Faith and the Three Gunas (Chapter XVII)

Publisher’s Note: The translation of the Gita presented here was compiled mainly from Sri Aurobindo’s “Essays on the Gita”. It first appeared in “The Message of the Gita”, edited by Anilbaran Roy, in 1938. Sri Aurobindo approved this book for publication; however, he made it clear in one of his letters that the translations in the Essays were “more explanatory than textually precise or cast in a literary style”. Many of them are paraphrases rather than strict translations.

Sri Aurobindo also wrote that he did not wish extracts from the Essays “to go out as my translation of the Gita”. This should be borne in mind by the reader as he makes use of this translation, which has been provided as a bridge between the Gita and Sri Aurobindo’s Essays.

1. Arjuna said: When men sacrifice to God or the gods with faith, but abandon the rule of the Shastra. what is that concentrated will of devotion in them, nishtha, which gives them this faith and moves them to this kind of action. O Krishna? Is it sattwa, rajas or tamas?

2. The Blessed Lord said: The faith in embodied beings is of a triple kind like all things in Nature and varies according to the dominating quality of their nature, sattwa. rajas or tamas. Hear thou of these.

3. The faith of each man takes the shape given to it by his stuff of being, O Bharata. This Purusha, this soul in man, is, as it were, made of shraddha, a faith, a will to be a belief in itself and existence, and whatever is that will, faith or constituting belief in him, he is that and that is he.

4. Sattwic men offer sacrifice to the gods, the rajasic to the Yakshas (the keepers of wealth) and the Rakshasic forces, the others, the tamasic, offer their sacrifice to elemental powers and grosser spirits.

5-6. The men who perform violent austerities, contrary to the Shastra, with arrogance and egoism, impelled by the force of their desires and passions, men of unripe minds tormenting the aggregated elements forming the body and troubling Me also, seated in the body, know these to be Asuric in their resolves.

7. The food also which is dear to each is of triple character, as also sacrifice, askesis and giving. Hear thou the distinction of these.

8. The sattwic temperament in the mental and physical body turns naturally to the things that increase the life, increase the inner and outer strength, nourish at once the mental, vital and physical force and increase the pleasure and satisfaction and happy condition of mind and life and body, all that is succulent and soft and firm and satisfying.

9. The rajasic temperament prefers naturally food that is violently sour, pungent, hot, acrid, rough and strong and burning, the aliments that increase ill-health and the distempers of the mind and body.

10. The tamasic temperament takes a perverse pleasure in cold, impure, stale, rotten or tasteless food or even accepts like the animals the remnants half-eaten by others.

11. The sacrifice which is offered by men without desire for the personal fruit, which is executed according to the right principle, and with a mind concentrated on the idea of the thing to be done as a sacrifice, that is sattwic.

12. The sacrifice offered with a view to the personal fruit, and also for ostentation, O best of the Bharatas, know thou that to be of a rajasic nature.

13. The sacrifice not performed according to the right rule of the Shastra, without giving of food, without the mantra, without gifts, empty of faith, is said to be tamasic.

14. Worship given to the godhead, to the twice-born, to the spiritual guide, to the wise, cleanness, candid dealing, sexual purity and avoidance of killing and injury to others, are called the askesis of the body.

15. Speech causing no trouble to others, true, kind and beneficial, the study of Scripture, are called the askesis of speech.

16. A clear and calm gladness of mind, gentleness, silence, self-control, the purifying of the whole temperament – this is called the askesis of the mind.

17. This threefold askesis, done with a highest enlightened faith, with no desire for fruit, harmonised, is said to be sattwic.

18. The askesis which is undertaken to get honour and worship from men, for the sake of outward glory and greatness and for ostentation is said to be rajasic, unstable and fleeting.

19. That askesis which is pursued under a clouded and deluded idea, performed with effort and suffering imposed on oneself or else with a concentration of the energy in a will to do hurt to others, that is said to be tamasic.

20. The sattwic way of giving is to do it for the sake of the giving and the beneficence and to one who does no benefit in return; and it is to bestow in the right conditions of time and place and on the right recipient (who is worthy or to whom the gift can be really helpful).

21. The rajasic kind of giving is that which is done with unwillingness or violence to oneself or with a personal and egoistic object or in the hope of a return of some kind.

22. The tamasic gift is offered with no consideration of the right conditions of time, place and object; it is offered without regard for the feelings of the recipient and despised by him even in the acceptance.

23. The formula OM, Tat, Sat, is the triple definition of the Brahman, by whom the Brahmanas, the Vedas and sacrifices were created of old.

24. Therefore with the pronunciation of OM the acts of sacrifice, giving and askesis as laid down in the rules are always commenced by the knowers of the Brahman.

25. With the pronunciation of Tat and without desire of fruit are performed the various acts of sacrifice, askesis and giving by the seekers of liberation.

26. Sat means good and it means existence; likewise, O Partha, the word Sat is used in the sense of a good work (for all good works prepare the soul for the higher reality of our being).

27. All firm abiding in sacrifice, giving and askesis and all works done with that central view, as sacrifice, as giving, as askesis, are Sat (for they build the basis for the highest truth of our spirit).

28. Whatever is wrought without faith, oblation, giving, askesis or other work, Asat it is called, O Partha; it is nought, here or hereafter.

as translated by
Sri Aurobindo

in: SABCL, volume 13 “Essays on the Gita, with Sanskrit Text and Translation of the Gita”
pages 736- 743
published by Sri Aurobindo Ashram – Pondicherry
diffusion by SABDA