Author Topic: CHAPTER 14 - The Three Gunas  (Read 230 times)


  • Global Moderator
  • Sr. Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 341
    • View Profile
CHAPTER 14 - The Three Gunas
« on: April 09, 2019, 11:58:28 PM »
The subject of the discourse
It has been said that all that is born is produced by the conjunction of Kshetra and Kshetrajna. How can it be so? The present discourse is intended as an answer to this question. Or the connection may be explained thus: With a view to show that it is Kshetra and Kshetrajna, both dependent on the Isvara, - but not independent in themselves as the Sankhyas hold, - that constitute the cause of the universe, it has been stated that the dwelling (of the Kshetrajna) in the Kshetra (i.e., his self - identification with Kshetra) and his attachment for the Gunas form the cause of samsara (xiii.2i). In what Gunas and in what way is He attached? What are the Gunas? How do they bind him? How is liberation from the Gunas attained? What are the characteristics of a liberated soul? With a view to answer these questions, the Lord proceeds as follows:

Knowledge of the origin of the universe is necessary for Salvation

The Blessed Lord said:
1. I shall again declare that sublime knowledge, the best of all knowledges; which having learnt, all the sages have passed to high perfection from here.
Though declared more than once in the preceding discourses, I shall again declare that knowledge which is sublime as concerning itself with the Supreme Being, and which is the best of all knowledges as productive of the best result. ‘All knowledges’ does not refer to those which have been spoken of as knowledge in the verses xiii. 7 - 10, but to those kinds of knowledge which relate to sacrifices and other such things to be known. These (latter kinds of knowledge) do not lead to salvation, whereas the knowledge which is going to be imparted in this discourse does lead to salvation. So, the Lord praises this latter knowledge by the epithets ‘sublime’ and ‘best,’ in order to rouse interest in the minds of the hearers. And having learnt this knowledge, all the sages (munis) - the samnyasins, those who are devoted to contemplation (manana) - have passed from Here - from this bondage of the body - to high perfection, known as moksha or liberation. The Lord now proceeds to declare that this knowledge unfailingly leads to perfection:

2. They who, having resorted to this knowledge, have attained to unity with Me, are neither born in the creation, nor disturbed in the dissolution. 'Unity’ (sadharmya) here means ‘identity.’ It does not mean ‘equality in attributes, ‘since in the Gita-sastra no distinction is made between the Isvara and the Kshetrajna. And a declaration of the (true main) end (of knowledge) is here necessary to praise the knowledge. They who, having resorted to this knowledge, - i.e., having practiced the necessary means whereby to attain that knowledge, - have attained to identity with Me, the Supreme Lord, are neither born at the time of creation nor disturbed at the time of dissolution; i.e., they are not affected even at the time of Brahma's dissolution. . Evolution of the universe from the union of Spirit and Matter The Lord now proceeds to explain what sort of conjunction of Kshetra and Kshetrajna is the cause of all beings:

3. My womb is the great Brahman; in that I place the germ; thence, O Bharata, is the birth of all beings.
‘My womb’: My own Prakriti, - i.e., the Prakriti which belongs to Me, the Maya made up of the three Gunas, the material cause of all beings. This Prakriti is spoken of as great because it is greater than all effects; and as the source and nourishing energy of all Its modifications, It is termed Brahman. In that Great Brahman I place the germ, the seed of the birth of the Hiranyagarbha, the seed which gives birth to all beings. I who am possessed of the two potencies (Saktis), the two Prakritis of Kshetra and the Kshetrajna, unite the Kshetrajna with Kshetra, the Kshetrajna conforming Himself to the upadhis of avidya (nescience), kama (desire), and karma (action). This act of impregnation gives rise to the birth of all beings through the birth of the Hiranyagarbha.

4. Whatever forms are produced, O son of Kunti, in any wombs whatsoever, the Great Brahman is their womb, I the seed-giving Father.
Wombs: such as the Devas, the Pitris, men, cattle, beasts. Forms: such as the bodies which are the condensed aggregations of several parts and limbs. Of these forms, the Great Brahman (Prakriti) which passes through all states of matter is the cause; and I, the Isvara, am the Father, the author of impregnation of the seed in the womb.

