The Nature of the Soul (Aatman) - Lord Krishna Speaks to Arjuna        

        As Arjuna stood in the battlefield of Kurukshetra, he was overcome with feelings of weakness and confusion as he faced the prospect of potentially killing his own half-brothers, uncles, friends and teachers. At this moment, Lord Krishna, who was his companion in the battlefield, sought to allay his fears by teaching him about the distinction between the physical body (which is impermanent) and the soul or aatman (which is permanent). This article presents Shankaracharya’s commentary on the six main verses in which the nature of the aatman is explained by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita.

Verse 22 Verse 23 Verse 24 Verse 25 Verse 26 Verse 27

Bhagavad Gita - Chapter 2, Verse 22.

vaasaa.nsi jiirNaani yathaa vihaaya navaani gRRihNaati naro.aparaaNi.

tathaa shariiraaNi vihaaya jiirNaanyanyaani sa.nyaati navaani dehii.. B.G. II-22

वासांसि जीर्णानि यथा विहाय नवानि गृह्णाति नरोऽपराणि।

तथा शरीराणि विहाय जीर्णान्यन्यानि संयाति नवानि देही।।

vāsānsi jīrNāni yathā vihāya navāni grihNāti naro.aparāNi.

tathā śarīrāNi vihāya jīrNānyanyāni sanyāti navāni dehī..

        जैसे जगत् में मनुष्य पुराने जीर्ण वस्त्रोंको त्याग कर अन्य नवीन वस्त्रोंको ग्रहण करते हैं, वैसे ही जीवात्मा पुराने शरीरोंको छोड़कर अन्यान्य नवीन शरीरोंको प्राप्त करता है. अभिप्राय यह कि (पुराने वस्त्रोंको छोड़कर नये धारण करनेवाले) पुरुषकी भाँति जीवात्मा सदा निर्विकार ही रहता है.

krishna and arjuna in kurukshetra

        During our daily lives we change our old and/or dirty clothes and put on new and/or clean clothes whenever the need arises. Similarly, the soul or aatman casts off its worn out physical body and takes residence in a newer physical body at regular intervals in time. Just like the clothes that we wear do not represent the real state of our physical body, the state of our physical body (which deteriorates over time and is hence impermanent) does not represent the truly unchangeable and permanent nature of the soul that resides within it.

        The eternal does not move from place to place but the embodied soul moves from one abode to another. It takes birth each time and gathers to itself a mind, life and body formed out of the materials of nature according to its past evolution and its needs for the future. The pyschic being is the vijnana which supports the triple manifestation of body, life and mind. When the gross physical body falls away, the vital and mental sheaths still remain as the vehicle of the soul. Rebirth is the law of nature. There is an objective connections between the various forms of life. “Like corn a mortal ripens and like corn is he born again”. (Katha Upanisad, Ch 1, verse 6).

        This verse refers to the doctrine of reincarnation in Hinduism. Death is described here as the simple discarding of a worn-out garment for a new one. When the body becomes diseased and old, the ever-lasting soul forsakes it for a new disguise. Death is but a change of attire in an uninterrupted continuity of immortality. (The Bhagavad Gita Vol I, Parmahansa Yoganada, p. 218)

Verse 22 Verse 23 Verse 24 Verse 25 Verse 26 Verse 27

Bhagavad Gita - Chapter 2, Verse 23.

naina.n Chindanti shastraaNi naina.n dahati paavakaH.

na chaina.n kledayantyaapo na shoshhayati maarutaH.. B.G. II-23

नैनं छिन्दन्ति शस्त्राणि नैनं दहति पावकः।

न चैनं क्लेदयन्त्यापो न शोषयति मारुतः।।

nainam chindanti śastrāNi nainam dahati pāvakah.

na cainam kledayantyāpo na śoshayati mārutah..

