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Commentary on the Bhagavadgita


Discourse 45: The Sixteenth Chapter Concludes; The Seventeenth Chapter Begins – Various Classifications

Aneka-chitta-vibhranta moha-jala-samavrtah, prasaktah kama-bhogeshu patanti narake’suchau (16.16).
Atma-sambhavitah stabdha dhana-manamdanvitah, yajante nama-yajnais te dambhenavidhi-purvakam (16.17).
Ahamkaram balam darpam kamam krodham cha samsritah, mam atma-para-deheshu pradvishanto’bhyasuyakah (16.18).
Tan aham dvishatah kruran samsareshu naradhaman, kshipamy ajasram asubhan asurishv eva yonishu (16.19).
Asurim yonim apanna mudha janmani janmani, mam aprapyeva kaunteya tato yanty adhamam gatim (16.20).
Tri-vidham naraksyedam dvaram nasanam atmanah, kamah krodhas tatha lobhas tasmad etat trayam tyajet (16.21).

In the context of the description of the divine and undivine qualities characterising human beings, a lot has been said by the Lord about these tendencies in people which, on the one hand, enable them to gravitate towards the centre of the universe and, on the other hand, deflect their attention in the direction of the periphery of the universe. The undivine elements are those forces in nature, as well as in individuals, which tend towards externals and go to the extreme of involvement in space, time and objects. The other category of persons differ entirely from the first mentioned, in the sense they tend inward into the very centre or the selfhood of the universe, which is the opposite of the objects which attract the demoniacal natures.

While there is joy in entering into one’s own self in the case of those who are qualified with divine characters, there is sorrow in an inward contemplation in the case of people who wish to run about in an external direction towards more and more contact with sense objects. On account of intense egoism, ahamkaram, balam, darpam etc. – with egoism, with pride, with vanity, with anger, with insatiable desire for indulgence of senses – they consider themselves as all-in-all in the power that they appear to be wielding, and are despotic in their conduct and cruel in their attitude towards other people. Such ones are endangering not only the lives of other people, but the lives of themselves also.

Those who are trying to harm others are inadvertently trying to harm themselves also – a harm that may come upon them today or tomorrow. This is because as we mete out to others, we will be meted out in the same way. The world is an organic involvement of perfection and balance of forces, so that any kind of interference of one part with another part – or rather the interference of one part with the whole to which it belongs – would set up such a reaction that the interference will be paid in its own coin.

Many a time, evil appears to survive and thrive more gloriously than goodness in this world, but when the mills of God begin to grind powerfully, the evil forces will receive their due – though slowly, but very, very finely. So the indication as to the consequences that follow from utter egoism and evil-doing is here in these verses.

Such persons who are dangerous to themselves as well as to others, and are injurious in their attitude towards things, go to lower regions. They take birth in inferior species of living entities which, on the one hand, obliterate the consciousness which human beings are supposed to be endowed with; and, on the other hand, they suffer like insects, like reptiles, like animals who have only body consciousness, and there is no consciousness of self. Subhuman creatures do not have the prerogative of inferring the existence of That which is above humanity, above themselves. The animal can think only its own region, its own realm, its own body, its own instincts. The capacity of inferring, drawing conclusions, and considering the pros and cons is not a possibility. It is human reason that has the capacity not only to understand what is happening now, but also to draw conclusions as inference from the occurrences and the experiences at present. These prerogatives of humanity will be wiped out due to the preponderance of rajasic and tamasic qualities, which people sometimes adopt due to intense egoism in their nature – behaving arrogantly, tyrannically, selfishly, which will lead them to lower yonis, or species of births. They may even go to hell, which is the lowest of regions.

Asurim yonim apanna (16.20): These unfortunate souls that enter into the wombs of asuras – that is to say, totally undivine characters – may run into cycles of transmigratory life again and again endlessly, as it were, and may lose hope of redemption for an endless period of time.

As we know very well, the way to hell, the gate to hell, is mentioned here as threefold, as reference to it was made in the Third Chapter. Kama esha krodha esha rajoguna-samudbhavah, maha-sano maha-papma viddhy enam iha vairinam (3.37): If you have any enemy in this world, your enemy is your instinct to like and dislike, passion and anger. Tri-vidham narakasyedam dvaram nasanam atmanah (16.21): The self-destructive ways to hell, gates to hell, are kama, krodha and lobha: greed, insatiable desire, and anger. The one automatically leads to the other. When there is desire, the other two automatically follow.

The tendency to grab appurtenances from the world as much as possible, and never being satisfied with any kind of possession or any amount of possession, is greed. Anger, of course, is retaliation in respect of any hindrance to the fulfilment of desires. And desire is well known to us. Etattrayam tyajet: Therefore, we must very meticulously avoid these three traits – kama, krodha and lobha – in human nature, because these are the gateways to hell. Dvaram nasanam atmanah: They destroy the self, as it were, and hurl the individual into subhuman realms.

