The Bhagavad Gita – Chapter 14: The Yoga of the Distinction of the Three Gunas

The Blessed One said:
1. I will declare still further the supreme vision, chief among wisdoms; 
Knowing which, all sages have gone from this world to supreme fulfillment.

2. Having held to this wisdom 
And become the likeness of my own state of being, 
They are not born even at creation 
Nor are they disturbed at dissolution.

3. The great Brahman is my womb; In it, I place the seed. 
From this, O Bhārata, comes the birth of all beings.

4. Brahman is the womb of whatever forms come to be in all wombs, O Son of Kuntī, 
And I am the father who bestows the seed.

5. Sattva, rajas, tamas: these gunas born of prakrti 
Fetter the changeless embodied one in the body, O Strong-Armed.

6. Among these, sattva, due to its stainlessness, Is luminous and healthy. It binds, O Blameless One, 
By attachment to happiness and by attachment to knowledge.

7. Know that rajas is of passionate essence, Is the source of attachment and craving; 
It binds the embodied one, O Son of Kuntī, 
By attachment to actions.

8. But the tamas which is born of ignorance, 
Know it to be the deluder of all embodied ones. 
It binds, O Bhārata, by heedlessness, indolence and sloth.

9. Sattva attaches one to happiness, rajas to action;
But tamas, obscuring wisdom, O Bhārata, Attaches one to heedlessness.

10. When sattva overpowers rajas and tamas, it takes over, O Bhārata; 
When rajas overpowers sattva and tamas
And tamas overpowers sattva and rajas
They also take over.

12. Greed, busyness, undertaking actions, unrest, yearning: 
These are born when rajas increases, O Best of the Bhāratas.

13. Obscurity and inaction, negligence and delusion: 
These are born when tamas increases.

14. When the embodied one dies and sattva has increased, 
He then attains the spotless worlds of those knowing the highest.

15. Meeting death when rajas prevails, 
He is born among those attached to action; 
Likewise, meeting death when tamas prevails,
He is born in the wombs of the foolish.

16. The fruit of good action is spotless and sattvic they say; 
That of rajas is pain, and the fruit of tamas is ignorance.

17. Wisdom arises from sattva, greed from rajas
Negligence and delusion from tamas, as also ignorance.

18. Those who abide in sattva, go upwards; 
Those in rajas, stay in the middle; 
Those in tamas, abiding in the lowest guna, go downward.

19. When the seer perceives no doer other than the gunas 
And knows what is higher than the gunas
He attains to my being.

20. Having gone beyond these three gunas springing from the body, 
The embodied one, released from birth and death, old age and unhappiness, 
Attains immortality.

21. O Lord, by what marks is he who has gone
Beyond these three gunas, distinguished?
What is his conduct?
How does he pass beyond these three gunas?

The Blessed One said:
22. He does not dislike clarity (sattva) and activity (rajas)
Nor delusion (tamas) when they arise, O Son of Pāndu, 
Nor desire them when they cease.

23. He who, seated as if unconcerned, is not agītated by the gunas,
Who thinks the gunas alone act, Who stands apart and remains firm,

24. Who abides in the self, 
To whom pleasure and pain are alike, 
Who is the same toward a clod or a stone or gold, 
Holding equal the pleasant and the unpleasant, 
To whom praise and blame of himself are the same, 
Who is firm,

25. To whom good and bad repute, friend and enemy are the same, 
Who has left all projects: 
He is called the man who has gone beyond the gunas.

26. And he who serves me with the unfailing yoga of devotion (bhakti), 
Having gone beyond these gunas, Is fit to become Brahman.

27. For I am the dwelling place of Brahman, 
Of the immortal and imperishable, 
Of everlasting dharma and absolute happiness.

This is the fourteenth chapter, entitled “The Yoga of the Distinction of the Three Gunas” (gunatrayavibhāgayoga).

About Sunday morning

Sunday Morning Contemplation is informed by Eastern and Western contemplative traditions. The first, lectio divina has its origins in 6th century Europe. It unfolds in four steps or stages: reading (lectio), reflecting (meditatio), responding (oratio), and silent abiding (contemplatio). Our Eastern inspiration come from the Indian Upanishads (800-200 BCE), where contemplative practice consists of three steps or stages: listening (śravana), reflecting (manana), and meditating (nididhyāsana or dhyāna). Our contemplative practice on Sundays embraces both approaches, and each contemplation will be based on a reading from either tradition.

The texts and teachers I have chosen played a significant role in my life and I believe have much to offer. I will read presellected texts, slowly, with pauses between verses or quotes. The readings will be accompanied by soothing background music. To lessen distraction, I suggest participants close their eyes and listen. However, the screen will display the text so that people can choose to read along or mute the sound and read on their own. If there is time remaining after the contemplative period, participants can choose to either leave or stay for a short discussion.

As a preface to the reading, I will provide a 10-15 minute introduction to the text. When relevant, I’ll review facts about the author/teacher’s life. I will also present a brief explanation of the terms and language encountered in the reading.

Finally, when the contemplation is over, all texts read will be available online to read and/or download at any time on the website.

What I mean by
The Symbolic Life

This website makes liberal use of classical Indian visual art and refers mostly to traditional Indian texts (for example, the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutras) in the courses, seminars, and discussions on offer. However, I am not presenting lessons in Hinduism; in fact, teaching mainstream Hinduism is neither my area of interest nor expertise. Rather, my interest in Yoga and Tantra is grounded in the concrete situation in which we find ourselves, in the places where we arrive and from which we depart. Beginning in the here and now, we will explore the underlying meaning of the symbols, stories, images, philosophies, and techniques found in Indian philosophical texts and practice, in light of our world and our current circumstance. We will excavate the meaning of the aphorisms and teaching stories; the symbolic figures of gods, people, and nature; and the sometimes terse, sometimes poetic, philosophy of the texts. Thus, in referring to the Symbolic Life of Yoga and Tantra, I mean not just the symbols themselves, but the rich explication of life that the symbols represent.

Our lived, concrete situation is wonderfully captured in the Sanskrit word loka, whose ancient meaning is “the world.”  The root meaning of both the Sanskrit loka and the English locate (and local, locale, and location) is identical. In the ancient Indian mind, the world is where we are located, in our current circumstance. Thus, the meaning of the symbols of Yoga and Tantra can occur only in the now, in the places where we find ourselves, and not in any imagined ancient and/or foreign world.

To emphasize our place of origin and return, I use the terms “archetypal” and “symbolic” quite frequently. Archetypal meaning is associated with the universal and collective aspects of human experience—what we intimately share with all others regardless of culture or era or epoch—while symbolic language forms a bridge between the realms of the universal with the culturally specific and local. Symbols are the scaffolding upon which human beings build a world and imbue it with meaning.

Think for a moment of pain and pleasure, sorrow and joy, hatred and love, and greed and generosity—universal experiences that ancient Indian thinkers called the dvandva-s. This Sanskrit term is a combination of two words, or rather, one word spoken twice: the word dva (meaning the same as the English “two”) duplicated. Dvandva is commonly translated as “the pair of opposites” or literally “the two-twos” (dvadva). The ancients who coined this compact symbol gave voice to an archetypal human experience that can be further unpacked to reveal deep insights into the human condition. Once we gain an understanding of the various symbols of Yoga and Tantra, we can further excavate their meaning and the archetypes they convey, and thus gain access to, in a practical and meaningful way, the vision of life experienced by the sages. These insights are available to us and are still relevant today, as are the resilient and adaptable techniques and forms of practice that can help us lead richer and more fulfilling lives