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The Three Modes of Nature

Māyāpur, India – February 28, 1972 (continued)

Bob: I have read that in life there are three guṇas – passion, ignorance, and goodness. I was wishing that you would explain this somewhat, especially what is meant by the mode of ignorance and the mode of goodness.

Śrīla Prabhupāda: In goodness you can understand things – knowledge. You can know that there is God, that this world was created by Him, and so many things, actual things – the sun is this, the moon is this – perfect knowledge. If one has some knowledge, even though it may not be perfect, that is goodness. And in passion one identifies with his material body and tries to gratify his senses. That is passion. And ignorance is animal life – in ignorance, one does not know what is God, how to become happy, why we are in this world. For example, if you take an animal to the slaughterhouse, it will go willingly. This is ignorance. But a man will protest. If a goat is to be killed after five minutes but you give it a morsel of grass, it is happy because it is eating. That is ignorance.

Bob: Being in these modes determines your karma. Is that correct?

Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes. According to the association of the modes of nature, your activities are being contaminated. Kāraṇaṁ guṇa-saṅgo ’sya sad-asad-yoni-janmasu: “A man gets a higher birth or lower birth according to the association of the guṇas, or the modes of nature.” [Gītā 13.22]

Bob: So, cheating and things like that – what mode is that?

Śrīla Prabhupāda: Cheating is mixed passion and ignorance. Suppose one man cheats another. That means he wants to obtain something; he is passionate. But if he commits murder, he does not know that he will have to suffer for it. So it is a mixture of passion and ignorance.

Bob: And what about when somebody helps another person?

Śrīla Prabhupāda: That is goodness.

Bob: Why is that goodness? You said that goodness is when you have knowledge. So helping someone represents knowledge of what?

Śrīla Prabhupāda: If he is ignorant and you are trying to enlighten him, that is goodness.

Bob: So giving knowledge is goodness?

Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes.

Bob: And what about just giving assistance?

Śrīla Prabhupāda: That is also goodness.

Bob: If a beggar has nothing and you give him alms …

Śrīla Prabhupāda: That may still be goodness. But in your Bowery Street, they give someone charity, and immediately he purchases a bottle of wine and drinks and lies down flat. [All laugh.] So that is charity, but that is not goodness; that is ignorance.

Bob: Charity can be ignorance?

Śrīla Prabhupāda: There are three kinds of charities – in goodness, passion, and ignorance. Charity in goodness means giving charity where charity must be given. Just like this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement – if anyone gives charity to this movement, that is charity in goodness because it is spreading God consciousness, Kṛṣṇa consciousness. That is charity in goodness. And if one gives charity for some return, that is charity in passion. And if somebody gives charity at an improper place and time, without respect, and to an unworthy person, just like the Bowery man, that is charity in ignorance. But Kṛṣṇa says, yat karoṣi yad aśnāsi yaj juhoṣi dadāsi yat: “Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer or give away, and whatever austerities you perform – do that as an offering to Me.” [Gītā. 9.27] If Kṛṣṇa takes your offering, that is the perfection of charity. Or anyone who is a representative of Kṛṣṇa – if he takes it, that is perfection.

Bob: And what kind of charity is it when you give food to somebody who is hungry?

Śrīla Prabhupāda: Well, that depends on the circumstances. For example, if a doctor has forbidden his patient to take any solid food, and if the patient is asking, “Give me some solids,” and if you give him solid food in charity, then you are not doing good to him. That is ignorance.

Bob: Are the devotees beyond accumulating karma? These devotees – do they feel karma? Do they work in these modes? Are they in the mode of goodness?

Śrīla Prabhupāda: They are above goodness! Śuddha-sattva. The devotees are not in this material world. They are in the spiritual world. That is stated in the Bhagavad-gītā [14.26]:

māṁ ca yo ’vyabhicāreṇa
bhakti-yogena sevate
sa guṇān samatītyaitān
brahma-bhūyāya kalpate

[“One who engages in full devotional service, unfailing in all circumstances, at once transcends the modes of material nature and thus comes to the level of Brahman.”] Devotees are neither in goodness, passion, nor ignorance. They are transcendental to all these qualities.

Bob: A devotee who is very faithful reaches this stage?

Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes. You can become a devotee as they have become. It is not difficult. Simply you have to engage yourself in the transcendental loving service of the Lord, that’s all.

Bob: What is the status of service minus devotion?

Śrīla Prabhupāda: Hmm? That is not service, that is business. [Everyone laughs.] For example, here in Māyāpur we have employed a contractor. That is not service – that is business. Is it not? Sometimes they will advertise, “Our customers are our masters.” Is it not? But in spite of the flowery language – “Our customers are our masters” – this is business, because nobody is a qualified customer unless he pays. But service is not like that. Caitanya Mahāprabhu prays to Kṛṣṇa, yathā tathā vā vidadhātu lampaṭo mat-prāṇa-nāthas tu sa eva nāparaḥ: “You do whatever You like, but still You are my worshipable Lord.” That is service. “I don’t ask any return from You.” That is service. When you expect some return, that is business.

Bob: I wish to gain more knowledge of God and be able to feel God’s presence more. I feel life has little meaning without this.

Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes! If you misuse this human form of life, then it is a great loss. Human life is a great chance given to the living entity to get out of the entanglement of material existence.

Bob: I feel thankful that I’ve been able to ask these questions.

Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes, you can learn more and more. Questions and answers are required. They are beneficial to all. Sūta Gosvāmī says [Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.2.5]:

munayaḥ sādhu pṛṣṭo ’haṁ
bhavadbhir loka-maṅgalam
yat kṛtaḥ kṛṣṇa-sampraśno
yenātmā suprasīdati

[“O sages, I have been justly questioned by you. Your questions are worthy because they relate to Lord Kṛṣṇa and so are relevant to the world’s welfare. Only questions of this sort are capable of completely satisfying the self.”] So, questions about Kṛṣṇa are very good. When you discuss and hear about Kṛṣṇa, that is loka-maṅgalam, auspicious for everyone. Both the questions and the answers.

Bob: I am attracted to devotional life, but I still have my connections at home. Marriage is … I’m engaged.

Śrīla Prabhupāda: No, no. There are so many marriages [indicates Śyāmasundara]. He is married. Marriage is no barrier. I told you that there are four orders of spiritual life – brahmacārī, gṛhastha, vānaprastha, and sannyāsa. So after brahmacārī life, one can marry, although it is not obligatory. One may remain naiṣṭhika-brahmacārī – unmarried for his whole life. But a brahmacārī may marry. And after marriage, there is vānaprastha life. This means that one is a little aloof from family – the husband and wife live separately. At that time there is no sex life. Then when he is fully renounced, detached from family life, he takes sannyāsa.

Bob: Does the sannyāsī forget his wife completely then?

Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes. Forgetting is not very difficult, if you try to forget. Out of sight, out of mind. [All laugh.] Just as I have my wife, children, grandchildren – everything. But, out of sight, out of mind, that’s all. Therefore, vānaprastha, sannyāsa – everything is nicely arranged by the Vedic system.

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