Krishna promises to again tell Arjuna the highest wisdom, which brought the sages fulfillment and the dissolution of self. Krishna declares that Brahman is his “womb,” from which everything emerges, and he is the father who plants the seeds of being.
The imagery of the womb explains how Brahman can supersede the distinction between being and non-being: it does not coexist with material things, but it nevertheless creates them.
The three gunas—sattva, rajas, and tamas—inhere in matter and bind the imperishable self to the body. Sattva brings light, binding people to joy and wisdom. Rajas is passion and binds the soul to action; tamas, which comes from ignorance and confusion, binds the soul by means of “sleep, laziness / and distraction.” Sattva connects people to joy, rajas to action, and tamas to neglect.
Krishna finally outlines the natures of the three gunas whose influence the soul must overcome in order to achieve enlightenment. Although sattva is material, it is also clearly the central component of those who are wise and close to transcending the body.
Each guna can prevail above the others, but sattva is clearly prevailing when one finds light and wisdom in one’s body. Greed, restlessness, and lust emerge when rajas prevails, and darkness, sloth, and confusion come to the fore when tamas dominates a person. Sattva leads embodied beings to dissolution, but those dominated by rajas and tamas are reborn “clinging to action” and “in the wombs / of the deluded,” respectively. Sattva leads to stainless action and wisdom, rajas to pain and greed, tamas to ignorance and confusion. Those with sattva rise, those with rajas stay in the middle, and those with tamas descend to morally worse states. When the observing eternal self sees that the agent of action is comprised of the gunas yet realizes their limits, it knows it has reached Krishna’s own being and achieved eternal freedom from pain and the cycle of death and rebirth.
Rajas’s connection to attached action and tamas’s tie to laziness demonstrate why the crucial question for the sage is not whether to act or relinquish action, but rather why and how to act with purity. In a sense, then, rajas and tamas are also opposites (rajas is about the passionate pursuit of worldly goals and tamas about the lack of goals and true knowledge alike), even though both are opposed to sattva’s purity and wisdom. Krishna again emphasizes that the body, which is made of gunas, is also the faculty that must learn to turn away from them toward a higher power.
Arjuna asks what marks one who has transcended the gunas and how one goes about doing so. Krishna responds that one must relinquish hatred and desire for confusion, exertion, and brightness; one must remain unshaken by the gunas and instead see their motion; and one must lose the distinction between opposites like pleasure and pain, the loved and unloved, praise and blame, and honor and dishonor. Of course, one must also devotedly serve Krishna, who supports immortal Brahman, everlasting dharma, and the “unique joy” that they bring.
Again, Arjuna wants to know how precisely he might achieve enlightenment or confirm that he is successfully on a path towards it. Although Krishna’s message remains the same, the exposition of the gunas he has offered in this discourse should allow Hindus to more precisely identify and understand their motions in the world.