The Bhagavad Gita – Chapter 17: The Yoga of the Three Forms of Faith

Arjuna said:
1. What is the state of those who, neglecting the rules of scripture, 
Sacrifice full of faith, O Krsna? 
Is it sattva, rajas or tamas?

The Blessed One said:
2. Born of their innermost conditions (sva-bhāva), 
The faith of the embodied ones is threefold:  
Sattvic, rajasic, and tamasic. Hear about it now.

3. The faith of each man comes in accordance to his essence, O Bhārata. 
Man here is made up of his faith. 
Whatever faith a man has, that he is.

4. The sattvic sacrifices to the gods, 
The rajasic to the Yaksas (demigods) and Raksasas (demons) and the rest, 
The tamasic sacrifice to the ghosts and spirits of natural beings.

5. Men full of the strength of passion and desire, 
Full of self and hypocrisy, 
Who perform cruel austerities which are not enjoined by the scriptures,

6. Who starve the collection of elements in their bodies, 
And even me dwelling in their bodies: 
Know that these fools are demonic in their intent.

7. But also the food dear to each man is three-fold, 
And likewise the sacrifice, austerity and charity. 
Hear now the distinction of these.

8. Foods increasing life, vitality, strength, 
Health, happiness and joy, 
Tasty, rich, lasting and agreeable: 
These are dear to the sattvic.

9. Foods which are pungent, sour, salty, 
Very hot, spicy, astringent, burning, 
Which cause pain, grief and sickness: 
These are desired by the rajasic.

10. Food which is spoiled, tasteless, foul-smelling, stale, 
Which is left-over or unclean: 
This is the food dear to the tamasic.

11. That sacrifice which is offered according to scriptures, 
By men who do not desire fruits 
But think simply that it ought to be performed, Is sattvic.

12. Know that sacrifice to be rajasic, O Best of Bhāratas, 
Which is offered aiming at the fruit, 
And also for the sake of appearance.

13. That sacrifice is called tamasic which is lacking faith, 
Is not enjoined by scripture, is lacking in hymns, 
Is lacking in distribution of the food, and fees are not paid.

14. Honor for the gods, the twice-born, to teachers and wise men; 
Purity, uprightness, continence, non-violence: 
This is bodily austerity.

15. Utterance which is inoffensive and truthful, 
Agreeable and beneficial, and the practise of (Vedic) study: 
This is austerity of speech.

16. Mental clarity, gentleness, silence, 
Self-restraint, purity of being: 
This is mental austerity.

17. This three-fold austerity, 
Engaged in with supreme faith by men who are disciplined 
And are not desirous of fruit, They call sattvic.

18. That austerity which is practised hypocritically for esteem, 
Or honor or reverence, Is called rajasic
It is unstable and fleeting.

19. The austerity which is performed with foolish stubbornness, 
Or with self-torture, or is done to destroy others, Is called tamasic.

20. That gift which is given to one without expecting return 
Just because it ought to be given, 
And which is given at the proper time and place to a worthy person: 
That gift is declared to be sattvic.

21. But that gift which is engaged in for the sake of something in return, 
Or aiming at fruit, 
And which is engaged in grudgingly, Is declared to be rajasic.

22. That gift which is given at the wrong time and place to an unworthy person, 
Without respect and with contempt: 
That is called tamasic.

23. Om, tat, sat’: this is declared as the three-fold designation of Brahman. 
By this the brāhmans, the Vedas, and the sacrifices 
Were ordained of old.

24. For this reason, uttering Om, the acts of sacrifice,
Giving and austerity enjoined in scripture,
Are always carried on by the knowers of Brahman.

25. (Uttering) tat, the diverse acts of sacrifice and austerity and giving 
Are performed by those seeking release, 
Without their aiming at the fruit.

26. Sat is used for the “real” and the “good,” O Son of Prthā, 
Likewise, the word sat is used for a praise-worthy action.

27. Steadfastness in sacrifice, austerity and giving Is also called sat
And action for the sake of these is called sat.

28. Whatever sacrificial offering, act of charity, austerity, 
Performed without faith, is called asat, O Pārtha. 
It is of no use here on earth or hereafter.

This is the seventeenth chapter, entitled “The Yoga of the Three Forms of Faith” (sraddhātrayavibhāgayoga).

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