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The Indestructible Self

Part 13 of the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

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In the first chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, which sets the stage for its other seventeen chapters, we are told that: “Krishna brought the chief chariot to stand in the midst of the two armies. Thus facing Bhishma, Drona, and all the rulers of the earth, Krishna said: Behold, Arjuna, these Kurus assembled here. Arjuna saw standing there fathers, grandfathers, teachers, maternal uncles, brothers, sons, grandsons as well as friends, fathers-in-law and companions in the two armies. In both of them he saw all relatives arrayed. Then filled with profound pity, desponding” (1:24-28), he spoke, filled with grief at the thought of the impending death of those he respected so highly and loved so dearly.

At first Krishna attempts to incite Arjuna to battle by speaking of duty and honor. This does not succeed, so he quickly passes on to the subject of the Self from which perspective alone could Arjuna truly engage in a righteous war. At one point he assures Arjuna:

This embodied Self is eternally indestructible in the body of all. Therefore you should not mourn for any being (2:30).

The Self is absolutely immutable. In a sense nothing ever even happens to it. Rather, it remains the silent, unchanging witness of all that goes on around it–but never within it or even with it or near it. In the fifth chapter Krishna describes the enlightened individual as being like a lotus leaf resting, unwetted, on water. This is not an ideal for Arjuna to strive for, but is the actual state of all sentient beings–they are never touched by anything, not even by God since God is the essence of their being. To understand that nothing ever really affects us is an essential insight, but the experiencing of it is much better.

The main point of Krishna’s statement is that it is unreasonable to mourn or grieve for anyone, since nothing has happened to them, however horrendous the appearance might be. Nor has anything really happened to us who have witnessed it. Not even their death has altered us in any degree.

When we lived in the Anza-Borrego desert we encountered an eccentric man who was caretaker of a friend’s property there. In speaking to us about him she commented that he had starred in his own movie for too long a time. That remark was both insightful and humorous, but it happens to be the truth about all of us. We are sitting in the “sense-surround” theater completely absorbed in the movies of our many lives and completely identifying with the spectacle. None of it is ultimately real, yet we suffer terribly. How is this? Unhappily, rather than “losing” our minds we have “found” them, become immersed in them, and now identify with them totally. All that happens to our body and mind we think is happening to us. And so we pass through a panorama of mistaken responses to the passing show.

Both birth and death are illusions, but that makes them no less painful if we identify with that which undergoes those changes. We must not just intellectually understand this, we must actually separate ourselves from the illusory contact and be what we already are: the indestructible Self. Then all suffering ceases–suffering that never really existed except as a mirage caused by non-existent phenomena. For Krishna assures us: “You dream you are the doer, you dream that action is done, you dream that action bears fruit. It is your ignorance, it is the world’s delusion that gives you these dreams” (5:14. Prabhavananda translation).

Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: “Happy the Warrior”

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Introduction to The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

Preface to The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

Bhagavad Gita for Awakening links:

  1. The Battlefield of the Mind
  2. On the Field of Dharma
  3. Taking Stock
  4. The Smile of Krishna
  5. Birth and Death–The Great Illusions
  6. Experiencing the Unreal
  7. The Unreal and the Real
  8. The Body and the Spirit
  9. Know the Atman!
  10. Practical Self-Knowledge
  11. Perspective on Birth and Death
  12. The Wonder of the Atman
  13. The Indestructible Self
  14. “Happy the Warrior”
  15. Buddhi Yoga
  16. Religiosity Versus Religion
  17. Perspective on Scriptures
  18. How Not To Act
  19. How To Act
  20. Right Perspective
  21. Wisdom About the Wise
  22. Wisdom About Both the Foolish and the Wise
  23. The Way of Peace
  24. Calming the Storm
  25. First Steps in Karma Yoga
  26. From the Beginning to the End
  27. The Real “Doers”
  28. Our Spiritual Marching Orders
  29. Freedom From Karma
  30. “Nature”
  31. Swadharma
  32. In the Grip of the Monster
  33. Devotee and Friend
  34. The Eternal Being
  35. The Path
  36. Caste and Karma
  37. Action–Divine and Human
  38. The Mystery of Action and Inaction
  39. The Wise in Action
  40. Sacrificial Offerings
  41. The Worship of Brahman
  42. Action–Renounced and Performed
  43. Freedom (Moksha)
  44. The Brahman-Knower
  45. The Goal of Karma Yoga
  46. Getting There
  47. The Yogi’s Retreat
  48. The Yogi’s Inner and Outer Life
  49. Union With Brahman
  50. The Yogi’s Future
  51. Success in Yoga
  52. The Net and Its Weaver
  53. Those Who Seek God
  54. Those Who Worship God and the Gods
  55. The Veil in the Mind
  56. The Big Picture
  57. The Sure Way To Realize God
  58. Day, Night, and the Two Paths
  59. The Supreme Knowledge
  60. Universal Being
  61. Maya–Its Dupes and Its Knowers
  62. Worshipping the One
  63. Going To God
  64. Wisdom and Knowing
  65. Going To The Source
  66. From Hearing To Seeing
  67. The Wisdom of Devotion
  68. Right Conduct
  69. The Field and Its Knower
  70. Interaction of Purusha and Prakriti
  71. Seeing the One Within the All
  72. The Three Gunas
  73. The Cosmic Tree
  74. Freedom
  75. The All-pervading Reality
  76. The Divine and the Demonic
  77. Faith and the Three Gunas
  78. Food and the Three Gunas
  79. Religion and the Three Gunas
  80. Tapasya and the Three Gunas
  81. Charity and the Three Gunas
  82. Sannyasa and Tyaga
  83. Deeper Insights On Action
  84. Knowledge, Action, Doer, and the Three Gunas
  85. The Three Gunas: Intellect and Firmness
  86. The Three Kinds of Happiness
  87. Freedom
  88. The Great Devotee
  89. The Final Words
  90. Glossary

Visit our e-library page for Free Downloads of this and other ebooks in various formats.

Read the Maharshi Gita, an arrangement of verses of the Bhagavad Gita made by Sri Ramana Maharshi that gives an overview of the essential message of the Gita.

Read The Bhagavad Gita (arranged in verses for singing) by Abbot George Burke (Swami Nirmalananda Giri).

Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary

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