The gunas bind the soul
What are the gunas? How do they bind? The answer follows:

5. Sattva, Rajas, Tamas, - these gunas, O mighty-armed, born of Prakriti, bind fast in the body the embodied, the indestructible.
Sattva (goodness), Rajas (vigor, activity, passion) and Tamas (darkness) - thus are the gunas named. – ‘Guna’ is a technical term. It does not mean a property, attribute or quality, such as color, as opposed to the substance in which it is said to inhere. No separate existence of a guna. And a gunin - of an attribute and a substance - is meant here. Accordingly, the gunas here meant are so called because, like the attributes of substances, they are ever dependent on another, namely, the Kshetrajna, as they are only forms of avidya or nescience; and they bind fast as it were the Kshetrajna. They are said to bind Kshetrajna because they come into being with Kshetrajna as the basis of their existence. Born of the Lord's Maya, they bind fast as it were in the body the embodied one, the indestructible Self. That the Self is indestructible has been shown in xiii. 31. Mighty - armed: with powerful arms reaching down to the knees.

Objection: It has been said that the embodied one is not tainted (xiii. 31). How then, on the contrary, is it said here that the gunas bind him?
Answer: We have met this objection by adding ‘as it were’, ‘they bind him as it were.’

The nature and functions of the gunas
Of these three gunas, Sattva is thus defined:

6. Of these, Sattva, which, from its stainlessness, is lucid and healthy, binds by attachment to happiness and by attachment to knowledge, O sinless one.
It is stainless like a pebble - stone, and therefore lucid and healthy. Sattva binds the Self by making Him think ‘I am happy’: - it binds Him by causing in Him attachment to happiness, by bringing about a union of the subject, (the Self,) with the object, (happiness). It makes Him think, "Happiness has accrued to me." This attachment to happiness is an illusion; it is avidya. An attribute of the object cannot indeed belong to the subject; and it has been said by the Lord that all the qualities from ‘desire’ to ‘courage’ (xiii. 6) are all attributes of Kshetra (matter), the object. Thus, it is through avidya alone - which forms an attribute (dharma) of the Self as the non - discrimination between the object and the subject, that Sattva causes the Self to be attached as it were to happiness, which is not His own, causes Him, who is free from all attachment, to be engrossed as it were in happiness; causes to feel happy as it were Him who does not possess the happiness. Similarly, Sattva binds the Self by attachment to knowledge, from its mention here along with ‘happiness,’ ‘knowledge’ it meant here must be an attribute of the Antah-karana - of the Kshetra (matter), of the Object, not of the Self; for if it were an attribute of the Self, it cannot be an attachment and cannot be a bondage. Attachment to knowledge arises in the same way that attachment to happiness arises.

7. Know thou Rajas (to be) of the nature of passion, the source of thirst and attachment; it binds fast, O son of Kunti, the embodied one by attachment to action.
Rajas is of the nature of passion, coloring (the soul) like a piece of red chalk, etc. Know it to be that from which arise thirst and attachment, - thirst after what has not been attained, attachment or mental adherence to what has been attained. It binds fast the embodied Self by attachment to action, by making Him attached to actions productive of visible and invisible results.

8. But, know thou Tamas to be born of unwisdom, deluding all embodied beings; by heedlessness, indolence and sloth, it binds fast, O Bharata.
The third guna, Tamas, causes delusion or non-discrimination. Again the action of the gunas is briefly described as follows:

9. Sattva attaches to happiness, Rajas to action, O Bharata, while Tamas, enshrouding wisdom, attaches, on the contrary, to heedlessness.
Tamas, by its very nature as a veil, covers the judgment caused by Sattva and attaches one to heedlessness, i.e., to the non - performance of necessary duties.

The mutual action of the gunas
When do the gunas produce the effects described above? The answer follows:

10. Sattva arises, Bharata, predominating over Rajas and Tamas; and Rajas, over Sattva and Tamas; so Tamas, over Sattva and Rajas.
When Sattva increases, predominating over both Rajas and Tamas, then, asserting itself, Sattva produces its own effect, knowledge and happiness. Similarly, when the guna of Rajas increases, predominating over both Sattva and Tamas, then it gives rise to its own effect, viz., action such as husbandry. Similarly, when the guna called Tamas increases, predominating over both Sattva and Rajas, then it produces its own effects, the covering of wisdom, etc.

How to know when a particular guna is predominant
What is the characteristic mark by which to know when a particular guna is predominant? The answer follows:

11. When at every gate in this body there shoots up wisdom - light, then it may be known that Sattva is predominant.
All the senses such as hearing are for the Self the gateways of perception. When at all these gates in this body, there arises what is called light, illumination (prakasa), - i.e. the presence of antah-karana, of buddhi, - then we have what is called knowledge (jnana). When the light of knowledge thus springs up, then, by that mark of knowledge, it may be known that Sattva is predominant. The characteristic marks of predominant Rajas are these:

12. Greed, activity, the undertaking of works, unrest, desire, - these arise when Rajas is predominant, O lord of the Bharatas.
Greed: a desire to appropriate the property of another. Activity: action in general. Unrest: giving vent to joy, attachment etc., Desire: thirst after all things in general. These are the characteristic marks seen when Rajas is predominant.

