The Fourteenth Teaching
Nature’s (Prakriti’s) Three Qualities (Gunas)
I shall teach you further about true knowledge, ultimate knowledge, that all the sages have mastered and then reached perfection.
Resorting to this knowledge, they follow my ways; when the world is created they are not reborn, when the world dissolves they suffer no sorrow.
Nature is my womb; in it I place my seed, and from nature bursts forth the origin of all beings.
Nature is the primal womb of all life forms that develop, and I am their seed-giving father.
Lucidity (sattva), passion (rajas), and dark inertia (tamas)-the three qualities (gunas) inherent in nature bind the deathless self, atman, to the body.
Of the three, lucidity, pure, luminous and without decay binds us by means of attachment to happiness and wisdom, Arjuna.
Passion is emotional, born of craving and attachment; it binds the embodied Self to never ending activity.
Tamas is ignorance; it binds us through heedlessness, indolence and sleep.
Lucidity causes attachment to joy, passion to action, and dark inertia obscuring knowledge attaches beings to dullness.
Lucidity dominates passion and inertia, it thrives; and likewise passion or inertia prevails when they dominate the other two.
When the light of knowledge shines forth through all the gates of the body, then one knows that lucidity is the dominating trait.
When passion is the dominating trait, Arjuna, greed and activity, involvement in excessive projects, restlessness and craving arise.
When dark inertia dominates darkness, dullness, inactivity, confusion and stagnation arise.
If a being dies in a state of lucidity, he enters the untainted world of those who have seen the truth.
If a being dies in a state of passion, he is born among those attached to action; if he dies in a state of dark inertia, he is born into womb of deluded.
The fruit of action well done is lucid and stainless; but suffering is the fruit of passion and ignorance the fruit of dark inertia.
From lucidity understanding is born; from passion comes restlessness and greed; from dark inertia come infatuation, confusion, and ignorance.
Men who are lucid go upward; men of passion stay in between; men of dark inertia, lowest of all, sink downwards.
When a man of vision sees clearly that the three gunas are the agents of action and knows what lies beyond them, he enters into my state of being.
Transcending the three gunas that are body ‘s source, freed from the sorrows of birth, death and old age, he attains immortality.
Lord, what are the characteristics of the one who has gone beyond the three gunas?
How has he gone beyond gunas’ hold? How does he act?
Whatever quality rises-harmony, activity or delusion-he does not dislike it nor does he like it when it is there or not there.
He remains unattached, unmoved by qualities of nature; he never wavers, knowing that only the gunas are in motion. He abides within himself.
He is self-reliant, impartial to suffering and joy, content with whatever happens, who sees clay, stone, or gold as equal, who is unperturbed amid praise or blame, indifferent to honor or disgrace.
Serene in success and failure, impartial to friend and foe, who abandons involvements-that man has transcended the gunas.
He, who serves me faithfully, with the yoga of devotion, transcending the three gunas, is ready to attain the infinite freedom.
For I am the foundation of the birthless, imperishable freedom, the eternal, the unchanging, the deathless, the duty and the source of perfect joy.
As I Understand It:
The thirteenth chapter introduced the two categories namely Prakriti and Purusha. While Purusha is the spiritual basis of every being prakriti is its manifest form.
The current chapter describes Prakriti as the very fabric of existence-the basis of the world of matter and mind. When the equilibrium of prakriti is disturbed it gets divided in three energy strands, gunas. They are tamas, rajas and sattva. Every state of matter and mind is an expression of the gunas. In any one situation only one guna predominates.
The interplay of three gunas is the dynamics of individual personality. Sattva is harnessed energy of goodness, purity, harmony and balance. This state is of natural harmony that comes with unity of purpose, character and desire. Sattvic person is detached, unruffled and self-controlled. Rajas is uncontrolled energy of passion that can be good or bad. In a rajasi person this energy may express itself as anger, greed, hate but it also makes the person extremely energetic and motivated to act. Tamas is frozen energy. It is characterized by darkness and sloth. A tamasi individual is indifferent, insensitive, and sluggish. He is completely ignorant of the unity of life and only cares for his own selfish urges.
The three gunas are present in all individuals or phenomenon but they continuously change. Their mixture, always in flux, colors human experiences. The individual who is able to transcend the three gunas through detachment and grounding; who knows that the play of the gunas is not eternal, only atman is, transcends the gunas. Thus through steadfast love and devotion he is able to identify and merge with Brahman through Krishna.
Purusha, as atman or the Self abides in the inner chamber of the heart and is always at peace with whatever storms go on outside. Purusha of the Sankhya is same as Brahman of the Vedanta. It is the pure spirit-consciousness itself, and belongs to a wholly different reality than the material world that is prakriti.
Purusha dwells in each human heart as atman. It witnesses and does not participate. When an individual attains illumination he goes beyond the confines of prakriti into the spiritual realm of Purusha or Brahman that Krishna expounds in the Gita.
The Bhagavad Gita, Introduced and Translated by Eknath Easwaran, Nilgiri Press, Blue Mountain Center of Meditation, California. Second Edition, 2008. (1st Pub. 1985).
The Bhagavad-Gita: Krishna Counsel in Time of War, Translation and Introduction by Barbara Stoler Miller. Bantam Doubleday Dell Group, Inc. New York. Bantam Books, 1986.
Bhagavad Gita: A New Translation, Stephen Mitchell, Three Rivers Press, New York, 2000.