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To go beyond the Gunas, must one first be Sattvic? || Acharya Prashant, on Bhagavad Gita (2020)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
7 min
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अर्जुन उवाच

कैर्लिङ्गैस्त्रीन्गुणानेतानतीतो भवति प्रभो ।

किमाचार: कथं चैतांस्त्रीन्गुणानतिवर्तते ।। 14.21 ।।

Arjuna said: By what marks, O Lord, is he (known) who has gone beyond these three Gunas? What is his conduct, and how does he pass beyond these three Gunas?

~ Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 14, Verse 21

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प्रकाशं च प्रवृत्तिं च मोहमेव च पाण्डव ।

न द्वेष्टि सम्प्रवृत्तानि न निवृत्तानि काङ् क्षति ।। 14.22 ।।

He who hates not the appearance of light (the effect of Sattva), activity (the effect of Rajas), and delusion (the effect of Tamas), (in his own mind), O Pāndava nor longs for them when absent;

~ Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 14, Verse 22

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Acharya Prashant (AP): Then the next shloka would have said, "Nor delights in them when present."

मां च योऽव्यभिचारेण भक्तियोगेन सेवते ।

स गुणान्समतीत्यैतान्ब्रह्मभूयाय कल्पते ।। 14.26 ।।

And he who serves Me with unswerving devotion, he, going beyond the Gunas, is fitted for becoming Brahman.

~Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 14, Verse 26

Questioner (Q): To go beyond all the three guṇas, is first coming to a sāttvika-predominant state necessary? And if the sāttvika state is all about light and wisdom, why would one want to go beyond that? Is Shri Krishna saying that devotion to him is higher than wisdom?

AP: So, two things are being asked. First, to go beyond the three guṇas, is it necessary to take a linear route, which is to come to sattva-guṇa first, and then from there graduate to a state beyond guṇas, or is it possible to have some kind of a bypass or shortcut? The questioner is curious whether one can straightaway move from, let’s say, raja-guṇa to a state transcending all three guṇas. That’s the first part. In the second part, he is saying, “If the sāttvika state is about light and wisdom, why is it needed at all that one transcends it?”

Theoretically, it is possible that one moves straight away even from tama-guṇa to transcendence. It is possible. But, it is highly improbable. Won’t really happen. Chances of this happening are maybe one in a million. For this to happen, one requires an explosion in one’s consciousness and explosions are very difficult for consciousness to tolerate. Especially a tama-guṇi consciousness is too deeply drowned in its own self-delusion for it to be able to tolerate any explosions.

What does an explosion do? It demolishes. It shatters everything around. An explosion in your consciousness would bring your entire world down. Therefore, even though theoretically feasible, it is practically quite impossible. You'll have to take the linear route, which is more feasible and safer. In the linear route, there is incremental change in your consciousness.

So, let’s say, you are tama-guṇi. All you do is drink, sleep, and remain in your dreams and delusions. That’s your life. You live in your own personal universe. Drugs and booze are your staple food and you have grandiose concepts of your own that have nothing to do with ground realities at all. That’s the tama-guṇi life. Your mind stinks, your life stinks, and your bed stings—but you keep sleeping. And you have no repugnance towards yourself. You are alright, and, happy, and confident. That’s tama-guṇa.

Now, one day it happens that those things you are dependent on to maintain your deluded state run out of stock. That’s when you realize that even to sleep like a log, you first of all require to achieve a little. So, you go out to achieve. When you go out to achieve, you find achievement is not only difficult, it is a difficult spiral, spiraling upwards. You want to achieve one thing, that necessitates achieving another thing, and that necessitates achieving another thing and another thing and another thing.

So, now gradually you move to the raja-guṇi state. Even though you had entered that phase just to continue with your Tāmasa, yet now you find that you are truly a rajasic one. And then, remaining caught in this spiral of action, ambition, and achievement for long, all you experience for yourself is doom and despair. And you have been fortunate enough to have been learning from experience. You have gathered knowledge about yourself, seeing yourself run around for so long. And because you have been running around to all corners of the world, now you have gathered knowledge of the world as well.

That does not happen with everybody. I am taking a specific case of someone who has successfully managed the transition from raja-guṇa to sattva-guṇa—that’s a special case.

So, now this fellow, in the process of fulfilling his achievements, in the process of attaining this and that, has gathered enough knowledge of the world. And in gathering knowledge, he has started to value knowledge. That does not happen with everyone, I repeat. In gathering knowledge, he has started to value knowledge. And when he starts valuing knowledge, he says, "If knowledge is valuable, then instead of achieving worldly goods, let me achieve knowledge."

That’s how his very achievement or tendency to achieve pushes him into sattva-guṇa. Knowledge too becomes a kind of achievement for him. He says, "I've been trying to achieve power, position, money for so long, now let me achieve knowledge." So, now he runs after knowledge, and knowledge does what it does. Knowledge liberates him from all kinds of delusion. Knowledge liberates him from his compulsive running around. Now he can settle down and relax, and that gives him a lot of freedom from his previous states—that is sattva-guṇa. But remember, this freedom has come on the back of knowledge, not wisdom.

You've mentioned here that "if sāttvika state is all about light and wisdom"—no. Sattva-guṇa has to do with Gyana, which is knowledge, not wisdom.

The sattva-guṇi is not really wise. He knows a lot but he has still not achieved the center of all knowledge. Maybe he has some peripheral insight, but that you cannot really call as 'bodha', or 'illumination', or 'wisdom'. That is something that comes to you when you transcend even the sattva-guṇi state. And that is, transcend when you realize that you cannot have happiness without being a little tense within.

If liberation from despair is dependent on knowledge, then that liberation is not complete because, it is still dependent. Any kind of dependence is bondage. So, then you want liberation that is independent of even knowledge. In sattva-guṇa, you have liberation with knowledge, because of knowledge, dependent on knowledge. The last dependency still remains. Finally, you realize that, “Of what use is liberation if I'm still dependent on something, even if that something is knowledge?” Then you transcend. Then you move beyond even sattva-guṇa. That is called the guṇatit (beyond qualities) state.

Now you have gone beyond Prakriti in its totality. Now neither are you identified with Tamas nor Rajas, not even Sattva. You have gone totally beyond the three guṇas, which means now you are totally away from and free from Prakriti, which means now you are in your pure consciousness state. That is how it happens.

That’s why Shri Krishna is saying, "The ones who are devoted to Me go beyond even sattva-guṇa." Being devoted to Shri Krishna is being devoted to transcendence, right? You have to exceed even the sāttvika state. But then, that's a far cry. First of all, reach the sāttvika state. Even that is too distant for most people.

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