13. Darkness, heedlessness, inertness, and error, - these arise when Tamas is predominant, O descendant of Kuru.
Darkness: absence of discrimination. Inertness: Extreme inactivity, the result of darkness. Heedlessness and error are also the effects of darkness.

Life after death as governed by the gunas
Whatever result is obtained after death, even that is caused by attachment and desire and is all due to the gunas. This is taught as follows:

14. If the embodied one meets death when Sattva is predominant, then he attains to the spotless regions of the knowers of the Highest.
The embodied one: the Self. The Highest: the Mahat and the like principles (Tattvas).

15. Meeting death in Rajas, he is born among those attached to action; and, dying in Tamas, he is born in the wombs of the irrational.
If he meets death when Rajas is predominant, he is born among men, who are attached to action. The irrational: cattle and the like. Here follows a summary of what has been taught in the preceding verses:

16. The fruit of good action, they say, is Sattvic and pure; while the fruit of Rajas is pain, and ignorance is the fruit of Tamas.
Good action: Sattvic action. They: the wise. Rajas means Rajasic action, as this section treats of actions. The fruit of Rajasic actions is only pain, which is Rajasic; for, the effect should be consonant with the cause. Tamas means Tamasic action, a-dharma or sin. And what arises from the gunas?

The functions of the gunas summed up

17. From Sattva arises wisdom, and greed from Rajas; heedlessness and error arise from Tamas, and also ignorance.
From Sattva: When Sattva asserts itself. Moreover,

18. Those who follow Sattva go upwards; the Rajasic remain in the middle; and the Tamasic, who follow in the course of the lowest guna, go downwards.
Those who follow the course of Sattva - guna will be born in the region of the Devas or the like. The Rajasic will dwell among men; The Tamasic - those who follow the course of Tamas, the lowest guna - will go down, i.e., they will be born in the wombs of cattle and the like creatures.

Realization of the Self beyond the gunas leads to immortality

It has been briefly taught in the preceding discourse that the cause of Samsara - of the Purusha's birth in the wombs of high and low creatures - is the attachment which the Purusha, when under the influence of the illusory knowledge that leads him to identify himself with Prakriti, has for objects of experience, i.e., for the gunas which assume the forms of pleasure, pain and delusion, the attachment which makes him feel "I am happy, miserable, deluded." The same thing has been described at length here (xiv. 5, et. seq.): the nature of the gunas, their functions, how they bind by their functions, the destination of the persons enslaved by the functions of the gunas; all about the cause of bondage rooted in illusion. Now, with a view to teach that moksha accrues from right knowledge, the Lord says:

19. When the seer beholds riot an agent other than the gunas and knows Him who is higher than the gunas, he attains to My being.
When a man is enlightened and realizes that there is no agent other than the gunas which transform themselves into the bodies, senses and sense-objects, when he sees that it is the gunas that in all their modifications constitute the agent in all actions; when he sees Him who is distinct from the gunas, who is the Witness of the gunas and of their functions, then he attains to My being: i.e., seeing that All is Vasudeva, he becomes Vasudeva. Now the Lord proceeds to teach how he attains to it.

20. Having crossed beyond these three gunas, which are the source of the body, the embodied one is freed from birth, death, decay and pain, and attains the immortal.
The wise man crosses, while still alive, beyond the three gunas which constitute the upadhi of Maya and the seed out of which the body is evolved. He is emancipated, while still alive, from birth, death, decay and pain, and attains to immortality: in this way he attains to My being.

The marks of a liberated soul
When it was said that (the wise man) crosses beyond the gunas and attains to immortality while still alive, Arjuna found an occasion for a question and asked:

Arjuna said:
21. By what marks, O Lord, is he known who has crossed beyond those three gunas? What is his conduct, and how does he pass beyond those three gunas?
Having been thus asked by Arjuna as to what are the characteristic marks of one who has crossed beyond the gunas and as to the means of crossing the gunas, the Lord proceeds to answer the two questions. First as to the question ‘by what marks is he known who has crossed beyond the gunas?’ Listen to what follows:

