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Monday, 10 April 2017

The Scriptural Sanction for Caste-Based Discrimination in Hinduism. Part V.


The Scriptural Sanction for Caste-Based Discrimination in Hinduism. Part V


The Scriptural Sanction for Caste-Based Discrimination in Hinduism

Part V

The Bhagavad Gita, As It REALLY Is

BG3: Detailed Exposition: The Three guNas of Human Nature

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 10 April, 2017


Bhagavad Gita Series Abstract

This series on the Bhagavad Gita is part of a larger series of articles which examine the important question: Is caste-based discrimination in Hindu society an intrinsic part of Hinduism? Is it sanctioned in Hindu scripture? Or is it simply a social custom arrived at by distorting the scriptures?

A key attendant question is: Is caste, according to Hindu scripture, a rigid status that accrues to an individual only by virtue of birth in that caste, and hence unchangeable during that person's life? Or, is it a more fluid descriptor of a person that can change during a person's lifetime? In other words, is caste birth-based, or can it be earned?

To examine this question, I investigated every verse in the Bhagavad Gita that has any relationship to the issue of varNa, the overarching concept that contains the concept of caste, and subjected each of these verses to a detailed analysis, using both the literal meaning of the Sanskrit shlOkas as well as the commentaries of highly respected commentators on these verses. I viewed the verses both in isolation and in the overall context of the Bhagavad Gita, as well as in the overall context of Hindu theology and philosophy. The results of my study are presented in this seven-part series (BG1 to BG7), which is part of my larger series on caste in Hinduism.

I conclude that caste and caste-based discrimination are fundamental to the very foundation of Hinduism as expressed in the Bhagavad Gita.

They are not a distortion of the scriptures of Hinduism. Far from being an added social custom, the birth-based caste system is at the very basis of Hindu thought.

The caste system, as seen today, is largely a faithful representation of Lord Krishna’s words and intended meaning in the Bhagavad Gita. The central arguments in the Bhagavad Gita itself would collapse without the support of caste-based discrimination. The system, therefore, is expressly sanctioned in the Bhagavad Gita.

In this seven-part series, I present the original Sanskrit text of each verse discussed, its transliteration, its word-by-word meaning, its free translation, and the commentaries of six major interpreters of the Gita: Adi Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya, Madhvacharya, Shridhara Swami, Acharya Keshava Kashmiri, and Sant Jnaneshwar. Based on all these, I draw overall meanings for each verse, and overall conclusions for each group of verses. Finally, I draw overall conclusions on the scriptural sanction for caste-based discrimination in the Bhagavad Gita.

A concise summary of the ideas in the Gita discussed in this seven-part series can be found in BG0 (Part II of the larger series.)


Current Article Abstract

In the present article, BG3, I discuss Krishna’s explanation of the three guNas of human nature – sattva (goodness), rajas (passion and activity), and tamas (darkness and ignorance). These are the inborn qualities that one has inherited from millions of past births and the actions performed in those births. Krishna explains how these guNas ensnare the soul (AtmA) and force the jIva, or embodied soul, to act in certain ways that are consonant with the attributes of those guNas. Thus, a person whose soul has an abundance of sattva, such as a Brahmin, will engage in noble and virtuous deeds; while a person whose soul has an abundance of tamas, such as a Shudra, will always engage in ignorant, superstitious, and wicked ways. Krishna also explains how guNas affect re-births in different environments: how an AtmA suffused with sattva guNa is reborn in an atmosphere conducive to such a guNa, such as a home of a Brahmin; how an AtmA suffused with rajas guNa is reborn in a family of Kshatriyas; how an AtmA with a greater amount of rajas with a smaller amount of tamas is born in a family of Vaishyas; and how an AtmA with a greater amount of tamas and a smaller amount of rajas is born in a family of Shudras. There is thus a tendency for souls to be reborn again and again in the same surroundings and in the same varNa.

The verses in this article highlight the fact that the varNa of a person is birth-based, as it is decided before he is even born, as a consequence of his karmas in millions of past births, and of the dominant guNa present in him at the time of his last death, which is a resultant of the guNas attached to his soul at his previous birth and the karmas committed by him during his previous life. While it is possible to change one's varNa in the next or a future birth by one's karmas in the present life, one cannot change his varNa in a given life, as it is decided by the balance of guNas attached to his soul at the time of death in his previous life.


Table of Contents


Sources, Methodology, Transliteration Scheme, and Numbering Scheme

The methodology and sources used for the analysis of the verses in the Bhagavad Gita have been already presented in Part III, including brief backgrounds of the commentators and their philosophical leanings. The overall framework of this entire series has been presented in Part I of this series. The transliteration scheme used here can be seen in Part II of the series. A glossary can also be found in Part II.

The overall conclusion for this set of verses is first presented, followed by a discussion of individual verses and their meanings.

The numbering scheme followed in this entire "Caste Discrimination in Hinduism" series is that each article has an number in the overall sequence of articles in the "Caste Discrimination in Hinduism" series, represented by Roman numerals. Within the larger series, individual series articles, dealing with individual scriptures, are numbered using scripture initials and Arabic numerals. For instance, the articles in the Bhagavad Gita series are numbered as BGN, where N is the number of the article in the Bhagavad Gita series.


Verses on The Three guNas of Human Nature

In this section, Krishna qualifies what the three guNas of human nature – sattva, rajas, and tamas – that he alluded to in 4-13 really are, and how they are associated with human souls. These very clearly qualify the intent of His words in 4-13.

Overall Conclusion: The Three guNas of Human Nature

In these ten verses, Krishna details how the guNas act on the jIva and bind the AtmA to the jIva (14-5, nibadhnanti mahA-bAhO dEhE dEhinam avyayam) in different ways, depending on the dominant guNa associated with an AtmA (soul). He also explains how present guNas determine the future births of the AtmA.

None, from the highest demigod to the lowest blade of grass, are independent. They are all compelled to accept the form conscripted upon them due to their individual natures in accordance with the respective reactions derived from their previous activities.

— Acharya Keshava Kashmiri, from commentary on Verse 9-8

Krishna explains how he regenerates births of the soul again and again by using prakRuti (material nature) and infusing it with the soul, based on the attached guNas of the AtmA (9-8, prakRutim svAm avaShTabhya visRujAmi punaha punaha; bhUta-grAmam imam kRutsnam avasham prakRutEr vashAt). What Krishna is saying in this shlOka is that the actual forms that living beings take and their location at birth are determined prior to birth by their actions in past lives. As Shridhara says,

Lord Krishna speaks the words avasham prakRutEr vashAt, which means in accordance with the implications of their nature, which is a direct resultant of past actions.

Similarly, Keshava Kashmiri says,

prakRuti is fully competent to transform all the diverse and variegated beings as a total aggregate into their respective forms, as designated by their karma, or reactions to past life activities.

And again,

None, from the highest demigod to the lowest blade of grass, are independent. They are all compelled to accept the form conscripted upon them due to their individual natures in accordance with the respective reactions derived from their previous activities.

The "forms" mentioned here could mean birth in an animal or a human form; or it could equally well mean birth as a Brahmin, a Kshatriya, a Vaishya, or a Shudra. All of these are decided by one's actions in past births.

tama guNa, or the mode of ignorance, binds one to material existence by distorted delusions and perverted perceptions of knowledge, even if heard from liberated beings. tamas also manifests itself in neglecting the teachings of great liberated beings, or by acting contrary to these teachings, because such teachings differ from one’s personal understanding.

— Shridhara Swami, from commentary on Verse 14-9

Krishna then details how the guNas bind the AtmA to the jIva. Some AtmAs have a predominance of sattva guNa because of their good karmas in past births – their actions in their past jIvas. The sattva guNa produces feelings of knowledge and happiness, because the jIva is highly accomplished in learning and understanding religious scriptures, and knowing the truth about the paramAtmA (14-6, tatra sattvam nirmalatvAt prakAshakam anAmayam; sukha-sangEna badhnAti jnAna-sangEna cAnagha.) These feelings bind the AtmA to the jIva, and make it think that the physical body with the attached emotions are what it (the soul or the AtmA) really is. This is, therefore, a form of delusion or mAyA, albeit a benevolent one.

Ramanuja, in his commentary on 14-6, explains how the relationship between an AtmA's attached guNas and his birth in a varNa is a two-way one: guNas of a certain kind ensure birth in a certain varNa that is suited to those guNas, and birth in that varNa impels the jIva to perform karmas that strengthen the same guNas:

The quality of sattva produces in the jIva, or embodied being, the predisposition for happiness and knowledge. When the dispositions for happiness and knowledge arise in life, one embarks upon worldly material enterprises and spiritual pursuits correlated with the level of one's development and evolution. Hence, the jIva is propelled to take birth in such wombs that are favourably suited to the enjoyment of one’s karma or resultant reactions, to actions which, arising out of sattva, are positive. Born in sattva, the inclinations and disposition that one has again help him gravitate towards happiness and knowledge. In this way, spending lifetime after lifetime in sattva guNa, the mode of goodness, one has the opportunity to advance in spiritual life. But this opportunity is not accessible to those born in the two inferior guNas of rajas, or passion, and tamas, or ignorance …

Lord Krishna clarifies here that when the jIva, or embodied being, is engrossed in experiencing objects of material nature from the three guNas being the modes of goodness, passion and ignorance, then various modifications arise due to the karma, or reactions to the actions which are performed. This is the definitive cause of the jIva being born in exalted or degraded wombs …

— Acharya Keshava Kashmiri, from commentary on Verse 13-22

Some AtmAs have a preponderance of raja guNa because of their karmas in past jIvas that are related to passionate activity and activity undertaken for rewards. The raja guNa produces feelings of pleasure because of satisfying the urges of the different sense-organs – sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. The jIva in rajas is constantly hankering after more and more pleasurable experiences related to sensory stimulation. These seemingly pleasurable experiences bind the AtmA to the jIva, and make the soul believe that the pleasure-seeking physical body is really who it is (14-7, rajO rAgAtmakam viddhi truShNA-sanga-samudbhavam; tan nibadhnAti kauntEya karma-sangEna dEhinam).

As Ramanuja explains in his commentary on 14-7, this attachment of the AtmA to the raja guNa causes the AtmA to take birth in an environment conducive to its tendencies:

This propensity for constantly performing actions is inherent, and also causes the jIva to take birth at a specific place, with a particular body, suitable for enjoying the rewards of previous actions.

Similarly, the tama guNa is the mode of ignorance and darkness. Some jIvas’ AtmAs are imprinted with a preponderance of tamas because of their actions in previous births. The tama guNa produces feelings of laziness, somnolence, dullness, and belief in false things, such as superstitions (14-8, tamas tva ajnAna-jam viddhi mOhanam sarva-dEhinAm; pramAdAlasya-nidrAbhis tan nibadhnAti bhArata). The one in tamas may hear good things from great saints, but interpret them in the wrong way, because his judgement is impaired. His addiction to laziness, somnolence, and blind superstition binds his AtmA to his jIva, and make the AtmA think that the confused jIva is what the AtmA really is. This is the binding power of tamas.

This dominant guNa at the time of the death of the jIva in one life determines the kind of jIva in which the AtmA will take birth in its next life.

A sAttvik AtmA tends to be born in a community of sAttvik people, such as Brahmins.

A rAjasik AtmA tends to be born in a community of rAjasik people, such as Kshatriyas.

An AtmA in whom both rAjasik and tAmasik imprints are strong tends to be born in a community of Vaishyas, and an AtmA on whom the hold of tamas is very strong tends to be born in a community of Shudras.

If the hold of tamas is even stronger, or is complete, to the exclusion of the other guNas, the AtmA may even be reborn as an animal.

