The previous chapter explained in detail the distinction between the soul and the material body. This chapter describes the nature of the material energy, which is the source of the body and its elements, and is thus the origin of both mind and matter. Shree Krishna explains that material nature is constituted of three modes (guṇas)—goodness, passion, and ignorance. The body, mind, and intellect that are made from the material energy also possess these three modes, and the mix of the modes in our being determines the color of our personality. The mode of goodness is characterized by peacefulness, well-being, virtue, and serenity; the mode of passion gives rise to endless desires and insatiable ambitions for worldly enhancement; and the mode of ignorance is the cause for delusion, laziness, intoxication, and sleep. Until the soul attains illumination, it must learn to deal with these three powerful forces of material nature. Liberation lies in transcending all three of these modes.
Shree Krishna reveals a simple solution for breaking out of the bondage of these guṇas. The Supreme Lord is transcendental to the three modes, and if we attach ourselves to him, then our mind will also rise to the divine platform. At this point, Arjun enquires about the characteristics of those who have gone beyond the three guṇas. Shree Krishna then systematically explains the traits of such liberated souls. He explains that illumined persons remain ever equipoised; they are not disturbed when they see the guṇas functioning in the world, and their effects manifesting in persons, objects, and situations. They see everything as a manifestation of God’s energies, which are ultimately in his hands. Thus, worldly situations neither make them jubilant nor miserable, and without wavering, they remain established in the self. The chapter ends with Shree Krishna again reminding us of the power of devotion and its ability to make us transcend the three guṇas.
The Divine Lord said: I shall once again explain to you the supreme wisdom, the best of all knowledge; by knowing which, all the great saints attained the highest perfection.
Those who take refuge in this wisdom will be united with me. They will not be reborn at the time of creation nor destroyed at the time of dissolution.
The total material substance, prakṛiti, is the womb. I impregnate it with the individual souls, and thus all living beings are born. O son of Kunti, for all species of life that are produced, the material nature is the womb, and I am the seed-giving Father.
O mighty-armed Arjun, the material energy consists of three guṇas (modes)—sattva (goodness), rajas (passion), and tamas (ignorance). These modes bind the eternal soul to the perishable body.
Amongst these, sattva guṇa, the mode of goodness, being purer than the others, is illuminating and full of well-being. O sinless one, it binds the soul by creating attachment for a sense of happiness and knowledge.
O Arjun, rajo guṇa is of the nature of passion. It arises from worldly desires and affections, and binds the soul through attachment to fruitive actions.
O Arjun, tamo guṇa, which is born of ignorance, is the cause of illusion for the embodied souls. It deludes all living beings through negligence, laziness, and sleep.
Sattva binds one to material happiness; rajas conditions the soul toward actions; and tamas clouds wisdom and binds one to delusion.
Sometimes goodness (sattva) prevails over passion (rajas) and ignorance (tamas), O scion of Bharat. Sometimes passion (rajas) dominates goodness (sattva) and ignorance (tamas), and at other times ignorance (tamas) overcomes goodness (sattva) and passion (rajas).
When all the gates of the body are illumined by knowledge, know it to be a manifestation of the mode of goodness. When the mode of passion predominates, O Arjun, the symptoms of greed, exertion for worldly gain, restlessness, and craving develop. O Arjun, nescience, inertia, negligence, and delusion—these are the dominant signs of the mode of ignorance.
Those who die with predominance of sattva reach the pure abodes (which are free from rajas and tamas) of the learned. Those who die with prevalence of the mode of passion are born among people driven by work, while those dying in the mode of ignorance take birth in the animal kingdom.
It is said the fruit of actions performed in the mode of goodness bestow pure results. Actions done in the mode of passion result in pain, while those performed in the mode of ignorance result in darkness.
From the mode of goodness arises knowledge, from the mode of passion arises greed, and from the mode of ignorance arise negligence and delusion.
Those situated in the mode of goodness rise upward; those in the mode of passion stay in the middle; and those in the mode of ignorance go downward.
When wise persons see that in all works there are no agents of action other than the three guṇas, and they know me to be transcendental to these guṇas, they attain my divine nature.
By transcending the three modes of material nature associated with the body, one becomes free from birth, death, disease, old age, and misery, and attains immortality.
Arjun inquired: What are the characteristics of those who have gone beyond the three guṇas, O Lord? How do they act? How do they go beyond the bondage of the guṇas?
The Supreme Divine Personality said: O Arjun, The persons who are transcendental to the three guṇas neither hate illumination (which is born of sattva), nor activity (which is born of rajas), nor even delusion (which is born of tamas), when these are abundantly present, nor do they long for them when they are absent. They remain neutral to the modes of nature and are not disturbed by them. Knowing it is only the guṇas that act, they stay established in the self, without wavering.
Those who are alike in happiness and distress; who are established in the self; who look upon a clod, a stone, and a piece of gold as of equal value; who remain the same amidst pleasant and unpleasant events; who are intelligent; who accept both blame and praise with equanimity; who remain the same in honor and dishonor; who treat both friend and foe alike; and who have abandoned all enterprises – they are said to have risen above the three guṇas.
Those who serve me with unalloyed devotion rise above the three modes of material nature and come to the level of Brahman.
I am the basis of the formless Brahman, the immortal and imperishable, of eternal dharma, and of unending divine bliss.