Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Ramanuja | Discourse 2 verse 18-31

antavanta ime dehānityasy-oktāḥ śarīriṇaḥ|
anāśino’prameyasya tasmāt yuddhyasva bhārata || 18 ||

18. These bodies of the jīva (the embodied Self) are said to have an end, while the jīva itself is eternal, indestructible and incomprehensible. Therefore, fight O Bharata (Arjuna).

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

The term deha meaning body is derived from the word dih meaning to increase and correspondingly those bodies having increase must also have decrease and therefore are of a perishable nature.

The elements combine to form the body dictated by karma to render service to the imperishable soul to enable the living entity to experience the positive and negative fruits of their actions.

In the Brihadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad it is stated: by accruing merit one becomes meritorious.

A living entity is forced to accept a body only until all ones positive and negative karma is exhausted and then the physical body is no longer bound to exist in the physical plane.

As for the soul - it is indestructible, it is imperishable and it is inconceivable.

As the aggregate of all facets of consciousness the soul is the subject and all individual facets of consciousness are the object.

All pervading throughout the body of every living entity the soul as the cognizer is perceived by its unique distinction of being transcendental from the body. Nor can the soul be perceived as of a mutable nature as in the case of the senses.

Thus by the fact of its all-pervading nature it is verified that the soul is not something which can increase or decrease because of or due to aggregation. By reason of its all pervasiveness the factual reality of the souls eternality is apparent.

As regarding the body because it is subject to decrease and increase, because it is for the felicitation of the embodied soul in the experiencing the results of karma, because it is of multiple forms and because it is subject to decay it is destructible.

So it can be clearly seen that because the body is of a perishable nature and because the soul is of an eternal nature neither of the two can be just reason for regret.

Therefore the Supreme Lord instructs Arjuna to bear with fortitude the unavoidable sharp contact of piercing arrows upon him and upon others and thus going to battle as a matter of duty, without the desire for any results, prepare his way for immortality.

ya enaṁvetti hantāraṁyaścainaṁmanyate hatam |
ubhau tau na vijānīto nāyaṁhanti na hanyate || 19 ||

19. One who deems the Self a slayer, and one who thinks of it as slain —both are ignorant; for the Self neither slays nor is slain.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Whoever speculates that it is possible by any means to kill the soul and whoever speculates that anyone can be instrumental in killing the soul is factually deficient in actual knowledge.

The soul being of an eternal nature can never be destroyed by anything nor can the soul ever destroy anything.

The root word hanti meaning to slay connotes an act which connects with the soul; but the action of killing indicates that there is a separation of the soul from the body.

Thus the Vedic injunctions: na himsyad bhutani meaning no creature shall be harmed and brahmano na hantavyah that no brāhmaṇa shall ever be killed specifically emphasises

that it is an act of acute and heinous unrighteousness to cause the separation of any soul from its embodied state unnaturally which happens at the time of death.

mriyate vākadācin nāyaṁbhūtvābhavitāvāna bhūyaḥ|
ajo nityaḥ śāśvato’yaṁpurāṇo na hanyate hanyamāne śarīre || 20 ||

20. The jīva is never born; it never dies; having been existent in the past, it will never cease to be [in the future]. Unborn, eternal, abiding and primeval, it is not slain when the body is slain.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

For the reasons previously described, characteristics which are natural to all living entities such as birth, ageing and death do not pertain to or have any influence on the indestructible soul as it has no modification due to its eternal nature.

The bodily experience has no effect on the eternal soul thus it is spoken of as it is not born nor does it die.

It cannot be proven that having been before a Kalpa the soul is not going to exist after a Kalpa.

Such births and deaths at the beginning and end of every Kalpa are told by the Agamas in the Vedic scriptures as replacing each Brahma who manages and directs the functioning and maintenance of creation in one singular universe in the infinite celestial firmament. But this reference pertains only to the physical body and does not affect the eternal soul.

