Bhagavad-Gita, Plain and Simple — Chapter Two.
This is the third installment of my Bhagavad-Gita series. Please click here for the previous discussion.
Although they were right in the middle of two armies on the brink of war, Krishna began speaking calmly to Arjuna, with a reassuring smile:
“You are using words like ‘karma’ and ‘peace.’ You sound like a wise and saintly person. But do you really comprehend these words? I don’t think so, because those who really are wise and saintly are never overwhelmed by depression. They know that there is nothing to lament over, neither in life nor in death.” 
Arjuna would say: “How can there be nothing lamentable? Death is especially sad. When a person dies they lose everything and we lose them.”
So Krishna replies:
“We never cease to exist. I always existed. You always existed. All these people around you always existed. And all of us will always exist.” 
This establishes two fundamental points:
(1) The law of “conservation of energy” states that energy is never lost, it merely changes form. This law also applies to life-energy, e.g. soul, which has always existed and will always exist—although it constantly transforms into different forms.
(2) The individual particles of life-force maintain distinct individuality throughout their changes of state. Each individual—be it Krishna, or you or I—has always been and will always be an individual. This is directly opposed to the monistic idea that when liberated life-force loses its individuality and “merges” into God absolutely.
“Life-force constantly changes form. Even in this one lifetime it passes from childhood to youth and eventually to old-age; and after this lifetime it similarly transforms into an entirely new body. People who really are wise are not confused about this.” 
Here, Krishna establishes the concept of reincarnation in a scientifically rational manner consistent with the law of conservation of energy.
Arjuna would say: “Yes, yes, but nonetheless the death of loved ones is a very unpleasant transformation to experience.”
So Krishna replies:
“Pleasure and displeasure are superficial things, stimulated by the contact of our senses with desirable or undesirable objects and situations. Pleasure and displeasure are just sensations, like hot and cold; they come and go on their own just like winter and summer. Don’t make important decisions based on superficial sensations. Tolerate them and never let them dissuade you from doing what you must. That way, you will not incur karma and will become liberated.” [14-15]
Arjuna’s inability to fight arose from him realizing that, win or lose, he would suffer terribly. Krishna’s response is that pleasure and displeasure is not a crucial factor in the decision making process of wise and moral persons. They always do what they must; be it pleasant or unpleasant. So, their actions are free from personal motivation, which means they accrue no personal karma and quickly attain a natural condition of unmitigated joy—“liberation.”
The ability to tolerate superficial problems rests on sound awareness that one is separate and distinct from those problems. We are eternal, and our problems are temporary.
So Krishna explains:
“Something that can be destroyed never really existed; and something that truly exists cannot be destroyed. People with real vision see it this way.” 
Arjuna will ask, “Well, what ‘really exists’ and cannot be destroyed?”
So Krishna replies:
“The thing that cannot be destroyed is everywhere, pervading everything. It is impossible to destroy the indestructible.” 
Life-force is everywhere in the universe, giving energy to matter. Life-force is everywhere in the body, giving consciousness to it.
Arjuna will now ask, “What ‘doesn’t really exist’ and is always destroyed?”
So Krishna replies:
“The body of the indestructible and infinite soul is destructible. Therefore fight!” 
“Someone thinks he is a killer. Someone else thinks he is killed. Neither of them knows the truth: The soul cannot kill or be killed.” 
Can the eternality of the soul be used to justify murder? Yes, it can. In the case of Bhagavad-Gita, it would require ignoring the fact that Arjuna was forced by his social duty to do something that involves killing. He does not seek to kill, rather he seeks to avoid it. A twisted person will, of course, ignore this or rationalize it to be similar to his or her own situation. Any beautiful shape can be twisted or marred into something horrible by a sufficiently twisted and horrible person.
“Never created, never destroyed; without past, present and future; it is unborn, eternal, ever-existing and primeval. It is not killed when the body dies.” 
Krishna references this passage from Katha Upanisad (1.2.18) to footnote the authenticity of what he has explained to Arjuna.
“Arjuna, you know that the soul is indestructible and eternal, unborn and undying. So why do you fear that you will hurt or kill anyone? When the soul relinquishes one form it takes another; just like you get new clothes to replace old ones that have worn out. Life-force can never be destroyed or damaged: you can’t cut it with a blade; you can’t burn it with flame; you can’t dissolve it in water, nor erode it with the wind. Unbreakable, unburnable, insoluble, un-erodible life-force pervades everything and is everlasting, immovable and eternally independent. The self-realized describe it as non-manifest, beyond-conception and without actual transformation. So, if you understand this, why should you lament?” [21-25]
Arjuna might say, “Maybe I don’t really believe or understand this!?”
So Krishna says:
“O hero, even if you think life is constantly created and destroyed; why lament? If life comes from nothingness, then when it returns to nothingness, what’s to worry about?” [26-27]
Thinking that life comes from, and returns to, nothingness is just another type of reincarnation. If life comes from nothingness, then death is just a “return to square one.”
Krishna has presented two versions of reincarnation—one involving an eternally distinct soul, and another not involving such a thing. Arjuna will want to know which theory Krishna prefers. So Krishna says:
“There are many, many opinions about it, because the mysterious soul is very difficult to understand, either by direct perception, inference or discussion. But my friend, take it from me: eternal and indestructible life-force dwells within all bodies. Therefore no one should grieve.” [29-30]
Krishna states his opinion that reincarnation involving an eternally distinct quantum of life-force is the more accurate of the two theories.
Sometimes it sounds like Krishna tells Arjuna not to cry for anyone, which seems very cold-hearted and without compassion. However, this is a mistake. Compassion is at the very foundation of the Vedic cultural ethic that Krishna and Arjuna live in. Krishna is not saying, “Do not lament for anyone.” He is saying, “No one truly has any need to lament. No one falls into any truly lamentable condition.” This is essentially the same thing, but the slight difference of wording in the first gives the misleading impression that Krishna is cold-hearted.
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He is also a practicing astrologer, prolific writer and former guitarist and song writer in the popular underground spiritual-punk band, 108. His astrology website is available here.
Editor: Thaddeus Haas
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