The Lord said, 'Once more I will teach you that supreme wisdom which enabled sages to reach the highest perfection. People who find that wisdom and do their duty accordingly are delivered from the cycle of births and deaths. O Arjuna, know Me to be the father and mother of all beings. The three gunas born of nature, viz., sattva (goodness), rajas (passion) and tamas (ignorance) bind the soul down. They may be described respectively as the highest, the middling and the lowest. Of these sattva is pure and unsullied and gives light; it is therefore the source of happiness. Rajas arises from attachment and craving and makes a man indulge in all manner of activities. Tamas is rooted in ignorance and delusion and makes one negligent and indolent. In short sattva makes for happiness, rajas for restlessness and tamas for sloth. Sometimes sattva prevails, overpowering rajas and tamas; at other times rajas prevails, overpowering sattva and tamas; at still other times tamas prevails, overpowering sattva and rajas. When the light of wisdom shines through all the activities of the body it may be known that sattva is increasing. Where greed, bustle, unrest and competition are observed, rajas is the ruler. And the predominance of tamas is characterized by ignorance, sloth and delusion. If sattva prevails in a man's life, he is born in the sinless worlds of the great sages after death. If rajas dominates his life, he is born among those who are attached to action. And if tamas is the ruling principle, he returns to the womb of the senseless. The fruit of sattvika action is purity, while the fruit of rajas is pain and the fruit of tamas is ignorance. A sattvika man rises to the higher regions; a rajasa person remains in this world, while a tamasa individual sinks to the underworld. When a man perceives no doer of action other than these qualities and knows Me who am beyond them he enters into My nature. When the dweller in the body has overcome the three qualities from which all bodies arise, he is freed from birth and death, old age and pain and drinks the nectar of eternal life.'
On hearing that one who transcends the qualities makes such great progress on the
pilgrim's path, Arjuna asked, 'What are the marks of such perfection? How does
such a perfect being conduct himself? And how does he cross over the qualities?'
The Lord replied, 'A man is said to have risen above the qualities when he is not angry
if the light and knowledge of sattva or the activity and bustle of
rajas or the delusion and ignorance of tamas are there and is not
wishful if they are not. He sits like one who is unconcerned and is not
disturbed by the qualities. He stands apart unmoved, being aware that they are
the doers of all actions. He is even-minded to pleasure and pain as well as to a
lump of earth, a stone and gold. The pleasant and the unpleasant are alike to
him. He is unaffected by either praise or blame. He is the same in honour and
evil fame. He is alike to friend and foe. And he has abandoned all undertakings.
'Do not think that this is a goal you can never reach and that therefore you need not
exert yourself. What I have described is the state of a perfect man. The way to
it is to serve Me with single-minded devotion. From the third chapter onwards I
have pointed out that a man cannot so much as even breathe without action
(karma), from which no human being can ever hope to escape. He who would
transcend the qualities should dedicate all his actions to Me, and cease to
desire their fruits. If he does this, his actions will not be an impediment to
his progress, for I am Brahma, immortal life, the eternal law and joy for ever.
'When a man reduces himself to zero, he sees Me alone everywhere. He is guna-atita
(one who has crossed over the qualities).'