|Chapter 17||The Threefold Divisions of Material Existance||Verse 1|
Rudra Vaisnava Sampradaya:
Among all the causes previously explained as initiating qualification for spiritual consciousness by the Supreme Lord Krishna, sraddha or faith is pre-eminent and the foremost among them. Therefore this chapter examines the threefold differentiations of faith of the three gunas or modes of material nature: sattva guna or mode of goodness, raja guna or mode of passion and tama guna or mode of ignorance.
At the end of chapter 16 Lord Krishna revealed that anyone who fails to follow the ordinances and injunctions of the Vedic scriptures and instead foolishly follows the impulses of the physical body, the whims of the mind and the dictates of their desires; will never achieve perfection, happiness or freedom from samsara the perpetual cycle of birth and death. This confirms that those who disregard and disrespect the eternal teachings of the Vedic scriptures do not qualify for spiritual knowledge.
Now to clearly understand whether or not one who ignores the Vedic scriptures but acts with faith and is not following the dictates of desire etc. can still be qualified for spiritual knowledge is queried. This does not refer to those who have knowledge of the Vedic scriptures yet transgress them purposely and spitefully; for such sinful living entities cannot be said to possess faith or perform any spiritual activity whatsoever. This query refers specifically to all those who are ignorant of the Vedic scriptures, who have had no exposure to the Vedic scriptures, who were never instructed in sanatan dharma or eternal righteousness following the line of consciousness contained in Vedic scriptures.
Faith in the Vedic scriptures is firm belief in sacred traditions tested and proven by time to be eternal spiritually as instructed by the Vaisnava spiritual master. Those who purposely act contrary to the knowledge in the Vedic scriptures as taught by the Vaisnavas are completely incompatible with the spiritual current of bonafide disciplic succession in one of the four authorised sampradaya's due to their belligerent transgressions. Yet these unfortunate transgressors of the Vedic scriptures is not what is indicated here. What is indicated here refers to all those who out of ignorance, laziness or indifference simply follow mere tradition and occasionally perform some religious activity with faith. The query is specifically questioning whether such actions are in sattva, raja or tama guna. Faith in the Vedic scriptures itself is sattva guna, whereas opposition to the Vedic scriptures is in raja guna and laziness and indifference is in tama guna. So if their faith however little is based on sattva guna then at least these jivas or embodied beings are entitled to knowledge of the atma or immortal soul and spiritual consciousness.
Brahma Vaisnava Sampradaya:
Hari OM! In this chapter the Supreme Lord Krishna explains the attributes and results of the three gunas or threefold modes of material nature: sattva guna or the mode of goodness, raja guna or the mode of passion and tama guna or the mode of ignorance. The words sastram-vidam refers to the ordinances, injunctions and prohibitions of the Vedic scriptures. An example of a prohibition is that the Vedic scriptures declare that it is forbidden to marry a virgin maiden no matter how qualified if her mother and father have a sapinda relationship with each other, meaning that the two grandmothers of the virgin are sisters. Those who disregard this rule and marry such a maiden anyway verily commit sin, as only after seven generations of sapinda free marriages are the sinful reactions of such incestuous relationships neutralized. Possessing this knowledge the Vaisnavas and the twice born Brahmins act accordingly and steadily progressing in their spiritual development advance with clarity and comprehension.
What is prescribed in the Vedic scriptures is sanatan dharma or eternal righteousness and anything contrary to this is against eternal righteousness. Those in sattva guna always acknowledge the authority of the Vedic scriptures and never act contrary to the ancient, perennial principles of sanatan dharma. So the word utsrjya meaning rejected does not refer to them. It applies to those in raja guna who belligerently and insidiously oppose the Vedic scriptures and those in tama guna who out of lack of effort and intelligence ignore and are indifferent to the Vedic scriptures. Those who were never properly taught the knowledge of the Vedic scriptures or who were never exposed and are unaware of the teachings of the Vedic scriptures or who were unqualified to learn the knowledge of the Vedic scriptures due to circumstances is what is indicated here. It is reasonable and plausible to assume that there must be some gradation in this rejection and this is the purpose of Lord Krishna delineating the three fold positions of the gunas. So such denial is the result of non- awareness of the universal values enshrined within the Vedic scriptures for the ultimate benefit of all creation.
