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Sat and Asat PDF Print E-mail
Gita - Gita Articles

nasato vidyate bhavo
nabhavo vidyate satah
ubhayor api drsto 'ntas
tv anayos tattva-darsibhih


Those who are seers of the truth have concluded that of the nonexistent there is no endurance, and of the existent there is no cessation. These seers have concluded by studying the nature of both. ||2:16||

avinasi tu tad viddhi
yena sarvam idam tatam
vinasam avyayasyasya
na kascit kartum arhati

Know that which pervades the entire body is indestructible. No one is able to destroy the imperishable soul.||2:17||

antavanta ime deha
nityasyoktah saririnah
anasino 'prameyasya
tasmad yudhyasva bharata

Only the material body of the indestructible, immeasurable and eternal living entity is subject to destruction; therefore, fight, O descendant of Bharata.||2:18||


Before we analyze the shlokas let us understand few basics. Gita is an applied Upanishad and that is so clear in these sets of shlokas. Krishna is talking about making of a meditative man, even in the face of a war. This aspect of Krishna has not been fully appreciated at all. I think that there are many people who feel that Gita would have been a great book if it did not have the inferences that Krishna arrives to after saying his golden words. What Gita has in 2:16 and 2:17 is marvelous, it is so wonderful, it is so true but why should therefore Arjuna fight as inferred in 2:18. That troubles many people and they are either willing to say that Gita never really happened or that Gita should be ignored or focus should be directed towards the other Upanishads.

Let us try to understand Krishna’s stand. Krishna is talking about a working sanyas. He wants to bring the superior knowledge and achievements of brahmaloka to one’s day-to-day working life. Krishna brings the concept of a meditative man in the real world who is driving his car, goes to work and plays his game of cricket, soccer or basketball. Whatever he does he does meditatively. That is what he is trying to tell Arjuna, arise and fight and fight with sum-bhava.

It is not an accident that Krishna talks about Sat and Asat and asks Arjuna to arise and fight after he has talked about sum-bhava. Krishna instills the bhavana of sum-bhava in Arjuna before he talks of the real and unreal or his invitation to Arjuna to fight. Krishna implies that Arjuna keep sum-bhava to sat and asat as well. Before we get into the details of sat and asat, this is Krishna’s condition. The reason is simple. Krishna knows the pitfalls of understanding sat; you start choosing sat over asat. That is the very nature of a man, especially so of a moral and ethical man. Krishna says be a meditative man, know the difference but stay in choicelessness, stay in sum-bhava.

Let us analyze a conventional sanyas so that we can then understand what Krishna’s working sanyas may mean. The basis of a normal concept of sanyas is rooted in Karma sanyas. A conventional sanyas begins by the understanding that there is no point in doing mundane karmas and therefore one should take sanyas from the every day karma. A conventional sanyasi does not see the point of getting married or gathering any wealth for him. He realizes that such karmas that he has done in many past lives have not brought anything to him. He always died empty handed and hence there is no point repeating the same karmas again in this life. This conventional sanyasi in some respects is a life negative person; at least he appears to be that way. He becomes very much indifferent to what goes on in our real world. He sees our world as Maya and disconnects himself from this illusory world. This sanyasi is however not choiceless, he chooses the other life instead of this life in the mayaspace. This was the concept of a sanyasi in those days before Krishna brought in the concept of a working sanyas. Even in todays’s world this conventional sanyasi’s concept is deep rooted. Aadi Shankaracharya and Buddha as well are some glaring examples of this conventional sanyas. There is nothing wrong with it and one sanyas is not superior or inferior to the other.

Krishna’s sanyas is different and has a different basic understanding. He wants everybody to be able to experience the concept of sanyas. It is not only for those who can see the futility of the usual mundane karma. There is no need to take sanyas from karma (work). Krishna wants us to bring the sanyas to work. Actually, Krishna is more interested in the bhavana behind whatever we do. We may be in the jungle physically, but our mind may be thinking of what beauty is there in the nightclub of Manhattan in New York. Krishna will say that if you are centered then it does not matter whether you are in the forest, middle of ocean or in a nightclub. What is important is your state of being. But, his condition is sum-bhava, which we have discussed in our previous column.

