Ch 17 Yoga of the Discernment of tri-fold Śraddhā (Part 1)

This article is part 92 of 126 in the series Jīvana-dharma-yoga


śraddhèyoḻamirpudu trai-
vidhyaṃ prakṛtijaguṇatrayāgatamadariṃ |
buddhi samaṃtoṃtatsad-
baddhamiral śraddhèyaduve saṃsiddhikaram ||

There are three kinds of śraddhā,
arising from the guṇa-triad born of prakṛti.
When buddhi is completely restrained by
Om, Tat, Sat, śraddhā gives rise to perfection.


Food, yajña and dāna are three-fold according to the three components of prakṛti - sattva, rājas and tāmas. During all of our life activities, our focus must be on encouraging an exuberance of sattva.

Section 18 / Chapter 17 / Śraddhā-traya-vibhāga-yogaŚraddhā-traya-viveka-yoga

(The Yoga of the Discernment of tri-fold Śraddhā)

The subject of this chapter is śraddhā that is of three kinds.

Śraddhā can be defined as trust or what is referred to in English as faith or belief. It is implicit trust placed in something - prior to reasoning, and without any examination or analysis. Such faith is seen even among Christians and Muslims. When an object is believed to exist and function even in the absence of any immediate or inferential testimony for its existence, such a belief is known as śraddhā.

In that case, isn’t śraddhā the same as blind belief or superstition? Does it not appear to be against the buddhi’s logical reasoning?

Well, yes and no. While the buddhi has already been accepted in earlier chapters as the most important instrument to obtain jñāna, we have also seen that there is a limit to the buddhi’s capabilities. There are many areas where the buddhi cannot venture into independently. Jīva, Ātmā, Īśvara, puṇya, pāpa, transmigration, different lokas - are all matters that the buddhi cannot address by itself. This is because such matters are beyond the grasp of the sense organs as well as the touch of the manas. The buddhi too, therefore, is away from such subjects. If the buddhi has to enter such areas, it has to be led there by entities that are knowledgeable in them. Vedas, śāstras, guru, and śiṣṭa (learned, wise) traditions are such trustworthy and knowledgeable guides for the buddhi. If we say no to these trusty and wise guides in matters that are beyond the buddhi, we are essentially saying no to an offer of light while we scramble in pitch darkness. In such matters, where worldly wisdom counsels us -

nānyaḥ panthā vidyate’yanāya
"There is no other way towards that abode."

-Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad (3.8)

only the śāstras and gurus can be our guides. The mental readiness to trust them is śraddhā. Upadeśa (instruction) to one without śraddhā is like planting a seed on a boulder. The instruction to Arjuna would be fruitful only if he had śraddhā in it. So, in order to ascertain whether Arjuna really had śraddhā in his teaching, Bhagavān now - towards the end of the Gītā - bestows upon us this instruction on tri-fold śraddhā, using Arjuna as a pretext.

When there is agreement between śāstric teaching and conclusions based on independent reasoning, there is no reason for concern. However, in present circumstances, agreement between worldly thought and the śāstras is dwindling. The śāstras prohibit travel overseas for a brāhmaṇa; but the buddhi says that it is necessary. The śāstras are in favour of the system of varṇāśrama; the buddhi considers it unsuitable. The śāstras mandate a śikhā (tuft of hair) for males, but the buddhi likes cropped hair. The śāstra necessitates black beads for married women (in the maṅgalasūtra), but the buddhi considers it a primitive practice. The śāstras say that the bond of marriage is unbreakable; but the buddhi says that the institution of marriage is optional. We can quote a thousand such examples. In such dilemmas, what is the path to welfare? The śāstra or one’s own buddhi?

There is scope for both śāstra and buddhi in our lives. In that case, should both of them function in the same spheres of life? Or do both have mutually exclusive areas of operation? This has to be discussed.

When it comes to the operation of the buddhi, it must be borne in mind that the buddhi needs raw material to work with. An expert potter cannot function without clay or a carpenter cannot carve without wood. Similarly, a farmer needs land to cultivate, a merchant needs wares to trade with, and a doctor needs medicine in treating her patients. In short, any function needs some input material to refine or work with. Likewise, the buddhi needs raw material which is supplied by the manas. Sense organs such as the eyes and ears gather information about the world and convey it to the manas, which in turn is conveyed to the buddhi. At the same time, the manas informs the buddhi of its likes and dislikes. In addition to the manas, old memories also influence the buddhi. Thus, the buddhi gets its input raw material from the sense organs, manas, and memory. This implies that as long as the sense organs and the manas cannot function, the buddhi cannot either. We have now thus established the limits for the buddhi’s functioning.

We have seen before that satya (truth) is of two kinds. One is truth that is seen and the other is truth that cannot be seen. The seen truth is accessible via the sense organs and corresponds to the world that we directly perceive. The unseen world is not accessible through the sense organs. It is a secret consciousness that is beyond the world. We cannot perceive it but can only witness its power and effects in our world and lives.

Some of our life activities pertain to the directly perceived world and can be attained by our buddhi. Others are beyond this world and thus imperceptible by our sense organs. The buddhi cannot operate by itself there.

Through this distinction we can ascertain their respective spheres of influence. In areas of activity perceived by our sense organs, thus permitting its operation, human buddhi assumes primacy and the śāstras become secondary. Where sense organs cannot operate and the buddhi does not get material to work with, the Vedas and śāstras become paramount making human buddhi secondary.

Jīva, Īśvara, pāpa, puṇya, svarga, naraka - all of these are concepts or objects that cannot be directly perceived by our sense organs. The buddhi therefore cannot operate independently here. Sputniks and spacecraft that go beyond our solar system cannot touch the world of adhyātma (pertaining to the Self). It is impossible for them to even know of its existence. In that secret kingdom of adhyātma, the buddhi’s activity is restricted to understanding the statements of the śāstra. In that kingdom, the buddhi lacks the authority to formulate new theories and impose them. If the buddhi independently surmises the origin and progress of a jīva and arrives at a conclusion about satya and dharma through conjecture and logic, such a conclusion will be found lacking in testimony, thereby becoming doubtful.

Human buddhi suffers from two natural defects. First - the incompleteness of its raw material. Second - the imperfection of sense perception.
The buddhi’s main functions are the analysis of objects and the estimation of their worth. Analysis requires objective material to analyse. The buddhi cannot create such material through its independent imagination, because it is not in direct contact with the world. The objects for the buddhi’s analyses have to be supplied by the manas or memory. The manas or memory, in turn, fetch the material from sense organs. Thus the sense organs are the messengers that supply information to the buddhi. The faculties of the sense organs are severely limited and are tainted by pleasure and desires. Our eye can see only one side of an object at a given moment. It cannot see all sides of an object simultaneously. Sight can extend only up to a limited distance, say for ten or a hundred metres, and no further. Thus the ability of an eye is one-sided and limited by distance. The abilities of other human sense organs too are similarly one-sided and limited. Therefore any information collected by such instruments is likewise one-sided and limited. Such incomplete information cannot convey the complete nature of an object. Hence the inevitable deficiency in the buddhi’s raw material.

Moreover, the sense organs desire pleasure, thereby subjecting them to the defects of partiality and infatuation while collecting information.

Also, is the buddhi so capable that it can reach the end of any inquiry? No. Just like the body, the buddhi too can become languid or dull. In its partial and piecemeal examination of an object, the buddhi can become lazy, forgetful, and prejudiced, leading to errors in judgement.

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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