As Shridhara says in his commentary on 14-9,

tama guNa, or the mode of ignorance binds one to material existence by distorted delusions and perverted perceptions of knowledge, even if heard from liberated beings. tamas also manifests itself in neglecting the teachings of great liberated beings, or by acting contrary to these teachings, because such teachings differ from one’s personal understanding.

Ramanuja echoes the same understanding in his commentary on 14-9:

the dominant factor in tamas is that it obscures intelligence, giving a perverted view of reality, which results in the tendency to perform unnatural activities.

As does Keshava Kashmiri in his commentary on 14-9:

The quality of tamas is obscuring and distorting knowledge, even if instructed by the spiritual master. Such perversion causes the jIva, or embodied being, to commit degenerative activities that hinder its well-being and block its own best interests.

Even though there is a compound mixture of different guNas in a person, one mode usually dominates over the other two (14-10, rajas tamas cabhibhUya sattvam bhavati bhArata; rajaha sattvam tamas caiva tamaha sattvam rajas tathA). So a person may be sattva-dominated, rajas-dominated, or tamas-dominated. As Krishna says in 13-22 (puruShaha prakRuti-sthO hi bhunktE prakRuti-jAn guNAn; kAraNam guNa-sangO ‘sya sad-asad-yOni-janmasu), the "beguiling infatuation" of the guNas "is the cause of a being’s innumerable births, superior and inferior, in the wombs of variegated life-forms." Keshava Kashmiri explains very well what Krishna means in 13-22 by superior and inferior births:

Lord Krishna clarifies here that when the jIva, or embodied being, is engrossed in experiencing objects of material nature from the three guNas being the modes of goodness, passion and ignorance, then various modifications arise due to the karma, or reactions to the actions which are performed. This is the definitive cause of the jIva being born in exalted or degraded wombs in any of the 8 million 400 thousand different species that exist throughout the material creation. The exalted wombs, such as those born of the demi-gods, are attuned in the mode of goodness. The degraded wombs, such as those born of the demons, are attuned to the qualities of ignorance. The mixed wombs of exalted and degraded, such as those born of humans, are attuned to the qualities of activity and passion. The higher, being the Vaishnavas and Brahmanas, and the lower, being the Shudras, the lower class, and below them, the degraded are the mlEcchas, or the meateaters, and the cAnDAlas, or the uncleansed.

These verses clearly illustrate that the guNas are an inherent attribute of the AtmA, and that human beings are endowed with these guNas at birth because of their past karmas. Because of the power of the guNas over the jIva, and how they bind the AtmA to the jIva, it is hard to escape the influence of the guNa in one’s lifetime …

Thus, one's birth as a Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, or Shudra — one's varNa, in essence, is determined prior to his birth by the balance of one's guNas. Someone with a high level of sattva is reborn as a Brahmin; someone with a high level of rajas is reborn as a Kshatriya; someone with rajas and tamas combined is reborn as a Vaishya; and someone with high levels of tamas is reborn as a Shudra. The varNa of a person, therefore, is birth-based, and is decided prior to birth by guNas attached to his AtmA. But exactly how and when is this determined? The answer is found in 14-14 and 14-15, discussed below.

This dominant guNa at the time of the death of the jIva in one life determines the kind of jIva in which the AtmA will take birth in its next life. A sAttvik AtmA tends to be born in a community of sAttvik people, such as Brahmins (14-14, yadA sattvE pravRuddhe tu pralayam yAti dEha-bhRut; tadottama-vidAm lokAn amalAn pratipadyatE); a rAjasik AtmA tends to be born in a community of rAjasik people, such as Kshatriyas (14-15, rajasi pralayam gatvA karma-sangiShu jAyatE); an AtmA in whom both rAjasik and tAmasik imprints are strong tends to be born in a community of Vaishyas, and an AtmA on whom the hold of tamas is very strong tends to be born in a community of Shudras. If the hold of tamas is even stronger, or is complete, to the exclusion of the other guNas, the AtmA may even be reborn as an animal (14-15, tathA pralInas tamasi mUDha-yOniShu jAyatE).

As Ramanuja explains in his commentary on 14-14, discussing the case of a sAttvik AtmA,

The understanding is that the fate of a jIva, who dies under the influence of sattva guNa, would be that the next birth would take place in the environment of pious and holy people that have realised AtmA tattva; and so, combined with an inner impulse to pursue this way of life, and with opportunity in abundance, one would continue in sattva guNa, purifying one's existence by performing spiritual activities, until one achieves perfection.

Again, the self-perpetuating nature of this process can be seen.

Because of the connection with the environment of one’s rebirth, this ends up being a self-perpetuating cycle.

A soul that has sAttvik qualities will always continue to be reborn in sAttvik environments, because in each birth, it will be propelled to engage in sAttvik activities; similarly, a soul that has rAjasik qualities will always continue to be reborn in rAjasik environments; and a soul that has tAmasik qualities will always continue to be reborn in tAmasik environments, or worse, such as being reborn as an animal.

Because of this, the scope for improvement, and hope for redemption, for an AtmA is quite low.

Similarly, Shridhara says in his commentary on 14-15,

Continuing, Lord Krishna explains that the result of raja guNa, or mode of passion, being predominant at the time of death is that the jIva, or embodied being, is born into families that are involved in vigorous activity. Likewise, the result of tama guNa, or mode of ignorance, being predominant at the moment of death is that the jIva is born in the wombs of irrational species as animals.

These verses clearly illustrate that the guNas are an inherent attribute of the AtmA, and that human beings are endowed with these guNas at birth because of their past karmas. Because of the power of the guNas over the jIva, and how they bind the AtmA to the jIva, it is hard to escape the influence of the guNa in one’s lifetime – the sattva-dominated person gravitates towards good deeds; the rajas-dominated person gravitates towards passionate activities; and the tamas-dominated person gravitates towards idleness, laziness, and superstition.

Because of the connection with the environment of one’s rebirth, this ends up being a self-perpetuating cycle. A soul that has sAttvik qualities will always continue to be reborn in sAttvik environments, because in each birth, it will be propelled to engage in sAttvik activities; similarly, a soul that has rAjasik qualities will always continue to be reborn in rAjasik environments; and a soul that has tAmasik qualities will always continue to be reborn in tAmasik environments, or worse, such as being reborn as an animal.

The upshot of all this is that birth in a certain varNa is seen as a reward or a punishment for actions in previous lives. One's varNa is decided at birth, and one is born in a particular varNa as a consequence of actions done in millions of past births.

The varNa system, or caste system, is thus seen as a spiritual meritocracy. It is also a rigid, birth-based system that one cannot escape in his present life; one can only hope to escape his present varNa and move to a higher varNa in a future birth.

As a consequence, all this produces an spiritually-sanctioned justification for, and indifference to, the plight of low-caste people trapped in demeaning professions, because they have, according to the Gita, themselves to blame (by their actions in past births) for their problems.

Because of this, the scope for improvement, and hope for redemption, for an AtmA is quite low. The power of the guNas (the pre-natal qualities of the soul) is very strong. Why would persons, who are wedded to superstition and indolence from birth, even seek out Krishna? Because they are not enlightened enough to understand the truth, they will not even seek the help that they need. They probably will not even see the need for any mOksha, because they so completely identify with their bodies, and do not even know the ultimate purpose of human life. They are probably condemned to be reborn forever in the tAmasik mode. And that probably means that they will forever be reborn as Shudras, unless a miracle of some sort (some kind of chance encounter with an incarnation of God, for example) occurs in their lives and forces them to start thinking about improving their lives.

Likewise, a Brahmin, who has been born a Brahmin because of his or her excellent past karmas, will be born in a community that values learning and piousness. He will probably spend his time in learning and meditation on the Supreme, and continually improve his afterlife, proceeding to a succession of better births, until he obtains mOksha and unites with the paramAtmA.

Jnaneshwar, in particular, defends this point of view vigorously, giving several real-life examples to illustrate the point. For instance, he says,

could a beggar be a king if he were to go to a palace furnished with all royal splendour?

Or,

A small mustard seed gets dried up (and dies) retaining in itself its mustard property; would that same seed, when sown, germinate and develop into any other plant but the mustard one?

Jnaneshwar argues for this particularly forcefully; but all the AcAryas say the same thing, with more or less elaboration, as the case may be. There can be no doubt, therefore, on the interpretation of these verses. This interpretation is also consistent with other passages in the highly-regarded Upanishads as to the word of God, some of which are mentioned in individual commentaries of the AcAryas.

There is free agency for humans, but it is difficult to exercise it wisely because of the powerful effect of the guNas which our souls are imprinted with. So the system does allow one to escape one’s varNa and move up in the varNa hierarchy - in a future birth - but the possibility of that happening is very low because of the powerful influence of one’s pre-natal guNa on one’s actions in life.

This is like a spiritual equivalent of the common English saying, “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” It can be seen that the terminal point of the “spiritually poor” is not even restricted to a vile and low station in human existence. As 14-15 explains (tathA pralInas tamasi mUDha-yOniShu jAyatE), a tAmasik soul can even be reborn as a low animal.

The upshot of all this is that birth in a certain varNa is seen as a reward or a punishment for actions in previous lives. One's varNa is decided at birth, and one is born in a particular varNa as a consequence of actions done in millions of past births.

The varNa system, or caste system, is thus seen as a spiritual meritocracy. It is also a rigid, birth-based system that one cannot escape in his present life; one can only hope to escape his present varNa and move to a higher varNa in a future birth. (To be absolutely clear, never in these verses does Krishna actually say that one cannot change his varNa in his lifetime; but the entire discussion on how one gets identified with a varNa is based exclusively and with multiple clarifications on birth-based explanations in these verses; there is absolutely nothing to suggest that one can gain or lose a varNa in any other way - so it would be a huge leap of logic to even suggest that this is possible.)

As a consequence, all this produces an spiritually-sanctioned justification for, and indifference to, the plight of low-caste people trapped in demeaning professions, because they have, according to the Gita, themselves to blame (by their actions in past births) for their problems.


Chapter 9, Verse 8

Original Sanskrit Shloka

प्रकृतिं स्वामवष्टभ्य विसृजामि पुनः पुनः।
भूतग्राममिमं कृत्स्नमवशं प्रकृतेर्वशात्।।

Transliteration

prakRutim svAm avaShTabhya visRujAmi punaha punaha bhUta-grAmam imam kRutsnam avasham prakRutEr vashAt

Word-by-word Translation

avaShTabhya – presiding over; svAm-prakRutim – my illusory external potency, the material energy; visRujAmi – (I) generate; punaha punaha – again and again; kRutsnam – all; imam – these; bhUta-grAmam – innumerable living entities; avasham – in accordance; vashAt – to the implications; prakRutE – of their material natures.

Free Translation

Presiding over My external potency, the material energy, I generate again and again all these innumerable living entities, in accordance with the implications of their material natures.

Commentaries

Shridhara

The question may be raised: how is it possible that the Supreme Lord, who is unattached to creation and not modifiable in any way, actually manifests creation?

This is being answered by Lord Krishna with the words prakRutim svAm avaShTabhya, meaning by the medium of His material substratum, which pervades all physical and subtle existence. The Supreme Lord repeatedly creates, again and again, in a regulated manner, the total aggregate of diverse created beings who had been absorbed within Him due to dissolution at the end of the previous universal devastation. They, not having achieved mOksha, or liberation, are in a helpless condition, dominated and controlled by the reactions to their past-life activities.

It may be further asked: how is it and by what method are all living entities propelled into material existence?

Lord Krishna speaks the words avasham prakRutEr vashAt, which means in accordance with the implications of their nature, which is a direct resultant of past actions.

