“Another meaning of guna is rope; it is to be understood that the conditioned soul is tightly tied by the ropes of illusion. A man bound by the hands and feet cannot free himself-he must be helped by a person who is unbound. Because the bound cannot help the bound, the rescuer must be liberated. Therefore, only Lord Krishna, or His bona fide representative the spiritual master, can release the conditioned soul.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 7.14 Purport)
1. Material quality
The individual is actually spirit soul. It lacks hands, legs, and a face in the strict sense, though such association exists when there is a material body. That body consists of different qualities, which are something like elements. Shri Krishna explains that there are both gross and subtle varieties.
भूमिर् आपो ऽनलो वायुः
खं मनो बुद्धिर् एव च
अहङ्कार इतीयं मे
भिन्ना प्रकृतिर् अष्टधा
bhūmir āpo ‘nalo vāyuḥ
khaṁ mano buddhir eva ca
ahaṅkāra itīyaṁ me
bhinnā prakṛtir aṣṭadhā
“Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego – altogether these eight comprise My separated material energies.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.4)
There are also gradations to the specific qualities. Goodness, passion and ignorance. Take these in different combinations and proportions and you get up to 8,400,000 species. This is the information descending from Vedic literature. Long before modern science travelled in the direction of identifying species and creating a hierarchical system for understanding, the Vedas already revealed everything to be known.
Another meaning for guna is “rope.” Actually, the two definitions are identical in the sense of the effect. As the individual is spirit soul at the core, with their proper identification as atma, any material qualities accepted become binding. Something like anchoring a boat to the floor of the sea when trying to set sail. Tied down to a bed when trying to get up. Locked in a room when wanting to get out.
The place to which the conditioned soul is bound is known as the material world. The process of the binding is called reincarnation. Repeated birth and death, spinning in a cycle for as long as the desire remains.
The meaning is that desire, kama, combined with fruitive activity, karma, fuels the engine of reincarnation. They are what purchase the rope and lead to the subsequent binding. For as long as material desire remains, the gunas continue to have the same effect.
3. Distinguishable feature
Here guna has a meaning specific to a type of understanding. For learning of the Supreme Lord, who is the origin of everything, the vessel is the material body. From a skewed perspective a person has to try to understand someone who is beyond the senses and this world, even.
Therefore, a distinction may arise, specifically between what is seen and what is not. The unseen version of the Divine may be tagged as nirguna. This is without any distinguishable features. The version that can be identified with the eyes is known as saguna, or with qualities.
It should be acknowledged that there is no distinction in terms of definition. That is to say how a person views the Supreme Lord bears no impact on His actual position. We say that the sun has set for the day since we can no longer see it, but the sun is always there no matter our angle of vision.
4. Transcendental glories
The qualities belonging to Bhagavan are not binding. He is above the material world and its dualities. Therefore, when discussing gunas for the Supreme Lord, they refer to His glories. He has too many gunas to count. Moreover, they are not limiting.
As an example, the gunas associated with Shri Krishna in the land of Gokula relate to a child’s body. Yet even as an infant Krishna can thwart the attacks of a powerful whirlwind and a devious witch. He brings transcendental bliss to everyone who meets Him.
The gunas in terms of binding material qualities become spiritualized when there is a connection in yoga to service to Krishna. Everything becomes auspicious due to the purifying effect of the all-attractive one. Reincarnation ceases and liberation is the guaranteed end to the current ride on the cycle of birth and death.
Material qualities on person shown,
Guna also as rope is known.
Distinguishable feature a way,
Nirguna or saguna can say.
With Supreme Lord to His glories applying,
Proof from pastimes logic defying.
When connected positively to affect,
No more deleterious effect.
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