Discourse 40: The Thirteenth Chapter Concludes – Understanding Purusha and Prakriti
In the Thirteenth Chapter of the Bhagavadgita, we have covered the theme which touched upon the kṣetra and the kṣetrajña, individually as well as cosmically, and the relationship between the individual and the cosmic. We also went through the list of virtues, qualities that characterise a spiritual seeker—amānitvam, adambhitvam, etc. Then there was a grand description of the Supreme Brahman—anādimat paraṃ brahma (13.12): The Supreme Absolute pervades all things, existing everywhere, and also existing as the heart and the soul and the self of everybody.
Iti kṣetraṁ tathā jñānaṁ jñeyaṁ coktaṁ samāsataḥ (13.18): “So now I have told you everything that is required to be known: the object which is the kṣetra, the pure Universal Subject that is the jneya, paramatman, Brahman, and the knowledge—amanitvam, adabhitvam, etc. Briefly I have told you of kṣetra, jnana, and jneya. After knowing this thoroughly and establishing oneself in the practice of these great truths delineated in the verses mentioned, one gets established in Me.” Madbhakta etad vijñāya madbhāvāyopapadyate: “One becomes fit for entry into Me after having known this in Truth—known it not merely as scriptural knowledge, not as linguistic or verbal knowledge, but knowledge that has become part and parcel of one’s own being.”
This great knowledge, which is the subject of the first sixteen or seventeen verses, is the quintessence of every kind of wisdom; and the life of a person has to be a manifestation of this wisdom. This knowledge is not something that is understood by the intellect. It is something that has become an insight into the nature of truth, and the whole personality scintillates with the radiance of this knowledge.
Here, in the context of spiritual experience, knowing and being are one and the same, whereas in ordinary secular knowledge, in the arts and the sciences, being is different from knowing. A professor of philosophy has his knowledge in the books and in the college, but his personal life has no connection with this knowledge. His being is different from the knowledge that he has got; but here, that is not the case. The being of a person is identical with the knowledge of that person, so that one can say the person himself or herself is knowledge. After having known this in this fashion, one becomes fit for entry into God’s Being: madbhakta etad vijñāya madbhāvāyopapadyate.
The verse that follows is controversial. Prakṛtiṁ puruṣaṁ caiva viddhyanādī ubhāvapi, vikārāṁś ca guṇāṁś caiva viddhi prakṛtisambhavān (13.19). The literal translation of this verse is: Know that prakriti and purusha are beginningless, and their modifications and their qualities originate, manifest, from prakriti.
The doctrine of the classical Sankhya says that prakriti and purusha are beginningless and infinite in their nature. They cannot merge into each other. The doctrine of the Bhagavadgita does not regard prakriti and purusha as totally independent contending parties; and that they are aspects of the Supreme Purusha, or Purushottama, will be told to us in the Fifteenth Chapter. While commenting on the meaning of this verse, Sankaracharya does not seem to be very eager to say anything specific to clear our doubts. He simply says that prakriti and purusha should be there always to limit the operation of God; otherwise, there will be an infinite operation of God. He does not feel that there is any meaning in an infinite operation because creation would be perpetually going on and never come to an end, inasmuch as God is infinite; therefore, there would be only creation for ever and ever. There would be no cessation for action proceeding from that which is there always. But creation is a limited manifestation. We cannot say that the world is infinite, or even that the universe is infinite. “The limitation required for the manifestation of a universe calls for the limiting principles of prakriti and purusha.” Saying this much, Sankaracharya keeps quiet.
Regarding this commentary, I feel that there is some difficulty in entirely accepting what Sankaracharya says, because it implies that God does not properly understand what creation is; therefore He requires a police guard to restrain Him so that He may not go on creating infinitely. That meaning does not seem to be applicable, and it is not satisfying. Others feel that the point made out here that prakriti and purusha are beginningless should be taken in the sense of the infinity of God’s powers. In the West, there was a philosopher called Spinoza. Just as the transcending principle is referred to as Purushottama in the Fifteenth Chapter of the Gita, Spinoza uses the word ‘substance’ to designate the Absolute Reality; and the qualities of this substance are like the two wings of a bird. Space and time, extension and duration, are regarded as the operative media of this Supreme Substance. If we are to take the verses that come in the Fifteenth Chapter literally, it is possible to consider purusha as akshara and prakriti as kshara, and Purushottama transcends both kshara and akshara. I am not going into that subject now. It comes in the Fifteenth Chapter.
