Why is there no end to our miseries? Why can we not experience everlasting happiness? The answer is simple – a lack of some basic understanding.
We still remain ignorant of the very things that truly need to be known. For example, we do not understand the difference between the perishable and the eternal. We are unable to discriminate between that which has a beginning and that which has been since eternity. We are unable to differentiate between that which has an end and that which does not.
Moreover, whatever we do know is in fact only partial knowledge. We do not understand it properly and fully as it is. On obtaining basic information, we feel that we have gained complete knowledge of the matter. We do not even have the patience to attain complete knowledge.
Furthermore, sometimes false knowledge is believed to be true knowledge. For example, we believe that which is not the atma to be the atma. That which causes misery has started to seem pleasurable. The sources of true happiness have become unknown to us. We have taken a likening to uncertainty and want to settle in it. We believe the perishable to be eternal, and we do not accept that which is truly eternal to be so. Only physical enjoyment is accepted by the mind. We cannot rise above logic; we firmly believe that it is impossible to do so. As a result of this, we remain engrossed in our bodies and everything related to them. We have become comfortable in them. Now we do not want to leave them. We do not even think about leaving them. Talks of the body being perishable seem useless.
In this way, our ignorance, incomplete knowledge and false beliefs are the roots of our misery, but we do not realize this. Instead we cry for sympathy saying that there is no end to our miseries and that a cloud of problems constantly looms above our heads.
This is our current situation. But this situation is not permanent, it can be changed, there is no doubt about it. We can experience this on contemplating on the precepts of the Bhagavad Gita.
With the words, ‘Klaibyam mã sma gamaha pãrtha’ – ‘O Parth, do not be a coward’ (Gita 2.3). Krishna, Parth’s charioteer, gave him a dose of courage. But without a little understanding, talks of courage alone cannot win the fight. Only in an intellect which has mature understanding does courage gain the stamina to spread its influence. Therefore, Shri Krishna then decides to give an understanding of some basic, philosophical principles.
This explanation is known as sankhya jnan. ‘Sankhya’ means true and complete. Here, sankhya jnan has been presented to Arjuna by clarification on what is atma and what is not.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE BODY AND THE ATMA
“Who are you?” Bhagwan Swaminarayan asked a young boy.
“A Harijan,” the boy replied, referring to his caste.
“No, you are not a Harijan, you are atma. Now say ‘I am atma’ ” said Bhagwan Swaminarayan, explaining the boy’s true identity to him.
“I am atma,” repeated the boy obediently.
Bhagwan Swaminarayan was pleased, yet to verify, he once again asked, “Who are you?”
“No, not a Harijan, you are atma. Therefore say ‘I am the atma’ ” Bhagwan Swaminarayan again instructed him.
The boy did so.
“Now, who are you?” asked Bhagwan Swaminarayan
“A Harijan,” came the reply.
Then Bhagwan Swaminarayan made the boy said ‘I am atma’ a hundred times. The boy had the sentence memorized. Finally Bhagwan Swaminarayan asked, “Who are you?” The boy said, “Because you say so, I am atma, but, in reality, I am a Harijan.’
This is the result of believing oneself to be the body.
It is obvious that a person living in a house is separate from the house. No one says that the owner of a chariot and the chariot itself are one. Everyone knows that a bird is separate from its cage. The same applies to the atma and the body, yet we find it hard to understand. Why? The reason is our belief that we are the body.
This belief is the king of all ignorances. To believe one’s body to be the atma is known as dehatmabhav. This is a type of madness that can be compared with someone living in a house believing himself to be the house. This is the pitiful situation of a bird who believes itself to be the cage. Since time eternal, such a false understanding has taken firm control over us, and we have become accustomed to being its slave.
Therefore, today’s most urgent need is a change of control. We must be courageous. The only choice is to discard this belief of being the body and realize the true knowledge of one’s atma. There is no room for feelings of inferiority or cowardice in this matter. The Gita teaches us how to develop this control of atmajnan in a simple manner.
Although Arjuna is in fact brave, he has been attacked by cowardice born from dehbhav (believing one’s true self to be the body). He has therefore suffered a decline and is confused. Shri Krishna now teaches him the method of getting the atma into power. First of all, with simple analogies, he explains how the body and atma are separate in form and entity.
