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Thursday, March 7, 2019

Bhagavad-Gita Chapter Two

Bhagavad-Gita Explained

Chapter Two:

by Michael Dolan/B.V. Mahayogi

I'd like to dedicate this post to the memory of my old friend Yudhamanyu Prabhu, who passed away on Shiva-ratri. I know he's there waiting for us all in the big kirtan.

On this blog I've tried to do a bit of a study guide to the Bhagavad-Gita, which I posted here:

When I re-read what I had written, I realized that the summary of the second chapter was too short.

The thing is, I have read through the second chapter so often that it seems familiar to me. I feel like everyone already knows this, so I spent more time on other chapters. But some friends asked me to continue writing about the second chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita, so I decided to have another go.  I left the Sanskrit in footnotes to make it easier to read. 

Second Chapter of Bhagavad-Gita cont.

In the beginning of the section we find the great warrior Arjuna lamenting the horrors of war and giving profound antiwar arguments. Hes basing his ideas on duty, what is right. But as Krishna will point out, these are all relative truths. War, like peace, is a relative and temporary aspect of the struggle for existence. Shridhar Maharaja, when asked about whether we should be in a panic about nuclear war replied that this world is temporary. What goes on here is a relative concern, even war. In the context of eternal life, war is a point on a line, a line in a  plane, a moment in infinite time and space.

Portrait of Shridhar Maharaja by Mahayogi

But Arjuna is focusing on the events at hand. He wants what is best for his family, but his family is toxic. He wants peace with his cousins, but there is no saving a tryant like Duryodhana. Even the gurus, Bhishma and Drona are corrupt. They have lined upon on the side of corruption. Some of his foes have very good reasons for their taking the wrong side in a family war. In the end the result will be the same. There is no avoiding a blood bath. Still Arjuna is remorseful.

The war conflict is, in an important sense, a metaphor for the struggle we all face in daily life. In this sense, the Bhagavad-Gita offers us perspectives on how to engage in the battle of daily life.

Krishna explains that there is no avoiding the battle. Arjuna cannot run away. Cowardice is no solution. Especially not for a warrior of his stature, but even for ordinary men. We cannot escape the struggle of life. We must confront our conflicts, not run from them.

Krishna points out to Arjuna that the act of engaging in the struggle may result in death. But in the end, all bodies are all mortal. Bodily mortality is inevitable. For one who has been born, death is certain. If the battle is a life and death struggle, we must see through the superficial lines of conflict to the central problem: death and life itself.

If death is inevitable for the human body, the soul is immortal.
Krishna gives a deep explanation of the nature of the soul, spirituality, and the atma.
The soul can neither be cut nor burned nor dried. It outlives the mortal body. And if we are immortal, then death cannot touch us. Arjuna has raised the problem of sin and karma. Wont the sin of killing consume us after death?
But before dealing with the question of how karma marks the soul, Krishna wants to establish the permanence of spirit itself. Karma, after all, is a relative question which will be discussed at length. But spirit itself is above and beyond karma.

Are we mortal or immortal? Krishna says we are immortal, and this is really his first teaching to Arjuna in the second chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita.

Consciousness is real. The soul exists. It is unseen by the human eye, infinitesimal. Even the wise cannot discern how consciousness works, how it is connected to the body and mind. And yet Krishna tells us that soul or atma is transcendental to both mind and body. Mind itself is a construct of eternal consciousness. This soul takes on bodies and then leaves them just as we put on clothes in the morning and take them off at night.

He tells Arjuna to put away his ordinary morality for a moment and consider the eternal nature of the soul. In the end, the soul is unstained even by bad karma, for in the course of a thousand lives mistakes are made. And the atma will outlive a thousand lives a thousand times over. So one must see to the soul. Our permanent self-interest is more important that our interest in society and family. 

Our next life may be as hellish as this one or may offer a higher birth and heavenly rewards. But the entire material world is a vicious circle, a wheel of birth and death. A higher consideration is liberation from the cycle of reincarnation.
Krishna will deal in greater detail with these questions in the rest of the conversation. But for the moment he wants Arjuna to turn his attention from the immediate conflict to the higher question of immortal life.

We must all fight our battles every day. We must not shrink from the fight. But the real conflict is the struggle for eternal life. Enmeshed in our daily fight, we lose sight of our spiritual self-interest. Before we can even begin to journey on the spiritual path, we must recognize the existence of the eternal soul.

Krishna explains the nature of the atma or soul as follows:[1]

For the soul there is never birth or death. Having once been, he never ceases to
be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying, primeval. He is not slain when
the body is slain. 
(Bhagavad-gītā 2.20)

The soul can never be cut into pieces, nor can he be burned by fire, nor
moistened by water, nor withered by the wind.[2] 
(Bhagavad-gītā 2.23)

This individual soul is unbreakable and insoluble, and can be never be burned
nor dried. He is everlasting, all-pervading, unchangeable, immovable, and
eternally the same. [3]

(Bhagavad-gītā 2.24)

The Bhagavad-Gita is sometimes called Gitopanishad since the concepts expressed there are given in seed form as axiomatic truths. The idea that the Atma or individual soul is conscious atomic spiritual energy echoes the version of the ancient Upanishadic texts:

If we divide the tip of a hair into one hundred parts and then take one part and
divide this into another one hundred parts, that ten-thousandth part is the
dimension of the living entity. And this living entity is capable to attain the
unlimited Lord[4]
(Śvetāśvatara Upaniad 5.9)

न जायते म्रियते वा कदाचिन्
नायं भूत्वा भविता वा न भूयः
अजो नित्यः शाश्वतो ऽयं पुराणो 
न हन्यते हन्यमाने शरीरे

na jāyate mriyate vā kadācin
nāya bhūtvā bhavitā vā na bhūya
ajo nitya śāśvato 'ya purā
na hanyate hanyamāne śarīre

[2] नैनं छिन्दन्ति शस्त्राणि नैनं दहति पावकः
न चैनं क्लेदयन्त्य् आपो न शोषयति मारुतः

naina chindanti śastrāi naina dahati pāvaka
na caina kledayanty āpo na śoayati māruta 

[3] अच्छेद्यो ऽयम् अदाह्यो ऽयम् अक्लेद्यो ऽशोष्य एव च
नित्यः सर्व-गतः स्थाणुर् अचलो ऽयं सनातनः

acchedyo 'yam adāhyo 'yam akledyo 'śoya eva ca
nitya sarva-gata sthāur acalo 'ya sanātana

[4] बालाग्र-शत भागस्य शतधा कल्पितस्य च
भागो जिवः स विज्ञेयः स चानन्त्याय काप्ते
bālāgra-śata bhāgasya śatadhā kalpitasya ca
bhāgo jiva sa vijñeya sa cānantyāya kāpte 

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