not healthy for those who want to tread the path of spirituality. Aspirants are advised that well-selected and well-prepared vegetarian food is healthier than a meat diet. That food which does not cause inertia and heaviness and does not make one restless, lazy, or sleepy is called sattiv food. Those who eat sattvic food remain calm, quiet, and serene; those who eat rajasic food become agitated, angry, and worried; those who eat impure food and drink liquor are tamasic. Those who eat heavy food full of aft and who drink alcohol excessively suffer both physically and mentally.

Food plays an important role in thought, speech and action: it has profound effects on all aspects of human behavior. Diet and environment are two important factors that play a great role in sadhana. A calm, quiet, and serene atmosphere and a simple, fresh, and nutritious diet are essential requisites for the sadhaka.

  1. That sacrifice performed according to scriptural injunctions by those not desirous of fruit, harmonizing the mind with the thought, ‘one must sacrifice,’ that is the sattvic sacrifice.

  2. With the intention of fruit or even of hypocritical purpose, the sacrifice that is performed thus, know it to be rajasic, O Best of the Bharatas.

  3. Against scriptural injunction, without distributing food, without mantras, without priestly gifts, devoid of faith, such sacrifice is said to be tamasic.

(What is Sacrifice) Sri Krishna explains that sacrifices performed in a serene way with even mindedness and without any expectation of reward are sattvic. When one performs an action for the sake of others and dedicates the fruits to others without any desire for rewards, that action it true worship. Sacrifice means offering the best one has for the service of the Lord who dwells in everyone’s heart. It is an offering to the Lord through action. Such an act performed selflessly is of a sattvic nature, and the scriptures describe such acts as supreme. By contrast, the sacrifices and actions that are performed with the desire to obtain a reward are rajasic, and those that are performed out of superstition and fear of spiritual injunction, without a sense of giving or any consideration for others, are tamasic.

Many people in modern society have not developed an attitude of giving to and doing for others in a sincere way. Such people are often seen in psychotherapy. They are self-preoccupied and continually focus on their own trials tribulations, worries, disappointments, and expectations. Rather than attempting to resolve their self-created conflicts one by one, if the therapist instead directs such people to turn away from their self-preoccupations and to develop a genuine concern for others, devoting their thoughts and energy to helping others, many of their problems would quickly dissolve and disappear. Such people have never been taught how to give, and if they offer anything, it is not with a deep and sincere feeling of love but to receive in return. Modern therapists would do well to actively guide the thoughts and feelings of their clients toward giving to others rather than passively listening to and reflecting on the drone of their clients’ self-preoccupations week after week, year after year.

  1. Service to the deities, the twice born, the gurus, and the wise men; purity simplicity, celibacy, and non-violence are said to be physical asceticism.

  2. Speech that does not agitate, that is true, pleasant, and beneficial, as well as the practice of self-study and japa is said to be the asceticism of speech.

  3. Clarity and pleasantness of mind, peacefulness, silence, total control of one’s self, purification of sentiments-this is said to be mental asceticism.

  4. Those three kinds of asceticism undertaken by humans with supreme faith when they are not desiring the fruit and are joined in yoga are said to be the sattvic ones.

  5. With the purpose of gaining respect, honor, and worship and out of hypocrisy, the asceticism that is thus performed, temporary and unstable, is rajasic.

  6. The asceticism that is performed with stupefied comprehension and with pain or for the purpose of uprooting others, that is said to be tamasic.

Many people waste their time speaking nonsense, talking too much, and gossiping for no useful reason In the first stage of practice one should learn to speak little, speaking only when it is necessary. In the second step he should establish regular hours of complete silence very day, and in the third step he should determine not to lie. Austere speech is a great virtue.

The practice of non-lying is also important. Those who speak lies are afraid and lie because of fear of not being accepted. But the power of speech is lost when one lies, and there is always a conflict in the mind, for one knows that he lying, yet he continues to lie. Such people lose the power of discrimination.

Austerities are not introduced in the modern educational system. That is one of the reasons modern man becomes selfish and has no consideration for his fellow human beings. The kind of austerities that are introduced to children in religious schools are worse than none at all, for they create guilt, which haunts the child’s inner being until the last breath of life. The system of introducing austerity is based on fear, and the religion that teaches fear can never help one on the path to liberation. Religious schools suffer as a result of that serious error. They create guilt by introducing many “don’ts” without explaining their purpose or helping children appreciate the profound positive effects that self-restraint can have on the mind and body. Those who seriously pursue athletics, music and other endeavors learn to practice austerities by sacrificing pleasures for their single goal. But such austerities are rajasic in nature. Sattvic austerity is seldom taught in modern life.

  1. One ought to give’-the charity that is given thus to someone incapable of returning the favor, that is given at the right place and time toward someone worthy-that charity is remembered as sattvic.

  2. That which is given with the purpose of gaining a return or aiming at a fruit or given with distress-that charity is remembered as rajasic.

  3. That which is given at an inappropriate place or time to those unworthy, without respect and insultingly that charity is said to be tamasic.

These three verses explain the purpose of charity and why one should be charitable. When is charity useful and necessary in human life? Foe one who has attained knowledge, doing charitable work and giving gifts to others becomes habitual. It is a superb taste that one acquires after understanding that giving is one of the most profound ways to attain liberation. No human being can remain without doing actions, and every action produces fruits. If the fruits are not given to others, their binding force compels one to do more actions. Thus the doer becomes lost in the jungle of action. One should learn to do his actions and give away fruits to others. The aspirant who is aware that charity or giving gifts to those in need is a part of spirituality is called a sattvika.

  1. OM Tat Sat, ‘OM, that is Reality’-this is the threefold statement concerning Brahman; from this the Brahmanas, the Vedas, and the sacrifices were produced in the ancient past.

  2. Therefore all the sacrifices, charities, and ascetic acts of those proficient in the knowledge of Brahman, performed according to the ordinance, are commenced daily after enunciating ‘OM’ thus.

  3. After enunciating Tat, ‘that,’ without the intention of fruit, the sacrificial and ascetic acts, and the various acts of charity are performed by those desiring liberation.

  4. The word Sat, ‘Reality,’ is used to express Reality as well as goodness. Also the word ‘sat’ is used to express a praiseworthy act, O Son of Pritha.

  5. Stability in sacrifice, asceticism, and charity is also called Sat; also any act for the purpose of these is called Sat alone.

Whenever they perform any duties or actions, worship, or give gifts, they remember three words: OM Tat Sat. These three words have deep meaning.

OM is the cosmic sound remembered by yogis during meditation. It is considered to be a living force that represents the supreme Lord. There are four states that can be realized by human beings. The first three-waking, dreaming, and sleeping-are experienced by all human beings and creatures. But the fourth state is attained only by the fortunate few accomplished yogis. It is a silent state, the deepest and most profound state of perfect equilibrium. The sound OM expresses the knowledge of these four states of consciousness. The aspirant learns to utter this sound all the time, before he talks to anyone and before he begins any work.

Good action is also called Tat Sat. It is auspicious for the sadhaka to remember the words Tat Sat, for they remind him of the goal of his life. The word Tat means that which exists in itself without the help of any other, and Sat means the absolute reality other than which nothing exists. The words Tat and Sat remind the aspirant of the self-existent glory of the Lord and of his benevolent kindness and goodness. Thus OM Tat Sat refers to all that exists by itself without any second. These words are used by devotees, sages, and yogis for the supreme Lord.

Here ends the seventeenth chapter in which love and devotion for the divine is contrasted with lust for the objects of the world.

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