Madhva

Even as one capable of walking may still take the assistance of a stick, in the same way, although the Supreme Lord Krishna is fully capable of creating all the universes on His own, He directs prakRuti, or the material substratum, to fulfil this task. The Moksha Dharma states: One should not consider the Supreme Lord, who is the repository of all attributes, to be dependent upon others, like normal living entities. Comprehending the Supreme Lord through the seven subtle forms and five subsidiary forms, those who are situated in equanimity achieve parabrahman, or the personality who manifests the spiritual substratum pervading all existence. In the Rig Veda, it is stated: The immeasurable power of the Supreme Lord does not get diminished or exhausted in any manner, although He engages His external energy prakRuti in creation, dissolution, etc. In the Bhagavat Purana, it is stated: Each of the Supreme Lord's attributes have their own innumerable attributes and innumerable forms. Why is the Supreme Lord referred to as parabrahman or brahman? In the Atharva Veda, it states: It is because He, being the Supreme absolute truth, makes others realise the Supreme absolute truth. His power is paramount and multifaceted. Who else can compare or compete with His innumerable divine pastimes, all eternally existing simultaneously? Even the four-faced Brahma, who is capable of counting all the grains of sand in the world, is unable to even speak of all the Supreme Lord's lIlAs, let alone perform any of them. O Supreme Lord, no one is capable of describing all Your infinite attributes, neither in ancient times, nor in the present times. prakRuti is completely dependent upon the Supreme Lord, who is verily the maintainer, the sustainer and the energiser of all actions. Dependent upon nothing but Himself, the Supreme Lord, by His own power and will, directs prakRuti to perform actions by which all the worlds in the all the planetary systems are created, maintained, and dissolved.

Ramanuja

The Supreme Lord Krishna has perpetual recourse to His own marvellous, modifiable external energy, known as prakRuti, or the material substratum, pervading all physical and subtle existence, and differentiated in eight-fold ways. He repeatedly creates, with regularity, the fourfold divisions of created living entities, viz., demigods, humans, animal and plants, from their dormant inactive state, powerless under the control of prakRuti’s alluring and bewildering guNas of passion, ignorance and goodness. Yet, it may be thought that such creative acts, involving imbalances and inequalities, can cause reactions to come to the Supreme Lord Himself, due to the result of having manifested a creation full of seeming differences and contradictions. The reply to this query is clearly resolved in the next verse.

Keshava Kashmiri

Lord Krishna clarifies his position with the words prakRutim svAm avaShTabhya; or reflecting upon His external energy, the material substratum, pervading all existence constituted of the three guNas, being goodness, passion and ignorance. Although insentient, prakRuti is fully competent to transform all the diverse and variegated beings as a total aggregate into their respective forms, as designated by their karma, or reactions to past life activities.

The eight-fold principal transformations of conception, birth up to old age and death etc., are directed by the Supreme Lord, and are manifested again and again after every dissolution of creation, inclusive of all sentient beings, namely the demigods, humans, animals and plants. None, from the highest demigod to the lowest blade of grass, are independent. They are all compelled to accept the form conscripted upon them due to their individual natures in accordance with the respective reactions derived from their previous activities.

Adi Shankara

With the help of prakRuti, i.e., of avidyA, which is subject to Me, I cause all these beings we now see to emanate again and again from the prakRuti; all of them being rendered powerless by avidyA and other sources of evil under the influence of the prakRuti, i.e., of svabhAva, or nature.

Jnaneshwar

O Arjuna, when I rule over the prakRuti as my own, then, like a band of threads getting woven into a web by the warp and woof of small squares of the fibres, the prakRuti herself changes over into the five gross elements with the name and form of the universe. Just as milk mixed with leaven clots into curds; in the same way, prakRuti embodies as the created universe. Just as the seed by contact with the moisture in the soil blossoms forth and gets spread out into a tree, with branches and sub-branches; in the same way, the universe created by the prakRuti owes its being to Me. As the saying goes, the king verily makes the town; do the royal hands ever toil at that work? And indeed I rule over prakRuti, not different from one who is raised from a dream into wakefulness. Now pray tell me, O Arjuna, if one feels footsore in going from his dream into waking. Does one feel tired with anything like a journey in a dream? The truth of all this is that in the creation of all beings, not the slightest touch of action ever reaches me. As a king rules over his subjects, and each toils and carries out his task, so do I rule over the prakRuti. All action is the doing of the prakRuti; it cannot touch me. Just see, on the full moon night, with the meeting of the moon, the sea bursts into full tide: O Arjuna, has the moon ever to drudge for this? The iron, inert as it is, when placed near a magnet, does it not move? Does the magnet ever suffer in any way, in making the iron move? Even so, as soon as I behold the prakRuti to rule over it, the universe of created things begins to come into being. O Arjuna, the mass of created beings is born of prakRuti as this Earth becomes the breeding place for the seed to germinate and issue forth creepers, leaves, etc. Just as being attached to the body is the cause of childhood, youth and old age; just as the clouds are the cause for sending down rains from the sky; just as sleep is the cause of dreams; so does prakRuti become the cause of the aggregate of beings. prakRuti is the root cause of all moveable and immoveable things, big and small, and in fact of the entire mass of the created universe. Therefore, acts like those of creation of the beings or sustenance can never touch My Divine Essence. Although the rays of the moon appear as spread out over the water-surface like creepers, yet the moon is not the maker of this abundance; in the same way, although all these actions in one sense have their being in Me, yet they remain distinct from me. Just as a salt dam cannot resist the rising tide of the ocean, in that way all actions having their end in Me, but cannot affect My own Personal Being. Can a cage of smoke stop the blowing wind, or can darkness pierce into the Sun's rays?

Just as rain showers cannot break through the mountain valleys, the acts of the prakRuti do not touch Me. Although I am the mover of all doings on the part of prakRuti, My essential being is above all actions; I neither do anything Myself nor cause anything to be done. A (burning) lamp in a house neither prompts nor prevents any one from doing a thing. It is unconcerned as to who is doing, and what is being done; it is a mere spectator, and yet it is the condition of all that is being done: even so, though I am the source of the being of created things, still I am severally unconcerned in their actions.

Enough of this repetition, O Arjuna, of this one simple truth! Know it now once for all.

Overall Meaning

Some definitions will help in understanding this and subsequent verses. The word “prakRuti” can be simply translated as “nature,” but the meaning in Hindu scripture is far more complicated. According to Hindu philosophy, a living being (jIva) is composed of a soul (AtmA or kshEtrajna) dwelling inside a body (kshEtra) made of prakRuti. What is this prakRuti? It consists of eight constituents: the five elements that make up nature: air, earth, fire, water, and ether; and three other elements that are latent in the human body but are activated by the presence of the AtmA: manas (mind), buddhi (intelligence), and ahamkAra (ego). This is referred to as the eight-fold composition of prakRuti. The difference between manas and buddhi is that manas is the sensory processor that takes in all the inputs and makes the body do tasks; buddhi is the discriminating intelligence that makes decisions based on the inputs from manas.

In addition to the AtmA and prakRuti, jIvas are also bound by the guNas that are imprinted on the AtmA. These are the essential qualities of the soul: sattva or goodness; rajas or passion and activity; and tamas or darkness, laziness, and ignorance. The imprints on the AtmA have come from the karmas (past life actions) over millions of past births. Based on the guNas that are associated with an AtmA, it takes birth in an environment that is most conducive to its guNas, and represents a good match with like-minded souls. So an AtmA with a predominance of sattva is born into a family of sAttvika souls, and so on.

So, in this shlOka, Krishna is saying that he generates jIvas over and over again, in birth after birth, with qualities based on the guNas associated with their souls. These guNas are a consequence of the karmas (actions) of previous births.

Chapter 14, Verse 5

Original Sanskrit Shloka

सत्त्वं रजस्तम इति गुणाः प्रकृतिसंभवाः।
निबध्नन्ति महाबाहो देहे देहिनमव्ययम्।।

Transliteration

sattvam rajas tamah iti guNAha prakRuti-sambhavAha
nibadhnanti mahA-bAhO dEhE dEhinam avyayam

Word-by-word Translation

mahA-bAhO – mighty-armed one (Arjuna); guNAha – the qualities; sattvam rajah tamah iti – of goodness, passion, and ignorance, thus; prakRuti-sambhavAha – produced by the material energy; nibadhnanti – enslaves; avyayam – the immutable; dEhinam – the consciousness of the self; dEhE – within the body

Free Translation

O mighty-armed one, the qualities of goodness, passion, and ignorance thus produced by the material energy enslaves the immutable consciousness of the self within the body.

Commentaries

Shridhara

Having thus declared that the origins of all jIvas, or embodied beings, is from the combination of prakRuti or the material substratum pervading all existence and purusha, the Supreme Being as eternal consciousness, and that they are both manifestations of the Supreme Lord Krishna, the resulting situation of the purusha's conjunction with prakRuti is elaborated upon in fourteen verses beginning with this one. This is described in relationship to the guNas, or three modes of material nature: sattva, or goodness, rajas, or passion and tamas, or nescience, all of which arise from prakRuti. The source and foundation of these guNas is only from prakRuti and these are dependent upon it. The physical body is a product of the three guNas. Everything in material existence is under the influence of the three guNas, which bind fast the jIvas, by connecting the effect of actions to the results of reactions. Due to accepting the illusions of happiness, distress, exhilaration, delusion, etc., the jIvas believe that they are physical beings because of identifying with the senses and the physical body. So much so that the eternal part within, which is the AtmA, or the immortal soul, is completely forgotten, even though it is a direct manifestation of the Supreme Lord and in reality immutable and eternal.

Madhva

The forms and accruements of attachment obstructing the jIva, or embodied being, in relation to AtmA tattva, or realization of the immortal soul, is indicated in this verse. The words sattva, rajas and tamas are usually depicted as goodness, passion and nescience. But there are other interpretations of the same. sattva is luminous because goodness illuminates. rajas is exuberance, giving passion to the ego and momentum to activity. tamas is nescience, the degenerative utilization of rajas and the total antithesis of sattva.

Ramanuja

The three guNas, or modes of material nature, are sattva, or goodness, rajas, or passion, and tamas, or nescience, and all these arise from prakRuti, the material substratum pervading physical existence. The guNas, in actual fact, are the attributes and qualities of prakRuti, and their existence can be discerned from the effects that they are responsible for producing, such as intelligence, dim-wittedness, beauty, ugliness, etc. These attributes and qualities are in a latent state within material nature when it is unevolved, but manifest themselves when in an evolved state. The results of their effects is that the immutable AtmA, or immortal soul, is nibadhnanti, which means enslaved, by material sentiments of the mind. Due to this, the AtmA is impounded in a body as a captive, forced to be manufactured as a jIva, or an embodied being, and subject to birth and death within the body of a demigod, human, animal, fish, etc. The characteristics of the individual guNas, along with their methods of imprisoning the jIva, is given by Lord Krishna next.

Keshava Kashmiri

Lord Krishna refutes the impersonal sAnkhya philosophy, which negates the existence of the Supreme Lord, by propounding the combination and essential dependence of the kshEtra, or field of activity, with the kshEtrajna, or the knower of the field of activity. He delineates all aspects such as what the qualities are, and how they can be recognised. How they keep the jIvas, or embodied beings, in bondage, and how this is established and enforced by contact and attraction to sense objects and material nature. He states that the three guNas, or qualities, of sattva, rajas and tamas; or goodness, passion and ignorance respectively, are not the actual forms of objects seen, heard, tasted, smelled or touched, but are the status of the inherent attributes contained. Thus prakRuti, or the material substratum pervading physical existence, is defined as the resting place where the three guNas are in equipoise and where they arise from. This same prakRuti, when agitated by the Supreme Lord's onslaught of time, transforms into mahat, or cosmic intelligence, and firmly becomes bonded with the dualities such as pleasure and pain, happiness and distress, etc. But then one may question why it is stated in chapter 2, verse 30, that the AtmA, or immortal soul, can never be destroyed. Anticipating such a query, Lord Krishna states the words dEhinam avyayam, meaning the immutable spirit or soul, denoting that although the AtmA resides in the physical body, it is immutable and never changes its quality of eternality. So the guNas cause the AtmA to be imprisoned by the physical body, due to its attachment to the body, its attraction to the senses, and its desire for sense objects. The Vishnu Purana states: The Supreme Lord enters by His own will, with equipoise, into mutable matter and immutable spirit, activating both at the time of creation. O sage, He is both the activator and the activated. By way of contraction and expansion, He abides equipoise within prakRuti, as the kshEtrajna, from whence the three guNas, which control the kshEtra, arise. This irrevocably manifests at the commencement of creation. So, in conclusion, the three guNas are the modified essence of prakRuti, which is generated by the mahat unto all material beings and planets such as Earth and others.

