Sutra Study: Bhagavad Gita Chapter 2 Verses 1-30

Chapter two is so massive that the study group only got to verse 30 of 72. So, in the below post I won’t go further than that.

Chapter one brought us to the field of the battle with Sanjaya advising Dhritharashtra about the happenings of the battle between his sons and his nephews. It ended with Arjuna, one of Dhritharashtra’s nephews, confiding in Krishna that he wasn’t going to fight as he couldn’t handle the thought of killing his family, friends, and teachers.

In Chatper 2 Verse 1 we are brought back to our narrator, Sanjaya, as he introduces Krishna as Madhusudana. As God or the divine is manifested in many different ways, Krishna is named differently for each way he is manifest. Madhu is a demon that Krishna slay, so Krishna is named as the “slayer of demons.” Specifically, we will see him slay Arjuna’s inner demons. Kirshna sees Arjuna as being full of compassion and sorrow but recognizes that Arjuna doesn’t see his true Self. Arjuna asked Krishna to slay his demon of misunderstanding of his duty as a ksatriya (warrior).

In Verse 2 Krishna is named as Bhagavan or Supreme Person as he speaks representing the Absolute Truth. Absolute Truth is realized in three phases of understanding: Brahman (impersonal, all pervasive spirit), Paramatma (localized spirit), and Bhagavan (supreme Godhead) – all of which are identical if you believe in non duality. The three are a process of study – understanding – becoming.

Verse 3: Krishna asks Arjuna not to yield “to this degrading impotence”. Arjuna is named here “son of Prtha,” who is Krishna’s Aunt, again reminding him of their mutual respect and lineage. Because Arjuna was born out of two respected families, he holds greater responsibility.

Despite Krishna’s guiding insights, in Verse 4 Arjuna argues about etiquette of counter attacking a superior, who should never be fought. Verse 5 explains how Arjuna still considers those who acted badly (choosing to fight for financial reasons) his superiors, as they are his guru’s and elders. Though, because of their bad acts they should no longer be held in such high esteem when considering the culture of the time. In Verse 6, falling back into despair, Arjuna did not know what was better: to fight and cause unnecessary violence or to refrain and live as a beggar. This shows great detachment, as he was born royalty so to give up everything for the sake of others shows that he is already more enlightened than those whom he would be slaying.

During our discussion it came up about why killing is every good. A common practice that we attribute to this time is that of ahimsa or non-violence. So, why would any killing be acceptable, or even recommended? There are two angles we can look at this. Firstly, if we are taking the Gita as a metaphor for an internal battle, for instance that which is struggled with in meditation, then the battle is between the representations of each character as detailed in this post, not between multiple people.

Tangent: We approach meditation with a kind of nonjudgemental “sorting” or “labelling” in some traditions. For example, each thought which arises is labeled “past” or “future” or just simply “thought”, while each sound is labeled “sound”, etc. Which allows us to recognize that we were not sitting in the present moment, and let it go without clinging on to it and following the story line. So there must be an amount of nonjudgemental awareness of our thoughts, emotions and reactions. Once we realize which habitual thought patterns keep coming up, we can work to eliminate them. This is the battle we speak of, not one where we are constantly fighting against our own selves by laying judgement or blame or saying negative things.

The second angle we can use to approach this is one of a physical battle. It can be argued that some killing is just. For instance, you can’t prevent killing tiny insects or bacteria when we walk, drive, or even breathe. But also, if someone was going around killing a bunch of innocent people for no reason, but simply because they are not right mentally, it may be “better to have one deserved death than many undeserved deaths.” (Swami Kriyananda, The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita) In the Gita, God, acting as Krishna, declared Arjuna’s side to be the righteous side, therefore if Arjuna backs out of his duty as a ksatriya he would be committing sin and allowing the unrighteous rulers to continue causing destruction and decline of the country.

Verse 7 represents bhakti yoga, a form of devotional yoga, as Arjuna is literally surrendering completely to the Lord. A parallel can be drawn between guru’s and Krishna acting as an avatar of God since a guru should have the Knowledge of divinity. So by asking Krishna to be his guru, Arjuna is recognizing that he needs a guide to help him on his path to liberation or enlightenment. This verse teaches us that we should all seek a spiritual master to help us navigate through all the material perplexities of life. “[…]the perplexities of life [which] happen without our desire. They are like a forest fire which somehow blazes without being set by anyone. […]No one wants fire, and yet it takes place, and we become perplexed.” (Swami Prabhupada, Bhagavad Gita As It Is) Arjuna confesses to knowing how hard it will be to drive away his own despair, and that Academic knowledge, scholarship, etc. are all useless in solving the problems of life; one needs a spiritual master to guide them (verse 8).

