Differentiating 3 Types of Faith (Shraddha) – Bhagavad Gita, CH17 (173)


Lesson 173 introduces Chapter 17, showing all faith (what you stand for) stems from 3 intentions which produce wide expression of worships or rituals for sake of attaining the Lord.

Source: Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 17, Verse 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

Introduction to BG, Chapter 17:

  • Purpose of CH16/17 is to refine our perception, taking out contaminants, so we’re perceiving things as they actually are. In fact, wisdom is a product of thinking through a clean inner instrument.
    • Becoming aware of the contaminants was purpose of daivi-sampat (CH16). CH17 is physically making changes in our lives according to Krishna’s pointers.
    • Krishna will point out where contaminants are in your practices, but showing what they look like when governed by 3 guṇas. That way one can rise from animal-being (paśyati iti pasuḥ: that which merely sees) to manuṣya (one who thinks AFTER perceiving).
    • Sattva, Raja, Tama guna Explanation (in Reference to Character):
      • Differentiation:
        1. Sattvika oriented faith: Anything that comes from a clean intent. Inheres 20 Values from CH13.
          • It’s actions invoke sense of gratitude, cheerfulness.
        2. Rajasika oriented faith: Self-centered oriented intent. Doesn’t consider needs of others, but also doesn’t intentionally hurt others, although may directly/indirectly.
          • It’s actions invoke tension, nervousness, anxiety, restlessness.
        3. Tamasika: Practices which case harm to self or others.
      • We show all 3 in various aspects. EG: I worship the Lord (sāttvika), love a fast life (rājasika), and sometimes tell untruths or back-bite (tāmasika).
      • GOAL of CH17 is to do helps us move up the guna ladder.
    • Meaning of Faith?
      • śraddhāmayaḥ ayam puruṣaḥ: Everyone has faith in something. – BG 17.3.
      • Faith is something you stand for. Something you’re pulled to. What you think is beneficial for your self-growth. That which pulls you towards a certain teaching.
      • Faith is actually our beliefs, but specifically related to meaning of growth.
        • And what is a belief? Conclusion made in the past, on bases of limited information. But made nevertheless to give us some meaning in life.
      • Faith also guides our desires.
        • If I have faith in “means of knowledge” that’s attempting to show me a reality bigger then my body-mind, then my desires will be oriented towards scriptures.
        • If faith is in my comfort, then desires will serve that faith.
        • If faith is in my “ignorant” intellect, then I’ll quickly disregard your view.
      • What is my faith? Observe yourself in time of loss / misfortune / death / separation.
        • One who has faith in principle morality, will not budge even when tempted. Whereas, one whose faith is in feeling-good, easily buckles under pressure.

VERSE 1-6: Arjuna's question and three types of faith.

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 17, Verse 1:

ye śāstra-vidhim utsṛjya yajante śraddhayā anvitāḥ ।
teṣām niṣṭhā tu kā kṛṣṇa sattvam āho rajaḥ tamaḥ ॥ 17-1॥
Arjuna asked — What is the status of those people who ignore the Scriptural rules and worship with faith? Is it Sattva, rajas, or tamas, Oh! Krishna?

  • In last verse of CH16, Krishna said you need the scriptures to negate asuri-sampat. This prompts Arjuna to ask Question in CH17, Verse 1:
    • What of those who have faith in God, do their prayer/devotion/sadhana, but don’t have access to scriptures (illiterate, unaware of them), hence it’s stripped of scriptural injunctions? IE: They don’t have HOW-TO, but have devotion.
      • What kind of devotees are they? How to classify them? Are they sattva, raja or tama guna oriented?
    • Arjuna’s justification for Q: Having faith (sincerity) implies Sattvic character, but improper methods OR unwillingness to follow scriptural protocols implies raja/tama guna, which actually leads to spiritual stagnation or regression.

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 17, Verse 2:

trividhā bhavati śraddhā dehinām sā svabhāvajā ।
sāttvikī rājasī ca eva tāmasī ca iti tām śṛṇu ॥ 17-2॥
Lord Krishna said — For all human beings, faith (shraddha) is threefold as sattvika, rajasika and tamasika. It is born of one’s nature. Hear about it.

