Modes of nature

Modes of Nature

Reading Complexity: 

The three modes of nature in action

In the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna talks at length about the "three modes of material nature." These are subtle forces that influence our behavior as well as every aspect of our physical, mental, and emotional world. The Sanskrit term for these forces is guna, "rope," and the Gita explains how they pull us to act in various ways, even against our better judgment.

The effects of sattva-guna, the mode of goodness, are seen when an atmosphere of peace, serenity, and harmony prevails in our environment and ourselves. Rajo-guna, the mode of passion, is felt as insatiable desire for temporary things, striving for more and more of them, and perpetual dissatisfaction. Tamo-guna, the mode of ignorance, is indicated when there's laziness, depression, intoxication, and insanity.

The fourteenth chapter of the Bhagavad-gita contains elaborate descriptions of the modes, their symptoms, how they affect us, and ultimately how to become free from their influence through the practice of bhakti-yoga, or Krishna consciousness.

The painting depicts the three modes of nature as puppeteers controlling our actions.

No matter what I do, I feel peaceful some days and miserable on others. Why? Is there a way to get beyond this?


The Vedas describe three forces, or modes, whose influence pervades the universe: goodness, passion, and ignorance. “Mode” is a translation of the Sanskrit word guna, which literally means “rope,” implying that goodness, passion, and ignorance are the ropes that bind us souls to the material world. These three modes, or qualities, underlie everything we see, hear, taste, touch, and smell. Permutations of these qualities make up the world, mixing like the primary colors to produce countless variations.

The mode of goodness controls virtues and qualities such as joy, wisdom, and altruism; the mode of passion controls greed, anger, lust, ambition, and frustration; the mode of ignorance controls laziness, delusion, and apathy. Goodness clarifies and pacifies; passion confuses and impels; ignorance obscures and impedes.

Krishna, as the creator of the modes, is naturally above them. But the modes bind us finite souls to the body through conditioning. Once we understand how the modes work and discover what lies beyond them, we can become free of conditioning and devote our pure mind to the service of Krishna.

The fourteenth chapter of the Bhagavad-gita outlines the general characteristics of the modes, and the seventeenth chapter teaches how to perceive the modes in types of worship, food, sacrifice, austerities, and even charity. By analyzing how the modes affect people, the Bhagavad-gita helps us understand distinct personality types.

The Bhagavad-gita mainly discusses how the modes influence a person’s character, behavior, and approach to life. For example, if goodness predominates, one will aspire for (and generally achieve) long-term happiness, even if one must accept temporary inconveniences. The person overtaken by passion is usually satisfied by short-term happiness and doesn’t expect much more out of life. And the person dominated by ignorance rarely achieves happiness at all.

Krishna says that we can break free of the stranglehold of the three modes only by taking shelter of Him.

Perfect Health


from Back To Godhead Magazine #20-12, 1985

My spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, would always close his letters to his disciples with the phrase “Hoping this meets you in good health….” Of course, everyone wishes good health to those they love. But what actually constitutes good health? There are many different opinions.

For years Americans have heard that a balanced diet must include meat. The National Academy of Sciences has long recommended minimum daily requirements of vitamins and minerals. But controversy abounds. Recently the Academy advised lower recommendations. The American Heart Association advocates stricter dietary controls. Evidence from the American Medical Association linking a vegetarian diet to better health prompted the meat and dairy industry to advocate a slackening of government supervision of diet.

It isn’t surprising that in the face of today’s many divergent views on health the public takes its own course. Time and time again we engage in activities that we know are hazardous to our health. As psychiatrist Norman Tamarkin attests, “We don’t take care of ourselves, we drug ourselves, we overeat, we don’t exercise enough; It’s bound to have a depressing effect. It generally lessens our resistance to emotional stresses as well as physical viruses.”

To live a satisfying life in perfect health is possible, but one must have actual knowledge of the body and the soul and of the purpose of health. This knowledge is given in the Vedic literature. By turning to the Vedas, we can go beyond the confusion caused by shortsighted views of health and happiness.

In the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna; the Supreme Personality of Godhead, explains that although we are eternal by nature, we are presently dwelling inside temporary material bodies. It is by ignorance and illusion only that we accept the body—so prone to disease and discomfort—to be our self.

To render loving devotional service to Krishna is the ultimate goal of life, and it is toward that end only that we should maintain good health. To remain fit in body and mind in order to better practice Krishna consciousness is the ultimate purpose of health. We should not keep healthy just so we can better enjoy sex or gain an edge on our business competitors. Rather than pursue those short-term, illusory pleasures, we should keep healthy for the pleasure of Krishna.