Etair vimuktah kaunteya tamo-dvairas tribhir narah, acharaty atmanah sreyas tato yati param gatim (16.22): Freed from these three kinds of traits – kama, krodha and lobha – one works for one’s own welfare with proper understanding of the way of conducting oneself in life for attaining the spiritual goal. One begins to realise and keep in mind what is actually one’s welfare. Most people do not know what is good for them. They have a blindfolded vision of things, a distorted vision of things, which makes them believe in things which are really not enduring, and doubt the existence of things which are really there. But here a person who is free from these qualities of kama, krodha and lobha will be automatically purified in nature, and this purified mind will reflect within itself the aspiration necessary for the attainment of the great goal of life. Tato yati param gatim: Automatically one reaches the supreme state.   

Kama-karatah na varteta (16.23): One should not act according to one’s own whim and fancy. We should not do things merely because they occur to us. There are certain norms that have been set forth by ancient masters, who recorded their experiences and their impressions in texts called sastras – such as the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Gita, the Smrtis. These sastras give us a norm of conduct and behaviour prescribed in the light of the ultimate aim of life. Sastras, or scriptures, lay down the necessity to place oneself in a harmonious state of affairs in the context of dharma, artha, kama and moksha.

Very few people have even heard of these names: dharma, artha, kama, moksha. These are the four feet, as it were, of the structure of human life. Ordinarily, from one’s own reasoning, these ideas will not normally arise. The normal way of looking at things, the vision of things based on our independent thinking, is materially construed, sensory oriented, and desire filled. Thus, the necessity to consult and work according to the injunctions of sastras is considered here as imperative.

The necessity for material amenities is something well known to people. We require certain physical comforts, but we cannot have so much of it as would deprive others of an equal share of it in this world. If there is a specific quantum of physical facility in this world, we may proportionately divide it among people according to their needs, according to their status and according to the relation that obtains between them and other people. But being contrary to the acceptance that others also have a need for similar appurtenances – disregarding the existence of other people and their welfare – would also be detrimental to one’s own welfare. This is because a person who asks for too much may lose everything – like the person who wanted a golden axe and lost the iron axe also.

Therefore, dharma is supposed to be a restraining order, a principle of limitation set on the desires even for material need, and kama is the need for fulfilment of emotional requirements. Dharma puts a limit on our asking for things in this world, whether material or emotional, in the light of the ultimate aim of all beings – liberation of spirit, which is moksha. Hence, there is an internal organic connection among this four-faceted aspiration called purusharthasdharma, artha, kama, moksha. This is something that can only be known from scriptures. We cannot think these things independently.

Yah sastra-vidhim utsrjya vartate kama-karatah, na sa siddhim avapnoti: We will not attain perfection if we reject the scriptures completely, and try to work according to our own whim and fancy and predilections that change from moment to moment, according to the weakness of our rationality. Na sukham na param gatim: Such a person cannot be happy. A person who is totally independent in his behaviour, who cares not for the welfare of others, and who has no consideration for the injunctions of the great scriptures that are intended for the welfare of everybody, such a person will not reap success in this world, nor will it be possible for him to be happy in this world – na sa siddhim avapnoti na sukham na param gatim.

“Therefore, O Arjuna! Scripture is your final authority in matters of doubt.” The Manusmrti says that the Veda is the ultimate authority whenever we have any kind of dharma-sankata or doubt in regard to a decision of what is proper and improper in our life. But if it is difficult to find an answer in the Vedas for the little difficulties that we have got in our life, what should we do? We must go to Smritis such as the Manu Smriti, Yajnavalkya Smriti, Parasara Smriti, etc., which go into greater details about the difficulties of human nature, from a larger dimension than the Veda Samhitas. If we do not find a solution even there because these days there are some peculiar difficulties which Manu, Yajnavalkya and Parasara may not have thought of, what should we do? We should consider how great people, saints and sages, lived in this world. Like us, they must have also passed through tribulations and turmoils. We should look at the experiences of great saints and sages – Vaishnavas, Saivas, Saktas, or whoever they be – and see how they conducted themselves when they were confronted with problems of various kinds. That will be a solution for us. “Oh! What did that great saint do when he had this kind of difficulty? Oh! I see. I should behave like this.”

