In the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna talks at length about the “three modes of material nature.” These are subtle forces that influence our behavior as well as every aspect of our physical, mental, and emotional world. The Sanskrit term for these forces is guna, “rope,” and the Gita explains how they pull us to act in various ways, even against our better judgment.
The effects of sattva-guna, the mode of goodness, are seen when an atmosphere of peace, serenity, and harmony prevails in our environment and ourselves. Rajo-guna, the mode of passion, is felt as insatiable desire for temporary things, striving for more and more of them, and perpetual dissatisfaction. Tamo-guna, the mode of ignorance, is indicated when there’s laziness, depression, intoxication, and insanity.
The fourteenth chapter of the Bhagavad-gita contains elaborate descriptions of the modes, their symptoms, how they affect us, and ultimately how to become free from their influence through the practice of bhakti-yoga, or Krishna consciousness.
The painting depicts the three modes of nature as puppeteers controlling our actions.