A relevant matter here needs discussion. Bhagavān says that the three guṇas have to be transcended or sublimated. Good. But even to transcend those guṇas, a guṇa or means is needed. Is that way a guṇa? What guṇa is that?
That guṇa is sattva, a preponderance of sattva to be precise. There is a state to be attained by elevating the proportion of sattva. What is the guṇa of that state? Even that is sattva. Sattva is obtained by enhancing sattva. What does it mean?
Sattva is of two kinds. One that is attached to rajas and tamas. The other is beyond even the contact of rajas and tamas and exists by itself. The former is combined sattva or sattva pertaining to Prakṛti. The latter is pure sattva or sattva pertaining to Brahma. When combined sattva is purified of other guṇas and strengthened it becomes fit to attain Brāhmī-state.
The words – “exceeded”, “sublimated”, “go beyond” – do not just refer to rajas and tamas but also to that sattva that is blended with them. For experiencing Brahma, only the element of pure sattva is needed. The nature of pure sattva is described in the seventeenth chapter, thus:
sadbhāve sādhubhāve ca sadityetprayujyate ||
Next in the fourteenth chapter.
guṇān etān atītya trīn dehī deha-samudbhavān
janma-mṛityu-jarā-duḥkhair vimukto’mṛitam aśnute ||
“The three guṇas are born in the body. When the embodied ātmā goes beyond those guṇas, he becomes free of birth, death, old age and sorrow and attains immortality.”
Arjuna then asked – “Svāmin, what are the markers of one who has transcended the guṇas? How does he behave?
Now Bhagavān shows us a method to win over the three guṇas and transcend them:
prakāśaṃ cha pravṛittiṃ cha moham eva cha pāṇḍava
na dveṣṭi sampravṛttāni na nivṛttāni kāṅkṣati ||
“Illumination is sattva; action is rajas and delusion is tamas. The knower does not hate any of these guṇas when they operate around him. He does not seek out any of them when they are absent.”
udāsīna-vad āsīno guṇair yo na vichālyate
guṇā vartanta ity-evaṃ yo’vatiṣṭhati neṅgate ||
He appears udāsīnavat (like an indifferent person). However, he is not really indifferent. The vat suffix after udāsīna shows similarity, not identity. Being indifferent would mean lacking innate compassion for the world, and without any interest in dharma. It should not be so. If a knower were to be really indifferent, it would conflict with Bhagavān’s teaching about duty from the previous chapters. Can an indifferent person – one that does not accept any duty – have any ordained duty? Duties must be performed with sincerity and interest but with no desire for their fruit. This is the meaning from the suffix vat in udāsīna-vat. The seeker’s mental constitution should not alter. Just as the manas of an indifferent person is unattached, the one who is unattached to the results of an action is a knower. The manas of a knower is not agitated by the play of the guṇa-triad. He is not shaken up like common people who become slaves to the changes in their guṇas.
Peals of laughter, exclamations, cries, bawls, brawls and songs of inmates are all heard in a mental institution. When a person – mentally sound or one who considers himself sound – visits the mental institution, he considers all those displays of emotion as symptoms of mental illness. Similarly the one who has transcended the guṇas sees the agitations and celebrations of worldly people and considers them as a play of the natural guṇas, an illness caused by them. He himself is unaffected by them.
How does one reach this elevated state? Through constant remembrance of Brahma and practice of Brahma’s presence.
brahmaṇo hi pratiṣṭhāham amṛitasyāvyayasya cha
śāśvatasya cha dharmasya sukhasyaikāntikasya cha ||
“Śrīkṛṣṇa is the direct form of Supreme Brahma. He is the greatest sattva without any modification or loss; he is the origin of eternal dharma; he is the fountainhead of unbroken bliss.”
The one who constantly reflects upon this sees all the guṇas, the desires and the agitations they cause, and the activity they inspire as things other than the ātmā. His focus is on dharma alone. By gradual practice of self-control, pure sattva preponderates in him and through that he experiences paramātmā.
Just as the cure for a disease becomes possible only after knowing its defining characteristics, it becomes easier to treat the jīva after knowing about the method of the three guṇas. This seems to have been Bhagavān’s intent in this chapter. Let us transcend the three guṇas through the blessings of Bhagavān.
vistara jagam, adara rucitè jīvakè baṃdham ।
nistriguṇam prakṛtitantrabaṃdhavigaḻanam ॥
The universe is an expansion of the blending of sattva, rajas and tamas.
Engaging in them binds the jīva.
Through the practice of remaining in sattva can one transcend the three guṇas
and unlock the prison of Prakṛti’s web.
The collection of the teaching
sattva raja tamagaḻèṃba gu-
ṇatrayadiṃ prakṛti jīvigaṃ jagakaṃ gaṃ- ।
ṭiṭṭā kṛtrimade parā-
tmāptige taḍeyappa bage caturdaśagītam ॥
Prakṛti combines the three guṇas of sattva, rajas and tamas
into an artifice to bind the jīva and the world.
How this mechanism is an obstacle to reach parātmā
is seen in the fourteenth Gītā.
śrutiśataparigeyaṃ sarvadā satsahāyam ।
śaraṇajanavidheyaṃ kṛṣṇanasmatsakhāyam ॥
Attained by refined connoisseurs and the good hearted, the great fortune of Rādhā,
Praised by hundreds of Vedic mantras, always the companion of the good!
The repository of auspicious qualities, the embodiment of truth, knowledge and bliss!
The follower of those who take refuge in him, Kṛṣṇa is our friend.
|| iti sham ||
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.