Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Shankara | Discourse 14 verse 1-18
THE THREE GUṆAS.
The subject of the discourse.
It has been said that all that is born is produced by the conjunction of Kshetra and Kshetrajna.
—How can it be so?
—The present discourse is intended as an answer to this question.
Or the connection may be explained thus:
With a view to show that it is Kshetra and Kshetrajna, both dependent on the Īśvara,—but not independent in themselves as the Sānkhyas hold, —that constitute the cause of the universe,
it has been stated that the dwelling (of the Kshetrajna) in the Kshetra (i. e., his self-identification with Kshetra) and his attachment for the Guṇas form the cause of saṁsāra (xiii. 21).
—In what Guṇas and in what way is He attached? What are the Guṇas? How do they bind him? How is liberation from the Guṇas attained? What are the characteristics of a liberated soul?
—With a view to answer these questions, the Lord proceeds as follows:
Knowledge of the origin of the universe is necessary for Salvation.
The Blessed Lord said:
1. I shall again declare that sublime knowledge, the best of all knowledges; which having learnt, all the sages have passed to high perfection from here.
Though declared more than once in the preceding discourses, I shall again declare that knowledge which is sublime as concerning itself with the Supreme Being, and which is the best of all knowledges as productive of the best result.
‘All knowledges’ does not refer to those which have been spoken of as knowledge in the verses xiii.7-10, but to those kinds of knowledge which relate to sacrifices and other such things to be known.
These (latter kinds of knowledge) do not lead to salvation, whereas the knowledge which is going to be imparted in this discourse does lead to salvation.
So, the Lord praises this latter knowledge by the epithets ‘sublime’ and ‘best,’ in order to rouse interest in the minds of the hearers.
And having learnt this knowledge, all the sages (munis)—the sannyāsins, those who are devoted to contemplation (manana)—have passed from here—from this bondage of the body—to high perfection, known as moksha or liberation.
The Lord now proceeds to declare that this knowledge unfailingly leads to perfection:
2. They who, having resorted to this knowledge, have attained to unity with Me, are neither born in the creation, nor disturbed in the dissolution.
‘Unity’ (sādharmya) here means ‘identity.’ It does not mean ‘equality in attributes,’ since in the Gītā-śāstra no distinction is made between the Īśvara and the Kshetrajna.
And a declaration of the (true main) end (of knowledge) is here necessary to praise the knowledge.
They who, having resorted to this knowledge,—i. e., having practised the necessary means whereby to attain that knowledge,—have attained to identity with Me, the Supreme Lord,
are neither born at the time of creation nor disturbed at the time of dissolution; i.e., they are not affected even at the time of Brahma’s dissolution.
Evolution of the universe from the union of Spirit and Matter.
The Lord now proceeds to explain what sort of conjunction of Kshetra and Kshetrajna is the cause of all beings:
3. My womb is the great Brahman; in that I place the germ; thence, O Bhārata, is the birth of all beings.
My womb: My own Prakriti,—i.e., the Prakriti which belongs to Me, the Māyā made up of the three Guṇas, the material cause of all beings.
This Prakriti is spoken of as great because it is greater than all effects; and as the source and nourishing energy of all Its modifications, It is termed Brahman.
In that Great Brahman I place the germ, the seed of the birth of the Hiraṇyagarbha, the seed which gives birth to all beings.
I who am possessed of the two potencies (Śaktis), the two Prakritis of Kshetra and the Kshetrajna, unite the Kshetrajna with Kshetra, the Kshetrajna conforming Himself to the upādhis of avidya (nescience), kāma (desire), and karma (action).
This act of impregnation gives rise to the birth of all beings through the birth of the Hiraṇyagarbha.
4. Whatever forms are produced, O son of Kuntī, in any wombs whatsoever, the Great Brahman is their womb, I the seed-giving Father.
Wombs: such as the Devas, the Pitris, men, cattle, beasts.
Forms: such as the bodies which are the condensed aggregations of several parts and limbs.
Of these forms, the Great Brahman (Prakriti) which passes through all states of matter is the cause; and I, the Īśvara, am the Father, the author of impregnation of the seed in the womb.
The Guṇas bind the soul.
What are the guṇas? How do they bind?
—The answer follows:
5. Sattva, Rajas, Tamas, — these Guṇas, O mighty-armed, born of Prakriti, bind fast in the body the embodied, the indestructible.
Sattva (goodness), Rajas (vigour, activity, passion) and Tamas (darkness)—thus are the Guṇas named.
—‘Guṇa’ is a technical term. It does not mean a property, attribute or quality, such as colour, as opposed to the substance in which it is said to inhere. No separate existence of a guṇa and a guṇin—of an attribute and a substance—is meant here.
Accordingly, the Guṇas here meant are so called because, like the attributes of substances, they are ever dependent on another, namely, the Kshetrajna, as they are only forms of avidya or nescience; and they bind fast as it were the Kshetrajna.
They are said to bind Kshetrajna because they come into being with Kshetrajna as the basis of their existence.
Born of the Lord’s Māyā, they bind fast as it were in the body the embodied one, the indestructible Self. That the Self is indestructible has been shown in xiii.31.
Mighty-armed: with powerful arms reaching down to the knees.
(Objection):—It has been said that the embodied one is not tainted (xiii.31). How then, on the contrary, is it said here that the guṇas bind him?
(Answer):—We have met this objection by adding ‘as it were’, ‘they bind him as it were.'
The nature and functions of the Guṇas.
Of these three guṇas, Sattva is thus defined:
6. Of these, Sattva, which, from its stainlessness, is lucid and healthy, binds by attachment to happiness and by attachment to knowledge, O sinless one.
It is stainless like a pebble-stone, and therefore lucid and healthy.
