Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 2 (Part 3)


Saankhya Yogah :  Yoga of Knowledge



Last time we studied up to verse 2.22 dealing with Krishna’s exposition about the permanent nature of the Soul and the impermanent nature of the physical body wherein the Lord proved it unreasonable to grieve over the process of leaving one body and adopting another.

Continuing the discussion from another angle the Lord in the next three verses reiterates the eternal and changeless character of the soul and proves that grieving for fear of its destruction is unbecoming and improper on the part of Arjuna.

The Text

nainam chhindanti shastraani nainam dahati paavakah

na chainam kledayantyaapo na shoshayati maarutah  // 2.23 //

Weapons cannot cut It, nor can fire burn It; water cannot wet It, nor can wind dry It.

Here the unseen has been explained by means of the seen to indicate its nature. The changeless Self is explained with the aid of ever changing world which is familiar to Arjuna and others.  In the world of change, objects meet their end by means of instruments of destruction like weapons, fire, water and wind.

Arjuna’s grief was based on the assumption that he would be killing the elders and other realtives by striking them with lethal weapons. Hence in order to remove his grief the Lord points out the immortality and formlessness of the soul by pointing out the inability of all the four elements of earth, water, fire and air to destroy it. The body is perishable and possessed of a form; the soul is everlasting and formless. Therefore, the soul can never be destroyed by the elements of earth in the form of weapons or by the elements of water, fire and air and so it is sheer ignorance to lament for it.

acchedyo’yam adaahyo’yam akledyo’shoshya eva cha

nityah sarvagatah sthaanur achalo’yam sanaatanah // 2.24 //

This Self cannot be cut, burnt, wetted or dried up. It is eternal, all-pervading, stable, ancient and immovable.

Continuing the import of the previous verse, The Lord says that if a thing cannot be annihilated by any means of destruction discovered by man such an object must be everlasting.  Since the Self is indestructible, It is necessarily everlasting. That which is everlasting or eternal will pervade everywhere. All-pervading indicates that It has only itself all around It and it is unconditioned by anything other than Itself.

That which is eternal and all-pervading must be stable meaning no change can ever happen to It.  That which is stable is immovable.  Mobility or moving implies the transfer of an object or person from one set of time and place to another set of time and place where they were not there already.  Since Self is all-pervading there cannot be any place or period of time where It was not there before.  As the Self is unconditioned by the concept of time It is said to be ancient.

Sri Bhagavan explains nature of immortal Self in a variety of ways giving several illustrations in order that the underlying idea can be grasped by everybody.

avyakto’yam achintyo’yam avikaaryo’yam uchyate

tasmaad evam viditwainam naanushochitum arhasi // 2.25 //

The Self is unmanifest, unthinkable and unchangeable. Therefore, knowing it to be as such, you should not grieve.

The Self is not an object of perception.  It cannot be perceived by any one of the senses. Therefore, it is unmanifest. The mind can think only about an object perceived by the senses. As the Self cannot be perceived by the senses, It is unthinkable and beyond comprehension.. As the Self is infinite and without any form it cannot undergo any change.  Hence It is changeless or immutable.

Arjuna’s grief is misplaced as the Self cannot be hurt or slain. Forms may change; things may come and go but that which remains behind them all is for ever. The Lord, therefore, advises Arjuna not to grieve on that account and  he should not think that he is the slayer and that the others are slain by him.


atha chainam nityajaatam nityam vaa manyase mritam

tathaapi twam mahaabaaho nainam shochitum arhasi // 2.26 //

But even if you think of it as being perpetually born and perpetually dying, even then, O Mighty Armed (Arjuna), you should not grieve.

Sri Krishna, for the sake of argument, takes up the popular assumption here.  Granting that the Self is again and again born whenever a body comes into being and again and again dies whenever the body dies, even then one should not grieve, because birth is inevitable to that which dies and death is inevitable to that which is born.  This is the inexorable law of the nature. As such, the occasion that Arjuna faces is not the one for lament.

jaatasya hi dhruvo mrityur dhruvam janma mritasya cha

tasmaad aparihaarye’rthe natwam shochitum arhasi // 2.27 //

Death is sure to happen to that which is born. Birth   is sure to happen to that which dies.  Birth and death are certainly unavoidable.  Therefore you should not grieve over an inevitable occurrence.