Adi Shankara

sattva (goodness), rajas (vigour, activity, passion) and tamas (darkness)—thus are the guNas named. “guNa” 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. There is no separate existence of a guNa. Accordingly, the guNas 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 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 mAyA, they bind fast in the body the embodied one, the indestructible Self.

That the Self is indestructible has been shown in 13-31.

Jnaneshwar

sattva, rajas, and tamas are the three names of the guNas (constituent aspects), and their birth-place is prakRuti (nature). Of these three, sattva is the best, rajas of middle quality, and tamas the most inferior of the three. All three dwell together in one and the same mind, in the same way that one and the same body has to experience childhood, youth and old age; or in the same way that one and the same pure gold is degraded in point of fineness, as alloy is mixed with it; or in the same way that the state of alertness, shrouded by laziness (drowsiness), makes room for sound sleep; and in the same way, any disposition, growing intense and strong through embracing nescience, reaches the tamas, passing through the (intermediate) doors of sattva and rajas guNas.

Know ye, O Arjuna, that these (mental conditions) are named the guNas, and now hear how they fetter (the soul). The soul, as the field-knower, begins, as soon as it enters the body form, as the individual soul, to identify the body with himself. Then, as he embraces egoism in regard to all his bodily functions, from birth to death, the individual soul is entrapped. Then the soul is caught like a deer in their meshes, in the way the fisherman gives a sudden jerk and gathers in his net, as soon as the fish has swallowed the bait with the hook hidden inside.

Overall Meaning

This is from the chapter entitled “guNa-traya-vibhAga-yOga,” or “The science of division of the three guNas.” In this chapter, Krishna elaborates on the meaning and implication of the guNas that were mentioned in 4-13 and 9-8. This chapter clarifies the meaning of 4-13, where Krishna states that the four varNas were created by him, based on the classification of guNas and karmas.

What Krishna says in this verse (and continues in the next few verses) is that the guNas enslave the AtmA to the body. The AtmA is distinct from prakRuti and from the kshEtra; however, because of the enslaving influence of the guNas associated with the AtmA, it tends to associate itself with the body, thinking that the body is the self. This is a grievous error, and is referred to as mAyA (illusion) or avidyA (ignorance). The goal of human existence is to attain mOksha, by understanding the difference between the body and the soul, and detach the soul from the attachment-causing body. But the guNas make this very difficult, because they produce sensations and experiences that attach the AtmA to the kshEtra, or physical body. The ways different guNas create attachment between the AtmA and the physical body are explained next.

Chapter 14, Verse 6

Original Sanskrit Shloka

तत्र सत्त्वं निर्मलत्वात्प्रकाशकमनामयम्।
सुखसङ्गेन बध्नाति ज्ञानसङ्गेन चानघ।।

Transliteration

tatra sattvam nirmalatvAt prakAshakam anAmayam
sukha-sangEna badhnAti jnAna-sangEna cAnagha

Word-by-word Translation

anagha – O sinless one; tatra – among these; sattvam – the mode of goodness; nirmalatvAt – being pure; prakAshakam – illuminating; anAmayam – serene; badhnAti – binds; sah – one; sukha-sangEna – by attachment of happiness; jnAna-sangEna-ca – and by attachment of knowledge

Free Translation

O sinless one, among these, the mode (guNa) of goodness (sattva), being pure, illuminating, and serene, binds one due to the attachment of happiness and the attachment of knowledge.

Commentaries

Shridhara

Lord Krishna states that sattva, or the mode of goodness, being transparent, stainless, and luminous, is free from the propensity for evil, and thus is serene. Being serene, the sattva guNa binds the jIvas or embodied beings by attachment to its effect of happiness; and being luminous, binds the jIvas by attachment to its effect of knowledge. The happiness one feels, and the knowledge one has achieved, give rise to the jIva identifying itself with the temporary physical body, and not with the AtmA, or immortal soul.

Ramanuja

The characteristics given by Lord Krishna of sattva, or the mode of goodness, within the three guNas, or modes of material nature, are that it is pure, lucid, and shines brightly. Purity and clarity negate obscuration of brightness and happiness. As illumination and happiness can only result from sattva, it is understood to be their cause. The word prakAshakam means illuminates; enlightens; reveals the exact knowledge of. The word anAmayam means of peaceful quality; that which has no inherent cause for producing discomfort, pain or sickness; and denotes that sattva is the cause of good health. The quality of sattva produces in the jIva, or embodied being, the predisposition for happiness and knowledge. When the dispositions for happiness and knowledge arise in life, one embarks upon worldly material enterprises and spiritual pursuits correlated with the level of one's development and evolution. Hence, the jIva is propelled to take birth in such wombs that are favourably suited to the enjoyment of one’s karma or resultant reactions, to actions which, arising out of sattva, are positive. Born in sattva, the inclinations and disposition that one has again help him gravitate towards happiness and knowledge. In this way, spending lifetime after lifetime in sattva guNa, the mode of goodness, one has the opportunity to advance in spiritual life. But this opportunity is not accessible to those born in the two inferior guNas of rajas, or passion, and tamas, or ignorance, as will be described next.

Keshava Kashmiri

In order to delineate the characteristics and types of bondage associated collectively and individually to the three guNas or modes of material nature, Lord Krishna recites three verses: first on sattva, the mode of goodness, and in the next two verses, on rajas, or passion, and on tamas, or ignorance. The quality of sattva is immaculate – it illuminates and is lucid like a crystal. It is devoid of the propensity to veil or cover happiness or knowledge, and it possesses tranquillity and equipoise. Although sattva is imbued with such good qualities, it still binds the jIva, or embodied being, through attachment to happiness and knowledge, which keeps the identification with the physical body strong, inducing feelings of “I feel happiness, I am knowledgeable,” and so on. This entices one to seek accomplishments of greater and greater deeds and experience the rewards of their reactions (karma).

Adi Shankara

It (sattva) 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/soul/AtmA) with the object (happiness). It makes Him think, “Happiness has accrued to me.” This attachment to happiness is an illusion; it is avidyA (ignorance). 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 attributes of kshEtra (matter), the object. Thus it is through avidyA alone—which forms an attribute of the self as the non-discrimination between the object and the subject—that sattva causes the self to be attached to happiness (which is not his own); causes him, who is free from all attachment, to be engrossed in happiness; causes him to feel happy, as if it were him who does not possess the happiness.

Similarly, sattva binds the self by attachment to knowledge. The “happiness” and “knowledge” meant here must be attributes of the kshEtra (matter), of the object, not of the self; for if they were attributes of the self, they cannot be attachments and cannot be bondages. Attachment to knowledge arises in the same way that attachment to happiness arises.

Jnaneshwar

The hunter, sattva, begins to gather in the snares in the form of pleasure and knowledge, then he (individual soul) goes on indulging in loose and vain talk, in his conceit as being one of knowledge, chafes and kicks (struggles vainly) as he realises his actual state, and thus banishes that autochthonous bliss of the self which was already his. He feels greatly pleased when honoured as being a learned person, is elated at every trifling gain, and begins to boast of being a really happy person. He says, "Is this not great fortune of mine? Who else is as happy as myself?" and while indulging in such talk, the eight affections of the body, (considered as) indicating the prevalence of sattva quality, begin to surge up all through his body. The matter does not stop here. Another sticky thing gets at him, viz. the ghost in the form of his erudition possesses him. He does not feel sorry in the least for ignoring the fact that he himself is the essence of knowledge, but he has lost that primal nature of his and feels he is distended infinitely like the sky with the mundane knowledge of sense-objects. It is as if a king were to turn into a beggar in his dreams, and then boast of being as lucky as God Indra on his going around begging in his capital and securing a little grain. In the same way, one beyond the material form (the body), getting into a form (body), thus gets (deluded) by external knowledge. He becomes expert in active worldly life, well-versed in sacrificial learning; nay, he considers even heaven as too low in magnitude for himself.

And then he boasts, “No one else has as much knowledge as I have” and says, “my mind is (as boundless as) the sky which harbours the moon.” In this way, the sattva guNa drags the soul with a chord of happiness and knowledge tied round his ears, in the way a decorated bull is reduced to a (helpless) state by his trainer. Now I tell you, and you do hear, how this embodied soul is fettered by the rajas guNa.

Overall Meaning

sattva is the noblest of the three qualities (guNas) of material nature. Krishna describes it as “pure, illuminating, and serene.” Yet, sattva, too, is dangerous, because it causes attachment. Those jIvas that are dominated by sattva are engaged in high learning and spirituality. But, because of ego, this leads to attachment, because sattva leads to knowledge, and so the jIva gets attached to knowledge, and feels happy that it is knowledgeable. This attachment to knowledge and happiness, while superior to attachments, say, to wine and women, is still an attachment, and hence not desirable, considering the ultimate purpose of human existence, which is to detach the soul from the attachments of the body (and body here includes the mind.) Ramanuja also points out that the attachment of the jIva to happiness and knowledge, arising from sattva, results in the AtmA being born again in wombs that enable it to experience more of the same attachments.

Chapter 14, Verse 7

Original Sanskrit Shloka

रजो रागात्मकं विद्धि तृष्णासङ्गसमुद्भवम्।
तन्निबध्नाति कौन्तेय कर्मसङ्गेन देहिनम्।।

Transliteration

rajO rAgAtmakam viddhi truShNA-sanga-samudbhavam
tan nibadhnAti kauntEya karma-sangEna dEhinam

Word-by-word Translation

kauntEya – O Arjuna, son of Kunti; viddhi – know; rajah – that the mode of passion; rAga-Atmakam – the source of lust and attachment; truShNA-sanga-samudbhavam – and the generator of desire for sense gratification and sentimental infatuation; tat – that; nibadhnAti – enslaves; dEhinam – the embodied consciousness; karma-sangEna – by attachment to activities motivated by their fruits

Free Translation

O Arjuna, know that the mode of passion (rajas guNa) is the source of lust and attachment, and the producer of desire for sense gratification and sentimental infatuation, that enslaves the embodied consciousness by attachment to activities motivated by their fruits.

Commentaries

Shridhara

The binding nature of rajas, or the mode of passion, and its characteristics, are now stated by Lord Krishna. It should be understood that rajas is the root of sense gratification and lust. Therefore, rajas is the source of desire and attachment. Desire is hankering for that which is yet to be experienced, and attachment is the obsession to retain that which has already been experienced. By instigating and increasing the propensity to continuously perform actions, rajas binds the jIva, or embodied being, tightly in samsAra, the perpetual cycle of birth and death, due to acute desire and attachment to apparent and non-apparent results.

Madhva

Because of attraction, the attachment to craving binds by becoming incessant and insatiable.

