Srimad Bhagavad-gita Study Group
- Chapter 14 -
The Three Divisions of Material Nature
The Devotees of the Lord attain the highest stage in the realm of devotion when they take recourse in the prime essence of all knowledge. The mundane Prakriti known as the great Brahman is the womb in which the Supreme Lord impregnates the seed of all that be and is therefore the cause of all living and moving beings. The Lord then explains the nature of the triple qualities of Maya and their actions on the fallen souls (baddha-jiva). These qualities prove to be bondage to the jiva until (s)he transcends them through embracing the ultimate divine knowledge and worshipping the Lord with Love. The Lord expounds the characteristics of those who are free from the triple modes of nature as being above mundane love and hatred, pleasure and pain, praise and blame and sees earth, stone and gold equally. They are fixed in devotion and worship the Lord with pure Love and are alone fit to know the nature of Reality the Beautiful. Lord Krishna concludes by stating that He is the mainstay of Brahman, the sole receptacle of everlasting immortality, eternal divine Love and bliss in His super-excellent sports in His sweet abode of ecstasy.
Useful Acronym to remember the chapter contents:
In Chapter Fourteen, Krishna introduces a very interesting model known as the “three modes of material nature”. These three qualities permeate everything we see, hear, taste, touch, and smell. Our lifestyle, attitude and behaviours also fall under these modes. Through closer analysis, we can perceive how people are functioning in this world with a mistaken belief of freedom, when in actuality they are impelled to act according to these influences. Therefore, unless one is able to transcend these modes of nature, they act to perpetually trap one in this material world.
T Three Modes
R Race for prominence
A Actions in the modes
P Pure Life
T – Three Modes (Verses 1-9) – “Mode” is a translation of the Sanskrit word guna, which literally means thread or rope. The three modes influence a person’s character, behaviour and approach to life. For example, if Goodness (sattva) predominates, one will aspire for (and generally achieve) long-term happiness even if one experiences temporary inconveniences. The person overtaken by Passion (rajas) frantically seeks immediate short-term gain and doesn’t expect much more out of life. On the other hand, the person dominated by Ignorance (tamas) rarely achieves happiness at all. In this way the material world is populated by living entities in different conditions of life.
R – Race for prominence (Verses 10-13) - The modes compete with one another for supremacy within an individual. In the cycle of a single day, different modes may achieve prominence at different times. In general, Goodness clarifies and pacifies the individual since it motivates joy, wisdom, altruism and kindness. Passion is said to confuse and provoke the individual, invoking qualities of greed, anger and frustration. Ignorance is said to obscure and impede one’s life, often resulting in over-sleep, indifference, laziness and inertia.
A – Actions in the modes (Verses 14-18) – Reincarnation is the process by which a soul receives a new material body on the basis of activities performed in the present body. Our activities are a result of the decisions we make, and our decisions are ultimately based on the modes which we are being influenced by. Thus, Krishna predicts the future destination of an individual based on the predominant mode in their life. In short, those situated in Goodness go upward to the higher planes; those in Passion live on the earthly plane; and those in Ignorance go down to the hellish planes.
P – Pure Life (Verses 19-27) - Through these various descriptions we can approximate what combination of the modes we are personally affected by. The chapter concludes by explaining the ideal state that ensures a successful human life and after-life. Although Goodness is said to be the most progressive of the three, it still implicates one in the cycle of karma. To become completely free of karmic reactions one must transcend even the mode of Goodness, and become situated on the spiritual platform. This is only possible by engaging in bhakti-yoga with unflinching determination, taking inspiration and support from those who have already transcended the three modes. Krishna explains the character of such perfected transcendentalists who enjoy nectar even in this life.
Questions on Chapter 14
Chapter 14 sloka to learn:
brahmaṇo hi pratiṣṭhāham amṛtasyāvyayasya cha
śāśvatasya cha dharmasya sukhasyaikāntikasya cha 
hi–For; aham pratiṣṭhā–I am the basis; brahmaṇaḥ–of the Absolute Truth; avyayasya cha–and of the inexhaustible; amṛtasya–nectar; śāśvatasya cha–and of the eternal; dharmasya–divine Pastimes; aikāntikasya sukhasya cha–and of the ultimate ecstasy of divine love. 
27 I am the basis of the Absolute Truth, the inexhaustible nectar, the eternal Pastimes, and the ultimate ecstasy of divine love.