Essential to health is diet. But whose authority are we to trust when it comes to selecting a diet? In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna describes various diets and their effects.

Everything in the material world, Lord Krishna explains, acts under the influence of three factors, or forces, known as the three modes of material nature. These three modes—goodness, passion, and ignorance—and their interactions create the great variety of thoughts, feelings, and sensory perceptions that we experience in material consciousness. Just as the three primary colors—yellow, red, and blue—combine to produce all other colors, so the three modes of material nature—goodness, passion, and ignorance—combine to create all the varieties, gradations, and nuances of our experience. And that includes diet.

In the Bhagavad-gita Krishna explains, “Foods in the mode of goodness increase the duration of life, purify one’s existence, and give strength, health, happiness, and satisfaction” (Bg. 17.8). These palatable and nourishing foods include grains, milk products, fruits, and vegetables. Foods that are overly bitter, sour, salty, dry, or hot are in the mode of passion. These foods disturb the mind and cause disease. We also read, “Food cooked more than three hours before being eaten, which is tasteless, stale, putrid, decomposed, and unclean, is enjoyed by people in the mode of ignorance.”

In commenting on these verses, Srila Prabhupada writes, “The purpose of food is to increase the duration of life, purify the mind, and aid bodily strength. This is its only purpose.”

So we should not eat just to gratify our tongues; rather, we should eat to have strength and vitality for serving Krishna. This is a very important factor in maintaining health. And the foods that give the most vitality are those which maybe eaten in natural form, such as fruits and vegetables prepared in salads or lightly steamed. (It is best to eat sparingly of fried foods and sweets.) By dieting according to Krishna’s instructions, we can best appreciate the purpose of eating. And of course everything one eats should first be offered to Krishna.

Good health results naturally when we live and eat in a regulated, spiritual lifestyle. When the mind is filled with spiritual thought and is thus free from greed and envy, the body will naturally be healthy and lustrous. The ancient sage Kardama Muni exhibited such a state of health even while practicing severe physical austerities:

His body shone most brilliantly, though he had engaged in austere penance for a long time. He was not emaciated, for the Lord had cast His affectionate sidelong glance upon him, and he had also heard the nectar flowing from the moonlike words of the Lord. (Srimad- Bhagavatam 3.21.45-47)

Devotees practicing Krishna consciousness today enjoy similar health. Srila Prabhupada, in Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, describes the benefits of Krishna consciousness to mental and physical health as follows:

"We have practical experience of this with our students in the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Before becoming students, they were dirty-looking, although they had naturally beautiful personal features; but due to having no information of Krishna consciousness, they appeared very dirty and wretched. Since they have taken to Krishna consciousness, their health has improved, and by following the rules and regulations, their bodily luster has increased."

Good health is the natural condition of the body, as is Krishna consciousness, and as one practices bhakti yoga, one’s health improves naturally. By chanting Hare Krishna and by avoiding sinful habits such as meat-eating, intoxication, illicit sex, and gambling, one can achieve far better results than he would by any concocted "health program."

Of Boxes, Modes, and Freedom of Choice


Are we free? Or are we—like the behavioural psychologist B. F. Skinner’s rats—simply products of our environmental cages?

“Psyche,” from the Greek word for soul, connotesan inner spirit as distinguished from its vehicle, the material body. In Greek mythology, Psyche, a personification of the soul, falls in love with Eros, the god of love. Eros later deserts her, and Psyche, brokenhearted roams the world in search of him, performing difficult tasks until at last she becomes an immortal and rejoins him.

I was not acquainted with Psyche’s story when I chose, as a college freshman, to major in psychology, her namesake science, but if I had been, her plight would have touched me and spirited my studies. Like Psyche, I had a romantic desire to roam the world searching for, in my case, something I felt was missing in my own self and in the self of all human beings, something that would make me whole and fill mankind with peace and love. Like Psyche, I was ready to work hard, patiently submitting to earthly trials to achieve my goal.

In fact, I had submitted to plenty of earthly trials already. I had, for instance, lived at home with my mother and teenage sister, while my father was usually away on business. My brother was in the Marines in Vietnam. My best friend, a twelve year-old beagle, was gray and arthritic. These and countless other hardships had, I sensed, nurtured in me a natural intuitive genius, as yet untapped, for things psychological. Having paid my dues, I felt ripe for union with my missing inner self. Sort of like Psyche. Too bad we hadn’t met.

In my first semester, girded with intuition and away from home at last, I leafed through my course catalog and found a course description that went something like this: “B.F. Skinner and Behaviorism ... for sophomores and other students who have completed their introductory studies in psychology and who want to begin a scientific analysis of behaviour.”

