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Three Modes of Material Nature

Chapter 14

Lord Krishna said: I shall further explain to you the supreme knowledge, the best of all knowledge; knowing this, all the sages have attained salvation. (14.01)

Those who have taken refuge in this transcendental knowledge attain unity with Me and are neither born at the time of creation nor afflicted at the time of dissolution. (14.02)


My material Nature is the womb of creation wherein I place the seed of Consciousness from which all beings are born, O Arjuna. (See also 9.10) (14.03)

Material Nature, a product of divine kinetic energy (Maya), is the origin of the entire universe. Material Nature creates living beings when the seed of Spirit is sown in it for germination.

Whatever forms are produced in all different wombs, O Arjuna, the material Nature is their body-giving cosmic mother; and the Spirit or Consciousness is the life-giving father. (14.04)


Goodness, passion (or activity), and ignorance (or inertia)---these three modes (or ropes) of material Nature fetter the eternal individual soul to the body, O Arjuna. (14.05)

Of these, the mode of goodness is illuminating and good because it is pure. The mode of goodness fetters the living entity by attachment to happiness and knowledge, O sinless Arjuna. (14.06)

Arjuna, know that the mode of passion is characterized by intense crav­ing for sense gratification and is the source of material desire and attachment. The mode of passion binds the living entity by at­tachment to the fruits of work. (14.07)

Know O Arjuna, that the mode of ignorance---the deluder of the living entity---is born of inertia. The mode of ignorance binds the living entity by carelessness, laziness, and excessive sleep. (14.08)

O Arjuna, the mode of goodness attaches one to happiness of learning and knowing the Spirit; the mode of passion attaches to action; and the mode of ignorance attaches to negligence by covering Self-knowledge. (14.09)

The mode of goodness keeps one away from sinful acts and leads one to Self-knowledge and happiness, but not to salvation.The mode of passion creates strong Karmic bonds and takes the individual further away from liberation. Such persons know right and wrong actions based on religious principles, but are unable to follow them because of strong impulses of lust. The mode of passion obscures real knowledge of Self and causes one to experience both the pain and pleasure of this worldly life. Such persons are very much attached to wealth, power, prestige, sensual pleasure, and are very selfish and greedy. In the mode of ignorance, one is unable to recognize the real goal of life, is unable to distinguish between right and wrong action, and remains attached to sinful and forbidden activities. Such a person is lazy, violent, lacks intellect, and has no interest in spiritual knowledge.


Goodness prevails by suppressing passion and ignorance; passion prevails by suppressing goodness and ignorance; and ignorance prevails by suppressing goodness and passion, O Arjuna. (14.10)

When the light of Self-knowledge illuminates all the senses in the body, then it should be known that goodness is predominant. (14.11)

The sense organs (nose, tongue, eye, skin, ear, mind, and intellect) are called the gateway to Self-knowledge in the bodyThe mind and intellect get into the mode of goodness and become receptive to Self-knowledge when senses are purified by selfless service, discipline, and spiritual practice. It is also said in verse 14.17 that the rise of Self-knowledge takes place when one’s mind gets firmly established in the mode of goodness. As objects are seen very clearly in the light, similarly one perceives and thinks in the right perspective, and the senses shun whatever is improper. There is no attraction in the mind for sensual pleasures when the senses are illumined by the dawning of the light of Self-knowledge.

O Arjuna, when passion is predominant, greed, activity, undertaking of selfish work, restlessness, and excitement arise. (14.12)

O Arjuna, when inertia is predominant, ignorance, inactivity, carelessness, and delusion arise. (14.13)

A particular mode of Nature becomes dominant in the present life due to one's past Karma. The three modes fuel the vehicles of transmigration that carry one's baggage of Karma, as discussed in the following verses.


One who dies when goodness dominates goes to heaven, the pure world of knowers of the Supreme. (14.14)

One, who dies when passion dominates, is reborn as person attached to action on earth. One who dies in ignorance is reborn as a lower creature. (14.15)

The fruit of good action is said to be beneficial and pure; the fruit of passionate action is pain; and the fruit of ignorant action is laziness. (14.16)

Self-knowledge arises from the mode of goodness; greed arises from the mode of passion; and negligence, delusion, and slowness of mind arise from the mode of ignorance. (14.17)

They who are established in goodness go to higher world or heaven; passionate persons are reborn in this mortal world; and the insipid ones, abiding in the mode of ignorance, go to lower planets of hell. (14.18)

Four paths of departure after leaving this world are described above. The fifth path, the path of no return, is described in the following verse:

When visionaries perceive no doer other than the three modes of material Nature (Gunas) and know the Supreme, which is above and beyond these modes, then they attain Nirvana or salvation. (See also 3.27, 5.09, and 13.29) (14.19)
Karmic laws bind one who does not believe that the Lord controls everything and who considers oneself the doer, enjoyer, and owner (BP 6.12.12). The power of doing all actions, good or bad, proceeds from God, but we are ultimately re­sponsible for our actions because we also have the power to reason. God has given us the power to do work; however, we are free to use the power in the right or wrong way and become liberated or bound.