In verse 9 Arjuna, named the “chastiser of enemies” says to Krishna: “Govinda, I will not fight.” And fell silent. By falling silent, he is giving Govinda the room to convince him otherwise. Krishna is named Govinda here to remind the reader that he is a protector and herder, so can herd the flock of thoughts and emotions into tameness. Krishna was very pleased with this surrender (bhakti), which is shown is verse 10 when he starts speaking with a smile on his face. In verse 11 Krishna says to Arjuna that, though Arjuna speaks learned words, he is grieving for something unworthy. Verse 12: “Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.” Verse 13: “As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The del-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (both quotes from Swami Prabhupada, Bhagavad Gita As It Is)

Pause for re-reads…

Wow, right? Well, even better, in verse 14, he continues to say that happiness and distress are like the seasons, arising and falling away due to sense perceptions, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed. Nothing of this sort is permanent. We are bound by maya (illusion) thinking that we do not live without permanence. “One has to follow the prescribed rules and regulations of religious principles (dharma) in order to rise up to the platform of Knowledge because by Knowledge and devotion only can one liberate himself from the clutches of maya.” (Swami Prabhupada, Bhagavad Gita As It Is) Knowledge is with a capital ‘K’ as it pertains to Supreme Knowledge, knowledge beyond wisdom and beyond things you can learn from books. Knowledge of divinity and Truth. In this verse, Arjuna is named twice – first as the “son of Kunti” and second as the “scion of Bharata” as Krishna is reminding him once again of the greatness of both sides of his family. A great heritage means a great responsibility to duty.

Verse 15 continues with: “the person who is not disturbed by happiness and distress and is steady in both is certainly eligible for liberation.” (Swami Prabhupada, Bhagavad Gita As It Is)

Krishna goes on a slightly different path in verse 16, starting to detail further the soul. “[…]of the nonexistent there is no endurance, and of the existent there is no cessation.” Because everything we can perceive is always changing, it does not really exist how we perceive it. This is a strong idea in Buddhism with the idea of emptiness (empty of a self-defining essence). Here, Krishna is speaking specifically of the body and soul, matter versus spirit. The body is constantly changing while the soul is consistent. Something which is consistent can be said to exist, and that which exists shall not cease. Soul has no beginning and no end, and therefore does not come into existence nor does it leave existence.

Therefore, he continues in verse 17 with: “[…]that which pervades the entire body is indestructible.” (Swami Prabhupada, Bhagavad Gita As It Is) What is spread all over the body? Consciousness; soul. I keep taking quotes from Swami Prabhupada because he says things so eloquently…so here’s another one: “This spreading of consciousness is limited to one’s own body. the pains and pleasures of one body are unknown to another. Therefore, each and every body is the embodiment of an individual soul, and the symptom of the soul’s presence is perceived as individual consciousness.” We are each expressions of the Lord as sun rays are expressions of the sun. Is Swami Prabhupada comparing the Lord to consciousness? And a soul as an expression of that consciousness? Because of the limits perceived in our physical bodies, we believe that we are individual souls or consciousnesses, when in fact, according to Krishna, we are each part of a larger whole. Like a radio tunes into a certain stream of waves at a time, but there is so much more out there to listen to.

If this is all true, Krishna says to Arjuna (verse 18), then by killing these people he is only killing their bodies, not their souls. If you take this as an internal battle, then you cannot remove the emotion or thought pattern from existence, rather you stop seeing it as something with weight. Another way to put this would be, you stop clinging to the patterns as if they were permanent, but allow them to arise and pass as a physical body would.

Verses 19, 20 and 21 all have Krishna elaborating on how the Self, therefore, cannot be slain as they exist beyond the constraints of the physical body.

Verse 22: “As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.”

In the same way that the soul is not directly affected by the body, Krishna teaches in verse 23 that since the soul is immaterial it is not affected by the five elements (earth, air, fire, water, metal/ether/depends on your tradition). Thus, it is not possible to “cut” the individual soul from the Supreme Soul (verses 24 and 25).

I understand that this can all be a little hard to take in as it does not coincide with our Western traditions. Well, to help with that, Krishna adds the teachings of verse 26, which say that if you do not believe the soul is separate from the body there is still no reason to grieve. If the soul is only “attained” when a certain chemical and material reaction occurs, then it is merely a loss of a particular bulk of chemicals. Also, if this is the case there is no rebirth so Arjuna has no need to fear karma from killing his family and superiors.

Verse 27: “For one who has taken his birth, death is certain; and for one who is dead, birth is certain.” If your duty is a warrior, do not lament as you are merely carrying out a natural progression of events.

So, that’s all fine and dandy, but if the soul is separate from the body, but the body is it’s tether here, where does it go after the body ceases to be? That’s addressed in verse 28 when Krishna says that the soul returns to it’s original unmanifest state (which can only be fully understood with enlightenment and attainment of capital K Knowledge. However, verse 29 does hint that the atomic soul exists in every bit of organ matter, for those who believe the body and soul are indefinitely attached, this may be easier to swallow. Then, after death, the soul would stay in the atoms as they break down and reenter the flow of life (soil – plants – food – animals – death – etc)

And we will end at verse 30 where Krishna summarizes that the eternal soul is indestructible.

If we say chapter one has a theme of meditation, then chapter two would have the theme of jnana – knowledge. In practice, meditation leads to knowledge, so both are considered part of the jnana tradition. There is also an element of bhakti – devotion – throughout the entire Gita as Arjuna is surrendering to Krishna as a guiding divine light.

Next week we’ll continue from verse 31.


2 thoughts on “Sutra Study: Bhagavad Gita Chapter 2 Verses 1-30

  1. Pingback: Sutra Study: Bhagavad Gita Chapter 4 Verses 1-23 | Engaging Tapas

  2. Pingback: Sutra Study: Bhagavad Gita Chapter 4 Verse 1-23 | Chraeloos

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