Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Shankara | Discourse 2 verse 11-18

The Self is immortal.

Now finding no means other than Self-knowledge for the deliverance of Arjuna who was thus confounded as to his duty and was deeply plunged in the mighty ocean of grief, Lord Vāsudeva who wished to help him out of it introduced him to Self-knowledge in the following words :

—The Lord said:

11. For those who deserve no grief thou hast grieved, and words of wisdom thou speakest. For the living and for the dead the wise grieve not.

Shankara's commentary:

Such people as Bhīshma and Droṇa deserve no grief, for they are men of good conduct and are eternal in their real nature.

You have grieved for them saying:

“I am the cause of their death; of what avail are pleasures of dominion and other things to me left alone without them?”

And you also speak the words of wise men. Thus you exhibit inconsistency in yourself,—foolishness and wisdom,—like a maniac.

For, the wise (paṇditāh)—those who know the Self—grieve neither for the living nor for the dead. They alone are wise who know the Self. For, the śruti says:

“Having obtained wisdom (pāṇditya, i. e., know­ledge of the Self) in its entirety...” (Bri. Up. III, 5,1)

That is, yon grieve for those who are really eternal and who really deserve no grief; wherefore you are foolish.

(Question):—Why do they deserve no grief?

(Answer):—For, they are eternal.


(Answer):—The Lord says:

12. Never did I not exist, nor thou nor these rulers of men; and no one of us will ever hereafter cease to exist.

Shankara's commentary:

Never did I cease to exist; on the other hand, I always did exist; that is, through the past bodily births and deaths, I always existed. So also, never did you cease to exist; on the other hand, you always did exist.

So, never did these rulers of men cease to exist; on the other hand, they always did exist. So, neither shall we ever cease to exist; on the other hand, we shall all certainly continue to exist even after the death of these bodies.

As the Self, the Ātman, we are eternal in all the three periods of time (past, present and future).

The plural ‘us’ is used with reference to the bodies that are different; it does not mean that there are more than one Self.

{Question):—Now, how is the Self eternal?

(Answer):—Here follows an illustration:

13.  Just as in this body the embodied (Self) passes into childhood and youth and old age, so does He pass into another body. There the wise man is not distressed.

Shankara's commentary:

We see how the embodied Self passes unchanged in the present body into the three stages (avasthās) of childhood, youth or the middle age and old age or the age of decay, all distinct from one another.

At the close of the first of these stages the Self is not dead, nor is He born again at the commencement of the second; on the other hand, we see the Self passing unchanged into the second and third stages.

Just so does the Self pass unchanged into another body. Such being the case, the wise man is not troubled (in mind) about it.

Endurance is a condition of wisdom.

Now Arjuna might argue as follows:

It is true that when one knows the Self to be eternal there is no room for the distressful delusion that the Self will die.

But quite common among people, as we see, is the distressful delusion that the Self is subject to heat and cold, pleasure and pain, as also to grief due to the loss of pleasure or to the suffering of pain.

As against the foregoing, the Lord says:

14. The sense-contacts it is, O son of Kuntī, which cause heat and cold, pleasure and pain; they come and go they are impermanent. Them endure bravely, O descendant of Bharata.

Shankara's commentary:

The senses are those of hearing and the like, by which sound and other things are perceived.

It is the contacts of the senses with their objects such as sound—or, according to another interpretation, it is the senses and the contacts— i. e., the sense-objects, such as sound, which are contacted by the senses,—which produce heat and cold, pleasure and pain.

Cold is pleasant at one time and painful at another. So also heat is of an inconstant nature. But pleasure and pain are constant in their respective natures as pleasure and pain.

Wherefore heat and cold are mentioned separately from pleasure and pain. Because these sense-contacts, etc., have, by nature, a beginning and an end, therefore they are not permanent.

Wherefore do thou bravely endure f them, heat and cold etc.; i. e., give not thyself up to joy or grief on their account.

(Question):—What good will accrue to him who bears heat and cold and the like?