Soon after he talks about sum-bhava, Krishna divides the existence in to two parts, sat (the real) and asat (unrealor say maya). Again, I want to emphasize that before Krishna starts talking about duality, he has pointed out to Arjuna about the sum-bhava to prevent Arjuna from taking the side of Sat. If Sat is what is real then why bother about Asat which is not going to last at all. Before we get into it let us first understand the concept of Sat and Asat (the real and the unreal). Asat does not mean non-existence. Unreal does not mean that it does not exist at all. Asat is unreal in the sense that it appears to be there, but in fact, it is not there or it is oon not going to be there.Krishna’s test for Asat or Unreal is that something which has a beginning and an end, it was not there at some time and it is there now and will not be there at some time in future. In other words whatever appears in the domain of time/space is Asat. Krishna also implies that Sat is the sustaining force, which is always already present. This understanding comes very close to the search that Einstein always had, “a theory of everything.” Some force or energy has to be there which can explain every thing.

Krishna says it very simply. To him Sat and Asat are so clear. He says that Asat has no independent existence, meaning thereby that Asat can only exist on the shoulders of the Sat. Let us try to understand by example. A 2 or 3-year-old child in Boston goes with his parents to the grocery store where the mom buys milk, and takes out money from the ATM machine. The same mother or father may go to hospital and bring a baby. The little young child comprehends that milk comes from the grocery store, money comes from the ATM machine and baby comes from the Hospital. We know it differently. The question is of knowing.

Krishna knows what he is saying, and that is there is some energy source (Sat) that sustains whatever we are able to perceive, the unreal (the Asat). It is like the light decorations of Christmas. You drive around and see different shapes of lights on the street; the real is actually the electricity that is not in the visual range. The science of today knows that the electricity is the underlying energy and Krishna knew then that Sat (the unseen or the real) is the underlying energy of the Asat (the one that we can see, the Asat). The bulbs shining the street by its light has a life and the Asat with its glory has a life too.

We can stretch the similarity a little more. Electricity can be used to heat the house in winter and cool the house in summer. There is a utility value of the manifestation of electricity. We know that if we switch off the electricity, we cant find comfort in either of the seasons. Similarly Sat as energy force is there but its manifestation is what we see. Although it is Asat or say unreal, that is the part in our grasp and that is what is valuable in our every day life. There is an applied part of electricity and there is an applied part of the Sat energy as well. We know that electricity is the underlying energy, but unless we convert it inot utility it is just energy. It is good to know about the electrical energy and that understanding has advanced our lives. Similarly, it is good to know that forces of Sat sustain whatever we comprehend, but the applied part is only in the unreal world, what I have called in previous columns as Mayaspace.

Stretching the similarity a little further we can try to understand the concept of Adwaita. Electrical energy and the manifestation thereof appear to be two different concepts. The streetlight and electrical energy appear to be two different facets, one travels through the wires and the other shows up through the light bulbs. A heater and an air conditioner are poles apart. This is Dwaita which means theory of two; there is distinction between the two. But, we know that it is the same electrical energy. This is Adwaita. When it manifests through different modalities, it always manifests as two or more different sources. Similarly, Sat and Asat appear two but Asat cannot exist without Sat, Sat is the sustaining force and that knowledge is Adwaita. Whernever we apply Adwaita, it has to be in duality.

There are of course dissimilarities between electrical forces and the forces of Sat. There is no element of ahamkar (ego), mind (man) or Buddhi (wisdom) in the case of electrical energy. The electrical energy does not have to deal with jealousy and ambitions. The Sat is a vibrant living energy; we can call it Consciousness or simply Parmatma.

Krishna always comes down to the bottom line. Arjuna’s main problem is the possibility of death of his loved ones. Krishna is saying that these physical bodies are going to die, but the essence, the atma inside of these bodies have no way of dying. It has never died or better expressed it has always already been there. Therefore, Arjuna should fight for the cause and he should fight with sum-bhava. The cause is the sustenance of Dharma.

The same forces of Sat are sustaining both Duryodhana and Arjuna in the Mayaspace. And here lies the dilemma. As we discussed earlier about how Dharma is the value system of the Mayaspace, Dharma has to be upheld. And this to me is the reason, Krishna infers in 2:18 that Arjuna should arise and fight. What were the choices with Krishna when Arjuna wanted not to fight? Arjuna was not talking of Ahimsa (non-violence). Arjuna was simply worried about impending death of his loved ones. He would not have had any problem killing anyone who he saw as an enemy. Arjuna was looking at his friends and that bothered him so much. Krishna had the choice letting Arjuna do what he wanted, or remind Arjuna of all the atrocities that were done by the Kauravas or do what Krishna did.

Krishna took this opportunity to make a meditative warrior out of Arjuna. We have so far only covered few basic points of Krishna in his approach of making this meditative man. As we go further there are many other techniques that Krishna talks about and these techniques can help us all become meditative people. The problem is that we will all not become Arjuna. We all will be meditative workers in our own fields and that is what the whole approach of Gita is. It gives us the opportunity to become authentic individuals and one day we may be able to say, arise and do our jobs and do it meditatively.

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