Welcome back to episode 3 of Understanding Gita. In yesterday’s discussion, Arjuna raised his hands up and called out to Krsna for help. Krsna gives many reasons why he should fight. His first reason is discussed in verses 10 through 30, where He presents the concept of an immutable spirit soul. The following are the verses:
TEXT 10: O descendant of Bharata, at that time Kṛṣṇa, smiling, in the midst of both the armies, spoke the following words to the grief-stricken Arjuna.
TEXT 11: The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: While speaking learned words, you are mourning for what is not worthy of grief. Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor for the dead.
TEXT 12: Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.
TEXT 13: As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change.
TEXT 14: O son of Kuntī, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.
TEXT 15: O best among men [Arjuna], the person who is not disturbed by happiness and distress and is steady in both is certainly eligible for liberation.
TEXT 16: Those who are seers of the truth have concluded that of the nonexistent [the material body] there is no endurance and of the eternal [the soul] there is no change. This they have concluded by studying the nature of both.
TEXT 17: That which pervades the entire body you should know to be indestructible. No one is able to destroy that imperishable soul.
TEXT 18: The material body of the indestructible, immeasurable and eternal living entity is sure to come to an end; therefore, fight, O descendant of Bharata.
TEXT 19: Neither he who thinks the living entity the slayer nor he who thinks it slain is in knowledge, for the self slays not nor is slain.
TEXT 20: For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time. He has not come into being, does not come into being, and will not come into being. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.
TEXT 21: O Pārtha, how can a person who knows that the soul is indestructible, eternal, unborn and immutable kill anyone or cause anyone to kill?
TEXT 22: As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, the soul similarly accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.
TEXT 23: The soul can never be cut to pieces by any weapon, nor burned by fire, nor moistened by water, nor withered by the wind.
TEXT 24: This individual soul is unbreakable and insoluble, and can be neither burned nor dried. He is everlasting, present everywhere, unchangeable, immovable and eternally the same.
TEXT 25: It is said that the soul is invisible, inconceivable and immutable. Knowing this, you should not grieve for the body.
TEXT 26: If, however, you think that the soul [or the symptoms of life] will always be born and die forever, you still have no reason to lament, O mighty-armed.
TEXT 27: One who has taken his birth is sure to die, and after death one is sure to take birth again. Therefore, in the unavoidable discharge of your duty, you should not lament.
TEXT 28: All created beings are unmanifest in their beginning, manifest in their interim state, and unmanifest again when annihilated. So what need is there for lamentation?
TEXT 29: Some look on the soul as amazing, some describe him as amazing, and some hear of him as amazing, while others, even after hearing about him, cannot understand him at all.
TEXT 30: O descendant of Bharata, he who dwells in the body can never be slain. Therefore you need not grieve for any living being.
In these verses, Krsna explains the characteristics of the soul. I feel that most people have experienced the soul either personally or through secondhand stories. We all have this innate feeling that no matter what happens to the world, we shall continue to live on otherwise, why worry about leaving a heritage? Therefore, if you go to the remotest part of the world and pick out the most illiterate people, you will be surprised to find a belief in a living spirit beyond the body. Hence, these verses, as spoken by Krsna, are quite intuitive and don’t need any more explanation.
- Does knowing that the soul can’t be killed and what is killed is the body encourage violence? No. The Vedic injunction is that one should never commit violence to anyone. It doesn’t even encourage animal slaughter; what to speak of human warfare! However, just as surgery is sometimes needed in medical science for the greater good of the patient, war/violence are inevitable factors in human society for keeping law and order.
- I just read today that the American Navy killed ten Houthi militants who were trying to capture a merchant ship in the Red Sea. Since the Israel and Gaza war erupted, merchant vessels have been apprehensive about going through the Suez Canal, although it saves them a lot of money because of the risk of attack by Yemen Houthi – a terror group apparently backed by Iranians. America and a few other countries came forward to guard the merchant ships. And today, they finally acted. If the American Navy had acted peacefully, the ship would have been lost, and the confidence of the merchant vessels would have dipped, causing an increase in the price of commodities throughout the world. In such situations, violence is permitted. I must admit that with rising complexities in world politics, it is becoming increasingly unclear whether violence is for the greater good or for the greater greed. In Arjuna’s case, it is clear because Krsna, the Supreme Person Himself, is charting the path of righteousness for him.
- Another important lesson from this section is the act of tolerance. Krsna tells Arjuna in verse 13 that even though you understand that body is temporary, when the body is destroyed, there is sorrow, and one must learn to tolerate that. I remember, two years ago when my mother passed away, although, I had heard that the soul is eternal a million times in the last 10 years, but that couldn’t stop me from crying, and even to this day, I feel her absence in my life. Krsna tells us that in such situations, one should learn to tolerate. He gives the example of weather. I live in Michigan. For six months in a year, it is frigid cold. Either I can tolerate the weather and keep my focus on my goals, or I can move every few months to a fair-weather place. Krsna tells Arjuna to keep the focus on eternal spiritual pursuit and tolerate the temporary, which will soon pass away. In other words, it is not just tolerance but tolerance along with vigilance. Some people just tolerate it, and they become victims of abuse. That is cowardice. Others just oscillate wherever the wind takes them and never make it to their goals. Krsna rejects both those opinions.
- I want to give an example of this. Tiger Woods, the famous golfer, was trained by his father in this above principle as a child. As a child, when Woods would be about to take a short, his father would deliberately drop something or throw something to distract the child from taking the proper short. Woods learned pretty early to keep his complete focus on the goal where he wanted the ball. He shares that he benefited tremendously from the distracting acts of his father later in his professional tours. Thus, it is not just tolerance but tolerance with vigilance.
I want to leave you with the following questions
What is your long-term goal, and what are some distractions that you face?
Krsna asked Arjuna to act at the level of soul and carry out the war. What would Krsna ask you to act, given that you, too, are a soul?
Today, we covered the first reason given by Krsna to Arjuna’s fight or flight question. He discussed the concept of the soul, the living spirit in the body, which is immutable. He asked Arjuna to tolerate and pursue spiritual emancipation. We discussed the utility of violence and the need for distraction-free focus.