Elevation to Goodness
This essay is taken from the book “The Art of teaching” by Burijana dasa. It is written for gurukula teachers, but is equally applicable to all devotees.
Teachers wishing success in their service must cultivate the mode of goodness. But wait a minute! Am I hearing protests from hard-pressed devotees sincerely striving to serve their Lord with a passion? Are they not crying out from the distance that there’s no need for goodness? Are they not emphatically stating that devotees are transcendental to the three modes of material nature? Srila Prabhupada once addressed this very question after a Sunday feast lecture at 26 Second Avenue. Prabhupada had finished speaking, and I raised my hand and spoke my first words to my spiritual master. They were not submissive. “Svamiji, in your lecture, you said that devotees were in the mode of goodness. But I thought that devotees were transcendental to the mode of goodness. ” Although I had no concept or care for either goodness or transcending goodness, I was foolishly seeking a contradiction. Prabhupada gently replied, “Yes, devotees are transcendental to the mode of goodness, but generally, they act in the mode of goodness. ” To understand the ramifications of this statement, we must first consider the position of all conditioned souls within the material world. According to the purport of Bhagavad-gita 18.60: “If one refuses to act under the direction of the Supreme Lord, then he is compelled to act by the modes in which he is situated. Everyone is under the spell of a particular combination of the modes of nature.” Contrarily, a pure devotee, one who is continuously engaged in the Lord’s service does not fall under the control of the three modes of material nature.
mam ca yo ´vyabhicarena
sa gunan samatityaitan
One who engages in full devotional service, unfailing in all
circumstances, at once transcends the modes of material nature. (Bg.
Most devotees, however, are neither completely controlled by the modes of material nature, nor are they completely transcendental, serving the Lord in all circumstances. These devotees are considered transcendental by the mercy of the spiritual master who offers their mixed service through the disciplic succession to Krsna. But because a devotee is transcendentally situated due to his sincerely serving his spiritual master does not mean that simply because he has performed an act, it is transcendental. That an immature Vaisnava transcendentalist is sometimes adversely infected by the control of the modes of material nature was confirmed by Srila Prabhupada in a 1976 conversation in Vrindavana, “Vaisnava is not so easy or why are they falling down?”
In the purport to Bhagavad-gita 2.45, Prabhupada states: “As long as the material body exists, there are actions and reactions in the material modes. One has to learn tolerance. This transcendental position is achieved in full Krsna consciousness when one is fully dependent on the good will of Krsna. ” As tiny spirit souls, we are eternally prakati, and are always controlled either by Krsna or by maya´s agents, the three modes of material nature. “Krsna : surya sama; maya haya andhakara” : Godhead is light. Nescience is darkness. Where there is Godhead there is no nescience.” As the current near the banks of a river is stronger then the current at the river’s middle, maya, through the modes of material nature, acts stronger on those souls who are seeking to escape from the midst of the rushing river of material life. Therefore, it is in those dark periods of non-surrender, when we are controlled by the modes of material nature, that our position is precarious.
O son of Bharata, the mode of goodness conditions one to happiness;
passion conditions one to fruitive action; and ignorance, covering one´s
knowledge, binds one to madness. (Bg. 14.9)
Thus, due to the strong dictations of the modes, an impure soul acquiesces to the demands of goodness, passion, and ignorance, and neglects his own true desire of loving devotional service to Krsna. Although all three modes are binding, the modes of passion and ignorance bind tighter. They fill us with intense desires, foolishness, and improper discriminations. The Bhagavad-gita confirms this when describing the understanding caused by each of the modes of nature:
O son of Prtha, that understanding by which one knows what ought to be
done and what ought not to be done, what is to be feared and what is not
to be feared, what is binding and what is liberating, is in the mode of
O son of Prtha, that understanding which cannot distinguish between
religion and irreligion, between action that should be done and action
that should not be done, is in the mode of passion.
That understanding which considers irreligion to be religion and
religion to be irreligion, under the spell of illusion and darkness, and
strives always in the wrong direction, O Partha, is in the mode of
ignorance. (Bg. 18.30-32)
Although, we, as devotees, are certainly performing devotional service, we tend to stir into the brew of our devotional service the pinches of passion and dashes of ignorance left over from our conditioning. History has even shown that the entire transcendental process coming down through the previous acaryas can be neglected for the dictates of the modes of nature. We should therefore guard against this happening to us by seriously taking to the process of Krsna consciousness while simultaneously guarding against passion and ignorance. If we examine the following qualities of passion and ignorance mentioned in the Bhagavad-gita, it is easy to see why they should be avoided:
Passion: great attachment, fruitive activity, intense endeavor, uncontrolled
desire and Hankering, never satisfied with one’s position, family attachment, greed, desire for honor, performance of sacrifices to gain respect and honor, and speculative tendencies. Ignorance: whimsy, purposelessness, inactivity, madness, foolishness, misery, distress, intoxication, illusion, excessive sleep, degradation, laziness, renunciation of activities meant for spiritual welfare, and the seeking of happiness without considering its effects on one’s self-realization. Discerning passionate and ignorant qualities from true devotion is as important for a devotee as it is for a gardener to discern the flowering creeper from the weed. Lack of discrimination may find a devotee nurturing only luxuriant weeds of karma and jñana rather than the true creeper of devotional service. By strictly practicing the rules and regulations of sadhana-bhakti, all the good qualities of a devotee will automatically develop. But if we allow the weeds of maya to grow along with our devotional service, the proper growth of the bhakti-lata will not take place. Therefore the weed-like tendencies caused by the conditionings of passion and ignorance should be uprooted, and one should strictly adhere to the process of Krsna consciousness while acting in the mode of goodness:
PURPORT: One should be serious about his human life and take to the mode
of goodness and in good association transcend the modes and become
situated in Krsna consciousness. That is the aim of human life. (Bg.
