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, Hinduism's sacred
written between the Fifth and Second Centuries B.C., develops on the great battlefield of Kurukshetra where the Divine Avatar, Krishna, meets His disciple, Arjuna amidst the terrible slaughter of a war of epic proportions.
Krishna is both teacher and friend to His distressed disciple Arjuna, who has to first come to grips with the stark realities of life and death, God as Creator and Destroyer, before he can receive the wisdom of His teaching and come to understand the larger picture of the meaning of life and man's place in the cosmic scheme of things.
Throughout this sacred text, Lord Krishna, as charioteer, informs Arjuna, who is the fighter in the chariot, of His relation as the Self in the heart of all beings*. Although descended as the Avatar and taken human form, He is the Eternal Self not bound by the modes of nature.
Deluded by these threefold modes of nature (gunas),
this whole world does not recognise Me who is above them and imperishable.
The Bhagavad Gita (VII:13)
The Three Gunas
The Bhagavad Gita describes * the three modes of nature, gunas, as:
- Tamas the mode of ignorance and inertia.
- Rajas the mode of passion, action and struggling emotion.
- Sattva the mode of poise, knowledge, and satisfaction.
All six billion or so individual humans currently residing on earth* contain within them varying degrees of the attributes of these three gunas, or modes of nature. They represent the evolution of consciousness, beginning with tamas, or uncosciousness, through rajas which is the ego conscious of itself, and beyond to sattva which is the selfless ego conscious of the Self within all.
"The three modes (gunas), goodness (sattva), passion (rajas), and dullness (tamas) born of nature (prakrti) bind down in the body,
O mighty-armed (Arjuna), the imperishable dweller in the body."
The Bhagavad Gita (XIV:5)
The Self abides in the world but not of the world.
"Ye are of this world;
I am not of this world"
Correlation with Western Philosophy
The three gunas in the Bhagavad Gita correspond directly to the concept of the three divisions of the psyche in Western Philosophy
- The id the division of the psyche associated with instinctual impulses and demands for immediate gratification of primitive needs.
- The ego the personality component that is conscious, most directly controls behavior, and is most in touch with external reality.
- The superego the division of the psyche that develops by the incorporation of the perceived moral standards of the community, is mainly unconscious and includes the conscience*.
Bound to this phenomenal world of form, the three gunas of nature and the three divisions of the psyche are subject to the transitory cycle of birth, death and temporal decay; the great battlefield of Kurukshetra. The Eternal Self is imperishable and thus not subject to the transitory nature of the phenomenal world of form.
The sattvic nature or superego best describes Mahatma Gandhi's ideal of unconditional love and selfless service to others. This most evolved guna (or component of the psyche) functions as in intermediary between the Divine Self and the world; the Bodhisattva, one who, out of compassion, forgoes nirvana for the sake of saving others. Those who can overcome the selfish rajasic ego and devote themselves to sattvic service become as disciples of Christ.
"A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one to another."
This love of one another is a realisation of the Divine Self in all, an understanding which transcends the seemingly terrible battlefield of Kurukshetra.