Unit 2: Metaphysics

10 Atman and Self

Bhagavad Gita

Chapter 2: Transcendental Knowledge

Sanjaya said: Lord Krishna spoke these words to Arjuna whose eyes were tearful and downcast, and who was overwhelmed with compassion and despair. (2.01)

The Supreme Lord said: How has the dejection come to you at this juncture? This is not fit for an Aryan (or the people of noble mind and deeds). It is disgraceful, and it does not lead one to heaven, O Arjuna. (2.02)

Do not become a coward, O Arjuna, because it does not befit you. Shake off this weakness of your heart and get up (for the battle), O Arjuna. (2.03)

Arjuna said: How shall I strike Bheeshma and Drona, who are worthy of my worship, with arrows in battle, O Krishna? (2.04)

It would be better, indeed, to live on alms in this world than to slay these noble gurus, because, by killing them I would enjoy wealth and pleasures stained with (theirs) blood. (2.05)

Neither do we know which alternative (to beg or to kill) is better for us, nor do we know whether we shall conquer them or they will conquer us. We should not even wish to live after killing the sons of Dhritaraashtra who are standing in front of us. (2.06)

My heart is overcome by the weakness of pity, and my mind is confused about Dharma. I request You to tell me, decisively, what is better for me. I am Your disciple. Teach me who has taken refuge in You. (2.07)[1]

I do not perceive that gaining an unrivaled and prosperous kingdom on this earth, or even lordship over the gods will remove the sorrow that is drying up my senses. (2.08)

Sanjaya said: O King, after speaking like this to Lord Krishna, the mighty Arjuna said to Krishna: I shall not fight, and became silent. (2.09)

O King, Lord Krishna, as if smiling, spoke these words to the despondent Arjuna in the midst of the two armies. (2.10)

The Supreme Lord said: You grieve for those who are not worthy of grief, and yet speak the words of wisdom. The wise grieve neither for the living nor for the dead. (2.11)

There was never a time when I, you, or these kings did not exist; nor shall we ever cease to exist in the future. (2.12)

Just as the acquires a childhood body, a youth body, and an old age body during this life, similarly Atman acquires another body after death. The wise are not deluded by this. (See also 15.08) (2.13)[2]

The contacts of the senses with the sense objects give rise to the feelings of heat and cold, and pain and pleasure. They are transitory and impermanent. Therefore, (learn to) endure them, O Arjuna. (2.14)

Because the calm person, who is not afflicted by these feelings and is steady in pain and pleasure, becomes fit for immortality, O Arjuna. (2.15)

There is no nonexistence of the Sat (or Atman) and no existence of the Asat. The reality of these two is indeed certainly seen by the seers of truth. (2.16) (Sat exists at all times — past, present, and future. Atman is called Sat. Asat is a notion that does not exist at all (like the horn of a rabbit, or the water in a mirage). The one that has a beginning and an end is neither Sat nor Asat. The body is neither Sat nor Asat, or both Sat and Asat, because, it has a temporary existence. Mithya is the one that appears Sat at first sight, but is really Asat. Body, like the universe or Jagat, is called Mithya.)

Know That, by which all this (universe) is pervaded, to be indestructible. No one can destroy the indestructible (Atman) . (2.17)

Bodies of the eternal, imperishable, and incomprehensible soul are said to be perishable. Therefore, fight, O Arjuna. (2.18)

The one who thinks that Atman is a slayer, and the one who thinks that Atman is slain, both are ignorant, because Atman neither slays nor is slain. (2.19)

The Atman is neither born nor does it die at any time, nor having been it will cease to exist again. It is unborn, eternal, permanent, and primeval. The Atman is not destroyed when the body is destroyed. (2.20)

O Arjuna, how can a person who knows that the Atman is indestructible, eternal, unborn, and imperishable, kill anyone or cause anyone to be killed? (2.21)

Just as a person puts on new garments after discarding the old ones, similarly Atman acquires new bodies after casting away the old bodies. (2.22)

Weapons do not cut this Atman, fire does not burn it, water does not make it wet, and the wind does not make it dry. (2.23)

This Atman cannot be cut, burned, wetted, or dried up. It is eternal, all pervading, unchanging, immovable, and primeval. (2.24)

The Atman is said to be unmanifest, unthinkable, and unchanging. Knowing this Atman as such you should not grieve. (2.25)

