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(Chapter-wise Summary)



Three is an important number in Hindu philosophical system.  For example,

Attributes of a person or of an entity determine the nature of that person or entity according to their relative predominance.  Hence parameters like actions, behaviour, thoughts, faith, diet etc related to an individual may also be similarly classified according to the attributes.  In this chapter, faith classified into three types on this principle is discussed.


In the last i.e.  sixteenth chapter it was concluded that one’s behaviour, good or bad must be guided by what is laid down in the Shastras.  But on this, Arjuna got a few doubts of practical nature such as:

He asked why an individual couldn’t attain liberation without the Shastras? Because of factors like lack of facilities, non-availability of proper teacher or even because one is not endowed with intelligence due to past Karmas, it may not be possible for everyone to learn Shastras.  What would be the fate of such persons? And what would be the fate of those who (because of the lack of study) blindly follow persons learned in the Shastras and worship Shiva or other deities, donate land etc. in charity, perform yajnas etc.?

In this chapter Shri Krishna explains these points.  He explained as follows.


It may be very difficult to attain liberation by studying Shastras but it is not easy either to attain it only through faith.  The basically pure faith gets tainted because the power of  Maya causes the nature of the individual to be tainted by the three attributes.  The natural tendencies of an individual are moulded according to the relative predominance of the three attributes.  One’s natural tendencies mould the mind, actions follow the mind, and the individual takes rebirth according to the accumulated effect of actions i.e.  the karmas.  This is the chain of factors that affects a person from birth to birth.  Even when a creature is reborn countless number of times, no change occurs in the three attributes.  The faith, which has come to the lot of a creature, is therefore according to these attributes.

Increase in the  Sattva attribute leads to acquiring of Knowledge and Pure faith based on Sattva attribute fructifies into liberation, but other two attributes, Raja and Tama oppose it.  When Raja attribute overrides the Sattva attribute then the faith, now tainted by the Raja attribute,  causes the karmas to accumulate.  And when the Tama attribute becomes strong the faith breaks down, entangling the creatures in all sorts of sense-pleasures.  Thus, the faith cannot be separated from the three attributes  is qualified or tainted by them.  Therefore the faith is qualified by the three attributes Sattva, Raja and Tama.  This is just like water that becomes fatal if mixed with poison, pungent if mixed with pepper and sweet if mixed with sugarcane juice.
The creature that dies during the prevalence of the Tama attribute is reborn with a Tamasic faith i.e. faith tainted by the Tama attribute.  Thus the faith of a Tamasic creature is Tamasic.  Similarly the faith of a Rajas (i.e. one tainted by Raja attribute) creature is Rajas and a Sattvic creature Sattvic  (i.e. one tainted by Sattva attribute).

Therefore one must understand the effect of the three attributes on faith that affects the structure of the universe.  Just as one can recognise the nature of the past Karmas of a person from his condition in this life, similarly there are signs that can indicate the three different forms of faith.   Shri Krishna now describes these signs.


As mentioned earlier, there are three types of faith namely Sattvic, Rajas and Tamasic.

It is evident that it is the Sattvic faith that must be adopted and maintained while the Rajas and Tamasic faiths should be rejected.  Nurturing of the Sattvic faith facilitates the attainment of liberation.  A person may not be learned in subjects like Brahmasutras or the Vedas and he may even be a fool, but if he emulates the conduct of those who behave according to Dharma and live with Sattvic faith then he also gets same fruits as them.

Those who are averse to the study of Shastras and dislike them, those who tease their elders who perform daily worship by following the Shastras and and those who mock the learned during their discourses are no different from the atheists who become swollen by the pride of their high status and arrogant due to their wealth.  Instead of following the rituals prescribed in the Shastras, they perform yajnas in which they offer human blood to inferior deities and even sacrifice young children to fulfil their vows.  They seek boons from the same inferior deities for which they obstinately observe austerities like seven-day long fasts and perform many other rituals also.  What they propagate by such actions are the concepts of self-torture and torture of others that have made their home in their Tamasic heart but ultimately they reap the harvest accordingly.  They come under the sway of delusion and desires, and when these are not fulfilled they are overcome by anger and hurt others.  In this way they cause pain to themselves and others but actually it is I  (Bhagwan i.e. God), who am the Soul, that suffers the pains.  One should not even utter the name of such a sinner.  If any one happens to see such a person he must think of God, for there is no other atonement for it.  To avoid reaching such a low state one should always maintain Sattvic faith by keeping in touch with things that help to increase it.