Ramanuja

Lord Krishna explains that the mode of passion is known as rajas, and is the cause of sexual desires, known as carnal lust. From rajas arises truShNA, which is desire for all forms of sensual enjoyments through the medium of the senses, such as seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling and feeling. Also arising from rajas is sanga, or desire to be in the association of family, friends and loved ones. Thus, rajas encourages desires and promotes activities for enjoying such desires, which binds one to the reactions of merits or demerits, and makes the jIva, or embodied being, incessantly revolve in samsAra, the perpetual cycle of birth and death. This propensity for constantly performing actions is inherent, and also causes the jIva to take birth at a specific place, with a particular body, suitable for enjoying the rewards of previous actions. Hence, by instigating the desire for performing works, one is kept in bondage. In this way, rajas is known to be the root cause of lust, sensual desires and attachment.

Keshava Kashmiri

Here Lord Krishna explains raja guNa, or the mode of passion, and describes how it binds the jIva, or embodied being, to material existence. The quality of passion gives the impetus to perform activities for the desire of sense gratification, and to identify in the mind such sense objects as can be enjoyed by the senses. Desire is the hankering for the acquisition of objects to be acquired, and attachment is the obsession for objects that have already been acquired. Thus, rajas tightly binds the jIva through incessant readiness to perform actions to satisfy desires and attachments, due to the lure of perceived and unperceived results for such actions.

Adi Shankara

rajas is of the nature of passion, colouring the soul like a piece of red chalk. 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.

Jnaneshwar

It is called rajas, as it amuses the soul, and keeps ever fresh and strong in him the desire for sense-objects. . This rajas makes a minute entry in him (in the soul) and rides on the high wind of desires to attain sense objects. Just as a sacrificial fire in the receptacle (ed., hOma-kunDa, the receptacle in which sacrifice is conducted), when soaked with clarified butter and full of live coal in it, bursts into a mighty blaze; in the same way, the desire for sense objects becomes wild; and then the sense-objects, even though mixed (tainted) with misery, feel sweet; and even the glory (and wealth) of the God Indra are looked upon as inadequate and rather trifling. With the thirst of greed inflamed, one is not satisfied even if the mountain Meru falls into his hands, and says that he will resort to any dreadful thing to satisfy his greed. He gets prepared even to gamble his very life, treating it like a cowrie (the smallest value coin) and considers the object of his life to be fully accomplished were he to secure even a straw.

He extends the scope of his dealings with extraordinary zeal, to provide for the morrow, not caring if all he possessed today were squandered that very day. He says, “It is all right to go to Heaven, but on what to live after going there?” And for this, he makes haste, arranging for performance of sacrifices to be able to provide for the days of stay in Heaven. He takes to religious observances and vows one after another, undertakes sacrifices and the construction of works of public weal, but would not touch (perform) a single act unless it be motivated by fruit.

The strong wind blowing at the close of the summer season knows no rest; in the same way, he (the man motivated by rajas) does not mind whether it is night or day while rushing through his business. The movements of the fish in the water; the fickleness of the leer of a youthful woman; or the flashing of the lightning would not even be as subtle and quick as the hurry and bustle of the being filled with desires. With such extraordinary haste, he rushes headlong into the fire of activism, out of covetous longing for the enjoyment of sense objects, in this world as also in Heaven. In this way, the embodied soul, although himself entirely distinct from body, gets himself chained with the fetters of longing and desires, and carries the big load of worldly dealings around his neck. And thus the embodied soul is tied down by the dreadful bondage of the rajas guNa.

Now hear about the binding power of tamas.

Overall Meaning

Krishna now explains the power of raja guNa. Those possessed by rajas are constantly seeking out what they do not have, and constantly seeking to retain what they have. They are motivated by passion, desire, and lust, and let their senses – sight, touch, speech, hearing, smell, be their masters. They constantly crave what their senses are infatuated with.

This attachment to the things they have, and the thirst for things they do not have, is what binds the AtmA to the jIva. Because the AtmA needs the physical body to experience these desires and attachments, it starts to identify itself with the physical body. In this way, the rajas binds the soul to the body.

Chapter 14, Verse 8

Original Sanskrit Shloka

तमस्त्वज्ञानजं विद्धि मोहनं सर्वदेहिनाम्।
प्रमादालस्यनिद्राभिस्तन्निबध्नाति भारत।।

Transliteration

tamas tva ajnAna-jam viddhi mOhanam sarva-dEhinAm
pramAdAlasya-nidrAbhis tan nibadhnAti bhArata

Word-by-word Translation

viddhi tu – you should know; bhArata – O Arjuna, best of the Bharatas; tat – that; tamah – the mode of ignorance (tama guNa); mOhanam – as the cause of delusion; nibadhnAti – enslaving; sarva-dEhinAm – all embodied beings; ajnAna-jam – born of ignorance; pramAda – by negligence; Alasya – listlessness; nidrAbhih – and somnolence.

Free Translation

You should know, O Arjuna, that the mode of ignorance (tamas) is the cause of delusion, enslaving all embodied beings born of ignorance; by negligence, listlessness, and somnolence.

Commentaries

Shridhara

The binding nature of tamas, or the mode of ignorance, and its characteristics, are now stated by Lord Krishna. The word tamas means darkness and it arises from that part of prakRuti, or the material substratum that pervades physical existence, that possesses the power of mOhanam, being that which deludes into illusion, concealing true perception. This power has the ability to confound and bewilder all jIvas, or embodied beings. Hence, tamas binds imperiously the jIvas through pramAda or madness, Alasya or indolence, and nidrAbhih or sleep. pramAda can also include listlessness and mental fragmentation. Alasya can also include laziness and dullness, and nidrAbhih can also include inaction of the mind due to inebriation or exhaustion.

Madhva

That by which one becomes obscure is called born of ajnAna or non-awareness. This is what is indicated by the word Alasya or indolence or inertia.

Ramanuja

Lord Krishna describes the word ajnAna, meaning ignorance, which is the antithesis of wisdom. The word jnAna, meaning knowledge, means precise, accurate perception; whereas ajnAna is perverted, inaccurate perception. The word tamas means darkness, denoting the darkness of ignorance, and is diametrically opposite to the light of knowledge. The word mOhanam is that which deludes into illusion and the darkness of ignorance. This tamas is also the cause of pramAda, or madness; and listlessness, which is the inability to focus because of a fragmented attention span. It is also the cause of Alasya, or indolence – sloth-like laziness, which is the inability to properly execute any endeavour properly; and nidrAbhih, or sleep, the disinclination of the senses to function, terminating all activities. All these things nibadhnAti, or bind, one to the material existence, without reprieve. The negation of the external senses constitutes the dream state; but when the mind is also negated, then the dream state becomes sleep.

Keshava Kashmiri

Now Lord Krishna defines tama guNa, or the mode of ignorance. The word tamas means darkness, and is typified by nescience and inertia. It is subject to the greatest delusion – one that imagines a permanent and pleasant experience in a temporary and unpleasant existence. Those humans that look upon themselves as being their physical body, like the animals do; and who accept their physical body as being all that they are, are hopelessly situated in ajnAna, or absence of knowledge, which is the antithesis of jnAna, or wisdom. jnAna is accurate, precise understanding; whereas ajnAna is inaccurate, perverted understanding. The inaccurate, perverted understanding binds the jIva or embodied being through pramAda or madness, which includes listlessness and bewilderment; Alasya or indolence, which includes sluggishness and laziness; and nidrAbhih or sleep, which includes inebriation. Sleep is the cessation of bodily organs arising from mental and physical exhaustion. All of these are permanently situated in tama guNa and, invoking ignorance, tightly bind the jIva.

Jnaneshwar

That which dims the vision of common sense; that which is the dark cloud of the night of infatuation; that which makes one feel strong attachment for nescience, and has deluded the universe and made it dance (active); that which is the great mystic formula of thoughtlessness, and is a jug of the wine in the form of stupidity; nay, which is a missile in the form of infatuation (mOhanAstra) for the being-all that, O Arjuna, is tamas; and with its skill, it entangles the egoistic body-owner. Once it begins to grow up in all created things, there remains no scope for anything else (to grow). It renders the organs dull, the mind foolish, and strengthens indolence. Then the being begins to turn and twist his body, feels aversion for any sort of work, and then there ensues abundance of yawning. He cannot then, Oh Arjuna, see anything with his eyes, even though they are open, and gets up and responds to a call even though there is actually none.

A stone slab falling on one of its sides, does not move to any other; in that way, once rolled up in drowsiness he cannot unroll himself.

The earth might sink low into the lower region (pAtAla), or the heavens might crash down upon him, yet he does not feel like getting up. He, feeling drowsy and sleepy, cannot recollect what is proper or improper, but only feels great liking for remaining in a rolling position. He raises his palms and rests his cheeks on them, and uses his legs as supporting cushions, and he is so very fond of slumber that he considers it superior to heavenly bliss, were he to have a good slumber.

He has no other addiction but that of having the longevity of God Brahma, and of passing it in slumber. Were he casually to rest while wending his way he feels sleepy, and were he to feel drowsy he would not wake up even for taking a sip of nectar (if it is offered to him). When, on occasion, he is forced to work, he gets blind with rage.

He does not even know how to behave himself, and with whom to talk and what, and cannot know if a certain action is possible or impossible.

Just as a moth might entertain the ambition of putting out, with the help of its wings, a wild fire; in the same way, he becomes prepared to run risks, and audaciously puts his hand to things that could not (or should not) be done; in short, he likes to do wrong (thoughtless) actions. In this way, the tamas quality fetters the attribute-less and pure soul with a bondage of triple plait in the form of slumber, indolence and wrongful actions.

When fire pervades an entire piece of wood, it appears to have the shape of that piece; the sky gets the name of ghaTAkAsh (earthern-pot-shaped sky) when contained (seen) in the earthen pot; when a lake is full of water, then there appears reflected in it the moon; in all these ways the soul appears to be modified (bound) by the semblance of the guNas.

Overall Meaning

Krishna now explains the tendencies and binding power of tamas or tama guNa. tamas means darkness, and is the mode of ignorance. tamas leads to blind attachment through delusion and ignorance, and leads to dullness, superstition, idleness, somnolence, and laziness. These gives rise to inertia, and condition the body to a life of laziness (both of mind and body). In this way, the tamas guNa binds the AtmA to the jIva, by addicting the body and mind to inaction and laziness.

As with the other guNas, the tamas is also bound to the soul because of its actions in past births.

Chapter 14, Verse 9

Original Sanskrit Shloka

सत्त्वं सुखे सञ्जयति रजः कर्मणि भारत।
ज्ञानमावृत्य तु तमः प्रमादे सञ्जयत्युत।।

Transliteration

sattvam sukhE sanjayati rajaha karmaNi bhArata
jnAnam AvRutya tu tamaha pramAdE sanjayati uta

Word-by-word Translation

bhArata – O Arjuna, best of the Bharatas; sattvam – the mode of goodness; sanjayati – ensnares; sukhE –in happiness; rajah – the mode of passion; karmaNi – in fruitful activity; tamah tu – and the mode of ignorance; pramAde – in negligence; uta – and the like; AvRutya – obscuring; jnAnam – knowledge.

Free Translation

O Arjuna, the mode of goodness ensnares one in happiness; the mode of passion in fruitful activity; the mode of ignorance in negligence and the like, obscuring knowledge.

Commentaries

Shridhara

The predominating effect of sattva guNa, or mode of goodness, is that it instils in the jIva, or embodied being, the attraction for happiness, even though the seeds of misery and sorrow are also inherent. So sattva guNa by such natural but strong attraction for happiness binds the jIva to material existence; raja guNa, the mode of passion binds one by the work and effort constantly undertaken to achieve such happiness; and tama guNa, or the mode of ignorance binds one to material existence by distorted delusions and perverted perceptions of knowledge, even if heard from liberated beings. tamas also manifests itself in neglecting the teachings of great liberated beings, or by acting contrary to these teachings, because such teachings differ from one’s personal understanding. The word uta means “and so forth,” and indicates that tamas also binds one to lethargy, listlessness, and laziness.

