“The living entities individually are being conducted by a particular mode of nature, but at the same time there is every chance of their being influenced by the other two. Generally, all conditioned souls in the material encagement are influenced by the mode of passion because every one of them is trying to lord it over the material nature to fulfill his individual desire. But in spite of the individual mode of passion, there is always the chance of being influenced by the other modes of nature by association.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.10.41 Purport)
The entirety of the presentation on the science of self-realization, from within the bhakti tradition, might be a little too much to handle when accepted in a short amount of time. To begin, there is the fundamental principle of the difference between body and soul.
I am spirit soul. Aham brahmasmi. I am not the body, which is prakriti. The body can also be considered maya, when holding a certain distinction in point of view. Every living being has this divide, spirit and body. The special benefit for the human birth is that there is the opportunity to realize the difference and then change behavior accordingly.
Upon advancing a little further, a person learns of the three modes of nature. These modes come up quite often in discourses about the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Hari-katha might make passing reference to these three modes. There is a whole section in Bhagavad-gita dedicated to describing these modes and learning how to identify them.
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada provides a wonderful comparison for understanding these modes. Any person can see these categories play out in real life, by witnessing what is around them.
1. Completely forgetful of his spiritual nature
“I don’t know what you are talking about with this God stuff. Whenever you see a certain statue you feel the need to prostrate in front of it. You call it dandavat pranam. I have no idea what you are doing. Life is too short, man. If make-believe gives you comfort, that’s fine, but I am not going to be bothered with that stuff.
“I will enjoy life to the fullest. I will eat and sleep to my satisfaction. At the end of the day, I don’t want any regrets. I am going to be happy. I will not needlessly torture myself.”
2. Almost forgetful, with an instinct of spiritual nature
“I get what you are saying about the need to worship God. I sometimes give thought to the afterlife and what our purpose is right now. I think some day I will get around to studying that stuff. Maybe I will ask you questions when I am ready.
“For the moment, life has me busy from morning until night. It is such a struggle that I can barely breathe. I work the entire day. As soon as I arrive home from the train ride, I crash. My head hits the pillow, ready to start again the next day.
“If my wife and kids barely get to interact with me, how is some spiritual institution going to monopolize my time? It just isn’t possible right now. There is too much else to take care of.”
3. Completely in search of spiritual perfection
It is within this mode that a person starts with the knowledge of the identity as spirit soul. To pursue perfection in spiritual education indicates at least partial association with the mode of goodness. The more a person matures in this area, the more they shift their activities towards remaining in goodness.
It is said that a person’s particular mode is not fixed for the duration of life. We already see evidence of this with those afflicted by addiction to drugs and alcohol. During the time of association, their life is the embodiment of the mode of ignorance. They sleep long hours. They skip work. They might even kill someone in a drunken rage.
There is the opportunity for recovery. The same person might completely transform their outlook on life. They might become so kind and full of knowledge that others approach them for wisdom. The same is true of the person stuck in the mode of passion. It is possible to retire from the struggles and pursue something higher.
Societies based on sanatana-dharma are for this purpose. Their association can elevate others into the mode of goodness. At least the option is made available. Otherwise, a person might not ever consider a different way of living.
Within the bhakti tradition, the aim is to rise above all three modes. Even the mode of goodness is binding, in that it keeps a person on the wheel of reincarnation. They may enjoy in the heavenly region for a long time after death, but eventually those credits expire.
Bhakti-yoga has a corresponding mode known as shuddha-sattva. This is pure goodness. It is technically not a mode of nature, since it is not binding. It has nothing to do with the material world. Bhakti-yoga is transcendental to the dichotomy between worlds, spiritual and material.
“The soul’s activity becomes adulterated in contact with matter, and as such the diseased activities are expressed in the form of lust, desire, hankering, inactivity, foolishness and sleep. The effect of devotional service becomes manifest by complete elimination of these effects of passion and ignorance. The devotee is fixed at once in the mode of goodness, and he makes further progress to rise to the position of Vasudeva, or the state of unmixed sattva, or shuddha-sattva. Only in this shuddha-sattva state can one always see Krishna eye to eye by dint of pure affection for the Lord.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.2.19 Purport)
Passion for work and gain shown,
Another right or wrong not known.
In goodness for knowledge one tries,
But above these even should rise.
So that to rebirth not bound,
With higher realm found.
Where eye to eye seeing,
Supreme Divine Being.
Categories: the three