Three Qualities Of Material Nature

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Life in this world is very diverse due to presence of the three qualities of material nature, which in the Vedas are called “gunas”.

Gunas are the invisible energy threads that bind or condition the living entity by a certain type of body and psyche.

There are three gunas or modes in total – goodness, passion and ignorance.

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The combination of these modes in different proportions generates a great variety of events, tastes and moods. The three modes influence the entire creation – from micro cosmos to macro cosmos.

The universe is divided into three levels of existence.

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(Artwork copyright Bhaktivedanta Book Trust International – www.krishna.com. Used with permission)

The higher planetary systems are under the influence of goodness and are the abode of the demigods and great sages.

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The middle planetary systems are under the influence of passion and are populated by humans and similar forms of life.

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The lower planets are inhabited by demoniac living beings that are technologically superior to humans, but from a spiritual point of view are not developed.

Due to the influence of their civilization on our planet Earth, the original idea of spiritual progress has been replaced by the idea of technological progress.

Despite the fact that mostly the human society is dominated by the mode of passion, the other modes are also present and give rise to different lifestyles.

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For example, if the mode of goodness prevails, such people are inclined to some sort of spiritual development and to the purificatory practices, they like to learn and explore the world, they try to avoid unnecessary violence, and in the matters of nutrition prefer vegetarianism. They are respectful and tolerant, helpful and charitable.

The predominance of passion is more evident in the pursuit of external development rather than the internal. Such people like externalities, they like making an impression on others.

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Economic development, material progress, the pursuit of thrills, extreme behavior, risk, impulsivity – these are the manifestations of passion in human consciousness.

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Under the influence of ignorance a person manifests qualities such as tardiness, laziness, tendency to sleep long hours, he is not interested in any kind of development. Ignorance pushes him to degradation and time wasting.

The modes are invisible, but the consequences are quite obvious and noticed in one’s consciousness and behaviour.

For example, alcohol is in the mode of ignorance and carries the potential of destruction, despite the common myth about the cultural drinking. Just look at one’s condition after he has drank from the beautiful bottle, and it becomes clear that alcohol is a product of ignorance.

With regard to the social aspect, the predominance of one or the other modes defines the mentality of an entire civilisation.

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Civilisation in ignorance cares only for the physical survival and procreation. Such people can live in harmony with nature, but they are not aware of the highest spiritual goal of life, therefore their way of life is not much different from the life of animals. Their rituals are primitive and traditions are violent.

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Civilisation under the influence of passion is oriented towards technical progress and concerned solely with material comforts. High speed and technology, mechanisation and computerisation of the environment, an attractive design and external beauty are the attributes of the civilisation in passion.

From the standpoint of economy and material comfort, such a civilisation is considered to be a model or the first world country and attracts the attention of most people.

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Civilisation in goodness cares about the progress of man and not machines, and helps one to focus on one’s spiritual goals. The fundamentals of this culture is the knowledge of the original spiritual nature of man, therefore it aims to developing spiritual qualities and divine consciousness.

The criterion of success in the Western countries is the consumption of goods and services in ever-greater amounts and external comfort, whereas the standards of spiritual culture are simple living and high thinking.

Nowadays more and more people from the first world countries, who have been disappointed in the superficial culture of the West, go on a spiritual quest to the third world countries in search for internal development, harmony and enlightenment.

The modes are also evident in the professional orientation of people.

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Predominance of goodness means that a person is more attracted to teaching, counselling, science, research, and spiritual practices. The Vedas call such people the Brahmans or those who know the spiritual nature of reality.

The mode of passion makes one more active externally and pushes to activities such as politics and governing. These people are called Kshatriyas or protectors of society. They have congenital organisational skills and leadership qualities.

Mutual influence of the modes of passion and ignorance inclines a person to business and trade. They are the bankers and businessmen. The Vedas call them Vaishyas. These people know how to increase their capital and are prone to hoarding.

Influence of the mode of ignorance motivates one to be a labourer or a skilled or unskilled worker acting in the sphere of services and entertainment. This type of people is called Shudras – those who serve the rest.