The only way we can escape unnecessary entanglement in the jumble of words explaining this verse is by understanding prakriti and purusha to be two properties, as it were, of the Supreme Being. On the one hand, the spatial extension of the Supreme Being is prakriti; on the other hand, it is omniscience acting, which is purusha. There seems to be a sound explanation because the Vedanta doctrine also holds that the process of creation begins with Ishvara and becomes more and more perspicacious from Hiranyagarbha and Virat onwards. That is, the infinite Brahman limits itself in a particular manner, not by force of the operation of something external, but by its own deliberate will. It wills, and that will is called Ishvara. This will is a delimitation imposed by itself on itself. That is, it contemplates the particular type of universe that is to be manifested.
Infinity does not contemplate infinity. It contemplates a limited manifestation, because the characteristic of limitation in creation arises on account of the fact that the universe to be created has some relevance to the jivas who are going to inhabit that universe—the jivas who lay in a sleeping condition in the previous cycle at the time of dissolution—and the universe is created merely as a field for experience by these endless number of jivas who were withdrawn into prakriti at the time of dissolution of the previous cycle. When they germinate into action at the commencement of the new creation, they have to be provided with an atmosphere commensurate with their potencies. That is to say, an individual who can have the experience of the manifestation of his or her or its potencies on earth, or in the world, cannot be taken to heaven because there the experience will not be possible; or those who are to experience their potencies in a realm like heaven should not be brought to the earth, inasmuch as the nature of the world is exactly in a state of harmony with the inhabitants thereof, and not with the inhabitants of other realms. In this light, creation does not seem to be an unnecessary action of God. It is a very necessary manifestation of a big field of experience where it is possible for the jivas inhabiting that universe to fructify their karmas and enjoy or suffer as the consequences their deeds.
Hence, this delimitation of Brahman in the form of Ishvara as a Central Will is a Universal delimitation. It is not a limitation exercised by a prakriti outside, unless of course we call this will itself as prakriti. The consciousness that is of Ishvara may be regarded as the Supreme Purusha of the Sankhya, and the objective principle which is the will contemplating a possible universe may be considered as prakriti—in which case, prakriti and purusha are not two different wings, but are something like the soul and the body. We cannot distinguish between the soul and the body. The soul contemplates the body and manifests itself in accordance with its own potential desire, and we cannot say that the body is compelling the soul to act in a particular manner. The question of compulsion does not arise, because the body is manifest exactly according to the needs of the soul as manifest in the sukshma sarira.
Prakriti and purusha may be said to be anadi, or beginningless, if we are to go according to the original doctrine of the Bhagavadgita, which does not expect us to think of purusha and prakriti as two different things but as potencies, powers, or manners of working of God Himself—Ishvara, Purushottama. On the one hand, prakriti is extension, space-time; and on the other hand, there is purusha, or consciousness. Consciousness and extension constitute the principle of the immanence of God in the universe. I am going a little ahead of the ordinary commentaries on this verse, which are very brief—not to contradict them, but to elucidate them a little more. My intuitive insight, as it were, makes me feel that prakriti and purusha can be beginningless in the same sense as God is beginningless, because of the fact that they are powers of God: vikārāñś ca guṇāṁś caiva viddhi prakṛtisaṁbhavān.
Kārya kāraṇa kartṛtve hetuḥ prakṛtir ucyate (13.20): Prakriti is the cause of the origin of the causal chain. The cause-and-effect relationship is operative only in the realm of prakriti, whereas pain and pleasure are experienced by purusha: purushah sukha-duhkhanam bhoktrtve hetur uchyate. The contact of purusha with prakriti is the reason behind the experience of pleasure and pain. Experience is not possible unless there is consciousness, and consciousness is available only in the purusha. Purusha is inactive consciousness, whereas prakriti is blind activity. They somehow get juxtaposed, and it appears as if there is conscious activity. When we walk, when we do anything, it appears that we are consciously acting. Actually, there is no conscious action. Action is always unconscious because it is connected with the movement of the gunas of prakriti, who have no self-consciousness. But the purusha does not act; it is conscious. So there is a peculiar jumble—a juxtaposition of the consciousness that does not act with the prakriti, which acts but does not know—and this results in the appearance of conscious activity. For instance, we seem to be doing something consciously. This ‘seeming to be doing consciously’ is due to a mix-up of the purusha and prakriti principles in us—our body being the prakriti, and our Atman being the purusha.
