We looked at verses 11 to 15 in the previous part where Lord Krishna accepted Arjuna as his disciple and started to reveal the eternal knowledge of the Gita.
Lord Krishna tells Arjuna that, even though Arjuna does sound like a wise man, in reality, his actions prove otherwise. As explained by Lord Krishna, a wise man would neither lament for the living nor for the dead, for he understands that the soul that lives in our physical body is indestructible, unchangeable and is part and parcel of the eternal consciousness called, Para Brahman. In relation to the innate nature of soul (atman), Lord Krishna says, “there was never a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings and everyone else, nor in the future, they shall cease to exist” Thus, Lord Krishna says that there is no reason for Arjuna to lament.
Let us now continue from verses 16 to 20 in this part…If you have not read the earlier parts, please check them out here and share it with your friends as well! Please also Like the Facebook Page to stay up to date with the posts here.
Chapter 2 – Verse 16
नासतो विद्यते भावो नाभावो विद्यते सतः।
nāsato vidyate bhāvo
nābhāvo vidyate sataḥ
ubhayor api dṛṣṭo ’ntas
tv anayos tattva-darśibhiḥ
Those who are seers of the truth have concluded that of the nonexistent [the material body] there is no endurance and of the eternal [the soul] there is no change. This they have concluded by studying the nature of both.
Chapter 2 – Verse 17
अविनाशि तु तद्विद्धि येन सर्वमिदं ततम्।
विनाशमव्ययस्यास्य न कश्िचत् कर्तुमर्हति।।
avināśi tu tad viddhi
yena sarvam idaṁ tatam
na kaścit kartum arhati
That which pervades the entire body you should know to be indestructible. No one is able to destroy that imperishable soul.
Chapter 2 – Verse 18
अन्तवन्त इमे देहा नित्यस्योक्ताः शरीरिणः।
अनाशिनोऽप्रमेयस्य तस्माद्युध्यस्व भारत।।
antavanta ime dehā
tasmād yudhyasva bhārata
The material body of the indestructible, immeasurable and eternal living entity is sure to come to an end; therefore, fight, O descendant of Bharata [Arjuna].
Chapter 2 – Verse 19
य एनं वेत्ति हन्तारं यश्चैनं मन्यते हतम्।
उभौ तौ न विजानीतो नायं हन्ति न हन्यते।।
ya enaṁ vetti hantāraṁ
yaś cainaṁ manyate hatam
ubhau tau na vijānīto
nāyaṁ hanti na hanyate
Neither the one who thinks the soul can slay nor the one who thinks the soul can be slain are in the right knowledge, for the soul can neither slay nor can be slain.
Chapter 2 – Verse 20
न जायते म्रियते वा कदाचि
न्नायं भूत्वा भविता वा न भूयः।
अजो नित्यः शाश्वतोऽयं पुराणो
न हन्यते हन्यमाने शरीरे।।
na jāyate mriyate vā kadācin
nāyaṁ bhūtvā bhavitā vā na bhūyaḥ
ajo nityaḥ śāśvato ’yaṁ purāṇo
na hanyate hanyamāne śarīre
The soul is neither born, nor does it ever die; nor having once existed, does it ever cease to exist. The soul is without birth, eternal, immortal, and timeless. It is not destroyed when the body is destroyed.
Commentary for Chapter 2, verses 11 to 15
In the previous part of this series, we looked at Lord Krishna beginning to teach Arjuna the beautiful knowledge of the Upanishads through Bhagavad Gita. Lord Krishna started to explain to Arjuna that, even though he sounds wise, but his actions show otherwise. The reason why Lord Krishna says that is because, Arjuna (all of us for that matter) does not seem to understand the most important truth of life that, “there was never a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings and everyone else, nor in the future, they shall cease to exist”, making a significant distinction between the physical body and the soul. Lord Krishna says that a wise man would neither lament for the living nor for the dead, as they understand that, the physical body is bound to perish eventually.
In the 15th verse, Lord Krishna says that those who are not disturbed by both happiness and sadness are certainly eligible for liberation. Such a person is indeed a wise man, because they know when they are happy or sad, however, they recognise the essential truth that none of that is permanent. Since they understand that everything passes and that “I” is the atman and not this physical body and the atman does not change or get affected by any of these external factors, are never disturbed by either happiness or sadness.
In the verse 16, Lord Krishna further explains this point by saying, “the seers of the truth have concluded that those that are transient, there is no endurance and those that are eternal, there is no change or cessation.”
