What are the three modes of material nature?

by Chaitanya CharanJune 14, 2020

From: pooja sharma

can u explain them with each example.

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Transcription :

Transcriber: Keshavgopal Das

Question: What are three modes of material nature? Explain with examples.

Answer: Three modes of material nature are three subtle forces that shape the interaction between consciousness and matter. Soul is spiritual and conscious, whereas matter is material and unconscious.

When we come to the material world, we are subjected to life in an alien atmosphere (i.e. spirit soul captured in material body). Soul is spiritual so it needs to take an appropriate material dress when it comes to the material world to interact with it. It is same as when humans go to outer space, they need to wear proper space suits to interact with the environment there. This material dress not only comprises of the gross body (made of earth, water, fire, air, ether) but also the subtle body (made of mind, intelligence and false ego).

Three modes are mode of goodness (sattva), passion (rajas) and ignorance (tamas). The three modes are the ways in which the external world is perceived by us and then based on that perception we have certain emotions which leads to certain actions. Therefore, modes shape our (i) perception and (ii) response towards the world. Let us see an example of each one of these.

Modes affecting perceptions: Visualize three people sitting in a bus. First is in goodness (named Sattva), second in passion (named Rajas) and third in ignorance (named Tamas). Sattva is trying to read a book while traveling in the bus. When the bus bumps, he looks out of window and sees a serene forest with soothing greenery. Sattva thinks, “It would be so nice, if I can just sit under a tree and assimilate the wisdom of this book.” Tamas is watching a movie on his mobile. When the bus bumps, he also sees the same view but thinks, “It would be so nice, if I had one partner, I can frolic, dance, romanticize in this forest.” Tamas, who is trying to sleep, also looks out on bumping of bus. He thinks, “So peaceful. It would be so nice if I can just lie down here and sleep comfortably.” All three people are seeing the same forest, but their responses are entirely different. This is because their perception is shaped by particular modes.

Modes affecting response: Imagine Sattva, Rajas and Tamas are watching a movie in a theatre and a fire breaks out. Tamas suddenly becomes terrified and freezes. Rajas starts running to the exit door to save himself. Sattva looks for a fire extinguisher and attempts to extinguish the fire. The example shows that in ignorance there is neither action, nor reflection. There is just frozen panic. In passion, there is instinctive action, but without much reflection. In goodness, there is action and reflection both. Mode of goodness is the most beneficial for our wellbeing, not only spiritually but also materially.

These modes are to some extent determined by our karma from previous lives, but not entirely. Besides karma, these modes are also dependent on (i) kind of choices we make (ii) the association we keep (iii) culture we expose ourselves to (iv) kind of books we read (v) kind of food we eat (vi) thoughts we cultivate etc. Thus, we can shape the modes based on what we decide to choose again and again. Let us understand with the help of an example.

Imagine, one afternoon we have taken a heavy lunch. We then decide to go to a room for study, but in the room, everybody is sleeping. We now sit down for study on a cosy chair, recline back holding a book and try to read. Naturally, the posture and the environment will lead us to fall in ignorance and soon we will be sleeping. On the other hand, if we eat light, go to a library where everybody is studying seriously for exams, we will also be affected by the environment and will feel inspired to study. The example indicates that by choosing our circumstances, we choose to either succumb to ignorance or go towards goodness. The choices we will make on a regular basis will strengthen a particular mode. If we always choose to sleep in the afternoon, that will become an unbreakable habit in the long run. On the other hand, if we choose to avoid sleeping in the afternoon, we may not even miss it throughout our lives.
Cultivating mode of goodness becomes very easy by following spiritual practices of Krishna consciousness. Mode of goodness make us more effective even in our material life. Regularly choosing activities in mode of goodness will purify our hearts and will even take us beyond material existence.

End of transcription.

About The Author
Chaitanya Charan
  • Vijay Gopi Keshav das
    November 26, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    Hare Krishna. Below is a rough transcript that is 90% accurate and is sufficient to transmit the message of the lecture. Kindly feel free to publish. Thanks.


    The 3 modes of MN are 3 subtle forces that shape the interaction between consciousness and matter. The Soul is Spiritual and is Conscious. Whereas Matter as the world implies in Material and is Unconscious. When we come to the MW we are subjected to life in an alien atmosphere. For the Spiritual Soul to exist in a Material world is an alien atmosphere. So just as when we go to outer space we have to wear proper suites. Similarly when the Soul comes to this MW, the Soul has to have proper dress through which it can interact with the outer world. That dress comprises not just of the Gross body but of the Subtle body that enables us to interact with and control and react to the gross material body and the stimuli that come upon it.

    The 3 modes are Goodness, Passion and Ignorance. They shape our perception of matter in various ways.

    If you visualize 3 folks sitting in a bus in window seats

    Seat1-Goodness. He sees the lush green forest and nice cool breeze and thinks if only i could sit under these trees and read my book, i could assimilate the wisdom of the book nicely.

    Seat2-Passion If only i had a partner i could frolic and romance.

    Seat3-Ignorance. He is trying to sleep and due to the bumpy ride he is not able to. He looks at the forest and thinks id only i could sleep under one the these trees without any disturbance.

    The same forest but three different responses. Why? Because they are shaped by the particular modes.


    If a fire breaks in a theater:

    1- Ignorance – They are petrified, cannot move, immobilized or in shock and due to this they may die.
    2- Passion – They just run towards the exit door (most common response). This leads to a stampede, people run over. The stampede sometimes can cause more casualties than the fire. Passionate people want to act immediately without thinking.
    3- Goodness – looks for the fire extinguisher , uses it and stops the fire.

    In Ignorance – There is neither action nor thinking. There is just panic or frozen panic.
    In Passion – There is action but without much reflection. Instinctive but not reflective.
    In Goodness – Action and Reflection both. A person thinks person and acts effectively. Naturally the mode of Goodness is conducive to our Spiritual and Material life.

    So these modes are to some extent what we have acquired from our purva janma Samskaras. Whatever Karma we have done in our previous lives will determine to some extent the mode that will influence us. But that is not the only shaping influence. If that were then all of us would become like programmed robots. Actually even in our life everyday choices that we make , the kind of choices we make , the kind of culture we expose our self to , the kind of books we read, the kind of food we eat, the kind of thoughts we cultivate – all these effect our modes and then accordingly we can shape the particular mode that we choose repeatedly.


    Imagine if we have to Study. We just took a heavy lunch and we go into a room where everyone is sleeping. We just go over to the Recliner and put our head back and try to read the book. Naturally this posture will force us to succumb to ignorance and we will go to sleep.

    We go to a Library wherever everyone is seriously studying, we would naturally be inclined to study.

    This example shows that by choosing our circumstances we can either choose impelled to succumb to ignorance or go towards to goodness.

    The mode that we choose regularly will gradually become our default mode.

    The three modes are the ways in which the external world is perceived by us and then based upon those perceptions we have certain emotions and based on those emotions there are certain actions. So the Modes are what Shape our perceptions of the World, they Shape our emotions that are generated because of that and they shape our responses.

    Perception – Forest Example
    Responses – Movie theater
    Capacity for us to change the influence the modes – to Study after lunch


  • divya nitai das
    January 22, 2013 at 6:25 pm

    thank you pr ji for such nice explanation with practical examples

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