  • Bhagavan answers: Since scriptures are not guiding person’s faith/actions/devotion, one’s character (vasanas / purva janma / culture / family) will determine his/her faith.
  • Meaning, depending what kind of object a person worships, determines whether it’s sattvika-rajasika-tamasika faith. Also depending HOW one worships, gives away whether it’s sattvika-rajasika-tamasika faith.

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 17, Verse 3:

sattva-anurūpā sarvasya śraddhā bhavati bhārata ।
śraddhāmayaḥ ayam puruṣaḥ yaḥ yat śraddhaḥ saḥ eva saḥ ॥ 17-3॥
Oh! Arjuna For everyone, faith is according to (his/her) temperament. A person consists of (his/her) faith. He is verily what his faith is.

  • Faith depends on what person values in early stages of life. It sets up framework for rest of life.
  • Watch your thoughts, they become your words. > Watch your words, they become your actions > habits > character > future.

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 17, Verse 4:

yajante sāttvikāḥ devān yakṣa-rakṣāṃsi rājasāḥ ।
pretān bhūtagaṇān ca anye yajante tāmasāḥ janāḥ ॥ 17-4॥
Sāttvika (people) worship the gods (devas). Rājasika (people) worship the yakṣas and rakṣasas. Tāmasic people worship the ghosts and the spirits.

  • How to know if your faith is SRT? Krishna says faith is imperceptible because it’s a mental state. Hence only way is by inferring from type of activity.
    • Example of inference:
        • You can’t perceive your grandfather, but know you have one because you’re born.
        • What type of friends have. Movies watched. Topics brought up. How treat the shopkeeper. Books in the bookshelf.  
  • Specifically Krishna says, one can infer from type of worship (puja/yajna) person does. Every worship has 3 factors:
    1. Devata: Type of deity worshipped.
      1. Sattvic: Deities that bless us with wisdom, morality. EG: Rama, Vishnu, Prahlada, Shiva, Krishna.
        • Children sometimes improvising Hanumān carrying a mace (gadā), wearing artificial tail, chanting “Jai Śrī Rām”; unconsciously builds a samskara for sattvic
          • Sattvic oriented faith worships the noble, the wise. And feel compelled to follow their ways, and take to life of noble causes.
      2. Rajasic: Bless us with worldly success, material gains.
          • Rajasic oriented faith worships the rich, famous, glamorous, powerful, and those in high positions. He copies them in his behaviour and lifestyle and feels honoured to be recognised by such people. He seeks their company and tries to impress them.
          • Rajasic faith worship rock stars, sportsmen, politicians, and the achievers in various fields. EG: Teen doesn’t mind waiting 3hours to get autograph from film star.
      3. Tamasic: Bhūta-gaṇa (host of living beings) associated with hurting others. Black magic, witchcraft (especially in Ghana), ghosts, cannibalism. Involves blood sacrifices. Generally done at midnight (when tama guna is dominant).
        • PERSON:
          • Tamasic oriented faith admires the criminal, the vulgar, the terrible, the violent, and the cheap.
          • Justifies and glorifies extreme, fanatical, and contorted ideals.
          • Shows in one’s dress, mannerisms and foul words.
    2. Prakāraḥ: Mode of worship.
      1. Sattva: Mental worship. Internal. Quiet and private.
      2. Rajas: Heavily ritualistic, noisy and extroverted. Highly physically/verbally oriented. 
      3. Tamas: Hurting oneself.
    3. Bhāvana: Motive/intention behind the worship.
      1. Sattva: Spiritual growth.
      2. Rajas: Worldly accomplishments.
      3. Tamas: Wishing another’s misfortune.

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 17, Verse 5:

aśāstra-vihitam ghoram tapyante ye tapaḥ janāḥ ।
dambha-ahaṃkāra-saṃyuktāḥ kāma-rāga-bala-anvitāḥ ॥ 17-5॥
Some people practice severe austerity which is not prescribed in the scriptures. They are given to pretention and excessive pride, and are possessed by the impulse of desire and attachment.

