sattvam rajas tama iti
gunah prakriti-sambhavah
nibadhnanti maha-baho
dehe dehinam avyayam

Translation of Bhagavad Gita 14.5

Material nature consists of three modes—goodness, passion and ignorance. When the eternal living entity comes in contact with nature, O mighty-armed Arjuna, he becomes conditioned by these modes.

Commentary by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of Gaudiya Sampradaya:

The living entity, because he is transcendental, has nothing to do with this material nature. Still, because he has become conditioned by the material world, he is acting under the spell of the three modes of material nature. Because living entities have different kinds of bodies, in terms of the different aspects of nature, they are induced to act according to that nature. This is the cause of the varieties of happiness and distress.

Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:

After the Lord has described the appearance of all the living entities through prakrti (mother) and purusa (father), how are the gunas to be described? What type of bondage arises for the jiva from association with these gunas? This verse answers these questions.

In the body, the product of prakrti, the gunas bind up the jiva (dehinam) situated there by identification with it, due to the association with the gunas arising from beginningless ignorance, even though the jiva actually is without change (avyayam) and not attached.

Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:

14.5 The three Gunas of Prakrti — Sattva, Rajas and Tamas — are inherent in the essential nature of Prakrti and are particular expressions of it. They can be known only through their effects such as ‘brightness’ etc. They are not apparent in the unevolved state of Prakrti but become apparent in its transformations as Mahat etc. They bind the self, which is conjoined with bodies such as those of divinities, men etc., composed of the modifications of Prakrti beginning with Mahat and ending with the elements. The self is immutable, i.e., It is not in Its pristine nature conjoined with the Gunas. But the Gunas bind It when residing in the body. The meaning is that they bind It by virtue of the limiting conditions of Its living in the body. Sri Krsna proceeds to speak of the nature of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas and their modes of binding (the self):

Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:

Having thus declared that the origins of all jivas or embodied beings is from the combination of prakriti or the material substratum pervading all existence and purusa the Supreme Being as eternal consciousness and that they are both manifestations of the Supreme Lord Krishna. The resulting situation of the purusa’s conjunction with prakriti is elaborated upon in fourteen verse beginning with this one is described in relationship to the gunas or three modes of material nature: sattva or goodness, rajas or passion and tamas or nescience which all arise from prakriti. The source and foundation of these gunas is only from prakriti and are dependent upon it. The physical body is a product of the three gunas. Everything in material existence is under the influence of the three gunas which binds fast the jivas by connecting the effect of actions to the results of reactions. Due to accepting the illusions of happiness, distress, exhilaration, delusion, etc. The jivas believe that they are physical beings because of identifying with the senses and the physical body. So much so that the eternal part within which is the atma or the immortal soul is completely forgotten even though it is a direct manifestation of the Supreme Lord and in reality immutable and eternal.

Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:

The forms and accruements of attachment obstructing the jiva or embodied being in relation to atma tattva or realization of the immortal soul is indicated in this verse. The words sattva, rajas and tamas are usually depicted as goodness, passion and nescience. But there are other interpretations of the same. Sattva is luminous because goodness illuminates. Rajas is exuberance giving passion to the ego and momentum to activity. Tamas is nescience the degenerative utilization of rajas and the total antithesis of sattva.

Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:

Lord Krishna refutes the impersonalistic sankhya philosophy which negates the existence of the Supreme Lord by propounding the combination and essential dependence of the ksetra or field of activity with the ksetra-jna or the knower of the field of activity. He delineates all aspects such as what the qualities are. How they can be recognised. How they keep the jivas or embodied beings in bondage and how this is established and enforced by contact and attraction to sense objects and material nature. He states that the three gunas or qualities of sattva, rajas and tamas or goodness, passion and ignorance respectively are not the actual forms of objects seen, heard, tasted, smelled or touched but are the status of the inherent attributes contained as. Thus prakriti or the material substratum pervading physical existence is defined as the resting place where the three gunas are equipoise and arise from. This same prakriti when agitated by the Supreme Lord’s onslaught of time transforms into mahat or cosmic intelligence and firmly becomes bonded with the dualities such as pleasure and pain, happiness and distress, etc. But then one may question why it is stated in chapter 2, verse 30 that the atma or immortal soul can never be destroyed. Anticipating such a query Lord Krishna states the words dehinam avyayam meaning the immutable spirit soul denoting that although the atma resides in the physical body it is immutable and never changes it quality of eternality. So the gunas cause the atma to be imprisoned by the physical body due to its attachment to the body and its attraction to the senses and its desire for sense objects. The Visnu Purana states: The Supreme Lord enters by His own will with equipoise into mutable matter and immutable spirit, activating both at the time of creation. O sage He is both the activator and the activated. By way of contraction and expansion He abides equipoise within prakriti as the ksetrajna from whence the three gunas arise which control the ksetra. This irrevocably manifests at the commencement of creation. So in conclusion the three gunas are the modified essence of prakriti which is generated by the mahat unto all material beings and planets such as Earth and others.

Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:

14.5 O mighty-armed one-who are possessed of hands which are great and mighty, and extend upto the knees, gunah, the qualities are named sattva, rajas and tamas. And they, prakrti-sambhavah, born of Nature, born of Maya which belongs to God; nibadhnanti, bind, as it were; the avyayam, immutable-the immutability has been spoken of in the verse, ‘Being without beginning…,’ etc. (13.31); dehinam, embodied being; dehe, to the body. The word guna is a technical term, and is not a quality like colour etc. which inhere in some substance. Nor is it meant here that quality and substance are different. Therefore they are ever dependent on the Knower of the field, just as qualities are dependent (on some substance). Being of the nature of ignorance, they bind the Knower of the field, as it were. They come into being, making That (Knower) their sustainer. In this sense it is said that they bind. Objection; Was it not said that the embodied one does not become defiled (see 13.31-2)? So, why as it contrarily said here that ‘they bind’? Reply: We have rebutted this objection by using the word iva (as it were) in ‘they bind, as it were’.

Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:

14.5 Sattvam etc. This embodied Soul is bound fast by Her (the Mother) by means of Her attributes of the Sattva, the Rajas and the Tamas for the former’s enjoyment that continues till his emancipation. The nature of these is detailed one by one –

Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:

sattvam rajas tama iti
gunah prakrti-sambhavah
nibadhnanti maha-baho
dehe dehinam avyayam

Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:

sarva-yoniṣu — in all species of life; kaunteya — O son of Kuntī; mūrtayaḥ — forms; sambhavanti — they appear; yāḥ — which; tāsām — of all of them; brahma — the supreme; mahat yoniḥ — source of birth in the material substance; aham — I; bīja-pradaḥ — the seed-giving; pitā — father.sattvam — the mode of goodness; rajaḥ — the mode of passion; tamaḥ — the mode of ignorance; iti — thus; guṇāḥ — the qualities; prakṛti — material nature; sambhavāḥ — produced of; nibadhnanti — do condition; mahā-bāho — O mighty-armed one; dehe — in this body; dehinam — the living entity; avyayam — eternal.