In the thirteenth chapter, we leaned that our existence in this world is the result of a two-step problem. First, ignorance of our real nature creates this illusory but distinct entity called the Purusha or the jeeva. The jeeva gets trapped as a result of its attachment to the three gunas of Prakriti. In order to provide the means by which we can detach ourselves from the three gunas, Shri Krishna reveals this teaching in the fourteenth chapter.
He begins by glorifying this knowledge, and by revealing its fruit as fruit as liberation or moksha. He reiterates that the combination of the awareness aspect and the material aspect of Ishvara gives rise to this entire universe. The jeeva, the awareness aspect of Ishvara present in each of us, identifies with Prakriti, the material aspect. This identification, a product of ignorance, ensnares us in the endless cycle of birth and death in various kinds of wombs.
Next, we are led through a detailed analysis of Prakriti. Like the driver who erroneously identifies with someone else’s car and bears the consequences of that identification, we identify with the three gunas erroneously and are bound by their characteristics. Sattva binds through attachment to joy and knowledge. Rajas binds through attachment to action. Tamas binds through attachment to heedlessness, laziness and sloth. Only one guna dominates at one time. When one guna is strong, it overpowers the others.
Shri Krishna gives us the effects of each guna so that we can look within to understand the proportion of gunas within us. If we are full of radiance and knowledge, sattva prevails. If we are greedy all the time, and it results in desire and action, rajas prevails. If we are full of ignorance, heedlessness and error – tamas prevails.
Our fate after death is also determined by our predominant mental state at the time of death. A sattvic state leads a jeeva to come into a family of knowledge and improve its chance of liberation. A rajasic state leads it into a materialistic and action oriented family. A tamasic state leads a jeeva to take birth as animals or plants, hurting its chances of liberation. But to achieve liberation, we need to transcend all the three gunas.
Arjuna asks the question – what are signs of one who has transcended the three gunas? Shri Krishna replies – it is one who is not impacted, affected or attached to any of the gunas. Such a person views the entire universe, including his body, as gunas acting upon gunas. How does such a person behave in the world? He shows complete and utter equanimity towards objects, situations and people at all times. And how does one transcend the gunas in practice? Only through single pointed devotion to Ishvara, since Ishvara is the abode of nirguna brahman, the unconditioned and pure eternal essence. We need to detach from Prakriti and attach ourselves to Ishvara.