Here Krishna continues to view the whole situation from the materialistic angle.  Even from this stand point, if life is a constant flow of appearances and disappearances one should not shed tears over the unavoidable.


avyaktaadeeni bhootani vyaktamadhyaani bhaarata

avyakta nidhanaanyeva tatra kaa paridevanaa // 2.28 //

Beings are unmanifest in their beginning, manifest in their middle state and unmanifest again in their end O,Arjuna. What is there to grieve about?

The world of beings which we see and experience i.e. the world which is manifest follows the law of causation. Effects rise from the causes.  The effects are manifest i.e. visible while the causes are unmanifest.  Projection from the unmanifest to the manifest is called the creation of a thing.

The manifest world of today was in a condition of unmanifest before its creation.  Now temporarily it is manifest or available for cognition. It shall fade away one day again into unmanifest.  The present came from the unknown and will return to the unknown. The physical body is a combination of the five elements.  It is perceived by the physical eye only after the five elements have entered into such combination.  After death the body disintegrates and the five elements return to their source. The body cannot be perceived then.  Therefore the body can be perceived only in the middle state.

Thus before birth, beings had no connection with the bodies; after death too they would maintain no connection with these gross bodies. During the intermediate period alone viz. from birth to death, they are manifest and maintain relationship with their bodies.

The relationships such as son, wife, father, mother, brother, sister and teacher etc., are formed through the body because of delusion and attachment. Such relationships are only temporary as long as the bodies can perceive and are mere correlations as causes and effects just as we perceive the dream world only as long as the dream lasts and which was not existent before or after the dream.

It is just like a pot which was not there before it was made nor would it be there when it is destroyed. The only constant factor was the mud out of which the pot was made. The existence of the pot is visible only in the middle state and hence its existence is illusory.  So also there is no body in the beginning or in the end.  That which does not exist in the beginning or in the end must be having no real existence in the middle state as well. It can only be an illusory perception. He who thus understands the nature of the body and all human relationships based upon it will not allow them to have any influence upon his mind and therefore there is no point in lamenting over the situation.


aashcharyavat pashyati kashchid enam

aashcharyavad vadati tathaiva chaanyah

aashcharyavacchainam anyah shrinoti

shrutwaapyenam veda na chaiva kaschit // 2.29 //

Some look on the Self as a wonder; some speak of It as a wonder; some hear of It as a wonder; still others, though  hearing, do not understand It at all.

The Self is incomprehensible because it is not known by the ordinary means of knowledge. Though the knowledge of the Self is freely accessible to all mankind, it is attained only by a very few who are willing to pay the price in the form of self-discipline, steadfastness and non-attachment. Though the truth is open to all, many do not feel any urge to seek. Of those who have the urge, many suffer from doubt and vacillation. Even if they do not have doubts, many are scared away by difficulties. Only a few rare souls succeed in braving the perils and reaching the goal.

Although it is difficult to comprehend the idea of the Self, if one starts the practice of listening (sravanam), continuous reflection (mananam) and long contemplation (nidhidhyasan) it is possible to realize the Self in him.


dehee nityam avadhyo’yam dehe sarvasya bhaarata

tasmaat sarvaani bhootani na twam shochitum arhasi // 2.30 //

This Self, the indweller in the body of everyone, is always indestructible.  O, Arjuna, therefore you should not grieve for any creature.

The body of any creature may be destroyed but the Self dwelling within it cannot be killed.  Therefore, grief on account of death is improper, be it Bhishma or anyone else.

So far Krishna argued establishing the eternal nature of the soul and finite nature of the bodies. This verse concludes the idea opened in verse 11.


swadharmam api chaavekshya na vikampitum arhasi

dharmyaaddhi yuddhaachhreyo’nyat kshatriyasya na vidyate // 2.31 //

Further having regard to your duty (your own Dharma) you should not waver, for there is nothing higher for a Kshatriya than a righteous war.

