There truly is no unimportant verse in all of the Bhagavad Gita. Even so, it is not incorrect to say that verse II-13 of that text is an important one -- for it clears doubts that beginning seekers such as oneself are very likely to carry. One such fundamental doubt is, of course, whether there really is such a thing as a soul; if there is not, then materialism and the dictum of carpe diem should be considered the right path, and there is no purpose to any spiritual quest that assumes that one has any existence beyond the present lifetime. Many schools of thought do not clearly address this doubt, thus rendering their further postulations questionable, but the Bhagavad Gita does so at the outset.

One common story concerning the school of materialism is that there was once a man who went to Brhaspati, the preceptor of the gods, seeking spiritual counsel. The latter, apparently believing the former to be an unworthy student, instructed him falsely (as in Prajapati's false instruction to Virochana in the eighth chapter of the chhAndogya) that the body is all there is, and there is no meaning to spiritual quests: the well-known verse

  yAvajjIvet.h sukhaM jIvet.h R^iNaM kR^itvA ghR^itaM pibet.h  |
  bhasmIbhUtasya dehasya punarAgamanaM kutaH  ||

  As long as you live, live merrily; [even by] taking loans, drink
  ghee (i.e., enjoy yourself); for how can the body, subject to
  cremation, ever return?
-- is commonly attributed to Brhaspati, and is supposed to describe the doctrine of materialism, which is named `chArvAka' after the student. While it is doubtful if materialists would bother to study Brhaspati's teachings and claim it as their own, it is without doubt that this line of thinking is most common in the world (hence its other name, `lokAyata'), and thus in an important pUrva-paxa that needs to be refuted at the outset of one's spiritual quest. At the outset of His discourse, Krishna tells Arjuna that his grief is uncalled for as the wise do not grieve either for the living or the dead (II-11); He then adds that He, Krishna, he, Arjuna, and the kings present whose destruction Arjuna feared, are all without beginning or end (so there was no reason to fear their destruction). Now, we pick up from the tail end of Sri Raghavendra Tîrtha's commentary on verse II-12:
  evaM chaivamanAdinityA jIvAH kathaM nAma shochyAH, anAdinityajIvAnAM
  nAshabhItyA `na yotsya' ityAditvadIyA vAdAH kathaM prAj~namataviruddhA
  na bhaveyuriti bhAvaH  || 12 ||

  Thus, too, since all jIva-s are beginningless and eternal, how are they
  to be grieved upon; would statements such as `na yotsye' (I shall not
  fight the war) on account of the fear of destruction of the beginningless 
  and eternal jIva-s not be contrary to the opinion of the wise? -- thus is 
  the purport.

  dehanAshabhayAditi dvitIyapaxaM nirAha --

  That it (the fear) is on account of bodily destruction, thus a
  second objection is refuted thus:

  dehino.asmin.h yathA dehe kaumAraM yauvanaM jarA  |
  tathA dehAntaraprAptirdhIrastatra na muhyati  || 13 ||

  Just as the embodied experiences the infancy, the youth, and the
  old age of the body; so also the obtaining of another body, and
  in this matter the intelligent one is not deluded.
Commentary continued:
  dehinaH dehavato jIvasya asminnidAnIM vartamAne sthUladehe kaumAraM
  yauvanaM jarA cha yathA prApnoti tathA dehAntaraprAptiH  |  ayaM
  bhAvaH  |  kaumArAvasthAvishishhTadehahAne yauvanAvasthAvishishhTa-
  dehahAne cha shokastAvannAstIti prasiddham.h  |  tatkuta iti
  vAchyam.h  |  jarAdivishishhTadehAntaralAbhAt.h  |  samAnalAbhena
  hAnirhi samAdhIyata iti chet.h  |  mR^itAvapi shoko na kAryaH
  dehAntaralAbhAdeva  |  yadA tu jIrNadehalAbhena samIchInayauvana-
  dehahAneH pratinidhiH, tadA sutarAM samIchInadehAntaralAbhena
  jIrNadehahAneriti  |  ato dhIraH buddhimAn.h tatra dehanAshavishhaye
  na muhyati na mohaM prApnoti  |  `eteshhAM dehAH nashyanti' iti
  shokaM na prApnoti, iti arthaH  |