Ramanuja

The cardinal features of three guNas, or modes, of sattva, or goodness; rajas, or passion; and tamas, or nescience are now being delineated by Lord Krishna. The main quality of sattva is its ability to confer blessedness. The main outcome of rajas is that it impels vigorous activity, and the dominant factor in tamas is that it obscures intelligence, giving a perverted view of reality, which results in the tendency to perform unnatural activities. The three guNas are the natural effects of prakRuti, or the material substratum pervading physical existence, and constitute the qualities of all matter which manifest into physical bodies, both gross and subtle. How they each give rise to consequences so radically different and conflicting with each other is answered in the next verse.

Keshava Kashmiri

Here Lord Krishna describes in brief the functional capacity of the three guNas, which are sattva guNa, or the mode of goodness; raja guNa, or the mode of passion; and tama guNa, or the mode of ignorance. The quality of sattva impels the mind to be attracted to happiness. Although there may be situations of pain and discomfort, the overall tendency of the mind is to seek knowledge and experience joy. The quality of rajas propels the mind to be attracted to action. Although there may be situations of tranquillity and calm, the overall tendency is constant activity. The quality of tamas is obscuring and distorting knowledge, even if instructed by the spiritual master. Such perversion causes the jIva, or embodied being, to commit degenerative activities that hinder its well-being and block its own best interests.

Adi Shankara

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.

Overall Meaning

In this verse, Krishna summarizes what he had said in the previous three. The mode of sattva ensnares the soul by its attachment to happiness and knowledge; the mode of rajas by its attachment to unquenchable desires; and the mode of tamas by its attachment to laziness and superstition.

Chapter 14, Verse 10

Original Sanskrit Shloka

रजस्तमश्चाभिभूय सत्त्वं भवति भारत।
रजः सत्त्वं तमश्चैव तमः सत्त्वं रजस्तथा।।

Transliteration

rajas tamas cabhibhUya sattvam bhavati bhArata
rajaha sattvam tamas caiva tamaha sattvam rajas tathA

Word-by-word Translation

bhArata – O Arjuna, best of the Bharatas; sattvam – the mode of goodness; abhibhUya – overpowering; rajah tamah ca – the modes of passion and ignorance; rajaha – the mode of passion; sattvam tamah – the modes of goodness and ignorance; tatha eva ca – similarly; tamah – the mode of ignorance; bhavati – rises over; sattvam rajah – the modes of goodness and passion.

Free Translation

O Arjuna, the mode of goodness dominates, overpowering the modes of passion and ignorance; the mode of passion dominates, overpowering the mode of goodness and ignorance; similarly, the mode of ignorance dominates, overpowering the modes of goodness and passion.

Commentaries

Shridhara

All the three guNas, being sattva guNa, or mode of goodness; raja guNa, or mode of passion; and tama guNa, or mode of ignorance, originate from past karma which are reactions to actions from previous lives, whose results are known as adRuShTa. When sattva guNa is dominant, it overpowers the effects of rajas and tamas; and in this way, sattva binds the jIva, or embodied being, exclusively to its effects of happiness and pursuit of knowledge. When raja guNa is dominant, it overpowers sattva and tamas, and binds the jIva to its effects of desire and activity; and when tama guNa is dominant, it overpowers sattva and rajas, and binds the jIva by its effects of inertia and indolence.

Ramanuja

Lord Krishna confirms the fact that the three guNas, or modes, of sattva, or goodness; rajas, or passion; and tamas, or nescience, are the three qualities that exist within all jIvas, or embodied beings, in their material existence. But, owing to adRuShTa, which are conditions imposed by the effects of past karma (reactions to actions performed in past lives), and the effects of the types of food that were eaten to sustain the physical body in previous lives, any of three guNas may be dominant; or they may neutralise each other; or they may be antagonistic to each other, depending upon which mode is more present and dominant within a jIva. This being the reality, it can be inferred by knowledge and discerned by witnessing the visible effects of the three guNas as manifested within any jIva.

Keshava Kashmiri

Now Lord Krishna explains the relationship and interaction between the three guNas which are sattva guNa, or the mode of goodness, raja guNa, or the mode of passion and tama guNa, or the mode of ignorance. All three guNas inexplicably lock to all jIvas or embodied beings throughout material existence; but one of the guNas prevails over the other two due to the stringent law of karma or the reactions of committed actions performed in the previous lifetime, combined with the effects from the types of food eaten, such as vegetarian or animal. These, compounded with the degree of sinfulness committed knowingly or unknowingly, determine which of the three guNas will be prevalent. The Chandogya Upanishad, VI.VI.V, beginning annamayam hi sOmya mana, states: The mind is made up of the food that it eats. Srila Vedavyasa states in the Bhagavat Purana that knowledge, water, progeny, place, time, actions, origin, meditation, formula and mental tendency, are the 10 causes of growth.

Adi Shankara

When sattva increases, predominating over both rajas and tamas, then, asserting itself, sattva produces its own effect, knowledge and happiness. Similarly, when the guNa of rajas increases, predominating over both sattva and tamas, then it gives rise to its own effect, viz., actions such as husbandry. Similarly, when the guNa called tamas increases, predominating over both sattva and rajas, then it produces its own effects, viz., the covering of wisdom, etc.

Jnaneshwar (for Verses 9 and 10)

When the bile strengthens itself by pushing aside phlegm and wind (kaphavAta), it makes hot (inflames) the entire body; or, when at the end of hot and monsoon seasons, the cold season sets in, the entire sky is cold; or, when the dreamy and wakeful states disappear, there only remains the deep slumber, and the whole mental attitude takes on the same hue. In the same way, when the sattva guNa overpowers the rajas and tamas guNas, (then) the soul says, “How happy I am!” Similarly, when tamas becomes strong, overpowering the sattva and rajas guNas, it naturally causes the being to commit errors. In the same way, with the overpowering of sattva and tamas guNas, the rajas becomes strong, and then the embodied soul – the master of the body – feels that nothing is more desirable than activity. I have discoursed, in three verses, on the special characteristics of the three guNas, now you do hear attentively about the symptoms of the growth of the sattva and others (guNas).

Overall Meaning

Even though every jIva (embodied soul) may have some sAttvik qualities, some rAjasik qualities, and some tAmasik qualities, one guNa usually dominates in a jIva over the other two, based on the past karmas of the soul in its previous births. The dominant guNa of the AtmA determines in what body it will take birth next.

Chapter 13, Verse 22

Original Sanskrit Shloka

पुरुषः प्रकृतिस्थो हि भुङ्क्ते प्रकृतिजान्गुणान्।
कारणं गुणसङ्गोऽस्य सदसद्योनिजन्मसु।।

Transliteration

puruShaha prakRuti-sthO hi bhunktE prakRuti-jAn guNAn
kAraNam guNa-sangO ‘sya sad-asad-yOni-janmasu

Word-by-word Translation

puruShaha – the individual consciousness; prakRuti-sthaha – situated in the material energy; hi – certainly; bhunktE – experiences; guNAn – the three modes of material energy; prakRuti-jAn – produced by the material energy; guNa-sangaha – the beguiling infatuation of these three modes of material nature; kAraNam – is the cause; asya – of a being’s; sat-asat-yOni-janmasu – innumerable births, superior and inferior in the wombs of variegated life-forms.

Free Translation

The individual consciousness, situated in the material energy, certainly experiences the three modes of material nature produced by the material energy; the beguiling infatutation of these three modes of material nature is the cause of a being’s innumerable births, superior and inferior, in the wombs of variegated life-forms.

Commentaries

Shridhara

How is it possible for the immortal and changeless purusha, which is paramAtmA, the Supreme Soul, and is the localised manifestation of the Supreme Lord, to experience anything? This is being answered here. For the purusha, residing within prakRuti, the effect, being the physical body, is identified with it and, through the medium of this body, the symptoms of joy and misery, produced by the actions of the body, are experienced. The cause of the purusha’s entrapment within a jIva, or embodied being, in a higher source like that of a demigod, or a lower source like that of an animal, is merely due to attachments accepted by the mind and senses, which induce the body to perform good and evil actions, which facilitates karma, or reactions to ones actions, and activates samsAra, the perpetual cycle of birth and death.

Madhva

Here, the word purusha should be understood to refer to the jIva, or the embodied living entity. In previous verses, both the Supreme Lord and the jIvas have been referred to as purusha. Hence, this clarification is required to understand this verse in the proper context. Thus, the jIva enjoys the attributes of prakRuti, or the material substratum pervading physical existence. This statement by the Supreme Lord Krishna effectively eradicates the arguments of those whose conjecture is that the relationship of the physical body and its organs of the senses interacting with sense objects as instruments of action are illusory. The word hi, meaning certainly, is used to emphasise that the conjecture of illusion in this case is contrary to actual experience. It has never been observed by the greatest of minds that internal experiences knowledge and ignorance, pleasure and pain are the products of delusion. That these are illusory is unacceptable to both the spiritual mind and the rational mind. Only those minds which are preoccupied with the external concerns of the physical body are susceptible to illusion; but never those who are devoted to Atma tattva, or knowledge of the immortal soul, and the divine internal spiritual experience. It should be pointed out that even external conceptions should only be considered illusory when discrimination is accurately used in verification. If it ever were established that the internal consciousness, perfectly perceived by those who are self-realised as eternal, are illusory, then all that has been corroborated and confirmed by the imperishable Vedic scriptures would also have to be considered illusory. That is impossible as they are the only authorised and verifiable proof in all of creation, and anything whatsoever contrary to the Vedic scriptures is absolutely illusory. It must be understood that illusion is only present in the empirical world of material existence. Thus any proof that could be given must also be empirical, and thus determining whether anything is illusory in absence of any contrary evidence must be determined exclusively by the conclusions of the Vedic scriptures.

Ramanuja

The AtmA, or immortal soul, is compelled to accept unlimited varieties of physical bodies from all levels of creation. Sometimes as a demigod, sometimes as a human, sometimes as an animal etc. These forms are neutrally awarded according to the guNas, or three modes of goodness, passion and ignorance. These, in turn, adhere in strict accordance to the karma, or reactions from past actions, in proportion to the degree of attachment and cravings one is predisposed to pursue in order to procure pleasure and enjoy sense gratification. Taking birth, one launches into activities pursuing good and evil, in order to satisfy and gratify one’s desires and propensities. Hence, is order to exhaust the karma, one is incessantly creating by innumerable actions, one is born into wombs of good and evil, perpetually in material existence. That is why it is stated that attachment to the guNas is the cause of birth in good and evil wombs. Once born, one performs actions, and from the reactions one is forced to take birth again and again without cessation. This circumvolution never ends, until by the aggregation of sukriti, or pious activities, one seemingly by chance has the auspicious opportunity to attain the association of a Vaishnava devotee of the Supreme Lord Krishna and, being blessed by them, alters the course of their destiny and upgrades their karma, as Lord Krishna Himself confirms in chapter seven verse 19 beginning, bahunam janmanam antE, meaning after many births, a knowledgeable living entity gets association of a mahAtmA, or great soul.

