The subject of the three modes of material nature is of great importance to souls who have taken birth in the material world because of envying God. In the fourteenth chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead (the perfect spiritual master) instructs Arjuna (the perfect disciple) on the characteristics of the three modes of material nature: goodness, passion, and ignorance. Lord Krishna's instructions include directions on how to transcend the three material modes and enter the spiritual realm.
In his commentary on the beginning verses of this chapter, Srila Prabhupada explains that the living entity, the spirit soul, is entangled in the material world because of association with the three modes of material nature. While the modes contaminate material knowledge, uncontaminated transcendental knowledge is available. By understanding transcendental knowledge, great sages have attained perfection and the spiritual world. Mere academic knowledge does not free one from the modes. One must acquire transcendental knowledge.
In text 14.6 Lord Krishna says,
tatra sattvam nirmalatvat
“O sinless one, the mode of goodness, being purer than the others, is illuminating, and it frees one from all sinful reactions. Those situated in that mode become conditioned by a sense of happiness and knowledge.” The mode of goodness makes us wiser than others and enriches us with material knowledge. This knowledge makes us feel superior and conditions us to believe the illusion that life is pleasant. Srila Prabhupada says that as long as we are attracted to working in this mode, we have to take some type of body under the modes of nature and remain bound to the material world and repeated birth and death.
In text 14.11 Sri Krishna says,
sarva-dvareshu dehe ’smin
jnanam yada tada vidyad
vivriddham sattvam ity uta
“The manifestations of the mode of goodness can be experienced when all the gates of the body are illuminated by knowledge.” The nine gates of the body—two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, the mouth, the genital, and the anus—are said to be illuminated when a person's behavior is in the mode of goodness. In the practice of Krishna consciousness, the devotee engages all the gates—the whole body—to reach the state of pure goodness. For example, the devotee uses the eyes and ears to read and hear the scriptures, the nostrils to smell flowers offered to the Lord, and the mouth to taste foodoffered to the Lord and to chant the maha-mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Chanting and following the four regulative principles—no meat-eating, illicit sex, intoxication, or gambling—gradually take a devotee to the mode of goodness and then to transcendence.
Regarding the mode passion, Sri Krishna says in text 14.7,
rajo ragatmakam viddhi
tan nibadhnati kaunteya
“The mode of passion is born of unlimited desires and longings, O son of Kunti, and because of this the embodied living entity is bound to material fruitive actions.” The mode of passion gives rise to various kinds of sense gratification, such as sexual attraction, excessive attachment to family, society, and country, and constant engagement in fruitive action. All sense gratification results in karmic reactions and consequently repeated birth and death. Hankering for enjoyment and working hard for it are the traits of a person in this mode.
Sense gratification includes competing and working hard for fame and honor. Passionate struggles in any field of life impede progress toward liberation. Thus the mode of passion binds one to the material world.
Regarding the mode of ignorance, Sri Krishna says in text 14.8,
tamas tv ajnana-jam viddhi
tan nibadhnati bharata
“O son of Bharata, know that the mode of darkness, born of ignorance, is the delusion of all embodied living entities. The results of this mode are madness, indolence, and sleep, which bind the conditioned soul.” A person in this mode is lazy and mad, has no chance of liberation, and is uninterested in spiritual life. This mode degrades people and leads to atheism, intoxication, and birth in the lowest forms of life.
In text 14.10 Lord Krishna says,
rajas tamash chabhibhuya
sattvam bhavati bharata
rajah sattvam tamash chaiva
tamah sattvam rajas tatha
“Sometimes the mode of goodness becomes prominent, defeating the modes of passion and ignorance, O son of Bharata. Sometimes the mode of passion defeats goodness and ignorance, and at other times ignorance defeats goodness and passion. In this way there is always competition for supremacy.” The three modes of material nature are present in mixed proportions in a human being, and one may predominate.
Freedom from the Modes
A devotee keen on advancing in Krishna consciousness has to transcend the three modes. Lord Krishna says that a person who dies in the mode of goodness goes to the higher planets of the great sages, a person who dies in the mode of passion is born among those engaged in fruitive activities, and a person who dies in the mode of ignorance is born in the animal kingdom. A devotee has no desire to go to these destinations but wants to go back home, back to Godhead. A sadhaka, or practicing devotee, desires to transcend the three modes by the constant practice of devotional service under the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master in the guru-disciple system (parampara).
