Chapter 17

Arjuna raised an important question regarding faith that plays an important role in one’s life even if he has no knowledge of the scriptures. Arjuna observed many persons not caring for the dictates of the scriptures in their offering of sacrifice depending on their immense faith alone. He wanted to know what was the nature of such faith. Whether it belongs to sattva or rajas or tamas?

Sri Krishna says, that the faith of every individual, is in accorance with his nature. Faith is of three kinds: sattvika, rajasika and tamasika Men of sattva worship the Supreme, men of rajas worship and satisfy the deities. A tamasic man worships the earth-bound spirits and ghosts.

According to Sri Krishna there is yet another category of degraded persons. These are people with ego and vanity, motivated by power of lust and attachment carry out horrible penances not prescribed by the scriptures. They torture the body harming not only the elements grouped in it but also the Lord who dwells in it. These people are to be known as demons.

Krishna then tells Arjuna about the three kinds of food, three kinds of sacrifice, three kinds of penance and three kinds of gifts.

Sattvik foods are juicy, oily, lasting and agreeable. This kind of food increases life, purity, strength, health, and happiness. Rajasik foods are bitter, sour, salty, hot, pungent, dry and burning are liked by men of rajas nature. Such foods cause distress, misery and disease. Food which is spoiled, tasteless, putrid, stale, and uncleane is tamsik food.

The sacrifice performed according to scriptual law, considering it as a duty and desiring no fruits, is of sattva nature. The one performed expecting benefits from it and for outer display is of rajas nature. Sacrifice in which no hymns are chanted, no food is distributed, no gifts are given to priests, which is not in conformity with the scriptural law, and devoid of faith, is of tamas nature.

Sri Krishna then defines the penance of the body, mind and speech before classifying penance based on the sattvik, rajasik and tamasik nature of man. Sri Chinmoy explains :

?God the Merciful does not demand our physical torture. He wants us to have the soulful light of wisdom – nothing more and nothing less. Austerity means a dedicated body, a pure mind, a loving heart and an awakened soul. The outer austerity grows in the fertile soil of serenity, tranquility, and equanimity. Sattvic austerity wishes no reward. Gain, honour and fame, rajasic austerity expects and demands. Self-immolation or destruction of others, tamasic austerity wants and cherishes.?

Towards the end of this chapter Sri Krishna refers to the Brahman. Brahman is designated by the three words: Aum tat sat. (17.23)

Aum is the mystical symbol. It is the real name of God. Tat means ‘That’, the Nameless Eternal. Above all attributes, majestic ‘That’ stands. Sat means Reality the Truth infinite. Sri Chinmoy says:

?We have to chant Aum and then begin to perform our life’s divine duties.

We have to chant Tat and then offfer to humanity all our achievements, energising and fulfilling.

We have to chant Sat and then offer to God what we inwardly and outwardly are, our very existence.?


(The following English translation is taken from ‘A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy’ Edited by S. Radhakrishnan and Charles A. Moore. 1957 Princeton University Press)

Chapter 17: The Three Modes Applied to Religious Phenomena

Three kinds of faith

Arjuna said:
1. Those who, neglecting the ordinances of scriptures, offer sacrifices filled with faith-what is their position, 0 Krsna? Is it one of goodness or of passion or of dullness?

The Blessed Lord said:
2. The faith of the embodied is of three kinds, born of their nature, good, passionate, and dull. Hear now about it.

3. The faith of every individual, 0 Bharata (Arjuna), is in accordance with his nature. Man is of the nature of his faith: what his faith is, that, verily, he is.

4. Good men worship the gods, the passionate worship the demigods, and the demons and the others [who are] the dull, worship the spirits and ghosts.

5. Those men, vain and conceited and impelled by the force of lust and passion, who perform violent austerities, which are not ordained by the scriptures,

6. Being foolish oppress the group of elements in their body and dwelling in the body. Know these to be demoniac in their resolves.

Three kinds of food

7. Even the food which is dear to all is of three kinds. So are the sacrifices, austerities, and gifts. Hear thou the distinction of these.

8. The foods which promote life, vitality, strength, health,joy, and cheerfulness, which are sweet, soft, nourishing, and agreeable are dear to the ?good.?

9. The foods that are bitter, sour, saltish, very hot, pungent, harsh, and burning, producing pain, grief, and disease are liked by the ?passionate? .

10. That which is spoiled, tasteless, putrid, stale, refuse, and unclean is the food dear to the ?dull? .

Three kinds of sacrifice

11. That sacrifice which is offered, according to the scriptural law, by those who expect no reward and believe firmly that it is their duty to offer the sacrifice, is ?good? .

12. But that which is offered in expectation of reward or for the sake of display, know, 0 best of the Bharatas (Arjuna), that sacrifice to be ?passionate? .

13. The sacrifice which is not in conformity with the law, in which no food is distributed, no hymns are chanted, and no fees are paid, which is empty of faith, they declare to be ?dull.?

Three kinds of penance

14. The worship of the gods, of the twice-born, of teachers and of the wise, purity, uprightness, continence, and non-violence, this is said to be the penance of the body.

15. The utterance [of words] which gives no offence, which is truthful, pleasant, and beneficial and the regular recitation of the Veda-this is said to be the penance of speech.

16. Serenity of mind, gentleness, silence, self-control, the purity of mind-this is called the penance of mind.

17. This threefold penance practised with utmost faith by men of balanced mind without the expectation of reward, they call ?good.?

18. That penance which is performed in order to gain respect, honour, and reverence and for the sake of show is said to be ? passionate ? ; it is unstable and not lasting.

19. That penance which is performed with a foolish obstinacy by means of self-torture or for causing injury to others is said to be ?dull.?

Three kinds of gifts

20. That gift which is made to one from whom no return is expected, with the feeling that it is one’s duty to give and which is given in proper place and time and to a worthy person, that gift is held to be ?good.?

21. But that gift which is made with the hope of a return or with the expectation of future gain or when it hurts to give is held to be passionate.?

22. And that gift which is made at a wrong place or time or to an unworthy person, without proper ceremony or with contempt, that is declared to be ?dull.?

The mystical utterance: Aum Tat Sat

23.?Aum Tat Sat ? -this is considered to be the threefold symbol of Brahman*. By this were ordained of old the brahmins, the Vedas and the sacrifices.

24. Therefore with the utterance of ?aum? the acts of sacrifice, gift, and penance enjoined in the scriptures are always undertaken by the expounders of Brahman.

25. And with the utterance of word ?tat? the acts of sacrifice and penance and the various acts of giving are performed by the seekers of salvation, without aiming at the reward.

26. The word ?sat? is employed in the sense of reality and goodness; and so also, 0 Partha (Arjuna), the word ?sat? is used for praiseworthy action.

27. Steadfastness in sacrifice, penance, gift is also called ?sat? and so also any action for such purposes is called ?sat.?

28. Whatever offering or gift is made, whatever penance is performed, whatever rite is observed, without faith, it is called ?asat? , 0 Partha (Arjuna); it is of no account hereafter or here.

This is the seventeenth chapter entitled, ? The Toga of the Threefold Division of Faith.?


* ?Aum? expresses the absolute supremacy, ?tat? the universality, and ?sat? the reality of Brahman.