Perfect. Whoever this B. F. Skinner was, my life experiences, I reasoned, would more than suffice for “introductory studies.” And what to speak of sophomores, I was prepared to rub shoulders with the very best.

But B. F. Skinner, it so happened, though the very best in his field of behavioural psychology, was not, and still isn’t, a beautiful maiden. Nor does his research into patterns of behaviour much resemble Psyche’s search for her lover or my quest for an inner self. Skinner doesn’t believe in an inner self, in a psyche as the Greeks conceived it. Skinner and other behaviourists say that the inner self and the mind, if they exist at all, are things we cannot study or measure scientifically. Only our behaviour is plainly visible. “The picture which emerges from a scientific analysis,” Skinner contends, “is not of a body with a person inside, but of a body which is a person in the sense that it displays a complex repertoire of behaviour.”

Skinner is famous for his experiments with caged animals. His cage, known now as a Skinner box, was equipped with a mechanism that automatically gave the animal food, water, or some other reward. A rat, for instance, might find himself in a cage with a lever and a dish, and when he pressed the lever a food pellet would fall into the dish. Using variations on this simple arrangement, Skinner was able to show how patterns of rewards and punishments control an organism’s behaviour.

Skinner’s idea, in short, is that we are products of our environment and consequently not responsible for our actions. We are not to blame for our failures, nor do we deserve credit for our achievements. All is done by the environment. In Beyond Freedom and Dignity, his best- known work, Skinner argues that we possess neither freedom nor dignity in the ordinary sense of those words.

This is not what I wanted to hear. If the Skinner box was an experimental model of the world as Skinner perceived it, then in Skinner’s eyes, I figured, I was little better than a rat, responding predictably to food, water, and other stimuli. What irked me further was that although we were all supposedly products of our environmental cages, Skinner and other “social engineers,” as he called them, could step outside their cages to study and manipulate the rest of us. I hadn’t the least desire to join the ranks of the Skinnerian engineers, and besides, with my intuition flagging, I was nearly flunking the course.

Twenty years later I still disagree with much of the Skinnerian creed, but I can more easily admit that I have never been wholly free. I have my own family now, and the crying or laughter of my children, my wife’s moods, the arrival of bills or checks in my mailbox, and a host of other stimuli, cause me to behave in quite predictable ways. Even if I wanted to break away, disappearing over the hill and into oblivion, wouldn’t that only make me the servant of a different passion? Skinner quotes Voltaire: “When I can do what I want to do, there is my liberty, … but I can’t help wanting what I do want.”

So do I have any freedom? Or am I boxed?

In the Third Chapter of the Bhagavad-gita,Lord Krishna confirms that the environment, or nature, controls behaviour: “The spirit soul bewildered by the influence of false ego thinks himself the doer of activities that are in actuality carried out by the three modes of material nature.” Nature is so fully in control, in other words, that we could say that nature, not ourselves, behaves. When “nature,” or the environment, is a Skinner box, we might therefore say that the box and its controller, B. F. Skinner, are acting, not the rat, although we would have to take into account that all three—the box, the rat, and Skinner—are under the influence of a larger controlling environment.

Unlike Skinner, however, Lord Krishna makes a clear distinction between the body and the self, or the person, and between the mind, which is a subtle body, and the person. A human being, He asserts, is indeed a body with a person inside, and that person, or soul, is an eternal individual, an individual who exists both before and after the body’s existence.

For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time.... He is unborn, eternal, ever existing, and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain. (Bhagavad-gita 2.20)

How do we perceive the soul? By consciousness. The consciousness that pervades our body is the soul’s energy, just as sunlight is the energy of the sun.

That which pervades the entire body you should know to be indestructible. No one is able to destroy that imperishable soul. (Bhagavad-gita 2.17)

The material body and mind are temporary clothing for the eternal self, which does not mix with matter, just as oil and water do not mix. What nature controls is the gross body and subtle mind, since they are, after all, part of nature. Nature does not control our eternal self, which is part of Krishna’s spiritual energy. But because we are bewildered, we, the eternal selves, identify with the material body and mind, thinking that when the body and mind act, we are acting. This is called false ego. Real ego is to think “I am an eternal person and a part of Krishna.” False ego is to think “I am this material body and mind.”

Just as a reflection of the sun on a pool of water moves with the movements of the pool, so the soul whose consciousness is fixed on matter appears to move with matter. The fact is, however, that the soul is aloof and—as long as it identifies with matter—inert.

But we are not forever bound to inertia and false ego. As Skinner is the creator and controller of his boxes, Krishna is the creator and controller of nature. “The material world is working under My direction,” He says in the Ninth Chapter of the Gita.The universe, therefore, is a Krishna box, and Lord Krishna has kindly described how His box works and how to free ourselves from the false ego that renders us inert under the spell of material nature.

