by Swami Krishnananda
What do these gunas do? What is their effect on a person? When a particular guna is preponderating in a person, what happens to that person? That is the description of the Fourteenth Chapter, part of which we have already studied yesterday.
Sattvam sukhe sa njayati (14.9): When sattva has the upper hand in us, we feel satisfied, contented, relieved, and happy. Rajah karmani bharata: When rajas is preponderating, we feel like getting up and doing this work and that work, and never want to sit quiet. This is what rajas does. Jnanam avrtya tu tamah pramade sanjayaty uta: When tamas is predominating, we have no idea as to what to do and what not to do. There is confusion about the pros and cons of things. There is no proper judgment as to the way any step has to be taken in a given direction; and even if some step is taken, it will be a wrong step and it will end in some fumbling and catastrophic conclusion. This is what tamas does. Sattva leads to happiness and satisfaction, rajas to intense activity, and tamas to ignorance and inability to decide what is proper and what is improper.
Rajas tamas chabhibhuya sattvam bhavati bharata, rajah sattvam tamas chaiva tamah sattvam rajas tatha (14.10): No particular guna can be operating always in any person. They have a cyclic movement, as it were. Partly due to their fickleness and partly due to some karmas that a person has done in a previous birth, certain gunas operate for a shorter period or a longer period; but no guna can operate continuously throughout the life of a person. There is a coming and going of the gunas.
When sattva rises up into action, it suppresses rajas and tamas for the time being. When rajas rises into action, it suppresses sattva and tamas for the time being. When tamas is predominant, it suppresses rajas and sattva. It doesn’t mean that the suppressed qualities are destroyed. They are only made inoperative for the time being on account of the vehemence of the activity of a particular guna. Why they should be so very predominant at a particular time in the case of an individual is difficult to explain, except in terms of the karmas of the past – because in some cases a guna may be there for a fraction of a moment, or it may there for days; but why this difference? This has to be attributed only to the deserts of the individual in terms of what one has done in the previous birth. Anyway, the principle behind the operation of the three gunas is that when one is active, the other two are inactive.
Sarva – dvareshu dehe’smin prakasa upajayate, jnanam yada tada vidyad vivrddham sattvam it i uta (14.11): When all the sense organs are in a kind of radiance, as it were, there is brightness in the face; there is a kind of composure in the personality of an individual, and there is a kind of calm and quiet aura around that person. If this is recognised in any individual, we must conclude that sattva is predominant in that person. There will be sparkling of the eyes, clarity of perception, radiance of face, and perspicuity even in speaking and expression.
Lobhah pravrttir arambhah karmanam asamah sprha, rajasy etani jayante vivrddhe bharatarshabha (14.12): When rajas becomes active, there is greed in the mind of a person. There is a sense of possessiveness: “I want this, I want that,” and the person is never satisfied with anything. The more we have, the still more we want; that is called greed, and it is one of the characteristics of rajoguna. Always starting new projects but not being able to bring them to conclusion, never ceasing activity, and going on creating occasions for activity till the end of one’s life – with desire at the back of all these projects of action – these are supposed to be the basic qualities of rajoguna.
Aprakaso’pravrttis cha pramado moha eva cha, tamasy etani jayante vivrddhe kuru – nandana (14.13): When tamas predominates, what happens? There is no light in front of oneself. There is no radiance or hope on the horizon at all and, therefore, there is no inclination to do anything. There is an inactive tendency in the person. As mentioned already, there is always the committing of mistakes whenever any kind of initiative is taken. There is delusion at the back of all these things. That is the essential nature of tamoguna.
Yada sattve pravrddhe tu pralayam yati deha – bhrt, tadottama – vidam lokan amalan pratipadyate (14.14): If a person leaves this body while sattva is predominant, then that person reaches higher worlds such as heaven, and even regions above heaven. Rajasi pralayam gatva karma – sangishu jayate, tatha pralinas tamasi mudha – yonishu jayate (14.15): But if a person dies while rajas is predominant in the mind, he is then reborn into conditions of intense labour, work and attachment. Mudha-yonishu jayate: If one dies while tamas is predominant, he will be reborn in a subhuman species as some kind of animal; and even if he is born as a human being, he will be a non-utilitarian individual with no understanding and no consciousness of the purpose of life – the kind of person who is usually called idiotic.
