The Three modes of Material Nature

by | Oct 31, 2020 | Meditation, Yoga

A fundamental understanding

How this world functions is very bewildering. But if we understand the three modes of nature, then nothing remains a mystery. These three modes are the fundamental building blocks of material nature. These building blocks form every material object’s properties, including the body, mind, intelligence, etc.

Three Modes of Material Nature

The base ingredients for any object (gross and subtle) in this universe are the three modes of nature or tri-guṇa. It is the three modes or guṇas that gives an object its character. If we understand the three modes, we can identify any object in this world based on its characteristics, either in goodness, passion, or ignorance.

E.g., A person who is peaceful, cheerful, and friendly is said to be in the mode of goodness, someone who is highly agitated is in the mode of passion, and one who is entirely intoxicated is in the mode of ignorance.

The three modes are Mode of goodness or Sattva guṇa, mode of passion or Rajo guṇa, and Mode of Ignorance or tamo guṇa.

Every material object is a product of material ego and mixed modes. The modes keep competing, and sometimes goodness is dominant, sometimes passion and sometimes ignorance.

Here are the characteristics of the three guṇas
Sattva guṇa Or the mode of goodness is considered light and illuminating. It brings about the quality of purity, peacefulness, balance, serenity, clarity, knowledge, a sense of purpose, harmony, constructive, creative, and full of good virtues.

By the practice of yoga, we will increase the quality of sattva in our body and mind. There is also a state called pure goodness of suddha sattva, a state in which the mind is completely pure and free from all distractions. In this state, the mind can perceive the soul and God. This state is the ultimate state of yoga.

One in sattva guṇa or mode of goodness is also attracted to certain types of foods, activities, etc.

The Bhagavad-Gītā explains that one who is in the mode of goodness eats foods that increase life duration, purify one’s existence, and give strength, health, happiness, and satisfaction. Such foods are juicy, fatty, wholesome, and pleasing to the heart.

Such a person has a pure mind and can understand this world as it is. He will live a life centered around all fellow souls’ benefit and is a friend of all. All appreciate such a yogī in the mode of goodness.

Rajo guṇa or the mode of passion

Is characterized by unlimited desires, passion, activity, self-centeredness, too much material attraction, and attachment.

When there is an increase in the mode of passion, the symptoms of great attachment, fruitive activity, intense endeavor, and uncontrollable desire and hankering develop.

Foods that are too bitter, too sour, salty, hot, pungent, dry, and burning are dear to those in the mode of passion. Such foods cause distress, misery, and disease.

Tamo guṇa or mode of ignorance

Is characterized by heaviness, imbalance, disorder, chaos, anxiety, impure, destructive, delusion, harmful, dull or inactive, apathy, inertia or lethargy, violent, vicious, ignorant.

The results of this mode are madness, laziness, and sleep, which bind the soul. The mode of ignorance is just the opposite of the mode of goodness. In the mode of goodness, by developing knowledge, one can understand what is what, but the mode of ignorance is just the opposite. Everyone under the spell of the mode of ignorance becomes mad, and a madman cannot understand what is what. Instead of making advancement, one becomes degraded. The definition of the mode of ignorance is stated in the Vedic literature. Vastu-yāthātmya-jñānāvarakaṁ viparyaya-jñāna-janakaṁ tamaḥ: under the spell of ignorance, one cannot understand a thing as it is.

One who is in the mode of ignorance is attracted by such kinds of foods, foods prepared more than three hours before being eaten, food that is tasteless, decomposed, and putrid, and food consisting of remnants and untouchable things.

Three modes compared to three colors

These three modes are compared to three primary colors that mix to produce the resultant color. Hence, we get a wide range of colors or properties (our mind is also influenced by the mode we are in). Everything we find in the universe has a mixed character because of mixing the three modes. Only the soul and Supersoul remain untouched by the modes.

How do these properties affect us?
Our food, lifestyle, activities entangle us in certain modes. E.g., If we drink alcohol, then the mode of ignorance controls us, and we lose control of ourselves.

If we engage in meditation and purify our minds, then the mode of goodness controls us and gives us good qualities.

We should understand all about these modes and try our best to cultivate the mode of goodness and bring about serenity and clarity in our lives.

Examples on the cultivation of modes
A proverb says, “Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” Early morning or “Brahma Muhūrta” is considered to be in the mode of goodness, and night is regarded as a mode of ignorance. The mode of ignorance is good for sleep, and the mode of goodness is suitable for study and meditation. Hence if we sleep early and wake up early, we get the benefit of both modes. When we practice waking up early and meditating consistently, then the qualities of the mode of goodness deepen within us. When the mode of goodness predominates us, we can develop good qualities.

Here are some good qualities which we can cultivate by being in the mode of goodness Fearlessness; purification of one’s existence; cultivation of spiritual knowledge; charity; self-control; performance of sacrifice; study of the Vedas; austerity; simplicity; nonviolence; truthfulness; freedom from anger; renunciation; tranquility; aversion to faultfinding; compassion for all living entities; freedom from covetousness; gentleness; modesty; steady determination; vigor; forgiveness; fortitude; cleanliness; and freedom from envy and the passion for honor.

However, suppose we develop bad habits like sleeping late, waking up late. In that case, the mode of passion cultivates within us, and we develop qualities like great attachment, fruitive activity, intense endeavor, and uncontrollable desire and hankering develop.

Too much mode of passion leads to ignorance. If we remain unclean, get addicted to alcohol, etc. then there is an increase in the mode of ignorance, darkness, inertia, madness, and illusion are manifested. The more we expose ourselves to a particular mode, we develop those qualities.

These modes keep competing.

It is explained in the Bhagavad-Gītā that sometimes the mode of goodness becomes prominent, defeating the modes of passion and ignorance, sometimes the mode of passion defeats goodness and ignorance. At other times ignorance defeats the other two modes.

These modes are potent forces that control every aspect of our being. Hence we should cultivate good habits like waking up early, eating foods in the modes of goodness so that mode of goodness is predominant within us.

Good results of the mode of goodness: The manifestation of the mode of goodness can be experienced when all the gates of the body are illuminated by knowledge, i.e., when our senses are unagitated, and mind is peaceful

The mind the modes of nature and coloring
When the mind cultivates a particular mode of nature, it perceives an object as per the mode it has acquired. For Eg: Let’s take an example of “anger,” which is a quality of mode of passion and ignorance depending on its degree. We could even destroy the object, which is dear to us and regret later in a fit of rage. So every object at that point of anger will be used only to vent. So anger here is one “color” or a combination of the mode. The mind always is in a mixture of modes and the resultant color mix of each mode. We could be 50% in the mode of goodness, 30% in mode of passion, and 20% in the mode of ignorance, and we will perceive an object as per the mixed mode that we have acquired. As we deepen our practice of yoga, the percentage of the mode of goodness increases. The more we increase the degree of goodness, the more the mind becomes more transparent, serene, and peaceful. The mode of goodness removes all obstacles and bad qualities arising from the mode of passion and ignorance.

When we cultivate the mode of goodness, we experience peace, mode of passion. We experience restlessness and mode of ignorance; we experience frustration. So it’s prudent to cultivate the mode of goodness.