Krishna explains that nature acts in three modes: goodness, passion, and ignorance. These modes force upon the soul a variety of insurmountable desires to enjoy and control nature. The mode of goodness is characterized by the development of knowledge, and by austerity, steady determination, and sense control. The mode of passion is characterized by the attraction between man and woman, by intense longings for sense enjoyment, and by hard work to acquire material wealth. The mode of ignorance, which Krishna calls “the delusion of all embodied living beings,” is characterized by sleep, indolence, madness, and intoxication.

These three modes of nature compete for supremacy over our consciousness, and one mode or another is usually prominent in an individual’s behavior throughout life, although all three are always present. In the mode of goodness there is always at least a tinge of passion and ignorance. And even in the darkest ignorance, which is the predominant mode of the lower animals, there exists a degree of passion and goodness.

The modes direct us to various kinds of enjoyment in the material world, but none of them can bring us to a full understanding of our eternal self or a full realization of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Rather, the modes distract us from selfrealization. This is because the modes are material while our selves and the supreme self are pure spirit situated in the spiritual mode of pure goodness. Pure goodness is transcendental, untouched and untouchable by the three material modes.

While the material nature is composed of three modes, the spiritual nature is composed entirely of unalloyed goodness. But the Vedic literature informs us that both natures are in fact one nature,one energy of Krishna acting in different ways. When we want to forget Krishna, His nature acts in three modes, both to assist us in that forgetfulness and to punish us with repeated birth and death, thus bringing us to our senses. When we want to remember Krishna, however, the same nature acts to encourage and assist us in the activities of pure goodness.

Activity in the mode of pure goodness is called bhakti, or devotional service to the Supreme Person. Bhakti is both means and end. As the means, the practice of bhakti cleanses us of false ego and revives our pure consciousness that we are eternal servants of Krishna. As the end, bhakti is the eternal activity of the liberated souls who are absorbed in love of God and have no other desire than to serve Him.

The assistance rendered to us by the spiritual nature is nothing like the activities of the three modes, which force us to act contrary to our eternal constitutional identity as pure spiritual individuals. Because the three material modes are presently forcing us to serve material desires, we get a bad experience of servitude. We feel boxed. But service to Krishna in the spiritual world, assisted by the spiritual nature, is not forced service, because there we serve out of spontaneous love, and because there we are in full harmony with nature, which is as fully conscious and fully devoted to the Lord as we are.

So am I free? Or am I boxed?

I am free to choose to associate with the three modes of material nature or with the spiritual mode of pure goodness. Within the three modes, I also have some freedom to choose the mode I prefer. I can, by practice, develop in my life the mode of goodness, the mode of passion, or the mode of ignorance.

The Bhagavad-gita describes the different kinds of work, knowledge, determination, happiness, food, charity, faith, and so on characteristic of each mode. So we have some freedom, in other words, to choose which mode will dictate our desires. And if we like, we can take credit for our successes in fulfilling those dictated desires. But in any case, if I choose to maintain my false ego, I must serve the modes within the cycle of birth and death.

I may also, however, choose to develop the mode of pure goodness through the practice of bhakti in the association of pure devotees of Krishna. If I thus choose to revive my original Krishna consciousness, then I gradually regain my pure status as an eternal servant of Krishna, free to render Him varieties of devotional service with the full cooperation of His deathless spiritual nature.

Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva


Clearing up some misconceptions about the "Hindu Trinity"

From Back to Godhead Magazine, Vol. 17, No. 6 (June 1982)

The three interesting-looking persons depicted here are Brahma, the world-creator, Vishnu, the world-maintainer, and Shiva, the world-destroyer. Perhaps you’ve heard them characterized in that very misleading cliché of introductory World Religions texts as “the Hindu trinity.” And perhaps you’re simply inclined to dismiss them as the fanciful projections of a primitive mythologizing imagination run riot. But, if you go to the proper sources, the venerable Vedic texts Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam, you’ll find Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva accurately explained in the context of an exacting and comprehensive account of God and His creation, an account that is unrivaled in completeness and coherence by any other philosophical, scientific, or religious literature, and that is not only intellectually satisfying but also aesthetically captivating and spiritually fulfilling.

In Srimad-Bhagavatam you’ll encounter the important distinction between the idea of “God” and the idea of “Absolute Truth.” “God” refers to any powerful controller, while “absolute truth” designates the ultimate source of all energies. There can be many gods, many controlling departmental heads of universal affairs, but only one absolute truth. This absolute truth is ultimately a person— Krishna. From Krishna everything emanates; by Krishna everything is maintained; to Krishna everything returns at the time of dissolution. This is what is meant by “absolute truth.” Anything that exists is either Krishna or Krishna’s energy.