After hearing all about the three modes, in text 14.21 Arjuna asks three questions important for devotees who want to transcend the modes: “Arjuna inquired: O my dear Lord, by which symptoms is one known who is transcendental to these three modes? What is his behavior? And how does he transcend the modes of nature?”
Lord Krishna's answers to these three questions, in texts 22–25, form the complete philosophy of how one can transcend the modes of material nature and return to the spiritual world. Srila Prabhupada expertly summarizes this philosophy in his commentary. Transcendentally situated persons have no envy and do not hanker for anything. They perform their duty in Krishna consciousness, indifferent to honor and dishonor. They have nothing to do with material existence. Social and political issues do not affect them. They do nothing for their own sake and everything for Krishna.
Lord Krishna answers Arjuna’s third question (how one transcends the modes of nature) in text 14.26: “One who engages in full devotional service, unfailing in all circumstances, at once transcends the modes of material nature and thus comes to the level of Brahman.” To rise above the three modesof material nature, we have to transfer our consciousness from the influence of the material modes to Krishna consciousness by practicing bhakti-yoga.
A devotee in Krishna consciousness is not in association with the modes, is without false ego, and serves with great determination and enthusiasm, unwavering in success or failure. The influence of the modes vanishes when a devotee completely surrenders to Lord Krishna.
Commenting on text 14.26, Srila Prabhupada recommends, “One should not be disturbed by the activities of the modes of nature; instead of putting his consciousness into such activities, he may transfer his consciousness to Krishna activities. Krishna activities are known as bhakti-yoga—always acting for Krishna.” Commenting on text 14.27, the final text of the chapter, Srila Prabhupada summarizes Krishna conscious activities:
Lord Krishna gives clear lessons on how material nature controls us through three modes and how to rise above them.
About the Author:
Narasimha Swami Dasa
Narasimha Swami Dasa lives in Bangalore, India, with wife, Vatsala Radha Devi Dasi. Both are disciples of His Holiness Jayapataka Swami. Since joining ISKCON in 1982, Narasimha Swami Dasa has served in various projects, first in Indonesia and then in Bangalore, where he has helped develop three centers.
By Chirag Dangarwala
In Bhagavad-Gita 14th Chapter, Lord Krishna explains the three modes of natures that are controlling the activities of all the living entities in the material world. Lord Krishna says,
sattvaḿ rajas tama iti
dehe dehinam avyayam [ B.g 14.5]
“Material nature consists of three modes — goodness, passion and ignorance. When the eternal living entity comes in contact with nature, O mighty-armed Arjuna, he becomes conditioned by these modes.”
These three modes control the activities of the pure living entity in this world based on their desires and permitted by their karma. It is very important to understand these three modes of nature and how they act upon a living entity; In the Bhagavad-Gita for our understanding Lord Krishna gives the symptoms by which one can recognize these three modes in a person.
“The manifestations of the mode of goodness can be experienced when all the gates of the body are illuminated by knowledge. [ B.g. 14.11]”
“O chief of the Bhāratas, when there is an increase in the mode of passion the symptoms of great attachment, fruitive activity, intense endeavor, and uncontrollable desire and hankering develop.[ B.g 14.12]”
“When there is an increase in the mode of ignorance, O son of Kuru, darkness, inertia, madness and illusion are manifested.” [B.g.14.13]
Moreover he also explains that mode of goodness is purer than the other two modes of nature viz passion and ignorance, since in mode of goodness one develops knowledge.
tatra sattvaḿ nirmalatvāt
jshāna-sańgena cānagha [ B.g 14.6]
“O sinless one, the mode of goodness, being purer than the others, is illuminating, and it frees one from all sinful reactions. Those situated in that mode become conditioned by a sense of happiness and knowledge.”
