Ch. 14 Yoga of Attention towards the Mechanism of the Three Guṇas (part 1)

This article is part 80 of 140 in the series Jīvana-dharma-yoga


pītāmbarādaruṇa-bimba-phalādharoṣṭhāt |
kṛṣṇāt-paraṃ kim-api tattvam-ahaṃ na jāne ॥ (śrī madhusūdana-sarasvatī)

He whose hand is adorned by the flute, with the hue of a new dark cloud,
He who’s dressed in a yellow garment, with ruddy lips resembling the bimba fruit,
With an innocent moon-like handsome face, the lotus-eyed,
Kṛṣṇa – beyond him, I do not know of any other reality.


pitta kapha vāta dhātu
vyatyāsaṃgaḻgè dehamèccaraviruvol ।
sattvādi guṇavikārakè
cittaṃ jāgṛtiyè tāḻdoḍātmoddhāram ॥

As the body is aware of the
imbalance in the humours of pitta, kapha, and vāta,
If the citta is responsive to the imbalance in
sattva, rajas and tamas, the self is benefited.

guṇaṃ mūruṃ prākṛtagaḻ
keṇakuttihuvèlla jīvagaḻananavarataṃ ।
danapāyaṃ dehiyaṃtarātmanasaṃgam ॥

The three guṇas belonging to prakṛti
agitate all the jīvas all the time.
The body and manas are animated by that.
But the embodied ātmā is detached.


The reason for the rampant violence and instability everywhere can be traced to the imbalance of the three guṇas that constitute the world – sattva, rajas and tamas. This should be borne in mind by politicians who seek world peace and universal upliftment and organise summits and seminars on the same. If there is focus towards elevation sattva-guṇa, peace becomes readily available. The itch of scabies, caused by an infection, cannot be cured by applying civet oil.

Section 15 / Chapter 14 / Guṇa-traya-vibhāga-yogaTriguṇa-tantra-jāgarūka-yoga

(The yoga of attention towards the mechanism of the three guṇas)

This chapter deals with the effects of the three guṇas of prakṛti that have been expounded upon by Bhagavān right from the beginning of the Gītā. In the third chapter, Bhagavān says

kāryate hy-avaśaḥ karma sarvaḥ prakṛtijair-guṇaiḥ ||

(BG 3.5)

“Everyone performs their activities under the influence of prakṛti. None is really free of her.”

In the same chapter, he again says –

prakṛteḥ kriyamāṇāni guṇaiḥ karmāṇi sarvaśaḥ ||

(BG 3.27)

“All works are caused by the guṇas of prakṛti.”

guṇā guṇeṣu vartanta iti matvā na sajjate ||

(BG 3.28)

“The guṇas of man’s inner and outer nature act with and react to one another resulting in activity. The seer knows that these works do not attach to the Self.”


Thus the svāmī repeatedly separates out the jīva’s ātmā and the instruments of his work.

In the seventh chapter, he instructs again –

tribhir-guṇa-mayair bhāvair-ebhiḥ sarvam-idaṃ jagat
mohitaṃ nābhijānāti māmebhyaḥ param avyayam ||

(BG 7.13)

daivī hy-eṣā guṇa-mayī mama māyā duratyayā
mām-eva ye prapadyante māyām etāṃ taranti te ||

(BG 7.14)

“The myriad effects of these three guṇas have deluded the entire world causing the jīva to not know his own Self. Māyā is the power of these three guṇas.It is hard to cross her, but not impossible. Those who take refuge entirely in Bhagavān can cross this ocean of Māyā.”

What does this mean? The wall standing between the jīvātmā and the paramātmā was built by prakṛti. The three guṇas are the bricks that make up this wall. Those desirous of experiencing paramātmā have to exert themselves in scaling this wall. This wall of māyā is the main topic of the fourteenth chapter.

This chapter is small without much scope for debate or polemics and hence, not much is said about this chapter in our commentarial tradition. That is not a reason, however, to consider this chapter unimportant. In my opinion, the description of the three guṇas is key to our analysis of reality. Plato, the Greek philosopher par excellence, has opined that human nature is tri-fold. Those interested can study this in his Republic. It is these natural guṇas that form and influence human life. These three guṇas are the source of all the actions and behaviours of this world. Without understanding the character of these three guṇas well it is impossible to understand the jīva’s nature. Without knowing the nature of the jīva, it is not possible to bring harmony to the world and the nature of our ātmā will remain distant from us. It is therefore that the svāmī tells us -

yajjñātvā munayaḥ sarve parāṃ siddhim ito gatāḥ ||

(BG 14.1)

idaṃ jñānam upāśritya mama sādharmyam āgatāḥ ||

(BG 14.2)

By realising the nuances of these guṇas, all the great sages attained great siddhis and became
similar in nature to Bhagavān.

