SankarAcArya's bhagavad gItA bhAshya: 2. 22-23

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM
Fri Jun 18 19:37:32 CDT 1999

The discussion of karma and renunciation in gItA 2. 21 is quite long and
will appear in other posts. Meanwhile, the commentary on verses
2. 22 and 2. 23 are little more than word for word explanations, so I take
them up first. The commentary itself serves more or less as the translation
of the verses.

Commentary -

Let us discuss the immediate context. The indestructibility of the Atman has
been asserted (in verse 2. 21). In what way? It is said,

Verse -
vAsAMsi jIrNAni yathA vihAya navAni gRhNAti naro 'parANi |
tathA SarIrANi vihAya jIrNAny anyAni saMyAti navAni dehI || 2. 22 ||

Prose order - yathA naraH jIrNAni vAsAMsi vihAya aparANi navAni gRhNAti,
tathA dehI jIrNAni SarIrANi vihAya anyAni navAni saMyAti |

yathA - just as
naraH - a man
jIrNAni vAsAMsi - old, worn-out clothes
vihAya - having discarded
aparANi -others
navAni - new (clothes)
gRhNAti - grasps (bere, puts on)
tathA - in the same way
dehI - the embodied being, the Self
jIrNAni SarIrANi - worn-out bodies
vihAya - having discarded
anyAni - others
navAni - new (bodies)
saMyAti - goes towards, proceeds to.

Commentary - Just as in the world, a man puts on other, new clothes, having
discarded his worn-out ones, similarly, the Self proceeds to new bodies,
having discarded the old worn-out ones. Atman itself remains unchanged.

In what way does the Atman remain unchanged? (The Lord) says,

Verse -
nainaM chindanti SastrANi nainaM dahati pAvakaH |
na cainaM kledayanty Apo na Soshayati mArutaH || 2. 23 ||

na - not. In this verse, it serves to negate all the actions that
     are indicated in the subsequent verbs.
enaM - this (Atman)
ca - and
SastrANi chindanti - weapons cut
pAvakaH dahati - fire burns
Apah kledayanti - waters wet (moisten)
mArutaH Soshayati - wind dries.

Commentary - This embodied Self is partless, so that swords and other
weapons cannot tear it apart. Similarly, the fire does not burn it or
convert it to ashes. And so also, water does not wet it. Water can only wet
a thing that has parts, by seeping between the parts of the thing. This is
impossible in the partless Atman. Similarly, air destroys a sticky thing (or
a thing that is stuck) by drying out the sticky substance. [1] But even
strong wind [2] cannot "dry" this Atman.

Notes -

1. The commentary reads, tathA snehavad dravyaM snehaSoshaNena nASayati
vAyuH. Warrier refers to the destruction of an oil-soaked material by the
air drying of the oil. This is because the word sneha is most often
translated as oil. I have chosen a more general translation than oil,
because of SankarAcArya's use of nASa - destruction. This is based on the
verb root snih, which generally means "to be adhesive or sticky" (see the
Monier-Williams Skt-English dictionary p. 1267a). sneha is that which is
sticky or an adhesive substance. snehaSoshaNa is the process of drying up
the said sneha, while snehavad dravyam is either the substance that is
sticky or the thing that is stuck to or attached to another by means of
sneha. The idea is that the Atman is really unattached to the body, even
while being embodied.

The common use of the word sneha to mean friendship/affection/attachment
also comes from the same root.

2. The commentary reads, na Soshayati mArutaH api, i.e. even the mArutaH
does not dry it. The word mArutaH is derived from marut, a word referring to
a class of Vedic deities associated with Indra, usually thought to be gods
of the storm-winds. The general quality associated with the maruts is one of
might and strength that can cause destruction. Hence I have translated
mArutaH simply as strong wind here.


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