Srila Prabhupada says in his purport that mode of goodness is better than the others because in this mode one is able to see all the things in their right perspective and hence it gives chance to develop devotional service to Godhead. So if one wants to develop this Love for Godhead and become eternally blissful he has to work in order to maintain this mode of goodness and eventually transcend this. Modes of passion and ignorance are not conducive qualities for developing devotional service and hence they should be completely avoided.
Just like in order to become a Masters of Science one has to at least have a Bachelor’s degree, similarly in order to develop the transcendental love for Godhead one has to be situated in the mode of goodness at least, that is a pre-requisite. It is for this reason as Srila Prabhupada explains that the four regulative principles viz no meat eating, no intoxication, no gambling and no illicit sex have to be followed strictly for whoever is interested in spiritual progress. Since these four activities are considered to be the four pillars of sinful life and prominently are in the mode of passion and ignorance, avoiding them will help in cultivating the mode of goodness.
As explained by Lord Sri Krishna in Bhagavad-Gita, these three modes are constantly competing to gain supremacy
rajas tamaś cābhibhūya
sattvaḿ bhavati bhārata
rajaḥ sattvaḿ tamaś caiva
tamaḥ sattvaḿ rajas tathā [ B.G. 14.10]
“Sometimes the mode of goodness becomes prominent, defeating the modes of passion and ignorance, O son of Bharata. Sometimes the mode of passion defeats goodness and ignorance and at other times ignorance defeats goodness and passion. In this way there is always competition for supremacy.”
In this case one has to very firmly practice the four regulative principles and at the same time Chant the holy names of the Lord Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare / Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare to cleanse the dirt from the heart or in other words to cleanse the affects of mode of passion and mode of ignorance to remain constantly situated in the mode of goodness. In age of Kali yuga chanting the holy names of the Lord is the recommended process as mentioned in the scriptures.
harer nama harer nama
harer namaiva kevalam
kalau nasty eva nasty eva
nasty eva gatir anyatha [ C.c adi 17.21]
“‘In this Age of Kali there is no other means, no other means, no other means for self-realization than chanting the holy name, chanting the holy name, chanting the holy name of Lord Hari.”
Mode of goodness though conducive to attain devotional service is not the target, since even in the mode of goodness; the living entity is not liberated. So the ultimate aim is to transcend all these three modes of material nature and be situated in transcendence as confirmed by Bhagavad-Gita
guṇān etān atītya trīn
vimukto ‘mṛtam aśnute [Bg. 14.20]
“When the embodied being is able to transcend these three modes associated with the material body, he can become free from birth, death, old age and their distresses and can enjoy nectar even in this life.”
From all these evidences it is very clear that in order to be happy in this life and to make a permanent solution to all the problems, one has to transcend these three modes of nature viz goodness, passion and ignorance. But as we see around us, we only see these modes to be in prominence in every part of the globe, practically more than 95% of the human society is being conditioned by modes of passion and ignorance. An employee in a company is continuously motivated to develop the mode of passion in order to be promoted or for that matter to keep the job itself, the media is constantly bombarding peoples mind with images of sex, violence, cheating etc, schools and colleges are only imparting technical knowledge which will fetch them good jobs only without teaching the value of life. If we consider our current situation, and compare the teachings of Bhagavad-Gita, we can understand that no wonder people are unhappy. Be it the richest nation of the world America or a poor country like India. There is no science in any university which teaches how to transcend these three modes of material nature and become happy as recommended by Lord Sri Krsna. The mode of goodness which is the first step towards understanding God has become very scarce. Hence it is a very precarious condition that we are in and it needs to be addressed with great concern, but unfortunately there is not many people interested in this and only the devotees of the Lord all over the world are trying to make menial efforts to make this science understandable. The statement of Sukadeva Goswami in Srimad Bhagavatam when he was speaking to Maharaja Parikshit, which was documented about 5000 years ago appear to be coming true.
kaler dosha-nidhe rajann
asti hy eko mahan gunah
kirtanad eva krishnasya
mukta-sangah param vrajet [ S.B. 12.3.51]
“My dear King, although Kali-yuga is an ocean of faults, there is still one good quality about this age: Simply by chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra, one can become free from material bondage and be promoted to the transcendental kingdom.”
Chant and be happy
Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare