Home / Vedas and Vedic System / Bhagavad-Gita / The Paradigm of the Perishable Physical Body and the Imperishable Soul


By Gururaj Mutalik

After Arjuna’s emotional meltdown led to his refusal to fight, followed by his plaintive appeal for guidance to his friend and charioteer, Sri Krishna, the latter, in his omniscience, sensed the predicament of Arjuna. Here was a crisis culminating in one of the main actors of the impending battle threatening to withdraw from his major role of securing victory for his side. In terms of modern situations, here was a psychological crisis of epic proportions. Sri Krishna did not have to analyze to know the root cause of Arjuna’s distress. He knew that Arjuna was confronted with two overwhelming concerns that he was unable to reconcile. First and foremost was the problem of right or wrong (Dharma or Adharma) in the situation where Arjuna had to unleash his fatal arrows on his adversaries, who happened to be his respected teachers. He had no clue as to which was the right thing to do. The second, equally formidable problem was the emotional problem involving the possible death of all the people whom he loved and cared for, perhaps including himself, and his brothers. The twin problems involving ethics and emotions confused him, and paralyzed his will to answer his call to his duty. Sri Krishna, the very incarnation of the Supreme Divine, who is described in the Upanishads as karma-dhyaksha, the presiding entity over the chain of cause and effect in the universe, had to devise speedily a persuasive strategy to get his friend and disciple out of the engulfing crisis. The divine being is also described as Sarva-bhoota-antaratma, the core principle, or spark of divinity resident in every Jiva (sentient being). As such, Sri Krishna did not have to guess at what the core problems were, or how to deal with them. In his profuse grace and empathy for his disciple, with good humor, he started to dismantle Arjuna’s confusion, doubts, fear, and overwhelming feeling of guilt by explaining the trivial nature of death itself, and how death is nothing but the termination of the mortal body, which in no way affects the soul within. “I was there,” he proclaims, “from time immemorial, so were you, and all these kings. We all will continue to be there eternally.” Sri Krishna equates the Atma of a living being with the exalted eternality of Parama-Atma, Himself. He incisively paints the picture of death as being nothing more than various phases of growth and development, such as infancy, childhood, youth, and old age are for the body in its natural metamorphosis; so is death a natural culmination of the body—nothing more, and nothing less than the soul discarding the old clothes, and wearing new set of clothes in the form of another body. Dwelling on the nature of the soul, Sri Krishna paints a graphic picture of it being impervious to deadly weapons, fire, and heat or cold. Explaining a pivotal philosophy, he tells Arjuna that in the non-existent, material body, there is no permanence; and in the eternal soul, there is no termination. This, he declares, is the conclusion of the seers and sages, as revealed in Vedas and Vedanta.  The soul pervades the entire body, and as such, is imperishable. It is also immeasurable and inscrutable, and the eternal living being does not ever meet his end. Therefore, to believe that someone slays, and someone is slain, is a myth. Both of them do not know the underlying truth: No one slays, No one is slain. He articulates this telling point in the eloquent expression of the Gita (2–20[1])

na jāyatē mriyatē vā kadācin , nāyaṁ bhūtvā bhavitā vā na bhūyaḥ |

ajō nityaḥ śāśvatō:’yaṁ purāṇō,  na hanyatē hanyamānē śarīrē ||

“For the soul, there is no question of coming into being or not coming into being. By its very nature it is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, and sentient. While the body is slain; the soul remains untouched and unharmed.”

At every thread of the conversation, Sri Krishna pleads with the refrain, “It is because of the soul’s immortality that there is no cause for Arjuna to sink in the emotional turmoil. As a warrior of great reputation, he should get hold of himself to fight the righteous battle.”

The entire chain of reasoning, linked with inexorable logic, and elegantly articulated, is reproduced below, quoting the relevant, and original text of the Bhagavad-Gita, along with transliteration, and the broad meaning.

The Divine Master, having gently but emphatically dissolved Arjuna’s main cause of emotional breakdown due to misconception of the nature of death, introduces like a musical maestro, a subtle paradigm shift in the next verse to the concept of Swadharma or ones righteous duty. It is like switching from one phase of musical scale of the symphony to the next. It is a true delight to read, to cogitate and to get enlightened by this philosophical rhapsody!

न जायते म्रियते वा कदाचिन्         नायं भूत्वा भविता वा न भूयः |

अजो नित्यः शाश्वतोऽयं पुराणो         न हन्यते हन्यमाने शरीरे ||२- २०||

न त्वेवाहं जातु नासं न त्वं नेमे जनाधिपाः |  न चैव न भविष्यामः सर्वे वयमतः परम् ||२- १२||

na tvēvāhaṁ jātu nāsaṁ na tvaṁ nēmē janādhipāḥ |

na caiva na bhaviṣyāmaḥ sarvē vayamataḥ param ||2- 12||

It is not true that I was not there at any time, nor were you, or any of the kings here. It is equally not true that any of us will cease to exist hereafter.

