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Threefold Faith

Chapter 17

Arjuna said: What is the mode of devotion of those who perform spiri­tual practices with faith but without following the scriptural injunc­tions, O Krishna? Is it in the mode of goodness, passion, or ignorance? (17.01)


Lord Krishna said: The natural faith of embodied beings is of three kinds: Goodness, Passion, and Ignorance. Now hear about these from Me. (17.02)

O Arjuna, the faith of each is in accordance with one’s own natural disposition (that is governed by latent Karmic impressions (Samskara)). One is known by one’s faith. One can become whatever one wants to be (if one constantly contemplates (or visualizes) the object of desire with deep faith in God and a burning desire). (17.03)

One can attain success in any endeavor if one per­severes with firm determination (MB 12.153.116). You do not fail until you give up.

The doer of good acts becomes good, and the doer of evil becomes evil. One becomes virtuous by virtuous deeds and vicious by vicious acts (BrU 4.04.05). We all have the power to change. One becomes what one constantly and intensely thinks of, irrespective of reasons, such as reverence, fear, jealousy, love, or even hatred (BP 11.09.22). You always get what you look for---consciously or unconsciously. The thought produces action; action soon becomes habits and habit leads to success in any endeavor when it becomes passion. Become passionate about what you want to achieve, and you will achieve it. Burning desire brings out the dormant forces.

We are the products of our own thoughts and desires that have accumulated over numerous lifetimes. Thoughts create our destiny. We become what we think. There is a tremendous power in our thoughts to draw on the negative or positive energies around us. Where there is a will, there is a way. We should harbor noble thoughts because thoughts precede deeds. Thoughts control our physical, mental, finan­cial, as well as spiritual well-being. Never allow any negative thought or doubt to enter. We have such a great power at our disposal, yet the irony is that we fail to use it. If you do not have what you want, you are not committed to it one hundred percent.

You are the cause of everything that happens to you. You should not expect life’s very best if you are not giving your very best. Success is achieved by a series of well planned steps taken slowly and persistently. Stephen Covey says: "The best way to predict your future is to create it.” We are what we are due to our past action and we have the power to create our future. Every great achievement was once considered impossible. Never underestimate the potential and power of the human mind and spirit. Many books have been written and motivational programs developed for the practical application of the power of faith in this single mantra of the Gita. The relaxed, meditative, subconscious mind has great powers to do anything you want---healing, wealth, Nirvana, etc.

Whatever a person of purified mind desires, is obtained (MuU 3.01.10). We are never given dreams without also being given the power and means to make them come true. A simple method to order your subconscious mind to fulfill a noble desire is to visualize your goal during Alpha (half awake) state of mind just before sleeping, every night for 15 minutes and have an absolute faith that you will get what you want---within the limits of one’s abilities, fate and destiny. Faith works miracles. The placebo effect of faith is well known in medicine.

Persons in the mode of goodness worship celestial controllers; those in the mode of passion worship supernatural rulers and demons; and those in the mode of ignorance worship ghosts and spirits. (17.04)

Ignorant persons of demonic nature are those who practice severe austerities without following the prescrip­tion of the scriptures, who are full of hypocrisy and egotism, who are impelled by the force of desire and attachment, and who senselessly torture the elements in their body and also Me who dwells within the body. (17.05-06)


The food preferred by all of us is also of three types. So are the sacrifice, austerity, and charity. Now hear the distinction between them. (17.07)

The foods that promote longevity, virtue, strength, health, happiness, and joy are juicy, smooth, substantial, and nutritious. Persons in the mode of goodness like such foods. (17.08)

One should eat good food for protecting and sustaining life as a patient takes medicine for protection from disease (MB 12.212.14). Whatever a person eats, his or her personal deity eats the same (VR 2.104.15, See also Gita 8.24). (Because) I am Thou, and Thou art I (BS 3.3.37). The food we eat becomes divided into three con­stituents. The grossest part turns into feces; the medium component be­comes flesh, blood, marrow, and bone. Semen, the subtlest part, rises upward and nourishes the brain and subtle organs of the body by unit­ing with the vital force (ChU 6.05.01-6.06.02). Food is called the root of the body-tree. A healthy body and mind are the prerequisites for success in spiritual life. The mind will be healthy if the body is healthy. Persons in the mode of goodness like vegetarian foods.One can also become a noble person by taking vegetarian food because one be­comes what one eats.

