by Swami Krishnananda
Sankhya also implies the knowledge of the immortality of the soul. At the very beginning of Sri Krishna’s instructions in the Second Chapter of the Bhagavadgita, emphasis is laid on the eternity of the soul. Deathless, immutable is the Atman: avinashi tu tad viddhi yena sarvam idam tatam (2.17). The word avinashi means it is indestructible. Not only that, it is all pervading: yena sarvam idam tatam. The Atman is involved in all things, warp and woof. The deathlessness or the indestructibility of the soul implies the timelessness of the soul because that which is involved in time cannot be deathless, as time is the factor that kills everything. The process of time is the process of decay, transformation and final extinction. Therefore, anything that is involved in the process of time cannot be immortal. Hence, the immortality of the soul also suggests the timelessness of the soul. And the timelessness of the soul implies the spacelessness of the soul because when time goes, space also goes. As space and time are two facets of empirical involvement, when one goes, the other also goes. We cannot think of time without space, as we always consider time as a kind of movement or succession in space; and, we cannot think of space without the process of time involved in it. Thus, the whole world is subject to mutation, transition, and the conditions involved in the very existence of space and time.
The Atman, or the soul of man, is not in space and time. The soul cannot be in space and time because it can know that there is space and time. The knower of an object is itself not the object. The consciousness in us, which is the Atman basically, is aware of the existence of such a thing as space and time; therefore, the knower, which is consciousness, cannot itself be involved in space and time. The knower of space is not in space. The knower of time is not in time. Hence, basically, essentially, the soul within is spaceless and timeless – avinashi and tatam – spread out everywhere, wider than space and more durable than time. This soul, which is deathless, is encased, as it were, in an otherwise-perishable body. The human being is partly in the world of death, and partly in the world of the immortals. We are involved physically, and to some extent psychologically, in space and time. We know very well that we have a location in space; we cannot be spread out everywhere. Also, there is a movement of our life in the process of time. We are born, we grow, we decay, and one day we perish. Therefore, this psychophysical organism which is the human individual – notwithstanding the fact that it is a tabernacle of this deathless soul – is itself subject to destruction.
We think in two ways: in terms of space, time and objects, and also in terms of an aspiration for eternal existence. We know very well that we cannot live long in this world. Everybody has to pass away. Nobody can deny the fact that one day everybody has to go. In spite of this knowledge of the surety of the death of this body – the negation of this psychophysical individuality – we fear death. We do not want to die. Who is it, actually, who does not want to die? The body cannot aspire for deathlessness, because it is involved in the very process of dying – which is time. And the mind, which is psychophysical, is also perishable on account of its transitory nature. So why do we fear death? Who fears death? Is it the body that fears death? The body is not even conscious; it is a physical substance. There is something in us which does not want to die. The desire not to die cannot arise in something which is subject to death in any way whatsoever. The desire not to die implies the possibility of not dying – hence, our aspiration for deathlessness. The fear of death implies the existence of such a thing called immortality. We cannot fear death unless we do not want to die, and the desire not to die cannot arise in the physical body or in anything in this world. It has to arise from something which is superior to all physical matter. That is to say, we have a root in eternity – which is the cause of our aspiration that takes us beyond all extension in space and duration in time. We would like to possess the whole world. We would like to become masters of the entire space, and we would like to live as long as time itself. This desire cannot arise in time. It cannot arise in space. It arises in something which is not in space, not in time, and which is not an object.
Thus, Sri Krishna tells Arjuna, “Don’t be a coward, saying that one day you will die and afterwards everything will be annihilated, saying that you don’t know what will happen afterwards.” The fear of death implies the futurity of the soul. We say that we must do good actions, we must be righteousness, we must live moral and ethical lives. These injunctions cannot have any meaning unless the soul is deathless, because any moment one can pass away. If tomorrow is the end of this individuality, all good actions also go with it. Therefore, all the injunctions for being righteous and good and humane become futile but for the fact that there is a possibility of the continuity of life after the perishing of this body; that is, rebirth of the soul is implied in the very injunctions to be good in this world, to do some service and to have a worthwhile existence in this world.