But suppose we have such a peculiar, fantastic difficulty whose solution cannot be found in the Vedas or in the Smritis, and even saints had not passed through that experience; we should go to our Guru. If we do not have a Guru, we should close our eyes and ask the Atman, “What is good for me?” If we are honest and sincere and repentant, the light within will tell us what is good for us. However, mainly a sastra is considered as a guide. See how illuminating the Bhagavadgita is! We like to read it again and again. We do not throw it away and say that we know everything. Nobody says that. What do we know? We cannot know anything which is not before our eyes; but realities are those which are invisible to the eye. The real is invisible; and the visible cannot be regarded as real.

Hence, a sastra is considered as a great pramana, an authority for us, in matters of doubt concerning what is proper and improper. Karyakarya-vyavasthitau jnatva sastra-vidanoktam (16.24): The authority is sastra. Karma kartumiharhasi: "Knowing that there is a great guide for you in the form of a scripture, a sastra, do what is proper, and engage yourself in right action." This is the conclusion of the Sixteenth Chapter, called the daiva asura sampad vibhaga yoga.

This word 'sastra' went into the mind of Arjuna so strongly that it raised a doubt in his mind, which led to his question in the beginning of the next chapter, the Seventeenth Chapter. Arjuna asks, "O Lord! Those who do not follow the injunctions of the scriptures but work with faith – what do You say about them?" Ye sastra-vidhim utsrjya yajante sraddhayanvitah, tesham nishtha tu ka krshna sattvam aho rajas tamah (17.1): "Are they sattvic or rajasic or tamasic? Under what category do they come? Those with intense faith and honesty who do something without consulting scriptures – do You consider them as sattvic people? Are they good people or bad people? What is your opinion?"

It is a very moot question is raised by Arjuna, to which Sri Krishna really gives a very devious answer. We have to read the meaning between the lines to make out what exactly is intended in this answer, because a direct answer to the question is not given. The consequence of a direct answer seems to be there in the verses that follow, and we have to draw our own conclusions as to what would be the direct answer by reading the verses which Sri Bhagavan speaks – sri bhagavan uvacha – that follow in answer to Arjuna's question.

Tri-vidha bhavati sraddha (17.2): "You said 'faith'. You asked about people who have faith but don't consult scriptures. Well, I shall tell you one thing. You said there are people with faith, but what kind of faith? There is sattvic faith, rajasic faith and tamasic faith. Therefore, we cannot unilaterally simply make a statement about those people who have faith. We have also to consider what kind of faith it is that they have." Sattviki rajasi chaiva tamasi cheti tam srunu: "You now listen to me. I shall tell you what is sattvic faith, what is rajasic faith, and what is tamasic faith."

"According to one's own nature, so does the faith arise in that person." Here a very direct answer is, to some extent, indicated. There is no use of saying, "I have a faith in this thing and, therefore, everything must be all right." It need not be all right even if we have faith in it, because our faith may be tamasic faith or rajasic faith. It may not necessarily be the voice of what is sometimes called inner conscience, which many people resort to and say, "My conscience says that and, therefore, I shall do it." The tiger also has a conscience, the snake has a conscience, the scorpion has a conscience, the cannibal has a conscience, and a saint has a conscience. Do we think all these consciences are the same? Hence, there is no use merely saying, "I have a conscience and I shall act according to it." Our conscience will work according to the characteristic of our nature. According to what kind of person we are, from that we can know what kind of faith we may develop and how our conscience works. Therefore, we should not simply say, "My conscience says." One may have a demoniacal conscience and, therefore, merely saying "my conscience works" is not enough. Thus, to say that faith is predominant and therefore scripture is not necessary is also not a proper way of looking at things, because it all depends upon what kind of faith we are referring to – whether sattvic, rajasic or tamasic. According to the character, the behaviour, the substance, and the very essence of a person, accordingly the sraddha, or the faith, is to be judged.

Sattvanurupa sarvasya sraddha bhavati bharata, sraddhamayo'yam purusho (17.3): A human being is nothing but a bundle of faiths. Reason does not operate always. Though we think we are reasoning people and highly intellectual, we are not actually working according to intellectuality and rationality in our daily life. If we carefully observe our behaviour, we will find that we act according to instinct only. We have certain instincts, predilections, whims and fancies, emotions, desires, and we try to justify all these instincts inside by a kind of round-about intellectual argument. Therefore, there is no point in saying that one is an intellectual philosopher, rational, etc. No one can be wholly rational, unconditioned by an instinct characteristic of the weakness of the human mind.

Sraddhamayo'yam purushah: So faith, of course, is embodied in a person. Whatever we do is according to our faith, not necessarily according to our considered reason. Yo yacchraddhah sa eva sah: As our faith is, so is our person. Whatever we do, whatever we speak, whatever we think, the manner in which we behave and the ideology that we hold aloft before us are some indication as to what kind of person we are, and are indications as to what kind of faith a person is entertaining – yo yacchraddhah sa eva sah.

