Though not spiritual itself, the material mode of goodness can assist us in our spiritual progress.
By Harivamsha Dasa
The mode of goodness as the foundation for spiritual discipline.

Through histories, allegories, and direct and indirect logic, the entire gamut of Vedic scriptures urges humans to embark on the road less traveled. The journey must commence in this very world of fear and mortality and end at Sri Krishna’s eternal abode of no anxiety (Vaikuntha). Sometimes decades, sometimes lifetimes – this journey is not a hundred-meter dash; it is a marathon. And as in any other marathon, the runners must discipline themselves for the run. The discipline for the spiritual pursuit is called sadhana.

Unlike a literal marathon, here the feat to cross the finish line in triumph is not possible merely through the seeker’s own running – sadhana. This is because the final lap in this spiritual marathon is veritably completed through Sri Krishna’s kripa – mercy – alone. Krishna is the supremely independent Lord. It is as if He alone knows the placement of the finish line: the gates of His abode. Without kripa, a spiritual practitioner cannot ascend to the transcendental abode.

Though this is the case, it is sadhana which carries the capacity to attract kripa. It would not be a hyperbole to assert that sincere sadhana must unfailingly invite kripa. Such an assertion would not deviate an inch from the conclusive understanding of the scriptures. For instance, in Bhagavad-gita (9.30–31) Krishna gives the clarion call that even one who has veered a long distance away from righteous character (suduracharah), but who adheres with faith to the process of spiritual discipline, soon becomes righteous (kshipram bhavati dharmatma). Further, Krishna asks Arjuna to announce that such a spiritual seeker never perishes (kaunteya pratijanihi na me bhaktah pranashyati). We can only guess the glorious situation of one who sincerely endeavors without fault. Furthermore, in Srimad-Bhagavatam a causal link between sadhana and kripa is vividly portrayed in the famous rope-binding pastime (damodara-lila) of the Tenth Canto. Seeing His mother’s relentless endeavor, by His mercy Krishna finally allowed Himself to be bound.

The Foundation of Sadhana: Sattva, the Mode of Goodness

A natural question is “What should be the basis for a sincere sadhana that will attract kripa?”

Krishna mentions in the Bhagavad-gita that every aspect of our internal and external life is imbued with and influenced by the three gunas, or modes of nature, which permeate all material phenomena. These are (a) sattva, or the mode of goodness, characterized by satisfaction and balance; (b) rajas, or the mode of passion, characterized by activity and restlessness; and (c) tamas, or the mode of ignorance, characterized by inactivity and indolence.

All are binding, like chains of gold, silver, and iron, and therefore Krishna exhorts that ultimately one must raise oneself above the three modes (nistrai-gunyah bhava, Gita 2.45) to move from the realm of matter to the realm of spirit. To that effect, since we are all conditioned by the variegated medleys of modes from being for ages in this material existence, scriptures advise that we first raise our existence to the purest of the three modes – sattva. This is because sattva acts as the fertile ground for the seed of spiritual acumen and the continuous growth of the plant of progressively matured spiritual realizations. Through the foundation of sattva, there is an opportunity to realize Krishna (sattvam viddhi mat-padam, Bhagavatam 11.25.16).

The next pertinent question is “In terms of the day-to-day practice of sadhana, how does sattva act as a strong foundation?” The rest of this brief article focuses on the four blessings sattva ushers in that bolster a seeker’s sadhana.

  1. One in sattva observes and discriminates

Sadhana, the discipline to attain spiritual realization, involves steadfastly accepting favorable and rejecting unfavorable practices, not whimsically, but as prescribed in scriptures (shastram pramanam, Gita 16.24). Hence, a sincere sadhana must have strong observatory and discriminatory potency based on scriptures.

Sattva gives alert wakefulness (sattvat jagaranam, Bhagavatam 11.25.20). Therefore a spiritual aspirant in the mode of goodness remains aware of the continuous process of self-refinement a spiritual discipline demands. Further, since sattva is enlightening (prakashakam, Gita 14.6) and gives rise to transcendental knowledge (sattvat sanjayate jnanam, Gita 14.17), it breeds acumen to discriminate and choose based on scriptures.

Rajas, on the other hand, causes one to be fickle, to follow one’s own sensual, psychological, or intellectual demands due to passionate longings (trishna-sanga, Gita 14.7), and therefore it blinds one to the recommendations of the scriptures. Consequently, a person controlled by rajas lacks the scriptural discrimination needed for sadhana, due to too much involvement in material “doings” (kriyaya, Bhagavatam 11.25.17).

Even more spiritually debilitating is tamas. Due to self-deception (pramada), sloth (alasya), and slumber (nidra) (Gita 14.8), it destroys even the normal power of observation.

  1. One in sattva is quick to act

A heightened sattva carries in it a sense of urgency to bring the discriminatory observation and subsequent contemplation to practice. Spirituality becomes practical philosophy with no room for procrastination. No sooner is an inch of gap in the desired state of spiritual maturity observed than the person in sattva plans to bridge that gap. This is due to the fact that “the nine gates of the body” become astutely receptive and active by being enlightened (sarva-dvareshu prakasha, 14.11).

On the other hand, rajas-generated greed (lobha, Gita 14.17) produces the sensual consciousness and fickleness of immature attachment and detachment. This paralyzes the person in rajas to not make a conclusive action plan for self-improvement.

Implementation is lightyears away in tamas, where observation itself is doubtful.

  1. One in sattva sustains one’s effort

Even if the person in rajas is successful in spotting and implementing changes towards progressive spiritual development, the exercise is short-lived. As is generally true with spiritual endeavors, where swift results are not seen, a person in rajas fails in the discipline, as rajas carries with it desires for fruits of action (karma-phala-prepsuh, Gita 18.27) and a perpetual inclination to begin new material endeavors (pravrittih arambhah, Gita 14.12).

Sattva helps one stick to the regimen, for it gives patience (dhriti) and enthusiasm (utsaha) (Gita 18.26). Therefore it helps a person in sattva carry on the effort even without seeing any immediate reward.

  1. One in sattva is pleased

And last of all, sattva delivers occasional samples of happiness along the way that catapult a practitioner forward through the long and sometimes arduous journey (sattvam sukhe sanjayati, Gita 14.9). Therefore, not only does someone in sattva spot the need for improvement and implement it, that too for a long time, but sattva also makes the process blissfully acceptable to the spiritual aspirant.

A Stable Launchpad

Spiritual discipline can be a long, challenging process that demands both eternal vigilance in regard to self-refinement and a happy commitment to doggedly pursue it till the last lap. The above-mentioned blessings ushered in by sattva can provide a stable material launchpad to eventually take a leap towards the spiritual world. This is recognized as the supreme intelligence of the intelligent (buddhimatam buddhih) and the cleverness of the most clever (manishinam manisha). That is, through unreal (anritena) and temporary (martyena) material facilities – including the guna of sattva – the eternal reality (satyam ritam) can be achieved (Bhagavatam 11.29.22).

Harivamsha Dasa teaches computer science at a top-tier graduate institution in Mumbai.