Chapter 17 – Shradhā Traya Vibhāga Yoga

This is a very important chapter for any Sādhaka, where the Lord explains how the Gunas influence our beliefs and the actions we perform. This serves as a mirror, for us to identify what category our actions or beliefs belong to, and course correct as appropriate.

Having given an overview of divine and evil qualities in the previous chapter, in the concluding remarks, the Lord declared one should ONLY rely on the guidance in the scriptures to determine what is right and what is wrong; what needs done, what should NOT be done. Such assessments are never to be done, by our own impulsive mind which has an implicit tendency to tilt the decision towards satisfying ones’ own desires!

At this point, Arjuna asks the Lord – those that perform actions without knowing well about scriptures, but with complete faith – what are such actions considered as? Do they belong to Satvik nature, or Rajasik or Tamasik?

The Lord explains – even Shradha(faith) is influenced by the Gunas of the practitioner, thus it can be categorised as Sātvik, Rajasik and Tamasik. The emphasis is also that, it is the Gunas of the practitioner that influences the faith he cultivates.

People with Sātvik nature, worship the gods; that of Rajasik nature worship Yakshas (demigods), and those of Tamasik nature worship ghosts and spirits alone.

Now the lord goes on to elaborate what all actions influences these Gunas in us. Right from the Āhāra(food) we consume, the Yajnas(actions) we perform, the Tapas (self discipline) we practice, to the Dāna (charity) we give away, all these have a profound impact on the Gunas, and in turn our Shradha itself. These actions have a direct impact on our basic nature and vice versa. When we start purifying these actions (tending towards divinity), it in turn also purifies our innate nature. On the other hand if we indulge our actions in material progress or ignorance, Rajas / Tamas Gunas will amplify within us. It’s a cyclical process, where Gunas influence beliefs >> beliefs influence actions, and actions in turn further strengthens the Gunas. To break the cycle, it is necessary to change the habitual patterns in our actions. Because changing thoughts directly is difficult, if not impossible.

So how do we identify what is Sātvik, or Rajasik, or Tamasik in these actions? The Lord sheds light on the behavioural pattern in each of these actions that reflects the underlying predominant Guna.

Āhāra (food)

Food is generally considered as an essential for the well being of the body. But interestingly, it also has a direct impact on the mind and the thoughts it cultivates. Recall when you had a heavy lunch – the rest of the day is typically lethargic, you simply cannot involve in creative thinking. On the other hand, having light food actually helps you stay alert and sharp. Similarly overly spicy food, causes agitated mind – typically results in being short tempered. Hence, watching what you eat is important. Let’s look at how food is classified by the Lord.
Sāthvik – Food items that are juicy, wholesome, pleasant and stable. Also the food items that are good for lifespan, strength, health and happiness.
Rajasik – Food items that are too bitter, too tangy, pungent, too spicy, dry, too hot – these are known to promote Rajasik nature. Think of it, although the tongue may relish extreme tastes – it starts giving discomfort to the body eventually. It causes acidic reactions within the body. That in turn aggravates acidic thoughts in the mind, literally.
Tamasik – Food items that are stale, foul smelling, overcooked, tasteless, spoilt, contaminated, left overs are Tamasik. Such food influences the body negatively, making them lethargic and ignorant.

Yajna (actions)

Yajna, is representative of actions performed with ‘Yajna spirit’ as described in Karma Yoga (Chapter 2 and 3).
– Actions performed without expectation of result, actions that are in line with what Dharma prescribes (duties), and also performed within the framework of Dharma. These are Sāthvik in nature.
Rajasik – Actions performed for the sake of the result of it, and that which elates the ego of the doer is Rajasik.
Tamasik – Actions performed that are against Dharma, actions performed without giving away food, without mantras or rewards, without conviction. Here the definition makes specific reference to pious actions, like Pooja. But inference can still be extended to daily actions. Mantras are representative of right process of performing actions, rewards/food are representative of giving due credit to all involved stakeholders.

Tapas (self discipline)

Tapas or Self Discipline is beautifully explained here. When we think of Self Discipline, we typically relate only with habits that we inculcate – like waking up early morning, or having food on time, being punctual etc. But closer look reveals, it is much more than that. The Lord explains this beautifully, Self Discipline is applicable to the realm of body, speech and thoughts (kāya, vāk and Manas).

At body level, self discipline is about being respectful towards the Supreme, enlightened beings, Guru, wise people. Maintaining cleanliness in and around the body, purity of thoughts and intentions, practicing simplicity, celibacy and non violence.
At speech level, self discipline is about talking without being excited (both positively or negatively), or talking in a way that does not result in excitement for others, is truthful, pleasant and beneficial. Involving in talks that are worthy and helps in progress (in this context, it is spiritual progress). In other words, everything else can be considered avoidable!
At thoughts level – Maintaining serenity, calmness, silence, self control, purity of thoughts – these are the restraints to be practiced.

Now looking at what influence Gunas have on Tapas:
Sāthvik – When the objective of the practice of such self discipline in each of 3 realms, is to seek the divine and is practiced without any expectation of result, such Self Discipline is Sātvik by nature!
Rajasik – Practicing such self discipline for the sake of gaining material benefit, for gaining respect or honour, these are Rajasik.
Tamasik – Practices that involve self torture, are misguided, and are done with the objective of hurting others, these are Tamasik.

Dāna (charity)

Charity should always be an indispensable part of our lives. In terms of spiritual progress, giving away what we like plays a prominent role in practicing detachment. Thus, it goes without saying – charity is not about giving what’s in excess or what we don’t need. It’s about giving away what we value the most, and also learning to live what with what is left. Now let’s look at how charity is classified:

Sāthvik – Charity done as if it’s one’s duty to perform, given to a person without any expectation of returns, done at the right place, time and to a worthy person.
Rajasik – Charity done with an expectation of some beneficial action or return, or done with reluctance as you don’t see any return benefit. For example, donating to some institution so you get some special privilege there – this is only a namesake donation but in reality a bribe! Right, whenever there’s an expectation of return for charity, that’s a veiled bribe!
Tamasik – Charity done at inappropriate time, place and to unworthy people, without due respect is Tamasik in nature. For example, just because you are expected to donate you make such donations to your own family members!

With this, he concludes this chapter declaring all the above actions should be performed with the attitude of ‘AUM TAT SAT’. Literally, each word is meant to denote the supreme being.

This conversation being addressed to Arjuna, the Lord is well aware that he’s desirous of the ultimate liberation. Such being the objective, it is understood that Arjuna will strive to elevate each action to be in Satvik mode. To achieve that, the directive ‘AUM TAT SAT’ serves as a constant reminder of the purpose, thus to be chanted with every action being performed.
AUM is representative of the Supreme Being – thus all actions must begin by invoking him, reminding ourselves what we are, is only due to his grace. The word ‘TAT’, represents here the action being performed. Utterance of this word is a reminder that all the actions performed, is done without any expectation of result. The word ‘SAT’ represents reality, goodness. In the phrase ‘AUM TAT SAT’ it is used to denote the actions being performed are pure in its intent, performed in the right way.

Bring out the Arjuna in you, desirous of evolving to Sātvik nature, and keep uttering ‘AUM TAT SAT’ so you remind yourself of actions to be performed, while also retaining the purity of intent and purity of actions!


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!