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Chapter 14. The Three Modes Of Material
Chapter 14, Verse 1.
The Blessed Lord said: Again I shall declare to you this supreme wisdom, the best of all knowledge, knowing which all the sages have attained the supreme perfection.
Chapter 14, Verse 2.
By becoming fixed in this knowledge, one can attain to the transcendental nature, which is like My own nature. Thus established, one is not born at the time of creation nor disturbed at the time of dissolution.
Chapter 14, Verse 3.
The total material substance, called Brahman, is the source of birth, and it is that Brahman that I impregnate, making possible the births of all living beings, O son of Bharata.
Chapter 14, Verse 4.
It should be understood that all species of life, O son of Kunti, are made possible by birth in this material nature, and that I am the seed-giving father.
Chapter 14, Verse 5.
Material nature consists of the three modes--goodness, passion and ignorance. When the living entity comes in contact with nature, he becomes conditioned by these modes.
Chapter 14, Verse 6.
O sinless one, the mode of goodness being purer than the others, is illuminating, and it frees one from all sinful reactions. Those situated in that mode develop knowledge, but they become conditioned by the concept of happiness.
Chapter 14, Verse 7.
The mode of passion is born of unlimited desires and longings, O son of Kunti, and because of this one is bound to material fruitive activities.
Chapter 14, Verse 8.
O son of Bharata, the mode of ignorance causes the delusion of all living entities. The result of this mode is madness, indolence and sleep, which bind the conditioned soul.
Chapter 14, Verse 9.
The mode of goodness conditions one to happiness, passion conditions him to the fruits of action, and ignorance to madness.
Chapter 14, Verse 10.
Sometimes the mode of passion becomes prominent, defeating the mode of goodness, O son of Bharata. And sometimes the mode of goodness defeats passion, and at other times the mode of ignorance defeats goodness and passion. In this way there is always competition for supremacy.
Chapter 14, Verse 11.
The manifestations of the mode of goodness can be experienced when all the gates of the body are illuminated by knowledge.
Chapter 14, Verse 12.
O chief of the Bharatas, when there is an increase in the mode of passion, the symptoms of great attachment, uncontrollable desire, hankering, and intense endeavor develop.
Chapter 14, Verse 13.
O son of Kuru, when there is an increase in the mode of ignorance, madness, illusion, inertia and darkness are manifested.
Chapter 14, Verse 14.
When one dies in the mode of goodness, he attains to the pure higher planets.
Chapter 14, Verse 15.
When one dies in the mode of passion, he takes birth among those engaged in fruitive activities; and when he dies in the mode of ignorance, he takes birth in the animal kingdom.
Chapter 14, Verse 16.
By acting in the mode of goodness, one becomes purified. Works done in the mode of passion result in distress, and actions performed in the mode of ignorance result in foolishness.
Chapter 14, Verse 17.
From the mode of goodness, real knowledge develops; from the mode of passion, greed develops; and from the mode of ignorance, foolishness, madness and illusion develop.
Chapter 14, Verse 18.
Those situated in the mode of goodness gradually go upward to the higher planets; those in the mode of passion live on the earthly planets; and those in the mode of ignorance go down to the hellish worlds.
Chapter 14, Verse 19.
When you see that there is nothing beyond these modes of nature in all activities and that the Supreme Lord is transcendental to all these modes, then you can know My spiritual nature.
Chapter 14, Verse 20.
When the embodied being is able to transcend these three modes, he can become free from birth, death, old age and their distresses and can enjoy nectar even in this life.
Chapter 14, Verse 21.
Arjuna inquired: O my Lord, by what symptoms is one known who is transcendental to those modes? What is his behavior? And how does he transcend the modes of nature?
Chapter 14, Verse 22-25.
The Blessed Lord said: He who does not hate illumination, attachment and delusion when they are present, nor longs for them when they disappear; who is seated like one unconcerned, being situated beyond these material reactions of the modes of nature, who remains firm, knowing that the modes alone are active; who regards alike pleasure and pain, and looks on a clod, a stone and a piece of gold with an equal eye; who is wise and holds praise and blame to be the same; who is unchanged in honor and dishonor, who treats friend and foe alike, who has abandoned all fruitive undertakings--such a man is said to have transcended the modes of nature.
Chapter 14, Verse 26.
One who engages in full devotional service, who does not fall down in any circumstance, at once transcends the modes of material nature and thus comes to the level of Brahman.
Chapter 14, Verse 27.