Keshava Kashmiri

The supposition that the AtmA, or immortal soul, is said to be the cause of experiencing pleasure and pain, is erroneous and untenable, because the AtmA is completely spiritual, and is the epitome of knowledge. Although the intrinsic nature of the AtmA is immutable and eternally blissful, Lord Krishna clarifies here that when the jIva, or embodied being, is engrossed in experiencing objects of material nature from the three guNas being the modes of goodness, passion and ignorance, then various modifications arise due to the karma, or reactions to the actions which are performed. This is the definitive cause of the jIva being born in exalted or degraded wombs in any of the 8 million 400 thousand different species that exist throughout the material creation. The exalted wombs, such as those born of the demi-gods, are attuned in the mode of goodness. The degraded wombs, such as those born of the demons, are attuned to the qualities of ignorance. The mixed wombs of exalted and degraded, such as those born of humans, are attuned to the qualities of activity and passion. The higher, being the Vaishnavas and Brahmanas, and the lower, being the Shudras, the lower class, and below them, the degraded are the mlEcchas, or the meateaters, and the cAnDAlas, or the uncleansed. The animals, regardless of intelligence are attuned to the instincts of their species in the mode of nescience. The consequence of experiencing any of these wombs is due solely to the jIva continuously attempting to exploit and enjoy material nature, and the subsequent karma derived from such activities. The most powerful cause is the mental attachment, anticipating the pleasure of enjoying the sense objects of touch, taste, form, and others, and the incessant manoeuvres for achieving such desires. Thus, the AtmA residing within the jIva, who is bewildered and beguiled by material nature, is subjected to transmigration perpetually in the wombs of higher and lower species, performing activities which accrue karma, and is incessantly born and reborn indefinitely. The conclusion is that the AtmA experiences a demotion by the cycles of birth and death and, until renunciation and detachment arises, the desire for material enjoyment is abandoned, and the heart is made pure by bhakti, or pure, exclusive devotion to the Supreme Lord Krishna or any of his Vedically authorised incarnations, the AtmA will not be able to be realised by the jIva and achieve freedom from samsAra, the perpetual cycle of birth and death.

Adi Shankara

Because purusha, the experiencer, is seated in prakRuti, in avidyA or nescience —that is to say, because he identifies himself with the body and the senses which are emanations of prakRuti — he experiences the qualities born of prakRuti, manifesting themselves as pleasure, pain and delusion. He thinks, “I am happy; I am miserable; I am deluded; I am wise.” Over and above avidyA (the cause of birth), his attachment to (identification of himself with) what he experiences — namely, the dualities of pleasure, pain and delusion, — forms the main cause of purusha's birth. The sruti says: “As is his desire, so is his will.” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 4-4-5.)

Accordingly, the Lord says here,

The experiencer's attachment for qualities leads him to births in good and evil wombs.

Or, the second half of the verse may be construed, by supplying the word “samsAra,” so as to mean: Attachment for qualities is the cause of his samsAra through births in good and evil wombs. Good wombs are those of dEvas and the like; evil wombs are those of lower animals. We may also add, as implied here—being opposed to no teaching—the wombs of men which are (partly) good and (partly) evil.

The sense of the passage maybe explained as follows: avidyA—spoken of as purushas being “seated in prakRuti”; and kAma, or attachment for qualities, together constitute the cause of samsAra. Self-knowledge removes the cause of samsAra.

This twofold cause has been taught here for avoidance, i.e., in order that we may try to remove it. The means of bringing about the removal of the twofold causes (of avidyA and kAma) are jnAna and vairAgya, i.e., knowledge and indifference, conjoined with sannyAsa, or renunciation, as has been clearly taught in the Gita-shAstra. (vairAgya leads to sannyAsa; and knowledge, coupled with sannyAsa, brings about the cessation of avidyA and kAma.)

This knowledge, the knowledge of kshEtra and kshEtrajna, has been imparted in the beginning of this discourse. And it has also been imparted in Chapter 13, Verse 12, both by eliminating foreign elements (13-12) and by attributing alien properties (13-13).

Jnaneshwar

He (purusha) is bodiless and crippled; (He) is poverty-stricken, worn-out, and the oldest of all (the old). He is male only in name, is neither a female nor a neuter; in short we cannot predicate anything definite about him. He has neither ears nor eyes, neither hands nor feet, neither any form nor any colour, and exists only in name. O Arjuna, mark that this one, however, has nothing that is cognisable; in him who is the husband of prakRuti. Yet he has to experience pleasure and pain in spite of his nature described above. As for himself, he is non-active, apathetic, and non-enjoyer, yet his faithful wife (mAyA) makes him enjoy all. She makes some movements with the small proportion of form and quality she possesses, and makes a display of strange (wonderful) games. This prakRuti is called "guNamayI" (consisting of qualities); nay, she is the guNas incarnate.

She makes herself felt in diverse forms and qualities and, changing every moment, makes the material world arrogant through her arrogance. She gives publicity to names, creates love through (her) affection, and awakens the senses. It is quite absurd to call the mind neuter, since prakRuti makes it enjoy all the three worlds. She is, as it were, a big island of hallucination. She is pervasion incarnate, and from her are created innumerable mental disorders (vikAra). She is the very bower of the creeper-plant in the form of desires, the very spring season in the woods of infatuation, and is well known by the name of “Divine Illusion.” She develops literature, creates this universe of forms and (names), brings perpetual raids of mundane existence (makes it possible to have an unbroken experience of this world).

The arts emanate from her, the lores are made by her, while desires, perception, and actions are born of her. She is the very mint of all the sounds as also the abode of all miracles; nay, she is the very author of the entire world-drama. The creation and dissolution (of the universe) are her morning and evening occupations. This apart, she is a wonderful fascination (mOhana) in the world. She is the helpmate to the unique-Brahman (addyAcE dusarE) and the kith and kin of the unattached (brahma), since she herself stays in a house in the sphere of zero (void). Such being the enormity of her power (of her saubhAgya – the glorious state of wifehood), she can control the uncontrollable (purusha). In fact, there are no attributes (upAdhi) to purusha. There exists nothing in him; he is perfectly apathetic. Yet, prakRuti herself entirely becomes all that pertains to him. prakRuti herself becomes the origin of the self-born, the form of the formless, and his state and position. She also becomes the desires of the desireless, the contentment of the complete, the race and kindred of the raceless and kinless. She also becomes the symbol of the indescribable, the measure of the measureless, the mind of the mindless and also his intellect. She stands as the form of the formless, action of the actionless, and the egotism of the non-egoist. She becomes the name of the nameless, the birth of the birthless, as also the processes of the action itself. She also becomes the quality of the quality-less, the feet of the feetless, the ears of the earless and the eyes of the eyeless. She is the feelings of the unfeeling, limbs of the limbless—in fact she becomes all (the attributes) of purusha. Such is prakRuti, which pervades and drags the attributeless into attributes. Whatever the inherent quality exists in him (purusha) is eclipsed and transfigured into the quality of prakRuti. Just as the moon gets invisible on the amavAsya day; just as pure gold mixed with one vAl alloy, gets reduced to five from fifteen points of fineness; just as the pious one gets deluded (and defiled) when possessed by a ghost; just as the clouds arising in the sky transform a good (bright) day into a bad (dull and gloomy) one; just like the milk in the abdomen (udder) of the cow; just as the fire remaining latent in the firewood; the brilliance (light) of a jewel covered in a linen; a king reduced to the state of helplessness; or a lion overwhelmed by malady — in all these ways purusha loses all his splendour, after identifying himself with prakRuti. A man wide awake, after suddenly falling asleep, is compelled to experience various events during his dream state; in the same way, purusha is forced to experience the guNas because he identifies himself with prakRuti. Just as one indifferent to worldly affairs gets fettered on account of his association with a woman, so becomes the state of the birthless and eternal purusha and he has to bear the blows of births and deaths on account of his association with the guNas. But, O Arjuna, it is just like this – when red hot iron is hammered on, it is said that the hammer blows are suffered by the fire; or with the disturbance of water, the moon-reflections in it appear more than one – and this plurality, the ignorant attribute to the moon; or when there is a mirror near by, there appear two faces (one the original and the other its reflection in the mirror); or when the surface of a crystal appears to be of reddish colour in the proximity of red turmeric powder. In the same way, the birthless one appears to have diverse births on account of his association with the guNas, but in reality he transcends them (births). In that manner, understand that he (purusha) too feels he is getting births in high and low (good or evil) orders (in the social scale and the world of lower animals), in the same way that a (casteless) ascetic, while in a dream, should feel that he is of the lowest caste. Therefore, purusha in his pristine nature, (who is one with the Supreme Essence) never has to experience births and deaths, the whole conception of his experiencing these births and deaths having its origin in his association with the guNas.

Overall Meaning

The AtmA experiences the effects of the guNas that it is attached to, in the jIva that it resides in, within the physical world. As has been explained in the previous verses, the jIva is attached to these guNas because of the attachments they create in it. These lead the jIva to commit actions in each birth; and the resultant reactions (karmas) of those actions lead to further strengthening or weakening of the guNas attached to the jIva; and are then responsible for the subsequent births of the AtmA in lower or higher wombs. An AtmA endowed with a high level of sAttvika guNa will be reborn in a higher womb, such as that of a Brahmin; someone with very high levels of sattva may be born as a demigod. Lower levels of sattva, and rising levels of rajas and tamas guNas lead to births in Kshatriya, Vaishya, and eventually, when tamas predominates, Shudra wombs. But if tamas has completely enveloped a soul, then it is reborn as an animal, which completely resides in tamas. This is what Krishna means by lower and higher wombs. The guNas attached to a person’s soul, therefore, determine that person’s next birth.

Chapter 14, Verse 14

Original Sanskrit Shloka

यदा सत्त्वे प्रवृद्धे तु प्रलयं याति देहभृत्।
तदोत्तमविदां लोकानमलान्प्रतिपद्यते।।

Transliteration

yadA sattvE pravRuddhe tu pralayam yAti dEha-bhRut
tadottama-vidAm lokAn amalAn pratipadyatE

Word-by-word Translation

yadA – when; dEha-bhRut – the embodied being; yAti – transitions; pralayam – death; pravRuddhe – predominated; sattvE – by the mode of goodness; tadA – at that time; yAti – reaches;amalAn – the pure; lokan – worlds; uttama-vidAm – with the highest knowledge; pratipadyate – are attained.

Free Translation

When the embodied being transitions death, predominated by the mode of goodness – at that time, the pure worlds with the highest knowledge are attained.

Commentaries

Shridhara

Lord Krishna explains that the result of sattva guNa, or mode of goodness, being predominant at the time of death, is that the jIva, or embodied being, will reach the pure, luminous, higher realms of those who worship the highest demigods, such as hiraNyagarbha.

Ramanuja

Lord Krishna explains that when the jIva, or embodied being, is in sattva guNa, or mode of goodness, at the time of death, then numerous blessed regions, where the knowers of AtmA tattva, or knowledge of the immortal soul, reside, are reached. The word amalAn means pure, exempt from blemish, and devoid of ignorance. The understanding is that the fate of a jIva, who dies under the influence of sattva guNa, would be that the next birth would take place in the environment of pious and holy people that have realised AtmA tattva; and so, combined with an inner impulse to pursue this way of life, and with opportunity in abundance, one would continue in sattva guNa, purifying one's existence by performing spiritual activities, until one achieves perfection.

Keshava Kashmiri

Now Lord Krishna explains that a jIva, or embodied being, when situated in sattva guNa, or the mode of goodness, at the moment of death, reaches the pure unblemished association of the spiritually perfected in the higher heavenly planets, up to the planet of Brahma, which is where the virtuous and pious reside.

Overall Meaning

In this and the next verse, Krishna concludes his exposition on the effect of the guNas on the AtmA they are attached to.

In 9-8, Krishna explained how He generates living beings in accordance with their guNas. In 14-5 to 14-10, Krishna explains how the guNas enslave the jIva, and how the jIva acts in certain ways because of the enslaving influence of the guNas. The actions committed by the jIva in one entire life add or subtract to the levels of the three guNas attached to that AtmA at the time of its birth in that life. In 13-22, Krishna explains how the guNas attached to the jIva lead to rebirths in higher or lower wombs.

