SankarAcArya's bhagavad gItA bhAshya: 2. 19-20

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM
Tue Jun 1 13:49:53 CDT 1999

Commentary (introduction to verse 2. 19) -

The purpose of the gItA-SAstra is to remove the causes of transmigratory
existence, such as grief and delusion (Soka-moha), and not to enjoin action.
The Lord has quoted two Rks (Vedic verses) to elucidate this. (These two
verses are seen in kaTha upanishad, 2. 18-19.)

(Thus, Krishna says), "If you think, 'Bhishma and others are killed by me in
the war, I am indeed their killer,' this notion of yours is quite false."

Verse -

ya enaM vetti hantAraM yaS cainam manyate hatam |
ubhau tau na vijAnIto na ayaM hanti na hanyate || 2. 19 ||

ya - he who
enam - this
vetti - knows, considers
hantAram - (as a) killer
ca - and
yaH - he who
enam - this
manyate - thinks
hatam - is called
ubhau tau - both these (people)
na vijAnIto - do not know
na - not
ayaM - he
hanti - kills
na hanyate - is not killed.

He who thinks this (Atman) is a killer, and he who thinks it is killed, both
these people do not know (the Atman). He (the Atman) does not kill nor is he

Commentary -

He who knows this embodied Self as a killer, as the agent of the action of
killing, and the other who thinks, "I am killed," because of the killing of
the body, both of them do not know the Atman, due to lack of proper
discrimination (viveka). "I am a killer" and "I am killed" - those who think
thus when the body is slain, do not know the nature of the Self, the real
referent of the term "I". The Self, being changeless, does not kill - it is
not the agent of the action of killing - nor is it killed - it is not the
object of any action.

The second mantra explains how the Self is changeless -

Verse -

na jAyate mriyate vA kadAcin na ayaM bhUtvA abhavitA vA na bhUyaH |
ajo nityaS SASvato 'yaM purANo na hanyate hanyamAne SarIre || 2. 20 ||

na jAyate - is not born
mriyate vA - nor dies
kadAcit - ever
na vA - nor
ayaM - he
bhUtvA - having become
abhavitA - ceases to exist
bhUyaH - again
ajaH - unborn
nityaH - eternal
SASvataH - permanent
ayaM - he
purANaH - ancient
na hanyate - is not killed
hanyamAne SarIre - when the body is killed.

He is never born, never does he die; nor again does he cease to exist,
having once come into being. Unborn, Eternal, Permanent, Ancient, he is not
killed when the body is killed.

Commentary -

The Self is not born - the change characterized by birth, by production, is
not known of the Atman. Similarly, it does not die. The change characterized
by coming to an end or being destroyed is also refuted. The word ever
(kadAcit) implies the absence of all change. Thus, the Self is never born,
the Self never dies. In this world, when having once been, one ceases to be,
one is said to die. And when once having not-been, one comes into being, one
is said to be born. However, having come into being, the Self does not again
pass into non-existence. Therefore, the Self does not die. The words vA (or)
and na (not) together mean the following - Nor does the Self, having once
not-been, come into being, unlike the body. Therefore, the Self is not born.
As there is no birth, the Self is Unborn. And as the Self does not die, it
is Eternal.

Notes -

SankarAcArya correctly points out the force of the words na and vA.
Unlike English, where one can use the words never, neither and nor, the
Sanskrit language relies upon combinations of na (not), ca (and) and vA
(or). The idea behind this passage is to refute the notion that the Self
passes into non-being and also the notion that the Self comes into being.
This is done in the above seemingly roundabout manner. The reason behind
this is that if one were to assume that the Self has come into being, then
death is denied. It is then shown that birth is also not possible, thereby
denying the assumption that the Self ever came into being. This leads to the
words ajaH (unborn) and nityaH (eternal). This is a beautiful combination of
both the ajAti vAda found in the kArikAs of gauDapAdAcArya, SankarAcArya's
paramaguru, and the adhyAropa-apavAda (superimposition, followed by
negation) found in his own sUtrabhAshya.

Commentary (continued) -

Although by negating the changes assumed at the beginning and the end, all
change is immediately denied, still, for specifically refuting the changes
that happen in the middle, (Krishna) says, "Permanent" (SASvataH). Thus, all
changes that occur between birth and death, such as passing into youth etc.
are negated. That which lasts unchanged is permanent. Thus, by this word,
the transformation due to decay is negated. The Self does not decay of its
own accord, as it is partless. As it is attributes, it does not decay by
loss of attributes either. As opposed to decay, the transformation due to
growth is also negated by the term "Ancient" (purANaH). That which grows by
accumulating more parts is called "newly grown" (abhinava). This Self, being
partless, was ever "new" - even in ancient times. Hence it is called
"Ancient." The import is that the Self does not grow. Similarly, it is not
killed. To avoid repetition, the root 'han' (to kill) is to be taken
in the sense of destruction. [1] It is not destroyed when the body is

In this mantra, six kinds of transformations, that are known of mundane
things in the world, are negated of the Self. The point is that the Self is
devoid of all kinds of transformations. This is the relationship with the
previous mantra, which says, 'ubhau tau na vijAnItaH'. [2]

Notes -

[1] The idea behind this is that the Self does not die or decay of its
own accord, nor can it be destroyed by the action of another. Therefore, the
explicit explanation that this is not a repetition.

[2] The six kinds of transformation, birth, death, growth, decay,
maintenance and destruction, are denied with respect to the Self. Therefore,
he who thinks, "I kill," and he who thinks, "I am killed," both do not know
the Self. Thus, the second mantra (2. 20) is an elaboration of the statement
made in the previous verse.


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