The Three Gunas (Chapter XIV)

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. The Blessed Lord said: I will again declare the supreme Knowledge, the highest of all knowings, which having known, all the sages have gone hence to the highest perfection.

2. Having taken refuge in this knowledge and become of like nature and law of being with Me, they are not born in the creation, nor troubled by the anguish of the universal dissolution.

3. My womb is the Mahat Brahman; into that I cast the seed; thence spring all beings, O Bharata.
4. Whatever forms are produced in whatsoever wombs, O Kaunteya, the Mahat Brahman is their womb, and I am the Father who casts the seed.

5. The three gunas born of Prakriti, Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas bind in the body, O great-armed one, the imperishable dweller in the body.

6. Of these Sattwa is by the purity of its quality a cause of light and illumination, and by virtue of that purity produces no disease or morbidity or suffering in the nature: it binds by attachment to knowledge and attachment to happiness, O sinless one.

7. Rajas, know thou, has for its essence attraction of liking and longing; it is a child of the attachment of the soul to the desire of objects; O Kaunteya, it binds the embodied spirit by attachment to works.

8. But Tamas, know thou, born of ignorance, is the deluded of all embodied beings; it binds by negligence, indolence and sleep, O Bharata.

9. Sattwa attaches to happiness, rajas to action, O Bharata; tamas covers up the knowledge and attaches to negligence of error and inaction.

10. Now sattwa leads, having overpowered rajas and tamas, O Bharata; now rajas, having overpowered sattwa and tamas; and now tamas, having overpowered sattwa and rajas.

11. When into all the doors in the body there comes a flooding of light, a light of understanding, perception and knowledge, one should understand that there has been a great increase and uprising of the sattwic guna in the nature.

12. Greed, seeking impulsions, initiative of actions, unrest, desire – all this mounts in us when rajas increases.

13. Nescience, inertia, negligence and delusion – these are born when tamas predominates, O joy of the Kurus.

14. If sattwa prevails when the embodied goes to dissolution, then he attains to the spotless worlds of the knowers of the highest principles.

15. Going to dissolution when rajas prevails, he is born among those attached to action; if dissolved during the increase of tamas, he is born in the wombs of beings involved in nescience.

16. It is said the fruit of works rightly done is pure and sattwic; pain is the consequence of rajasic works, ignorance is the result of tamasic action.

17. From sattwa knowledge is born, and greed from rajas; negligence and delusion are of tamas, and also ignorance.

18. They rise upwards who are in sattwa; those in rajas remain in the middle; the tamasic, those enveloped in ignorance and inertia, the effect of the lowest quality, go downwards.

19. When the seer perceives that the modes of Nature are the whole agency and cause of works and knows and turns to That which is supreme above the gunas, he attains to mad-bhava (the movement and status of the Divine).

20. When the soul thus rises above the three gunas born of the embodiment in Nature, he is freed from subjection to birth and death and their concomitants, decay, old age and suffering, and enjoys in the end the Immortality of its self-existence.

21. Arjuna said: What are the signs of the man who has risen above the three gunas, O Lord? What is his action and how does he surmount the gunas?

22. The Blessed Lord said: He, O Pandava, who does not abhor or shrink from the operation of enlightenment (the result of rising sattwa) or impulsion to works (the result of rising rajas) or the clouding over of the mental and nervous being (the result of rising tamas), nor longs after them, when they cease.

23. He who, established in a position as of one seated high above, is unshaken by the gunas; who seeing that it is the gunas that are in process of action stands apart immovable.

24-25. He who regards happiness and suffering alike, gold and mud and stone as of equal value, to whom the pleasant and the unpleasant, praise and blame, honour and insult, the faction of his friends and the faction of his enemies are equal things; who is steadfast in a wise imperturbable and immutable inner calm and quietude; who initiates no action (but leaves all works to be done by the gunas of Nature) – he is said to be above the gunas.

26. He also who loves and strives after Me with an undeviating love and adoration, passes beyond the three gunas and he too is prepared for becoming the Brahman.

27. I (the Purushottama) am the foundation of the silent Brahman and of Immortality and imperishable spiritual existence and of the eternal dharma and of an utter bliss of happiness.

as translated by
Sri Aurobindo

in: SABCL, volume 13 “Essays on the Gita, with Sanskrit Text and Translation of the Gita”
pages 716- 723
published by Sri Aurobindo Ashram – Pondicherry