Now, Krishna completes the description of the life cycle of the jIva. Based on the guNas that the jIva is born with, and the karmas that it commits in this life, it has a new balance of guNas at the time of its death. If the jIva has performed sAttvik actions in its life, and its dominant guNa is sAttva at the time of its death, then it reaches the abode of sAttvik souls after its death, and is reborn in an environment conducive to a sAttvik being (i.e., in a community of Brahmins).

Chapter 14, Verse 15

Original Sanskrit Shloka

रजसि प्रलयं गत्वा कर्मसङ्गिषु जायते।
तथा प्रलीनस्तमसि मूढयोनिषु जायते।।

Transliteration

rajasi pralayam gatvA karma-sangiShu jAyatE
tathA pralInas tamasi mUDha-yOniShu jAyatE

Word-by-word Translation

pralayam gatvA – succumbing to death; rajasi – in the mode of passion; jAyatE – takes birth; karma-sangiShu – among those beings attached to activities motivated by their fruit; tathA – similarly; pralInah – dying; tamasi – in the mode of ignorance; jAyatE – takes birth; mUDha-yOniShu – from the womb of an animal.

Free Translation

Succumbing to death in the mode of passion, one takes birth among those beings attached to fruitful activities; similarly, dying in the mode of ignorance, one takes birth from the womb of an animal.

Commentaries

Shridhara

Continuing, Lord Krishna explains that the result of raja guNa, or mode of passion, being predominant at the time of death is that the jIva, or embodied being, is born into families that are involved in vigorous activity. Likewise, the result of tama guNa, or mode of ignorance, being predominant at the moment of death is that the jIva is born in the wombs of irrational species as animals.

Ramanuja

Now Lord Krishna explains that when a jIva, or embodied being, dies while in raja guNa, or the mode of passion, one takes birth among those who perform activities out of desire for rewards; and having been born as such, will endeavour mightily to accomplish works that would be rewarded by immense wealth and power, even up unto the heavenly spheres. Similarly, if one dies while under the influence of tama guNa, or the mode of ignorance, then such jIvas will be born from the wombs of animals such as pigs and dogs, where one would be completely incapacitated to perform any activity that would give any spiritual benefit.

Keshava Kashmiri

Lord Krishna states that if death comes upon a jIva, or embodied being, while predisposed to raja guNa, or the mode of passion, then one takes birth next from those who are obsessed to perform actions in anticipation of rewards. Also, a jIva dying while under the influence of tama guNa, or mode of ignorance, is forced to take birth as an animal in the next life.

Adi Shankara

If he meets death when rajas is predominant, he is born among men, who are attached to action. The “irrational” refers to cattle and the like. (ed: Shankara translates mUDha as irrational. So mUDha-yOniShu = wombs of the irrational.)

Jnaneshwar (Verses 14 and 15)

After getting victory over the tamas and rajas, when the sattva dominates over the body, the following signs appear in the body. In the spring season, the fragrance in lotuses spreads out all around, unable to contain itself in the lotus; in the same way, the light of knowledge floods to the exterior, unable to contain itself in the interior. Then reason remains watchful in all the sense centres, and hands and feet seem to have secured a wonderful vision. The beak of a swan decides the question (if any is raised before the swan), as to which is milk and which is water; in the same way, the senses themselves test and decide what is proper and what is improper, which is sin and which is merit, while comprehensive self-governance (niyama) attends as their footman. The ears instinctively abandon what ought not to be heard, the eyes eschew what ought not to be seen, while the tongue avoids giving utterance to what ought not to be uttered. Just as darkness runs far away from the light of a lamp, so too, prohibited things dare not stand before his senses. Just as a big river inundates the banks during monsoon, so too his intellect comprehends all sciences. Just as the brilliance of the moon rushes into the sky on a full moon night, so too the faculty of intellect spreads out freely in the region of knowledge. The desires get contracted, activism ebbs away, while the mind feels aversion for the enjoyment of sense-objects.

In short, these are the signs of expansion of the sattva guNa, and should death intervene just at this juncture (during the expansion of sattva), it should be considered as an occasion for festivity, like the arrival of guests from heaven (i.e. rare and exalted guests) just when there is a bumper harvest season and when there are ready-cooked delicious and flavourful dishes. Should there exist (in one’s mind) generosity and courage in the same proportion as the riches in the house, why could one not one secure the other world (Heaven) as well as good fame here (in this world too)? Could such a one stand any comparison, O Arjuna? Similarly, what other fate could one, possessed of the sattva guNa, have when the embodied soul leaves his cottage in the form of the body – the enjoyer of sense objects carrying along with him the pure and manifested sattva quality; and he actually quits the body in such (sAttvik) state; he is the very idol of the sattva guNa; nay, he takes his next birth amongst men of knowledge. Tell me, O Arjuna, were a king, in his role as the king, to go and sit on a hill top, would he be less of a king there?

Were a light from here (one place) to be removed to a neighbouring village, could it not continue to be the (same) lamp there too, O Arjuna? In the same way, the pure sattva guNa brings about an extraordinary increase in knowledge, with the result that the intellect begins to float over the discerning power. Then, fully studying the aspects of all the elements, the soul, along with such a study, dissolves itself into the self. That which is the 37th beyond the 36 (vide Chapter 13, 5-6), or 25th beyond the 24 (according to sAnkhyas) elements or the fourth beyond the three (guNatraya—the three qualities or guNas such as sattva, etc.) or—the three stages of human life such as youth, etc. or the three states such as walking, etc.)— one who has attained that one state—the best of all—secures, on the strength of this best sattva guNa, a body that stands no comparison in the universe.

In the same way, when the rajas waxes strong, suppressing the tamas and sattva guNas, he runs riot in the locality in the form of the body, with his own programmed works, the sense of which (you) now hear. Just as in a hurricane, all things are rushed through and wound up together and whirled round and round in the sky, in the same way, with the force of the rajas, all the senses are let loose on their objects. He does not consider it in any way (morally) objectionable to cast a lustful eye on another man’s wife, and goes on allowing the senses to indulge unrestrained in the enjoyment of their objects; like the mouth of a sheep that strays out, grazing on whatever comes in its way. His greed increases so much that only something that lies beyond the reach of his grasp escapes him. His natural tendencies do not permit him, O Arjuna, to keep his hands off any out-of- the-way sort of business transactions he may undertake. Similarly, building a palace or performing an ashvamEdha sacrifice (Great Horse Sacrifice)—such extraordinary plans possess him completely.

He undertakes works of vast magnitude, like planning towns, constructing big reservoirs, planting forests and laying out big gardens - yet his desires for happiness in this as also in the other world are not quenched. There moves about in his heart a greed for happiness, of such a boundless and tremendous magnitude, that the extent and depth of an ocean falls short in comparison; and the burning power of fire proves too mild and tame before it. Very strong desires for enjoyment gallop abreast of the mind with great hope and, while wandering in this way, it treads over (traverses) the entire universe.

These signs become perceptible when the rajas waxes strong; and were he to die in this state, he would have along with his greed and other companions, a new body in the human order. Oh see, could a beggar be a king were he to go in a palace furnished with all royal splendour?

The bullocks, were they to carry a marriage party of even the rich, could have nothing else but kaDbi fodder (for their feed). Therefore, he (one meeting death while the rajas waxes strong) gets yoked along with such as are engaged, without a moment's rest, in worldly affairs day and night. In short, one being drowned and dead in the deep waters in the form of the rajas attributes, takes birth amongst persons heavily loaded with actions.

In a similar way, the tamas waxes strong after swallowing the rajas and sattva guNas. The signs that then appear inside and outside the body, I now narrate to you – do hear attentively. The mind in the tamas stage becomes like the sky on an amAvAsya night (the last day of the lunar month), having neither the sun nor the moon. Similarly, the heart becomes blank, inactive and dull, there remaining no vivacity in it, while all vestige of reasoning is lost. The intellect loses all its elasticity, and becomes so hard that even a stone cannot compare with it, while the memory goes into oblivion. The arrogance of thoughtlessness resounds through the body (in and out) while the being goes on performing “give and take” transactions full of sheer foolishness. The bones, in the form of breaches of good manners, give painful pricking to the senses, and yet he continues to behave along the same lines, even though it gives mortal agonies. There is one more novel thing about it: the mind of the tamas-ridden being gets enlivened while doing wicked actions, in the way that an owl gets vision in the dark. Similarly, his mind is fired with wild expectations when confronted with the idea of an act that is forbidden, and the senses also go galloping in hot pursuit of the same. In this way, the being staggers without being drunk; raves without being delirious in high fever; and gets infatuated even in the absence of love, like a mad man. He is in an ecstasy which is not, however, due to the mind getting enwrapped in concentrated meditation. In this way, he is possessed by insolent infatuation.

In short, these signs are developed, when the tamas waxes stronger and stronger, along with his paraphernalia. And were the being, perchance, to get a call from death on such an occasion, he gets out of the body along with the tamas. A small mustard seed gets dried up (and dies) retaining in itself its mustard property; would that same seed, when sown, germinate and develop into any other plant but the mustard one? Even if the fire with which a lamp is lighted gets extinguished, yet so long as the kindled flame of the lamp is burning, therein does exist the property of the original fire. Therefore, when the being quits the body along with the tamas-ridden fancies, bundled up in a leather bucket in the form of tamas, he secures for himself again a tamas-ridden body. There is no point in elaborating further this subject. One dying, while tamas waxes strong, is born in any of the orders like the animal, bird, tree, or insect.

Overall Meaning

Continuing with the explanation in the previous verse, if the balance of guNas attached to a soul, based on its guNas at the time of birth and the sum of its actions throughout its life results in a jIva that is immersed in raja guNa at the time of death, the AtmA gets reborn in an environment conducive to such a life, i.e., the home of a Kshatriya. Similarly, a soul that is immersed in tama guNa at the time of death gets reborn as an animal. (Those in intermediate states between the last two states are born in Vaishya and Shudra homes, depending on how much rajas and how much tamas is attached to their souls.)


Acknowledgments

I would first and foremost like to thank my wife, Sandhya Srinivasan, for giving me unstinting support in the many months and years it has taken me to do the research for this article series and write it, even though it took me away from her and our daughter for extended periods. Without her constant, unwavering, and enthusiastic support, this series would not have been possible.

I also owe thanks to Sandhya for being a strong intellectual partner in this endeavor. She has been very kind to spare time from her busy schedule to read every word of every article that I have ever written for my blog, and offer careful, considered, and critical feedback on them. Her inputs on this caste-discrimination series in the form of feedback and suggestions have been invaluable.

One friend without whom this series would not have been possible is Ganesh Prasad. He has been a source of constant encouragement, and his unflagging enthusiasm for the project allowed me to continue with it even at times when I started to wonder if the effort was at all worth it. In addition, Ganesh has been very patient and thorough in proofreading every line of every article in the series, and offering extremely valuable feedback that has greatly improved the series, from as far back as 4 years ago when he read the first draft of this series, to the final posted articles now. I owe him a debt of gratitude.

I would like to thank Dileepan Raghunathan for his help in understanding some passages in the Gita. I would also like to thank Ramdas Menon for helpful comments and feedback on the articles in this series, and for his strong encouragement and support of this series in particular, and my writing in general.

Lastly, I would like to thank the many people with whom I have had vigorous arguments on this topic, on Facebook and WhatsApp. Some of those arguments took up entire weekends, but they ended up clarifying my thinking immensely and helped me sharpen my positions.

Any errors or mistakes in this article, however, should not be attributed to any of these people, for such errors and mistakes are entirely my own fault. The contributions of my kind and patient friends and family have been only to enhance this humble work.

Caste-Based Discrimination in Hinduism – The Full Series

This is an evolving list. More titles will be added as they are published. This list is the current list of published articles.

Indexes



Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.

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