If you think that this (body) takes birth and dies perpetually, even then, O Arjuna, you should not grieve like this. (2.26)

Because, death is certain for the one who is born, and birth is certain for the one who dies. Therefore, you should not lament over the inevitable. (2.27)

All beings, O Arjuna, are unmanifest before birth and after death. They are manifest between the birth and the death only. What is there to grieve about? (2.28)

Some look upon this Atman as a wonder, another describes it as wonderful, and others hear of it as a wonder. Even after hearing about it no one actually knows it. (2.29)

O Arjuna, the Atman that dwells in the body of all (beings) is eternally indestructible. Therefore, you should not mourn for any body. (2.30)

Considering also your duty as a warrior you should not waver. Because there is nothing more auspicious for a warrior than a righteous war. (2.31)

Only the fortunate warriors, O Arjuna, get such an opportunity for an unsought war that is like an open door to heaven. (2.32)

If you will not fight this righteous war, then you will fail in your duty, lose your reputation, and incur sin. (2.33)

People will talk about your disgrace forever. To the honored, dishonor is worse than death. (2.34)

The great warriors will think that you have retreated from the battle out of fear. Those who have greatly esteemed you will lose respect for you. (2.35)

Your enemies will speak many unmentionable words and scorn your ability. What could be more painful than this? (2.36)

You will go to heaven if killed, or you will enjoy the earth if victorious. Therefore, get up with a determination to fight, O Arjuna. (2.37)

Treating pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat alike, engage yourself in your duty. By doing your duty this way you will not incur sin. (2.38)

The wisdom of Saamkhya (or the knowledge of the Self) has been imparted to you, O Arjuna. Now listen to the wisdom of Karma-yoga endowed with which you will free yourself from the bondage of Karma. (2.39)

In Karma-yoga no effort is ever lost, and there is no harm. Even a little practice of this discipline protects one from great fear (of birth and death). (2.40) (Karma-yoga is also referred to as Nishkaama Karma-yoga, Seva, selfless service, Buddhi yoga, yoga of work, science of proper action, and yoga of equanimity. A Karma-yogi works for the Lord as a matter of duty without a selfish desire for the fruits of work, or any attachment to results. The word Karma also means duty, action, deeds, work, or the results of past deeds.)

Those who are resolute have only one thought (of Self-realization), but the thoughts of the irresolute are endless and many-branched, O Arjuna. (2.41)

The unwise who delight in flowery words (or the chanting of the Vedas without understanding the real meaning) stress Karma-Kaanda, the ritualistic aspect of the Vedas, O Arjuna, and say that there is nothing else (except material enjoyment). (2.42)

They prescribe various specific rites for the attainment of pleasure and power to those who are full of desires, and hold the attainment of heaven as the highest goal of life. The rebirth is their fruit of action. (2.43)

The resolute determination (of Self-realization) is not formed in the minds of those who are attached to pleasure and power; and whose discernment is obscured by such (ritualistic) activities. (2.44)

The Vedas deal with the three states or Gunas of mind. Become free from dualities, be ever balanced and unconcerned with the thoughts of acquisition and preservation. Rise above the three Gunas, and be Self-conscious, O Arjuna. (2.45) (Guna means the quality, state, or the property of mind, matter, and the nature. Refer to Chapter 14 for more details on Gunas.)

To a Self-realized person the Vedas are as useful as a reservoir of water when there is flood water available everywhere. (2.46)

You have Adhikaara over your respective duty only, but no control or claim over the results. The fruits of work should not be your motive. You should never be inactive. (2.47) (The word Adhikaara means ability and privilege, prerogative, jurisdiction, discretion, right, preference, choice, rightful claim, authority, control.)

