Arjuna asks Krishna what happens to those who abandon Vedic law but nevertheless perform sacrifices with a trust in the gods. Krishna says that trust follows the three gunas, for “humans are made / of trust; / they grow to become / whatever they trust.” The sattvic sacrifice for the gods, the rajasic for the demons, and the tamasic to “the dead / and gangs of ghosts.” Those who undertake discipline outside the bounds of Vedic law and remain caught up in “‘I’-making and fraud, / together with force, / rage and desire” demonically harm themselves and their spirits.
The Gita continues to contextualize the ancient Vedic teachings in relation to its own. Arjuna asks if the teachings can be separated, and although Krishna does not reject this possibility outright, he suggests that Vedic sacrifice may reflect and prove someone’s sattvic nature. Sacrificial practice evidences people’s trust in the godly, demonic, or undead higher powers they worship, which explains why each guna governs a different kind of sacrifice.
Similarly, there are three kinds of food, sacrifice, heated bodily discipline, and gifts. Sattvic foods are satisfying, pleasant, healthy, flavorful and smooth; rajasic foods are spicy, salty, sour, and rough, leading to disease and pain; tamasic food, including leftovers and what is spoiled or tasteless, is unfit for sacrifice.
Sattvic foods are eaten because of their purity, rajasic ones for the sake of sensations they create, and tamasic ones out of ignorance or neglect.
Sattvic sacrifice follows Vedic law, and the giver thinks only of the sacrifice and not of any goal. Those who sacrifice rajasically consider a material goal for their sacrifice at the same time as the sacrifice itself, and tamasic sacrifices ignore Vedic law and simply discard food.
Krishna again admonishes those who pursue asceticism out of clinging, presumably giving up their natural purpose or dharma in the human world in order to relentlessly pursue their desire for material or spiritual advancement.
The body’s “heated discipline” involves “purity, virtue, / chastity and / absence of harm.” Truthful and beneficial speech, including study of the Vedas, is “the heated discipline / of the word.” And the “heated discipline / of the mind” involves clarity, gentleness, silence, self-control, and purity. These three disciplines are sattvic when performed in trust and without a desire for ends; rajasic when done for the sake of social status or respect; and tamasic when destructive or delusional.
Heated discipline, or austerity, is subtly different from yoga, which teaches people to concentrate directly on achieving the proper knowledge or orientation toward action. Rather, heated discipline might be seen as the equivalent of yoga for the path of devotion.
Gifts given simply for the sake of goodwill are sattvic, those given for the sake of some reward or benefit are rajasic, and those given wrongly—disrespectfully, to the wrong person or in the wrong context—are tamasic.
The model of action as sacrifice also applies to things people do on behalf of one another; dharma encompasses properly performing one’s social (or caste) duties as well as properly worshipping the divine.
Brahman’s “threefold / designation” is “Om tat sat,” or (roughly) “Om is the truth.” Anyone who sacrifices, gives gifts, or performs heated discipline while uttering this must be thinking of Brahman, acting steadfastly and without interest in action’s fruits.
The last word of the chant, “sat,” has the same root as “sattvic;” essentially, “Om” has the essence of sattva. Chanting is a foolproof form of devotion, which allows people to concentrate their minds on sattva and Brahman through pure devotion and trust, separately from the paths of action and knowledge.