by Swami Krishnananda
We have already discussed three or four of the themes in the Thirteenth Chapter. 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.
Prakrtyaiva cha karmani kriyamanani sarvasah, yah pasyati tathatmanam akartaram sa pasyati (13.29): One will automatically know that one is not the doer of any action, without any difficulty at all in knowing this fact, provided that one clearly sees that all activity is an activity of the three gunas of prakriti, and that 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 ‘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, karmaphala 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 an akarta – a non-doer. Prakrtyaiva cha karmani kriyamanani sarvasah, yah pasyati tathatmanam akartaram sa pasyati.
Yada bhuta-prthag-bhavam eka-stham anupasyati, tata eva cha vistaram brahma sampadyate tada (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 only in all the ornaments; and, in a similar manner, we see only Brahman in all the names and forms. Yada bhuta-prthag-bhavam eka-stham anupasyati 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. Yada bhuta-prthag-bhavam eka-stham anupasyati, tata eva cha vistaram brahma sampadyate tada: The cosmic all-pervading Brahman is realised at once by entertaining this vision of everything diverse being in rooted in one Universal Existence.
Anaditvan nirgunatvat paramatmayam avyayah, sarira-stho’pi kaunteya na karoti na lipyate (13.31): This Brahman, the universal Atman, has no beginning. Anaditvan: It has no qualities of any kind as we know qualities here. Nirgunatvat avyayah: It is imperishable because He 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. Anaditvan nirgunatvat paramatmayam avyayah, sarira-stho’pi kaunteya na karoti na lipyate.
Yatha sarva-gatam saukshmyad akasam nopalityate (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 – sarvatravasthita – it is not affected by anything that takes place in creation, either by evolution or involution. Yatha sarvagatam saukshmyadakasam nopalityate, sarvatravasthito dehe tathatma nopalityate .
Yatha prakasayaty ekah krtsnam lokam imam ravih, kshetram kshetri tatha krtsnam prakasayati bharata (13.33): As the sun in the sky illumines the whole world, so does this kshetrajna 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 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. Yatha prakasayatyekah krtsnam lokamimam ravih, kshetram kshetri tatha krtsnam prakasayati bharata.