Chapter 14 – Guṇa Traya Vibhāga Yoga

The theme of this chapter is ‘Guṇa’. The name of the chapter literally means, classification of the 3 Guṇas.

What is ‘Guṇa’? What are its classifications, how do they influence us? The lord discusses these in detail in this chapter.

Guṇa is like mode of functioning. Since all that exists has a certain function, these Guṇas are applicable to entire existence (Prakriti). In the context of this chapter, we’ll have our focus on how it influences our body and mind. But, why should I know about it?

Let’s look at an example to understand this better. Cars, these days typically have different modes of driving. Like Economy mode, where fuel efficiency is maximised; Normal mode, where engine is optimised for a balance of fuel efficiency and speed; Sport mode, where engine is tuned for maximum speed. When the driver is aware of these modes, he can use the mode that’s best suited for his need. Similarly, it is important for a sādhaka to know the modes of his thoughts, and how it influences his actions/reactions, to maximize his efficiency to reach his goal.

The three Guṇas

Satva, Rajas and Tamas, are the three Guṇas. Let’s look at each of these:

Satva, is the attitude oriented towards gaining right knowledge, thus illuminating the mind, leading to happiness. This influences one to always seek knowledge, and revels in the happiness derived out of the knowledge. Thus, it creates an attachment to such happiness.

Rajas, is the attitude that drives us to act, for the purpose of fulfilling material desires. The desires, in turn leaves us with craving for more, thus binding us to actions to achieve all the desires.

Tamas, is the ignorant attitude; leading to laziness, negligence, being inactive. It shrouds the wisdom, leaving us deluded.

All beings, are affected by all three Guṇas, in varied proportions. In some Satva dominates over Rajas and Tamas, in few Rajas dominates over Satva and Tamas, few others Tamas dominates over Satva and Rajas. Different situations we go through, can also alter this proportion of influence of these Guṇas.

Actions and reactions of the Guṇas

Let us look at couple of examples to try and understand how the dynamics of Guṇas varies, and the results of it.

When we visit an orphanage, we naturally have an instinct to be compassionate, and willing to donate our time/money for the well being of the children there. This is driven by right knowledge – of developing an attitude of giving. Our thoughts, actions, intent is all pure, wanting to do good for the community. It results in happiness, for acting in the right way. Here, Satva Guṇa was predominant. This, while being good actions, it still binds us to the sense of satisfaction we gained, thus desirous of doing more such good things. It leads to positive impact on the community, and thus elevating our lives for the larger good.

When Rajas is predominant, we’re filled with competitive spirit, pursuing one desire after another. It’s like going for a buffet lunch, where we’re overwhelmed by desire to taste each of the items in the spread. As the capacity of our stomach is limited, our mind is suddenly in chaos, deciding which item to have more, which one less, to derive maximum satisfaction to our tongue! As the intent here was to fulfil the desire of tongue, and wanting for more, Rajas is predominant. Will such a buffet satisfy our thirst to have good food? NO, instead it leaves us with a craving for another large buffet, with better items! Or driving us to act, to be able to afford such buffets every day, or every weekend. Well, isn’t our life similar too – a spread of desires, and our mad rush to achieve one after another!

When Tamas is predominant, it clouds our wisdom, ability to think. Recall how we love hitting on the Snooze button when the alarm goes off early in the morning. Clearly, Tamas is predominant then, subduing both Satva and Rajas qualities. When Tamas takes over, it diminishes our ability to discriminate between right and wrong. It prompts one to do the wrong, even justifying for the wrong. Thus, it binds one to ignorance, and leaves us deluded. This is self destructive, taking us on a downward spiral of evolution.

These are trivial examples, to show how these Guṇas keeps changing its influences within the same being, in varied situations. Being aware of what Guṇa is influencing us is the first step for a Sādhaka. As can be seen in the examples above, we then learn how these Gunas influence our actions, to fine tune or transform our actions for the better. Personality Development is a byproduct, when we learn about the Gunas and start taking corrective actions, to cultivate our ability to do right actions. The general objective for all, is to tend towards ‘Satva’ Guna. With the current lifestyle, we all are usually oscillating between Rajas and Tamas, with some Satva here and there. Being aware of the current state, and gradually getting our Rajas to be guided by Satva, allows us to progress towards Satva. This leads to a positive personality development!

When we look at the influence of these Guṇas more closely, we can observe that each of our action, is driven by these Guṇas. The result of the action, adds a small weight to the Guṇas again. Thus, the influence of Guṇas, keeps growing. To realise this, and to evolve beyond the influence of Guṇas, is equivalent of being liberated from the cycle of birth and death. We then are indifferent to such events, always revelling in the thought of supreme being!

Arjuna asks at this point, what are the traits of those that have evolved beyond the influence of these Guṇas. The lord describes that such a person neither hates knowledge, attachment or delusion (satva, rajas and tamas) when they’re present, nor yearns for it in their absence. They are indifferent and unaffected by the Guṇas. When they thus evolve beyond these Guṇas, they no longer derive any pleasure or disappointment from their actions, nor do they perceive honour or dishonour. With this attitude, when one engages in the actions of serving the lord, he certainly sets himself free from the shackles of the body, uniting him with the spirit of supreme.

May the Lord bless us with willingness to evolve to Satva, and gradually beyond it, to his lotus feet!

DISCLAIMER: This our sincere attempt to summarise the Gitōpadesha, via a series of short blogs. This is NOT the whole translation, or commentary of the divine book. We seek forgiveness of reader and the lord, for omissions which is inevitable to keep the blog short. The write-ups include both, writer’s personal opinion and summarised version of many shlokas from the Bhagavad Gita. Intent of blog was never to be a commentary of Bhagavad Gita, but simply inspire the reader to read Bhagavad Gita in it’s entirety. The writer is neither a scholar, nor a bummer, somewhere in between, with a firm belief that the lord gets him to do all the things he does. Being human, he still keeps erring. Forgive him for all such mistakes.

Sarvam Krishnarpanamasthu!

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