And I am the basis of the impersonal Brahman, which is the constitutional position of ultimate happiness, and which is immortal, imperishable and eternal.
with the Sanskrit verses HERE
Tri-guna - The modes of material nature
In modern physics -- classical, quantum mechanistic, and holistic -- one of the most frequently used terms is "natural laws." Since Einstein, scientists seek a Grand Unified Theory that will condense all "natural laws" to a universal formula that explains both matter and consciousness. Interestingly enough, in Sanskrit we have a hard time finding a corresponding word for the term "natural law." Words like hetu (in Bhagavad-gita 9.10), which means "a causing principle," directly refer to the laws of nature, but these words are rare. But there is a word in the texts of Sanskrit metaphysics that occurs as frequently as the term "natural law" does in the texts of modern physics. This word is guna, usually translated as "mode of material nature."
The English word "mode" best conveys the sense of the Sanskrit word guna (material quality). "Mode" comes from the Latin modus, and it has a special application in European philosophy. Modus means "measure." It is used to distinguish between two aspects of material nature: that which is immeasurable (called natura naturans, the creative nature) and that which is measurable (called natura naturata, the created nature). Creative nature is a single divine substance that manifests, through modes, the created nature, the material world of physical and mental variety. Being immeasurable (without modes), creative nature cannot be humanly perceived. Created nature (with modes) is measurable, hence we do perceive it. Modus also means "a manner of activity." When creative nature acts, it assumes modes of behavior that are measurable and thus perceivable.
The fourteenth chapter of Bhagavad-gita (verses 3-5) presents a similar twofold description of material nature as mahat yoni, the source of birth, and as guna prakrti, that which acts wonderfully through modes. Material nature as the source of birth is also termed mahad brahman, the great or immeasurable Brahman. Mahad brahman is nature as the divine creative substance, which is the material cause of everything. "Material cause" is a term common to both European philosophy (as causa materialis) and Vedanta philosophy (as upadana karana). It means the source of ingredients that comprise creation. We get an example of a material cause from the Sanskrit word yoni, which literally means womb. The mother's womb provides the ingredients for the formation of the embryo. Similarly, the immeasurable creative nature provides the ingredients for the formation of the material world in which we live, the measurable created nature.
The clarity of this example forces a question: what about the father, who must impregnate the womb first before it can act as the material cause? This question is answered by Krishna, the speaker of the Bhagavad-gita, in verse 4: aham bija pradah pita, "I am the seed-giving father." In Vedanta philosophy, this factor of causation is termed nimitta-matram (the remote cause). It is important to note that by presenting creation as the result of the union of two causes (the material and the remote), the Bhagavad-gita rejects the philosophy of Deus sive natura, "the identity of God and nature." In short, though creative nature may be accepted as the direct cause of creation, it is not the self-sufficient cause of creation. The seed with which Krishna impregnates the womb of creative nature is comprised of sarva-bhutanam, all living entities (verse 3).
This reveals a remarkable subtlety in the Vedic understanding of the material nature, and the natural laws concept becomes limited and relative by comparison. The Vedic scriptures inform us that the material universe is a multidimensional creation, each dimension having its own laws. It is a wild speculation of the earthly scientists to assume that the laws observed "down here" apply to the entire universe -- yet most people accept this belief as an axiomatic principle. Natural laws, such as gravity, entropy, and electromagnetism, are limited to certain dimensions. We have to be prepared to accept things or beings that defy these laws. But nobody and nothing within the material world defies the gunas -- the modes of material nature: "There is no being existing, either here or among the demigods in the higher planetary systems, which is freed from these modes born of material nature." (Bhagavad-gita 18.40)
Bhagavad-gita 14.5 explains that when Krishna puts the souls into the womb of material nature, their consciousness is conditioned by three modes, or tri-guna. The modes are three measures of interaction between conscious spirit and unconscious matter. The modes may be compared to the three primary colors, yellow, red and blue, and consciousness may be compared to clear light. The "conditioning" (nibhadnanti) of consciousness upon its entry into the womb of material nature is comparable to the coloration of light upon its passing through a prism. The color yellow symbolizes sattva-guna, the mode of goodness. This mode is pure, illuminating, and sinless. Goodness conditions the soul with the sense of happiness and knowledge. The color red symbolizes the rajo-guna, the mode of passion, full of longings and desires. By the influence of passion the soul engages in works of material accomplishment. The color blue symbolizes tamo-guna, the mode of ignorance, which binds the soul to madness, indolence and sleep. As the three primary colors combine to produce a vast spectrum of hues, so the three modes combine to produce the vast spectrum of states of conditioned consciousness that encompasses all living entities within the universe. The term tri-loka is often found in Vedic scriptures. Tri-loka means "three worlds." The universe is divided by the three modes into three worlds, or realms of consciousness: bhur, bhuvah and svar (the gross region, the subtle region and the celestial region). In svargaloka or the celestial heaven, superhuman beings called devatas exist, enjoying a life that in human terms is almost unimaginable. In the subtle region exist ghosts and elemental beings. And in the gross or earthly realm exist human beings and other creatures with tissue-bodies, including the animals and plants. There is also a subterranean region where powerful demons reside. And there is a region known as naraka, hell. As explained in Bhagavad-gita 3.27, the souls within these regions of material consciousness wrongly identify themselves as the doers of physical and mental activities that are actually carried out by three modes of material nature. This wrong identification is called ahankara, or false ego. False ego is the basis of our entanglement in material existence.
