Gita series – part 13. Bhagavad Gita Chapter II. Verses– 19-22:

Krishna continues “the one who thinks that he kills the soul or the one who thinks that soul can be killed are ignorant as the Self does not kill nor it is killed. The soul has neither birth nor death. The soul is neither born nor does it perish. It is not that it existed before nor it is going to exist again. The soul is without birth and death, eternal, does not undergo changes, old and does not get killed when physical body is killed” (verses 19 and 20) Here Soul is referred to as the Brahman or the Supreme Self. The soul where our karmas are embedded should not be confused here with the Brahman that Gita talks about. Gita does not distinguish between soul and the Brahman. It talks about jivatma and Paramatma. When atma is inside a living being it is called jivatma and the same atman’s all pervading nature is called Paramatma.

Probably the following reference in Svetashvatara Upanishad (IV.6) might help in understanding the jivatma (soul) and the Paramatma (Brahman the Supreme). Two birds, individual self (soul) and the Cosmic Self (the Brahman) occupy the same tree (the gross body subject to death). The first bird (soul) eats and enjoys the fruits of the tree. The other bird (the Brahman) just sits on the same tree and merely witnesses the action of first bird eating fruits. This bird acts as a spectator. The first bird suffers because of overeating and the suffering of the first bird is also being watched by the second bird. In other words, the first bird simply watches the happiness and sorrow of the first bird. The first bird’s happiness is temporary and the second bird does not feel the difference between good and bad. When the tree is cut (death of the physical body), both the birds fly away (both jivatma and paramatma leave the physical body at the time of death). Krishna’s explanation is lucid. The atma has no connection with the physical body. We should not be under the illusion that when the physical body dies, the atma also dies. The atma is eternal (be it jivatma or Paramatma) and it has no birth or death and even it does not undergo changes along with the aging process of the body. When somebody is killed it means that only his gross body is killed and not the atman. Atman leaves the physical body once the body stops functioning. But the same atman existed even before this physical body, during the tenor of this physical body and shall continue to exist even after the death of this physical body.

Let us assume that a physical body lives for 90 years and during these 90 years, the atman does not undergo any modifications or changes along with the aging of the body. Therefore the Atman does not have birth and death, hence called eternal. When the body is killed, the atman is not killed simply because it cannot be killed. Krishna continues “Oh! Partha! When one knows that this atman is imperishable, eternal, birth less and without modifications, to whom and how he could cause death?” (verse 21). Krishna gradually begins his preaching. He says the eternal soul cannot be destroyed by human efforts. Krishna continues “It is like a man discarding his old clothes and wearing a new one” (verse 22). The soul gets a new physical body when the existing physical body ceases to function. Krishna says that the transition of soul from one body to another is as simple as changing our clothes. Krishna addresses Arjuna as Partha, reminding his father’s lineage that is known for its valor. (to be continued)

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