        इस उपयुर्क्त आत्माको शस्त्र नहीं काटते, अभिप्राय यह कि अवयवरहित होनेके कारण तलवार आदि शस्त्र इसके अन्गोंके टुकडे़ नहीं कर सकते। वैसे ही अग्नि इसको जला नहीं सकता अर्थात् अग्नि भी इसको भस्मीभूत नहीं कर सकता।

        जल इसको भिगो नहीं सकता. क्योंकि सावयव वस्तुको ही भिगोकर उसके अन्गोंको पृथक्-पृथक् कर देनेमें जलकी सामर्थ्य है. निरवयव आत्मामें ऐसा होना सम्भव नहीं। उसी तरह वायु आर्द्र् द्रव्यका गीलापन शोषण करके उसको नष्ट करता है अतः वह वायु भी इस स्व-स्वरूप आत्माका शोषण नहीं कर सकता।

        The so described aatman cannot be harmed by weapons - and since it is formless and shapeless - it cannot be cut into pieces by any instrument. In the same way, fire cannot burn it or destroy it. Water cannot wet it because water can only act on elements which have a physical description or dimension. For the same reason, wind cannot dry it or exert any force on it. Thus the aatman is beyond the influence of all the three primary forces (fire, water and wind) which can affect entities having physical form and description.

Verse 22 Verse 23 Verse 24 Verse 25 Verse 26 Verse 27

Bhagavad Gita - Chapter 2, Verse 24.

achChedyo.ayamadaahyo.ayamakledyo.ashoshhya aiva cha.

nityaH sarvagataH sthaaNurachalo.aya.n sanaatanaH.. B.G. II-24

अच्छेद्योऽयमदाह्योऽयमक्लेद्योऽशोष्य ऐव च।

नित्यः सर्वगतः स्थाणुरचलोऽयं सनातनः।।

acchedyo.ayamadāhyo.ayamakledyo.aśoshya aiva ca.

nityah sarvagatah sthāNuracalo.ayam sanātanah..

        ( यह अात्मा न कटनेवाला, न जलनेवाला, न गलनेवाला अौर न सूखनेवाला है )। अापसमें एक दूसरेका नाश कर देनेवाले पञ्चभूत इस अात्माका नाश करनेके लिये समर्थ नहीं हैं। इसलिये यह नित्य है।

        नित्य होनेसे सर्वगत है। सर्वव्यापी होनेसे स्थाणु की भाँति स्थिर है। स्थिर होनेसे यह अात्मा अचल है अौर इसीलिये सनातन है अर्थात् किसी कारणसे उत्पन्न नहीं हुअा है। पुराना है।

        The aatman cannot be cut, burnt, suffer any decay or be dried out. The five forces of nature which are capable of destroying physical elements by their combined actions have no influence on the aatman. That is why it is referred to as nitya or permanent or unchangeable. This permanence gives it the powers of omnipresence, omniscience and stability. It is this stability that gives it the quality of immovability and the aatman is called sanatana (hinduism is also referred to as sanatana dharma). Sanatana literally means - that which is not created or destroyed - it belongs to time immemorial.

Verse 22 Verse 23 Verse 24 Verse 25 Verse 26 Verse 27

Bhagavad Gita - Chapter 2, Verse 25.

avyakto.ayamachintyo.ayamavikaaryo.ayamuchyate.

tasmaadeva.n viditvaina.n naanushochitumaharsi.. B.G. II-25

अव्यक्तोऽयमचिन्त्योऽयमविकार्योऽयमुच्यते।

तस्मादेवं विदित्वैनं नानुशोचितुमहर्सि।।

avyakto.ayamacintyo.ayamavikāryo.ayamucyate.

tasmadevam viditvainam nānuśocitumaharsi..

        यह अात्मा बुद्धि अादि सब करणोंका विषय नहीं होनेके कारण व्यक्त नहीं होता (जाना नहीं जा सकता) इसलिये अव्यक्त है। इसीलिये यह अचिन्तय है, क्योंकि जो पदार्थ इन्द्रियगोचर होता है वही चिन्तनका विषय होता है। यह अात्मा इन्द्रियगोचर न होनेसे अचिन्तय है।

        यह अात्मा अविकारी है अर्थात् जैसे दहीके जाँवन अादिसे दूध विकारी हो जाता है वैसे यह नहीं होता। तथा अवयवरहित (निराकार) होनेके कारण भी अात्माा अविक्रिय है, क्योंकि कोई भी अवयवरहित (निराकार) पदार्थ, विकारवान् नहीं देखा गया।

