“In the material world, You are creating, maintaining and dissolving the whole manifestation by interaction of three qualities, namely goodness, passion and ignorance. You are not implicated by the activities of those material qualities because Your supreme knowledge is never overcome, as is the case with the individual living entity.” (Akrura speaking to Lord Krishna, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 47)
Activities that we would consider “normal” – those functions which serve to maintain our well-being, both mental and physical – have consequences to them. That is the nature of this world. Even if we think that all the consequences are favorable, there will be aspects to them that are unpleasant. The nature of karma is that every action has a commensurate reaction, though the fruits of such work may not manifest immediately, nor will they remain visible for too long a time. With the Supreme Lord, however, activities are free of consequences. Though the various modes of nature emanate from Him, He is unaffected by their creation, maintenance, and dissolution. Understanding this one fact can help alleviate our worries and free us of the bonds that we never intended to be subject to.
What are the modes of nature? In Vedic terminology, every action that leads to the future development of the outer covering of the soul can be tagged to a particular mode. Just as there are different keys in a musical overture, there are different levels, or platforms, of activity. The spirit soul residing within the body is the basis for identity, but the presence of the soul is not perceptible to the naked eye. Rather, in order to identify life, we must go off of outward symptoms. What we can see is the gross body of the living entities. When this body is functioning on its own, it is understood that there is life. This life-force is driven by the soul, something which remains intact for all of eternity. The body is actually changing every second, though we only tend to notice the changes at periodic intervals, such as days, months, or years. Often times if we are consistently in the presence of our own body or someone else’s, even drastic changes that occur over long periods of time go unnoticed. It is not until we see photographs – snapshots in time – of particular bodies that we start to notice the changes.
“By acting in the mode of goodness, one becomes purified. Works done in the mode of passion result in distress, and actions performed in the mode of ignorance result in foolishness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.16)
Material nature, which is driven by activity, is the root cause for the constant changes to the body. The activities of nature can be divided into three categories: goodness, passion, and ignorance. The mode of goodness leads to the acquisition of knowledge and a beneficial future condition, passion leads to a neutral state, and ignorance leads to degradation. Since these are all modes of nature, the ascribed benefits and side effects apply only to the outward dress of the soul, the body. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, state that the aim of human life is to inquire about the Absolute Truth, Brahman. The spirit soul residing within the body is Brahman, and since every person is the same in spiritual quality, everyone can be considered Brahman. The human form of life represents the best chance to get to know Brahman and then use that sublime knowledge to break free of the forces of material nature. Nature can only act upon us through our choice; if we decide to transcend the modes of nature, we won’t have to worry about future consequences and reactions.
What makes the human form of body more auspicious than others? Since it is generally known that the followers of the Vedic tradition believe in reincarnation, the common resulting stereotype is that rebirth equates to a person being reborn as a cockroach, cat, dog, or cow in the next life if they are sinful in their current one. This degradation of species can most certainly occur, but this situation only represents the pessimistic aspect of reincarnation. The optimistic view, which often goes neglected, acknowledges that the individual souls have already passed their time in many subordinate species, culminating with their current bodies as humans. Therefore, there must be a purpose to this evolution of body types, the transmigration of the soul. The Vedas tell us that there is indeed a method behind the madness of the giant cause-and-effect system known as karma. The Vedanta-sutras, arguably the most famous treatise on Vedanta philosophy, begin by stating that “Now is the time for inquiring about Brahman”, athato-brahma-jijnasa. The “now” in this statement is very important. The animal species lives completely in the mode of ignorance, so they have no ability to ask about God, birth, death, or the characteristics of the soul.
As human beings, we have a choice as to which mode of nature we want to associate with. Activities in the mode of goodness lead to the understanding of Brahman and the soul’s constitutional position. Activities in the mode of passion lead to a neutral state, wherein one performs hard work simply for sense gratification. Since this enjoyment is available even to the animal species, there is nothing really gained. Those in the mode of passion eventually end up right where they started from. In this sense, it can be correctly asserted that the mode of passion leads to distress, as there is much effort put into gaining a neutral position. Activities in the mode of ignorance lead to degradation, a state where one gradually loses their intelligence. If we remain in the mode of ignorance by taking to activities such as constant intoxication, oversleeping, and unnecessary killing, we will most certainly receive a body composed completely of ignorance in the next life.
All three of these modes deal with cause and effect, action and reaction. This is how nature works. For every action, there are many seen and unseen reactions that are both intended and unintended. For this reason, the governing force of this world is known as maya, or that which is not. Maya uses her illusory forces to fool us into taking to activities which don’t benefit us in the end. By default, most human beings take to the mode of passion. We have specific fruits in mind that we want, so we take the necessary actions to acquire them. Yet desire for sense enjoyment can never be satisfied, so the satisfaction derived from the acquired fruits is short-lived. Moreover, this enjoyment isn’t secured so easily. There are many unintended side effects as well; results that further bind us to the cycle of birth and death. The mode of goodness is considered the best because it leads to intelligence. Once we acquire knowledge of the soul, however, we are required to transcend the mode of goodness and take to serving the one entity who is above the laws of nature.