Sri Krishna, so far talked to Arjuna on the immortality of the Self and the perishable nature of the body to justify why he should fight.  He now gives him worldly reasons for fighting. He tells Arjuna that fighting is the ntural duty of a Kshatriya or the one born in the ruling class. His svadharma or law of action requires him to engage in battle for upholding law, justice and righteousness. To him nothing is more ennobling than a fair fight. Arjuna should therefore wage the war and ought not to waver from his duty.

yadricchayaa chopapannam swargadwaaram apaavritam

sukhinah kshatriyaah paartha labhante yuddham eedrisham  // 2.32 //

Happy are the Kshatriyas who are called upon to fight in such a battle that comes of itself unsought as an open door to heaven, O Arjuna.

Arjuna’s opponents had precipitated the war by their own indiscretion and hence this war has been called to come of itself unsought. A Kshatriya who gives up his life in a righteous war is said to go to heaven.

atha chettwam imam dharmyam samgraamam na karishyasi

tatah swadharmam keertim cha hitwaa paapam avaapsyasi // 2.33 //

But if you will not fight in this lawful battle, then, having abandoned your own Dharma and honor, you shall incur sin.

akeertim chaapi bhootaani kathayishyanti te’vyayaam

sambhaavitasya chaakeertir maranaad atirichyate // 2.34 //

People too will recount for ever your infamy; to a man who has been honored dishonor is worse than death.

With these stinging words Krishna seeks to stiffen Arjuna’s spirit.

bhayaad ranaad uparatam mamsyante twaam mahaarathaah

yesham cha twam bahumato bhootwaa yaasyasi laaghavam // 2.35 //

The great chariot-warriors (such as Bhishma, Drona, Kripa etc.) will think that you have withdrawn from the battle through fear and you will be ridiculed by them who held you in much esteem.

avaachyavaadaamshcha bahoon vadishyanti tavaahitaah

nindantastava saamarthyam tato duhkhataram nu kim // 2.36 //

Your enemies also, finding fault with your abilities, will speak many a word that should not be uttered.  What could be more painful than this?

hato vaa praapsyasi swargam jitwaa vaa bhokshyase maheem

tasmaad uttishtha kaunteya yuddhaaya kritanishchayah // 2.37 //

If you are killed in the battle, you will go to heaven; if you win, you will enjoy the earth. Therefore arise, O Son of Kunti, resolved to fight.

The idea is that whatever may be the outcome of the war, Arjuna will be the gainer. Krishna implies that everyone should discharge his duty very sincerely and enthusiastically, to the best of his power and ability, in whatever circumstances, he is placed. Humanity demands it.

sukhaduhkhe same kritwaa laabhaalaabhau jayaajayau

tato yuddhaaya yujyaswa naivam paapamavaapsyasi // 2.38 //

Treating alike pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat, engage in battle for the sake of the battle, thus you shall not incur sin.

Arjuna was thinking that by killing his kinsmen he would incur sin. So Krishna clarifies that it is the desire for and attachment to the result of an action that create bondage; but when an action is performed without any such desire, it leads to freedom of the soul. The injunction to fight is only incidental.

Pain and pleasure are the intellectual awareness of the unfavorable or favorable experiences. Gain and loss are such awareness at the mental level.  Victory and defeat are the experiences felt at bodily level or physical fields. Arjuna’s goal is not to think of victory and defeat etc. but to discharge his duty by treating the agreeable and disagreeable alike. By doing so he would not commit any sin. i.e. he would be free from bondage.

Concepts and Issues

In these verses Sri Krishna comes down from the peaks of vedantic ideologies to the material philosophy and the average person’s wisdom to drive home his teachings with a view to convince Arjuna that the war must be fought.

The thrust of the arguments is that the sin that is committed by not killing the one who deserves to be killed is as great as the sin of killing the one who does not deserve to be killed. When the struggle between right and wrong is on, he who abstains from it out of false sentimentality, weakness or cowardice would be committing sin.

The Lord reminds Arjuna about his name and fame he had already earned which he would now lose if he refuses to fight and thereby has touched the latter’s sensitive point of self-respect. He tells that the world will always recall the infamy of Arjuna and it will last for a long time.  Death is really preferable to disgrace to the one who has been honored as a great hero with noble qualities.