15. That wise man whom, verily, these afflict not, O chief of men, to whom pleasure and pain are same, he for immortality is fit.

Shankara's commentary:

That person to whom pleasure and pain are alike,—who neither exults in pleasure nor feels dejected in pain,—who is a man of wisdom, whom heat and cold and other things such as those mentioned above do not affect in virtue of his vision of the eternal Self,

—that man, firm in his vision of the eternal Self and bearing calmly the pairs of opposites (such as heat and cold), is able to attain immortality (moksha).

The Real and the Unreal.

For the following reason also it is proper that thou should abandon grief and distressful delusion and calmly endure heat and cold, etc. For,

16. Of the unreal no being there is; there is no non-being of the real. Of both these is the truth seen by the seers of the Essence.

Shankara's commentary:

There is no bhāva—no being, no existence—of the unreal (asat) such as heat and cold as well as their causes.

Heat, cold, etc., and the causes thereof, which are (no doubt) perceived through the organs of perception, are not absolute­ly real (vastu-sat); for, they are effects or changes (vikāra), and every change is temporary.

For instance, no objective form, such as an earthen pot, presented to consciousness by the eye, proves to be real, because it is not perceived apart from clay.

Thus every effect is unreal, because it is not perceived as distinct from its cause. Every effect, such as a pot, is unreal, also because it is not perceived before its production and after its destruction.

And likewise the cause, such as clay, is unreal because it is not perceived apart from its cause.

(Objection):—Then it comes to this: nothing at all exists.

(Answer):—No (such objection applies here). For, every fact of experience involves twofold consciousness (buddhi), the consciousness of the real (sat) and the consciousness of the unreal (asat).

Now that is (said to be) real, of which our consciousness never fails; and that to be unreal, of which our consciousness fails. Thus the distinction of reality and unreality depends on our consciousness.

Now, in all our experience, two-fold consciousness arises with reference to one and the same substratum (samānādhikaraṇa), as, a cloth existent,’ ‘a pot existent,’ ‘ an elephant existent ’—not as in the expressiona blue lotus ’—and so on everywhere.

Of the two, ‘the consciousness of pot’, etc., is temporary as was already pointed out, but not the consciousness of existence.

Thus, the object corres­ponding to our consciousness of pot, etc., is unreal, because the consciousness is temporary; but what corresponds to our consciousness of existence is not unreal, because the consciousness is unfailing.

(Objection):—When the pot is absent and the conscious­ness of it fails, the consciousness of existence also fails.

(Answer):—No (such objection applies here). For the consciousness of existence still arises with reference to other objects such as cloth. The consciousness of existence corresponds indeed only to the attributive (viśeṣaṇa).

(Objection): — Like the consciousness of existence, the consciousness of the pot also arises with reference to another pot (present).

(Answer):—You cannot say so, for the consciousness of the pot does not arise with reference to a cloth.

(Objection):—Neither does the consciousness of existence arise in the case of the pot that has disappeared.

(Answer):—You cannot say so, for there is no substantive (viśeṣya) present.

The consciousness of existence corres­ponds to the attributive; and as there can be no conscious­ness of the attributive without that of the corresponding substantive, how can the consciousness of the attributive arise in the absence of the substantive? —Not that there is no objective reality present, corresponding to the conscious­ness of existence.

(Objection):—If the substantive such as the pot be unreal, twofold consciousness arising with reference to one and the same substratum is inexplicable.

(Answer):—No; for, we find the twofold consciousness arising with reference to one and the same substratum,

even though one of the two objects corresponding to the twofold consciousness is unreal, as for instance in the case of a mirage, where our consciousness takes the form “this is water.”

Therefore, there is no existence of the unreal, the fictitious—such as the body and the pairs of opposites— or of their causes. Neither does the real—the Self (Ātman)—ever cease to exist; for, as already pointed out, our consciousness of the Self never fails.

This conclusion—that the real is ever existent and the unreal is never existent—regarding the two, the Self and the non-Self, the real and the unreal, is always present before the minds of those who attend only to truth, to the real nature of the Brahman, the Absolute, the All, That’.