Puruṣaḥ prakṛtistho hi bhuṅkte prakṛtijān guṇān, kāraṇaṁ guṇasaṅgo’sya sadasadyonijanmasu (13.21): Purusha located, or lodged, in the prakriti appears to enjoy the qualities of prakriti. When water moves, the sun that is reflected in it also appears to move. When the water is stable, the reflection of the sun in it appears to be stable; and if the water is turbid, the reflection appears to be turbid. But really, the sun, which is the cause of this reflection in the water, is not affected in any way whatsoever. The sun does not shake, and does not get turbid. Similarly, this contact of consciousness with matter—purusha with prakriti—makes it appear that there is enjoyment, and that there is an agency in action. Purusha does not enjoy, because it itself is bliss; but the sorrow that is the fate of the purusha seems to be the outcome of its contact with prakriti.
Here again, we have to bring the analogy of the Sankhya that a pure crystal appears to be coloured, or disfigured, by the colour of the object that is brought near it. Thus, one enjoys and one suffers. Really, consciousness does not enjoy and does not suffer. But the movements of prakriti in this manner or that manner—as sattva or rajas or tamas—makes the consciousness, the purusha, feel as if it is transparent and happy when it is in contact with the sattva of prakriti; it is disturbed, agitated, angry and passionate when it appears to be reflecting through the rajoguna of prakriti; and it is very slothful, lethargic and static when it is in contact with the tamasic quality of prakriti.
Puruṣaḥ prakṛtistho hi bhuṅkte prakṛtijān guṇān, kāraṇaṁ guṇasaṅgo’sya: The reason for this so-called enjoyment and suffering of the purusha is its contact with the gunas of prakriti—sattva, rajas, tamas. And, as I mentioned, the threefold contact brings about a threefold experience: pleasurable, unpleasurable or static. Because of repeated contact and getting habituated to this kind of contact with sattva, rajas and tamas, the purusha—as it were, indescribably though—forgets its original universality, and develops a tendency to get involved in the fulfilment of its own limited desires, the limitation being caused by the rajoguna prakriti with which it also comes in contact. Just as a lion cub that is lost may end up in a flock of sheep, and may bleat like a sheep though it is actually a lion, the universal Purusha bleats like an individual on account of its contact with the distracting qualities of rajas and tamas, and it is born in various species. Kāraṇaṁ guṇasaṅgo’sya sadasadyonijanmasu: It can be born as celestials in heaven, it can be born as gandharvas, yakshas, kinnaras, it can be born as human beings, and it can be born as animals or even as plants, trees and stone. But there is a Universal Witness behind all this drama that is taking place. What is that Witness?
Upadraṣṭānumantā ca bhartā bhoktā maheśvaraḥ, paramātmeti cāpyukto dehesmin puruṣaḥ paraḥ (13.22): In spite of all this drama of involvement—the joy and sorrow of birth in various species of yonis—there is hope. Just as the witness in waking consciousness is unaffected even by the suffering and enjoyment in dream, there is a Supreme Witness who remains unaffected by our experiences in waking consciousness. We have all kinds of experiences in the dream world: birth and death, joy and sorrow, and every kind of thing conceivable in this world. Notwithstanding the fact of this drama that is taking place in the dream world, the consciousness of waking seems to be there as an upadraṣṭa—as a witness thereof. Though it does not seem to be operative in the light of the mind’s involvement in the dream world, actually the fact that there is a witnessing consciousness transcending the dream world can be known when we wake up from dream and find ourselves totally unaffected by the events of the dream world. This will happen to us when we attain liberation in Paramatma—the Supreme Purusha, the transcendent witness of all these dream-like experiences of the struggle of life through the contact of the gunas of prakriti.
Ya evaṁ vetti puruṣaṁ (13.23): Whoever knows this Supreme Purusha in this manner as described in this chapter, together with the dramatic performances of prakriti, prakṛtiṁ ca guṇaiḥ saha: let him live in any manner he likes. He is a liberated person. Sarvathā vartamāno’pi na sa bhūyo’bhijāyate: Because of knowing this, that person will not be reborn. Again I have to emphasise, knowing does not mean reading the Gita and intellectually comprehending the linguistic meaning or the dictionary meaning of the word, but imbibing the spirit of the teaching, and making it part and parcel of our very blood and veins. Such a person who has this knowledge which is identical with being can behave in any way—sarvathā vartamānopi—but there will be no rebirth, because no karma accrues to that person.
