Triguna (Three Modes of material Natures)

Triguna (Three Modes of material Natures)

By Padma Devi 

Understanding the Three Modes

The Bhagavad-gita and the Srimad-Bhagavatam both contain extensive descriptions of the three material modes, also referred to as the three qualities of material nature. Fundamentally, the three qualities compose a tripartite system of influence on all materially embodied beings, as well as on all aspects of the material creation. This includes the bodies and the mental and intellectual capacities of human beings, demigods, and all other living beings.

In the Bhagavad-gita (3.27) Lord Krishna says, prakriteh kriyamanani: one acts according to the particular modes of nature he has acquired. And in Message of Godhead Srila Prabhupada writes, “As long as the living entity remains conditioned by material nature, he has to act according to his particular mode of nature.” The influence of the three material qualities on the materially embodied individual is both psychological and biological. But while the three modes influence the body and mind of the embodied soul, they never change the soul itself.

Within the hierarchy of the three, sattva-guna, the mode of goodness, is superior to the modes of passion (raja-guna) and ignorance ( tamo-guna). The mode of ignorance is inferior to the mode of passion. This hierarchy is necessarily so, as the characteristics of the mode of goodness enable a person to peacefully focus on higher spiritual goals. In the mode of passion, one fervently endeavors to attain material prosperity to increase one’s sense gratification, thus to focus on spiritual goals is extremely difficult. In the mode of ignorance there is no interest in spiritual goals, what to speak of any favorable circumstances within which to cultivate such interest. As such, characteristics of the material mode of goodness endow one with a higher quality of consciousness than do the modes of passion and ignorance.

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Looking into the Structure of Bhagavad-gita

Looking into the Structure of Bhagavad-gita

By Isvara Krishna Dasa

Understanding the levels of instruction in the Bhagavad-gita can help us comprehend the overall unity of Lord Krishna’s message.

The Bhagavad-gita is no doubt a major spiritual treatise and one of the world’s greatest classics. Understanding that a hierarchical concept of reality characterizes the Gita can help us see coherence of the Gita’s message.

The Bhagavad-gita speaks on two major levels of reality and a third, intermediate, one. We can use the Sanskrit words dharma and moksha to treat the two main levels, and the word yoga for the third. Dharma refers to a set of values representing duty, religion, morality, law, order, and justice, which together sustain civilized human life. Yoga refers to the attempt to detach oneself from worldly life while trying to yoke oneself to the liberated state. Moksha refers to the liberated state of perfection and eternal existence in pure devotional service to the Supreme Lord, Sri Krishna. The level of dharma represents the human or worldly condition, the level of moksha represents the real or absolute condition (liberation), and the level of yoga is intermediate. We can also define these three levels as the finite, the intermediate, and the infinite.

We can distinguish each level in terms of values and “being.” For dharma, the general rule in terms of value is to prosper. At this level, one desires worldly happiness and prosperity, seeing these as good. In terms of being, one see the living entity as the body, whether as a human being or as some other species.

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Journey to Surrender: Arjuna's Crisis of Conscience

krishna arjuna 500x688 This first chapter of the  Bhagavad-gita is often overlooked as a superfluous prologue to the real heart of Kṛṣṇa's teachings. And yet we may find the real key to the meaning of the Gīta in Arjuna's crisis of conscience. In fact the chapter has been titled, arjunaviṣādayogaḥ,  अर्जुनविषादयोगः, in keeping with the formality of titling each chapter according to the Yoga system taught within. So what yoga system is examined here in the first chapter?

    As Arjuna begins his conversation with Kṛṣṇa he looks upon the gathered armies and sees cousins, brothers, fathers and sons, even gurus ready to kill and die. He lays down his arms, overcome with compassion. But Arjuna is not a coward as sometimes he is depicted; he is the greatest warrior of the ancient world celebrated in thousands of lines of Sanskrit. He has already defeated Shiva in a hunting duel, contested with his father Indra the god of thunder himself in the burning of the Khandava forest. He has conquered an entire race of ghostly warriors, the Nivata-kavachas and sent them to hell. Arjuna is no shrinking violet.

   No coward would singlehandedly demand that his chariot be drawn up in the no-man's land between two opposing armies when arrows are beginning to fly.  And yet, after having been primed for this battle, having won the greatest weapons of war from the gods, instead of entering the fray swinging his sword and firing arrows from his famous Gandhiva bow, he has a moment of doubt. 

     Vishada can mean "despair, despondency." I think in today's parlance we would call it a "crisis of conscience." The Bhagavad-Gita takes us on a journey from despondency and suffering to enlightenment and bliss. But we begin with Arjuna's crisis of conscience.

     It may seem a conceit to call "Crisis of Conscience" a form of yoga. And yet if "yoga" is a system for bringing us in contact with the divine, that journey often begins with doubt. If we don't take time to question who we are or what we are doing, we may never confront ourselves with the truth about reality. Arjuna's crisis of consciense makes him doubt everything. He questions Krishna: Why must he be a warrior? What is the place of society, religion, duty, self-consciousness, God consciousness? What happens when duty and religion clash? Arjuna is no fool. He has participated in discussions with great sages and saints from the Kamyaka forest to the heavenly planets. He is well-acquainted with Vedic conclusions about duty and karma. And yet his crisis of conscience allows him and us to explore the deepest questions through his conversation with Kṛṣṇa.

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