देहिनोऽस्मिन्यथा देहे कौमारं यौवनं जरा | तथा देहान्तरप्राप्तिर्धीरस्तत्र न मुह्यति ||२- १३||

 dēhinō:’sminyathā dēhē kaumāraṁ yauvanaṁ jarā |

tathā dēhāntaraprāptirdhīrastatra na muhyati ||2- 13||

The soul goes through many changes through childhood, youth, and old age. Likewise, it changes the body to a new one after the death of the body. A

sagacious man does not get disturbed or blinded by this transformation.

नासतो विद्यते भावो नाभावो विद्यते सतः | उभयोरपि दृष्टोऽन्तस्त्वनयोस्तत्त्वदर्शिभिः ||२- १६||

nāsatō vidyatē bhāvō nābhāvō vidyatē sataḥ |

ubhayōrapi dr̥ṣṭō:’ntastvanayōstattvadarśibhiḥ ||2- 16||

That which exists does not ever cease to be, and that which does not exist cannot come to being. This reality is clearly perceived by the great seers and sages.

अविनाशि तु तद्विद्धि येन सर्वमिदं ततम् | विनाशमव्ययस्यास्य न कश्चित्कर्तुमर्हति ||२- १७||

 avināśi tu tadviddhi yēna sarvamidaṁ tatam |

vināśamavyayasyāsya na kaścitkartumarhati ||2- 17||

Arjuna, know this as certain: The self (soul) pervades all the insentient matter, and because of its pervasiveness and its subtle nature it cannot be destroyed. So there is no cause to have grief over the self.

अन्तवन्त इमे देहा नित्यस्योक्ताः शरीरिणः |

अनाशिनोऽप्रमेयस्य तस्माद्युध्यस्व भारत ||२- १८||

antavanta imē dēhā nityasyōktāḥ śarīriṇaḥ |

anāśinō:’pramēyasya tasmādyudhyasva bhārata ||

The self (soul) is eternal, indestructible, and impervious to the sense organs. The bodies of the soul are perishable, and so Arjuna, do not be distracted from your mission to fight.

य एनं वेत्ति हन्तारं यश्चैनं मन्यते हतम् |

उभौ तौ न विजानीतो नायं हन्ति न हन्यते ||२- १९||:

ya ēnaṁ vētti hantāraṁ yaścainaṁ manyatē hatam |

ubhau tau na vijānītō nāyaṁ hanti na hanyatē ||

A person may think that the soul slays another. Some other person may think that the soul is slain by another.  Both are wrong. In truth, the soul neither slays, or is slain.

न जायते म्रियते वा कदाचिन्   नायं भूत्वा भविता वा न भूयः |

अजो नित्यः शाश्वतोऽयं पुराणो   न हन्यते हन्यमाने शरीरे ||२- २०||

na jāyatē mriyatē vā kadācin   nāyaṁ bhūtvā bhavitā vā na bhūyaḥ |

ajō nityaḥ śāśvatō:’yaṁ purāṇō    na hanyatē hanyamānē śarīrē ||2- 20||

Unborn, neither is the soul, nor does it end at the fall of the body. Nor is it true that the self is created in the beginning, and culminates its existence at the dissolution of the universe. The soul is eternal, and everlasting, without being affected when a body is annihilated.

वेदाविनाशिनं नित्यं य एनमजमव्ययम् |

कथं स पुरुषः पार्थ कं घातयति हन्ति कम् ||२- २१||

vēdāvināśinaṁ nityaṁ ya ēnamajamavyayam |

kathaṁ sa puruṣaḥ pārtha kaṁ ghātayati hanti kam ||

When one knows that the soul is indestructible, unborn and eternal, ever new while being everlasting, how can it be injured, or act to kill another?

वासांसि जीर्णानि यथा विहाय    नवानि गृह्णाति नरोऽपराणि |

तथा शरीराणि विहाय जीर्णा- न्यन्यानि संयाति नवानि देही ||२- २२||

vāsāṁsi jīrṇāni yathā vihāya  navāni gr̥hṇāti narō:’parāṇi |

tathā śarīrāṇi vihāya jīrṇā-  nyanyāni saṁyāti navāni dēhī ||2- 22||

The eternal principle in this body, the soul, called Dehi, moves on to another body, discarding a previous worn-out body, just as a living person discards old and worn-out clothes, and takes new, and fresh clothes.

नैनं छिन्दन्ति शस्त्राणि नैनं दहति पावकः | न चैनं क्लेदयन्त्यापो न शोषयति मारुतः ||२- २३||

 nainaṁ chindanti śastrāṇi nainaṁ dahati pāvakaḥ |

na cainaṁ klēdayantyāpō na śōṣayati mārutaḥ ||2- 23||

Sharp and deadly weapons cannot cut the soul, nor can fire burn it. Water cannot drown it, nor can wind desiccate it.