Do your duty to the best of your ability, O Arjuna, with your mind attached to the Lord, abandoning (worry and) attachment to the results, and remaining calm in both success and failure. The equanimity of mind is called Karma-yoga. (2.48)

Work done with selfish motives is inferior by far to the selfless service or Karma-yoga. Therefore be a Karma-yogi, O Arjuna. Those who seek (to enjoy) the fruits of their work are verily unhappy (because one has no control over the results). (2.49)

A Karma-yogi gets freedom from both vice and virtue in this life itself. Therefore, strive for Karma-yoga. Working to the best of one’s abilities without getting attached to the fruits of work is called (Nishkaama) Karma-yoga. (2.50)

Wise Karma-yogis, possessed with mental poise by renouncing the attachment to the fruits of work, are indeed freed from the bondage of rebirth and attain the blissful divine state. (2.51)

When your intellect will completely pierce the veil of delusion, then you will become indifferent to what has been heard and what is to be heard (from the scriptures). (2.52)

When your intellect, that is confused by the conflicting opinions and the ritualistic doctrine of the Vedas, shall stay steady and firm with the Self, then you shall attain Self-realization. (2.53)

Arjuna said: O Krishna, what is the mark of a person whose Prajna is steady and merged in superconscious state? How does a person of steady Prajna speak? How does such a person sit and walk? (2.54) (Prajna means consciousness, mind, intellect, judgment, discrimination, and wisdom.)

The Supreme Lord said: When one is completely free from all desires of the mind and is satisfied in the Self by the (joy of) Self, then one is called a person of steady Prajna, O Arjuna. (2.55)

A person whose mind is unperturbed by sorrow, who does not crave pleasures, and who is free from attachment, fear, and anger; such a person is called a sage of steady Prajna. (2.56)

Those who are not attached to anything, who are neither elated by getting desired results nor troubled by undesired results, their Prajna is deemed steady. (2.57)

When one can completely withdraw (or restrain) the senses from the sense objects as a tortoise withdraws its limbs (into the shell), then the Prajna of such a person is considered steady. (2.58)

The desire for sensual pleasures fades away if one abstains from sense enjoyment, but the craving (for sense enjoyment) remains. The craving also disappears from the one who has seen (or known) the Supreme. (2.59)

Restless senses, O Arjuna, forcibly carry away the mind of even a wise person striving for perfection. (2.60)

Having brought the senses under control, one should fix one’s mind on the Self. One’s Prajna becomes steady whose senses are under control. (2.61)

One develops attachment to sense objects by thinking about sense objects. Desire for sense objects comes from attachment to sense objects, and anger comes from unfulfilled desires. (2.62)

Delusion arises from anger. The mind is bewildered by delusion. Reasoning is destroyed when the mind is bewildered. One falls down (from the right path) when reasoning is destroyed. (2.63)

A disciplined person, enjoying sense objects with senses that are under control and free from likes and dislikes, attains tranquillity. (2.64)

All sorrows are destroyed upon attainment of tranquillity. The intellect of such a tranquil person soon becomes completely steady. (2.65)

There is neither Self-knowledge nor Self-perception to those whose senses are not under control. Without Self-perception there is no peace; and without peace there can be no happiness. (2.66)

The mind, when controlled by the roving senses, steals away the Prajna as a storm takes away a boat on the sea from its destination, the spiritual shore. (2.67)

Therefore, O Arjuna, one’s Prajna becomes steady whose senses are completely withdrawn from the sense objects. (2.68)

A yogi is aware of the thing (or Atman) about which others are unaware. A sage who sees is unaware of the experience (of sense objects) about which others are aware. (2.69)

One attains peace in whose mind all desires enter without creating any disturbance, as river waters enter the full ocean without creating a disturbance. One who desires material objects is never peaceful. (2.70)

One who abandons all desires and becomes free from longing and the feeling of ‘I’ and ‘my’ attains peace. (2.71)

O Arjuna, this is the Braahmee or superconscious state. Attaining this (state), one is no longer deluded. Gaining this state, even at the end of one’s life, a person attains oneness with the Supreme. (2.72)

Chapter 5: Path of Renunciation

Arjuna said: O Krishna, You praise transcendental knowledge (the Saamkhya or Karma-Samnyasa) and also performance of unattached action, Karma-yoga. Tell me, definitely, which one is better of the two. (See also 5.05) (5.01) ( Karma-Samnyasa means renunciation of doership, ownership, and selfish motive behind an action, and not the renunciation of work, or the worldly objects. Karma-Samnyasa comes only after the dawn of Self-knowledge. Therefore, words Jnana, Saamkhya, Samnyasa, and Karma-Samnyasa are used interchangeably throughout the Gita. Renunciation is considered the goal of life, and Karma and Jnana are the necessary means to achieve the goal.)