Now there is a reference, as a kind of diversion, as it were, to the methods of practice. How are we to come in contact with this Supreme Being? Varieties of sadhana are mentioned in different places in the Bhagavadgita, and some of the diversities of sadhana are stated in the Fourth Chapter: daivam evāpare yajñaṁ yoginaḥ paryupāsate, brahmāgnāvapare yajñaṁ yajñenaivopajuvhati (4.25), etc. Here also there is a brief statement of the varieties of spiritual practice, or sadhana.
Some people try to behold the Supreme Being by meditation, pure and simple. Dhyānenātmani paśyanti kecid ātmānam ātmanā (13.24): By intense concentration on the pure Self, some people try to behold the Self in the self. That is, they behold the Universal Self in their own self, and they behold their own self in the Universal Self. Similar to that is this statement: yo māṁ paśyati sarvatra sarvaṁ ca mayi paśyati (6.30). Ᾱtmānam ātmanā janati: By the self, the Self is known. The higher Self is known through the lower self. The lower self merges itself in the higher Self. It is in that manner that the Self is known through the self, by the self, by intense meditation on the nature of the higher Self.
Dhyānenātmani paśyanti kecid ātmānam ātmanā, anye sāṅkhyena yogena: There are others who contemplate on the categories of the manifestation of the world as delineated in the Sankhya; that is also a way of sadhana. The twenty-four categories of creation mentioned in the Sankhya doctrine reveal the fact that our individuality is also constituted of the same universal categories and, therefore, we do not stand independently as persons by ourselves. Thus, our personality-consciousness and ego-consciousness automatically vanish even by contemplation on the twenty-four tattvas of the Sankhya. Hence, some attain the state of perfection by the Sankhya category also, and by the methods of yoga practice as described to us in the Sutras of Patanjali or any other yoga, such as mantra yoga, dhyana yoga, laya yoga, japa yoga, kundalini yoga. There are all kinds of yogas. As yoga is mentioned together with Sankhya, we may appreciate that the yoga referred to here is almost similar to the ashtanga yoga of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and to samapatti, or samadhi, which is based on the Sankhya categories themselves. Karmayogena cāpare: There are some, like Raja Janaka, who attained perfection through action, because actually they do not perform any action.
Brahmārpaṇaṁ brahma havir brahmāgnau brahmaṇā hutam, brahmaiva tena gantavyaṁ brahmakarmasamādhinā (4.24): The performer of the action, the deed that is performed, and the process of the action are all like the waters of the ocean rumbling within themselves and, therefore, nobody does any action. Even when a person is intensely active, actually no action is taking place; that is the nature of the supreme karma yogin. By that karma yoga, which is also a method of contemplation and dhyana, one can attain God.
Anye tvevam ajānantaḥ śrutvānyebhya upāsate (13.25): There are others who cannot do these things. They cannot meditate; they cannot contemplate the Self by the self; they cannot meditate on the categories of Sankhya; they cannot engage themselves in the ashtanga yoga of Patanjali; they cannot do karma yoga. What should they do? The compassionate Lord says: “They also reach Me, who merely listen to My glories and the glories of this knowledge in satsanga.” Anye tvevam ajānantaḥ śrutvānyebhya upāsate: Not knowing the difficult techniques of practice that have been mentioned, they can attain perfection by only hearing—srutva. Satsanga is a very potent method of self-purification. If the satsanga is properly conducted and we are honest in our participation in that satsanga, that satsanga itself will be sufficient not only for purification of the self, but it will even act as a supreme meditation itself. We will be in ecstasy at that time. As Tulsidas says, “Binu satsanga viveka na hoi”: Without satsanga, discrimination does not dawn. Anye tvevam ajānantaḥ śrutvānyebhya upāsate: By merely hearing the glories through satsanga, people also attain perfection. Te’pi cātitarantyeva mṛtyuṁ śrutiparāyaṇāḥ. Therefore, all of you will attain moksha. You will not be reborn, because at least you have heard what is being said. God is very compassionate. He will not harass you with hard disciplines. Listen, hear, and absorb this knowledge that you have heard into yourself. You will cross over the realm of death—mrtyum atitaranti.
