Transcending the Three Modes of Material Nature

Transcending the Three Modes of Material Nature – In the previous blog, we discussed the characteristics of the 3 modes in great detail. Here we will see how those who engage themselves in Bhakti yoga, i.e. perform devotional service to Krishna, they transcend the three modes very easily through some beautiful examples from Shastra

Three modes and the Conditioned soul

All living beings in this material world are conditioned by three modes. Like if you are bound by the rope, you can’t work properly similarly these three modes have bound the soul. Soul is encaged by these three ropes. One rope is mode of goodness, other rope is mode of passion and the third rope is mode of ignorance.

The soul comes in contact with a particular mode of material nature and acts accordingly, being conditioned. If you associate with a drunkard, immediately you’ll behave like a drunkard. If you associate with a saintly person, you’ll behave like a saintly person.
We seek happiness on the material platform according to the modes we are conditioned by, and we are forced to act helplessly according to the impulses born of the modes of nature.

Everybody says, “I’ve a free will”, but the fact is that the moment we exercise our free will to be in Maya, all our actions are guided by three modes of material nature.As Krishna says in Bhagavad Gita 3.27

prakṛteḥ kriyamāṇāni
guṇaiḥ karmāṇi sarvaśaḥ
kartāham iti manyate

Translation: The spirit soul bewildered by the influence of false ego thinks himself the doer of activities that are in actuality carried out by the three modes of material nature.

What are the 3 modes of material nature

That means we are not acting but all our actions are guided by the modes. By surrendering to Maya, the way we put ourselves in different situation, that situation decides for us all that we are having or all that is happening to us. If you are addicted to computer games, then the computer game, not you, will decide when you’ll go to bed. But if you become Krishna conscious, then you’ll derive ability. When you use your free will to surrender to Krishna, your actions are guided by sadhu, guru and shastra (scriptures).
Then, you’ll see your own free will. One may also refer to this blog where I explained the concept of free will in detail.

Freedom from modes of material nature

Krishna says in Bhagavad Gita 14.26 :

māṁ ca yo ’vyabhicāreṇa
bhakti-yogena sevate
sa guṇān samatītyaitān
brahma-bhūyāya kalpate

Translation: “One who engages in full devotional service, unfailing in all circumstances, at once transcends the modes of material nature and thus comes to the level of Brahman.”

So, those who engage themselves in Bhakti yoga, i.e. perform devotional service to Krishna, they transcend the three modes. The real freedom is becoming free from three modes of material nature. As long as we are subjected to three modes of material nature, we’ve no free will, and we are prisoners. So through Bhagavad Gita, Krishna is inviting us, inspiring us to come out of that bondage, by engaging in Bhakti yoga.

We have been repeatedly emphasizing that Bhakti does not bar anyone, but gives the highest destination to any sincere practitioner, irrespective of his/her previous condition. Here too, a person situated in any mode of nature, if sincerely takes to Bhakti, can be elevated to perfection.

Persons in different material modes attaining perfection

1. Mode of Goodness

Our first example is that of the Prachetas, the 10 sons of king Prachinabarhi in the age of Satya yuga. They were instructed by their father to perform austerities so as to get good progeny. To carry out their father’s instruction, these brothers left home to execute severe penances. While traveling, they reached a huge lake which was serene and bedecked with natural beauty of lotus flowers, charming birds, exquisite trees and creepers, and bumblebees.

Thus, these brothers were well situated in the mode of goodness, but their purpose was mundane. By great fortune, they happened to meet Lord Shiva who was returning from the lake along with his followers. The brothers offered their respects to Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva knew their sincere pursuit of an austere and pious life. To elevate them further, he instructed them about Krishna Bhakti and gave them a mantra to please Lord Krishna.

3 modes of mother nature bhagavad gita

Following Lord Shiva’s instruction, the Prachetas chanted this mantra and performed austerities for ten thousand years. Being pleased with their devotion, Lord Vishnu Himself came to bless them with perfection. The Prachetas ruled as great kings and at the end of their lives, went back to the spiritual world.

This narration is from the fourth canto of Srimad Bhagavatam. It shows how a person in the mode of goodness can be elevated to the spiritual platform with bhakti, which comes from the association of a pure devotee.

2. Mode of Passion

Our second example is that of Dhruva Maharaj, the son of King Uttanapada, who was the emperor of the entire world. Even as a child of five years, he had an intense desire to attain a position greater than that of his father, and even that of Brahma ji, the creator of this universe. Unable to tolerate the insulting words of his stepmother, he left his royal home and went to the forests, unafraid of the harsh living conditions and wild animals there. His intent was to get a kingdom greater than even lord Brahma. He was extremely determined to perform austerities, but his goal was completely guided by the mode of passion. To uplift him, the great sage Narada came to him.

Seeing his intense and unflinching zeal, sage Narada instructed him in bhakti. He described the beautiful form of Lord Krishna, and asked Dhruva to meditate on Him. He gave him the mantra to worship Krishna. He also explained to Dhruva the process of deity worship and meditating on the sweet activities of Krishna.

Characteristics of 3 modes of material nature

To follow Narada’s instructions, Dhruva went to Madhuvana, the holy place of pastimes of Krishna, and applied himself to the process of bhakti. Pleased with his sincere practice, Lord Krishna personally appeared before Dhruva to fulfill his desires. But being purified by bhakti, Dhruva no longer cherished his mundane desires of prestige and sovereignty. He no longer withheld any feelings of resentment or envy towards anyone, including his stepmother. Dhruva now only desired to serve the Lord along with His loving devotees.

The Lord blessed him with unrivaled kingdom for thousands of years, followed by eternal residence in the spiritual world. He made Dhruva the ruler of the Dhruva star (pole star), which is a spiritual planet; this is in a way, a much better position than even that of lord Brahma This great incident is also described in the fourth canto of Srimad Bhagavatam. It shows how a person soaked in the mode of passion can be elevated to the spiritual platform by following the process of bhakti as instructed by a pure devotee.

3. Mode of Ignorance

Finally, we would like to recollect one example from our previous blog on Bhakti Yoga where we discussed the story of the prostitute who was induced by an envious ruler to defame Haridas Thakur, the great saintly devotee of Krishna.

What is material nature

She came to seduce Haridas Thakur consecutively for many nights. But hearing of the pure chanting of holy names from him completely transformed her heart. Thereafter, receiving instructions from Haridas Thakur, she spent her whole life chanting the holy names of Krishna and made her life perfect. In this way, even a prostitute engrossed in the lowest modes of nature could achieve perfectness by following the process of bhakti.

Another example is that of Mrigari, the cruel hunter, who derived great joy in half-killing the animals and seeing them suffering to death. By respectfully following sage Narada’s instructions to live a sin-free life by chanting the holy names of Krishna, he attained perfection. Transcending all the modes of nature, he developed all the divine qualities in him, and achieved the highest destination.

Meaning of Material nature

One may read Mrigari story in detail here.


In all the above examples, we see the potency of Krishna’s words [BG 14.26] quoted above. That is, by engaging in resolute devotional service, one transcends to the highest spiritual platform, irrespective of his previous conditioning by any or all of the modes of material nature. However, these examples also elicit an important precaution that while practicing spiritual life, we must always conduct ourselves in the mode of goodness. This is essential to make definitive progress in spiritual life.

Bhagavad Gita