Use the modes to analyze, not criticize
For making sense of the world, the Bhagavad-gita offers an analytical framework centered on the concept of the three modes of material nature. The modes are subtle forces that shape the interaction between matter and consciousness. Under the modes’ influence, different people perceive, think and act in different ways.
When we start practicing bhakti-yoga diligently, we rise to goodness and give up gross sensual indulgences. Our capacity to live somewhat purely may make us judgmental towards others, especially those living in the lower modes. We may label them as “foolish, sinful, degraded.” When people sense our condescending attitude, they become alienated, not just from us, but also from Krishna. By alienating them thus, we thwart Krishna’s benevolent purpose of helping them rise.
Moreover, our condescending attitude stems from ignorance – from our ignoring the reality that we too are under the modes’ influence, even if at a different level. The Gita (18.40) reminds us that all living beings are under the modes. A PhD student may feel that the kindergarten level exam is ridiculously easy (“How can anyone be so dumb as to not get that?”). But that exam is as difficult for a kindergarten student as is the PhD level exam for the PhD student. Similarly, thinking and living in goodness may seem like obvious common sense for us. But for those in the lower modes, rising to goodness is difficult, as challenging as is, say, rising to transcendence for us.
The framework of the modes is meant not to criticize, but to analyze – to understand who is at what level and to thereby guide them towards gradual but manageable steps up from where they are. When we thus see empathically instead of critically, people’s behavior will start making increasing sense, and we will be able to offer them help that actually helps.
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