THE FORM OF THE ATMA
Shri Krishna Bhagwan says, ‘न जायते म्रियते वा कदाचिन्नायं भूत्वा भविता वा न भूयः। अजो नित्यः शाश्वतोऽयं पुराणो न हन्यते हन्यमाने शरीरे॥’ – ‘Na jãyate mriyate vã kadãchinnãyam bhootvã bhavitã vã na bhooyaha, ajo nityaha shãshvato’yam purãno na hanyate hanyamãne shareere.’ – ‘The atma is never born nor does it die. Similarly, it is not re-created to come into existence. Since, the atma is not born, eternal, imperishable, it has existed since time eternal and does not die even though the body dies’ (Gita 2.20).
It is as though the knowledge of the atma proclaimed in the Kathopanishad is echoed here. The words of the Kathopanishad are, ‘न जायते म्रियते वा विपश्र्चिन्नायं कुतश्र्चिन्न बभूव कश्र्चित्। अजो नित्यः शाश्वतोऽयं पुराणो न हन्यते हन्यमाने शरीरे ॥’ – ‘Na jãyate mriyate vã vipashchinnãyam kutashchinna babhoova kashchit, ajo nityaha shãshvato’yam purãno na hanyate hanyamãne shareere ’ (Kathopanishad 2.18).
Moreover, O Arjuna, the nature of that atma is, ‘नैनं छिन्दन्ति शस्त्राणि नैनं दहति पावकः। न चैनं क्लेदयन्त्यापो न शोषयति मारुतः॥’ – ‘Nainam chhindanti shastrãni nainam dahati pãvakaha, na chainam kledayantyãpo na shoshayati mãrutaha.’ – ‘It cannot be cut with weapons, it cannot be burnt with fire, it cannot be wetted with water, and it cannot be dried by the wind’ (Gita 2.23).
The reason, ‘अत्व्छेद्योऽयम् अदाह्योऽयम् अक्लेद्योऽशोष्य एव च। नित्यः सर्वगतः स्थाणुरचलोऽयं सनातनः॥’ – ‘Achchhedyo’yam adãhyo’yam akledyo’shoshya eva cha, nityaha sarvagataha sthãnurachalo’yam sanãtanaha.’ – ‘The atma cannot be cut, burnt or wetted. The atma is ever-existing, it pervades the body it resides in through its jnanshakti. It is unchangeable, immovable and eternal (Gita 2.25).
‘अव्यक्तोऽयम् अचिन्त्योऽयम् अविकार्योऽयम् उत्व्यते। तस्मादेवं विदित्वैनं नानुशोचितुमर्हसि॥’ – ‘Avyakto’yam achintyo’yam avikãryo’yam uchyate, tasmãdevam viditvainam nãnushochitumarhasi.’ – ‘This atma is said to be inexpressible, unthinkable and unchanging. Therefore, realizing the atma to be as such, it is not appropriate for you to grieve (Gita 2.24).
Moreover, ‘अविनाशि तु तद् विद्धि येन सर्वमिदं ततम्। विनाशमव्ययस्यास्य न कश्र्चित् कर्तुमर्हति॥’ – ‘Avinãshi tu tad viddhi yena sarvamidam tatam, vinãshamavyayasyãsya na kashchit kartumarhati.’ – ‘Know that atma which pervades the entire body through its jnanshakti, to be indestructible’ (Gita 2.17).
It is due to this pervasiveness that the body feels alive And so we are able to experience the red glow and heat of a heated iron ball. We know that the red colour and heat is not its own; if the heat is removed then these attributes will disappear. The atma’s effect is similar.
In this way, the Gita makes us conscious of our true form by showing us the difference between the body and the atma by referring to the eternal and the perishable.
This principle has been imbibed in society through a nice story.
Once, there was a lion cub. Somehow it went astray from its parents and came across a herd of sheep. The shepherd let it join the herd and named it Lindiyo. Lindiyo grew up amongst the sheep. Wherever he looked, there were sheep. He became comfortable amongst them, and the sheep also accepted the cub. They began to play together and eat together. The sheep taught Lindiyo to sing and dance as they did. Lindiyo began to enjoy himself. Slowly his complete behaviour became like that of a sheep. He completely forgot he was a lion. The language of the sheep became his language. Rather than being able to give a roar that would shake the whole area, Lindiyo would now himself shudder like the sheep on hearing the roar of a lion. He completely believed himself to be a sheep.