Shri Krishna Bhagwan says, ‘देहिनोऽस्मिन् यथा देहे कौमारं यौवनं जरा। तथा देहान्तरप्राप्तिर्घीरस्तत्र न मुह्यति॥’ – ‘Dehino’smin yathã dehe kaumãram yauvanam jarã, tathã dehãntaraprãptirdheerastatra na muhyati.’ – ‘Just like the atma, which is the controller of the body, passes through the stages of childhood, young age and old age in this body, it similarly attains other bodies as well, the wise are not distraught by this’ (Gita 2.13).
Here, the words ‘Dehino’smin yathã dehe’ clearly show that the deha – body, and the dehi that which resides in the body, the atma, are distinct from each other. Our bodies change, but our atma does not. This difference has been shown here with the principle of punarjanma. The analogy given is of the changes that take place in our bodies. The body is born and the rise and fall of various stages commences. Childhood begins and slowly diminishes as adolescence sets in. Before we even know it, old age eclipses the radiance of our youth, and finally death swallows old age. This cycle of change is continuous, but in this cycle of change, the atma remains the same. When we are reborn, a new atma is not born, but the same atma that was in the previous body attains a new body.
Krishna implies, ‘O Arjuna! It is just as natural to obtain a new birth as it is to pass through the phases of childhood, youth and old age. You are courageous, but now become wise too. Do not grieve on seeing the bodies of your relatives die opposite you in war.’
Krishna then gives another analogy. ‘वासांसि जीर्णानि यथा विहाय नवानि गृह्णाति नरोऽपराणि। तथा शरीराणि विहाय जीर्णान्यन्यानि संयाति नवानि देही॥’ ‘Vãsãnsi jeernãni yathã vihãya navãni gruhnãti naro’parãni, tathã shareerãni vihãya jeernãnyanyãni samyãti navãni dehee.’ – ‘Just like a person throws away old clothes and adorns new ones, similarly, the dehi, i.e., the atma, that resides in this body, leaves an old body and attains a new one’ (Gita 2.22).
Krishna has given an analogy of something as natural as changing our clothes, a daily process. No one believes themselves to be their clothes, and if they do, they are considered mad. The body is just a cloth, and the atma, distinct from the cloth, is one who wears it. We should also take a look at these words from a grammatical point of view. ‘Naraha’(person) and ‘dehee’ (body) are both singular, whereas ‘vasansi’ (clothes) and ‘shareerani’ (bodies) are both plural. Therefore just as a single person adorns many clothes one after another, similarly a single atma attains many bodies one after the other.
Parabrahman Purushottam Bhagwan Swaminarayan has mentioned the same point with a different perspective. A Brahmin named Vala Dhruv of the village Vaso asked Bhagwan Swaminarayan, “Maharaj, how can the feelings of I-ness and my-ness towards one’s body and its relations be eradicated?”
Shriji Maharaj replied, “The jiva has a misconception in that it does not believe itself to be the jivatma, i.e., distinct from the body; instead, it believes itself to be the body. To illustrate how the body clings to the jivatma, consider a person who wears a dagli after having it sewn by a tailor. That person then begins to believe, ‘The tailor is my father and the tailor’s wife is my mother.’ Such a person would be considered a fool. In the same manner, the jivatma is given a dagli in the form of this body, which is born sometimes to a Brahmin couple; sometimes to a low-caste couple; or in any of the 8.4 million life forms. Therefore, a person who believes the body to be his true self and believes the parents of that body to be his own parents is called a fool,… Therefore, as long as a person believes the body to be his true self, his entire understanding is totally useless” (Vachanamrut, Gadhada I 44).
Shri Krishna Bhagwan explains the difference between the body and the atma to Arjuna saying, ‘अन्तवन्त इमे देहा नित्यस्योक्ताः शरीरिणः। अनाशिनोऽप्रमेयस्य तस्माद् युद्ध्यस्व भारत॥’ – ‘Antavanta ime dehã nityasyoktãhã shareerinaha, anãshino’prameyasya tasmãd yuddhyasva Bhãrata.’ – ‘O Arjuna, the bodies of this indestructible imperishable eternal atma are destructible, therefore fight’ (Gita 2.18).
One is destructible, the other indestructible. He shows their diversity by highlighting their inherent qualities.
He also gives a detailed explanation of the form of the atma.
Sadhu Bhadreshdas, Ph. D., D.Litt.
Translated by: Sadhu Paramvivekdas