People in the mode of passion like foods that are very bitter, sour, salty, hot, pungent, dry, and burning, and cause pain, grief, and disease. (17.09)

People in the mode of ignorance like foods that are stale, tasteless, putrid, rotten, refuses, and impure (such as meat and alcohol). (17.10)

Purity of mind comes from purity of food. Truth is revealed to a pure mind. One becomes free from all bondage after knowing the Truth (ChU 7.26.02). Gambling, intoxication, illicit sex­ual relationships, and meat-eating are a natural, negative tendency of human beings, but abstaining from these four activities is really divine. One must avoid these four pillars of sin (BP 1.17.38). Abstaining from meat-eating is equivalent to performing one hundred holy sacrifices (MS 5.53-56).


Sacrifice, enjoined by the scriptures and performed without the desire for the fruit, with a firm belief and conviction that it is a duty, is in the mode of goodness. (17.11)

Sacrifice that is performed only for show and aiming for fruit, is in the mode of passion, O Arjuna. (17.12)

Sacrifice that is performed without following the scripture, in which no food is distributed, which is devoid of mantra, faith, and gift, is said to be in the mode of ignorance. (17.13)

A spiritual discipline or sacrifice is incomplete without a mantra, and a mantra is incomplete without a spiritual discipline.


The worship of celestial controllers (Devas), reverence to others, the guru, and the wise; purity, honesty, celibacy, and nonviolence---these are said to be the austerity of deed. (17.14)

Speech that is non-offensive, truthful, pleasant, beneficial, and is used for regular study of scriptures is called the austerity of word. (17.15)

The path of truth is the path of spiritual progress. The Upanishad says: Only the truthful wins, not the untruthful. Truth is the divine path by which the sages, who are free from desires, ascend to the Supreme Abode (MuU 3.01.06). To be truthful is desirable. To speak what is beneficial is better than speaking truth. That which brings the greatest benefit to a person is the real truth (MB 12.329.13). The real truth is that which produces the maximum benefit to people. That which harms a person in any way is untrue and wrong---although it may appear to be true at the first sight (MB 3.209.04). One may lie to protect the truth, but must not speak the truth for the protection of a lie.

A wise person should speak the truth if it is benefi­cial and keep quiet if it is harmful. One must speak the beneficial truth whether it is pleasant or unpleasant. Non-beneficial pleasant speech, such as flattery, should be avoided (VP 3.12.44). A pleasant speech is beneficial to all. One who speaks pleasantly wins the heart of all and is liked by everybody (MB 12.84.04). The wound inflicted by harsh words is very difficult to heal. The wise should never inflict such wounds on others (MB 5.34.80). Sweetness of speech and calmness of mind are the marks of a true yogi (Swami Atmananda Giri). One may lie---if it becomes absolutely necessary---to protect life, property, and righteousness (Dharma); during courtship; and for getting married (MB 12.109.19). Husband and wife should try to improve and help develop each other with tender loving care as a cow purifies her calf by licking. Their words to each other should be sweet, as if dipped in honey (AV 3.30.01-02).

Truth is the root of all noble virtues. One should present the bitter pill of truth with a sugar coating of pleasantness. Be truthful in a pleasant manner, but do not deviate from truth for the sake of pleasantness. Use candor with courtesy and avoid flattery. Speech should always be beneficial, truthful, and sweet. Speech is the verbal reflection of one's personality, thinking, and mind; therefore, we should prefer silence to almost anything negative. Abstinence from harmful speech is very important.

The austerity of thought includes serenity of mind, gentleness, equanimity or silence, self-control, and the purity of thought. (17.16)


The above mentioned threefold austerity (of thought, word, and deed) practiced by yogis with supreme faith, without a desire for the fruit, is said to be in the mode of goodness. (17.17)

Nonviolence, truthfulness, forgiveness, kindness, and con­trol of mind and senses are considered austerity by the wise (MB 12.79.18). There cannot be purity of word and deed without pu­rity of thought. Ahimsa (Nonviolence) is considered the supreme Dharma.