As time passed by, one day, a lion, travelling fearlessly through the jungle came there. He saw the flock of sheep, and on seeing the baby lion amongst them, he was amazed. The lion he saw did not have a charisma like that of a king of the jungle, nor did he have pride in his walk, but was overcome with fear instead. Seeing this, the lion immediately realized that this young lion had forgotten his true identity. He decided to jog his memory. He ran towards the flock of sheep. The flock began to flee. Lindiyo, too, began to flee, but before he could get far, he was caught by the lion. All the sheep thought that Lindiyo’s end had come. Lindiyo, too, was sure that the lion would tear him up and eat him. But instead, the lion began to explain to him, “Son, you are a lion like me. We are the kings of the jungle.” Saying this much, the lion took him to a nearby lake and showed Lindiyo his reflection.
He too, stood next to Lindiyo and when Lindiyo saw the similarity, he understood at once. His misconception dissolved. His behaviour began to change immediately. The lion roared and then ushered Lindiyo to do the same. As he did so, he saw that the whole jungle trembled in just one roar. That was enough, he was no longer Lindiyo, he had realized himself that he was the king of the jungle. From then on he travelled fearlessly wherever he wished.
We have become deluded like Lindiyo. When our atma entered the body, it joined the flock of sheep in the form of our body, indriyas and antahkaran and believed itself to be one of them. It forgot its true form.
Moreover, it sees others as their bodies too.
The same happened to Arjuna. He began to look at the level of the body and hence saw his relatives, and became distressed.
The main purpose for telling Arjuna all of this was to affirm that ‘Nanushochitumarhasi’ – ‘it is not appropriate for you to grieve.’ One who has truly understood atmajnan is never overcome with grief born from believing oneself to be the body. Shri Krishna knew that if Arjuna attained this atmajnan, he would experience great relief. Therefore, he taught him the precepts of Sankhya jnan using various analogies in order to shine light on his true form.
In his teachings, Parabrahman Purushottam Bhagwan Swaminarayan has also emphasized understanding the distinction between the body and the atma. In the Vachanamrut, Swayamprakashanand Swami inquires as to how we should contemplate on the atma. In reply, Bhagwan Swaminarayan gives the essence of the Sankhya jnan that has been given in the Gita, Bhagwan Swaminarayan said, “Using the thought which rests between the drashta and drashya, one should realize, ‘The drashta and drashya are absolutely distinct.’ With this understanding, one should ascribe the attributes of the body unto the body and the attributes of the drashta – which is chaitanya – unto chaitanya. Also, childhood, youth, old age, stoutness, thinness, birth and death are all aspects of the body; so they should never be thought of as belonging to the atma. On the other hand, being uncuttable, being unpierceable, not aging, being immortal, being the embodiment of jnan, being the embodiment of bliss, and being characterized by eternal existence are all aspects of the atma; they should in no way be considered to belong to the body. Instead, those attributes should be understood to belong to the atma” (Vachanamrut, Sarangpur 12).
Moreover, he has reproached those who do not contemplate on the atma. In the Vachnamrut he says, ‘The jiva, which resides within the body, observes both the attractive and the unattractive. It witnesses childhood, youth and old age, as well as a countless number of other things. However, the observer fails to observe its own self. The jiva looks at objects externally; but it does not look at its own self. Therefore, it is the most ignorant of the ignorant…. the most senseless of the senseless, the most foolish of fools and the vilest of the vile” (Vachanamrut, Gadhada I 20).
Thus, by distinguishing between the atma and that which is not the atma, our shastras give mankind a sure way of overcoming the ocean of miseries and entering the land of happiness. This proclamation resonates in the Bhagavad Gita. Also, the principle of previous births and births to come vastly increases the horizons of life.
We should be truly proud that Sanatan Hindu Dharma has given the world such a clear science of the difference between the body and the atma. Sanatan Hindu dharma was the first to reveal the concept of previous and future births. The Gita is a living testimony to this.
Sadhu Bhadreshdas, Ph. D., D.Litt.
Translated by: Sadhu Paramvivekdas