Essence of the Bhagavad Gita – Chapter 18 (Part II of III, Shlokas 29 – 55)
The Path to Liberation through Renunciation
Shri Krishna said, “I will tell you in detail three kinds of intellect and fortitude, which are divided by the three gunas.
The Three Kinds of Intellect:
The first type of intellect is called the Sattvika (superior) Intellect. This is the kind of intellect that knows clearly the difference between the path of householders and the path of Sanyasins (people who renounce everything to realize God). The Sattvika Intellect knows which actions are their responsibilities to perform and which are not, whom to fear and whom not to, and the difference between things that lead to slavery versus those that lead to freedom.
The type of intellect that creates confusion between righteousness and unrighteousness, and what is or is not a responsibility is called the Rajasika (mediocre) Intellect.
The lowest form of intellect that has a reverse understanding of everything due to ignorance is called the Tamasika (inferior) Intellect. A person with Tamasika Intellect sees righteous as unrighteous and unrighteous as righteous.
The Three Kinds of Fortitude:
The fortitude by which a person gathers one’s mind and directs it along with the vital forces and the senses, single-pointedly towards the Self (Atman), is called the Sattvika (supreme) fortitude.
The fortitude by which a person with worldly desires passionately works for sense-pleasures and money, and performs religious rituals for worldly comforts or heaven, is called the Rajasika (mediocre) fortitude.
The fortitude by which a person with undeveloped intellect does not give up sleep, fear, grief, despondency, and arrogance, is called the Tamasika (inferior) fortitude.
The Three Kinds of Happiness:
The first kind of happiness is that which is felt within, as a result of spiritual practices done to realize God and being aware of one’s own true identity (Atman). This kind of happiness removes all the sorrows of life. It is called the Sattvika (superior) happiness. Initially, the spiritual practices which lead one to this type of happiness may be painful, but after overcoming the initial period of difficulties, one will begin to feel more and more happiness and bliss.
The kind of happiness that results of the union of the senses and the objects of the senses is referred to as Rajasika (mediocre) happiness. Initially, this happiness feels like nectar, but eventually results in pain, worries, and slavery.
The third kind of happiness is a result of things like excessive sleep, laziness, and negligence. It is called Tamasika (inferior) happiness. It deludes the mind in the beginning and also at the end.
The Power of the Three Gunas:
There is nothing, neither a person nor an object, born on this earth or anywhere in the universe that is beyond the dominance of the three gunas.
Classification of People’s Duties According to Their Natural Tendencies (dominance of the gunas/traits in them):
The duties of various categories of people, including Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra, have been divided according to the characteristics they have developed due to their natural tendencies.
The Duties of Brahmins (Spiritual Teachers):
The duties of Brahmins are (1) to have control over their senses and mind, (2) to perform austerities, (3) to maintain internal and external purity, (4) to forgive people, (5) to keep their mind simple (devoid of crookedness), (6) to have firm faith in the scriptures and God, (7) to study scriptures to realize God, (8) to make efforts to realize God, and (9) to have direct experience of God.
The Duties of Kshatriyas (Soldiers):
The duties of Kshatriyas are the following: (1) to develop and show heroism, high spirit, firmness, and skill to solve problems, (2) to never run away from a battlefield (3) to be charitable in nature, and (4) to take up responsibility for the people they protect.
The Duties of the Vaishyas (Business People):
The duties of Vaishyas are said to be (1) honestly doing business and (2) protection and sustenance of farming, animals, and the environment.
The Duty of Shudras (Laborers):
The duty of Shudras determined due to their natural tendencies is to provide services to all.
How One Can Attain Supreme Knowledge by Performing One’s Duties:
If one sincerely performs one’s duties or responsibilities as a householder, then one attains the same Supreme Knowledge that a yogi attains by renouncing the world.
Let me tell you how one can attain such Supreme Knowledge simply by performing one’s responsibilities.
When a person becomes aware, through the performance of his/her responsibilities, that (s)he is worshiping the Creator of the universe, by whom the whole universe is pervaded, then (s)he will attain Supreme Knowledge.
Poorly performing one’s own responsibilities is better than well-performed someone else’s responsibilities. If one performs one’s own responsibilities, then one will not feel guilt.
(Note: Think of it as though each person is a point in the universe that is made out of space-time-causation. Each one has one’s own responsibilities, according to the placement of the point. The physical universe is functioning because the five elements (space, wind, fire, water, and earth), the sun, the moon, and plants, etc. perform their individual responsibilities. Similarly, if each human being performs his/her responsibilities, the entire human society can function smoothly. When people do not perform their responsibilities, then conflicts and chaos arise in families or in the greater society. (Regardless of our willful compliance, we have to remember that, sooner or later, we will be forced to perform our responsibilities anyway, per nature’s laws and forces greater than us.)
As every fire generates smoke, so does every action have unpleasant consequences associated with it. Therefore, one should not quit ones responsibilities foreseeing their unpleasant consequences.
If one is fully detached (realizing that everything belongs to God), has full self-control, and desires only to realize the Ultimate Reality or Truth, that person, by renouncing the results of his/her actions, attains the highest state of supreme calmness and peace, even while he/she remains intensely active in the world. This is a state of freedom from all bondages created by consequences of actions performed.
Inner Calmness and Peace Lead to the Realization of Brahman (the Ultimate Truth or Reality):
O Arjuna! I will tell you briefly how a person, who has attained inner calmness and peace within, by properly performing one’s responsibilities, realizes Brahman, the Supreme Knowledge, which the Jnani attains through renunciation of all actions.
When a person develops the following characteristics through properly performing actions, then (s)he becomes worthy of being one with Brahman (the highest state that a human being can attain).
(1) pure intellect (which clearly discriminates between right and wrong), (2) sattvika fortitude, (3) control of mind and senses, (4) free of distraction from worldly objects that attract the senses, (5) beyond attachments and hatred, (6) love for solitude that helps one to focus one’s mind on God and reflect upon the purpose of life, (7) keep the intake of the senses minimum whether that be intake of food by mouth, or through any other senses (8) control of speech and body, (9) continuous engagement in meditation, (10) being established in renunciation, (11) removal of ego, power, pride, lust, anger, and possessions, (12) have replaced “Me and mine” by “Thee and thine”, and (13) a peaceful nature.
Such a person, being one with Brahman, is very happy within, does not grieve for loss, does not desire anything in the world, and sees all as manifestations of Brahman, attains supreme love for God.
Having attained this supreme love for God, (s)he knows Me (God with form and God without form) in totality, and then becomes one with Me.
(Thanks to Radha Dhar for editing this post.)