Sri Vaisnava Sampradaya:
In chapter sixteen the Supreme Lord Krishna delineated the difference between those endowed with the divine nature and those possessing the demoniac nature. The conclusion of that chapter is that the absolute truth and highest benefit for all creation as well as the means by which to attain communion with the ultimate reality of the Supreme Lord is based exclusively on the authority of the Vedic scriptures and no other source.
In this chapter it will be illustrated that activities performed in contradiction to the Vedic scriptures actually oppose the divine will of creation and prove to be destabilising and destructive. The question involved is not concerned with contradictory activities. The question refers to religious activities performed not contradictory to the Vedic scriptures whether in sattva guna the mode of goodness, raja guna the mode of passion or tama guna the mode of ignorance corresponding to the intent and motive and if they are performed with faith what is the difference in results. If one is indifferent or not knowledgeable about the veracity of the paramount position of the Vedic scriptures and performs instead with faith the traditional rituals that one was born into, does that constitute sattva guna, raja guna or tama guna and what are the results.
Questioned in this manner Lord Krishna refrains from speaking about the utter futility of performing any activity contrary to Vedic scriptures even with faith and immediately expounds upon the relationship of the three gunas or modes of material nature.
Kumara Vaisnava Sampradaya:
In the preceding chapter the Supreme Lord Krishna spoke of the difference between those endowed with the divine nature and those possessing the demoniac nature. He described the qualities of each and emphasised that the divine endowments should be cultivated and embellished while the demoniac nature should be rejected and avoided by all means. This confirms the reality that to become qualified for spiritual knowledge an aspirant must be exclusively situated in sattva guna or the mode of goodness which empowers one to perform only actions that are in harmony with the Vedic scriptures. Furthermore Lord Krishna established the fact that the absolute authority of the Vedic scriptures is the exclusive reference to understand what is proper and what is improper, what is acceptable and what is unacceptable and no other source is warranted. One should accept the impeccable authority of the Vedic scriptures wholeheartedly and act in accordance with the Vedic ordinances and injunctions which bestow the highest benefit for all creation while avoiding the prohibitions as they lead only to degradation and sin. Acting contradictory to any aspect of the Vedic scriptures are activities of raja guna the mode of passion while indifference to them is tama guna the mode of ignorance. Both of these modes definitely insures that one will incarnate into lower and lower species of life such as dogs, pigs and reptiles. Those who spitefully disregard the Vedic scriptures and insidiously disrespect the authorised promulgators of the Vedic scriptures are certainly of the demoniac nature and as such they degenerate into the most degraded existences.
Lord Krishna begins the seventeenth chapter explaining the three types of faith found in those possessing characteristics of each guna regarding the types of food one eats, the type of rituals one performs, the kind of austerities one undertakes etc. Any action executed with faith that is dominated by evil intentions resides in tama guna and is characterised by demoniac conceptions and activities hence enslavement and bondage in material existence. But there are some who out of ignorance, lack of exposure or unawareness do not adhere to the ordinances and injunctions of the Vedic scriptures. Yet they also avoid indulgence in prohibited activities due to desiring respect in society. What will be the position of such a one? Occasionally they will sincerely perform some ritual or follow some austerity with faith and even though they are not engaging in sinful prohibitions because they ignore the ordinances and injunctions of the Vedic scriptures they still possess demoniacal characteristics. So the query is how are they categorised?
Although they are indifferent to the Vedic scriptures such beings worship lesser gods and are following inferior conceptions. Some adhere to such conceptions due to fear of going to hell, some due to tradition, still others due to acceptance in society. They have no interest in the Vedic scriptures and have never even considered the meaning of existence having no desire to understand why they were born and in knowing the purpose of life. If they have heard about the Vedic scriptures they regard them as not applying to them or consider them to be below the level of their own scriptures which they have never adequately studied or comprehended. The irrefutable evidence is that there is extremely limited information about the atma or immortal soul in any of the religious conceptions on Earth except in the Vedic scriptures and any credible reference to the atma can only be taken from the Vedic scriptures as the source. The most important ingredient of human existence is immortality of the soul and it is completely missing in the consciousness of humanity except in the Vedic culture where it is fully comprehended. The word sraddhaya-anvitah means faithfully. Such faith arises from traditional belief in god and religious scriptures. One who is ignorant of the Vedic scriptures is different from one who is opposed to the Vedic scriptures. So what is the truth regarding those who are not opposed to the Vedic scriptures but only indifferent due to following their own traditions and what is there position? This is the question Lord Krishna will begin to fully explain in the next verse.