Sattva binds the Self by making Him think ‘I am happy;’—it binds Him by causing in Him attachment to happiness, by bringing about a union of the subject, (the Self,) with the object, (happiness).
It makes Him think, “Happiness has accrued to me.” This attachment to happiness is an illusion; it is avidya.
An attribute of the object cannot indeed belong to the subject; and it has been said by the Lord that all the qualities from ‘desire’ to ‘courage ’ (xiii.6) are all attributes of Kshetra (matter), the object.
Thus it is through avidya alone—which forms an attribute (dharma) of the Self as the non-discrimination between the object and the subject,
— that Sattva causes the Self to be attached as it were to happiness which is not His own, causes Him, who is free from all attachment, to be engrossed as it were in happiness; causes to feel happy as it were Him who does not possess the happiness.
Similarly, Sattva binds the Self by attachment to knowledge.
From its mention here along with ‘happiness,’ ‘knowledge ’ meant here must be an attribute of the antaḥ- karaṇa—of the Kshetra (matter), of the Object,—not of the Self; for if it were an attribute of the Self, it cannot be an attachment and cannot be a bondage.
Attachment to knowledge arises in the same way that attachment to happiness arises.
7. Know thou Rajas (to be) of the nature of passion, the source of thirst and attachment; it binds fast, O son of Kuntī, the embodied one by attachment to action.
Rajas is of the nature of passion, colouring (the soul) like a piece of red chalk, etc.
Know it to be that from which arise thirst and attachment,—-thirst after what has not been attained, attachment or mental adherence to what has been attained.
It binds fast the embodied Self by attachment to action, by making Him attached to actions productive of visible and invisible results
8. But, know thou Tamas to be born of un-wisdom, deluding all embodied beings; by heedlessness, indolence and sloth, it binds fast, O Bhārata.
The third guṇa, Tamas, causes delusion or non-discrimination.
Again the action of the Guṇas is briefly described as follows:
9. Sattva attaches to happiness, Rajas to action, O Bhārata, while Tamas, enshrouding wisdom, attaches, on the contrary, to heedlessness.
Tamas, by its very nature as a veil, covers the judgment caused by Sattva and attaches one to heedlessness, i. e., to the non-performance of necessary duties.
The mutual action of the Guṇas.
When do the Guṇas produce the effects described above?
—The answer follows:
10. Sattva arises, O Bhārata, predominating over Rajas and Tamas; and Rajas, over Sattva and Tamas; so Tamas, over Sattva and Rajas.
When Sattva increases, predominating over both Rajas and Tamas, then, asserting itself, Sattva produces its own effect, knowledge and happiness.
Similarly, when the guṇa of Rajas increases, predominating over both Sattva and Tamas, then it gives rise to its own effect, i.e., action such as husbandry.
Similarly, when the guṇa called Tamas increases, predominating over both Sattva and Rajas, then it produces its own effects, the covering of wisdom, etc.
How to know when a particular guṇa is predominant.
What is the characteristic mark by which to know when a particular guṇa is predominant?
—The answer follows:
11. When at every gate in this body there shoots up wisdom-light, then it may be known that Sattva is predominant.
All the senses such as hearing are for the Self the gateways of perception.
When at all these gates in this body there arises what is called light, illumination (prakāśa),-—i.e. the presence of antaḥ-karaṇa, of buddhi,—then we have what is called knowledge (jñāna).
When the light of knowledge thus springs up, then, by that mark of knowledge, it may be known that Sattva is predominant.
The characteristic marks of predominant Rajas are these:
12. Greed, activity, the undertaking of works, unrest, desire,—these arise when Rajas is predominant, O lord of the Bhāratas.
Greed: a desire to appropriate the property of another. ‘Activity', action in general. Unrest: giving vent to joy, attachment Ac. Desire-, thirst after all things in general.
These are the characteristic marks seen when Rajas is predominant.
13. Darkness, heedlessness, inertness, and error, —these arise when Tamas is predominant, O descendant of Kuru.
Darkness: absence of discrimination. Inertness: Extreme inactivity, the result of darkness. Heedlessness and error are also the effects of darkness.
Life after death as governed by the Guṇas.
Whatever result is obtained after death,—even that is caused by attachment and desire and is all due to the guṇas.
This is taught as follows:
14. If the embodied one meets death when Sattva is predominant, then he attains to the spotless regions of the knowers of the Highest.
The embodied one: the Self. The Highest: the Mahat and the like principles (Tattvas).
15. Meeting death in Rajas, he is born among those attached to action; and, dying in Tamas, he is born in the wombs of the irrational.
If he meets death when Rajas is predominant, he is born among men, who are attached to action. The irrational: cattle and the like.
Here follows a summary of what has been taught in the preceding verses:
16. The fruit of good action, they say, is Sāttvic and pure; while the fruit of Rajas is pain, and ignorance is the fruit of Tamas.
Good action: Sāttvic action. They: the wise.
Rajas means Rājasic action, as this section treats of actions. The fruit of Rājasic actions is only pain, which is Rājasic; for, the effect should be consonant with the cause.
Tamas means Tāmasic action, a-dharma or sin.
The functions of the Guṇas summed up.
And what arises from the guṇas?
17. From Sattva arises wisdom, and greed from Rajas; heedlessness and error arise from Tamas, and also ignorance.
From Sattva: When Sattva asserts itself.
18. Those who follow Sattva go upwards; the Rājasic remain in the middle; and the Tāmasic, who follow in the course of the lowest guṇa, go downwards.
Those who follow the course of Sattva-guṇa will he born in the region of the Devas or the like.
The Rājasic will dwell among men; The Tāmasic—those who follow the course of Tamas, the lowest guṇa.—will go down, i.e., they will be born in the wombs of cattle and the like creatures.