Krishna’s main energies are three: His internal energy is manifest as the transcendent spiritual kingdom; His external energy, as the temporary material world. His marginal energy is comprised of all living creatures, the individual animate souls. Souls are “marginal” because they can dwell either in the spiritual kingdom, serving Krishna in bliss and knowledge, or in the material world, forgetting Krishna in darkness and suffering. The Sanskrit word for the soul is jiva (“living entity”), and the marginal energy is also called jiva-tattva, the category of the jiva.

Not only does Krishna expand through His energies, but He also expands Himself personally, directly. Krishna’s direct, personal expansions are called vishnu-tattva, the category of Godhead. Like the persons of the trinity in Christian doctrine, the vishnu-tattva expansions are one, but because Krishna is unlimited, His personal expansions are not merely three but unlimited divine persons, all manifested to perform unlimited divine pastimes.

One of Krishna’s pastimes is to emanate, sustain, and reabsorb the material creation in periodic cycles, and this Krishna does in the persons of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, who are called guna- avataras. Material nature acts in three ways or modes (gunas). When there is creation—construction, generation, procreation, etc.—material nature acts in the mode of passion (rajo-guna). When there is sustenance—maintenance, preservation, endurance, etc.—nature is working in the mode of goodness (sattva-guna). When there is destruction—decay, dissolution, devastation, etc.—nature acts in the mode of ignorance (tamo-guna).

Brahma is the controller of nature in the mode of passion; he is the engineer who creates the universe. Every universe has its Brahma, who appears as the first created being in it. Although Brahma is usually in the category of jiva, he is designated an avatara (incarnation) of Krishna because he is especially empowered with Krishna’s own creative potency. Using the ingredients furnished by Krishna and following Krishna’s blueprints, Brahma constructs the material universe, and then he begets the offspring, called Prajapatis, whose descendants populate all the planets.

Vishnu, who controls nature in the mode of goodness and sustains the creation, is directly the Supreme Lord. In the spiritual kingdom of God, where everything is everlasting, the quality of goodness exists without either passion or ignorance. Therefore it is appropriate that Vishnu personally controls this quality even in the material world, where it becomes bracketed by ignorance and passion.

Shiva, the lord of the mode of ignorance, devastates the universe at the end by his wild, all-annihilating dance. Shiva is a personal expansion of Krishna, not a jiva, yet because he comes into intimate contact with the quality of ignorance and with matter (which is innately ignorant), you cannot receive the same spiritual restoration by worshiping him that you do by worshiping Krishna or Vishnu. Shiva is therefore given his own category, shiva-tattva.

Srimad-Bhagavatam ( 2.7.39) sums it up like this: “In the beginning of creation there are penance, myself [Brahma], and the Prajapatis, the great sages who generate; then, during the maintenance of the creation, there are Lord Vishnu, the demigods with controlling powers, and the kings of different planets. But at the end there is irreligion, and then Lord Shiva and the atheists full of anger, etc. All of them are manifestations of the energy of the supreme power, the Lord."

Who’s Pulling the Strings?


Why are some people by nature outgoing and talkative while others are quiet and shy? What are the forces of nature that compel people to act the way they do? How do these forces work, and who is controlling them?

Dr. and Mrs. A. B. Bright and their two children have a small home, just suitable to their needs, in a peaceful country town. Dr. Bright is the local, M.D., a thoughtful, qualified man, respected for doing his job honestly and selflessly. His hobby: reading books of philosophy, poetry and science. Mrs. Bright and the children (the children aren’t in school) farm and garden around the house and care for the family cow. The Brights are mildly prosperous people who give thanks to God for the things they have and take their religion as a serious duty. By almost anyone’s standards, they’d have to be considered exceptionally pious. They don’t gamble, and for them intoxicants are strictly taboo—they don’t smoke, and not to speak of liquor, they don’t even drink coffee or tea. Dr. Bright has seen too many of his patients bring trouble to themselves through extramarital affairs, so he’s always been faithful to his wife; and she, too, has always been faithful to him. The Brights decided long ago that killing animals is barbaric, so they never eat meat, fish, chicken or even eggs. All in all, the Brights lead a clean, simple and happy life. But the Brights are conditioned by a sense of happiness and knowledge. They are attached to their harmonious world. Therefore they are bound to the mode of goodness.