The Supreme Lord said: Karma-Samnyasa, and Karma-yoga both lead to the Supreme. But, of the two, Karma-yoga is superior to Karma-Samnyasa. (5.02)

A person should be considered a true Samnyasi or renunciant who neither likes nor dislikes. Because, free from the dualities, O Arjuna, one is easily liberated from bondage. (5.03)

The ignorant, not the wise, consider Karma-Samnyasa and Karma-yoga as different from each other. The person who has truly mastered one, gets the benefits of both. (5.04)

Whatever goal a Samnyasi reaches, a Karma-yogi also reaches the same goal. One who sees the path of renunciation and the path of work as the same, really sees. (See also 6.01 and 6.02) (5.05)

But Samnyasa, O Arjuna, is difficult to attain without Karma-yoga. A Karma-yogi sage quickly attains Brahman. (See also 4.31, and 4.38) (5.06)

A Karma-yogi whose mind is pure, whose mind and senses are under control, and who sees one and the same Self in all beings, is not bound (by Karma) though engaged in work. (5.07)

A Samnyasi who knows the truth thinks: I do nothing at all. For in seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, eating, walking, sleeping, breathing; and (5.08)

Speaking, giving, taking, opening and closing the eyes, a Samnyasi believes that only the senses are operating upon their sense objects. (See also 3.27, 13.29, and 14.19) (5.09)

One who does all work as an offering to the Lord, abandoning attachment to the results, is as untouched by sin (or Karmic reaction) as a lotus leaf is untouched by water. (5.10)

A Karma-yogi performs action by body, mind, intellect, and senses, without attachment (or ego), only for self-purification. (5.11)

A Karma-yogi, abandoning the fruit of work, attains Supreme Bliss while others, who are attached to the fruits of work, become bound by selfish work. (5.12)

A person who has subdued the senses and completely renounced (the fruits of) all works, dwells happily in the City of Nine Gates, neither performing nor directing action. (5.13)

The Lord neither creates the urge for action nor the feeling of doership nor the attachment to the results of action in people. All these are done by the (Gunas of) nature. (5.14)

The Lord does not take the (responsibility for) good or evil deeds of anybody. The knowledge is covered by (the veil of) ignorance, thereby people are deluded. (5.15)

But their knowledge, whose ignorance is destroyed by the Self-knowledge, reveals the Supreme like the sun (reveals the beauty of objects of the world). (5.16)

They, whose mind and intellect are absorbed in the Self, who remain firmly attached with the Self, who have Self as their supreme goal, whose sins (or impurities) have been destroyed by the knowledge, do not take birth again. (5.17)

An enlightened person looks at a learned and humble Braahmana, an outcast, even a cow, an elephant, or a dog with an equal eye. (5.18)

Everything has been accomplished in this very life by those whose mind is set in equality. Such a person has realized Brahman because Brahman is flawless and impartial. (See also 18.55) (5.19)

One who neither rejoices on obtaining what is pleasant nor grieves on obtaining the unpleasant, who is undeluded, who has a steady mind, and who is a knower of Brahman; such a person abides in Brahman. (5.20)

A person whose mind is unattached to sensual pleasures, who discovers the joy of the Self, and whose mind is in union with Brahman through meditation, enjoys eternal bliss. (5.21)

Pleasures derived from the contact of senses with their objects (or the sensual pleasures) are verily the source of misery, and have a beginning and an end. The wise, O Arjuna, do not rejoice in sensual pleasures. (See also 18.38) (5.22)

One who is able to withstand the impulse of lust and anger before death is a yogi, and a happy person. (5.23)

One who finds happiness with the Self, who rejoices the Self within, and who is illuminated by the Self-knowledge; such a yogi becomes one with Brahman and attains supreme nirvana. (5.24)

Seers whose sins (or imperfections) are destroyed, whose doubts have been dispelled by knowledge, whose disciplined minds are attached with the Self, and who are engaged in the welfare of all beings attain Supreme Brahman. (5.25)

A Self-realized person who is free from lust and anger, and who has subdued the mind and senses easily attains nirvana. (5.26)

Renouncing sense enjoyments; fixing the eyes and mind at the midbrows; equalizing the breath moving through the nostrils (by Kriya techniques); (See also 4.29, 6.13 and 8.10) (5.27)

