Go to the bottom of this page.
TEACHINGS OF DNYANESHWARI
CHAPTER 14 - THE THREE ATTRIBUTES
QUESTION ABOUT HOW SOUL EXPERIENCES PAIN ETC.
In the thirteenth chapter Shri Krishna told Arjuna that the universe is created through the union of the Field and the Knower of the Field (i.e. Prakriti and Purusha), and by association with the three attributes the soul becomes involved in the worldly affairs. The soul, when it comes in the grips of Prakriti experiences pleasure and pain but if it gets rid of the three attributes then it becomes liberated. In this chapter Shri
Krishna elaborates on the following topics:
- How does the non-attached soul get attached to Prakriti?
- What is the meaning of the union of the soul and Prakriti (Knower of the field and the Field)?
- How does the soul experience pleasure and pain?
- What are these attributes and how many are they?
- How can these attributes be wound up?
MEANING OF PARA.
- What are the characteristics of a person who is beyond the attributes?
Shri Krishna decides to explain to Arjuna again what Knowledge is because he realises that Arjuna has not yet experienced it in spite of his having explained it in many different ways. He starts with explaining again the meaning of the word Para.
Para the supreme knowledge
Except for the Knowledge of the Self, the scope of all other branches of Knowledge does not extend beyond this world and heaven. Only the Knowledge of the Self goes beyond that and therefore it is called Para.. It is the best knowledge that stands high above any other type of knowledge. It brings liberation within our reach. Worldly thoughts do not enter the mind anymore once it is experienced. Men of knowledge control their mind with the help of the mind itself, become relaxed and attain peace. They then ignore the bodily affairs and cross the bounds of the body to become one with the Supreme, attaining all its qualities viz. perfection, being eternal, infinite, blissful and the ultimate truth. There is no more thoughts of duality like "you" and "I" and everybody exists at the same level. These persons are not reborn even when the entire universe gets reborn (after dissolution).
HOW THREE ATTRIBUTES TRAP THE SOUL
Now Shri Krishna explains how the three attributes entangle the Supreme Soul or Purusha in the traps of different bodies and how the Purusha creates this universe with the help of Prakriti.
Prakriti is called the Field because it gives rise to the harvest of living creatures from the seed by the union with Purusha. Since it is the place where Mahat and other principles reside, it is also called Mahatbrahma (Universe of Mahat, Ahankara etc.).
It is the name given by the Sankhya philosophy. Others know it by different names, e.g. people who believe that the universe is not expressible call it "Unmanifest". Vedantis call it Maya. But by whatever name one calls it, it is the same as Ignorance.
Ignorance is the very entity due to which we forget our real Self. It vanishes once we start thinking about the nature of our Self.
Sometimes a person cannot make up his mind about whether what he is seeing is a pole or a man but he knows he is seeing something; similarly he is not sure whether what he realises is Soul (Brahman) or not. Just as at the time of twilight in the evening it is neither day nor night, similarly, Ignorance is neither true knowledge and nor contrary knowledge but the middle stage of doubt about the Soul.
The Knower of the Field is really the Soul entangled in Ignorance (i.e. the inividual). Forgetting the real Self and increasing the ignorance is the characteristic of the Knower of the Field. Understand properly that this is the yoga or union of the Field and Knower of the Field. This union is the basic nature of the Self. Thus, by union with the Field the Knower of the Field or individual forgets its original form due to ignorance and takes different forms.
[NOTE: It was stated earlier that the Knower of the Field was Bhagwan, or Purusha or the Soul. But a further qualification is added here that the Knower of the Field is the Soul entangled in Ignorance and is the same as the individual. This individual does not mean the body of a person but the soul residing in the body and has attributes].
What is world
Whatever is not the Soul or the Self is called the world and that world is created out of Purusha. The world is like a scene from a dream. The same principle may be explained in another way.