  Just as the `dehina', i.e., the embodied soul, obtains the infancy,
  the youth, and the agedness of its gross body, so also with its
  obtaining of a different body.  Thus is the purport -- it is well
  known that upon losing the body of infancy, or the body of youth,
  there is no grief.  So why is that? -- because the body of old age,
  etc., is obtained.  But given the identical loss and gain, there is
  a balance (and hence no cause of grief), so say you?  Even in case
  of death, grief is likewise completely inappropriate, on account of 
  the obtaining of another body.  Just as upon the gain of a worn body
  and the loss of a youthful one [there is no grief], so also for the
  loss of a worn body to enable the gain of a new, different body
  -- thus [is the purport].  Therefore, `dhIraH', i.e., the intelligent,
  `na muhyati', i.e., do not get deluded in the matter of bodily
  destruction.  "These bodies will get destroyed," thus they do not
  grieve, so is the purport.

  tatrAvasthAmAtrahAniH, atrAvasthAvato.apIti vaishhamyamanupayuktam.h  | 
  nishhkadAnena paTagrahaNadR^ishhTeriti  |  atra dehina ityuktyA
  dehavato jIvasyaiva na tu dehadehinabhedahInasya harerjarAdyavasthA
  dehAntarAvAptirveti sUchitam.h  |

  There, only the [bodily] state (i.e., youth, etc.) is lost, whereas
  here, even the body [that undergoes a change of state] is -- on this
  account, sorrow is not called for.  For it is just like the acquiring
  of clothes upon payment of money.  By saying `dehina', that it is the
  embodied jIva alone, not Sri Hari who is the same as His body, who
  undergoes old age, etc., and the change of bodies, is indicated.
At this point, the chArvAka objects:
  dehAnya jIva eva nAsti  |  evaM cha tvadAdayo janAdhipA nityAH
  anAdinityatvAditi prAguktaprayoge dehapaxIkAre asiddhibAdhau
  jIvapaxIkAre chAshrayAsiddhiriti tR^itIyapaxamAshaN^kya pariharati
  -- `dehina', iti  |
  There is no jIva apart from the body. Thus, too, in the earlier
  stated (verse II-12), "the kings are eternal, for being without
  beginning or end," (i) if the body is referred to, then this is
  contradicted by present hypothesis (since it is accepted here that
  the body undergoes change and destruction); and (ii) if the soul is
  referred to, then there is acceptance of an unproven hypothesis
  (to wit, that a soul apart from the body does exist) -- to remove
  such a third doubt, it is stated, `dehina', thus.
By this, Sri Raghavendra Tîrtha illustrates a case where a doubt arising out of a verse of the Bhagavad Gita is answered by another interpretation of the same verse:
  atra kaumArAdivishhayeNa tadanubhavo vishhayI laxyate  |  dehina
  ityasya dehAdanyasyetyarthaH  |  deho.asyAstItyarthe matubarthe
  nipratyayavidhAnAt.h  |  ekavachanAdekasyetyapi labhyate  |
  dehAntarashabdo.atrAnekadehaparaH  |
  Here, the experiencer who undergoes the experiences of infancy, etc.,
  is indicated.  By saying "the embodied," that which is different
  from the body is the [intended] meaning (as it would make no sense
  to describe the body itself as "the embodied").  Because the `ni'
  pratyaya (in `dehina') is intended, as per the rules of grammatical
  usage, to indicate the referent's present ownership of the body
  (deha).  By use of the singular, that this happens to one (i.e.,
  that the infant, the youth, etc., are all one person) is indicated.
  By use of the word `dehAntara', [the occupancy] by the single 
  individual of many other bodies is indicated.
  tathA chAyamarthaH  |  asmindehe kaumAraM kaumArAnusandhAnaM, 
  yauvanaM yauvanAnusandhAnaM, jarA jarAnusandhAnaM, yo.ahaM 
  kaumArasharIravAnabhUvaM sa idAnIM jIrNasharIravAnvarte ityevaM 
  rUpeNa tAvadasti  |  tachcha dehino dehavato dehAnyasyeti yAvat.h  |  
  dehashabdo.atra dehendriya antaHkaraNasaN^ghAtparaH  |  dehendriya 
  antaHkaraNebhyo.anyasya chetanasya bhavati  |  dehAderjaDatvena
  anusandhAnakartR^itvAyogAt.h  |  evaM cha dehendriyAdito.atirikta
  jIvasiddhiH  |

