The Essence of Bhagavad Gita Chapter 17
Three Kinds of Faith
Arjuna asked, “O Krishna, Those who disregard the scriptures but worship gods with faith; what is the state of their minds? Is it Sattvika, Rajasika, or Tamasika?
Shri Krishna said that each individual is endowed with faith. The faiths generated by the mind-set of human beings are of three kinds: Sattvika, Rajasika and Tamasika. As is the faith, so is the person.
Three kinds of worship:
Satvika people worship gods and goddesses, rajasika people worship angles and demons, while tamasika people worship ghosts and spirits.
The demonic minded people are filled with pretension and ego and they are motivated by worldly desires and attachment. They perform severe austerities disregarding the scriptural injunctions only to torture their bodies and the Self (Atman) lying within them.
Shri Krishna then described three kinds of aahaara (food), yajna (offering or worship), tapa (austerities) and daana (charity).
Three kinds of food:
Sattvika people like food that improves health and increases appetite, joy, strength, and longevity. Such food is also tasty, not very dry, cooked with balanced spices, nutritious, and pleasing to the heart.
The food rajasika people prefer is extremely bitter, sour, salty, dry, hot in temperature and with the spices that burn the tongue and the body. Such food causes pain, worries and disease.
Tamasika people like food that is ill-cooked, tasteless, putrid, stale, left-over, and filthy.
Three kinds of Yajna (offering/religious ritual/spiritual practice): Sattvika yajna is one which is performed following the guidelines of scriptures and saints, without any motive of material gain, and with a firm conviction that “I must do this for my spiritual development.”
Rajasika yajna is performed with a clear motive of material gain and just to project oneself as a spiritual person.
Tamasika yajna is performed whimsically without following any guidelines. Such yajna is performed without faith and without honoring any guide or a guest.
Three kinds of austerities: There are three kinds of austerities, namely, physical, verbal and mental. Each of these austerities is of three types: sattvika, rajasika, and tamasika.
Physical austerities include worshipping gods & goddesses, honoring spiritual seekers, Guru, and wise people, and practicing purity, simplicity, celibacy and non-violence.
Verbal austerities include study of the scriptures, repeating the name of God, not hurting anyone with speech, and speaking truth sensibly. The truth spoken must be pleasant and beneficial to others.
Mental austerities include the practice of silence, self-control, and serenity, keeping the mind free of agitations and impurities.
Each of these austerities is sattvika if it is performed with supreme faith and for spiritual development only, not for any worldly gain.
The rajasika way of performing austerity is to gain honor, attain higher status, receive reverence from people in the society, and is filled with hypocrisy. The result of such austerity is uncertain and short-lived.
When a person whimsically and out of stupidity picks up a few ideas and practices them as austerity to torture their own body and mind and simply to harm others, then it is called tamsika austerity.
Three kinds of charity:
When charity is done with a sense of responsibility and with clear understanding of the noble purpose of the receiver (an individual or an organization), given at a proper time and with proper respect, it is called sattvika charity.
Rajasika charity is done in order to receive a worldly favor and for material gain, and given after inflicting much pain to the receiver.
Charity done whimsically by giving to an unworthy person or an organization, at improper place and time, and given with insults and disrespect is called tamasika charity.
Om, Tat, and Sat:
Om, Tat and Sat are three epithets of Brahman. By that were created formerly the Brahmanas, the Vedas, and the yajnas. Therefore, the followers of the Vedas always begin all yajnas (offerings/religious rituals/spiritual practices), tapa (austerities), and charity enjoined by the scriptures with the utterance of “Om”.
People seeking liberation, uttering the word “Tat”, perform yajna, tapa, and charity only for spiritual development. Keeping in mind that “Tat” means ‘everything belongs to Brahman,’ they do not seek any worldly gain from the yajna, tapa, and charity.
The word “Sat” is used whenever one refers to the Ultimate Reality or something good or noble. The word “Sat” is also used for an auspicious action. The Sanskrit words like Sabhava, (noble feelings) Sat-jana (a good or noble person), Sat-karma (a noble action) use Sat to indicate good or noble.
Steadfastness in sattvika yajna, tapa, and charity is called “Sat.” Also, when spiritual practices, austerities, or charity are performed only for spiritual development and by offering their worldly results to God, then they are called “Sat.”
When yajna (spiritual practices), tapa (austerities), and charity are done without any faith, then they are called “Asat,” opposite to “Sat.” The Asat actions are not beneficial in this life or the next.
(Thanks to Sonali Tatapudy for editing this post.)