  • Speaks more about prakāraḥ: Mode of worship, which is:
    • Rajasic: in which case scriptures are interpreted per samskaras, or…
    • Tamasic: total ignorance of scriptural injunctions.
    • EG of Rajas/Tamas mode of worship: Ravana.
  • Tamasic mode:
    • Examples:
      • Hooks through body / firewalk / cutting limbs for offering / starve the body.
      • Most Sadhus at Rishikesh eating mainly roti/dal. Years later, symptoms of malnutrition & immunity weakness show.
      • Swami near Badrinath, standing for months as tapas, with swollen knees.
      • Standing in freezing Ganga water for several minutes.
      • Refusing to wear clothes in cold Himalaya regions.
      • Further more,  novice spiritual seekers look up these feats as extraordinary.
    • All are examples of total ignorance of scriptures, and not understanding body is a sacred temple of God.
  • Rajasic mode:
    • Examples:
      • Gaining validation (spiritual resume).
      • Gaining powers for publicity and feeling bigger then the rest. Meaning even if someone had a divine experience and had voice of Bhagavan speak to him directly, doesn’t mean they’re mentally clean.
      • All are indicators of excessive pride (violation of amānitvam) and attachment (binding vasanas).

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 17, Verse 6:

karṣayantaḥ śarīrastham bhūta-grāmam acetasaḥ ।
mām ca eva antaḥ-śarīrastham tān viddhi āsura-niścayān ॥ 17-6॥
These indiscriminate people torment the organs in the body as well as Me who reside in the body. Know them to be of āsura resolve.

  • Highlights Tamasic mode of worship discussed in Verse 5. Krishna says, “they’re indirectly hurting Me”, because dishonoring/disowning the body.

VERSE 7: Kṛṣṇa introduces new topics.

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 17, Verse 7:

āhāraḥ tu api sarvasya trividhaḥ bhavati priyaḥ ।
yajñaḥ tapaḥ tathā dānam teṣām bhedam imam śṛṇu ॥ 17-7॥
Food liked by everyone, is also threefold. So also are Yajñā, austerity and charity. Hear about their division.

  • Krishna has answered Arjuna’s question (so CH17 should be over), but includes 4 more related topics:
    1. Ahara: Food.
    2. Yajna: Type of worship (puja)  |  For Westeners: spiritual practice.
      • Yajna vs Puja:
        • Yajna is Vedic concept. Involves offering to the devas via rituals like agnihotra / havan.
        • Puja is Puranic concept that came about 1000 years later.
        • For general purpose, both involve 2 parts: Giving and asking. Thus both can also been seen as having a meaningful/justified exchange with the personal deity (istha-devata) for a cause.
        • Yagna was designed by Brahmins 3,000 years ago as ceremony to invite devas. In other words, invite the Lord in form of maternal-health-deva, rains-for-agricultural-deva, disease-curing-deva.
          • Communication was established using fire (agni) as medium, chants (mantra) and special offerings (soma).
        • Limitations of yajna become apparent for 2 reasons:
          • (a) gods have no form, thus hard for people to relate to, and…
          • (b) couldn't be performed during rainy seasons (4 monsoon months).
        • SOLUTION: About 2000 years ago, DIY puja came. Common citizens could relate with a tangible picture of their Lord, and done anytime of year.
        • SUMMARY: Yajna/Puja = same concept. Dedicated ritual for invoking Lord’s grace.
    3. Tapas: Austerity.
      • Yajña VS Tapas:
        • Yajña:  A given ritual through which you ask for Lord’s helping hand in your life. Ideally, so you may utilize the body-mind-intellect equipment for noble work.
        • Tapas: Fine-tuning our body-mind-intellect. TECHNIQUE.
        • For fellow WESTERNERS (where concept of yajna is alien): Yajna/tapas is the same.
    4. Danam: Charity.


Credit for help in Bhagavad Gita teaching given to Swami Dayananda (Arsha Vidya), Paramarthananda & Chinmaya Mission.

Recorded 14 June, 2022


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