THREE MODES OF MATERIAL NATURE
Lord Krishna said: I shall further explain to you the supreme knowledge, the best of all knowledge, knowing this all the sages have attained salvation. (14.01)
Those 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)
Material Nature, a product of divine kinetic energy (Maya), is the origin of the entire universe. Material Nature creates living beings when the seed of Spirit is sown in it for germination.
Whatever forms are produced in all different wombs, O Arjuna, the material Nature is their body-giving cosmic 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) of material Nature fetter the eternal individual soul to the body, O Arjuna. (14.05) strand
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 – the deluder of the living entity – 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 Self-knowledge. (14.09)
The mode of goodness keeps one away from sinful acts and leads one to Self-knowledge and happiness, but not to salvation. The mode of passion creates strong Karmic bonds and takes the individual further away from liberation. Such persons know right and wrong actions based on religious principles, but are unable to follow them because of strong impulses of lust. The mode of passion obscures real knowledge of Self and causes one to experience both the pain and pleasure of this worldly life. Such persons are very much attached to wealth, power, prestige, sensual pleasure, and are very selfish and greedy. In the mode of ignorance, one is unable to recognize the real goal of life, unable to distinguish between right and wrong action, and remains attached to sinful and forbidden activities. Such a person is lazy, violent, lacks intellect, and has no interest in spiritual knowledge.
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 illuminates all the senses in the body, then it should be known that goodness is predominant. (14.11)
The sense organs (nose, tongue, eye, skin, ear, mind, and intellect) are called the gateway to Self-knowledge in the body. The mind and intellect get into the mode of goodness and become receptive to Self-knowledge when senses are purified by selfless service, discipline, and spiritual practice. It is also said in verse 14.17 that the rise of Self-knowledge takes place when one’s mind gets firmly established in the mode of goodness. As objects are seen very clearly in the light, similarly, one perceives and thinks in the right perspective, and the senses shun whatever is improper. There is no attraction in the mind for sensual pleasures when the senses are illumined by the dawning of the light of Self-knowledge.
O Arjuna, when passion is predominant, greed, activity, undertaking of selfish work, restlessness, and excitement arise. (14.12)
O Arjuna, when inertia is predominant, ignorance, inactivity, carelessness, and delusion arise. (14.13)
A particular mode of Nature becomes dominant in the present life due to one’s past Karma. The three modes fuel the vehicles of transmigration that carry one’s baggage of Karma, as discussed in the following verses.
THREE MODES ARE ALSO THE VEHICLES OF TRANSMIGRATION FOR THE INDIVIDUAL SOUL
One who dies when goodness dominates of goodness goes to heaven – the pure world of knowers of the Supreme. (14.14)
One who dies when passion dominates is reborn attached to action (or the utilitarian). One who dies in ignorance is reborn as a lower creature. (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 the 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 three modes of material Nature (Gunas), and know the Supreme which is above and beyond these modes, then they attain Nirvana or salvation. (See also 3.27, 5.09, and 13.29) (14.19)
Karmic laws bind one who does not believe that the Lord controls everything and who considers oneself the doer, enjoyer, and owner (BP 6.12.12). The power of doing all actions, good or bad, proceeds from God, but we are ultimately responsible for our actions because we also have the power to reason. God has given us the power to do work; however, we are free to use the power in the right or wrong way and become liberated or bound.
The good Lord gives one only the faculties to act; He is not liable for one’s actions. It is up to the individual to decide how to act. This decision is controlled by the modes of material Nature and is governed by one’s past Karma. Those who understand this properly know how to act and do not blame God for their misfortunes or feel jealous of others’ fortune.
Due to ignorance created by illusory energy (Maya), one considers oneself the doer and consequently becomes bound by Karma and undergoes transmigration (BP 11.11.10). Whenever one asserts or even thinks of oneself as doing things, one assumes the role of a doer, becomes accountable for the action (Karma), and gets caught in the intricate Karmic net of transmigration.
When one rises above, or transcends 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 transcends the mode of material Nature who neither hates the presence of enlightenment, activity, and delusion nor desires them when they are absent; who remains like a witness without being affected by the modes of material Nature; who stays firmly attached to the Lord without wavering – thinking that only the modes of material Nature are operating. (14.22-23)
And one who depends on the Lord and is indifferent to pain and pleasure; to whom a clod, a stone, and gold are alike and to whom the dear and the unfriendly are alike; who is of firm mind; who is calm in censure and in praise and indifferent to honor and disgrace; who is impartial to friend and foe; and who has renounced the sense of doership. (14.24-25)
Guru Nanak said: One who obeys the will of God with pleasure is free and wise. Gold and stone, pain and pleasure are alike only for such a person.
BONDS OF THREE MODES CAN BE CUT BY DEVOTIONAL LOVE
One who serves Me with love and unswerving devotion transcends the three modes of material Nature and becomes fit for Nirvana. (See also 7.14 and 15.19) (14.26)
Unswerving devotion is defined as the loving devotion in which one does not depend on any other person, but only God for everything.
The mode of goodness is the topmost rung of the ladder leading to the Truth, but it is not the Truth as such. The three modes of material Nature have to be transcended, step by step. First, one has to overcome the modes of ignorance and passion and become established in the mode of goodness by developing certain values and following certain disciplines. Then one becomes ready to surmount the dualities of good and bad, pain and pleasure, and to rise to the higher transcendental plane by going beyond the highest mode – the mode of goodness.
Spiritual practices and vegetarian food raise the mind from the modes of ignorance and passion to the transcendental plane of bliss where pairs of opposites disappear. The mode of goodness is the natural result of profound thought generated by firm understanding of metaphysics. Anybody can easily cross the ocean of illusion (Maya), consisting of three modes of material Nature, by the boat of firm faith, devotion, and exclusive love for God. There is no other way to transcend the three modes of material Nature and attain salvation. It is also said that anyone situated in any one of the three modes of material nature can come up to the transcendental plane by the grace of a genuine and empowered guru.
Because I am the source of the immortal Spirit, of everlasting cosmic order (Dharma), and of the absolute bliss. (14.27)
The Supreme Being is the source or the basis of Spirit. Spirit is one of the expansions of the Supreme Being. It is Spirit (of the Supreme Being) that performs the entire cosmic drama and sustains everything. Therefore, Spirit is also called the Supreme Being or the Lord.
It is very significant that Lord Krishna never used such words as “worship the Supreme God,” or “the Absolute is the basis of everything.” In this verse and elsewhere in the Gita, Lord Krishna declares that He is the Supreme Spirit. Krishna means different things to different people. Some commentators consider Krishna other than God; others call Him a “Hindu God.” To others Krishna is a politician, a teacher, a divine lover, and a diplomat. To devotees, Krishna is the incarnation of the Absolute and the object of love. Readers would do well just to understand and use Krishna’s teachings in their daily lives without getting confused about who was Krishna.