Guṇa here does not refer to specific human qualities transmitted from person to person or those imbibed by one’s own experience or via imitation of others or something non-existent that was gained via gradual practice. This chapter’s exposition is about the innate guṇas that are natural to us and accompany us from our birth.

We analysed two parts of the world in the previous chapter – kṣetra and kṣetrajña. It is now pertinent for us to understand the amount of influence that the kṣetra (prakṛti) has on the daily life of the kṣetrajña (jīva). The three guṇas are the power of the kṣetra. The svāmī now tells us about the main aspects of the kṣetra, which is none other than Universal prakṛti - the viśvaprakṛti, the stuff of which the universe is made. The first evolved state of prakṛti is mahat. Just as clay is used by a potter to make his wares, mahat is used by Īśvara to create the world.

mama yonir-mahad brahma tasmin garbhaṃ dadhāmy-aham |
sambhavaḥ sarva-bhūtānāṃ tato bhavati bhārata ||

(BG 14.3)

“Mahat – the primordial form of Prakṛti – is the generative organ in which I, Brahma, plant the seed. Then happens the birth of all beings.”

In words such as mahad-brahma and mahad-yoni, mahat refers to the primordial prakṛti. All accounts of creation are intellectual concepts created by great sages for the instruction of common folk. It should not be thought that the act of creation happened on a specific day at a specific time or that there was nothing created before that moment. Creation is without beginning, it has been there forever, undergoing constant modification. It is just for the convenience of stating an account that we fix a time for creation. If we were to narrate the account of creation as a story – in the beginning of creation existed pure Brahma – which is the kāraṇa-brahma or the cause. Kārya-brahma or Brahma that is an effect is a later modification of Pure Brahma. It is at that stage that Brahma ’decides’ to create. Brahma that is associated with a will to create is known as śabala-brahma or Brahma with variety. Its power or energy is the Unmanifest or the avyakta.

avyaktād-vyaktayaḥ sarvāḥ ||

(BG 8-18)

From avyakta comes mahat – an undifferentiated, amorphous mass. From mahat comes ahaṅkāra (ego); from it come the five tanmātras (the subtle substrata of the five elements); from it the five primordial elements and from them comes the world.

This is the order in which creation occurs.

mahataḥ param-avyaktam ||


From mahat proceeds avyakta

prākṛtam-annam tri-guṇa-bheda-pariṇāmatvāt mahad-ādyam ।


The mass of prakṛti because of the differentiated three guṇas becomes mahat.

Back to this chapter.

sarva-yoniṣu kaunteya mūrtayaḥ sambhavanti yāḥ
tāsāṃ brahma mahad-yonir-ahaṃ bīja-pradaḥ pitā ||

(BG 14.4)

Wherever, whatever is born – whatever be its shape or action – its first mother is Prakṛti, just as Īśvara or Puruṣa is its first father.

They are the ādi-dampati (the primordial couple) as well as the anādi-dampati (the beginningless couple). All the couples of this universe are Prakṛti and Īśvara. The world calls them variously as Brahmā-Sarasvatī, Viṣṇu-Lakṣmī or as Śiva-Gaurī.
Is this couple made of separate constituents? Or is it just one principle that manifests itself as two? This is a monumental question that we will deal with later. Let us now consider one of the two – prakṛti that is the kṣetra or the field for the birth of the world.

sattvaṃ rajas tama iti guṇāḥ prakṛiti-sambhavāḥ
nibadhnanti mahā-bāho dehe dehinam avyayam ||

(BG 14.5)

Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas, the three guṇas born of prakṛti, bind the embodied ātmā to the body, though the ātmā is changeless. Thus, the changeless appears changed. Bringing the appearance of change to the changeless is the power of the tri-fold guṇas of prakṛti.”

This is a principle we need to bear in mind. It is more important to remember that the bond of the world is made of the guṇa-triad than remembering that the world is made of five elements.

To be continued...

The present series is a modern English translation of DVG’s Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award-winning work, Bhagavad-gītā-tātparya or Jīvana-dharma-yoga. The translators wish to express their thanks to Śatāvadhāni R Ganesh for his valuable feedback and to Hari Ravikumar for his astute edits.



Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.



Engineer. Lapsed blogger. Abiding interest in Sanskrit, religion, and philosophy. A wannabe jack-of-all.


Mother of two. Engineer. Worshiper of Indian music, poetry, and art.

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इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।


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Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...


ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...


“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...