rajo vaikalpikaṁ ca yat
prākṛtaṁ tāmasaṁ jñānaṁ
man-niṣṭhaṁ nirguṇaṁ smṛtam
The Lord clearly explains here that spiritual knowledge of His supreme personality is transcendental to ordinary religious knowledge in the mode of goodness. In the mode of goodness one understands the existence of a higher spiritual nature within all things. In the mode of passion one acquires scientific knowledge of the material body. And in the mode of ignorance one fixes one’s mind on the sense objects without higher awareness, perceiving things as a small child or a retarded person does.
Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī elaborately explains in his commentary on this verse that the material mode of goodness does not award perfect knowledge of the Absolute Truth. He quotes from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (6.14.2), proving that many great demigods in the mode of goodness could not understand the transcendental personality of Lord Kṛṣṇa. In the material mode of goodness, one becomes pious or religious, aware of a higher, spiritual nature. On the spiritual platform of purified goodness, however, one establishes a direct, loving relationship with the Absolute Truth, rendering service to the Lord rather than merely maintaining a connection to mundane piety. In the mode of passion the conditioned soul speculates about the reality of his own existence and of the world around him, and considers speculatively the existence of a kingdom of God. In the mode of ignorance one acquires knowledge for sense gratification, absorbing the mind in varieties of eating, sleeping, defending and sex, without any higher purpose. Thus, within the modes of nature the conditioned souls are trying to gratify their senses, or else they are trying to free themselves from sense gratification. But they cannot directly engage themselves in their constitutional, liberated activities until they come to the transcendental position of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, beyond the modes of nature.