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Some things never change PDF Print E-mail
Gita - Gita Articles

na tv evaham jatu nasam
na tvam neme janadhipah
na caiva na bhavisyamah
sarve vayam atah param

Never was there a time when I did not exist, or you, or all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be. ||2:12||
dehino 'smin yatha dehe
kaumaram yauvanam jara
tatha dehantara-praptir
dhiras tatra na muhyati


As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change. ||2:13||

Arjuna is distressed because of his attachments to the relatives, friends and Gurus who he might have to kill during the course of the war. To kill or not to kill is his question. He puts his bow Gandiva down and says to Krishna that he is not going to fight.

How Krishna handles it is amazing; he is so pragmatic, so methodical and yet so concise. First he remarks to Arjuna about his being on the wrong track. This must have hurt Arjuna but at the same time must he be wondering what Krishna means by that. Then Krishna virtually takes Arjuna out of the house and shows him what he can see from the boundless space of the outside. Arjuna was seeing through a window of the house;

First Krishna points out to Arjuna that there is something in every one that is eternal and never changes and then he points out to Arjuna that which is changing all the time. Before we get into what Krishna is saying, we should also examine what Krishna is not saying or most of us would have said in a similar situation. Remember, this is not a conversation between Satyakam Jabal and Rishi Gopal as happens in the Upanishad. The stakes are much higher here. If Arjuna does not fight, the outcome is clear; Pandavas will loose. But, for Krishna it is more than that. He is not attached to Pandava or Kaurava loosing. He is more interested in the prevailing of Dharma. If Duryodhana won, now he will have a free reign and he would not hesitate in doing whatever he wants to do. One thing is sure and that is Duryodhana is not going to care for Dharma.

The response of most of us would have been to tell Arjuna to drop his attachments however subtle they were. We might have told him some quotations from Shastras to support that. But, this is not what Krishna is saying to start with. He may imply that, but he is not saying that. Krishna knows that no body ever drops attachment because he is told to do so. Attachments do not drop even if you say to yourself to drop it one hundred times a day. It may become subtle but it does not drop. Attachments only drop by understanding, by knowing something higher. And that is what Krishna starts trying to do. He is trying to show Arjuna something higher.

Attachments are also of two kinds, material attachments and value attachments. Value attachments are difficult to comprehend. Arjuna has dropped his material attachments. He says it clearly that he would be willing to forego the kingdom and all the riches. He is even willing to die, but he would not kill his loved and respected ones. Now this is the ultimate of value attachment that can be present in any one, leave aside Arjuna. Krishna is trying to take him beyond this and he starts with by showing Arjuna the global view.

Arjuna’s thinking is like searching in a dark forest with a flashlight. Krishna shows him the whole forest by the light of a lightning. Lightning is momentary but it does illuminate the whole area.

The other approach Krishna is not taking is the approach of a regular teacher or even of many approaches seen in the Upanishad. He is not saying to Arjuna, “Now I shall describe to you four kinds of yoga, because once you will understand this you will achieve the Brahman.” No, that is not his style and it will not work. The usual style of scriptures will not work here; Arjuna knows scriptures too well for that to work. I do understand that Gita is also an Upanishad in the sense that Arjuna learns by sitting beside Krishna, but its approach is entirely different. In two words, Gita is simple and it is practical. It deals with issues that we encounter in our real life, yet it is so profound.

Coming back to the shlokas (2:12-2:13), Krishna starts with statements regarding a wider perspective of life. Arjuna is disturbed because he sees the possibility of death; Krishna says that there is no death. Krishna speaks with so much confidence, so much clarity and so much conviction, “Never was there a time when you and me were not there and never will be such a time in future when we shall not be there.” The essence in Krishna, Arjuna and us all lives on, the form may change but it does continue. Behind this simple statement lies the whole science of life after life. We will explore the details as we go along with Krishna and Arjuna.

Krishna sees that Arjuna’s despair was because of the fear of death and therefore he starts with the statement of the permanence of life. He is telling Arjuna that here is your mistake. Rather than looking at few frames of life, look at the whole collection. Krishna wants Arjuna to look at the whole gallery of life. This has often been explained by giving an example of the vast ocean and its waves. Arjuna is just looking at the waves, which appear and disappear, while Krishna is pointing to the whole ocean. This does explain the vastness of life and the insignificance of death but it does not touch the attachment so much. Let me try to explain it differently. Let us say that a lady has a gold bangle and wants to change it to a gold chain. It is so simple. She goes to the jeweler and asks him to change the shape and he does it. If she does not trust the jeweler, she sits through the entire process while the form is changed from the bangle to the chain. Now here the lady has no attachment to the form of gold, she does not start crying as the shape of the gold changes. The gold bangle had become dirty and misshaped, the chain is shiny, new and bright, and it is spotless. She is happy. But she is attached to the gold and that is why she is willing to sit through the whole process to make sure that the gold does not disappear. She is definitely attached to her gold. The attachment is always relative; if she loves her daughter (another attachment), she will be willing to give the bangle or chain to the daughter.

In case of our gold story above it is apparent and obvious that the gold does not disappear and only the form changes; in our real life once the body disappears, we do not see what happens to the essence. Krishna is saying that this essence never disappears. It simply changes the form. Once Arjuna comprehends this he will not be mourning over the death of any one.

Once Krishna makes this statement he comes to the form, the physical body. His approach is from global to the microcosm. If you watch a movies the director first gives you the panoramic view and then shows Harrison Ford clinging on to a rock or a rope underneath which are the multitude of dangers. Similarly, Krishna zooms out first and then slowly zooms in. His initial statement about the physical body is that it is always changing. The physical body is never static; just because it is there does not mean it is not changing. The journey from birth to death has always been a flow of changes. We grow from a baby to a young man. We mature and then transition to middle age, and then get on to the golden age of being old. Krishna is saying that the essence then moves on to another body as simply as it moves from childhood onwards. The problem is that this part is not in our grasp. It is not a matter of belief or faith. It is so. Krishna can see it, we cannot. It is so simple. I grew up in a village of India. We had cows and we used to milk the cow and drink the milk. We simply knew where the milk came from. If you ask a child in New York or Boston where and how milk comes from, there is a good possibility that he does not know. If he knows, he knows so because he has read about it or his parents have told him. It is not his experience. Krishna is telling Arjuna that it is so; Arjuna does not know it and we do not know it, really.

Krishna has started from a panoramic view. He first talks about the continuum of flow of the essence, the atma. He then focuses on the ever-changing nature of the physical body and then talks about the feelings of the physical body. We shall cover that in our next column. But in two simple verses, he has pointed out to Arjuna that he ought to switch his thinking mode to a global perspective. There are some things that do not change and there are some, which do.

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