Chapter 17. Attitudes at Work

1When a person sincerely engages in worship
but fails to follow the prescribed rules,
is that an act of
sattva, rajas, or tamas?
Sattva (saintly goodness), rajas (relentless activity),
and tamas (deluded lethargy) are
the three inherent basic qualities (gunas).

2Human attitudes are of three kinds:
sattva, rajas, or tamas;
they are born of one’s own nature.
Listen, as I explain further.
In any individual, the three gunas prevail to varying extents. ‘’s own nature’ refers to the innate and untutored aspect of the personality.
3Each one’s faith conforms with his inborn nature.
A man is made up of his faith.
He is what his faith is.

4People with the nature of sattva worship the gods;
those of rajas worship demons and demigods;
those of tamas worship evil spirits and ghosts.

5Those who perform austerities
motivated by false pride and ego,
driven by the force of lust and passion
indeed violate the sayings of the scriptures.

6They foolishly torture the body
and also the divine spirit within.
Know them to be of a demonic resolve!
Some people feel that it is a noble thing to subject oneself or others to torture in the name of religion. Krishna reminds Arjuna that exaggerated austerities or mortifications of the body are unwarranted, to the point of being demonic.

7Food that is dear to a person is also of three kinds,
just as with the ways of yajña, dana, and tapah.
Let me explain the differences to you.
Yajña is the traditional fire ritual. In a broader sense, it refers to worship and a sense of dedication to one’s work.
Dana is charity, but bordering on philanthropy.
Tapah refers to austerity, penance, and single-minded focus on work.

8Foods that promote longevity, vitality, stamina,
health, happiness, and contentment and
foods that are tasty, mild, nourishing, and pleasant
are dear to those of the nature of sattva.

9Foods that cause pain, sorrow, and sickness,
and foods that are bitter, sour, salty,
excessively hot, spicy, dry, and pungent
are dear to those of the nature of rajas.

10Foods which are insipid, stale, rotten,
left-over, filthy, and unhygienic
are dear to those of the nature of tamas.
In verses 7-10 describing the kinds of food that people like, ‘...dear to those of the nature of sattva (or rajas or tamas)’ is perhaps just an indication of what they don’t mind eating. It is likely that a person who relishes stale food will also relish fresh food, but not the other way round!

11The yajña that is carefully performed,
according to the scriptures,
without any thought of reward, and
with the sense that it must be performed
is of the nature of sattva.

12The yajña that is performed
for the sake of reward or merely for show
is of the nature of rajas.

13The yajña that is performed
contrary to the scriptures –
without sincerity,
without offering food,
with no sacred texts recited,
with no respect to guests, and
without paying the officiating priest –
is of the nature of tamas. 
14Simplicity, self-restraint, purity, benevolence, and
respect for gods, priests, gurus, and the wise –
this is austerity of body.
This leads to the refinement of the body.

15Speaking words that are truthful, pleasant,
beneficial, and not causing distress or anxiety,
as well as the study and recitation of scriptures –
this is austerity of speech.
This leads to the refinement of speech.

16Silence, serenity of mind, self-control,
gentleness, and purity of thought and being –
this is austerity of mind.
This leads to the refinement of the mind.

17This threefold austerity,
diligently practiced with utmost faith
and without desire for reward
is of the nature of sattva.

18Austerities practiced merely out of pride and hypocrisy
for the sake of gaining temporary rewards
such as praise, respect, and special treatment,
are of the nature of rajas.

19Austerities performed
with foolish notions
by torturing oneself or
by injuring others,
are of the nature of tamas.

20Giving with the feeling that
it is one’s duty to give,
without expectation of anything in return,
and offering it at the right place
and at the right time
to a worthy person,
who cannot make any favor in return,
is of the nature of sattva.

21Giving something reluctantly or
with the aim of getting something in return,
is of the nature of rajas.

22Giving with contempt and disrespect,
offering it at the wrong place
and at the wrong time
to an unworthy person,
is of the nature of tamas.

23Om’, ‘tat’, and ‘sat’ –
each word is a reference to brahman.
The Vedas, yajñas, and priests
were established in them
from ancient times.
Brahman is the supreme being.
The Vedas are the foremost revealed scriptures in Hinduism.

Doing yajña, dana, and tapah with the attitude of sattva is best.
But there is a tinge of impurity associated with them and so,
invoking ‘om’, ‘tat’, and ‘sat’ helps to cleanse those activities.

Om is a single syllable word that denotes brahman.
It is the most sacred sound according to Hindu belief.

Tat means ‘that’ or ‘it’ and refers to brahman.
It serves as a reminder that ‘we are not doing the work’
and helps overcome our ego.

Sat means ‘real’ or ‘good’ and refers to brahman.
It inspires an overall attitude of goodness in action.

24Therefore, as a rule,
students of the scriptures
always chant ‘om’ before
yajña, dana, or tapah.

25The seekers of liberation
say ‘tat’ prior to
yajña, dana, and tapah,
with no desire for rewards.

26Sat’ refers to goodness and reality.
Thus, the word ‘sat’ is also used
to denote any act worthy of praise.

27Doing yajña, dana, and tapah
with dedication is sat.
Any action we perform
to support that is also sat.

28Doing yajña, dana, or tapah
without dedication is asat
and has no value
in this world or beyond.
Asat means ‘unreal’, the opposite of reality and goodness.
Compare this verse with 6:40.

<< Chapter 16. Good and Bad

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