Outcome of Ignorance
The beginningless Prakriti has indescribable qualities. She does not possess a specific form and her expanse is very large. Ignorant persons consider her to be the only truth while men of Knowledge ignore her. As a result of her union with the Self she gives birth to eight aspects (viz. the Mahat principle, ego, mind and the five principles or elements].
From the union of the Self and the Prakriti the intellect is born first. Then mind is born from the intellect. Mind, in union with affection, gives rise to ego. From ego are born the five principles. The sense-objects and the sense organs being naturally parts of the five principles are also created along with them. When passions develop the three attributes also raise their head and start spreading through the seed of desires.
Just as a seed coming in contact with water sprouts and becomes a tree similarly, as soon as Maya becomes united with Purusha, the the universe with diverse forms, names and aspects is conceived. From it are formed the four types of creatures namely, oviparous i.e. those born through eggs, those from sweat e.g. lice etc., through seeds i.e. plants and through uterus (i.e. mammals).
- Oviparous creatures come from foetuses that have more of the sky and wind principles.
- Foetus possessing Tama and Raja attributes and with more of the water and fire principle is the foetus that creates life through sweat.
- Foetus that is having the inferior Tama attribute and more of the water and earth principle is the non-moving foetus born of seed.
Thus Maya (i.e. Prakriti) gave birth to a system of universe encompassing the three worlds and having
- The foetus which is aided by the five sense organs and five organs of action and with further support from mind and intellect is the uterine foetus.
This is the description of the living and non-living universe that exists during Brahmadeo’s daytime and is annihilated during his night. It is created when Brahmadeo wakes up in the morning, sustained by Vishnu during his day and when night is about to fall, Shiva destroys it, to be created again next morning. With the universe is born the ignorance of the Self which is aspect of Prakriti, other aspects being the will and the ego. Since Maya gives birth to this universe by union with Purusha, figuratively Purusha is the father, Maya is the mother and this huge world is their child.
- the four types of creatures described above, with 8.4 million species
- the eight-fold Prakriti ,
- the eight species of the deities,
- the blissful heaven,
- the mortal world and
One sees diverse kinds of creatures in the universe. They have all come from the same seed namely Purusha. Though outwardly they appear different, the mind, intellect etc. are the same among them and therefore the outward differences should be ignored. The relation between Purusha and the universe is similar to a tree which, though grown out of a single seed has different types of branches, some short, some long and some bent. That is, in spite of the differences it is not correct to say that the universe and Purusha are mutually related, because Purusha has taken the form of the universe and is the universe.
Purusha shows different forms in different bodies because he is bound in them by different attributes. This binding however goes after Self-realisation and the person experiences non-duality.
[NOTE: This point was already made in Ch 13. See the paragraph entitled Interaction of the Field and the Knower].
Now Shri Krishna explains about what the attributes are, how they came into existence, their nature and properties and the type of bindings to which each attribute leads.
THE THREE ATTRIBUTES
The three attributes viz. Sattva, Raja and Tama arise from Prakriti. Out of these, the Sattva attribute is the best, Raja attribute is medium and the Tama attribute is inferior. All three attributes may be seen in the same nature. The nature that develops when ignorance is embraced gets not only the Sattva and Raja attributes but the Tama attribute as well.
This is how these attributes bind a person. At the time of birth of a soul as an individual he develops the I-am-the-body attitude and gets in the clutches of the attributes. From birth until death he imagines the functions of the body to be his own.
The Sattva attribute traps the individual through pleasure and learning. A learned individual roars due to vanity and kicks around due to conceit and misses the bliss of Self-realisation. He feels elated when people honour him for his learning. Even small gains make him feel happy and he goes around bragging that very little satisfies him. He says how fortunate he is to have none as happy as himself. He is flooded with the eight righteous Sattva-attributed emotions. As if this is not enough, another trap, the pride of his being learned, trails him. He does not feel sorry that he has lost the realisation of his being the Soul. On the contrary he swells with the pride of his worldly knowledge.