The Smiths, by contrast, live in suburbia in a stylish home filled with modern conveniences. Each morning Larry Smith gulps down breakfast in time to fight traffic to the office. There he sits all day dealing with different “headaches,” as he calls them. A hard job, but worth it, he figures, since it lets him afford the luxuries he enjoys and still have some money left over for the stock market and some rather shady business schemes he has going on the side. (“Money is the honey,” Larry says.) Gloria, his wife, wakes up in time to see that the two older children look decent (family prestige is important to the Smiths) and sends them off to school. She spends most of her day with the baby (“the one we didn’t expect,” says Larry). Either Gloria’s in the house with the TV going, in the playground with the other housewives and children, in the beauty salon, or (sometimes it seems like forever) shopping. All day the Smiths are active, on the go. At night they relax, but sometimes their minds are just so wound up that they can’t get a good night’s sleep. They squabble with each other, and sometimes they’re depressed, but as Larry jokingly philosophizes, “There’s no problem so great that sex can’t solve it.” On the weekends the Smiths make a show of being religious, but it’s more or less a social affair, since in fact they generally disregard the guidelines of their scriptures. This family is typical of the mode of passion.

The mode of ignorance is exemplified by the lives of John Dull and Betty Grumble. They never got married, but they live together, in squalor, in a cheap apartment in New York City. Welfare checks cover part of the rent, and at the end of the month John gets together the rest by peddling drugs. Religion, they both decided long ago, is something they want no part of. They spend their time sleeping (at least ten or twelve hours a day) or else getting high on drugs, feasting on beer and salami, and languishing in their apartment. For years they’ve dreamed about starting a commune in Spain, or perhaps Madagascar or Nepal.

What are these forces called “modes”? The modes of nature—goodness, passion and ignorance—are aspects of Krishna’s inferior energy. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, has innumerable energies. For our understanding, however, they have been classified in three groups: the inferior energy, which is material; the superior energy, which is spiritual; and the marginal energy—we ourselves, the living entities. We are called marginal because we may come under the influence of either the superior or the inferior energy. For example, our body is Krishna’s inferior energy. That means that by nature it is temporary and is a source of ignorance and misery. If one identifies with the body or mind—if one thinks that he’s an American or Indian, that he’s fat or thin, healthy or sick, Hindu or Catholic, democratic or communistic, and so on—he then comes under the influence of the inferior energy and its material qualities. Thus one is impelled to act by the modes or qualities of material nature—goodness, passion and ignorance. If we remember, however, that the life force—the source of consciousness within the body—is different from the body itself, and if we act in that remembrance, then we can free ourselves from the influence of the material energy.

The conscious spark that gives life to the body is a tiny particle of the spiritual energy of the Supreme Lord, and so it has an eternal relationship with the Lord. When we act according to that relationship, which is one of service to the Lord, then we are acting naturally, spiritually. Thus we are completely liberated from the modes of material nature, and we revive our natural spiritual qualities of eternity, knowledge and bliss.

We generally think that we’re in control of our actions and that we’re making our own decisions, but the supreme authority, Krishna, declares that this is not the case. He says that we are acting as puppets—victims—of the forces of nature. In Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna says, “All men are forced to act helplessly according to the impulses born of the modes of material nature; therefore no one can refrain from doing something, not even for a moment.” (Bg. 3.5) Not just you and I, but “no being existing, anywhere in the material world, is free from the three modes of material nature.” (Bg. 18.40)

To return to our earlier example, Dr. Bright, our learned physician, feels advanced in knowledge and materially happy in his peaceful library at home. But although his life may seem pleasant, he’s still in the bodily or material concept of life, and therefore he is in illusion. He thinks that he is Dr. Bright, an American, a middle-aged man, a husband, a father, a reasonable, well-educated country gentleman. But these designations are all material; they concern only the body and mind. Dr. Bright has not yet realized that he is neither his body nor his mind; he is a spiritual soul, an eternal servant of Krishna. Since he misidentifies himself with his body, he must come under the influence of the laws of nature governing that body. So he must continue suffering the bodily problems of birth, old age, disease and death.

If one in the mode of goodness is bound in this way, what to speak of those in the lower modes? Those in passion, like the Smiths, are bound by their attempts to satisfy their uncontrollable hankerings and longings. And those in ignorance, like Mr. Dull and Miss Grumble, are bound by madness, indolence and sleep.

Our real life, as we mentioned, is spiritual, and so it is eternal, blissful and full of knowledge. Under the illusion of goodness, however, we look for this reality in mundane learning and a feeling of material satisfaction. In passion we seek it in sex and possessions; and in ignorance we seek it in sleep and intoxication. Thus our pure spiritual nature is perverted by impure desires, born of the modes of nature.