The imperishable soul which pervades the physical body of all living entities is aja or unborn and thus it is known to be eternal and constant only changing its external embodied form.

The two characteristics of eternality and constancy denote that like the material substratum known as prakṛti even the most subtle and infinitesimal modifications in the stage preceding manifestation has no ability in any way to affect the eternal soul.

The word Purāṇa means ancient. Etymologically it stems from purapi navah meaning old yet new illustrating that the eternal soul although ancient is experienced with every birth as ever new.

Thus it has been clarified that the physical body only perishes but never can the eternal soul perish.

vedāvināśinaṁnityaṁya enam ajam avyayam |
kathaṁsa puruṣaḥpārtha kaṁghātayati hanti kam || 21 ||

21. If one knows this Self to be indestructible, unborn, unchanging and hence eternal—how and whom, O Arjuna, does he cause to be killed, and whom does one kill?

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

So possessing spiritual intelligence, knowing the soul to be eternal, understanding it to be birthless and deathless being of an inexhaustible nature

how is it possible for anyone to commit any act of destruction against the immortal soul which dwells in trillions of various and diverse living entities among the 8 million 400 thousand species of life throughout the billions of material universes.

Whom can anyone destroy? How can anyone destroy anyone? Who can cause anyone to be destroyed? No one can!

Thus it can be seen that ignorance of the eternal nature of the soul is the cause of all grief by not understanding that the soul is immortal and thinking that the eternal soul perishes when the physical body perishes.

Comprehending that what happens to the immortal soul when the physical body ceases to function is factually the withdrawal from an old physical body to enter into a new physical body.

So it can be understood that those who have deep regret for the loss of the physical body, serving as it does as the facility for securing and enjoying material pleasures;

these living entities should reflect on the futility and temporal nature of material existence rather than trying to eternally exploit their senses.

This will be further expounded in the next verse.

vāsāṁsi jīrṇāni yathāvihāya navāni gṛhṇāti naro’parāṇi |
tathā śarīrāṇi vihāya jīrṇāny-anyāni saṁyāti navāni dehī|| 22 ||

22. As a person casts off worn-out garments and puts on others that are new, so does the embodied Self cast off its worn-out bodies and enter into others that are new.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

We learn from the Vedic scriptures that those who lose their physical bodies fighting for righteousness receive superior physical bodies in heavenly spheres of blessedness.

Such a transition can be compared to discarding old, used, worn out clothes and attiring oneself in fresh, new raiment.

So from another angle of vision it is being confirmed that the eternal soul is indestructible changing its embodied form for another when the physical body perishes.

Now in the next verse some examples are emphasised to give a more developed and comprehensive understanding of this indestructibility in the next verse.

nainaṁchindanti śastrāṇi nainaṁdahati pāvakaḥ|
na cainaṁkledayanty-āpo na śoṣayati mārutaḥ|| 23 ||

23. Weapons do not cut the jīva, fire does not burn it, waters do not wet it, and wind does not dry it.

acchedyo’yam adāhyo’yaṁakledyo’śoṣya eva ca |
nityaḥsarva-gataḥsthāṇur acalo’yam sanātanaḥ|| 24 ||

24. It cannot be cut; it cannot be burnt; it cannot be wetted and it cannot be dried, it is eternal, all-pervading, stable, immovable and primeval.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Weapons are powerless to inflict any injury by cutting or piercing, fire is powerless to burn, water is powerless to wet and air is powerless to dry the eternal soul.

The soul having the propensity of pervading everything being capable by its nature of interpenetrating all substances. It is subtler than any substance and no substance can penetrate it.