  This too is meant -- in this body, infancy, or the infant experience;
  youth, or the youthful experience; old age, or the aged experience,
  in respect of this it is only said, "I had an infant body previously,
  and now I have a youthful one," "I had a youthful body previously,"
  and now I have an aged one," thus.  This shows that the `dehina',
  the embodied, is different from the body.  Here, `deha' signifies
  the union of the material body, the sense organs, and the psyche.
  The sentient entity ["I"] is different from the body, the sense
  organs, and the psyche.  Because, since the body, etc., are
  insentient, they cannot be credited with action by volition.  Thus,
  too, the existence of a jIva apart from the body, sense organs,
  etc., is proved.
As seen, Krishna swiftly turns the tables on the chArvAka with an argument based on spiritual relativity: it is seen that the body's infancy, youth, etc., and its change, are experienced -- so who's the experiencer? Not the body itself, surely, for without a fixed point or frame of reference, change cannot be observed. So it is impossible to explain changes in the material body, the sense organs, and the psyche, without accepting the existence of another, unchanging entity back of all of them.

Continuing with the commentary:

  tathA chaikavachanabalAdekasyaiva dehAdanyasya kaumArAdyaneka-
  dehAnusandhAnaM yathA tathA dehAntaraprAptiranekadehaprAptirdehino
  dehAdanyasyaikasyaiva bhavatIti pUrvArdhena dehAdanyasiddhiH  |
  tripAdyA choktavidhayA.anekadehaprAptimAnsiddha iti dehAdanyajIva-
  paxIkArenAshrayAsiddhiH  |  pratyagrajAtasya shishorAhArAdya-
  bhilAshheNa pUrvapUrvataradehAnusandhAnena siddhAnekadehAnugatyA
  anAditvasiddherna hetoH svarUpAsiddhiriti bhAvaH  |

  Also, if as shown, the existence of a separate entity from the three
  bodily states, on that obtains different bodies, is accepted, then
  there is no acceptance of an unproven hypothesis [as alleged by the
  chArvAka].  The behavior of a new-born desirous of food, in a manner
  similar to that shown by it in many previous bodies proves the
  beginningless-ness of the entity which inhabits these many bodies,
  so it is not to be claimed that the nature of the referent (the jIva)
  is unproven.
Our commentator deals with a further objection as follows:
  nanu dehAdyanyatamasyaivAstvanusandhAnam.h  |  chArvAkAdyuktatarka-
  balAdityata Aha -- `dhIra' iti  |  buddhimA.nstatra dehAdanyAtma-
  vishhaye na muhyati  |  dehAdInAM jaDatvakaraNatvAdinA kartR^itvAyoga
  ityAdirUpeNa te tarkA nirasyA iti bhAvaH  || 13 ||

  But there may be behavior *as if* there were something very
  different from the body, and this is explainable by the chArAka's
  logic (that consciousness arises out of a living body spontaneously,
  as does alcohol out of fermenting juice).  For that, it is stated,
  `dhIra', thus.  The intelligent one is not deceived in the matter of 
  the soul that is different from the body.  Given the insentience of 
  the body, it cannot be an actor -- based on suchlike objections, your 
  (the chArvAka's) arguments are implausible, thus is the purport.

N.B.  The derivation of the need for dharma, etc., and the prAmANya of Shruti are also discussed in detail in the 'tattva-nirNaya.  Scholars well-versed in that text may be consulted in this regard.

Srimad Ananda Tîrtha's commentary may be of interest in this connection.

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This article is due to Shrisha Rao.

Created February 19, 1999.