Briefly, in only two verses, the answer to Arjuna comes like a bombshell. This set of two verses is very concentrated and one could write a monograph explaining the implications of every word that is used. Though the answer seems to be only in two verses, it is a complete answer, I should say, in this pregnant way of expression in these two verses.

Now the Lord goes into details of the manner in which sattvic, rajasic and tamasic faiths operate. Sattvic people adore the gods in heaven. Ganesha, Devi, Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Lord Siva, Vishnu, Narayana, Siva, Skanda are the gods whom they worship if their mind is sattvic. Nara Narayana, Vyasa, Vasishtha – these are their adored beings. Yajante sattvikah devan (17.4): Lofty transcendent realities are the objects of people who are sattvic in their nature.

Yaksha rakshamsi rajasah: Rajasic people worship demoniacal, lower spirits which are likely to bless them with immediate results and then possess them and keep them under subjection. Yakshas, rakshasas and demigods are the objects of worship of people who are entirely rajasic, because they cannot wait for the blessings of a god in heaven. They want immediate results to follow, so they go to lesser divinities. But the people with tamasic qualities worship actual demons – bhutas, pretas and spirits who hang in the air, working through Ouija boards and planchets, and suffering dead people, and speaking through people who make it their profession. Tamasa janah pretan bhutaganamscha yajante: This is the tamasic way of living, where the lower spirits are considered as objects of adoration. Bhutas and pretas are their objects of worship.
Asastra-vihitam ghoram tapyante ye tapo janah, dambhahamkara-samyuktah kama-raga-balanvitah (17.5).
Karshayantah sarira-stham bhuta-gramam achetasah, mam chaivantah sarira-stham tan viddhy asura-nischayan (17.6).

There are people who appear to be very religious, and practice austerities of an intensely painful nature for the purpose of showing to people that they are highly evolved individuals. These tortures in the name of religious austerities are not prescribed by the sastras or scriptures. They are terrific in their nature. Those people who adopt this kind of behaviour in the name of religion but are motivated by their inner vanity, egoism, desire for approbation from people, with an eye to the fruit or result that may follow from this kind of tapasya, completely deluded, torturing the inner soul – such people are to be considered as asura nischayat. They behave like rakshasas on account of the preponderance of an intensely rajasic nature with a touch of tamas.

Even the food that we eat is of three kinds. It can be classified into sattva, rajas and tamas. Aharas tvapi sarvasya tri-vidho bhavati priyah, yajnas tapas tatha danam tesham bhedam imam srunu (17.7): "There are three kinds of food – sattvic, rajasic and tamasic. There are three kinds of sacrifice – sattvic, rajasic and tamasic. There are three kinds of tapas, or austerity – sattvic, rajasic and tamasic. There are three kinds of charity, or philanthropy, which are also classifiable into sattvic, rajasic and tamasic. I shall tell you what these classified forms are."

That kind of food which energises the system, which contributes to the enhancement of life, which increases strength in the body, which ensures health, which is delighting to the taste and enjoyable at all times, which is full of delicacy and the heart opens up, as it were, when we eat such food – that food is sattvic. Ayuh sattva-balarogya-sukha-priti-vivardhanah, rasyah snigdhah sthira hrdya aharah sattvika-priyah (17.8): A sattvic diet is that which delights us by even thinking of it, delights us when we actually take it, and delights us even after we have taken it. An alcoholic drink may delight us in the beginning, but it will lead us to sorrow afterwards. But a sattvic diet will be delightful in the beginning, in the middle, as well as in the end.

A rajasic diet is irritating, biting, burning, and very harsh in its action on the system. It causes a burning sensation at the time of eating it, and it affects the tummy, and it may even create a stomach ulcer. These diets are very much desired by people who are rajasic in their nature. But tamasic people want another kind of food. They do not want freshly cooked food; they only want yesterday's food. "Today you have brought today's cooked food. No, I can't take it. I want yesterday's paledu." They call it paledu. They would rather have leftovers from yesterday than freshly cooked food. Yatayamam refers not to food cooked yesterday but to food that has been cooked some three or four hours earlier. That also is considered as a tamasic diet. Gatarasam is food whose taste has gone because it has been kept too long. Puti is food that is not pleasant to the taste and almost stinking. Paryushitam is paledu, food which was cooked yesterday. Ucchishtham is the leftovers from somebody's meal. That should not be eaten. Amedhyam is very impure food, kept in a dirty place, cooked by a dirty man in a dirty manner, with an impure mind, with emotions of unhappiness, tension, anger, and dislike. Food cooked by such persons should not be eaten. This is tamasic food.

Now, the Lord goes into details of sattvic sacrifices, rajasic sacrifices, tamasic sacrifices, and the threefold classification of every blessed item in this world – which we shall see later.