Thou hadst therefore better follow the view of such truth-seers, shake off grief and delusion, and,

being assured that all phenomena (vikāras) are really non-existent and are, like the mirage, mere false appearances,

do thou calmly bear heat and cold and other pairs of opposites, of which some are constant and others inconstant in their nature as productive of pleasure or pain.

What, then, is that which is ever real? Listen:—

17. But know that to be imperishable by which all this is pervaded. None can cause the destruction of That, the Inexhaustible.

Shankara's commentary:

Unlike the unreal, That—you must understand—does not vanish; That, the Brahman, the Sat’, the Real, by which all this world, including the ākāśa, is pervaded, just as pots and other objects are pervaded by the ākāśa or space.

Brahman does not undergo increase or diminution and is therefore inexhaustible. This Brahman, the ‘ Sat ’, is not exhausted in Itself; for, unlike the body It has no parts. Nor does It diminish by (loss of) anything belonging to It; for, nothing belongs to the Self.

Devadatta, for instance, is ruined by' loss of wealth; but Brahman does not suffer loss in that way.

Wherefore, nobody can bring about the disappear­ance or destruction of the inexhaustible Brahman. No­body—not even the Īśvara, the Supreme Lord—can destroy the Self. For, the Self is Brahman Itself, and one cannot act upon oneself.

What, then, is the unreal (asat), whose existence is not constant? Listen:

I8. These bodies of the embodied (Self) who is eternal, indestructible and unknowable, are said to have an end. Do fight, therefore, O descendant of Bharata.

Shankara's commentary:

It is said by the enlightened that these bodies of the Self, who is eternal, indestructible and unknowable, have an end, like those seen in dreams or produced by a juggler.

—The end of such objects as the mirage consists in the cessation—as the result of investigation into their nature by proper tests of truth—of the idea of reality which has been associated with them. So also these bodies have an end.

[No tautology is involved in the use of both ‘eternal’ and ‘indestructible for, two kinds of eternality and of destruc­tion are met with in our experience.

The physical body, for instance, entirely disappearing when reduced to ashes, is said to have been destroyed. The physical body, while exist­ing as such, may be transformed owing to sickness or such other causes, and it is then said to have ceased to be (some­thing) and to have become (something else).

“Eternal” and ‘indestructible’ here imply that the Self is subject to neither sort of destruction. Otherwise, the eternality of Ātman, the Self, might perhaps be understood to be like that of clay or other material objects. It is the denial of this which is conveyed by the two epithets.]

The Self is unknowable,—not determinable by the senses (pratyakṣa) or any other means of knowledge.

[Objection):—The Self is determined by the Āgama or Revelation, and by perception etc. prior to Revelation.

[Answer):—The objection is untenable, for the Self is self-determined (svatas-siddha).

When the Self, the knower (pramātṛ), has been determined, then only is possible a search for proper authorities on the part of the knower with a view to obtain right knowledge.

In fact, without deter­mining the Self—I am I’—none seeks to determine the knowable objects. Indeed the Self is unknown (aprasiddha) to nobody.

And the Scripture (Śāstra) which is the final authority obtains its authoritativeness regarding the Self, as serving only to eliminate the adhyāropana or superimposi­tion (on the Self) of the attributes alien to Him, but not as revealing what has been altogether unknown.

The śruti also describes the Self thus:—

“That which is the Immediate, the Unremote, the Brahman, which is the Self, which is within all.”

(Bri. Up. ii. 4. 1).

Because the Self is thus eternal (nitya) and immutable (avikriya), therefore, do thou fight,—do not abstain from fighting.

Here the duty of fighting is not enjoined. Arjuna had already been engaged in fighting. But overpowered by grief and delusion he abstained from fighting.

It is only the removal of obstructive causes (pratibandha, i.e., grief and delusion) that is here attempted by the Lord.

Where­fore in the words ‘do thou fight’ the Lord issues here no new-command (vidhi); He only refers to what is commonly known already.