Attaining Liberation From the Bondage to the Modes Of Nature

The limiting mind which tries to see everything in black and white will take the Gita’s statement that we must obtain liberation from our bondage to the action of the three Gunas, and, combining it with the statement that the entire development and activity of the world of nature is under the control of the action of the Gunas, determine that we must therefore abandon all life and works in order to achieve liberation. And in fact, this approach has been widely seen and adopted in the past as the path to liberation, leading to what Sri Aurobindo elsewhere has called “the refusal of the ascetic”. There is of course a potent rationale behind this approach, but in the end, it is not the approach recommended by the Gita! Arjuna has raised this option and been told to remain in the world and carry out his destined tasks.

As we have seen, the Gita relies on achievement of the synthesizing standpoint that can harmonize and reconcile the apparent contradictions faced by the mental consciousness. It is from this standpoint, then that we find the clue to achieving liberation from bondage while remaining active in the field within which all action is controlled by the Gunas. The solution lies, not in abandoning the Gunas, but in achieving a standpoint that allows the soul to be free from their bondage. Sri Aurobindo explains: “Here comes in the importance of its insistence on the abandonment of the fruits; for it is the desire of the fruits which is the most potent cause of the soul’s bondage and by abandoning it the soul can be free in action. Ignorance is the result of tamasic action, pain the consequence of rajasic works, pain of reaction, disappointment, dissatisfaction or transience, and therefore in attachment to the fruits of this kind of activity attended as they are with these undesirable accompaniments there is no profit. But of works rightly done the fruit is pure and sattwic, the inner result is knowledge and happiness. Yet attachment even to these pleasurable things must be entirely abandoned, first, because in the mind they are limited and limiting forms and, secondly, because, since Sattwa is constantly entangled with and besieged by Rajas and Tamas which may at any moment overcome it, there is a perpetual insecurity in their tenure.”

The Gita recommends further that it is not enough to give up the fruits of one’s work, although that is the powerful first step. One must eventually be able to give up even the attachment to the work itself, whether from motivations that are virtuous or uplifting, or not, and “give up the action itself to the Lord of works and be only a desireless and equal-minded instrument of his will.”

“To see that the modes of Nature are the whole agency and cause of our works and to know and turn to that which is supreme above the Gunas, is the way to rise above the lower nature. Only so can we attain to the movement and status of the Divine, madbhava, by which free from subjection to birth and death and their concomitants, decay, old age and suffering, the liberated soul shall enjoy in the end immortality and all that is eternal.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 14, Above the Gunas, pp. 417-418