The soul in the body, because of the worldly outward knowledge considers himself as the body. He knows the art of handling worldly affairs and becomes expert in the rituals of yajnas. His knowledge may be good enough to take him to heaven but not towards liberation. But he thinks that there is none as knowledgeable as himself and that he alone is clever. In this way the Sattva attribute pulls this lame individual like a bull with the reins of pleasure and learning.
The Raja attribute binds the individual in the following manner. It always keeps him amused. Even a slight touch of Raja attribute keeps an individual infatuated with passions and lust. His desire becomes so wild that even painful things appear to him as pleasure giving. No amount of wealth can satisfy him. His desire to acquire more wealth is so strong that he is prepared to give even his life for it. To prevent his wealth being squandered he starts big industries. He performs yajnas and makes vows and fulfils them with the aim of reaching and surviving in heaven. He builds wells and lakes for the public. If he does any penance it is only to get his desires fulfilled. He thus keeps himself busy day and night in such activities.
A person with Raja attribute is fickle minded. He is impatient to finish any work quickly and gets deeply involved in it. This is how the Raja attribute strongly binds the individual soul occupying the body.
Tama attribute creates delusion to veil the practical view of a person. It makes the whole world dance with delusion. Ignorance makes it grow. Persons of Tama attribute are thoughtless and ignorant. They consider the body itself to be the Soul. Once Tama attribute starts growing in the living and non-living world it does not leave scope for anything else.
Other characteristics of a person of Tama attribute are: heaviness of all organs, dull mind, laziness and desire to spend time in yawning and sleep; once he lies down and sleeps he does not even turn over. If he sits, he tends to stay like that without moving. And he sits in the hopeless pose either with his hands on the forehead or his head between his knees.
He does not like any kind of work and if he is forced into it he becomes blind with anger. He does not know proper behaviour or what is good for him. He goes out to do things that should not be done. He tends to make mistakes. Thus the Tama attribute binds the free individual (soul) with the three tentacles of sleep, lethargy and mistakes.
EFFECT OF PREDOMINANCE
Though the individual is caught in the tentacles of the three attributes (as outlined above), yet he thinks that the characteristics of those attributes are actually his own characteristics.
When Sattva attribute grows more than the Raja and Tama, the individual thinks he is happy. When Sattva and Raja attributes wane and the strength of Tama increases, the individual is easily prone to committing mistakes. Similarly when Raja predominates over Sattva and Tama that individual thinks that there is nothing better than action.
Predominance of Sattva
The signs which are apparent when the Sattva attribute predominates over the Raja and Tama are as follows.
He is full of knowledge and this can be noted from his external appearance itself. All his organs are able to discriminate and even limbs are able to see. The organs themselves discern what is good or bad and are in control. The ears do not hear what should not be heard, eyes do not see what should not be seen and his tongue avoids speaking what should not be spoken. Thought of doing prohibited actions does not enter his mind. His intellect becomes active in all branches of knowledge and Knowledge pervades his mind.
His desires vanish, tendency towards actions reduces and he feels disgust for sense- pleasures. Such a person remains happy in this world as well as the next. After death he is reborn among men of Knowledge. He takes rebirth in the highest class of family of those who are not affected by the three attributes, three stages of life (Childhood, youth and old age), three types of body (the material, causal and subtle) and easily attain the fourth, that is, the Self.
With the Sattva in predominance, knowledge grows and with it the intellect also grows. Then, contemplating on Prakriti and the principles like Mahat etc. created by it, he reaches the state of Self-realisation. This principle of the Self may be called the thirty-seventh principle beyond the thirty-six principles proposed by the Vedantis or the twenty-fifth principle beyond the twenty-four principles of the Sankhya philosophy (cf. Ch 13).
[NOTE: Four paragraphs earlier, it was mentioned how persons with Sattva attribute get trapped by pride of learning, vanity etc. That was merely an aspect of behaviour attributable to the Sattva attribute when it is not predominating and other attributes are also present. What is told in the above paragraph pertains to the condition when the Sattva attribute predominates over the other two].
