“Those situated in the mode of goodness gradually go upward to the higher planets; those in the mode of passion live on the earthly planets; and those in the mode of ignorance go down to the hellish worlds.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.18)
We were asked this question when we were young. It came from teachers and parents, basically anyone who was an adult. Children are likely asked the same question today. It’s considered the most important issue, used as a way to assess progress and happiness.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
The idea is that the individual should do something meaningful. The times are advanced; it is not like before where people had little choice. If you were born into royalty, that was your future. If the family owned a farm or business, the expectation was to keep that going.
Now there is something called “upward mobility.” Be whatever you want to be. It doesn’t matter if you are a boy or a girl, the sky is the limit. Doors have opened. Opportunities are boundless. Find your passion and go for it. If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.
The Vedas paint a slightly different picture of passion. Called rajo-guna, it is one of the three modes of nature. Guna can also mean “rope,” and so the mode of passion is certainly binding. Though it is a step up from the mode of ignorance, real progress isn’t made; there is only the illusion of it.
1. Like a hamster spinning on a wheel
The pet animal has this inside of their cage. They can spin on the wheel if they like. This is not like the adult going on the treadmill. That is specifically for exercise. The person on the machine never thinks they are actually moving forward or getting closer to some destination.
The hamster keeps moving, with the wheel spinning continuously. Yet there is no change in destination. It is the illusion of progress. With the mode of passion the individual actually stays right where they are. Even through to the next life, there is birth again in the material world as a human being.
2. Like pushing a rock up a hill, with another hill to go
It is good to get tasks accomplished. It is a way to pass the time in a positive way. Identify a problem, figure out what steps need to be taken, and then systematically begin the process until success finally comes. It may take a while, but the feeling of satisfaction at the end will be worth it.
The problem is that there is always another task. The mode of passion is something like pushing a rock up a hill. There is effort and also attention paid to progress. Halfway up, you don’t want the rock to fall back down. Once you reach the top, you feel good, like you have done something meaningful. The only issue is that there is yet another hill to go. More work has to be done.
3. Like going up, but falling back down again
Having another hill to climb can also be like having the rock fall back down to the bottom anyway. That is what happens with rebirth. Everything we acquired through the mode of passion stays behind. We don’t get to take that expensive, luxury car with us at death. We don’t get to keep the fame and honor that everyone bestowed upon us for being successful and wealthy.
As the human being has intelligence, which contributes to the auspiciousness of the body type, there should be real progress made. In fact, that chance is there, in the science of self-realization. In the version of religion practiced with the intent of love and devotion, which is the real dharma of the soul, intelligence itself is not a hard and fast requirement.
Any person, at any age, in any type of body can make real progress through bhakti-yoga, devotional service. At the time of death, if consciousness hasn’t been fully purified, the effort is not a waste. The individual gets to start off again from the same position in the next life. Even the mode of goodness brings rewards that are vulnerable to the influence of time. Ignorance is going backwards, passion is staying the same, goodness is enjoying for a long time in the heavenly realm, but bhakti is bliss right now and going forward. It is beneficial from beginning to end.
Like hamster spinning on wheel,
Making progress to feel.
But actually nowhere to go,
Wiser human being to know.
But in passion like climbing the hill,
Even with success another still.
Better for bhakti-yoga to chase,
Benefits not even time to erase.
Categories: the three