A detailed description of the threefold false ego is given by Krishna to Uddhava. This is recorded in the eleventh canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam. By false ego in goodness (technically called vaikaraka), the living entity identifies with the mind. What is the mind? The mind is the living entity's subtle medium of reflection, comparable to a mirror. By its own nature of goodness, the mind is a suitable medium for reflecting the eternal absolute truth. But it can also reflect the objects of the senses and thus become absorbed in the temporary appearances of the material world. The Amrta-bindu Upanisad therefore declares, "For man, mind is the cause of bondage and mind is the cause of liberation. Mind absorbed in sense objects is the cause of bondage, and mind detached from the sense objects is the cause of liberation." By false ego in passion (aindriya or taijasa), the soul identifies with the physical senses and the creative intellect by which the senses are skillfully employed in work. By false ego in ignorance (tamasa), the soul identifies with the objects perceived by the physical senses, i.e. what is heard, what is felt, what is seen, what is tasted and what is smelt. Krishna says that the false ego is cid-acin-mayah, that which encompasses both spirit and matter, because it binds the cid (conscious soul) to the acid (unconscious matter).
The cultivation of the innate goodness of the mind is the essence of the Vedic method of yoga, summarized by Krishna as follows. "The mind can be controlled when it is fixed on the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Having achieved a stable situation, the mind becomes free from polluted desires to execute material activities; thus as the mode of goodness increases in strength, one can completely give up the modes of passion and ignorance, and gradually one transcends even the material mode of goodness. When the mind is freed from the fuel of the modes of nature, the fire of material existence is extinguished. Then one achieves the transcendental platform of direct relationship with the object of his meditation, the Supreme Lord." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.9.12)
The transcendental platform of the soul's direct relationship with the Supreme Soul is the state of absolute being. How the yogi perceives this state is described in Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.14.45. "He sees the individual souls united with the Supreme Soul, just as one sees the sun's rays completely united with the sun." The sun is jyotisi, the source of light. Similarly, Krishna, the Supreme Soul, is the source of the light of consciousness of all living entities. Sunlight is composed of photons, which are tiny units of light. Similarly, each individual soul (technically called the jiva-atma) is a tiny unit of consciousness. The Sanskrit word yoga means "connection;" through bhakti-yoga (the yoga of pure devotion), the consciousness of the individual soul connects with its source, Krishna. This is called Krishna consciousness. By Krishna consciousness, the soul rids itself of the coloration of the three modes and returns back home, Back to Godhead.
The Modes of Material Nature
By Atma-tattva dasa
In modern physics (classical, quantum mechanistic, and holistic), one frequently sees the term "natural laws." Since Einstein, efforts are being made to find a Grand Unified Theory that will condense all natural laws into one universal formula explaining matter and consciousness.
Interestingly enough, in Sanskrit we have a hard time finding a corresponding term for "natural law." Of course, there are words, like "hetu" (in Bhagavad-gita 9.10), which directly refer to the laws of nature. Literally, hetu means "a causing principle." But these words are rather rare.
However, there is a word which appears in the (meta)physical Sanskrit literature as frequently as the term "natural law" in the texts of modern physics. This word is "guna," generally translated as "mode of material nature."
This observation indicates a remarkable subtlety in the Vedic understanding of the material nature. The concept of natural laws is very limited and relative because, as the Vedic scriptures inform us, the material universe is a multidimensional creation, each dimension having its own laws. It is a wild speculation of the earthly scientists to assume that the laws observed "down here" apply in the entire universe--although this belief is being accepted as an axiomatic principle by most people.