The Blessed Lord said:
22. Light and activity and delusion present, O Pandava, he hates not, nor longs for them absent.
Light is the effect of Sattva, activity of Rajas, and delusion of Tamas. He does not hate these when present, when they clearly present themselves as objects of consciousness. It is only in the absence of right knowledge that a man hates them thus: ‘I have now a Tamasic idea by which I am deluded; there has arisen in me the Rajasic activity, which is painful, and urged on by this Rajas I have fallen from my true nature, and painful is this fall from my true nature; and the Sattvic guna, which is luminous, binds me by way of ascribing discrimination to me and causing attachment to happiness.’ But the man who has risen above the gunas does not thus, hate them when they present themselves to his consciousness.
Unlike a man of Sattva (or Rajas or Tamas) who longs for the Sattvic (or Rajasic or Tamasic) states which first presented themselves to his consciousness and then disappeared, he who has risen above the gunas does not long after things which have disappeared. This is a mark which others cannot perceive; it serves as a mark for the individual himself, as it can be perceived by himself alone; no man indeed can perceive the hatred or the desire which presents itself to another man's consciousness.

The conduct in life of the Liberated one
Now follows the answer to the question, what is his conduct who has risen above the gunas?

23. He who, seated as a neutral, is not moved by guns; who, thinking that gunas act, is firm and moves not.

24. He to whom pain and pleasure are alike, who dwells in the Self, to whom a clod of earth and stone and gold are alike, to whom the dear and the undear are alike, who is a man of wisdom, to whom censure and praise are same.
The Self - knowing samnyasin, like a neutral man who inclines to neither party, treads firmly the path by which he seeks to rise above the gunas; he does not swerve from the state of discrimination. This is made clearer by what follows next: the gunas transforming themselves into the body, senses and sense-objects, act and react upon each other. Thus thinking, he remains unshaken, i.e., he remains in his own true nature. - There is another reading which makes this part mean " thus thinking, he acts. Who dwells in the Self: who is calm. Moreover,

25. The same in honor and disgrace, the same towards friends and enemies, abandoning all undertakings, he is said to have crossed beyond the gunas.
The same: unaffected. Though neutral from their own standpoint, some appear to others as if they were on the side of friends or on the side of foes; but this man appears to be same to friends and foes. He renounces all actions, productive of visible and invisible results, except those which are necessary for the bare maintenance of the body.

Devotion to the Lord leads to liberation
The attributes described in xiv. 23, 24, 25, form a rule of conduct laid down for the Samnyasin who seeks moksha, so long as they are to be achieved by effort; but when they are firmly ingrained in his nature, as may be perceived by himself, they form marks indicating that the devotee has risen above the gunas. The Lord proceeds next to answer the question ‘How does one pass beyond these three gunas?'

26. And he who serves. Me with unfailing Devotion of Love, he, crossing beyond those three gunas, is fitted for becoming Brahman.
A samnyasin (yati), or even a man of works (karmin), who serves Me - the Isvara, Narayana - dwelling in the heart of all beings, with a never-failing Bhakti-Yoga, in devotion to discriminative knowledge, - this Bhakti-Yoga being indeed the result of the Grace and Mercy of the Lord, - he crosses beyond the three gunas mentioned above and is fit for becoming Brahman, i.e., for moksha. Unity of Atman How can it be so? Listen:

27. For I am the abode of Brahman, the Immortal and the Immutable, the Eternal Dharma, and the unfailing Bliss.
For, in Me, in the Pratyagatman, in the true Inner Self, abides Brahman, the Supreme Self (Paramatman) who is immortal and immutable; who is the Eternal Dharma, i.e., who is attainable by the Dharma of Jnana - Yoga or wisdom devotion; who is the unfailing Bliss, the Supreme Bliss, the Bliss Immortal.
Because I, - the Pratyagatman, the Immortal Self, - am the abode of the Supreme Self, therefore by Right Knowledge one sees that the Pratyagatman is the very Supreme Self. It is this truth which has been declared in the preceding verse in the words "he is fitted for becoming Brahman." The meaning of the passage may be explained as follows:
It is through His Isvara - Sakti, - through the power He has to manifest Himself as Isvara or the Lord of the universe, - that Brahman shews His grace to His devotees, and so on. I am only that power or Sakti in manifestation and am therefore Brahman Himself; for Sakti - power, potentiality, energy - cannot be distinct from the one in whom it inheres. The verse may also be explained as follows: By ‘Brahman,’ is here meant the Conditioned Brahman, who alone can be spoken of by any such word as ‘Brahman.’- I, the Unconditioned and the Unutterable, am the abode of the Conditioned Brahman, who is Immortal and Indestructible. I am also the abode of the Eternal Dharma of Wisdom - Devotion, and the abode of the unfailing Bliss born of that Devotion.
« Last Edit: April 17, 2019, 02:20:46 PM by Commentary »