The effects of cutting, burning, soaking, drying and others which takes place by weapons, fire, water, air and the rest penetrate the object which is the focus of their direction;

but due to its impregnable nature the soul is uninfluenced being beyond the scope of the material substratum. Hence the eternal soul is unchangeable, immovable and everlasting.

avyakto’yam acintyo’yam avikāryo’yam ucyate |
tasmād evaṁviditvainaṁnānuśocitum arhasi || 25 ||

25. This jīva is said to be unmanifest, inconceivable and unchanging. Therefore, knowing it thus, it does not befit you to grieve.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

The word avyakta means unmanifested or unperceivable this is because the eternal soul being totally transcendental to the material existence cannot be practically examined as can objects which possess qualities of a physical nature.

The word acintyah means inconceivable because the eternal soul is impossible to perceive by the mind and the senses being in every way transcendental to the material substratum which is what the consciousness of the living entities base their understanding on.

The eternal soul differs from all other existences and levels of existence in transcendence. Therefore it is avikaryah unchangeable and immutable.

The Supreme Lord Krishna instructs that by knowing the eternal soul to be immortal there is no cause for grief.

atha cainaṁnitya jātam nityaṁvāmanyase mṛtam |
tathāpi tvaṁmahābāho naivaṁ śocitum arhasi || 26 ||

26. Or, if you consider this Self to be repeatedly born and repeatedly dying, even then, O Maha-bahu (Mighty-armed-one), it does not become you to feel grief.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Here the Supreme Lord Krishna gives Arjuna another reason not to lament for He states that even if one considers the eternal soul to be the same as the physical body which is subject to incessant births and deaths and not a separate and distinct reality;

then still there is no need for grief because from birth the ageing of the physical body due to the passage of time leads to death and birth and death is a law of nature in the material existence and unavoidable.

jātasya hi dhruvo mṛtyur dhruvaṁjanma mṛtasya ca |
tasmād aparihārye ‘rthe na tvaṁ śocitum arhasi || 27 ||

27. For death is indeed certain for everything that is born, and re-birth is certain for that which has died; therefore you should not grieve for what is unavoidable.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

It is evident that death of the physical body is inevitable to whatever is born and that there is no way to escape from this physical termination of the body. Similarly rebirth is unavoidable once one's physical body has died.

How can something which has been lost become again? It is conceivable that something which has already been to become again; but it is inconceivable for that which has never been to become.

Therefore there is nothing that can come that has not been. What is known as birth and death is but just different modifications of an ever existing condition.

Yarn and other materials exist but when they are woven into a fabric that is a particular arrangement of the yarn itself, it receives the name cloth in its modified state.

Even the asat-karya-vadis who follow the fallacious hypothesis that existence comes from non-existence should admit the ever existing state, for what we know as cloth to them is a new creation but is factually the same old yarn only in a new form which has been created.

It is not sagacious or well thought out to assume that a new substance has come into being simply because of a modified condition.

Thus coming into existence and disappearing from existence are modified states of an ever existing reality.

One of the conditions of this modified state is its appearance called birth and another condition being its diametric opposite is known as death which by disappearing this ever existing reality passes into.

For a substance which is intrinsically metamorphic the process of modification is essential. As in the case of a clod of earth, transformed into clay, transformed into a pot, transformed into dust and transformed back to earth again.

The manifestation of a subsequent condition is but a modification of a previous condition and that same subsequent condition becomes a prior condition of another subsequent condition.

Reasoning in this way it can be understood that it is natural that successive modifications take place in regards to creation and destruction of physical bodies which cannot be avoided and there is no reason to lament due to this.

If there is some slight grief which may be apparent by the passing from a prior modified state to a subsequent modified state even this grief need not arise in the case of living entities such as human beings because... and the next verse 28 clarifies why.

avyaktādīni bhūtāni vyakta-madhyāni bhārata |
avyakta nidhanānyeva tatra kāparivedana || 28 ||

28. O Arjuna! All beings [in the universe] have a beginning that is unknown, a known middle and an unknown end. Why should there be anguish in relation to any of them?

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Living entities like human beings though eternally existing due to the auspices of each one's eternal soul have an unknown origin before birth, a manifest condition from birth to death and proceed again to an unknown existence at the termination of the physical body.