Having examined the qualities born of passion and ignorance, it is easy to see how these modes, if embedded within our devotional service, are a disturbance. Krsna always directs His pure devotee, but because that pure devotee is not disturbed by the intense desires of passion or the foolish dullness of ignorance, he can neglect the modes and surrender to Krsna’s promptings. As long as the interplay of passion and ignorance interferes with our devotional service, our surrender will be incomplete. Therefore, as Prabhupada said at 26 Second Avenue, devotees “generally act in the mode of goodness.” The purport to Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.2.19 confirms the necessity of
the mode of goodness being the general consciousness of the devotee:
The effect of devotional service becomes manifest by complete
elimination of these effects of passion and ignorance.
But it is not that contaminations by passion and ignorance disqualify us
from rendering devotional service; rather, the expert spiritual master deals
with them in such a way that we become elevated to goodness.
Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.2.24 states:
Of the modes, goodness is the best because by the mode of goodness one
can come to realize the Absolute Truth.
PURPORT: As explained above, one can get release from the conditioned
life of material existence by devotional service to the Personality of
Godhead. It is further comprehended herein, that one has to rise to the
platform of the mode of goodness (sattva) so that one can be eligible
for the devotional service of the Lord. But if there are no impediments
on the progressive path, anyone, even from the platform of tamas, can
gradually rise to the sattva platform by the expert direction of the
Thus by serving Krsna through the spiritual master, the disciple’s
consciousness gradually becomes elevated from ignorance, to passion, to
We should not become bewildered and think, “There’s no necessity for me to act in goodness; I’m transcendental. ” Instead, we should recognize goodness as the desirable “general” consciousness in which to serve. We should cultivate the mode of goodness by strictly following the principles of sadhana-bhakti, regularly reading Prabhupada´s books (srnvataˆ kathaƒ Krsna, punya-sravana kirtana), and weeding out remnants of unwanted passionate and ignorant desires. We should also keep in mind that Srila Prabhupada, rather than denigrating goodness as “just a material quality, ” often equated goodness directly with Krsna consciousness: The intelligent renouncer, situated in the mode of goodness, neither hateful of inauspicious work nor attached to auspicious work, has no doubts about work.(Bg. 18.10)
Of course, to cultivate the mode of goodness for its own sake is dangerous: one may become conditioned or limited by it. Therefore one must always keep in mind that his business is simply to serve Krsna. Becoming “good, ” a brahmaŠa, or anything other than a pure servant to Krsna is simply maya. The Srimad Bhagavatam clearly states this point.
You cannot please the Supreme Personality of Godhead by becoming perfect
brahmanas, demigods, or great saints or by becoming perfectly good in
etiquette or by vast learning. The Lord is pleased only if one has
unflinching, unalloyed devotion to Him. (Bhag. 7.7.51-52)
The Bhagavad-gita also states the danger of cultivating the mode of goodness for its own sake by describing how one can become conditioned by the happiness that goodness offers. One can become full of pride, thinking he is better than everyone else; or one can become complacent, satisfied simply by being an intellectual. Despite these dangers, teachers must accept Krsna’s instructions on the impossibility of transcending from the heavily contaminated position of passion and ignorance. Thus goodness, while being rejected as an end in itself, should be embraced by devotees as a jumping-off point for pure devotional service. In conclusion, to show how the mode of goodness can aid our Krsna conscious teaching, here is a compilation of some of the qualities listed in the Bhagavad-gita as born of goodness. It is easy to see how these qualities are essential for devotees aspiring to become good teachers. Practically speaking, these qualities are essential for any devotee wishing to render pure devotional service.
Qualities of Goodness
The performance of the following three austerities, when practiced:
for the sake of the Supreme
without expectation of material benefits
is called austerity in goodness.
Austerity of the body:
a. worship of the Supreme Lord
b. worship of the brahmaŠas
c. worship of the spiritual master
d. worship of the parents
Austerity of speech
a. speaking words that are truthful
b. speaking words that are pleasing
c. speaking words that are beneficial
d. speaking words that are not agitating to others
e. regularly reciting Vedic literature
Austerity of the mind
e. purification of one’s existence
One in goodness is brahminical. He is:
One in goodness gives charity:
at a given time
to a suitable person
at a worthy place
One in goodness has unbreakable determination which:
controls the activities of the mind
controls the activities of the life
controls the activities of the senses
One in goodness discriminates between what should and should not be done.
One in goodness performs his duty:
without false ego
with great determination
without wavering in success or failure
only because it ought to be done
without fearing the troublesome effects
and dutifully goes to the temple simply to offer respect to the Deity
One in goodness is attracted to foods that:
increase duration of life
purify the mind
aid bodily strength
One in goodness feels happiness:
because he isn’t affected by material miseries
knowing he is free from material reactions
from that which awakens him to self-realization
One in goodness is freed from illusion.
One in goodness has knowledge concerning the spirit soul beyond this body.
One in goodness is not:
hateful of that which troubles his body
hateful of inauspicious work
attached to auspicious work
One in goodness has no doubts about work.
One in goodness renounces:
all material association
all attachment to the fruit of his work
One in goodness sacrifices:
according to the direction of scripture
as a matter of duty
desiring no reward
One in goodness understands things in the correct perspective.