Commentary on the Bhagavadgita
by Swami Krishnananda

Discourse 38: The Thirteenth Chapter Begins – Consciousness and Matter

From the Thirteenth Chapter onwards, a new perspective is placed before us. A kind of unity of purpose was seen in the first six chapters. It is said that another kind of unity of purpose is seen from the Seventh to the Twelfth Chapters. Now the last six chapters, from the Thirteenth onwards, have a different purpose altogether.

There is an emphasis on the discipline of the individual in the first six chapters. In the next six chapters—from the Seventh to the Eleventh particularly, and even the Twelfth—there is a special emphasis on the glory of God, the nature of creation, and the majesty of the devotees of God. These are the subjects of the middle six chapters. Now we have traversed both these—the individual, and the cosmic. In the first six chapters we have the individual, and in the next six chapters we have the cosmic. Now a more detailed touching up of essentials that are already stated briefly in the earlier chapters is taken up for discussion in the coming chapters.

There is a belief among commentators of the Bhagavadgita that the great Upanishadic statement ‘tat tvam asi’ has something to do with this threefold classification of the chapters of the Gita. The individual is tvam—‘thou’. This ‘thou’, or individual, is taken up for an intensified form of study in the first six chapters. Tat means ‘That’—the Supreme. The nature of ‘That’ is taken up for study in the next six chapters. Asi means ‘art’; ‘thou That art’. The unification of the ‘thou’ and the ‘That’, the methodology of attaining the unity between the individual and the Universal, in all its details, is supposed to be delineated in the coming chapters, from the Thirteenth onwards.

Sri Krishna himself starts speaking, without any question from Arjuna. Idaṁ śarīraṁ kaunteya kṣetram ityabhidhīyate (13.1): “This body, this particular tabernacle, this physical embodiment of the human being, is technically called kṣetra, or the field where some activity takes place. A field is an area where something happens.

While this body, which is physical in nature, is a field of operation, there must be somebody who carries on this operation in the field. The field is the body; but the knower of this body is the operator behind it. This body is, no doubt, the vehicle of action, but there is somebody who is conscious that there is a body which is to be used for the purpose of some activity. This body is an instrument of action in this world, but this body cannot act by itself. It is inert, constituted of the five inert elements—earth, water, fire, air and ether. Inert instruments cannot act by themselves. Even a car cannot move unless there is a driver. So is the case with this body. Unless there is prana and an intelligence that drives the prana in respect of the bodily limbs, there will be no activity.

So while this body may be called kṣetra, or field, the one who knows this field is and is conscious of it, operates through it—lives in it, indwells it, and handles it in a different manner—such a principle is called kṣetrajña. Jña means knower, and kṣetra is, of course, field, so kṣetrajña means ‘the knower of the field’. Hence, this body is the kṣetra, the field, and the one who knows this field is the kṣetrajña.

Consciousness and matter constitute the subject of this chapter. The so-called field—this body or anything that is material—is an unconscious presentation that is usually called matter. That which knows matter is consciousness. Throughout the history of philosophy, there has been a lot of controversy on the theme as to what is the relationship between consciousness and matter, and this controversy has not subsided even today. How do we connect consciousness with matter?

The knower of the field knows the field. Consciousness has no characteristic of matter, and matter does not have the characteristic of consciousness. Consciousness does not move, whereas matter is always in a state of flux and agitation. Therefore, they are dissimilar in their character. Objectivity is the character of the body and matter, whereas subjectivity is the nature of consciousness. They are totally opposed to each other. So how can that which is pure subject come in contact with that which is pure object? How would we solve this great issue of what the relationship between two terrible contraries is? They cannot have any kind of connection, yet they seem to be working together in some way for the purpose of effecting some aim, which seems to be the very process of evolution.

The Sankhya doctrine gives a very humorous analogy to explain how consciousness, which is intelligent, works together with matter, which is unintelligent. Consciousness has eyes but no legs. It cannot move. It is universal existence. Therefore, it can see because it is intelligence, but it cannot move because it has no legs. Prakriti has legs; it can move. But it has no eyes; it cannot see. It has no consciousness. Now, suppose there are two persons going on a journey: one who can see but cannot walk, and another who can walk but cannot see. They make an arrangement between themselves. The blind person who can walk carries on his shoulder the legless person who can see. So the carried person sees and directs the path, and the legged one moves. This is how consciousness and matter work together, says Sankhya in a humorous analogy. But that analogy does not explain matters, because the two persons are independent of each other. The seeing person and the walking person are not one person. Therefore, consciousness and matter cannot become one unit. Unless there is a blend of the two, it will be difficult to explain perception of any kind. This subject has been taken up in the Vedanta Shastra as an improvement on the dualistic doctrine of the Sankhya, which carries on its philosophy with its eyed-one and legged-one combination.

Kṣetrajña iti tadvidaḥ: “Arjuna, I am the knower of the field.” The Lord says, “I am the Pure Consciousness that knows all things and operates these material forces; and I am not merely in one body. When I refer to the body, you may be thinking of some particular body, this body or that body, and there is a consciousness in each body. That may be so, that consciousness is inherently present in every body, within each person, but that is not the point.” Sarvakṣetreṣu bhārata: “I am present as the kṣetrajña, or the knower of the field, in all the fields. That is, all individuals whatsoever—right from Brahma, the Creator, down to the atom—are indwelt by Me, and I know all things as the Omniscient Knower.”

In a sense, it means that the kṣetra is the entire physical universe. The whole of creation can be considered as the kṣetra, or the field of action; and Omniscient Intelligence that is operating in terms of this material manifestation is the kṣetrajña. Therefore, the question of the relationship between God and creation, consciousness and matter, kṣetrajña and kṣetra, purusha and prakriti—all mean, finally, one and the same thing.