Natural laws are limited to certain dimensions. For example, we know gravity, electromagnetism, entropy, etc. But we have to be prepared to accept things or beings which defy these laws. However, nobody and nothing within the material world defies the gunas, the modes of material nature: "There is no being existing, either here or among the demigods in the higher planetary systems, which is freed from these modes born of material nature." (Bhagavad-gita 18.40)
Natural laws refer only to the workings of matter; the gunas refer to the workings of both matter AND consciousness. However, the concept of gunas doesn't equate matter and consciousness by reducing consciousness to a function of matter, but it shows how consciousness and matter are interlined. Therefore, the word guna is used. Literally it means "rope," those forces of the material nature which bind the living entity to the material world. On the other hand, this expression also indicates that matter can move and "live" only due to the presence of the bound-up living entity.
Originally, the gunas correspond to the functions of the material existence: creation, maintenance, dissolution. Therefore, there are three gunas:
Sattva-guna, the "mode of goodness," characterized by maintenance as well as knowledge, purity, and real happiness.
Rajo-guna, the "mode of passion," characterized by creation and building up, as well as great endeavor for sense gratification and economic development.
Tamo-guna, the "mode of ignorance, or darkness," characterized by dissolution and destruction, madness, indolence and sleep.
These modes of material nature are constantly influencing the consciousness of the living entities. According to the predominance of a certain guna, a living entity sees the world differently. Even different kinds of animals have a different world-view, what to speak of the human beings or the higher beings. Every individual has his particular vision which determines what he sees and what he does NOT see. This is dependent on his individual materialistic consciousness, which is dependent on the three modes of material nature.
As a TV-set only responds to TV-waves and a radio-set to radio waves, the living entities, too, only respond to waves of their own "wave length." Thus, the resonance of our consciousness determines what we see, what we do, what we desire, what we say, what we eat--in other words, everything in our material existence. Correspondingly, it also determines what vibrations we receive. By choosing the modes we're in, we determine the quality of our own existence. In this connection, a slogan often quoted in modern esoteric and holistic sciences starts to make sense: "We are creating our own reality!"
Since the gunas determine the resonance of our consciousness, and the resonance of our consciousness determines our "reality," it is most important to know the science of the gunas. Many passages within the Vedic scriptures elaborate on these gunas. Even within the Bhagavad-gita, which is not very voluminous (only 700 verses altogether), three chapters deal with the analysis of the subtle nuances caused by the modes of material nature.
The influence of the gunas and their subtle nuances can be compared to the mixing of the three basic colors, yellow, red, and blue. They can be endlessly mixed, and each further addition changes the color. Actually, each species or even each individual body can be compared to one of these specific mixings of the three gunas. The gunas color our consciousness, and our consciousness "colors" our body. This is literally true in the case of our astral body, which changes colors according to our states of consciousness. The subtle energy-flows in our astral body influence the energy-flows in our gross body. Thus there is a direct connection between the gunas we're in, and the state of our astral and gross bodies. The Ayurveda goes so far as to analyze diseases according to the influence of the gunas.
The Vedic guna concept shows how the entire cosmos is interlined just like a living organism.
Our consciousness not only determines our present reality but also our future reality, as the state of our consciousness at the time of death will determine where our next birth will be. In other words, our body is nothing but an expression of our own consciousness built up in our past. Our consciousness is basically developed through our actions. As we act in a particular manner, taking shelter of a particular mode of material nature, we develop a particular kind of consciousness. Therefore, due to our actions now under the modes of nature, we are creating our next body suitable to house our specific consciousness.
The modes of material nature exist only within the material world. If we compare the material world to an ocean, then the gunas are the waves within this material ocean, which toss the living entity about until he learns the art of purifying his consciousness and getting free from the entanglement of material nature.
Rajo-guna and tamo-guna are the forces which drag us higher and lower within the ocean of material existence. Sattva-guna, however, is compared with the waters near the shore. In sattva-guna, you're still in the ocean, but you have a good chance to get out. If you miss it, then sooner or later the waves of raja and tamo-guna will pull you into the depths of the ocean once again.
In other words, being in sattva-guna (goodness) is good, but not good
enough for getting out. If we want to transcend the gunas we have to LEAVE
the ocean, leaving behind even sattva-guna (the warm waters near the shore).
This can only be done through the process of liberation described in all
the Vedic literature.