To understand who this person is and why we should devote ourselves to Him, we need to first understand the folly of taking shelter of activities that belong to any of the three modes of nature. Since passionate activity is most prevalent, it can be the focus of this quick study. The essence of the mode of passion is family life, which is maintained through work. We go to work during the day so that we can have enough money to pay the bills at home. There are bills relating to the rent, mortgage, heating oil, electricity, water, food, gas, insurance, and so many other things. In addition, we have a family to maintain, intimate associates who require time, attention, and money. After all the work has been completed and the bills have been paid, there is scant time for enjoyment. Once this enjoyment is over, the entire cycle repeats itself. In this way, we are essentially working very hard and not seeing much of a return.
The common thought process is that if I just had enough money, all of my problems would go away. Who among us hasn’t dreamed of what we would do if we won the lottery? It’s actually not uncommon for lottery winners to go broke soon after collecting their payout. There are even organizations such as the Sudden Money Institute that try to help people deal with such sudden changes to their financial disposition. Let’s play out the lottery winning scenario to see if acquiring wealth would actually benefit us. Say that we won the lottery tomorrow and got paid millions of dollars. The first thing we would do is pay off the mortgage. We’d pay off any and all debts that we have. Then we’d probably want to buy a nice car and maybe a bigger home. Now we have to worry about insurance for the new car and furniture for the new house. We’d probably also quit our job since we have no reason to work for a living. Now we have to figure out what to do with our time. There are probably loads of other material possessions we would want to purchase as well.
Now that we have all these new possessions, including a new car and home, and no job, what would we do with our time? Would our worries be over? Quite the contrary, our worries would actually increase. With each new fruitive venture, we have introduced a new tie to the material world. We can think of it as being tied down to the ground. With new wealth and fame come additional ropes binding us to the floor. Each rope is not only tied around our gross body, but our mind as well. In this way, we go from a somewhat peaceful condition, where we are working honestly for a living and trying to enjoy a paltry salary, to a disposition where we never have any peace due to all the newly introduced ties to material life.
This predicament speaks to the illusory aspect of nature. The wealthiest businessmen in the world are often the most stressed out individuals. Desire will always act on the brain, regardless of the size of the person’s bank account. When desire is frustrated, there will naturally be disappointment and worry. A poor person may worry about how to secure food for dinner that night, while a wealthy man may be concerned about the next big merger, but the effects on the body and psyche are the same.
According to Vedic information, the aim of life is to break free of all bonds; a release that can only be granted when the future development of the material body ceases. Though for the living entities every action has a reaction, there is one person who is above karma. We may be tempted to think that this person must have refrained from all activity and thus liberated themself from action and reaction. On the contrary, this person performs activities on the grandest scale, a level we couldn’t possibly understand. He has been performing this activity since the beginning of time, and yet He still remains unaffected from it. This person is Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
It would make sense that the creator of nature would be free from its effects. This entire material creation was borne of Krishna, who kindly cloned a replica of the spiritual realm to allow the wayward spirit souls to come and play. The playing involves any material activity, those actions performed in ignorance of the soul’s intimate relation to the Divine. Just as our identity comes from the spirit soul residing within, Krishna’s identity is tied to His supremely powerful soul. The Lord’s soul and our soul are the same in quality, but vastly different in the quantitative aspect. For Krishna, there is no difference between body and soul; He is completely transcendental. For the individual spirit soul, there is a chance of associating with maya, an association that leads to the assumption of a temporary material dress.
Since the two souls are so similar, there is an inherent relationship. The natural condition of the subordinate soul is to always be in the company of the commanding soul. In this condition, the subordinate entity takes on a nature similar to that of the commander and thus becomes liberated. In the materially conditioned state, the individual becomes forgetful of its natural disposition, and thus takes to activities of an inferior nature. Since activities in the modes of nature bind one to the material world, the ignorance that envelops the soul remains intact.
The picture seems quite gloomy, but if we understand that Krishna is above the cause-and-effect of karma, we can find the key that unlocks the door to the spiritual world. Since Krishna never assumes a material body, and never takes to activities which lead to the development of one, it makes sense that anyone who associates with the Lord would similarly be affected. Acts of love and devotion dedicated to Krishna transcend karma. One can only be bound to nature when they are embodied in terms of consciousness. This means that if the enjoyment we seek has at its root forgetfulness of Krishna, we will most certainly have to deal with effects, both good and bad. By the same token, if our activities are rooted in pleasing Krishna, there can never be any effects, for there is no desire to become bound up to the perpetual cycle of birth and death. Devotees fall under the jurisdiction of a divine energy known as yogamaya, a spellbinding force that remains above the effects of material nature.
So what constitute activities that please Krishna? The collective actions belong to the discipline known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Though Krishna is never embodied or affected by activities, He still possesses a transcendental body. Descriptions of this body are found in the sacred texts such as the Ramayana and Shrimad Bhagavatam. We simply have to hear from these great works and keep our minds fixed on the Lord’s transcendental form. Just as the Lord’s form is free of maya, so are His names. Thus by chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, we can similarly be benefitted.
Activities in devotional service are considered to be in the mode of pure goodness, or that which transcends the three modes of nature. Krishna is the creator, maintainer, and the destroyer. Though He performs all of these functions, He is not bound to the laws of nature. In a similar manner, if we remain in constant association with the Supreme Person through acts which purify our consciousness, we too can remain free from the effects of nature, staying aloof from a realm that was specifically tailored to meet the demands of those who wanted to forget God. If we eliminate the root cause of our descent to the material world, we most certainly will not have to remain here.
Categories: mode of passion