        अत: विकाररहित होनेके कारण यह अात्मा अविकारी कहा जाता है। सुतरां इस अात्माको उपयुर्क्त प्रकारसे समझकर तुझे यह शोक नहीं करना चाहिये कि 'मैं इनका मारनेवाला हूँ' या 'मुझे ये मारे जाते हैं' इत्यादि।

        The aatman cannot be known or understood by purely using the brain and its mental powers. Hence it is known as ‘avyakta’ or indescribable - that which defies description. It cannot be known purely by meditating or thinking upon it (’chintan’) - hence it is known as ‘achintya’. Only those entities that can be perceived by our five senses can be understood by ‘chintan’.

        

        Since the aatman cannot be described by any elements known to man, it is without shape or ‘vikaar’ and is known as ‘avikaari’ or immutable. It is beyond the range of form or thought and the changes that affect the mind, life and body do not touch him. Forms may change; things may come and go but that which remains behind them all is for ever.

Verse 22 Verse 23 Verse 24 Verse 25 Verse 26 Verse 27

Bhagavad Gita - Chapter 2, Verse 26.

atha chaina.n nityajaata.n nitya.n vaa manyase mRRitam.h.

tathaapi tva.n mahaabaaho naiva.n shochitumaharsi.. B.G. II-26

अथ चैनं नित्यजातं नित्यं वा मन्यसे मृतम्।

तथापि त्वं महाबाहो नैवं शोचितुमहर्सि।।

atha cainam nityajātam nityam manyase mritam.

tathāpi tvam mahābāho naivam śocitumaharsi..

        'अथ' 'च' ये दोनों अव्यय अौपचारिक स्वीकृतिके बोधक हैं। यदि तू इस अात्माको सदा जन्मनेवाला अर्थात् लोकप्रसिद्धिके अनुसार अनेक शरीरोंकी प्रत्येक उत्पत्तिके साथ-साथ उत्पन्न हुअा माने तथा उनके प्रत्येक विनाशके साथ-साथ सदा नष्ट हुअा माने।

        तो भी अर्थात् एेसे नित्य जन्मने अौर नित्य मरनेवाले अात्माके निमित्त भी हे महाबाहो! तुझे इस प्रकार शोक करना उचित नहीं है। क्योंकि जन्मनेवालेका मरण अौर मरनेवाले का जन्म, यह दोनों अवश्य ही होनेंवाले हैं।

        Even if thou thinkest that the self is perpetually born and perpetually dies, even then, O mighty-armed (Arjuna), thou shouldst not grieve.

Verse 22 Verse 23 Verse 24 Verse 25 Verse 26 Verse 27

Bhagavad Gita - Chapter 2, Verse 27.

jaatasya hi dhruvo mRRityurdhruvaM janma mRRitasya cha.

tasmaadaparihaarye.arthe na tvaM shochitumaharsi..B.G. II-27

जातस्य हि ध्रुवो मृत्युर्ध्रुवं जन्म मृतस्य च।

तस्मादपरिहार्येऽर्थे न त्वं शोचितुमहर्सि।।

jātasya hi dhruvo mrityurdhruvam janma mritasya ca.

tasmādaparihārye.arthe na tvam śocitumaharsi..

        जिसने जन्म लिया है उसका मरण ध्रुव - निश्चित है। अौर जो मर गया है उसका जन्म ध्रुव - निश्चित है। इसलिये यह जन्म-मरणरूप भाव अपरिहार्य है अर्थात् किसी प्रकार भी इसका प्रतिकार नहीं किया जा सकता। इस अपरिहार्य विषय के निमित्त तुझे शोक करना उचित नहीं।

        For to the one that is born - death is certain - and certain is birth for the one that has died. The events of death and re-birth are thus unavoidable, and one should not grieve for them.

Weep not for such is here the life of man

Unasked he came, unbidden he went hence

Lo, ask thyself again whence came thy son

To bide on earth this little breathing space

By one way come and by another gone...

So hither and so hence - why shoud ye weep?

A poem by the Buddhist nun Patacara consoling a bereaved mother

Verse 22 Verse 23 Verse 24 Verse 25 Verse 26 Verse 27

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