For more reading:
Bhagavad-gita: 13.6-7, 13.20, 7.4
Lord Krishna said: I shall further explain to you that supreme knowledge,
the best of all knowledge, knowing that all the sages have attained supreme
perfection after this life. (14.01)
They who have taken refuge in this transcendental knowledge attain unity with Me; and are neither born at the time of creation, nor afflicted at the time of dissolution. (14.02)
ALL BEINGS ARE BORN FROM THE UNION OF SPIRIT AND MATTER
My material Nature is the womb of creation wherein I place the seed of Consciousness from which all beings are born, O Arjuna. (See also 9.10) (14.03)
Whatever forms are produced in all different wombs, O Arjuna, the material Nature is their body-giving mother; and the Spirit or Consciousness is the life-giving father. (14.04)
HOW THREE MODES OF MATERIAL NATURE BIND THE SPIRIT SOUL TO THE BODY
Goodness, activity, and inertia — these three modes or ropes material Nature fetter the eternal individual soul to the body, O Arjuna. (14.05)
Of these, the mode of goodness is illuminating and good, because it is pure. The mode of goodness fetters the living entity by attachment to happiness and knowledge, O sinless Arjuna. (14.06)
Arjuna, know that the mode of passion is characterized by intense craving for sense gratification, and is the source of material desire and attachment. The mode of passion binds the living entity by attachment to the fruits of work. (14.07)
Know, O Arjuna, that the mode of ignorance ¾ the deluder of living entity ¾ is born of inertia. The mode of ignorance binds living entity by carelessness, laziness, and excessive sleep. (14.08)
O Arjuna, the mode of goodness attaches one to happiness of learning and knowing the Spirit, the mode of passion attaches to action, and the mode of ignorance attaches to negligence by covering the Self-knowledge. (14.09)
CHARACTERISTICS OF THREE MODES OF NATURE
Goodness prevails by suppressing passion and ignorance; passion prevails by suppressing goodness and ignorance; and ignorance prevails by suppressing goodness and passion, O Arjuna. (14.10)
When the light of Self-knowledge glitters all the senses in the body, then it should be known that goodness is predominant. (14.11)
O Arjuna, when passion is predominant; greed, activity, undertaking of selfish works, restlessness, and excitement arise. (14.12)
O Arjuna, when inertia is predominant; ignorance, inactivity, carelessness, and delusion arise. (14.13)
THREE MODES ARE ALSO THE VEHICLES OF TRANSMIGRATION FOR THE INDIVIDUAL
One who dies during the dominance of goodness goes to heaven ¾ the pure world of knowers of the Supreme. (14.14)
When one dies during the dominance of passion, one is reborn as attached to action (or the utilitarian type); and dying in ignorance, one is reborn as lower creatures. (14.15)
The fruit of good action is said to be beneficial and pure, the fruit of passionate action is pain, and the fruit of ignorant action is laziness. (14.16)
Self-knowledge arises from mode of goodness; greed arises from mode of passion; and negligence, delusion, and slowness of mind arise from the mode of ignorance. (14.17)
They who are established in goodness go to heaven; passionate persons are reborn in the mortal world; and the insipid ones, abiding in the mode of ignorance, go to lower planets of hell, or take birth as lower creatures depending on the degree of their ignorance. (14.18)
ATTAIN NIRVANA AFTER TRANSCENDING THREE MODES OF MATERIAL NATURE
When visionaries perceive no doer other than the powers of the Supreme Being ¾ the modes of material Nature; and know That which is above and beyond these modes; then they attain Nirvana or salvation. (See also 3.27, 5.09, and 13.29) (14.19)
When one rises above the three modes of material Nature that originate in the body, one attains immortality or salvation, and is freed from the pains of birth, old age, and death. (14.20)
THE PROCESS OF RISING ABOVE THE THREE MODES
Arjuna said: What are the marks of those who have transcended the three modes of material Nature, and what is their conduct? How does one transcend these three modes of material Nature, O Lord Krishna? (14.21)
Lord Krishna said: One who neither hates the presence of enlightenment, activity, and delusion; nor desires for them when they are absent; who remains like a witness without being affected by the modes of material Nature; and stays firmly attached to the Lord without wavering ¾ thinking that the modes of material Nature only are operating. (14.22-23)
The one who depends on the Lord and is indifferent to pain and pleasure; to whom a clod, a stone, and gold are alike; to whom the dear and the unfriendly are alike; who is of firm mind, who is calm in censure and in praise, and the one who is indifferent to honor and disgrace, who is impartial to friend and foe, and who has renounced the sense of doership ¾ is said to have transcended the modes of material Nature. (14.24-25)
BONDS OF THREE MODES CAN BE CUT BY DEVOTIONAL LOVE
The one who offers service to Me with love and unswerving devotion transcends three modes of material Nature, and becomes fit for Nirvana, or salvation. (See also 7.14 and 15.19) (14.26)
Because, I am the basis (or source) of the immortal Spirit, of everlasting cosmic order (Dharma), and of the absolute bliss. (14.27)