Reflections on the Bhagwat Geeta – Chapter XIV

Chapter XIV is a continuation of the basic precepts of Samkhya philosophy. But unlike the complexity of the Kshetra-Kshetradnya-Duality of Chapter XIII , in this Chapter you will read the basic discussion of the three गुण (Gun) or properties of प्रकृति  (Prakruti) or the physical. These are concepts and terms people have heard from their childhood.

In Chapter XIII , we saw the difference between Atman and the physical body, that all actions are performed in every way by the Prakruti. In Chapter XIV, Shree Krishna says to Arjun:

  • Verse 5 सत्व (Satva), रज (Raj), तम (Tam) are the गुण (Gun) created from प्रकृति ( Prakruti). These bind the indestructible (Atman) to the body.
The characteristics of these Three Gun are described in the rest of Chapter XIV. That is why it is named गुण-त्रय योग or Gun-Traya Yog (Yog of the Three Gun).

While the Three Gun are described individually and separately, they exists jointly together and their relative primacy creates individual tendencies and behavior.

  • Verse 6Satva being pure, an illuminator without any blemish binds with a combination of ज्ञान (Dnyaan) and Bliss.
  • Verse 7Understand Raj to be colorful; thirst and desire are produced by Raj. It binds with attachment to Action (कर्म-संगेन). (Do you recall the constant instruction in the Bhagwat Geeta to perform Karma without attachment or निष्काम कर्म?)
  • Verse 8Tam is born out of अज्ञान (A-Dnyaan or lack of Dnyaan) and captivates the physical. It binds with प्रमाद  (misdeeds), आलस्य (laziness), निद्रा (sleepiness).
  • Verse 9Satva creates attachment to Bliss, Raj creates attachment to Karma. By covering up or obscuring (आवृत्य) Dnyaan, Tam creates attachment to Pramaad (mistakes or wrong deeds).

How do you recognize which Gun is becoming predominant?

  • Verse 11When illumination is enters through all doors of the body  (देहेस्मिन सर्व-द्वारेशु प्रकाश उप-जायते) (or when illumination is generated in all Indriya (इन्द्रिय)), then understand that Satva has increased.
  • Verse 12When Raj becomes strong, greed and attachment, lack of fulfillment and desire from Karma take over.
  • Verse 13When Tam becomes dominant, darkness, avoidance of Karma, and temptations result.

What are the results of the primacy of the Three Gun?

  • Verse 17Dnyaan is the result of Satva, Greed is the result of Raj. Ignorance, Temptation and Bad Deeds are the result of Tam.
  • Verse 18People with predominance of Satva enter a higher state after-life, those with predominance of Raj stay in the middle (or human) state after-life. But people with predominance of Tam go down to a lower state after-life.

Recall Verse 29 of Chapter XIII . It said that all actions are performed by the Prakruti and the Atman is the Non-Doer. It also said One who sees it, really sees it (यः पश्यति स पश्यति). In this verse, the verb “see” means to understand and the one who sees is a Seer. 

How does one break the cycle of life and death?

  • Verse 19When the Seer understands that the Gun of the Prakruti are the Do-ers and when the Seer understands What is Beyond the Three Gun (गुणेभ्य परं वेत्ति) , he reaches Me.
The one who gets beyond the Three Gun is called गुणातीत or Gun-Aatit.

So Arjun asks the natural question:

  • Verse 21What distinguishes a Gun-Aatit? How does a Gun-Aatit behave? How does he transcend the Three Gun?
Compare this to Verse 54 of Chapter II and the concept of स्थितप्रद्न्य or One with Stable Buddhi. In that Verse, Arjun asks Shree Krishna “How does One with Stable Buddhi speak? How does He behave? How does He articulate?”

So in Chapter XIV, Arjun asks the same question in the language of the Three Gun rather than in the language of Stable Buddhi. This is another example how the Bhagwat Geeta achieves synthesis between the Karma-Yog or Vedantic-Upanisadic approach and the Samkhya approach. 

Not only it is the same question as in Chapter II in the Samkhya language, but the answer is also the same.

  • Verses 22-25One who does not desire or care whether the fruits of Actions generated by the Three Gun are realized or not; One who is not moved by the Three Gun; One who treats happiness and sadness the same, one who treats sand stones and gold the same; one who treats praise and condemnation the same; one who treats salutations and insults the same; one who treats friend and foe the same; one who jettisons all attachments, He is called Gun-Aatit.

We recommend re-reading of Verses 55-56 of Chapter II , Section 5 to see the synthesis between Gun-Aatit and one with Stable Buddhi.

Then in Verse 26, the penultimate Verse of Chapter XIV, Shree Krishna explains the simple path of Bhakti:

  • Verse 26 One who serves Me with dedicated Bhakti-Yog (devotion), he transcends the Three Gun to reach the Brahma-Bhoot state.
In Verse 72 of Chapter II , the Bhagwat Geeta calls this ब्राम्ही स्थिति  or “Brahmee State”. Comparison of the Verses shows you the message of Verses 24-25 of Chapter XIII, that You can reach Shree Krishna either through Samkhya-Yog, Karma-Yog or Bhakti-Yog. In other words, all the Three Paths to Liberation enable people to reach God and break the cycle of life & death.

Thus Endeth Chapter XIII named Gun-Traya-Vibhaag-Yog (गुण-त्रय-विभाग-योग ) of Shree Bhagwat Geeta, of the Upa-Nisad (उप-निसदत्सु) , of the Yog-Shaastra (योग शास्त्र) of Brahma-Vidyaa (ब्रह्म विद्या), of the dialog (संवाद) between Shree Krishna & Arjun.

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