The good Lord gives one only the faculties to act; He is not liable for one’s actions. It is up to the individual to decide how to act. The decision is also controlled by the modes of material Nature and is governed by one's past Karma. Those who understand this properly know how to act and do not blame God for their misfortunes or feel jealous of others’ fortune.

Due to ignorance created by illusory energy (Maya), one considers oneself the doer and consequently becomes bound by Karma and un­dergoes transmigra­tion (BP 11.11.10). Whenever one asserts or even thinks of oneself as doing things, one assumes the role of a doer, becomes accountable for the action (Karma), and gets caught in the intricate Karmic net of transmigration.

When one rises above, or transcends the three modes of material Nature that originate in the body, one attains immortality or salvation and is freed from the pains of birth, old age, and death. (14.20)

Arjuna said: What are the marks of those who have transcended the three modes of material Nature, and what is their conduct? How does one tran­scend these three modes of material Nature, O Lord Krishna? (14.21)

Lord Krishna said: One has transcended the modes of material Nature who neither hates the presence of en­lightenment, activity, and delusion nor desires them when they are absent; who remains like a witness without being affected by the modes of material Nature; who stays firmly attached to the Lord without wavering---thinking that only the modes of material Nature are operating. (14.22-23)

And one who depends on the Lord and is indifferent to pain and pleas­ure; to whom a clod, a stone, and gold are alike and to whom the dear and the unfriendly are alike; who is of firm mind; who is calm in censure and in praise and indifferent to honor and disgrace; who is impartial to friend and foe; and who has relinquished all undertakings (for personal gain)---is said to have transcended the modes of material nature. (14.24-25)

Guru Nanak said: One who obeys the will of God with pleasure is free and wise. Gold and stone, pain and pleasure are alike only for such a person.


One who serves Me with love and unswerving devotion transcends the three modes of material Nature and becomes fit for Nirvana. (See also 7.14 and 15.19) (14.26)

Unswerving devotion is defined as the loving devotion in which one does not depend on any other person, but only God for everything.

The mode of goodness is the topmost rung of the ladder leading to the Truth, but it is not the Truth as such. The three modes of material Nature have to be transcended, step by step. First, one has to overcome the modes of ignorance and passion and become established in the mode of goodness by developing certain values and following certain disciplines. Then one be­comes ready to surmount the dualities of good and bad, pain and pleasure, and to rise to the higher transcendental plane by going beyond the highest mode---the mode of goodness.

Spiritual practices and vegetarian food raise the mind from the modes of ignorance and passion to the transcendental plane of bliss where pairs of opposites disap­pear. The mode of goodness is the natural result of profound thought generated by firm understanding of metaphys­ics. Anybody can easily cross the ocean of illusion (Maya), consisting of three modes of material Nature, by the boat of firm faith, devotion, and exclusive love for God. There is no other way to transcend the three modes of material Nature and attain salvation. It is also said that anyone situated in any one of the three modes of material nature can come up to the transcendental plane by the grace of a genuine and empowered guru.

Because I am the source of the immortal Spirit (Brahma), of ever­lasting cosmic order (Dharma), and of the absolute bliss. (14.27)

The Supreme Being is the source or the basis of Spirit. Spirit is one of the expansions of the Supreme Being. It is Spirit (of the Supreme Being) that performs the entire cosmic drama and sustains everything. Therefore, Spirit is also called the Supreme Being or the Lord.

It is very significant that Lord Krishna used such words “worship the Supreme Being”, “worship Me, the Absolute or Atma” and “the Absolute is the basis of everything.” In this verse and elsewhere in the Gita, Lord Krishna declares that He is the Supreme Being. Only a Self-realized master can say that I am the basis of everything. The word “I” in this context does not mean one’s body, but Atma.Krishna means different things to different people. Some commentators consider Krishna other than God; others call Him a "Hindu God." To others Krishna is a politician, a teacher, a divine lover, and a diplomat. To devotees, Krishna is the incarnation of the Absolute and the object of love and worship. Readers would do well just to understand and use Krishna's teachings in their daily lives without getting confused about who was Krishna?


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