The Self Cannot be Destroyed
Arjuna, there are two substances in this world – the body and the embodied. The body is a thing that is known directly to everyone. It comprises not only physical organs but also inner organs such as the mind and intellect and also the remnants of karma and vāsanas (latent impressions) that have been accumulated over several lives. These are the characteristics of a jīva. All subtle ingredients other than the Self are aspects of the body. The embodied is the consciousness within the body. That is the Pure Self. The body belongs to the Self. The Self is the Master of the body. The thing to be noted here is that while the body is subject to change, the Self is not. The body can be destroyed but the Self cannot be.
“Arjuna, isn’t your sorrow because you have to kill in battle? What is it that is destroyed when killed? The body or the Self? It is not the embodied Self.”
nāyaṃ hanti na hanyate॥ (BG 2.19)
(He neither kills nor is he killed)
dehī nityam-avadhyo’yam॥ (BG 2.30)
(The embodied one is Eternal and cannot be killed)
“Then whatever is left is the body. Do you weep for that? The body will not survive just because you weep for that. That is bound to die regardless of whatever anyone does.”
jātasya hi dhruvo mṛtyuḥ॥ (BG 2.27)br>(Death is certain for the one who is born)
“Just as we cast off old clothes and don new ones, the Self that is in jīva-hood discards a body to inhabit another one. Just as man cannot escape the stages of childhood, youth and old age, obtaining a new body through death is an inescapable occurrence.”
tasmād-aparihārye’rthe na tvaṃ śocitum-arhasi॥ (BG 2.27)
(Therefore these two (birth and death) are inevitable. You should not grieve)
“What will result from pining over something that is inevitable? Death will definitely visit all one day without fail. It cannot be avoided through lamentation”.
Bhagavān uses the simile of old garments for the body – ‘vāsāṃsi jīrṇāni.’ This comparison is interesting. The fabric of wearing out garments cannot be strengthened by any means. Discarding them is the only way of dealing with them. Similarly, it is impossible for anybody to clean and purify a decadent body associated with evil qualities, immense greed, and despicable habits. Just as malodour cannot be removed without getting rid of smelly clothes, just as a head with lice-infested hair cannot be cleaned without shaving the head completely, the embodied jīva cannot hope for purity without death freeing it from the body that has been an abode of iniquity for a long time. Therefore, for a jīva inhabiting a body given long to vice, death might be a blessing. For the bearer of a sinful body, demise is release. Hence, death occurring during battle need not be considered wrongful. A diseased person might, out of laziness or lack of strength, insist on remaining in dirty unwashed clothes. His caretakers would compel such a person to get up, clean him, and get him to put on new clothes. Similarly, War releases people from their bodies. Those slain get better vestments upon departure.
Arjuna could ask another question. Let death come when it is inevitable. Why should I be the reason for it? Why should I bear the sin of killing another? The solution is as follows.
Performing One’s Dharma
Every being has a body and a spirit. The ātmā in that state is known as jīva. The jīva has two sides to it. One is the inert body. The other is the conscious Self. Due to its embodied nature, the jīva suffers many hardships in the mundane world. Amidst the push and pull of Nature, karma, and Destiny, the jīva forgets its Self and suffers. When it goes beyond its jīva-hood and experiences its own Self, it experiences true bliss. That is mokṣa. If the jīva has to experience its own Self, it has to equip itself with some instructive means. The Self (ātmā) is:
nityaḥ sarvagataḥ sthāṇuḥ acalo’yaṃ sanātanaḥ। (BG 2.24)
avyakto’yamacintyo’yaṃ avikāryo’yamucyate॥ (BG 2.25)
Thus the ātmā is beyond the universe, different from the universe, beyond comparison and impossible to describe. To see and experience it, the layers of the body and the world have to be stripped and thrown away. Dharma is the means for that.
What is Dharma?
Let us now understand the meaning of the word ‘dharma’ to some extent – this should be helpful in our further study. We have seen this word used several times and this word will be used again in this work. The Gītā-treatise (Gītā-śāstra) has been described as ‘Jīvana-dharma-śāstra’ (The science of the dharma of life) already. Bhagavān himself has clarified that dharma is the topic of the Gītā.
ya imaṃ dharmyaṃ saṃvādam-āvayoḥ|| (BG 18.20)
All interpretations of the Gītā are dependent on the meaning of the word dharma. Therefore it is essential to reflect on the meaning of dharma.
First, the meaning of the word. Dharma is something that sustains. ‘Dhāraṇāt dharma ityāhuḥ.’ The discipline that protects everything suitably is dharma. ‘Dharmo rakṣati rakṣitaḥ’ – the set of rules that protects us upon following it is dharma.
In practice, dharma is of three kinds: 1. Characteristic 2. Systemic 3. Compassionate.
1. By characteristic dharma is meant a thing’s natural state of being. Whatever quality makes a thing itself, the expansion of that quality is dharma. Burning is the dharma of fire. To blow is the dharma of the wind. To fly is the dharma of the bird. The dharma of water is to dissipate heat and cool anything it comes in contact with. The dharma of the body is to grow old and decrepit. Likewise are age related rules (vayo-dharma) and seasonal practices (ṛtu-dharma). Whatever ability or quality of a person is useful to society at large, that group of qualities and abilities is that person’s dharma. This can be termed a “value” in English. Whatever quality or characteristic brings value to a certain thing is that thing’s dharma. Thus preserving a thing’s characteristic is dharma.
2. Systemic dharma is that set of rules by following which the natural expression of a being does not hinder another being’s existence or natural expression. The law of mutual non-detriment is justice. It is dharma.
3. Compassionate dharma is love towards other beings. The flowering of the self is developing one’s own life to help all. Affection towards the world is a means towards this. This is what is termed ‘ātmaupamya’ (self-identification) later in the Gītā. That is dharma.
To be continued...
The present series is a modern English translation of DVG’s Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award-winning work, Bhagavad-gītā-tātparya or Jīvana-dharma-yoga. The translators wish to express their thanks to Śatāvadhāni R Ganesh for his valuable feedback and to Hari Ravikumar for his astute edits.