Diet is the most effective means of moulding one’s nature. It is therefore essential to adopt a proper diet in order to develop Sattvic nature.    A person gets afflicted by wind, phlegm or biles (Tridosha or three defects viz.  Vata, Kapha and Pitta, in the body system as per Ayurveda) according to the food he eats.  Different chemicals are produced in the body accordingly to what one eats.  The feelings in the mind and its state depend upon these chemicals therefore a Sattvic diet makes the Sattvic quality grow.  Any other diet would lead to growth of the Rajas and Tamasic natures.

Actually, the same diet affects the eater in three different ways depending upon the attributes affecting the eater. The cook prepares food according to the taste of the eater but the eater is a slave to the three attributes.  He therefore behaves with three different types of  mental attitudes according to the relative predominance of the three attributes.  This makes the actions by a person like yajna, charity and austerity (tapas) also of three types.

What a Sattvic diet is and what the indications of Rajas and Tamasic diets are, is explained in the following.

Sattvic food

Sattvic food items are by nature juicy, sweet, very oily and properly cooked, with the liquid part in it well absorbed within by the heat of the fire.  They are not big in size and are soft to touch.  They feel tasty and melt on the tongue.  One feels satiated by eating even a little quantity of such food.  Its effects are also sweet.  A Sattvic person has a special liking for such food.

Such a Sattvic diet is the most appropriate diet for increasing the Sattva attribute.  It increases the life-force of the eater and increases his physical and mental strength; hence disease cannot enter there.  Eater of Sattvic food enjoys the fortune of good health.  His actions bring happiness not only to himself but also to others.  Thus, the effect of the Sattvic diet is great and is useful to the body from inside and outside.

Rajas food

A Rajas person loves food with strong tastes even if it may not be digestible.  He likes food that tastes bitter like poison, burning like lime but sour, with large quantities of salt and salty materials added to it.  He takes pleasure in eating hard food that needs grinding the teeth.  He likes dry and hot food, hot enough to burn the tongue. Salad, already hot and pungent with mustard added on top and causing the mouth and nose to burn, is what a Rajas person likes more than his life.  After eating cloves and ginger he rolls on ground in pain and to reduce it he drinks pots of water.  A Rajas person surrenders himself madly to the taste buds.  What he eats is not really food but something that will awaken the diseases in the body.  Thus, the Rajas type of food leads only to sorrow.

Tamasic food

The food a Tamasic person likes is disgusting.  A Tamasic person does not at all like well-cooked and fresh food.  Instead, he prefers food that is half cooked or burnt.  He prefers stale, leftover and rotten food and does not realise that it will be harmful to him.  What is cooked in the morning he eats in the afternoon or the next day.  If perchance an occasion comes for him to eat good food, instead of eating it immediately he keeps it aside like a tiger keeps his prey until it starts smelling.

When eating with his family, instead of eating in individual dishes, he eats in a common dish the tasteless food which, by having been kept for a long time, has become dry or rotten, infested with worms and turned into slime by having been handled by children.  He feels happy with such dirty food.

In short he desires strongly those things that have been prohibited by the Shastras. The result is that he is immediately penalised for it, because consuming such desecrated food makes him liable for sin.  For, what he eats is not food but an affliction that fills the stomach.  He undergoes a lot of suffering but he bears it all.  One need not tell about the effects of Tamasic food any further.


Yajnas are also of three types viz.  Sattvic, Rajas and Tamasic.  .

Sattvic yajna

Sattvic yajna is performed using all the inner tendencies in order to gain spiritual benefits without bothering about selfish material gains.  One who performs a Sattvic yajna does so with the body and mind completely dedicated to the yajna rituals without any personal desires or expectations.  He is completely detached about everything except for the desire to behave as per Swadharma.  He performs the yajna systematically in all its aspects, e.g. arranging the Kunda (fire-pit), pandal, platform etc., exactly as prescribed in the Shastras.  The yajna thus performed without any desire for self-importance or for fruits should be considered as Sattvic yajna.

Rajas yajna

Rajas yajna is also performed in the same systematic manner as the Sattvic, but purely with the intention of benefits like attaining heaven after death, getting honoured in public as an initiated person etc.

Tamasic yajna

Tamasic yajna is performed out of compulsion.  It is not bound by any rules.  The Tamasic person performing the yajna is without faith. He is not bothered about ritualistic rules and not even about proper mantras.  He is inimical to Brahmins so there is no thought of honorarium (dakshina) to them.  Though a lot of money is wasted, even a fly does not get any food there.  A Tamasic yajna only superficially looks like one.


Tapas (austerity) also is of three types according to the three attributes.  One of them leads to emancipation and others lead to sin.  But it is necessary to understand first what tapas is before coming to the discussion of how it can be of three types.  Depending upon how the body is used to perform it the tapas may be classified as corporal, vocal or mental.

Corporal Tapas

The person who does corporal tapas strains his body in various ways to perform the worship rituals and for serving God.