When Bright, Smith, Dull and Grumble were born, they had no control over when or where they’d take birth, what kinds of bodies they’d be given or who their parents would be. Somehow or other, nature put each of them, helpless, into his own predicament. Now they thinkthat they’re controlling their fate, but actually their helplessness has not changed. Theyare still acting according to the bodies that a higher authority has given them. They are neither the proprietors nor the controllers of the actions and reactions of those bodies. They are simply drowning in the midst of a material ocean, being tossed by the waves of that ocean and struggling for existence. Therefore Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita, “One who can see that all activities are performed by the body, which is created of material nature, and sees that the self, the soul within, does nothing, actually sees.” (Bg. 13.30)

At this point we can hear ourselves protesting: “I have control over what I do. I can choose whether to go to the bar or the opera, whether to marry a prostitute or a Radcliffe girl. Nothing is forcing me to act.”

Yes, we have minute independence. Krishna is svarat, or completely independent; God can do whatever He likes. And since we are tiny parts of God, we also have His quality of independence—but only in a minute quantity, proportionate to our size. Therefore, according to our desires, our body acts either in goodness, passion, ignorance or some combination. But whatever these desires are, they are material. They spring from our bodily concept of life, and therefore they are products of the modes of nature. And the ways we try to fulfill these desires are also material. Thus we are revolving in Krishna’s inferior, material energy. “Sometimes the mode of passion becomes prominent,” Lord Krishna says, “defeating the mode of goodness. And sometimes the mode of goodness defeats passion, and at other times the mode of ignorance defeats goodness and passion. In this way there is always competition for supremacy.” (Bg. 14.10)Just as the basic colors yellow, red and blue mix in different ways to produce an uncountable variety of tints and hues, so goodness, passion and ignorance mix together to produce innumerable illusions in our minds, This explains why the Brights sometimes quarrel over trivial problems; why the Smiths, and even Dulland Grumble, sometimes unexpectedly give to a bona fide religious charity; and why the Smiths go partying once in a while, drink too much, and find themselves hungover in bed the next morning, overcome by the mode of ignorance.

Like it or not, we should understand that we are now tightly tied by ropes of illusion. A man bound by the hands and feet cannot free himself; he must be helped by a person who is unbound. Because the bound cannot help the bound, the rescuer must be liberated. Therefore only Krishna, the fully liberated Supreme Lord, or His bona fide representative, the spiritual master, can release the conditioned soul. Without such superior help, one cannot be freed from the bondage of material nature. The only way to get completely free from its clutches is to surrender to the Supreme Person. Lord Krishna therefore says in Bhagavad-gita, “Thisdivine energy of Mine, consisting of the three modes of material nature, is difficult to overcome. But those who have surrendered unto Me can easily cross beyond it.” (Bg. 7.14)

The Brights and Smiths, and Dull and Grumble, can become free from the material concept of life simply by receiving bona fide transcendental knowledge. If one has been living in a dark room all his life, he is always floundering, unable to see things as they are. Once the lights are switched on, however, everything becomes apparent, and one can at once act properly. Similarly, with the light of transcendental knowledge we can overcome our bondage and act in accordance with our spiritual nature. Thus we can liberate ourselves from this material world. Krishna therefore says in the Gita, “One who understands this philosophy concerning material nature, the living entity, and the interaction of the modes of nature is sure to attain liberation. He will not take birth here in this material world again, regardless of his present position.” (Bg. 13.24)

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare

One who is thus becoming freed from illusion and who is scientifically understanding his pure, natural consciousness is sure to become a devotee of the Supreme Lord. In the beginning such potential devotees naturally develop the desirable personal qualities that characterize the mode of goodness. They strictly avoid all sinful activities: they do not eat meat, fish or eggs, they take no intoxicants, and they do not gamble or engage in illicit sex. But, beyond that, they seek out a bona fide spiritual master and then cultivate transcendental knowledge under his guidance. Thus each day they hear scientific information about Krishna from Vedic scriptures like Bhagavad-gita and Srimad- Bhagavatam, and they chant the holy names of God—Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Chanting this transcendental vibration is recommended in the scriptures as the best way to transcend the three modes of material nature in our difficult age of quarrel and hypocrisy.