Such alternations constitute material existence and are a natural law. This then gives no cause to grieve.

Having just shown that even if one erroneously was under the misapprehension that the physical body itself and the eternal soul are the same; there is still no reason to grieve as in the next verse 29 it is declared

that very rarely is a person found who would see, hear, converse, or who could be convinced about the wonderful nature of the eternal soul which is factually distinct from the physical body.

āścaryavat paśyati kaścid enam āścaryavad vadati tathaiva cānyaḥ|
āścaryavac cainam anyaḥ śṛṇoti śātvāpy-enaṁveda na caiva kaścit || 29 ||

29. One regards this Self as a wonder, likewise another speaks of it as a wonder; still another hears of it as a wonder; and even after hearing of it, one knows it not.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Among innumerable living entities rarely is one to be found who determinedly absolved themselves of all sinful reactions and has accumulated sufficient merit as to become self-realised enabling one to perceive the separate nature and the distinct aspect of the eternal soul within.

Such a realised soul may attempt to give this understanding to another similarly disposed or one may make an attempt to understand it by hearing about it and so forth as examples in this verse.

But only one who has acquired enough merit to realise the eternal soul within can possess the true understanding of the eternal soul and no other.

The conjunctive particle ca used at the end of the verse denotes that even among the philosophers, speakers and seekers of knowledge about the eternal soul,

the transference of bona fide information given and received concerning factual knowledge of what the eternal soul actually is, is very rare.

dehīnityam avadhyo’yaṁdehe sarvasya bhārata |
tasmāt sarvāṇi bhūtāni na tvaṁ śocitum arhasi || 30 ||

30. The jīva in all bodies, O Arjuna, is eternal and indestructible, therefore, it is not proper for you to feel grief for any being.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

The eternal soul embodied within the physical body regardless whether it is a human earthly body or the physical bodies possessed by the demigods in the heavenly spheres; the immortal soul is eternally invulnerable even though the body perishes.

Hence understanding this principle as fundamental whatever diversity and variegatedness in the forms of bodies born from the womb of a female

who was also conceived in the womb of a female that exists from the demigods down through the human species as well as to the animal species and the fish species and even including the immovable plants and trees

it should be clearly understood that equanimity prevails regarding the essential nature of the immortal soul abiding therein whatever the bodily form and is eternal, whereas the physical body is transient.

So Arjuna is being instructed that factually according to this proper understanding regarding all living entities, he has no basis to lament for any being.

sva-dharmam api cāvekṣya na vikampitum arhasi |
dharmyāddhi yuddhāc-chreyo ‘nyat kṣatriyasya na vidyate || 31 ||

31. Furthermore, considering also your own duty, it does not befit you to falter, because to a Kshatriya, there is no greater merit than a righteous war.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

To a Kshatriya, there is no greater good than engaging in a righteous war motivated by a just cause. It will be declared later on in the Gita: —

'Valour, non-defeat (by the enemies), fortitude, adroitness and also not fleeing from battle, Generosity, Lordliness; —these are the duties of the Kshatriya born of his very nature.' (18:43).

In the Agnisomiya sacrifice no real harm is caused to the animal victim; for according to the Vedic Texts, the victim —a goat, after abandoning an inferior body, will attain a higher rebirth, with a beautiful body.

The Text pertaining to immolation declares: —

'O animal, by this (immolation) you never die, you are not destroyed. You will pass through happy paths to the realm of the gods, where the virtuous, not the sinful reach. May the god Savitur give you a suitable place.' (Yajñ,; Taitt. Br. iii 7.2).

Likewise the attainment of more beautiful bodies by those who die here in this war [which is like a sacrifice] has been declared in the Gita (2.22).

Hence, just as a surgeon makes an incision and performs other surgical procedures for the purpose of curing a patient, the immolation of the sacrificial animal in the Agnisomiya and other sacrifices contributes to its welfare.