Once we understand the meaning of ‘Sathya’ and ‘Mithya’, the ‘real’ and the ‘unreal’, it becomes easy for us to understand the difference between body and the soul. That which was not in the past and which will not be in the future, but seemingly exists in the present is called ‘mithya’, the unreal. And the ‘real’ the ‘sathya’ is that which defies all changes and remains the same in all the periods of time: past, present and future.
nasato vidyate bhavo
nabhavo vidyate satah
ubhayor api drsto ‘ntas
tv anayos tattva-darsibhih
The unreal has no existence and the real, never ceases to be; the truth of both these has been perceived by seers of truth.
This body, neither existed in the past, before birth, nor will exist in the future after death, and is also perishing, at present. The ‘Atma’ (spirit or soul) remains constant. It existed, before the birth of the body, exists now, when the body is undergoing change and will exist, after the death of the body. Similarly, God also ever remains the same, while the world undergoes a change, every moment.
Most of our problems arise because we imagine something to be real when it is not. We identify ourselves with our body, mind, and intellect while the real ‘I’ is different from all these. This can be verified through a simple exercise by trying to answer the question ‘who am I’? The obvious answer would be ‘I am so and so’. But that is only your name. You may say that I am father of so and so or husband of so and so. But it is only your relationship. Even when you say I am a professor or I am an intellectual, it only denotes your professional and intellectual status. So, who are you in reality? We commonly speak about our body as when we say “My body aches all over”. This proves that you are not your body. Similarly when we use expressions like “My mind is upset” or “My intellect has failed to grasp this” it is obvious that we are separate from our mind and intellect. That the real self must be something different from our body, mind, and intellect we are able to perceive with no difficulty at all. But there is another ‘I’ which we have to reckon with, and that is our ego, which is the consciousness that I am. Even this is absent when we are in deep sleep because we are not aware of ourselves then. But there is some entity that is aware of our existence even at that stage which makes us say that we had a sound sleep. This is the real ‘I’ which is even different from our ego.
The rule in the material existence is that every action has its corresponding and equal reaction, thus it is seen that by unrighteous actions there is no happiness and by righteous actions there can be no unhappiness. The words referring to ‘sat bhavah’ are all connected to happiness and the words connected to ‘asat bhava’ are those which are connected to sorrow. For the change to take place, a changeless substratum is necessary. For the motion picture to be seen a stationary screen is a must.
avinasi tu tad viddhi
yena sarvam idam tatam
na kascit kartum arhati
Know that which pervades the entire body is indestructible. No one is able to destroy the imperishable soul.
This verse more clearly explains the real nature of the soul, which is spread all over the body. Anyone can understand what is spread all over the body: it is consciousness. Everyone is conscious of the pains and pleasures of the body in part or as a whole. This spreading of consciousness is limited within one’s own body. The pains and pleasures of one body are unknown to another. Therefore, each and every body is the embodiment of an individual soul, and the symptom of the soul’s presence is perceived as individual consciousness. Any layman can understand that our body minus consciousness is a dead body, and this consciousness cannot be revived in the body by any means of material administration. Therefore, consciousness is not due to any amount of material combination, but to the spirit soul. This atomic soul is floating in the five kinds of air [prana, apana, vyana, samana and udana], is situated within the heart, and spreads its influence all over the body of the embodied living entities.
antavanta ime deha
tasmad yudhyasva bharata
These bodies acquired by the imperishable, indefinable and eternal soul, are perishable. Therefore, O Arjuna, fight
The physical body is subject to pleasure and pain, old age and disease. Although the eternal soul is embodied within the physical body; its position is not compromised or affected by the modifications of the physical body. It is therefore ‘aprameyasya’ or immeasurable, existing always in the same condition, complete within itself.
The material body is perishable by nature. It may perish immediately, or it may do so after a hundred years. It is a question of time only. There is no chance of maintaining it indefinitely. As mentioned in the previous verse, the Atma is so small that no one can have any idea how to measure its dimension. So from both viewpoints there is no cause of lamentation because the living entity can neither be killed as he is, nor can the material body, which cannot be saved for any length of time, be permanently protected.
It might be questioned that if the soul is eternal due to the impossibility of ever being destroyed then why is it that feelings of remorse arise at the demise of family members and loved ones. To clarify this Lord Krishna states that only the physical body is subject to destruction.
It shows that every human being, without any distinction of caste, creed, colour or stage of life, can freely follow either the Discipline of Action, or Discipline of Knowledge, for his salvation. But, in practical life, a duty should be ‘discharged, according to one’s Varna (caste) and ashrama (stage of life), by following the ordinance of scriptures. Therefore, here while discussing the real and the unreal according to the discipline of Knowledge Lord Krishna, orders Arjuna to fight or in other words he advises Arjuna to discharge his duty even if he follows discipline of knowledge. The words “fight, O son of India” means that it is a religious call to every Indian to discard his defeatist mentality and face wholeheartedly and sincerely the situation in every field of his life and activities at every given moment of existence. This is certainly not a call for war or violence.
ya enam vetti hantaram
yas cainam manyate hatam
ubhau tau na vijanito
nayam hanti na hanyate
Both of them are ignorant, one who holds the soul as the slayer and the other who considers it, as slain; for the soul, neither slays, nor is slain.
One who considers the soul as slayer is ignorant because the soul does not act. But by identifying’ with the body, it accepts itself as a doer. As an artisan, however clever he may be, cannot work without tools, similarly, the soul without body cannot do anything. One, who holds the soul as slain, is also ignorant. As the soul is never the slayer, so it is never killed, because the soul always remains unaffected and unchanged. Only the perishable and changeable can be slain.
Continuing with the idea of the previous sloka, Krishna here says that being immortal and indestructible, the self can neither be killed nor kill anyone and those who think so are ignorant. What is killed and gets killed are only the body and not the self. It is said that the self cannot kill anyone because there is no action for the self and all actions pertain to the body, mind and intellect. This truth will be elaborated later in the Gita.
Just as the dying hero in a movie has not really been dead, so the soul of a man playing a role in the cosmic motion picture of life is ever living.
na jayate mriyate va kadacin
nayam bhutva bhavita va na bhuyah
ajo nityah sasvato ‘yam purano
na hanyate hanyamane sarire
The self is never born and never dies. Having been in existence it never ceases to be. It is unborn, eternal, ever existing and ancient and it is not killed when the body gets killed.
Here in these verses Lord Krishna has made such a distinction between the body and the soul, as is rarely found anywhere else in the Gita.
The body constituted of elements, undergoes six kinds of modifications – to be born, to exist, to change, to grow, to decay and to perish. But, the soul remains unaffected by, these changes. The soul, unlike a body is never born, it is eternal. The soul never dies. Only that which is born dies. The soul remains unaffected by all kinds of changes.
The understanding that the eternal soul is never slain is being confirmed by its freedom from the six changes of material existence being: birth, existence, growth, modification, decay and death which are controlling all living entities high and low in the material existence. The Supreme Lord by declaring the eternal soul is not born confirms the absence of any birth and by declaring the eternal soul does not die confirms the absence of any destruction. With the 2 words ‘ajah’ meaning unborn and ‘nityah’ meaning eternal, it is made clear that the 2 modifications of birth and death are not applicable in regards to the soul.