The Essence of Bhagavad Gita Chapter 14
The Classification of the Three Gunas
The Supreme Knowledge:
Shri Krishna said, “I will again tell you the supreme knowledge, by knowing which sages have attained the highest state a human being can attain.
My power (Prakruti) has created all the matter in the universe and I (as Purusha or Brahman) infuse Consciousness in the matter. That is how all beings come to life.
Prakruti is made out of three gunas, sattva, rajas, and tamas. These three gunas bind the Consciousness (Atman) to the matter (body and mind).
How the Atman is being tied to the Body and the Mind:
Sattva is pure, without modification, and illumined. Sattva ties the Atman to the body and mind through attachment to knowledge and happiness.
Rajas is created by the desires to please the body and mind with worldly pleasures and attachment to worldly objects. It ties the Atman to the body and mind to perform actions to fulfill these worldly desires and keep the attachment to worldly objects.
Tamas is created through ignorance. It deludes all people. Tamas ties the Atman to the body and the mind with inertia, laziness, sleep, and destructive activities.
Rising of each guna:
Each guna rises by dominating the other two gunas.
When the sattva guna rises, there is full awareness of the Atman in the body and mind. When the rajas rises, then greed, desires and activities to fulfill worldly pleasures, and restlessness prevails in the person. When tamas rises, the body and mind are filled with inertia, laziness, delusion and destructive activities.
Results of each guna:
When the sattva guna dominates, a person performs good actions, and the results of these good actions are happiness and an awareness of the Atman (one’s true identity). The results of actions performed under the domination of rajas are suffering and greed. The results of actions performed under the domination of tamas are ignorance and delusion.
The Consciousness of the people in whom sattva dominates most of the time remains in the higher state, which brings knowledge, happiness, and inner peace. The Consciousness of the people in whom rajas dominates most of the time remains in mediocre state which brings suffering, confusion, and attachment to the worldly pleasures and objects. The Consciousness of the people in whom tamas dominates most of the time remains in the lower state which brings ignorance, delusion, inertia, and destruction.
When a person dies living a sattvika-oriented life, he/she takes birth in the family of sattvika people. When a person dies living a rajasika-oriented life, he/she takes birth into a family of rajasika people. When a person dies living a tamasika-oriented life, he/she takes birth as an inert material or a lower species.
How to attain the highest knowledge?
When a person realizes that the body and mind are dominated by the three gunas and he/she, as Atman, is just the Witness Consciousness being unaffected by the three gunas, then the person attains the highest (supreme) knowledge.”
How a person with the highest knowledge behaves in the world?
Arjuna asked, “O Lord Krishna! How can a person go beyond the three gunas and realize that he/she is an Atman, a Witness Consciousness? What are the characteristics of such a person? How does that person behave in the world?
Shri Krishna said, “A person who has gone beyond the three gunas and realized that his/her true identity is the Atman (the Witness Consciousness) will not hate when any guna rises in him/her and does not crave for any guna when it subsides. Such a person remains calm within and observes like an outsider how his/her body and mind function due to the gunas. Such a person realizes that his/her body and mind are constantly changing, but as Atman he/she remains the same.
(The nature of Atman is Existence, Knowledge, and Bliss Absolute. This means that a person as Atman is the eternal Life Force, has all the Awareness or Knowledge, and has a nature that is Infinite Bliss.)
Realizing that his/her true nature is Atman, a person goes beyond the three gunas. The following are a few characteristics of such a person. Such a person (1) remains calm while going through the joyful and sorrowful situations of life, (2) sees no existential difference between dirt, stone and gold, (3) does not become elated when favorable things happen and does not become depressed when unfavorable things happen, (4) always remains fully aware and knowledgeable about all things occurring and keeps complete control on oneself, (5) knows that the praise and blame, honor and insult are temporary and they come together as two sides of a coin, (6) is unbiased towards friends and foes, and (7) does not engage in any selfish (related only to the temporary pleasures of the body and mind) activity.
With the above mentioned characteristics, when a person has an unswerving intense love for Me (meaning has intense passion to realize one’s true identity as Brahman or Atman and makes proper effort for this), goes beyond the three gunas, and becomes one with the Atman (or Brahman).
Remember I (Brahman or Atman) am the abode of Immortality, the True Righteousness, and the Infinite Bliss.”
- If we know the characteristics of the three gunas, then we will be aware of the rising of each guna in us and we can understand the cause of our thoughts and behavior. We can also understand the cause of other people’s thoughts and behaviors and treat them the best way we can. This understanding of gunas definitely helps us to know ourselves better and improves our relationship with others.
- All three gunas are needed to live a life. Sattva is needed for knowledge, happiness and peace of mind. Rajas is needed to maintain the body and keeping the mind alert. Tamas is needed to rest the body and mind. These three gunas should be in proper proportions. In order to attain the supreme knowledge we have to control tamas to its proper proportion by raising rajas and similarly to keep rajas in proper proportion we have to raise sattva. Finally, we have to go beyond the three gunas.
- Sri Ramakrishna told an excellent parable that gives a clear picture of these gunas. A person was going through a deep forest. Three robbers came and robbed him and beat him. One robber said, “Let’s kill him, so he cannot tell the police about us.” The second robber said, “There is no need to kill him. Let’s tie him to a tree and leave him to die on his own fate.” They tied him to a tree and left. The third robber who was quiet and did not initially do anything, came back. He said, “Oh! You have suffered so much and you are in pain. Let me untie you and relieve you from this pain.” He untied the traveler and said, “I know the way out from this forest. Follow me.” The third robber took the traveler out from the forest. But, the robber stayed at the border of the forest and pointed the traveler a path to his home. The traveler said, “You are a very nice person. Please come with me to my home. My family will like to see you.” The third robber said, “No. I cannot come out of this forest. I am also a robber.”
The three robbers are three gunas, sattva, rajas, and tamas. The robber who was ready to kill is tamas, the robber which tied the person is rajas, and the robber who relieved the person and showed him the path leading towards his home is sattva. Home is our own true identity Atman which is our divine self. In order to realize Atman we have to go beyond the three gunas. Sattva is closer to Atman. But, we should not even have awareness that ‘I am sattvika.’ When we go beyond the three gunas, we become free from all bondages. Such a person truly lives a life as a master of oneself and not as a slave.
- A person who has gone beyond the three gunas is called a Gunatita. A Gunatita person is not inactive. To the contrary, such a person is intensely active to unselfishly serve all beings seeing the same Atman in all. In the presence of such a person, we feel an unspeakable bliss, peace of mind, a clear understanding of the purpose of life, and derive inspiration to realize Atman and be free from all bondages.
(Thanks to Rushil Desai for editing this post.)