Predominance of Raja
When Raja attribute predominates over the Sattva and Tama attributes, it plays havoc in the body and the following signs become apparent.
The person indulges freely in sense-pleasures. He is not bothered about morals regarding sex. He becomes so greedy that he does not hesitate to snatch other peoples’ property. He does not hesitate to do any kind of work, moral or immoral.
He does undertake tasks like building a temple or performing an Ashwamedh (Horse sacrifice) yajna or even establishing towns, building lakes or develop large forests. But he remains unsatisfied. His desires grow tremendously.
His hopes and ambitions extend far and wide. To fulfil them he does not mind if he has to roam over the whole world. He belongs to the class of persons who do not have any rest during the day or night from the worldly business.
When such person with predominating Raja attribute dies, he is reborn as a human being in another body having the same characteristics or in the family of ritualistic persons.
Predominance of Tama
When the Tama attribute predominates over the Sattva and Raja, the following signs may be seen.
His mind is full of darkness of ignorance. He has a dull intellect, cannot think properly and has a poor memory. His behaviour is thoughtless, arrogant and foolish. He has the tendency to do prohibited, bad deeds and it lasts until his death. He talks incoherently like a drunkard or a madman. His ecstasy is not the same as the samadhi of meditation but because he is infatuated by something.
Such a person when he dies is reborn with the Tama attribute. He is reborn in lower species such as an animal or a bird or a tree or a worm.
FRUITS OF THE THREE ATTRIBUTES
- Sattva attribute is the causal agent for Knowledge. A person of Sattva attribute gains the fruits of righteous deeds. These are the natural happiness and Knowledge.
- The Raja attribute is the cause for greed. Fruits from Raja attribute may appear to be sweet from outside but in effect they are bitter.
Those with the Sattva attribute live in heaven after death. Those with the Raja attribute are reborn on earth as human beings after death. Those with the Tama attribute are allotted hell after death.
- The Tama attribute is the one responsible for the three defects namely delusion, ignorance and mistakes. Fruits of Tama attribute cannot be anything other than ignorance.
Thus, the Raja and the Tama cause one's downfall while one does not attain Knowledge without the Sattva attribute. Therefore a seeker should live throughout his life with the Sattva attribute.
HOW TO ACHIEVE LIBERATION
The immutable Soul, though its own form does not change, is subject to the workings of the attributes. Therefore, what we see beyond the workings of the attributes is only the form of the Self. These three attributes (being created by Prakriti) appear in the individual body by the strength of the Soul. These three attributes become the body inclusive of the mind, therefore they become the cause of the binding. It is really a miracle that such a complex intertwining of the attributes with the body does not hinder the path of liberation. These three attributes make the body move towards progress or regress according to their nature but that does not hinder anyone from going beyond them to attain liberation.
Effect of Self-realisation
It was told earlier (Chapter 13 Shloka 23 of Bhagvadgita) that Consciousness (or Purusha), though in the clutches of the attributes, does not become like them. The individual realises this once he gets Self-realisation. They no longer affect him because he is now beyond them. The individual then becomes merely a witness to their workings. He then realises that "I am the Brahman" and with this attitude says,
“I am not the doer but only a witness to the action and it is the attributes that control the actions”.
All actions occur through the differences in the nature of the three attributes Sattva, Raja and Tama, therefore they are the afflictions of the attributes. But actually it is Purusha who is the ultimate power behind the attributes and the actions that they control. But throughout this, Purusha remains the non-doer in the body. It is he who causes the attributes to be apparent and nurtures their characteristics. And what remains when they are destroyed is also Purusha. In this way the individual in whom Knowledge has arisen is obviously beyond the attributes even while he is in the body. The three attributes may play with their full strength in his body but he does not let his ego look at them. He is so steady inside that he is not aware of the affairs of his body. Therefore the six qualities like birth, old age, death etc. which are associated with the body are absent in a man of Knowledge.