He uses his feet for pilgrimage, his hands for decorating the temple etc.  and bringing materials for worship and prostrates his whole body before Shivalinga or an idol of Vishnu and serves learned, humble Brahmins.  He is always ready for providing succour to people in distress or those tired by travel.  He serves his parents and Guru.  Fired by Swadharma, he practises yoga to remove the impurity of ego.  He makes obeisance to all creatures realising that the same Soul exists in all of them.  For the same reason he does not tread on even a blade of grass and does not break anything.  He is in control of his desire for sex.

When the affairs of the body are thus purified, the corporal tapas may be considered as having reached perfection.

Vocal tapas

The speech of a person who performs vocal tapas is straightforward and pleases the listener without hurting him.  He speaks to one but it is beneficial to all.  His words make one shed bad thoughts and lead to realisation of the Self.

Actually, he does not waste his time and energy in speaking to others.  He speaks only when somebody asks him something otherwise he keeps himself busy studying Vedas or in repeating the name of God.  Name of Shiva, Vishnu or some other deity is always on his tongue.  This should be understood as the vocal tapas.

Mental tapas

The mind of a person doing mental tapas is engrossed in the Self.  He sees the Self as light without heat or space without vacuum.  He has no doubts of any kind and having lost its fickleness one may say that his mind does not exist any more.  In this state he becomes detached easily  and is free of greed and fear and endowed with the realisation of the Self.  Having attained Self-realisation, his mind loses its mind-ness.  It is free of feelings as well as tendencies towards sense pleasures.  When the mind reaches this state it is fit to be called mental tapas.

Thus, these are the three kinds of tapas divided according to the aspects of body, speech and mind.  Now, the three types of tapas classified according to the three attributes will be discussed.


Sattvic Tapas

When the above three types of tapas are performed with total faith and without keeping any desire for the fruits from them, that tapas is called Sattvic tapas.

Rajas Tapas

When a person intends to reach the pinnacle of greatness, desiring that only he himself and nobody else gets the praise, respect and honours, that all important pleasures should be only his, and makes a show of his tapas for increasing self-importance, that tapas is called Rajas tapas.  But the tapas done for earning fame becomes infructuous and when he sees it is so, he abandons it halfway.  Therefore such tapas does not have stability.  Thus, the Rajas tapas not only is unproductive bit remains incomplete too.

Tamasic Tapas:

With Tamasic type of tapas one gains neither heaven nor fame.  Foolish people perform such tapas by torturing their body.  They burn their body by inciting the five fires within.  Some burn myrrh on their head, some pierce themselves with hooks on their backs, some light fire around them and cause burns on their body, some perform fast at the same time holding their breath, some hang themselves upside down in smoke, some people stand immersed neck-deep in ice-cold river water on rocky floor and some cut off pieces of flesh from own body.  The tapas thus performed by torturing the body and with the intention of destroying others is called Tamasic tapas.


Charity also gets classified into three types according to the three attributes.

Sattvic charity

Donating respectfully to the needy wealth earned through righteous behaviour is Sattvic charity.  Seed, even when it is of the right quality cannot sprout without proper soil and water.  Similar is the case with charity.  Charity becomes Sattvic when Sattva attribute is coincident with favourable place, time, a right beneficiary and wealth.

Therefore, one should make efforts to choose a holy place for the act of charity.  Charity done at an auspicious time, such as when a solar or lunar eclipse occurs, is considered as beneficial.  Also, the receiving  person should be worthy of the charity.  He should be a learned Brahmin of high moral character.  Thus, choosing the proper place and time, the worthy person should be donated land etc.  with desireless attitude i.e.  without expecting anything in return for it.  And there should be no feeling of differentiation that  “I am the giver and he is the receiver.”  The charity that fulfils all these conditions is the Sattvic charity, faultless, just and the best among charities.

Rajas charity

The charity made with the intention of future returns from it is of Rajas type.  It is made with the desire of pleasures of the after-world and of  so little an amount that it will not even suffice for a single meal and that too with a feeling that one has been totally robbed.

Tamasic charity

Tamasic charity is improper charity.  Some people go in the evenings or at night to various public places or to jungles or where foreigners live to give away wealth generously but it is stolen wealth.  That too they give to jugglers, prostitutes, gamblers or witches having become attracted to them.  They visit dancers, join others in showering on them false praises of their dancing skills and falling under the spell of their beauty, the fragrance of flowers and scents used by them, they give away in charity what they have looted from others.  This type of charity is Tamasic charity.

A Tamasic person, when he visits a holy place, does not show proper respect even to a worthy person.  Because of his swollen pride he may feel like offering him a few coins in charity but that too given without respect, without offering him a seat or water and sometimes even with insults.  The charity in which only money is utilised is called Tamasic charity.

