Human “nature”: ‘gunas’ in action (practical Bhagavad Gita insight)

Human “nature”: ‘gunas’ in action (practical Bhagavad Gita insight)

When visionaries perceive no doer other than the Gunas, and know That which is above and beyond the gunas; then they attain nirvana.
One who neither hates the presence of Enlightenment, activity, and delusion nor desires for them when they are absent;
and the one who remains like a witness;
who is not moved by the Gunas, thinking that the Gunas only are operating;
who stands firm and does not waver;
and the one who depends on the Lord and is indifferent to pain and pleasure;
to whom a clod, a stone, and gold are alike;
to whom the dear and the unfriendly are alike;
who is of firm mind; who is calm in censure and in praise; and
the one who is indifferent to honor and disgrace;
who is the same to friend and foe;
who has renounced the sense of doership;
is said to have transcended the gunas.
The one who offers service to Me with love and unswerving devotion transcends gunas, and becomes fit for realizing Brahman.
Because, I am the abode of the immortal and eternal Brahman, of everlasting Dharma, and of the absolute bliss.”
– Bhagavad Gita (from Chapter XIV)
 translation of Dr. Ramananda Prasad

Human relationships are most often the ground that breeds psychological suffering. When we feel let down by someone, disappointed or betrayed, there are usually strong and uncomfortable emotions of blame, resentment or even hatred that arise. These emotions can feel deeply painful and repetitive in our minds and produce stories that we keep alive through our attention and belief. We can find it almost impossible to view the circumstance in a positive or neutral way.


What is happening in our body-minds in these situations in that somewhere, something has been taken personally and we believe we have been deprived of our well-being or happiness because of the actions of the other. The fundamental wrong belief at the root is: my happiness is dependent on something outside of me. That someone or something can diminish what I fundamentally am.


If we dig deeper, we will notice that there is a seeking pattern within us that is looking for something from ‘outside’. Love, validation or acceptance. Or perhaps there is a deep rooted fear of authority and a need to want to please. This movement of seeking is influencing our behaviour and reactions, maybe without us even being conscious of it.


Holding unconscious beliefs and stories

At times when we’re faced with difficult emotions, it can be hard to see our own stories. How what we believe about people or situations is only a perspective and not the truth. Because other people have dealt with similar situations differently. Or other people view the person who is the apparent cause of our suffering, differently (their parents or children for e.g. might have a very different view!). So obviously our perspective is something subjective. 


We may not even be aware that we are holding an unconscious belief (that’s why it’s unconscious). We just believe that some of our thoughts are obviously facts. An openness to radically question every thought is what is needed. To look at our own thoughts, in private contemplation and question whether we can really be certain of what we believe.


Functioning by the gunas and elements

We may also come to see that how people act and behave is a result of their conditioning. They cannot act any other way than they do. Each human being is an instrument in the hands of Nature or Prakriti, moving by the function of the gunas. So we could say, all movements are only elemental.


Each human being is such a complex collection of habits, memories, characteristics and conditioning. All of these factors interact with a host of information received from the environment. So in short there are so many factors that go into creating a particular situation and thinking that it is any one individual’s will can begin to look far-fetched. Personal doership, one of our core beliefs as human beings can begin to come into question.

This is what in essence is also conveyed in the Yoga Vasishtha where the sage Vasishtha tells Rama: “It requires no design or desire on the part of an actor to act his part, whereto he is led by the tenor of his prior propensities (of past lives); as a potter’s wheel is propelled by the pristine momentum, without requiring the application of continued force for its whirling motion. So O sinless Rama! mind our actions to be under the direction of our previous impressions, and not under the exertion of our present efforts.” (See more

I would also relate this to the opening line of Ramana Maharshi’s Upadesa Saram

कर्तुराज्ञया प्राप्यते फलम् ।
  कर्म किं परं कर्म तज्जडम् ॥ १॥

kartur ājñyayā prāpyate phalaṃ
karma kiṃ paraṃ karma tajjaḍam

Action yields fruit,
For so the Lord ordains it.
How can action be the Lord?
It is insentient.

What puts the action in motion and makes the results come about is what we can refer to as God’s will or the unfolding of what has already been ordained.


Forest of samsara

standing against the flood of inevitability
we wonder at the misunderstandings and wrongs
like taking argument with a twisted branch
or the redness of cherries–

An analogy we can consider is how when walking through a forest, we don’t criticise or blame trees for being crooked or some flowers for wilting or some twigs for scratching our skin. We understand that it is Nature or God’s will and no individual intent in operation that could do things differently. Yet when it comes to other humans, we are convinced that they could have behaved differently and deliberately chose not to. It doesn’t mean that we don’t respond to the first part i.e. ‘they could have behaved differently’. After all life is also for learning, correcting and evolving. But the feeling of blame which arises with the belief that they ‘deliberately chose to behave a certain way’ may be seen as a stretch too far. 


We may then find that the blame and resentment drops by itself. They may not necessarily become our best friends, but we understand that all things are only their inevitable nature and in truth nothing can hurt what we are in essence. We may then allow life to evolve as us. The manifestation not dismissed but rather risen in sacredness.



You are welcome to share your thoughts in the comments section below.




  1. Sumit Gupta

    I think livings one (human/animals/plants) can communicate both way with nature. Three gunas are not individual but commutative of group so life of individual depends upon his environment but with his control over gunas ,by different ways like one of these is Yoga, can make his way out of society.
    Those who have control over gunas can achieve exception. Those who are not affected by these, which is impossible, he become Shiv.

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