GOING BEYOND ATTRIBUTES
Even a man of Knowledge has to move about in the world in which the play of the three attributes is ever present. A man of knowledge, when compelled to perform actions under the influence of the Raja attribute, does not carry any egoistic thought that he is the doer nor does he feel sorry if he is not able to perform them. When the Sattva attribute predominates, even his appearance shows that he is a man of Knowledge but he does not become euphoric about it. And when the Tama attribute predominates, even then he is not engulfed in delusion nor is he ashamed of ignorance. If he moves under the spell of delusion he does not aspire for Knowledge. Similarly he does not avoid actions when he achieves Knowledge. Thus, his attitude is not affected by the attributes. Actually, he himself is the attributes as well as their tasks.
Such a person remains in the body like a traveller temporarily occupying a rest-house. His actions are not due to the influence of the attributes. It is not that he has conquered the attributes but that he is indifferent to them. He is only a witness to their play. When the Sattva tendency makes one bend towards righteous deeds, the Raja tendency towards the enjoyment of pleasures and the Tama tendency towards delusion, he considers that all these actions take place by the power of the attributes. A person beyond the attributes may thus be recognised by these qualities.
Once he attains Brahman, he sees only Brahman in all the living and non-living things. Therefore his mind remains balanced whether happiness falls to his lot or sorrow. He no longer possesses the I-am-the-body attitude. He does not get angered by slander nor pleased by praise. Nothing disturbs his equanimity. Whether people consider him to be a god and worship him or consider him to be a thief and beat him, it is all the same to him.
There is no feeling of inequality in his mind. Another quality he possesses is that he does not do any kind of transactions. He does not commence any work and he no longer has a consistent tendency for actions. The fruits of his actions burn away in the fire of his Knowledge. He whose behaviour is thus developed should be considered as a person beyond the attributes.
I AM NOT SEPARATE FROM UNIVERSE
Shri Krishna speaking in the role of Bhagwan (God) says,
“He who is unwaveringly devoted to me can get rid of these attributes. Therefore I must explain to you as to who I am, how to be devoted to Me and what the signs of dedication are.
Understand that the thing that is called universe is all Me (which is the same as the Brahman). People may think that they will merge into Brahman once the awareness of the universe is dissolved. But that attitude is not correct. On the contrary, I must be realised along with the universe. Realising Me with this attitude of oneness is actually the unadulterated devotion. If one imagines a difference between Me and the universe then it is adulterated devotion. Since I am not different from universe, in effect I am in Me. Devotion is really an attitude of equality that one is not different from God. This outlook is the best form of Knowledge and the essence of yoga. Because of it the attitude that "I am Brahman" comes to the surface. When the difference vanishes the knowledge also vanishes. The illusion that the devotee is on this shore and I am across, disappears and what remains is only the oneness between the two. Then the question of conquering the attributes does not remain because with the entwinement of oneness they also disappear.
This state is called the state of oneness with the Brahman. He who is devoted to Me attains it.
He who serves Me with the outlook of knowledge is the crown jewel of the oneness with the Brahman. Attaining this state of oneness is the liberation while still in the body or the fourth achievement (i.e. Moksha or liberation). Devotion to Me is the ladder for reaching this oneness with the Brahman. But if you are thinking that the means of attaining Me is different from Me, that is not so.
Brahman is only My name and I am mentioned by that name. There is no difference between the Brahman and Me. That Brahman is the incomparable entity which is constant, steady, open, having the form of the code of living (Dharma) and which gives infinite bliss. I am the Ultimate Form and the place where Knowledge, after its task is over, dissolves.
[NOTE: The statement I must be realised along with the universe above apparently means that Self-realisation must be achieved while in body on this earth and while following one of the four paths, always remembering that God is everywhere and in everything in the universe and not only that God is the universe (but not vice versa).
CH: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8 / 9 / 10 / 11 / 12 / 13 / 14 / 15 / 16 / 17 / 18
All rights with
Dr V. V. shirvaikar, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
A-23 Yashodhan Soc.
Pune 411037, INDIA
Return to the top of this page.