The rebirth of the soul is also very interesting. The soul perpetually takes these successive forms in the period of time on account of it being necessary, in the process of evolution, to advance further and further in the experience of life. It is necessary for us to die in order that we may learn better lessons in a newer form of existence. Death is not the extinction of individuality. Death is only the shedding of a condition imposed upon consciousness for a given period of time, a condition which is not necessary eternally. We shall advance further – as a student rises from one class to another class, transcending the lower for the sake of attaining the higher by shedding the conditions of the lower class and entering into the conditions of the higher class. In a similar manner, consciousness within the soul is now conditioned in the physical body and in this physical world for the purpose of fulfilling certain desires which it entertained in previous births. When these conditions of desires are broken – that is to say, when they are fulfilled completely – the conditions necessary for the existence of this body in space and time are transcended automatically and we enter into a new realm – a higher state of education, as it were – where a wider perception and a deeper insight of things is possible. This process of transmigration, metempsychosis, coming and going, will never cease as long the soul does not learn the lesson that it is essentially eternal, and becomes totally desireless.
The body is perishable: antavanta ime deha nityasyoktah saririnah (2.18). The soul is, of course, eternal – but, nevertheless, this body is perishable. How interesting! Eternity is enshrined in perishable clay, which is this body – two contraries indeed. Prakriti and purusha are very intriguingly juxtaposed in this experience of body-consciousness. As I mentioned yesterday, the artificiality of the soul assuming this body and becoming the body is as artificial as the assuming of color by pure crystal. We have become the body itself, and we think that we are only the body. As long as we are intensely body-conscious, the soul is only a theoretical construct; but this is not correct perception, in the same way as the redness that we see in a crystal is not correct perception.
Sri Krishna’s argument goes on, from stage to stage. Firstly, the fear of death is to be ruled out because of the possibility of attaining immortality, and the whole process of evolution through birth and death is a journey to the finality which is the end of all transmigration. As the river will meet the ocean, the soul will reach the sea of all-pervadingness. Not only that – the performance of duty, which is the main subject of the Bhagavadgita, involves the consideration of the manner in which a human individual lives in this world as a combination of spirit and matter, soul and body, consciousness and objectiveness.
There is a duty imposed upon every person on account of the very involvement of consciousness in space and time. We have to do our duty, our svadharma. Svadharmam api caveksya na vikampitum arhasi (2.31): “Considering the essentiality of performing your duty, at least from this point of view, you should not shirk doing what you actually ought to do.” The duty as such is implied in our involvement in the atmosphere. The components of our psychophysical individuality actually belong to the world outside. The physical body is constituted of the five elements; the mind also is constituted of rarefied forms of tanmatras, and the sense organs are superintended by divinities like Sun, Moon, and others. In a way, we may say that we are living a borrowed existence. We have no independent existence in ourselves. Our physical stuff belongs to the physical universe, our mental stuff belongs to the tanmatras, and our sense organs cannot even think and perceive without the operation of the superintending divinities which control the workings of the sense organs. Inasmuch as there is such an involvement of the person in the divinities that superintend over the sense organs, and we also are subject to the conditions of material existence which are the five elements, we have a duty of maintaining a harmony with these elements.
Duty is nothing but the maintenance of harmony with the atmosphere. We should not be in a state of conflict with anybody. The atmosphere in which we are living may be a family atmosphere, a community atmosphere, a provincial atmosphere, a national atmosphere, an international atmosphere, or it may be the atmosphere of the whole of physical creation. Whatever it is, it is an atmosphere with which we have to be in a state of harmony – that is, neither our body, nor our mind, nor our way of conduct in life should be in a state of conflict with the demands of other such existences which also require a harmonious existence. We should concede the same rights to other people as we always concede to our own selves. The privileges and the rights that we expect in this world are also the privileges and the rights expected by other people. Inasmuch as there is no superiority or inferiority of an individual, there is a necessity for a mutual concession granted to each other by way of a sacrifice. My asking for freedom should not in any way deter the asking for freedom by another person. That is, I should not deny freedom to another just because I want to be free. Therefore, a hundred percent freedom for an individual is not possible; if each individual wants one hundred percent freedom, there will be no freedom at all because there will be a clash of aspirations. So the freedom that we can have in this world is sort of a sacrifice that we have to make at the same time – that is, we cannot expect one hundred percent freedom though we can have as much freedom as is possible under the condition of others also having to be in a state of freedom. Hence, duty is the performance of that act which will maintain harmony in society and in the world; and also it implies a sacrifice that we not only do something for the maintenance of life in a state of harmony, but we also conduct and perform a sacrifice in the form of not going beyond the limits of possible freedom.