Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Canto XIV : the Different Gunas

If Purusha is the 'light of lights', what is Prakriti ? Prakriti, explains Krishna, is 'my womb, and I place the seen in it'. Prakriti is primordial matter, both crude and subtle. It consists of three gunas or qualities (literally, 'threads'). The three threads that, in varying permutations and combinations, make up all material phenomena are : sattva, rajas, tamas. These three have been translated and interpreted in all manner of ways. Very simply, sattva is the quality of light, goodness, knowledge, vitality; rajas -- the quality of grayness, amorality, curiosity, physical strength; tamas -- the quality of grayness, immorality, ignorance, laziness. The permutations and combinations of these gunas are endless, and each person is dominated, at different times, by one or other of these gunas, which provide the unique stamp of individuality, of character, or personality. But this personality is Prakriti-based; it is grounded in a mix of raw and refined tendencies, inclinations, proclivities, behaviour patterns. They are not the real person, the Purusha. The aim of life is to see through and overcome these physical guna-pulls and arrive at a clear awareness of one's real Self.

The key last but one shloka of Canto XIV makes this and unequivocal requirement of the spiritual aspirant : 'My unswerving devotee transcends the gunas and is ready for union with the Brahman'.

Krishna said :

I will now give you the greatest knowledge of all, through which the sages have achieved perfection.

They are not subject to rebirth at the time of creation, nor are they affected at the time of the world's dissolution.

The great Prakriti is my womb, and I place the seed in it; in this way, Arjuna, life begins.

Remember : whatever form of birth is there in this world, the great Prakriti is the ultimate womb, and I am the seed-giving father.

Sattva, rajas and tamas -- these Prakriti-produced gunas unite the body to the atman.

Sattva unites with purity and luminosity; its points of reference are happiness and knowledge.

Rajas is the quality of passion, it causes unrest and attachment; it unites by creating attachment to action.

Tamas is born of ignorance : it unites through unknowing, torpor and sleep.

Sattva refers to happiness, rajas to action; tamas, stifling discrimination, to unknowing,

Sattva occassionally rules over rajas and tamas; rajas over sattva and tamas, and tamas over sattva and rajas.

When the light of wisdom penetrates every sense, sattva is predominant.

Cupidity and desire to work, restlessness and passion are born when rajas rules.

Darkness, sloth, misunderstanding and delusion are born when tamas rules.

And if the atman meet death during sattva's predominance, it straightaway reaches the pure regions of the knowers of wisdom.

Death in rajas means birth among the action-obsessed; death in tamas means birth among the unreasoning.

The fruits of noble action are sattva and gentle; the fruits of rajas agony, of tamas ignorance.

Wisdom is the result of sattva, and lust of rajas; ignorance, misunderstanding and delusion of tamas.

The sattvika go up, the rajasika hang in midspace, the tamasika, caught in the lowest guna, go down.

When the sage sees no other worker but the gunas and sees also what is beyond the gunas, he reaches me

The atman which transcend matter-involved gunas is untouched by birth and death, decay and sorrow, and finds immortality.

Arjuna asked :

How does one recognise the transcender of the gunas ? how does he behave, what does he do with his life ?

Krishna replied :

He does not dislike light, he does not dislike work, he does not desire them when he is without them;

He behaves detachedly; he knows the gunas are working, and he remains steady;

He remains serene in pain and joy, or when considering a piece of earth, a stone or a lump of gold; he remains serene in moments of glory and shame;

He remains serene in honour and dishonour; he has abandoned wordly undertakings. Such a man is said to have transcended the gunas.

My unswerving devotee transcends the gunas and is ready for union with Brahman.

For I am the abode of Brahman, the deathless and the unchanging, the abode of eternal dharma and supreme felicity.

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