Karmanah sukrtasyahuh sattvikam nirmalam phalam (14.16): The result of meritorious deeds, which are sattvic in nature, is purity, internal illumination, and satisfaction. If actions are rajas-ridden, pain is the result that follows. If actions are done under the influence of tamas, there is some increase in one’s own ignorance. This is because every action done under the influence of tamas, because of its being motivated by ajnana or ignorance, will be only capable of producing an effect which will be another form of ajnana.
Sattvat sanjayate jnanam (14.17): Knowledge arises through sattva. Intellectuality, rationality, understanding, education, wisdom – all these are qualities of sattva. Rajaso lobha eva cha: Greed is the quality of rajas. Pramada – mohau tamaso bhavato’jnanameva cha (14.17): Ajnana (ignorance) and the inability to do anything with a consciousness of the effect of the action are results of tamoguna p rakriti.
Urdhvam gacchanti sattva-stha (14.18): Those who live in a state of sattva and depart while sattva is preponderating go to higher worlds. Madhye tishthanti rajasah: Those with rajoguna pravritti and those who die when the rajoguna pravritti is predominant will be reborn into this world. Madhya means middle-region, which is this earth. Jaghanya-guna-vrtti-stha adho gacchanti tamasah: Those who are predominantly tamasic and die while tamas is preponderating will be born in regions lower than the earth. The scriptures call them nether regions.
When a person with his eye of wisdom sees that all the drama of life is only a performance of the three gunas, and nobody does anything anywhere except the three gunas, and knows at the same time there is something above the three gunas – such a person attains to unity with Brahman. Nanyam gunebhah kartaram yada drashtanupasyati, gunebhyas cha param vetti madbhavam so’dhigacchati (14.19): “He attains to Me, attains union with Me in my Eternal State provided that there is a vision perpetually maintained by that person that there is no actor in this world, no performer of deeds other than the three gunas of prakriti, and one’s own real self is transcendent, above the three gunas. Such a person is liberated even while in this life itself.”
Gunan etan atitya trin dehi deha-samudbhavan, janma-mrtyu-jara-duhkhair vimukto’mrtam asnute (14.20): He attains immortality, free from the sorrow of birth, death, old age and the like; such a person attains the Eternal Abode. Who is that person? One who has transcended the three gunas, and is unaffected by sattva, unaffected by rajas, and unaffected by tamas.
What are the insignia of a person who has transcended the three gunas? Arjuna puts a question: “How can we recognise a person who has transcended the three gunas? What are his qualities? How does he behave?” Here is found the gunatita lakshana, which is almost similar to the qualities described as sthitaprajna lakshana in the Second Chapter.
Arjuna uvacha. Kair lingais trin gunan etan atito bhavati prabho; kim acharah katham chaitams trin gunan ativartate (14.21): “What are the marks of a person who has transcended the gunas? What are the ways in which he conducts himself in the world? Please tell me.”
Sri Bhagavan uvacha. Na dveshti sam-pravrttani na nivrttani kankshati (14.22): The Lord says, “When some effects follow due to the operation of sattva or of rajas or of tamas, the person who has transcended the qualities of prakriti neither is elated nor is disgusted, nor is there any resentment towards their operation.” When sattva operates, he does not exult. When rajas and tamas operate, he is not in any way affected. Whether the gunas are actively operating or whether they withdraw themselves into a state of inactivity, it makes no difference to this person, because he sees them as they are – objects of the witness consciousness – and he does not identify his consciousness with the three gunas.
Udasinavad asinao (14.23): He remains silent, taking no initiative in anything, appearing to be a person who has no intention of doing anything at all. He keeps quiet, knowing all things. He seems to be doing nothing, yet is internally doing many things. He is not affected then by the operation of the gunas even when they blow like a whirlwind on his person.
Guna vartanta ity eva yo’vatishthati nengate: Fickleness of the mind is caused by the coming and going of the three gunas, which sometimes makes the mind feel satisfied, sometimes makes it restless, sometimes makes it feel fatigued or slothful. These operations of the psyche will be witnessed by his consciousness, and he will not identify himself with the properties of the psyche which are usually affected by the gunas.