In the Bhagavad-gita (14.1), referring to the three modes of nature, the Supreme Lord said:
“Again, I shall declare to you this supreme wisdom, the best of all knowledge, knowing which all the sages have attained the supreme perfection.”
Srila Prabhupada makes some compelling statements in the purport:
“In the Thirteenth Chapter, it was clearly explained that by humbly developing knowledge one may possibly be freed from material entanglement. It has also been explained that it is due to association with the modes of nature that the living entity is entangled in this material world. Now, in this chapter, the Supreme Personality explains what those modes of nature are, how they act, how they bind and how they give liberation. The knowledge explained in this chapter is proclaimed by the Supreme Lord to be superior to the knowledge given so far in other chapters. By understanding this knowledge, various great sages attained perfection and transferred to the spiritual world. The Lord now explains the same knowledge in a better way. This knowledge is far, far superior to all other processes of knowledge thus far explained. And knowing this; many, attained perfection. Thus, it is expected that one who understands this Fourteenth Chapter will attain perfection.”
Here Srila Prabhupada is qualifying the results of developing knowledge of the three modes. He says,
“One may possibly be freed from material entanglement”.
Hence, it is not a guaranteed that by developing knowledge of the three modes, will one be freed from material entanglement; it is only a possibility. Srila Prabhupada is alluding to the fact that in order to realize the purport of this verse, one must go further than just developing this knowledge. Developing the knowledge is just the first step, so to speak.
Srila Prabhupada also says the Fourteenth Chapter teaches four things about the three modes of nature,
- What they are.
- How they act.
- How they bind,
- How they give liberation.
Of these, the fourth item, how they give liberation, is rarely discussed, if at all. When I was a member of ISKCON, I have heard many classes discussing the three modes of nature, however, I never once heard a word on how they give liberation. In discussing the three modes with many devotee audiences I often asked if they have ever heard a class emphasizing how the modes give liberation, however, I never got an affirmative response. Usually, the other three items are the entire focus. This is an interesting phenomenon because as transcendentalists, this item is clearly the one of most interest to us.
The lack of emphasis on how the modes give liberation makes me wonder how well we have grasped the philosophy. It demonstrates the potency of the modes of nature. They have kept us from emphasizing what Krishna considers “the supreme wisdom.” How can we expect to have a correct understanding of the affairs of Radha-Krishna without a proper understanding of the modes of nature? How can we progress to higher math without understanding basic math?
Without a clear understanding of the modes of nature it is difficult to distinguish between pure and mixed devotional service. Can we afford not to make this distinction? The answer is “No.” Mixed devotional service is so complex; it is a virtual minefield one must cross to get to pure devotional service. The more one knows its symptoms, the better his chances of avoiding it.
The shastra says that we must be free of all contamination of the modes of nature, that is to say, all stages of mixed devotional service, in order to be eligible for understanding the postgraduate phase of the Vaishnava philosophy. In the Caitanya-caritamrita Madhya-lila 19.160, while describing upasakha, the unwanted creepers that grow along with the bhakti-lata creeper, Sri Caitanya told Srila Rupa Gosvami,, in Caitanya-caritamrta Madhya-lia 16.160,
“If one does not distinguish between the bhakti creeper and the other creepers, the sprinkling of water is misused because the other creepers are nourished while the bhakti creeper is curtailed.”