Sri Bhagavan continues that the great warriors and the battalion commanders in the enemy camp will laugh and ridicule Arjuna for his running away from the war as an act of sheer cowardice. He points out that the enemy line will not believe that Arjuna ran away because of his compassion and reverence for elders and teachers and that they will look down upon him with contempt.  There is really no pain that is unbearable as that of the slanderous comments emanating from the side of the enemy.

Finally, Arjuna, is told by The Lord that he will stand to gain either he wins or loses in the battle – in case he loses his life, he attains veera swarga and in case he succeeds, he will rule over the kingdom and enjoy in this world.

Therefore, Sri Krishna exhorts Arjuna with these words: ‘Arise, resolve to fight’. This is the divine call to all of us to throw away dejections at the life’s challenges and to go forward to play ‘the game of life’ with a firm determination to win keeping in mind fairness to all. This verse brings out the true universality of the Gita and its practical applicability in our daily lives.

In these verses Krishna clarified several doubts that arose in the mind of Arjuna in the 1st Chapter. Some of them are illustrated below:

Arjuna’s doubt: I don’t foresee any good ensuing from the slaughter of my kinsmen -1.31.

Krishna’s clarification: There is nothing more welcome to a man of the warrior class than a righteous war – 2.31

A – How can we, by killing our kinsmen be happy? 1.37

K – Happy are the Kshatrias who get the opportunity of waging such an unsolicited war 2.32.

A – The consequences of war will lead to hell – 1.44

K – The war is an open way to heaven 2.32, 37.

A – Sin alone will accrue to us by waging the war and by slaying them 1.36, 39, 45.

K – If you do not wage such a righteous war with an equanimous mind and abandon your duty, you will incur sin 2.33, 38.

A – The result of the war will be that impiety will take hold of the entire family 1.40.

K – If you do not wage the war you will be abandoning righteousness 2.33.

A – It is better to live on alms than to wage war 2.5.

K – Arjuna is ordered to wage war 2.38.

Live as the Gita Teaches You to Live

The advice that Sri Bhagavan gives here is that one must learn to keep oneself in equilibrium in all the different situations of life at the different levels of one’s existence. To expect life to be without the pairs of opposites such as favorable and unfavorable, gain or loss etc., is to anticipate the impossible.  Therefore if one has come to live in this world one has to learn the art of living unaffected by the vicissitudes of life. To identify oneself with the life situations – favorable or unfavorable – is to drift along with the waves and not to stand on the shore as a spectator enjoying the sight of the same waves.

Sri Krishna advises Arjuna, while encouraging him to fight, that he should enter the war keeping himself unaffected by the debilitating mental tendencies like pleasure and pain, gain and loss, conquest and defeat etc.  This is the Yoga of equanimity of the mind or the doctrine of poise in action.

Equanimity in all challenging situations ensures success in life and enables the purging of ego-sense and egocentric desires. This removal is blocked when the individual starts getting disturbed by all sorts of pairs of opposites when the ego sense overtakes him. To be equanimous is to act detached from ego. This kind of right living results in mental purification or vasana elimination or correction of mental tendencies.

If a person performs an action with the above mental attitude or with a balanced state of mind he will not reap the fruits of such an action.  Such an action will lead to the purification of his heart and liberation.

It is always the desire for one of the pairs of opposites that binds. When an act is done without attachment either for itself or for its fruits then Karma can be worked out i.e. vasanas can be exhausted without adding any new ones leading to freedom.

The idea is that whatever may be the outcome of the war, Arjuna will be the gainer. Krishna implies that everyone should discharge his duty very sincerely and enthusiastically, to the best of his power and ability, in whatever circumstances, he is placed. Humanity demands it.

Points to Ponder

  • Nature of the soul

  • Even if the soul is subject to birth and death why no one should grieve for it?

  • How the relationships derived from the bodies are illusory?

  • Why grieving is not proper to Arjuna even according to his sense of his duty as a Kshatriya?

  • What makes the performance of one’s duty free from bondage or sin?

Next time we will proceed from the Verse 2.39

Harih Om


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