Yāvat sañjāyate kiṁcit sattvaṁ sthāvarajaṅgamam, kṣetrakṣetrajñasaṁyogāt tad viddhi bharatarṣabha (13.26): All the manifestation, living or non-living, is due to a combination of kṣetra and kṣetrajña, a manifold type of contact of purusha with prakriti in various degrees of ascent and descent. In the higher realms of celestials where existence is transparent, the contact of purusha with prakriti is rarefied. Existence becomes more and more gross as the rajasic and tamasic qualities of prakriti become more predominant. Sattva is supposed to be predominant in the heavenly regions; rajasic qualities are predominant in the human realm, and tamas is predominant in the nether regions. But whatever be the contact through sattva or rajas or tamas—experiences either in heaven, in this mortal world or in the lower realm—every experience is a result of the contact of purusha with prakriti in various ways. Kṣetrakṣetrajñasaṁyogāt tad viddhi bharatarṣabha: Anything that is born has significance as an individual only because both purusha and prakriti are set together in some proportion.
Samaṁ sarveṣu bhūteṣu tiṣṭhantaṁ parameśvaram, vinaśyatsvavinaśyantaṁ yaḥ paśyati sa paśyati (13.27): Again we are brought back to the transcendent existence of an equally distributed consciousness—not a little purusha coming in contact with prakriti, but something transcending the contact of purusha with prakriti. Upadrashta, anumanta and paramatma were mentioned earlier, and something similar is repeated in this verse. Samaṁ sarveṣu bhūteṣu tiṣṭhantaṁ: That Being is equally present in all as the Self of all. It is the Self of the ant and the elephant and the human being and the god. The distinction among them is due to the appearance of their subtle bodies and gross bodies, but the life that is behind the subtle and gross bodies is common—as sunlight is common and appears to be coloured or distorted according to the nature of the glasses that we put on. Samaṁ sarveṣu bhūteṣu tiṣṭhantaṁ parameśvaram: The Supreme Lord exists in an equilibrated fashion everywhere.
Vinaśyatsvavinaśyantaṁ: Deathless in the midst of dying individuals. People die, everything perishes, and all things get destroyed. Yaḥ paśyati sa paśyati: But in the midst of this destruction taking place perennially, perpetually, right from creation—in the midst of this flux and destruction and movement—there is an unmoving Eternity. Whoever knows that, really knows the truth. We should not get involved in the fluxation of prakriti, but should withdraw our consciousness to that transcendent element which witnesses this drama of prakriti: vinaśyatsvavinaśyantaṁ yaḥ paśyati sa paśyati.
Samaṁ paśyan hi sarvatra samavasthitam īśvaram, na hinastyātmanātmānaṁ tato yāti parāṁ gatim (13.28): Mostly we kill the Self with the self—hinastyātmanātmānaṁ. A kind of atma hatya is going on when the Self is forgotten and only objects are remembered. Only external things are in that person’s memory; the Self is completely obliterated from experience. That state of affairs—where the consciousness of the Self being there is completely obscured by intense concentration on objects outside—is called spiritual suicide; it is killing the Self with the self. That is, we do not know that we are existing at all as the Self. We know that there is a world outside, we are busy with things outside, but we are not busy with our Self. But having known the equally distributed consciousness of the Paramatman, equally distributed Eternity—knowing this, seeing this, beholding it, and contemplating it, one will not be subject to this otherwise common experience of Self-destruction; and knowing this, one attains to the Supreme State, yāti parāṁ gatim.
Now the Lord refers once again to the kartrtva and akartrtva aspects of the human individual in relation to prakriti’s modes—sattva, rajas and tamas.
Prakṛtyaiva ca karmāṇi kriyamāṇāni sarvaśaḥ, yaḥ paśyati tathātmānam akartāraṁ sa paśyati (13.29): One will automatically know, without any difficulty at all in knowing this fact, that one is not the doer of any action, provided that one clearly sees that all activity is an activity of the three gunas of prakriti, and that the consciousness of activity is different from activity itself. We have somehow or the other mixed up consciousness and motion (movement) together. By a mixing up of these two elements by a process called tadatmiya abhyasa—which means the superimposition of one thing on the other in the reverse order, or vice versa—consciousness is made to appear as active, and activity is made to appear as conscious. So we ‘consciously do something’.
