Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Shankara | Discourse 2 verse 22-38

How the Self is immutable.

To return to the immediate subject. It has been stated that the Self is indestructible. Like what is He indestructi­ble?

Here follows the answer:

22.  Just as a man casts off worn-out clothes and puts on others which are new, so the embodi­ed (Self) casts off worn-out bodies and enters others which are new.

Shankara's commentary:

Just as, in this world, a man casts off the clothes that have been worn-out and puts on others which are new, in the same manner, like the man (of the world), the embodied Self abandons old bodies, and, without undergoing any change, enters others which are new.

Why is the Self quite changeless?

The Lord says:

23.  Him, weapons cut not; Him, fire burns not, and Him, water wets not; Him wind dries not.

Shankara's commentary:

Him, i. e., the embodied Self of whom we are speaking, weapons, such as swords, do not cut. As He has no parts, they can effect no division of Him into parts.

So, fire does not burn Him: even fire cannot reduce Him to ashes. Neither does water wet Him; for, the power of water lies in disjoining the parts of a thing which is made up of parts, by wetting it; and this cannot take place in the partless Self.

So, wind destroys an object containing moisture, by drying it up; but even wind cannot dry up the Self.

Wherefore,

24.  He cannot be cut, nor burnt, nor wetted, nor dried up. He is everlasting, all-pervading, stable, firm, and eternal.

Shankara's commentary:

Because the mutually destructive objects—namely, swords and the like—cannot destroy the Self, therefore He is everlasting. Because everlasting, He is all-pervading. Because all-pervading, He is stable like a pillar. Because stable, the Self is firm. Wherefore He is eternal, not produced out of any cause, not new.

No charge of tautology can be brought against the verses (ii. 21-24) ground that in ii.20 the eternality and the immutability of the Self have been taught and that what has been said regarding the Self in these verses (ii. 21-24) adds nothing to what was taught in that one verse,—something being repeated verbatim, and something more being repeated in idea.

Since the Self is a thing very difficult to understand, Lord Vāsudeva again and again introduces the subject and describes the same thing in other words,

so that in some way or other the truth may be grasped by the intellect of the mortals (samsārins) and thus the cessation of their saṁsāra may be brought about.

No room for grief.

Moreover,

25. He, it is said, is unmanifest, unthinkable and unchangeable. Wherefore, knowing Him to be such, thou hadst better grieve not.

Shankara's commentary:

As the Self is inaccessible to any of the senses, He is not manifest. Wherefore, He is unthinkable. For, that alone which is perceived by the senses becomes an object of thought.

Verily, the Self is unthinkable, because He is inaccessible to the senses. He is unchangeable. The Self is quite unlike milk, which, mixed with butter-milk, can be made to change its form.

He is changeless, also because He has no parts; for, whatever has no parts is never found to undergo change. Because the Self is changeless, He is unchangeable.

Therefore, thus understanding the Self, thou hadst better not grieve, nor think that thou art their slayer and that they are slain by thee.

Granting that the Self is not everlasting, the Lord pro­ceeds:

26.  But even if thou think of Him as ever being born and ever dying, even then, O mighty- armed, thou ought not to grieve thus.

Shankara's commentary:

Granting that the Self—of whom we are speaking—is, according to the popular view, again and again born when­ever a body comes into existence, and again and again dead whenever the body dies,

—even if the Self were so, as you think, O mighty-armed, you ought not to grieve thus; for, death is inevitable to what is born; and birth is in­evitable to what is dead.

Accordingly,

27.  To that which is born, death is indeed certain; and to that which is dead, birth is cer­tain. Wherefore, about the unavoidable thing, thou ought not to grieve.

Shankara's commentary:

To that which has had birth, death happens without failure, and birth is sure to happen to that which is dead. Since birth and death are unavoidable, therefore you ought not to grieve regarding such an unavoidable thing.

If death is natural to that which has had birth, and if birth is natural to that which has had death, the thing is unavoid­able. Regarding such an unavoidable thing you ought not to grieve.

Neither is it proper to grieve regarding beings which are mere combinations of (material) causes and effects; for,

28. Beings have their beginning unseen, their middle seen, and their end unseen again. Why any lamentation regarding them?

Shankara's commentary:

The origin—prior to manifestation—of beings such as sons and friends, who are mere combinations of material elements correlated as causes and effects, is non-perception (avyakta).

And having come into existence, their middle state—previous to death—is perceived. Again their end is non-perception: after death, they become unperceived again.