According to Vedas, God (Brahman), the individual soul (atman) and illusion (maya) are all eternal entities. God is “Sat”, the one that is eternal. Since God is eternal, pure bliss, God is also called, “Sat-Chit-Ananda”.
The atman is also eternal and it is the tiny particle of that pure bliss – Brahman – thus it is also called, “Sat”. Since it is so tiny (anu), it is “anu-sat”, “anu-chit” and “anu-ananda”. Only the seers of this truth that we are essentially tiny Gods are able to attain the level of consciousness as “Sat-chit-ananda”.
Maya (illusion) is also eternal. This whole world is maya and everything that is material in this whole world is impermanent or “asat”. They change or even cease to exist overtime. However, the only thing that is eternal is the fact that they – the material objects – are all an illusion (maya) and not the specific material objects which are “asat”.
In Adi Shankaracharya’s commentary of the Gita, he says that, every fact of experience involves twofold consciousness – the consciousness of the real (sat) and the consciousness of the unreal (asat). The seers of the truth understand very clearly what is real and what is unreal.
Just like how one could think of a rope to be a snake in their illusory perception, but the reality that it is indeed a rope does not change. The illusory perception of rope being a snake is unreal and thus, it is not permanent. However, the reality that the rope is indeed a rope is real and is thus permanent and is an unchallengeable truth.
Similarly, heat, cold, pleasure and pain are all experienced by people differently. While some may enjoy the heat, others may find it extremely unbearable and so on. However, those who see the truth and truth alone realise that, the heat, cold, pleasure and pain are all transient, and such people are not disturbed by any of them.
Thus Lord Krishna tells Arjuna to shake off his grief as they are unreal. We all have existed before and will continue to exist even after the passing of this physical body.
In the next verse (17), Lord Krishna explains the indestructible nature of the atman, by saying, “that which pervades the entire body, know it to be indestructible. No one can cause the destruction of the imperishable soul.”
Soul is indestructible! It is part and parcel of the Brahman – the Whole. It cannot be destroyed even by the Gods, since Brahman himself is the soul and one cannot act on itself.
Here in this verse, Lord Krishna clearly establishes the relationship between one’s body and their atman / soul. While soul is sentient as it possesses consciousness, the physical body is insentient, devoid of consciousness. However, the consciousness of the soul pervades the whole body, giving its qualities to the whole physical body. Just like how the fragrance of a flower makes the whole garden fragrant, our soul spreads its consciousness to our entire body.
Our physical body is just a vehicle for the soul. The soul can exist without the body, however, the body cannot exist without the soul. Thus when soul leaves the body, the body becomes useless – the state we call death.
Lord Krishna tells Arjuna that, the one that pervades the whole body, the soul, is thus imperishable, even by the Gods. So, there is no reason for Arjuna (all of us too) to worry!
Just like how applying sandalwood paste on your forehead cools the entire body, the soul, residing in your heart, infuses its consciousness throughout the body. That is how Veda Vyasa too describes about the soul. That atman is seated in our heart (sa vaa esha aatma hridi) is what Chandogya Upanishad says.
Shvetashvatara Upanishad describes the size of the atman – the soul – in the following verse;
śatadhā kalpitasya ca
bhāgo jīvaḥ sa vijñeyaḥ
sa cānantyāya kalpate
Divide the tip of a hair into one hundred parts and divide those each parts again into another one hundred parts. Each of those parts is the measurement of an individual spiritual soul.
Such a minute spark of an atom, the atman, is the very basic principle of every material body that exists in this world. That spark, which is the consciousness, pervades our whole body and spreads its fragrance.
As explained in the Mundaka Upanishad, the soul is influenced by five kinds of air – prana, apana, vyana, samana, and udana. By the dedicated practice of yoga, one can purify the soul from the contamination of these five kinds of air and heighten the spiritual influence of their soul, and thus allowing the Brahman situated in each of us to shine, truly attaining a state of Aham Brahmasmi – I am Brahman.
Lord Krishna continues with the following in the verse 18, “The material body of that which is indestructible, immeasurable and eternal living entity is sure to come to an end, therefore, fight, descendent of Bharata”
Bringing even more clarity between the qualities of our physical body and the spiritual soul – the atman – Lord Krishna tells Arjuna that, the only thing that is imperishable is our soul, everything else dies, including this physical body, thus, Arjuna, fight!
As we saw before, death is when the soul departs from our physical body. After death, physical body could either be buried, burnt or thrown into sea, however, the soul goes on to other realm or to use another body and continue on earth depending on our karma.
Vedas clearly states that anything that changes is impermanent and that which remains unchanged and imperishable is atman.