People whose profession is associated with goodness, bear the ultimate responsibility to society, the professions under the influence of ignorance involves minimum liability.

It should be understood that the modes do not indicate the degree of one’s intelligence, but rather the nature of one’s interaction with other people in the course of professional activity.

Originally the Brahmans were the intermediaries between man and God and the conductors of higher knowledge in human society – teachers, mentors, spiritual and intellectual leaders of society. In this way, they were regarded as the highest social group.

The Kshatriyas – rulers interact with people not by teaching them but by establishing the order.

The Vaishyas – merchants interact with people by organising the processes of production or trade.

The Shudras – workers spend most of their time simply interacting with inert matter. This is why it’s considered that their activities take place under the influence of the mode of ignorance.

Despite the material inequality of people, spiritually they are all equal and can serve God by devoting their talents and abilities to Him.

This spiritual equality between people made the Vedic God-centered society stable and free of class struggle.

Three gunas bring diversity even in those areas that are already under the domination of one of the gunas.

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For example, all plants are in the mode of ignorance, but the ones that give useful fruits have an admixture of goodness. Those that only bloom beautifully, but do not bare fruit, have an admixture of passion. And those that do not give flowers or fruit are in the mode of ignorance.

Among animals, a cow is in the mode of goodness, because everything that she gives to people is vital and useful. Even cow dung has the antiseptic properties, which is why in India the cow is considered the most benevolent and sacred animal.

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The predators look beautiful and impressive, run fast and have the status of masters of their territory, which is an admixture of passion.

The slow-moving animals such as cats, sloths and animals that lead parasitic existence, are under the predominant influence of the mode of ignorance.

The influence of modes can be felt in every sphere of human life, including how people dress.

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Those who are in goodness prefer simple, clean and practical clothes. People in passion love all the bright, fashionable and defiant. Clothing in ignorance looks grim, dirty, with intimidating symbols.

The gunas affect not only the external aspects of life but also the inner beliefs.

People in goodness respect the laws of God and try to live in harmony with the nature’s forces.

People in passion abide the laws only at the level of nature and social relations, while neglecting the higher laws.

People in ignorance respect only the criminal world laws where survival of the fittest is unavoidable. The moral laws and especially the laws of God are not held in high esteem.

All people follow some laws, but depending on the modes, they understand and accept the laws at different levels.

Three modes are also associated with three basic processes that are taking place across-the-board in matter – awakening, development and dissolution beginning with human daily activity and ending with the foundation, development and collapsing of entire civilisations.

These three forces, according to the Vedas, are under the control of the three major deities of the universe.

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(Artwork copyright Bhaktivedanta Book Trust International – www.krishna.com. Used with permission)

The first of them is Vishnu, He is the source of goodness, and therefore He awakens and supports all material creation.

Brahma creates the world and gives it an entire development; therefore He controls the mode of passion.

Shiva is responsible for the destruction and degradation processes in the universe and is the controller of the mode of ignorance.

Observing such a pervasive presence of the modes, one may pose a question whether the influence of the modes on a particular person is permanent, unchangeable, predetermined by fate or something that one can change?

According to the Vedic concept of karma and reincarnation, we carry over a certain conditioning from our past life.

In other words, we spend today what we have earned yesterday. Therefore partially the combination of modes is already predetermined at birth, but since a material life is ever changing under the influence of time, various changes in life are quite possible in the direction of progress as well as towards degradation.

Therefore, despite some inherent tendencies, it is possible to choose the effect of higher modes; and this is the primary responsibility of a civilised man.

We all want to improve the quality of our life, but unfortunately we think only in economic terms – we’d love to have more money, more facilities and more comforts.

However, the Vedas state that improvement of the quality of life primarily means changing the modes that we are effected by, regardless of the economy.

That is, we can rise from the predominant mode of ignorance to goodness. And since the modes primarily affect our consciousness, our inner state, the same mode of goodness will make a person happy regardless of external circumstances.

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