The whole point is, ‘consciously doing something’ is a misnomer. Consciousness cannot do anything, and doing cannot be conscious. So, if this knowledge arises in a person that activity is only the movement of prakriti with its three gunas, and the consciousness thereof is totally independent of the gunas, they will not ever feel that they are the doer of action. That is, their consciousness will always be in a state of witness, or detachment, from the process of action. But our body and our consciousness are so intimate that we cannot distinguish one from the other. That is why we feel that we are doing things, while really there is no such thing.
When a red-hot iron rod is placed before us, we do not see the iron rod; we see only fire, though the fire and the iron rod are two different things. And when we touch it, what are we touching? Are we touching the fire, or are we touching the iron rod? We may say that the iron rod burns. The iron rod does not burn; it is the fire that burns. Yet the two have been superimposed on each other in such a way that the rod looks like fire, and the fire appears to have the shape of a lengthy rod. The fire does not have the shape of the rod, and the rod has no heat; but yet, we mix up two aspects and say that the long rod is hot. In a similar manner, we make a mistake in our own selves by imagining this body is conscious.
The body cannot be conscious. Consciousness is different from the body; therefore, when there is bodily action—which is nothing but the action of prakriti, because the body is made up of prakriti’s three gunas—we begin to imagine, “I am doing something. And because I feel that I am doing something, I also expect a result to follow from that action, and I must enjoy the result of that action. I am doing the action and, therefore, the fruit of that action should come to me.” Hence, karma phala comes as a recompense for the feeling that one is doing. But one who knows that prakriti alone does things, and activity is a part of prakriti’s nature, and the knower of that is different from the activity—such a person remains as akarta, a non-doer. Prakṛtyaiva ca karmāṇi kriyamāṇāni sarvaśaḥ, yaḥ paśyati tathātmānam akartāraṁ sa paśyati.
Yadā bhūtapṛthagbhāvam ekastham anupaśyati, tata eva ca vistāraṁ brahma sampadyate tadā (13.30): We have attained the Supreme Brahman the moment we are able to see with our own eyes the interconnection of the varieties of creation in front of us and their rootedness in a single sea of force which is Brahman. That is to say, we see only wood in all the trees, we see only water in all the ripples and waves, we see only gold in all the ornaments; and, in a similar manner, we see only Brahman in all the names and forms. Yadā bhūtapṛthagbhāvam ekastham anupaśyati means that one is able to see the variety of creation as rooted in the One. There may be millions and millions of varieties of living beings or inanimate things, but this multiform creation will not affect us in any way because they are the various limbs of the one root that is universally spread out everywhere. If we can visualise things in this manner, we have attained Brahman at once. Yadā bhūtapṛthagbhāvam ekastham anupaśyati, tata eva ca vistāraṁ brahma sampadyate tadā: The cosmic all-pervading Brahman is realised at once by entertaining this vision of everything diverse being in rooted in one Universal Existence.
Anāditvān nirguṇatvāt paramātmāyam avyayaḥ, śarīrastho’pi kaunteya na karoti na lipyate (13.31): This Brahman, the Universal Atman, has no beginning. Anāditvān: It has no qualities of any kind as we know qualities here. Nirguṇatvāt paramātmāyam avyayaḥ: It is imperishable because it is indestructible. Such Paramatman, the Supreme Self, though existing in this body as the deepest self in us, does not involve itself in any contamination of the gunas of prakriti. Na karoti na lipyate: He neither does anything, nor is He contaminated by the fruits of action.
The kutastha chaitanya, or the witness consciousness in us, is the true self in us. That remains uncontaminated by anything that takes place, just as space inside a vessel cannot become affected by things that we pour into the vessel. If we pour something fragrant into the vessel, the space inside it does not become fragrant; or if we put something bitter into the vessel, the space inside it does not become bitter. It is the content that has the quality; space itself has no quality. In a similar manner, the content—which is the physical, the astral and the causal bodies—has the characteristics of action and the enjoyment of the fruits of action; but the witness, which is the light of the sun in the sky, as it were, is untarnished by anything that may happen to this body in all these three phases.