In the last part of this series, we saw how our body goes through changes so rapidly that even each breath has the capacity to change our cells in a molecular level, resulting a complete change of cells every 7 years. However, that physical body which keeps changing is influenced by the one that is unchangeable and unaffected – the atman.
Thus Lord Krishna is telling Arjuna that the physical body that he sees dies anyway, it could be now or later, it’s just a matter of time. That which does not die, cannot be destroyed even by the Supreme God. So, there is nothing to worry or lament about, but to perform his duty as a Kshatriya warrior which is to fight this war in order to protect Dharma.
Arjuna has fought many wars before as well, so there is nothing new that Lord Krishna is asking Arjuna to do. The only thing Lord Krishna is asking Arjuna to do is to shake off his worries and perform his duty wholeheartedly, for there is no death for any of those people at the battlefield, especially, Bhishma and Dronacharya whose presence at the battlefield was the reason for Arjuna’s delusion. They are people who have followed Dharma wholeheartedly all their life and that, they are sure to be liberated.
In the following verse (19) Lord Krishna says, “neither the one who thinks the soul can slay nor the one who thinks the soul can be slain are in the right knowledge, for the soul can neither slay nor can be slain.”
Here again, Lord Krishna emphasises another important lesson and explains how soul can neither slay anyone nor can be slain by anyone.
However, one may wonder, how do so many murders and deaths still happen? To understand this, we need to understand an essential truth – the physical body is simply an impermanent, ever evolving vehicle for the soul. The only thing that dies is the physical body and not the soul, for soul can never be destroyed.
“ma himsyat sarva bhutani” – never commit violence to anyone is what our Vedas strongly state. Killing of any living being is considered abominable according to Vedas except in exceptional situations.
By explaining that the soul neither kill nor can be killed, Lord Krishna asserts to Arjuna again that, there is no reason for him to lament thinking about the possible death of his kinsmen, as their body will anyway wither and die eventually and nobody, including the Lord can destroy their soul, let alone Arjuna.
In verse 20, Lord Krishna continues by saying, “the soul is neither born, nor does it ever die; nor having once existed, does it ever cease to exist. The soul is without birth, eternal, immortal, and timeless. It is not destroyed when the body is destroyed.”
The nature of the soul is again elaborated by Lord Krishna in this verse, whereby, Krishna says that, that which is conceived attains existence only after birth. However, the soul is in existence eternally, it is timeless and is Brahman itself, thus cannot be conceived again.
The soul being the minute particle of the very Supreme Lord, the Para Brahman, carries all the characteristics of Para Brahman. Just like Para Brahman, soul too is eternal, timeless, ageless, and immortal. The soul never goes through the six material modifications such as asti, jayate, vardhate, viparinamate, apakshiyate, and vinashyati – existence in the mother’s womb, birth, the growth, procreation, old age, and the eventual death respectively, whereas the physical body goes through all of that.
As explained before, death is the destruction of the physical body. When someone dies, their soul never dies along with it, but it leaves that body and moves on to other realm.
The Katha Upanishad too says the same thing,
na jāyate mriyate vā vipaśhchin nāyaṁ kutaśhchin na babhūva kaśhchit
ajo nityaḥ śhāśhvato ’yaṁ purāṇo na hanyate hanyamāne śharīre
“The soul is not born, nor does it die; it did not spring from something, and nothing sprang from it. It is unborn, eternal, immortal, and ageless. It is not destroyed when the body is destroyed.”
This is exactly what Lord Krishna says in verse 20 to establish a fundamental difference between the physical body and the soul. For eternity, the soul remains unchanged and unaffected by whatever happens.
The purpose of life is to attain the right knowledge to understand this innate quality of the soul and to discover our own true self. Knowing our true self is called enlightenment. The people who know that truth is called Rishis. They never lament at the death of someone, for they understand that, no one dies, the only thing that dies is their physical existence in their gross body.
For such wise men, there exists no duality – everything is an interconnected web of consciousness. We are all essential part of that One Supreme Reality called Para Brahman and that we carry the same light that shines through the Brahman. Just like how Arjuna is bewildered at the sight of his grandfather and gurus in the battlefield, we are all confused about our own true self and our duties and instead, are trapped in the mundane and forgets our innate spiritual qualities.
Let us conclude here for now. We will continue with verse 21 onward in the next part.
ॐ पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात्पुर्णमुदच्यते
पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते ॥
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥
Om Puurnnam-Adah Puurnnam-Idam Puurnnaat-Purnnam-Udacyate
Puurnnasya Puurnnam-Aadaaya Puurnnam-Eva-Avashissyate ||
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||
My Pranams to you!