Adopt only Sattva attribute

In view of the above, in order to achieve Self-realisation, one should shun the Raja and Tama attributes and adopt only Sattva attribute while doing one’s righteous duties.  Though Sattva attribute has the power to bring success, what really gives liberation is a different thing altogether.  With its help alone can one enter the realm of liberation.


The ultimate supreme principle that we call by the name “Brahman” is also known by the three syllable name AUM TAT SAT.  This name is a mantra created by the Vedas.  It is by the power of this mantra that Brahmadeo could create the universe after he repeatedly recited it.  The characteristics of the mantra are as follows.

Aum is its first syllable,  Tat the second and Sat the third.  Thus, AUM TAT SAT is the threefold name of the Brahman.  A person becoming one with this name and adopting Sattvic behaviour gets liberated.
This name should be deployed properly as prescribed in the Shastras while doing good actions otherwise those actions are wasted.  The three syllables AUM, TAT and  SAT should be deployed in the beginning, in the middle and at the end of a ritual (or an action) respectively as explained below.

Deployment of Aum

Proper use of the syllable Aum by Self-realised persons leads to attainment of Brahman.  Learned people concentrate their minds on the syllable Aum while performing yajnas and other rituals and utter it in the beginning pronouncing it clearly.  They perform yajnas through the hands of Brahmins in order to propitiate benevolent deities, offering them a lot of materials earned in ways prescribed by Dharma.  By performing various types of yajnas they give up undesirable worldly attachments.  They give away land and wealth in charity to holy Brahmins choosing proper time and place.  They drain their body by fasting or by observing penance (tapas).  The rituals like yajna, charity and tapas are known to be binding  (non-liberating) but the same rituals, when performed after pronouncing the syllable Aum in their beginning, facilitate the attainment of liberation.

Deployment of Tat:

The syllable Tat is used when it is seen that the actions are taking fruits.  The Supreme Brahman, which is the root cause of the universe and witnesses everything by itself is also known as Tat.  Keeping this in mind it is to be pronounced clearly.  The Self-realised persons, by offering the actions to the Brahman in the form of Tat but disclaiming that they are the doers,  become disentangled from the web of their Karmas.

Deployment of Sat

Now, it may appear that the action which started with Aum and executed by Tat has reached Brahman, but that is not quite correct because duality still remains within the doer of the action. To assume that the action has reached Brahman itself is duality between himself and the Brahman.  The word Sat has been reserved so that this duality goes and Self-realisation is achieved,.  When the action performed by uttering Aum and Tat reaches Brahman it is an appropriate action and ready for deployment of the syllable Sat.

This word Sat destroys the untruth and makes the true nature of Brahman appear clearly.  The Sat principle is realised in the form of the Self but this visible universe, because it is is unreal, is not a part of the Sat  principle.  Sat  makes a righteous action take the form of the Supreme Brahman and removes the duality between it and the doer.  The action which becomes apparent due to Aum and Tat, dissolves into the form of Sat i.e. the Brahman. This should be understood to be the internal deployment of the word Sat.

The word Sat is useful to Sattvic actions in another way.  An action, even though basically good, may sometimes have some shortcoming e.g.  it may lack some quality that turns it into an evil action.  At such a time, Sat with the help of Aum and Tat elevates its status.  With the strength of its Sattvic attribute it removes its evilness and raises it to the status of a good action.

An action may sometimes take a forbidden path due to some error.  If inadvertently  the limits are crossed then the action becomes an evil one.  But if the word Sat is used in preference to the other two (Aum and Tat), it turns that evil action into a good one.  When the word Sat is uttered by understanding its essence then it will be realised that it is nothing but the Brahman.

The letters lead a seeker to the Brahman, the creator of the material world.  Aum-Tat-Sat is the name which indicates the inner aspects of the pure and attributeless Brahman and it is also supported by it.  Its utterance leads to attainment of the Brahman, therefore it is not just a name but the very Brahman itself.

Whatever actions one does, be it a yajna, charity or tapas, whether they be complete or incomplete, if they are given in offering to the Brahman then they take the form of the Brahman and they can no longer be qualified as complete or incomplete.  If faith in Aum-tat-sat grows then it liberates one from the birth and death cycles.

But if one leaves this path then even if millions of yajnas are performed with tenacity,  even if the entire earth filled with precious stones is given in charity and even if tapas is performed by standing on one toe for thousands of years, all those efforts are a waste.  By such actions one does not get happiness in this world then why expect that one would get it in the next?  Therefore, whatever actions one does without keeping faith in the name of the Brahman is nothing but a tiresome exercise.




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Dr V. V. shirvaikar,                                     email: vshirvaikar@yahoo.com
A-23 Yashodhan Soc.
Chintamaninagar 2,
Pune 411037, INDIA

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