46. Three Types of People and Two Solutions


by Jayaram V

Notes: I have translated the Bhagavadgita twice. The first one was a loose translation. The second one was a word to word translation with a detailed commentary. The commentary is however different from what you will find here. In this section I will share with you my thoughts about the knowledge, philosophy and wisdom of the Bhagavadgita as I understand it from my perspective. Jayaram V

Summary: This discussion is based upon the teachings of the Bhagavadgita about the classification of beings according to the triple Gunas and how they influence human behavior.

The Bhagavadgita recognizes three universal archetypal beings in this world. They are those who are peaceful and love pleasure and happiness, those who are active and engage in selfish actions to attain worldly things, and those who are lazy and live passively ignoring their duties and responsibilities. The first kind are driven by passion for knowledge and wisdom, the second kind by greed, selfishness and ambition, and the third kind by ignorance and delusion.

This classification is not specific to human beings only. You may find them among animals also. For example, the cows and elephants fall in the first category. Tigers, horses, and lions fall into the second category, and bulls and buffaloes fall into the third. However, since you are familiar with human nature and can easily draw conclusions about them, you easily recognize those traits among human beings rather than animals.

The scripture declares that the differences among the three arise due to the predominance of the triple Gunas (modes) namely, sattva, rajas and tamas respectively. Those who have the predominance of sattva seek knowledge and wisdom attain the higher worlds upon death and are reborn in good families. Rajasic people who engage in selfish karmas attain the middle worlds and take birth in ordinary circumstances, whereas those who have the predominance of tamas may enter the lower worlds and take birth as animals and worms or in difficult circumstances.

A worldly person may seek the predominance of a particular guna according to his or her nature and professional interest. For example, those who are engaged in priestly duties or teaching profession may strive to increase sattva, while those who pursue wealth and power may prefer the predominance rajas to keep their passions high. However, from the liberation point of view, a seeker of liberation should not aim to cultivate any since for him all the three Gunas are obstacles only. They create desires and attachments and bind people to the cycle of births and deaths.

While the predominance of Sattva is ideal in the early stages for spiritual practices and self-purification, one should not become stuck in it. The ideal is that one should transcend all the three and become free from their influence. In the Bhagavadgita, Arjuna asks the nature of the person who has risen above the three qualities. Lord Krishna answers that such a person possesses several spiritual qualities which distinguish him from the rest. They are listed below.

  • He does not like or dislike any of the attitudes that are caused by the triple gunas. He neither hates nor desires liberation (caused by sattva), activity (caused by rajas) and delusion (caused by tamas).
  • He remains firm and not motivated by the Gunas since he knows how they cause desires and make people act or seek things.
  • He remains the same to the dualities of life such as pleasure and pain and keeps his mind fixed upon his Self. For him a piece of clay or a lump of gold are the same. He is equal to praise and criticism, honor and dishonor, friends and foes.
  • He does not take credit for his works as he renounces doership, ownership, and desire for the fruit of his actions. He may perform actions but only to fulfill his obligations of Dharma.

The Bhagavadgita suggests devotion and service to God to transcend the triple Gunas. It means you can overcome them by praying to God (bhakti yoga) and fulfilling your duties and obligations (karma sanyasa yoga). There is no better way to serve God or show him your devotion than honoring your commitments and fulfilling your obligations. You may additionally cultivate discretion and right knowledge for righteous living. However, in the 14th Chapter of the scripture, Lord Krishna does not emphasize them. He suggests (14.26) only two approaches, bhakti yoga (devotion) and seva (service), without distraction. The importance of knowledge (jnana yoga) is implied in this teaching, because without right knowledge you cannot practice either of them.

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