[Advaita-l] GITA - 2.21

Amuthan aparyap at yahoo.co.in
Thu Jan 26 13:20:07 CST 2006

namo nArAyaNAya!

having taught the immutable nature of the self,
kR^iShNa now teaches the impossibility of any form of
action for the self,

vedAvinAshinaM nityaM ya enamajamavyayam.
kathaM sa puruShaH pArtha kaM ghAtayati hanti kam..

O arjuna, how can a man who knows the imperishable,
eternal, unborn and indestructible (self) slay anyone
or cause anyone to be slain?

the various descriptions of the self found in the
first half of the shloka such as avinAshi ... avyaya
have been discussed earlier. the purpose is to show
the immutable nature of the self. 

the question in the second half of the shloka is to be
understood in the sense of showing an obvious
impossibility. it denies any form of kartR^itva
(agentship) for the self. here, the act of slaying is
chosen as a particular instance of an action. the
reason for stating that the self cannot slay or cause
something to be slain is that it is immutable. since
the immutability of the self is not dependent on any
particular action such as slaying and is true always,
the nature of the self as an akartA is true for all
actions in general. 

here, 'puruSha' refers to a knower of the self. he who
knows this unchanging self *directly* cannot act or
cause something to act since any form of action is
possible only after a superimposition of the non-self
on the self. for the self, there is neither action nor
inaction. the sense of doership that we normally
possess is only as real as that we have during a dream
and vanishes when the self is realized.  

the very fact that kR^iShNa says that a knower of the
self cannot act or cause to act implies that all forms
of actions enjoined by the shAstra-s are only for a
non-knower of the self. in other words, the scriptures
are valid only for an aj~nAni and not for a j~nAni.
for a j~nAni, there are no actions to be performed. 

(this summarizes the meaning of the shloka, but there
is a lot more to be said. BP's bhAShya is quite tricky
for this shloka. on the face of it, some parts of it
seems to suggest that Atma j~nAna is only an
intellectual knowledge. but a careful study of the
bhAShya reveals that this is not the AchArya's
intention. this subject becomes all the more important
when we take into account the fact that some
vedAntin-s maintain that self knowledge is *only* an
intellectual knowledge. my understanding is that Atma
j~nAna is certainly not intellectual but rather the
very essence of the self itself. the arguments given
below is my understanding of BP's bhAShya and hence
may be flawed. i request the learned members to
correct me if i'm wrong.) 

the act of 'knowing' is possible only by the
identification of the self with the buddhi
(intellect). in truth, there is no such thing as
'knowing' for the self. the knowledge of the self
(Atma j~nAna) is quite different from an intellectual
knowledge of the form 'i am the one supreme unchanging
self...' that is learnt from the guru and the
shAstra-s. the former is the very nature of the self
whereas the latter is only an intellectual conviction
(buddhi vR^itti). the problems related to self
knowledge being intellectual or not arise mainly
because an intellectual knowledge of the self is also
sometimes referred to as 'Atma j~nAna'. to avoid
ambiguity, both the terms 'self knowlege' and 'Atma
j~nAna' will be used here in the sense of the
intrinsic j~nAna that the self is and not in the sense
of any form of intellectual knowledge.  

while commenting on this shloka, BP mainly targets
some paNDita-s who say that sannyAsa (abandoning all
prescribed duties) is not prescribed by the shAstra-s
for a *mumukShu* since a mumukShu is also ignorant of
the self and so, even mumukShu-s are entitled to their
svadharmAnuShThAna. the most important thing to be
kept in mind is that the rest of BP's bhAShya is
written largely to show that the shAstra-s allow
mumukShu-s to give up all prescribed duties (i.e. take
up sannyAsa). that a j~nAni has no connection with
actions is very clear and is not the main issue here. 

the objection is met as follows: a knowledge of nitya
karma-s like agnihotra does not affect the sense of
doership present before such a knowledge was obtained,
rather, it is only upon the presupposition of doership
that such acts are prescribed. but, statements like
'nAyaM hanti na hanyate' etc. which teach the nature
of the self produce an *intellectual* knowledge of the
form 'i (the self) am not a doer'. though this
intellectual knowledge is only parokSha j~nAna, it
still shows the futility of performing any karma as
far as the destruction of avidyA is concerned. in this
sense, they alter the previously existent ideas of
doership. as the mumukShu's goals are different, he is
asked to renounce all actions. since knowledge gained
from the shAstra-s (like 'i am not a doer') is valid,
it is not altogether against the shAstra-s that
mumukShu-s take up sannyAsa.  

a proper study of the shAstra-s under a competent guru
produces first an *intellectual* knowledge about the
self. this is not the same as realizing the self. just
as we get to know the difference between dharma and
adharma based on the shAstra-s, so also, we get to
know the nature of the self from the shAstra-s. based
on this (intellectual) knowledge alone, a competent
mumukShu may take up sannyAsa. but this (intellectual)
knowledge cannot be asserted to be Atma j~nAna.
shruti-s like 'manasaivAnudraShTavyam' - 'by the mind
alone it is to be perceived' - which seem to suggest
that self knowledge is intellectual are to be
undertood in the following sense - gurUpadesha and the
shAstra-s produce a particular modification of the
mind which help in the process of it's own
destruction. they do not cause Atma j~nAna or if they
are said to cause, it only means that they help in the
destruction of the mind. Atma j~nAna is ever attained.
the meaning of such shruti-s is that the properly
cultured mind is easily annihilated. as stated
earlier, the self itself is of the nature of knowledge
(j~nAna) and this j~nAna is *quite* different from any
intellectual knowledge. thus, while an intellectual
knowledge helps, self knowledge is complete only when
it is sAkShAd aparokSha j~nAna.

this digression was made only to show that self
knowledge is not intellectual, but rather something
that is to be realized directly. the other important
outcome is that even jij~nAsu-s are entitled to

for non-sannyAsi-s, this shloka is to be understood as
removing all obstructions in the form of aha~NkAra or
mamakAra that prevent the proper performance of vihita
karma-s. in the context of the kurukShetra war,
kR^iShNa teaches arjuna to abandon his false
attachments and do his prescribed duty knowing for
sure that his self would not be affected by any of his

vAsudevaH sarvaM,

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