अच्छेद्योऽयमदाह्योऽयमक्लेद्योऽशोष्य एव च | नित्यः सर्वगतः स्थाणुरचलोऽयं सनातनः ||२- २४||

acchēdyō:’yamadāhyō:’yamaklēdyō:’śōṣya ēva ca |

nityaḥ sarvagataḥ sthāṇuracalō:’yaṁ sanātanaḥ ||2- 24||

Since the soul cannot be cut, burnt, drowned or desiccated, it is eternal, omnipresent, steady and stable, and everlasting.

अव्यक्तोऽयमचिन्त्योऽयमविकार्योऽयमुच्यते | तस्मादेवं विदित्वैनं नानुशोचितुमर्हसि ||२- २५||

 avyaktō:’yamacintyō:’yamavikāryō:’yamucyatē |

tasmādēvaṁ viditvainaṁ nānuśōcitumarhasi ||2- 25||

It is affirmed by those who know that the soul is unmanifest, unperceived and incomprehensible, unchangeable, and can only be known by itself. Hence, how could you lament the loss?

अथ चैनं नित्यजातं नित्यं वा मन्यसे मृतम् |  तथापि त्वं महाबाहो नैवं शोचितुमर्हसि ||२- २६||

atha cainaṁ nityajātaṁ nityaṁ vā manyasē mr̥tam |

tathāpi tvaṁ mahābāhō naivaṁ śōcitumarhasi ||2- 26||

For the sake of argument, even if you consider that despite its eternality, it regularly somehow dies, where is the rationale, Oh! mighty Arjuna, for you to grieve?

जातस्य हि ध्रुवो मृत्युर्ध्रुवं जन्म मृतस्य च | तस्मादपरिहार्येऽर्थे न त्वं शोचितुमर्हसि ||२- २७||

jātasya hi dhruvō mr̥tyurdhruvaṁ janma mr̥tasya ca |

tasmādaparihāryē:’rthē na tvaṁ śōcitumarhasi ||2- 27||

Birth and death are unavoidable for everyone. One is born, dies, and is again reborn. This is the law of nature. How, in the face of it, can you grieve the inevitable?

अव्यक्तादीनि भूतानि व्यक्तमध्यानि भारत | अव्यक्तनिधनान्येव तत्र का परिदेवना ||२- २८||

avyaktādīni bhūtāni vyaktamadhyāni bhārata |

avyaktanidhanānyēva tatra kā paridēvanā ||2- 28||

Beings are unmanifest in the beginning, manifest in the middle, and at the end again, they become unmanifest. In this process, where is the scope for grief?

देही नित्यमवध्योऽयं देहे सर्वस्य भारत | तस्मात्सर्वाणि भूतानि न त्वं शोचितुमर्हसि ||२- ३०||

dēhī nityamavadhyō:’yaṁ dēhē sarvasya bhārata |

tasmātsarvāṇi bhūtāni na tvaṁ śōcitumarhasi ||2- 30||

The soul who resides in everyone’s body is indestructible. Therefore, there is no scope for you to grieve for anyone.

(Having gently, but emphatically dissolved Arjuna’s main cause of emotional breakdown due to Arjuna’s misconception of the nature of death, the divine musical maestro introduces a subtle paradigm shift in the next verse—moving to the concept of Swadharma, or one’s righteous duty. It is like a master conductor switching from one phase of the musical scale in the symphony, to the next).

स्वधर्ममपि चावेक्ष्य न विकम्पितुमर्हसि |  धर्म्याद्धि युद्धाच्छ्रेयोऽन्यत्क्षत्रियस्य न विद्यते ||२- ३१||

svadharmamapi cāvēkṣya  na vikampitumarhasi |

dharmyāddhi yuddhācchrēyō:’nyat  kṣatriyasya na vidyatē ||

Now consider your own laws of duty-bound action (Swadharma) Arjuna. You should not be trembling for battle. There is nothing better for a warrior of repute than a righteous battle!

Thus unfolds another cardinal concept.

.button-597a8a8b4b828 { margin-bottom: 15px; margin-top: 0px; min-width: 0px !important; } .button-597a8a8b4b828 { background-color:#617ad3; } .mk-button.button-597a8a8b4b828.flat-dimension:hover { background-color:#d86447 !important; }
.button-597a8a8b4bebf { margin-bottom: 15px; margin-top: 0px; min-width: 0px !important; } .button-597a8a8b4bebf { background-color:#617ad3; } .mk-button.button-597a8a8b4bebf.flat-dimension:hover { background-color:#d86447 !important; }
.button-597a8a8b4c565 { margin-bottom: 15px; margin-top: 0px; min-width: 0px !important; } .button-597a8a8b4c565 { background-color:#617ad3; } .mk-button.button-597a8a8b4c565.flat-dimension:hover { background-color:#d86447 !important; }
.button-597a8a8b4cbfd { margin-bottom: 15px; margin-top: 0px; min-width: 0px !important; } .button-597a8a8b4cbfd { background-color:#617ad3; } .mk-button.button-597a8a8b4cbfd.flat-dimension:hover { background-color:#d86447 !important; }