Kṣetrajñaṁ cāpi māṁ viddhi sarvakṣetreṣu bhārata, kṣetrakṣetrajñayor jñānaṁ yat taj jñānaṁ mataṁ mama (13.2): “This is real knowledge. I consider this to be supreme and real knowledge.” What is that knowledge? It is the knowledge of kṣetra and kṣetrajña. If we can know the actual relationship between God and the world, soul and body, consciousness and matter, knower and the known—if this can be clear to us, we have known everything. This knowledge is the highest knowledge.

Tat kṣetraṁ yac ca yādṛk ca yadvikāri yataś ca yat, sa ca yo yatprabhāvaś ca tat samāsena me śṛṇu (13.3): “I shall now briefly tell you what this kṣetra is—this field that is being referred to. Its nature, its characteristics, its modifications, from where it originates, how it exists, and what its powers are, all these I shall tell you just now.”

Ṛṣibhiḥ (13.4): “This knowledge about which I am speaking has been sung in all its glory in the Upanishads, the Vedas, and the Brahma Sutras by great rishis with their logical arguments. Vasishtha gloriously describes this in all varieties of arguments in the Yoga Vasishtha. Rishis also sing of this knowledge in the Upanishads and the Vedas, and the Brahma Sutras are filled with logical pros and cons establishing the nature of this knowledge.”

mahābhūtānyahaṅkāro buddhir avyaktam eva ca
indriyāṇi daśaikaṁ ca pañca cendriyagocarāḥ
icchā dveṣaḥ sukhaṁ duḥkhaṁ saṅghātaś cetanā dhṛtiḥ
etat kṣetraṁ samāsena savikāram udāhṛtam

It was mentioned that this body is the kṣetra, and the knower of this body is the kṣetrajña. Also, because of the fact that this kṣetrajña is the knower not only of any particular body but of all bodies, it is proper for us to conclude that the whole universe is the field, or the kṣetra, and the Supreme Purusha, God Almighty, is the kṣetrajña. Kṣetrajñaṁ cāpi māṁ viddhi sarvakṣetreṣu bhārata: “I am the kṣetrajña in sarvakṣetra—in all the kṣetras. All living beings constitute physical embodiment; and in every such physical embodiment, I am present as the knower thereof.”

Hence, in an individual sense, we may consider the kṣetra as a material manifestation in the form of this body, and the kṣetrajña as the inner Atman; or in a cosmical sense, we may say the entire universe is the kṣetra, the field of action of the one purusha, the one consciousness, which is the kṣetrajña in the cosmic sense. What are the inner constituents of this cosmic kṣetra, and also of the individual kṣetra?

This field, which is basically material in nature, objective in character, is constituted of certain substances. What is this world made of in its physical form, and what is the individual made of in his individual form, the personal kṣetra? The cosmic kṣetra rises from the lowest material realm of the earth up to Ishvara. The whole thing is the realm of the kṣetra and the kṣetrajña. Mahabhuta is the name given to the five gross elements—earth, water, fire, air, and sky or ether—known in Sanskrit as prithvi, apa, tejo, vayu, akasha. These are the things visible to our eyes because they are physically manifest as gross objects of sense; but there are internal realities transcending the five elements, the inner kṣetrajña, which cannot be seen with the eyes.

The kṣetrajña cannot be known or seen, because the kṣetrajña is the knower of the field. Therefore, the knower cannot be known. The various functions, in a series of ascents and descents, of this kṣetrajña in a cosmical sense are mentioned here as ahamkara, buddhi and avyakta. Mahābhūtāny ahaṁkāro buddhir avyaktam eva ca refers to the well-known Sankhya categories of prakriti, mahat, ahamkara, and the five elements. The ahamkara, buddhi and avyakta mentioned here as internal to the five elements correspond exactly to the Sankhya principle of ahamkara, mahat tattva and avyakta prakriti; or in another style, we may say that ahamkara corresponds to Virat, buddhi corresponds to Hiranyagarbha, and avyakta corresponds to Ishvara. Ishvara, Hiranyagarbha, Virat, the five elements, and the tanmatras—known as sabda, sparsa, rupa, rasa, gandha—constitute the entire cosmos.

What are the constituents of the individual? That is now mentioned. Indriyāṇi daśaikaṁ ca pañca cendriyagocarāḥ: There are five organs of perception, and five organs of action. Śrotraṁ cakṣuḥ sparśanaṁ ca rasanaṁ ghrāṇam eva ca (15.9) is told to us later on. The ear and the other sense organs of knowledge, plus the organs of action—vak, pani, pada, payu and upastha—constitute ten: five sensations producing knowledge or perception, and five organs that perform action. These are ten in number. If we also add mind as the chief perceiving faculty, it becomes eleven. Hence, dasa ekamindriyāṇi daśaikaṁ ca: dasa and eka becomes ekadasa, eleven. Thus, there are eleven cognitive and perceptive faculties in the individual. The mind being the chief of them, it rules over all the senses, including the ten mentioned.

In addition to that, we have the five objects of perception: sound is the object of the ear, or organ of hearing, touch is the object of the tactile sense, colour is the object of the sense of seeing, taste is the object of the sense of the tongue, and smell is the object of the sense of the nose. Pañca cendriyagocarāḥ: Five objects of sensory cognition, together with the mind and the ten sense organs, constitute the substance of the individual microcosm. The macrocosm was mentioned earlier as consisting of the five elements, plus ahamkara, buddhi and avyakta. Now the microcosm is mentioned as pindanda, and the macrocosm is brahmanda. This pindanda, or the individual constitution, is made up of these things only: the five objects of perception, the ten sense organs, and the mind.