A devotee of the Lord is free from bondage to the modes because his mind, body and words act spiritually—that is, in relationship to Krishna. He always serves the pleasure of the Lord. For the sake of the Lord he will do any work needed, and for such work he will live anywhere—whether it be in the country, suburbs or city. Such a Krishna conscious devotee accepts whatever is favorable to the service of Krishna and rejects everything unfavorable to that service. In Bhagavad-gita Krishna says:

mam ca yo ’vyabhicarena
bhakti-yogena sevate
sa gunan samatityaitan
brahma-bhuyaya kalpate

“One who engages in full devotional service, who does not fall down in any circumstance, at once transcends the modes of material nature and thus comes to the level of spiritual perfection.” (Bg. 14.26)

Thus we can attain spiritual perfection simply by remembering our relationship with Krishna and acting in that relationship. We need not be disturbed by the modes of nature, for instead of putting our consciousness into material activities, we can transfer it to activities centered around Krishna. Such Krishna-centered activities make up bhakti- yoga. When we engage in this topmost yoga system, we acquire the same spiritual qualities as Krishna. The Lord is eternal, blissful and full of knowledge, and we are part of Him, as gold particles are part of a gold mine. Thus our spiritual qualities are similar to those of Krishna. The difference, however, is that Krishna is infinite, whereas the living entities are infinitesimal.

Although the modes of material nature are very difficult to overcome, we can overcome them easily if we have the mercy of the Lord, for the Lord, after all, is the creator and controller of the modes. And how can we attain that mercy?

yasya deve para bhaktir
yatha deve tatha gurau
tasyaite kathita hy arthah
prakashante mahatmanah

“The mercy of the Lord can be obtained only by those surrendered souls who have implicit faith in both the Lord and the spiritual master.” Such fortunate souls can at once become free from the three modes of material nature and regain their original spiritual nature, which is one of boundless transcendental joy in a loving relationship with Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.”

Why Children Misbehave


Why do children disobey or get into mischief? We might assume they’re simply rebellious, but that’s rarely the case. Let’s discuss some possible causes of misbehavior.

The Lower Modes

Lord Krishna explains in Bhagavad-gita that material nature is composed of three modes: goodness, passion, and ignorance. Everything is in one of these modes or a combination of them—food, work, games, books, clothing, knowledge, relationships, time of day, and so forth. Children whose environment is mostly in goodness will be generally good, whereas those whose environment is mostly in passion and ignorance will be full of those qualities. For example, an environment in ignorance would be one in which children go to bed and awaken late, watch violent and sexual movies, are served meat and intoxicants (such as caffeine-laden sodas), and are surrounded by insults and fighting. Goodness supports spiritual development; the two lower modes obstruct it.


Children living in a spiritually enlivening atmosphere will rarely rebel. Sometimes children rebel because they see hypocrisy, such as non-spiritual behavior in a parent, teacher, or leader instructing them in Krishna consciousness. Such rebellion comes typically in early adolescence, when a child’s intelligence expands to understand the nature of adult society. All adults can’t be perfect, but we can strive for the ideal, while honestly admitting our mistakes.

Wrong Reaction

Sometimes a child who’s rarely treated with affection will act out of line just to get noticed. I’ve seen children say nasty or disgusting things to make adults angry. The adult’s reaction may be negative, but for a love- starved child any emotion may be better than nothing. These children need unemotional instruction when they’re unruly, and plenty of love and affection the rest of the time.

Unregulated Life

When children are sick, tired, or hungry, they often don’t show their needs like adults and may become rude and uncooperative. Children chronically late to bed are often chronically disobedient as well. Children who eat and sleep irregularly can be difficult because they are always tired and hungry. Regulated eating and sleeping, which Krishna recommends in the Gita, is often a simple key to good behavior in a child.

Poor Training

It may seem unbelievable, but some parents and teachers actually train children to disobey, be rude, have tantrums, and so forth. Children learn to act in ways that earn them some kind of “reward.” For example, if when a child insults or threatens the parents they give in to the child’s demands, the child is being trained to be nasty, as much as an animal is trained to roll over and jump to get food.

Misunderstood Natures

Sometimes what seems to be misbehavior in a child isn’t so at all. Adults with little knowledge of the normal behavior of children at different ages may mislabel a child’s actions. In addition, every child has an inborn psychology. We commonly think that our particular way of perceiving and relating to the world is ideal, but our child may have a different, equally valid way of doing so. For example, a parent may be reserved, deliberate, and task- oriented, and the child may be lively, outgoing, and people- oriented. To the parent, the child may seem scattered, frivolous, irresponsible, and uncooperative. The parent must learn that every nature can be directed to the Lord’s service. A mother satisfied to sit and sew quietly for the Deity might find that her daughter is happier planning a festival.

Bad Examples

One of the most serious mistakes an adult can make is to cut down a child’s other adult authorities. If a parent criticizes a child’s teacher, the child will think, “Why do I have to do my work or show respect? My parents will take my side.” And in families where one parent frequently comes between the child and the other parent, children never learn to cooperate.

We must also be careful not to project our own problems onto children when we are sick, tired, hungry, or uninspired.

When we address the underlying causes of difficulty for our children, we will find that our usual relationship with them is one of peaceful cooperation, helping us and them to advance more easily in Krishna consciousness.