Thus it is said:

“He has come from non-perception (the unseen) and has gone back to non-perception (the unseen). He is neither thine, nor thou his. What is this vain lamentation for?” (Mahābh. Strīparva, 2-13)

About these mere illusions—first unseen, then seen, and again unseen—what occasion is there for any lamentation?

The Self just spoken of is very difficult to realise. Why am I to blame you alone while the cause, i.e., illusion, is common to all?

One may ask: how is it that the Self is difficult to realise?

The Lord says:

29. One sees Him as a wonder; and so also another speaks of Him as a wonder; and as a wonder another hears of Him; and though hear­ing, none understands Him at all.

Shankara's commentary:

One sees the Self as a wonder, as a thing unseen, as something strange, as seen all on a sudden. And so, another speaks of Him as a wonder; and another hears of Him as a wonder. Though seeing Him, hearing and speaking of Him, none realises Him at all.

Or (as otherwise interpreted): He that sees the Self is something like a wonder. He that speaks and he that hears of Him is only one among many thousands. Thus the Self is hard to understand.

Now the Lord concludes the subject of this section thus:

30. He, the embodied (Self) in every one's body, can never be killed, O descendant of Bharata. Wherefore thou ought not to grieve about any creature.

Shankara's commentary:

Though the body of any creature whatever is killed, the Self cannot be killed; wherefore, you ought not to grieve regarding any creature whatever, Bhīshma or anybody else.

A warrior should fight.

Here (in ii. 30) it has been shown that from the stand­point of absolute truth there is no occasion for grief and attachment.

Not only from the standpoint of absolute truth, but also,

31.  Having regard to thine own duty also, thou ought not to waver. For, to a Kshatriya, there is nothing more wholesome than a lawful battle.

Shankara's commentary:

Having regard also to the fact that fighting is a Kshatri­ya’s duty, you ought not to swerve from that duty, which is natural to a Kshatriya,—from that which is natural to you (i.e., becoming the caste and the order to which you belong).

This fighting is a supreme duty, not opposed to Law, since it is conducive, through conquest of dominion, to the interests of Law and popular well-being; and to a Kshatriya nothing else is more wholesome than such a law­ful battle.

And why also should the battle be fought?

The Lord says:

32. Happy Kshatriyas, O son of Pritha, find such a battle as this, come of itself, an open door to heaven.

Shankara's commentary:

Are not those Kshatriyas happy who find a battle like this presenting itself unsought, an open door to heaven?

Though found to be your duty,

33. Now if thou wouldst not fight this lawful battle, then, having abandoned thine own duty and fame, thou shalt incur sin.

Shankara's commentary:

If, on the other hand, you will not fight this battle which is enjoined on you as a duty, and which is not opposed to Law, you will, by neglecting this battle, have abandoned your duty and lost the fame that you acquired by your encounter with such persons as Mahādeva.

Thus you will only incur sin.

Not only will you have given up your duty and fame, but also,

34. People, too, will recount thy everlasting infamy; and, to one who has been esteemed, infamy is more than death.

Shankara's commentary:

People, too, will recount your infamy, which will survive you long. To him who has been esteemed as a hero and as a righteous man and as one possessing other such noble qualities, death is preferable to infamy.

Moreover,

35.  The great car-warriors will think thou hast withdrawn from the battle through fear; and, having been (hitherto) highly esteemed by them, thou wilt incur their contempt.

Shankara's commentary:

Duryodhana and others—warriors fighting in great cars— will think that you have withdrawn from the battle through fear of Karṇa and others, but not through compassion.

—Who are they that will think so?

—The very persons, Duryodhana and others, by whom you have been esteemed as possessed of many noble qualities. Having been thus esteemed, you will again grow very small (in their estimation).

Moreover,

36. Thy enemies, too, scorning thy power, will talk many abusive words. What is more painful than that?

Shankara's commentary:

There is no pain more unbearable than that of scorn thus- incurred.

Now, when you fight with Karṇa and others,

37. Killed, thou wilt reach heaven; victorious, thou wilt enjoy the earth. Wherefore, O son of Kunti, arise, resolved to fight.

Shankara's commentary:

Victorious: that is, having defeated Karṇa and other heroes. In either case you will have an advantage only. Wherefore rise, with the resolution “I will conquer the enemy or die.”

Now listen to the advice I offer to you, while you fight the battle regarding it as a duty:

38.  Then, treating alike pleasure and pain, gain and loss, success and defeat, prepare for the battle, and thus wilt thou not incur sin.

Shankara's commentary:

Treating alike pleasure and pain: i.e., without liking the one and disliking the other. Thus fighting, you will not incur sin. [This injunction as to fighting is only incidental.]