The subject of the three modes of material nature is of great importance to souls who have taken birth in the material world because of envying God. In the fourteenth chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead (the perfect spiritual master) instructs Arjuna (the perfect disciple) on the characteristics of the three modes of material nature: goodness, passion, and ignorance. Lord Krishna’s instructions include directions on how to transcend the three material modes and enter the spiritual realm.
In text 14.6 Lord Krishna says,
“O sinless one, the mode of goodness, being purer than the others, is illuminating, and it frees one from all sinful reactions. Those situated in that mode become conditioned by a sense of happiness and knowledge.” The mode of goodness makes us wiser than others and enriches us with material knowledge. This knowledge makes us feel superior and conditions us to believe the illusion that life is pleasant. Srila Prabhupada says that as long as we are attracted to working in this mode, we have to take some type of body under the modes of nature and remain bound to the material world and repeated birth and death.
In text 14.11 Sri Krishna says,
“The manifestations of the mode of goodness can be experienced when all the gates of the body are illuminated by knowledge.” The nine gates of the body—two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, the mouth, the genital, and the anus—are said to be illuminated when a person’s behavior is in the mode of goodness. In the practice of Krishna consciousness, the devotee engages all the gates—the whole body—to reach the state of pure goodness. For example, the devotee uses the eyes and ears to read and hear the scriptures, the nostrils to smell flowers offered to the Lord, and the mouth to taste foodoffered to the Lord and to chant the maha-mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Chanting and following the four regulative principles—no meat-eating, illicit sex, intoxication, or gambling—gradually take a devotee to the mode of goodness and then to transcendence.
Regarding the mode passion, Sri Krishna says in text 14.7,
“The mode of passion is born of unlimited desires and longings, O son of Kunti, and because of this the embodied living entity is bound to material fruitive actions.” The mode of passion gives rise to various kinds of sense gratification, such as sexual attraction, excessive attachment to family, society, and country, and constant engagement in fruitive action. All sense gratification results in karmic reactions and consequently repeated birth and death. Hankering for enjoyment and working hard for it are the traits of a person in this mode.
Sense gratification includes competing and working hard for fame and honor. Passionate struggles in any field of life impede progress toward liberation. Thus the mode of passion binds one to the material world.
Regarding the mode of ignorance, Sri Krishna says in text 14.8,
“O son of Bharata, know that the mode of darkness, born of ignorance, is the delusion of all embodied living entities. The results of this mode are madness, indolence, and sleep, which bind the conditioned soul.” A person in this mode is lazy and mad, has no chance of liberation, and is uninterested in spiritual life. This mode degrades people and leads to atheism, intoxication, and birth in the lowest forms of life.
In text 14.10 Lord Krishna says,
“Sometimes the mode of goodness becomes prominent, defeating the modes of passion and ignorance, O son of Bharata. Sometimes the mode of passion defeats goodness and ignorance, and at other times ignorance defeats goodness and passion. In this way there is always competition for supremacy.” The three modes of material nature are present in mixed proportions in a human being, and one may predominate.
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