Home  »  Harvard Classics, Vol. 45, Part 4  »  Chapter XVII

The Bhagavad-Gita.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Chapter XVII

IF men forsake the holy ordinance,
Heedless of Shastras, yet keep faith at heart
And worship, what shall be the state of those,
Great Krishna! Sattwan, Rajas, Tamas? Say!
Threefold the faith is of mankind, and springs
From those three qualities,—becoming “true,”
Or “passion-stained,” or “dark,” as thou shalt hear!
  The faith of each believer, Indian Prince!
Conforms itself to what he truly is.
Where thou shalt see a worshiper, that one         10
To what he worships lives assimilate,
[Such as the shrine, so is the votary,]
The “soothfast” souls adore true gods; the souls
Obeying Rajas worship Rakshasas 1
Or Yakshas; and the men of Darkness pray         15
To Pretas and to Bhutas. 2 Yea, and those
Who practise bitter penance, not enjoined
By rightful rule—penance which hath its root
In self-sufficient, proud hypocrisies—
Those men, passion-beset, violent, wild,         20
Torturing—the witless ones—My elements
Shut in fair company within their flesh,
(Nay, Me myself, present within the flesh!)
Know them to devils devoted, not to Heaven!
For like as foods are threefold for mankind         25
In nourishing, so is there threefold way
Of worship, abstinence, and almsgiving!
Hear this of Me! there is a food which brings
Force, substance, strength, and health, and joy to live,
Being well-seasoned, cordial comforting,         30
The “Soothfast” meat. And there be foods which bring
Aches and unrests, and burning blood, and grief,
Being too biting, heating, salt, and sharp,
And therefore craved by too strong appetite
And there is foul food—kept from over-night, 3         35
Savorless, filthy, which the foul will eat,
A feast of rottenness, meet for the lips
Of such as love the “Darkness.”
        Thus with rites;—
A sacrifice not for rewardment made,         40
Offered in rightful wise, when he who vows
Sayeth, with heart devout, “This I should do!”
Is “Soothfast” rite. But sacrifice for gain,
Offered for good repute, be sure that this,
O Best of Bharatas! is Rajas-rite,         45
With stamp of “passion.” And a scarifice
Offered against the laws, with no due dole
Of food-giving, with no accompaniment
Of hallowed hymn, nor largesse to the priests,
In faithless celebration, call it vile.         50
The deed of “Darkness!”—lost!
        Worship of gods
Meriting worship; lowly reverence
Of Twice-borns, Teachers, Elders; Purity,
Rectitude, and the Brahmacharya’s vow,         55
And not to injure any helpless thing,—
These make a true religiousness of Act.
  Words causing no man woe, words ever true,
Gentle and pleasing words, and those ye say
In murmured reading of a Sacred Writ,—         60
These make the true religiousness of Speech.
  Serenity of soul, benignity,
Sway of the silent Spirit, constant stress
To sanctify the Nature,—these things make
Good rite, and true religiousness of Mind.         65
  Such threefold faith, in highest piety
Kept, with no hope of gain, by hearts devote,
Is perfect work of Sattwan, true belief.
  Religion shown in act of proud display
To win good entertainment, worship, fame,         70
Such—say I—is of Rajas, rash and vain.
  Religion followed by a witless will
To torture self, or come at power to hurt
Another,—’tis of Tamas, dark and ill.
  The gift lovingly given, when one shall say         75
“Now must I gladly give!” when he who takes
Can render nothing back; made in due place,
Due time, and to a meet recipient,
Is gift of Sattwan, fair and profitable.
  The gift selfishly given, where to receive         80
Is hoped again, or when some end is sought,
Or where the gift is proffered with a grudge,
This is of Rajas, stained with impulse, ill.
  The gift churlishly flung, at evil time,
In wrongful place, to base recipient,         85
Made in disdain or harsh unkindliness,
Is gift of Tamas, dark; it doth not bless! 4
Here endeth Chapter XVII. of the Bhagavad-Gîtâ,
entitled “Sraddhatrayavibhâgayôg,” or
“The Book of Religion by the Threefold
Kinds of Faith”
Note 1. Rakshasas and Yakshas are unembodied but capricious beings of great power, gifts, and beauty, sometimes also of benignity. [back]
Note 2. These are spirits of evil, wandering ghosts. [back]
Note 3. Yâtayaman, food which has remained after the watches of the night. In India this would probably “go bad.” [back]
Note 4. I omit the concluding shlokas, as of very doubtful authenticity. [back]