[Advaita-l] The Three guNas and the Atman

V Subrahmanian v.subrahmanian at gmail.com
Wed Jun 15 05:50:21 CDT 2011

श्रीगुरुभ्यो नमः

In the BhagavadgItA are these  verses:

श्री भगवानुवाच
त्रिविधा भवति श्रद्धा देहिनां सा स्वभावजा।
सात्त्विकी राजसी चैव तामसी चेति तां श्रृणु।।17.2।।

The Blessed Lord said -- That faith of the embodied beings, born of their
own nature, is threefold-born of sattva, rajas and tamas. Hear about it.
सत्त्वानुरूपा सर्वस्य श्रद्धा भवति भारत।
श्रद्धामयोऽयं पुरुषो *यो यच्छ्रद्धः स एव सः*।।17.3।।
O scion of the Bharata dynasty, the faith of all beings is in accordance
with their minds. *This person is made up of faith as the dominant factor.
He is verily what his faith is.  *

A question arises as to what the 'he' refers to here: the jiva or the Atma?
The jiva is that entity that is the Atma essentially with the accretion
called the body-mind complex.  While the Atman is pure Consciousness, the
body-mind is the inert prakRti. When the Lord says 'A person is
predominantly what his type of faith is' is He referring to the Atman or the
body-mind of the jiva? If it is the attribute of the Atman, it will have to
be eternal and freedom for this entity is impossible as the gunas are ever
changing. For the Lord has taught in the Bh.Gita:
*न तदस्ति पृथिव्यां वा*  दिवि देवेषु वा पुनः। सत्त्वं प्रकृतिजैर्मुक्तं
यदेभिः स्यात्त्रिभिर्गुणैः॥१८- ४०॥
There is no entity in all the three worlds that is free from the prakRiti
made of three guNa-s.

Accordingly if the jiva is essentially/inseparably/eternally endowed with
saattvika/raajasika/taamasika shraddhA there is no way he can go out of the
three worlds.  That means there is no way he can get mokSha.

If it is of the mind, however, it is not of the essential nature of the jiva
but only an incidental nature, Agantuka dharma.  In the Bhagavadgita chapter
13 and 14 specifically and throughout the core message is: separation of the
PuruSha from the prakRti.  This is because the fundamental problem of
samsara is the mistaking of the prakRti-attributes as one's Atma dharma.
Thus, the entire sAdhana of the Gita is to know what one's disposition,
shraddhA, is predominantly and go about making the corrections.  The 'tamas'
type will have to make efforts to graduate to the 'rajas' type and go
further to cultivate the 'sattva'.  The predominantly rajas type should make
efforts to rise to 'sattva'.  And upon attaining predominantly sattva the
stage is set to transcend even that through jnana.  Thus, the jiva is
essentially free from all three guNas.  However, as long as he is alive, the
play of the guNas is unavoidable as the body-mind complex is itself a
product of prakRti.  In the liberated state however the Atman is ever free
of all guNas.

The Bh.Gita 13.6 says:

इच्छा द्वेषः सुखं दुःखं सङ्घातश्चेतनाधृतिः।
एतत्क्षेत्रं समासेन सविकारमुदाहृतम्।।13.7।।
Here a representative sample of what constitutes क्षेत्रधर्म, the attributes
of the prakRti born mind is stated.  Desire, hatred, happiness, misery etc.
are listed.  However a more comprehensive though not exhaustive list is
given in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:

*कामः संकल्पो विचिकित्सा* *श्रद्धा अश्रद्धा* धृतिरधृतिः ह्री: धी: भी:
इत्येतत् सर्वं मन एव । kAmaH saMkalpo vichikitsA shraddhA ashraddhA dhRutir
adhRutiH hI: dhI: bhI: ityetat sarvaM mana eva | --Brhad-Aranyaka, 1.v.3. *

Here desire, resolve, doubt, shraddhA, ashraddhA, firmness, the lack of it,
etc. are explicitly taught as the attribute of the mind alone and not of the
Atman.  So, the three types of 'shraddhA' taught in the Bh.Gita has to
pertain to the mind of the jiva alone and not his svarUpa.  For, the
antaHkaraNa, mind, is taught in the Gita as not the svarUpa of the jiva but
only a form of kShetra.  The aim of sadhana is to free the Atman from the
kshetram.  All the three types taught in the Gita can be accommodated in the
two words of the above mantra:  श्रद्धा अश्रद्धा.  shraddhA in positive
things and ashraddhA in the unwanted things is definitely a desirable
quality.  This person will easily come under the 'सात्त्विकश्रद्धामयपुरुषः’.
ashraddhA in Veda, Ishwara, etc. and shraddhA in kAma, viShaya, etc. will be
grouped in 'राजस-तामसश्रद्धामयपुरुषः’.
In any case, the above mantra is conclusive evidence of the fact that
shraddhA, in other words, sattva, rajas and tamas, is not the jiva's svrUpa
dharma but only antaHkaraNa,anAtma,kShetra dharma.

To make things more easy for us, the Lord Himself teaches in the BhAgavatam
Ch.8 verse 1:

श्रीभगवानुवाच ।

सत्त्वं रजस्तम इति गुणा बुद्धेर्न चात्मनः ।

सत्त्वेनान्यतमौ हन्यात् सत्त्वं सत्त्वेन चैव हि ॥१॥

[The guNas sattva, rajas and tamas belong to the intellect, buddhi, chittam,
and not to the Atman. Through sattva one should subdue the other two and
sattva also by means of sattva itself. ]

When the Lord says in the Bh.Gita:

सत्त्वानुरूपा सर्वस्य श्रद्धा भवति भारत।
श्रद्धामयोऽयं पुरुषो यो यच्छ्रद्धः स एव सः।।17.3।।

He keeps in view the manaHpradhAna jiva who is the adhikAri for saadhana and
not the Atman who needs no sadhana.  When this jiva,
अन्तःकरणावच्छिन्नचैतन्यम्, is classified as guNa-dominant, it would be
possible to direct the sadhana in the proper method.  That it is not the
Lord's intention to teach that the jiva's very svarUpa, the Atman, is
guNa-attributed is made clear in the uddhavagIta verse quoted above.  The
Bhagavatam verse quoted above is also important in that it specifically
teaches that the guNa-s are of the buddhi and not of the Atman because it is
only the mistaking of the buddhi-attributes as one's own that results in
samsara.  To free oneself from this mistake one aught to know that the
buddhi (guNa-s) is different from the Atman.

The Bh.Gita 14th chapter aims at making the jiva a त्रिगुणातीत. That the
Atman is त्रिगुणरहित is also taught in the Bh.Gita 13th chapter itself.
Yet, the above quoted BhAgavatam verse teaches beyond doubt that the jIva in
truth is not only त्रिगुणातीत but also त्रिगुणरहित.  It might be questioned
that the Atman referred here is only the ParamAtman.  To this we get the
reply in that very chapter of the Bhagavatam:  In the very first sloka the
guNa-s are specified as the buddhi's and not of the Atman.  This kind of
separation between the buddhi and Atman is not warranted in the case of the
ParamAtman.  Further, the entire chapter is full of sadhanas for the
aspirant to become freed from the three guNa-s.  So, it is beyond any doubt
that the त्रिगुणातीतत्वं and the त्रिगुणरहितत्वं are of the jIva-s svarUpa,
Atma alone. And most importantly we recall that the Br.Up. clinches the
issue by categorically stating that 'shraddhA' is only antaHkaraNadharma by
using the word 'एव’  thereby implying that it is not of the Atman.

ओम् तत् सत्


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