Among the three modes of material nature, passion presents an intermediate level of challenge to our spiritual practice. The main threats include chronic anxiety, interpersonal friction and confusion. This article offers five ways to rise above the influence of the mode of passion.
1. Eat For Health
Bhagavad-gita describes the passionate diet in chapter 17, verse 9:
ahara rajasasyeshta duhkha-sokamaya-pradah
Foods that are too bitter, too sour, salty, hot, pungent, dry and burning are dear to those in the mode of passion. Such foods cause distress, misery and disease.
Consumption of these foods is not directly responsible for our coming under the influence of passion. The operative word in this verse is ishta, which means preference. Rajo-guna, or the mode of passion causes us to favor these flavors. The previous verse describes the palate of goodness:
rasyah snigdhah sthira hridya aharah sattvika-priyah
Foods dear to those in the mode of goodness increase the duration of life, purify one’s existence and give strength, health, happiness and satisfaction. Such foods are juicy, fatty, wholesome, and pleasing to the heart.
Food is fuel, but the mode of passion makes food into a substitute for inner peace. Having a healthy relationship with food frees us from addiction to distractingly high levels of spiciness, and replaces these flavors with balanced nutrition, as well as satisfying and refreshing tastes.
According to Ayurveda, gastric mucus is depleted by overly spicy foods. With that protective layer lost, we are at increased risk for developing peptic ulcers. Eating extra fruits, especially those rich in vitamins A and C can help heal our bellies, so we can focus on living our lives.
Diet is important in spiritual practice, too. In the path of bhakti-yoga, everything we plan to eat is offered first as a sacrifice. Foods in the mode of goodness are essential for such offerings. When incorporated in a sacramental framework, our diet helps heal us body, mind and soul.
2. Find Yourself in the Woods
A 2018 OnePoll survey found that 11% of Americans never leave the state they’re born in. In Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.25.25 Krishna, or God, says that living in your hometown is residence in the mode of passion. The same verse says that living in the forest is in the mode of goodness.
Even if living in the forest is not possible, regular visits are still helpful for restoring our perspective from the drama of life at home. In the forest, we find efficient balance of resources. Everything there supports an ecosystem, diverse in the beauty and resilience to be discovered.
The forest has countless lessons we can take with us and apply in our lives, wherever we live:
- Trees provide shelter and resources to others, and tolerate many hardships.
- Wind blows around all kinds of objects without changing its nature.
- Just as poor fish are baited and hooked, we can fall victim to seduction of the tongue.
- The forest creatures are all souls, just as we are.
- The same spaciousness and quiet of the woods can be found in our hearts as well.
- As souls, we transcend the modes of nature, as the sky is unaffected by weather patterns.
- We aspire to nourish and sanctify the environment around us like flowing forest rivers.
- As a forest fire burns wood to ashes, so the yoga of devotion burns away our karma.
What sort of lessons will you draw from visiting the forest?
3. Experience Inner Peace
When swayed by the mode of passion, we endure frequent and intense bouts of anxiety. The frantic activity of this mode is a reaction to inner emptiness. By meditating on the Absolute Truth, and practicing spiritually-informed speech, work and thinking, we find fulfilment within.
Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam describe many ways in which passion leads to anxiety:
Passionate nature — Bhagavad-gita 14.7:
The mode of passion is born of unlimited desires and longings, Kaunteya, and because of this the embodied living entity is bound to material fruitive actions.
Passionate work life — Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.25.14:
When the mode of passion, which causes attachment, separatism and activity, conquers ignorance and goodness, a person begins to work hard to acquire prestige and fortune. Thus in the mode of passion he or she experiences anxiety and struggle.
Passionate strain on relationships — Excerpt from Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.25.3:
… false pride… considering oneself different and better than others… rash eagerness to fight, a fondness for hearing oneself praised, the tendency to ridicule others, advertising one’s own prowess and justifying one’s actions by one’s strength are qualities of the mode of passion.
Keeping these causes of chronic anxiety in mind, the need for inner peace is clear. Each of the three verses just mentioned in this section are preceded by descriptions of goodness, and the inner peace it helps to provide:
Nature in goodness — Bhagavad-gita 14.6
O Arjuna, the mode of goodness, being purer than the others, is illuminating, and it frees one from illness. Those situated in that mode become conditioned by a sense of happiness and knowledge.
Work life balance in goodness — Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.25.13:
When the mode of goodness, which is luminous, pure and auspicious, predominates over passion and ignorance, a person becomes endowed with happiness, virtue, knowledge and other good qualities.
A NIOSH report found that 40% of us consider our job very stressful, and 25% view work as the biggest stressor in our lives. Cultivating the above characteristics greatly improves our work life — in goodness, we’re not manipulated into workaholism or dependant on volatile fortunes to be happy.
Goodness uplifting us in our relationships — Excerpt from Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.25.2:
… tolerance… truthfulness, mercy, careful study of the past and future… generosity… charity, simplicity, humility and satisfaction within oneself are qualities of the mode of goodness.
4. See the Interconnectedness
Another feature of passion is called bhinna-drisham, or the perspective in which we consider each species to be a different kind of entity. This separatist vision can lead to speciesism where we think one species is inherently better than another. Actually, we’re not our bodies, but the soul within.
Another manifestation of this bhinna-drisham is to see the energies of the Absolute Truth without considering their energetic source. The yoga paths help us in reconnecting with the Absolute Truth. The resulting perspective is unified and helps us rise above passion.
5. Respect Others
Passion is situated between goodness and ignorance, so in passion, we can easily come under the influence of the other two modes. Respect for others is a big driver determining which mode we come under. In short, our respect for others, or lack thereof, leads us to the following modes:
- Goodness – Respecting others as spiritual entities with rights and feelings of their own.
- Passion – Respecting others when they help further our purposes.
- Ignorance – Failing to respect others, even when it causes self-harm.
Even in the spiritual path, the projects-over-people mentality is a sickness. Spiritual progress is voluntary and depends on the attitude of the practitioner. By showing unconditional respect to others, we access inner fulfilment, relationships and wisdom not otherwise available.
Words of Wisdom
The effects of passion can be managed and transcended by cultivating the mode of goodness and by adopting spiritual practices. Modal progress occurs by replacing selfish passions with knowledge and devotion. Merely repressing our passions cannot help us, and it inevitably leads to ignorance.
“Though the embodied soul may be restricted from sense enjoyment, the taste for sense objects remains. But, ceasing such engagements by experiencing a higher taste, he is fixed in consciousness.” (Bhagavad-gita, 2.59)