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There are three gunas, or modes of material nature, and among them, sattva-guna is the mode of goodness. The modes are underlying principles which govern the way natural energies work, everywhere from the microscopic, up to the cosmic scale.
Symptoms of the mode of goodness include:
- The ability to learn from mistakes
- Simplicity of spirit
- Faith in the Divine
- Moral character
In this article, we’ll focus on the benefits offered by sattva-guna, and some ways to cultivate it.
A Culture of Knowledge
While the mode of goodness is famed for its visible aspects of cleanliness, truthfulness, kindness and self-discipline, the underlying driver of these virtues is knowledge. When we understand our true identity as an eternal soul, then our thoughts, words and actions grow out of goodness.
Knowledge in the mode of goodness says that we are not these material bodies, but eternal spiritual entities. In fact, since every creature is spiritual, we all deserve equal respect. This equal vision protects against discriminatory biases, and promotes all sorts of virtues.
Some of the virtues commonly associated with the mode of goodness are listed above, but they are factually too numerous to list.
Yoga paths have various frameworks for living in goodness. But you don’t have to be a great yogi; these traits can realized by anyone. In general, if you want to develop or maintain goodness, start with examining your reactions to situations and people in your everyday life.
The environments we inhabit and work in are also affected by the modes of nature. Natural environments like the forest take us to the world of goodness. Diet also influences the proportion of goodness we experience. Foods in the mode of goodness are said to be:
- Pleasing to the heart
- Obtained without difficulty
Less is More
The Sanskrit word tapasya means sacrificing something desirable for a higher purpose. By focusing on basic necessities, we cease to depend on luxuries for our peace and happiness. In goodness, the fear of slight discomfort won’t drive us toward dangerous addictions either. Empty, transactional relationships can be another form of escape from the problems of life. The company of one dear friend is more fulfilling than 10,000 random likes on a Facebook post. Quality more than quantity becomes the measure of success. Sattva-guna is simple, but not easy. Love, friendship and fulfilment can’t be quantified, but that doesn’t make these values worthless; on the contrary, they’re priceless. Goodness places a premium on these virtues, and inspires us to use all our time, energy and resources to ensure that they are maintained at any cost.
Holding Everything Together
Whereas creation is associated with the mode of passion, and destruction with ignorance, goodness shines through in maintenance. More than just a short-term activity with a definite end point, maintenance requires constant monitoring and commitment to care. Upkeep is often an underappreciated effort. Don’t expect recognition for changing the oil in your car. But if you neglect this activity, the consequence can bring your ride to an abrupt stop. Much of the mode of goodness follows this pattern of fulfilling some ongoing, low-profile necessity. There is a strength of character that develops by this dispassionate dutifulness. The life of discipline is one of character and integrity. Character is how we interact with others. Integrity is how we behave when we think no one is looking.For those who have committed to a spiritual path, this is what it means to be a disciple. The character of one in the mode of goodness facilitates enduring relationships. These relationships are based on offering a relevant service without personal motives. A constant mood of respect and kindness is another hallmark of character in sattva-guna. Integrity in the mode of goodness is highly-developed. In this state, we perform our duties not for money, recognition or validation, but because of a deep personal realization that if everyone behaved the same way, the face of the world change for the better.
As Good as it Gets
The mode of goodness is compared to smoky fire. Passion is compared to a dusty mirror. Ignorance to the embryo in her mother’s womb. These metaphors represent levels of covering which veil our real spiritual identities. The child in the womb is a great mystery until s/he is born. A mirror covered by dust does bear a faint resemblance. But the thinnest covering of the three is the smoke which covers a fire. Specifically, the properties of heat and light in fire are never fully enclosed by smoke. The soul has three characteristics called sat, chit, and ananda, known in English as eternity, knowledge, and bliss. When these qualities are fully uncovered, that is referred to as shuddha-sattva, or pure goodness. The following is a correspondence table between pure goodness and sattva-guna:
Since sattva-guna has so many divine properties, why should any distinction be drawn between pure goodness, and the material mode of goodness? What makes it material after all? Bhagavad-gita explains: “O sinless one, the mode of goodness, being purer than the others, is illuminating, and it frees one from all sinful reactions. Those situated in that mode become conditioned by a sense of happiness and knowledge.” (14.6) The translator, Srila Prabhupada comments: “The difficulty here is that when a living entity is situated in the mode of goodness he becomes conditioned to feel that he is advanced in knowledge and is better than others. In this way he becomes conditioned.”
Toward the Supreme Goodness
Therefore to make the leap from worldly goodness to spiritual goodness, one must be humble enough to unconditionally respect all others, without expecting to be shown respect in return. This allows one to come into touch with the Supreme Reality, and abide in constant praise. “One who thinks himself lower than the grass, who is more tolerant than a tree, and who does not expect personal honor yet is always prepared to give all respect to others can very easily remain fixed in constant glorification of the Lord.” (Caitanya-caritamrta, 3.20.21)