Jai: Grandma, sometimes I feel lazy, and at other times I am very active? Why is that?
Grandma: We all pass through different states in order to do certain things. These states or modes (Gunas) are three types: the mode of goodness (Sattva), the mode of passion (Rajas), and the mode of ignorance (Tamas). We come under the influence of these three modes. Sometimes one mode becomes more powerful than the other two.
The mode of goodness makes you peaceful and happy. In this mode you will study scriptures, will not harm anybody, and will work honestly. When you are in the mode of passion, you become greedy for wealth and power. You will work hard to enjoy material pleasures and will do anything to satisfy your selfish desires. When you are in the mode of ignorance, you can’t tell the difference between right and wrong action, and will do sinful and forbidden activities. You become lazy and careless, lack intelligence, and have no interest in spiritual knowledge. (Gita 14.05-09)
Jai: Do these three modes of nature control us, Grandma, or do we have control over what we do?
Grandma: Actually, these three modes are the doers of all the actions. (Gita 3.27) When we are under the influence of the mode of goodness, we do good and right actions; under the influence of the mode of passion, we do selfish actions; and under the influence of the mode of ignorance, we do bad things or become lazy. (Gita 14.11-13) We must rise above the three Gunas to attain liberation (Nirvana). (Gita 14.20)
Jai: What are we like when we have risen above the three Gunas?
Grandma: When we have risen above the three Gunas, we are not affected by pain and pleasure, success and failure, and we treat everybody like ourselves. Such a person depends on nobody but God.
Jai: It must be very hard to rise above these three modes. How can I rise above the three Gunas, Grandma?
Grandma: To rise above the three Gunas is not very easy, but it can be done with a little effort. If you are under the mode of ignorance, you must stop being lazy, stop putting off what you should be doing, and start helping others. This will bring you to the mode of goodness. If you are under the mode of passion, you must give up being selfish and greedy and help others. This will bring you to the mode of goodness. After reaching the mode of goodness, you can rise above the three Gunas by devotion to God. Lord Krishna said: One who serves Me with love and devotion rises above the three Gunas and becomes fit for God-realization. (Gita 14.26)
Here is a story about the nature of three Gunas.
18. Three Robbers on the Path
Once a man was going through a forest when three robbers jumped on him and robbed him.
One of the robbers then said, “What is the use of keeping this man alive?”
He was about to kill him with his sword when the second robber stopped him, saying: “What is the use of killing him? Tie him to a tree and leave him here.”
The robbers tied him to a tree and went away.
After a while, the third robber returned and said to the man: “I am sorry; are you hurt? I will untie you.”
After setting the man free, the thief said: “Come with me. I will take you to the public highway.”
After a long time, they reached the road.
Then the man said: “Sir, you have been very good to me. Come with me to my house.”
“Oh no!” replied the robber, “I can’t go there. The police will know it.”
The forest is this world. The three robbers are the three Gunas: goodness, passion and laziness. It is they who rob us of Self-knowledge. Laziness wants to destroy us. Passion ties us to the world. Goodness frees us from the grasp of passion and laziness.
Under the protection of goodness, we are rescued from anger, passion, greed, and laziness. Goodness also loosens the bonds of the world. But goodness is also a robber. It cannot give us the pure knowledge of God. It can only show us the path leading to the house of God. We have to rise above the three Gunas and develop love of God .