Austerity that is performed for gaining respect, honor, reverence, and for the sake of show, yielding an uncertain and temporary result, is said to be in the mode of passion. (17.18)

Austerity performed with foolish stubbornness or with self-tor­ture or for harming others, is said to be in the mode of ignorance. (17.19)


Charity given as a matter of duty, when and where help is needed, to a deserving person or organization who does nothing in return; is considered to be in the mode of goodness. (17.20)

Charity in the mode of goodness is the best purifying, beneficial, and righteous act. It equally benefits both the giver and the receiver (MB 13.120.16). If you give a charity or gift, watch yourself closely for ulterior motives; don't look for anything in return. One never does anything for others, but for one’s own benefit. Even charitable works done for others are really done for one’s own good (MB 12.292.01).It is the giver, not the receiver, who is blessed. Yogiraj Mumtaz Ali says: When you serve a less fortunate person in any way---material or spiritual---you are not doing him or her a fa­vor. In fact, one who receives your help does you a favor by accepting what you give, thereby helping you to evolve and move closer to the divine, blissful being, who in reality is within all.

Charity taken unnecessarily---compelled by greed for name or fame---does great harm to the recipient. Improper charity harms both the giver and the taker (MS 4.186).Give anything you can---love, knowledge, help, service, prayer, food, but look for no return. Love---the cheapest charity---holds the key to enter His Kingdom.

Charity is the best and the only use of wealth, next to it is personal enjoyment, but in the end wealth just is left after death and of no use to the wealthy here or hereafter. However, all genuine requests for charity should be handled with delicate care and diplomacy because charity denied may create a negative feeling that is harmful.

Charity has no value if the money is earned by wrongful means (MB 5.39.66). To obtain wealth for meritorious or charitable deeds using wrong means is like soiling one’s dress and then washing it. Not to soil the dress in the first place is better than washing the dress after soiling (MB 3.02.49). You cannot accomplish a worthy end with unworthy means. Ends and means are absolutely inseparable (Stephen Covey). It is not possible to help everybody by giving material goods and money. To pray for the physi­cal and spiritual welfare of others in trouble or need---including ones not on your favorite list---is called mental charity.

Charity that is given unwillingly or to get something in return or looking for some fruit, is said to be in the mode of passion. (17.21)

When you give something to a needy per­son, do not make a big show of it, but when you help a needy person, do it in such a way that nobody will not know about it. Secret charity is considered the best charity. To give charity to an unworthy person or cause and not to give to a worthy person, are both wrong and worse than giving no charity. Charity that is obtained without asking for it, is the best; charity that is obtained upon asking is the second best; and charity given unwillingly should be avoided.

Charity that is given at the wrong place and time to unworthy persons, without paying respect to the receiver and with contempt, is said to be in the mode of ignorance. (17.22)

Be considerate and compassionate to those less fortunate than you. Charity should be given without humiliating the receiver. Charity given by humiliating the receiver destroys the giver (VR 1.13.33). One should always remember that God is both the giver and the receiver.

It should be noted from verse 18.40 that there will be three types of ego, attachment and all other human imperfections also.


“AUM (or OM) TAT SAT” is the threefold designation of Brahma. The Brahmans, the Vedas, and the sacrifices were created ordained by Brahma in the ancient times. (17.23)

Therefore, acts of sacrifice, charity, and austerity prescribed in the scriptures are always commenced by uttering any one of the many names of God (such as AUM, Amen, or Allah) by the knowers of the Supreme. (17.24)

The seekers of salvation perform various types of sacrifice, charity, and austerity by uttering: He is all or ‘TAT’ without seeking a reward. (17.25)

The word 'SAT or Truth' is used in the sense of Reality and goodness. The word ‘SAT’ is also used for an auspicious act, O Arjuna. (17.26)

Faith in sacrifice, charity, and austerity is also called Truth. Selfless service for the sake of the Supreme is verily termed as ‘SAT’. (17.27)

Whatever is done without faith---whether it is sacrifice, charity, auster­ity, or any other act---is useless. It has no value here or hereafter, O Arjuna. (17.28)


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