Though this kutastha chaitanya, this Atman, is responsible for all the activities through this body, it is not in any way contaminated by the activities carried on through the sariras—anandamaya, vijnanamaya, manomaya, pranamaya and annamaya. The physical sheath, the subtle astral sheath and the casual sheath are involved in movement, action and the desire for the fruit of action. Their activity is impossible unless the light of the kutastha, the Atman, is shed on them. In the same manner, nothing in this world can live or act unless the sun shines in the sky. We are alive today because the sun is in the sky. No plant, no living being can survive if the sun in the sky does not blaze forth heat energy. Yet the sun is not in any way responsible for what is happening in the world. Though without it nothing can happen, it is not responsible for anything that is happening. In a similar manner, just because the kutastha, the Self inside, is responsible for the movement of the three bodies in us, it is not connected vitally in any way. It stands above the turmoil of the action of the three bodies, just as the sun transcends all the events taking place in the world. Anāditvān nirguṇatvāt paramātmāyam avyayaḥ, śarīrastho’pi kaunteya na karoti na lipyate.
Yathā sarvagataṁ saukṣmyād ākāśaṁ nopalipyate (13.32): Just as space is not contaminated by anything that may be inside it, the all-pervading Being, which is the Supreme Atman, is not in any way affected either by what the body does or by what happens in external society, because it is so subtle. The subtlest reality is consciousness, and all things that are external to it, of which it is conscious, are gross. Everything in the world is gross; therefore, consciousness—which is the subtlest of being—cannot actually get involved in anything in this world, the two being dissimilar in nature. The subtle cannot enter into the gross, and the gross cannot affect the subtle. Because of the subtlety of the Supreme Being and its all-pervading nature—sarvatrāvasthita—it is not affected by anything that takes place in creation, either by evolution or involution. Yathā sarvagataṁ saukṣmyād ākāśaṁ nopalipyate, sarvatrāvasthito dehe tathātmā nopalipyate .
Yathā prakāśayatyekaḥ kṛtsnaṁ lokam imaṁ raviḥ, kṣetraṁ kṣetrī tathā kṛtsnaṁ prakāśayati bhārata (13.33): As the sun in the sky illumines the whole world, so does this kṣetrajña purusha, this Atman pervading all things, illumine all bodies. Self-consciousness and the desire to survive are implanted in all species in creation by the operation of this all-pervading Universal Consciousness. Consciousness is eternal. That is why there is an instinct in everyone not to die. It is the consciousness inside that is actually responsible for our fear of death, and for our desire to lengthen our life as much as possible. It is an empirical, externalised, distorted form of the eternity of the Self. We do not want to perish, because the deepest Self in us cannot perish. But because we have mixed up the eternity in us with the three koshas, including the physical body, we make the mistake of perpetuating this body and wanting to exist as individuals for all time to come. Actually, this instinct for survival and the longing to exist always arise not from the body, but from the Atman inside, which is invisible to us. Its very existence is obliterated from our activity and perception, which is conditioned by the sense organs which always move in an externalised direction. The mind and senses cannot know that there is an Atman at all and, therefore, we are caught up. Yathā prakāśayaty ekaḥ kṛtsnaṁ lokam imaṁ raviḥ, kṣetraṁ kṣetrī tathā kṛtsnaṁ prakāśayati bhārata.
The Thirteenth Chapter is very important. Just as the Third Chapter sums up the principles of karma yoga, the Sixth Chapter sums up the principles of raja yoga, and the Eleventh Chapter sums up the principles of bhakti yoga, the Thirteenth Chapter sums up the principles of jnana yoga. Hence, we must read at least these four chapters. To know what karma yoga is, we should read the Third Chapter; to know what bhakti yoga is, we should read the Eleventh Chapter; to know what raja yoga is, we should read the Sixth Chapter; and to know what jnana yoga is, we should read the Thirteenth Chapter.
Whoever understands this teaching given in the Thirteenth Chapter will not return to this world. Kṣetrakṣetrajñayor evam antaraṁ jñānacakṣuṣā, bhūtaprakṛtimokṣaṁ ca ye vidur yānti te param (13.34): Those who are able to distinguish between kṣetrajña and kṣetra, between purusha and prakriti, between the Self and its object, and between consciousness and matter shall attain the Supreme Abode. If this distinction is clear before us, we will be totally unattached to everything in this world, and we will not be reborn into this world of prakriti, this world of the three gunas. We will attain the Supreme Abode—param. With this we conclude the great, glorious Thirteenth Chapter.