We are constantly attacked by the three modes of material nature. These are called goodness (Sattva), Passion (Rajas) and Ignorance (Tamas).
The epic scripture Ramayana graphically presents an example of a personality influenced by each of these modes.
The central character is Lord Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. His wife, the goddess of fortune, mother Sita was kidnapped by Ravana, the king of the demons who stayed in his kingdom Lanka.
Ravana and his two brothers, Vibhishana and Kumbhakarana are good examples of the three modes in perfect action.
Vibhishana was dedicated to virtue and devotion; he repeatedly gave good counsel to his brother to return mother Sita to Lord Rama. Despite facing severe criticism from all at Lanka, and being brandished as disloyal and a traitor by his own brother, Vibhishana never swerved from the path of truth. Eventually he surrendered to Lord Rama, and helped the Lord in conquering Ravana and winning back Sita. Vibhishana is a shining example of a devotee of God living a life in the mode of goodness, centred on sacred principles and loving devotion to God.
Ravana was an emblem of lust; he sought forcibly any woman he was attracted to and thought anything good was for him to enjoy; he also had no qualms of enjoying others’ wives. He was highly ambitious and conquered all kings and gods who came in his way. He stole away riches galore from all around the three worlds. Ravana, driven by immense hankering for power and sensual pleasure, is a perfect example of one controlled by the mode of passion.
Kumbhakarana, a loyal brother of the wicked Ravana, was a huge demon with a special blessing; he would sleep six months at a stretch. On waking up for only one day, twice a year, he would devour gallons of liquor and tonnes of flesh, before going off to sleep again. He too was killed by Rama during the war. His life epitomizes the mode of ignorance.
But you may wonder, “I am not sure if I am like Vibhishana, Ravana or Kumbhakarana or in other words I wonder which mode controls me, and that’s because sometimes I feel very peaceful, and at other times, I am angry and passionate to get my way in life. And there are moments when I drag down to lower modes.”
We aren’t bound by a single mode. The modes’ effect on us is like the binding of a thickly stranded rope. Generally when you twist a fibre in a threefold process, it makes a rope. First it’s twisted in three small strands, then the three of them are twisted together, and then again those three are bound together. This way the rope becomes very strong. Likewise the three modes are mixed, after which they produce a by-product. The modes are mixed again and again, and thus they are ‘twisted together’ innumerable times.
The combination of three modes binds the living entity more and more. The 8.4 million species of life are nothing but the different levels of consciousness that’s conditioned by as many varieties of the three modes
Why are we bound by these three modes, and how can we get free from their influence?
Desire binds us to the three modes, and now by cultivating a strong desire to get free from the modes, we can attract the Lord’s mercy and get free from the influence of these three modes.
The Bhagavad Gita (7.14) gives us the method:
“This divine energy of Mine, consisting of the three modes of material nature, is difficult to overcome. But those who have surrendered unto Me can easily cross beyond it.”
Have you ever been stuck in a place that’s under a dense fog? Powerful lights could help you see a short distance but we have seen entire cities and airports stranded due to a thick fog. We need a power beyond us, and one that’s certainly more powerful than the all-encompassing haze to help us overcome it. And that’s the sun; the dazzling sunshine can easily dissipate the fog, and you could clearly see things as they are. In the same way the mercy of the Supreme Lord that’s like the stunning sunshine dispels all darkness created by the three modes of material nature. And we attract this ‘shining’ mercy of the Lord by surrendering to Him in love. Thus the way one gets free from the clutches of the three modes is by surrendering to the Lord and accessing His infinite, loving grace.