With senses, mind, and intellect under control; having liberation as the prime goal; free from lust, anger, and fear; such a sage is verily liberated. (5.28)

The one who knows Me as the enjoyer of sacrifices and austerities, as the great Lord of all the worlds, and as the friend of all beings, attains peace. (5.29)

Chapter 13: Creation and the Creator

The Supreme Lord said: O Arjuna, this body (the miniature universe) may be called the field or creation. One who knows the creation is called the creator by the seers of truth. (13.01)

Know Me to be the creator of all creation, O Arjuna. The true understanding of both the creator and the creation is considered by Me to be the transcendental or metaphysical knowledge. (13.02)

What the creation is, what it is like, what its transformations are, where the source is, who that creator is, and what His powers are, hear all these from Me in brief. (13.03)

The sages have described Him in many ways, in various Vedic hymns, and also in the conclusive and convincing verses of the Brahmasutra. (13.04)

The five basic elements, the “I” consciousness or ego, the intellect, the unmanifest Prakriti, the ten senses, the mind, and the five sense objects; (See also 7.04) (13.05)

Desire, hatred, pleasure, pain, the physical body, consciousness, and resolve. Thus the field (the creation or body) has been briefly described with its transformations. (13.06)

Humility, modesty, nonviolence, forbearance, honesty, service to guru, purity (of thought, word, and deed), steadfastness, self-control; and (13.07)

Aversion towards sense objects, absence of ego, constant reflection on the agony and suffering inherent in birth, old age, disease, and death. (13.08)

Detachment, non-fondness with son, wife, and home; unfailing equanimity upon attainment of the desirable and the undesirable; and (13.09)

Unswerving devotion to Me by the yoga of exclusivity, love for solitude, distaste for social gossips; and (13.10)

Steadfastness in knowledge of the Supreme Spirit, and the perception of (the omnipresent God as) the object of true knowledge is called knowledge; what is contrary to this is ignorance. (13.11)

I shall fully describe the object of knowledge, knowing which one attains immortality. The beginningless Supreme Brahman is said to be neither Sat nor Asat. (See also 9.19) (13.12)

Having hands and feet everywhere; having eyes, head, and face everywhere; having ears everywhere; the creator exists in the creation by pervading everything. (13.13)

He is the perceiver of all sense objects without the senses; unattached, yet the sustainer of all; devoid of the Gunas, yet the enjoyer of the Gunas. (13.14)

He is inside as well as outside all beings, animate and inanimate. He is incomprehensible because of His subtlety. He is very near as well as far away. (13.15)

Undivided, yet appears as if divided in beings; He, the object of knowledge, is the creator, sustainer, and destroyer of (all) beings. (13.16)

The light of all lights, He is said to be beyond darkness. He is the knowledge, the object of knowledge, and seated in the hearts of all beings, He is to be realized by the knowledge. (13.17)

Thus the creation as well as the knowledge and the object of knowledge have been briefly described. Understanding this, My devotee attains Me. (13.18)

Know that Prakriti and Purusha are both beginningless; and also know that all manifestations and Gunas arise from the Prakriti. (13.19)

The Prakriti is said to be the cause of production of physical body and organs (of perception and action). The Purusha (or the consciousness) is said to be the cause of experiencing pleasures and pains. (13.20)

The Purusha associating with Prakriti (or matter), enjoys the Gunas of Prakriti. Attachment to the Gunas (due to ignorance caused by previous Karma) is the cause of the birth of JeevaAtman in good and evil wombs. (13.21) (JeevaAtman or Jeeva is defined as Atman accompanied by the subtle (or astral) body consisting of the six sensory faculties and vital forces; the living entity; the individual soul enshrined in the physical body. )

The Supreme Spirit in the body is also called the witness, the guide, the supporter, the enjoyer, and the great Lord or ParamaAtman. (13.22)

They who truly understand Purusha and Prakriti with its Gunas are not born again regardless of their mode of life. (13.23)

Some perceive God in the heart by the intellect through meditation; others by the yoga of knowledge; and others by the yoga of work (or Karma-yoga). (13.24)

Some, however, do not understand Brahman, but having heard (of it) from others, take to worship. They also transcend death by their firm faith to what they have heard. (13.25)

Whatever is born, animate or inanimate, know them to be (born) from the union of the field (or Prakriti) and the field knower (or Purusha), O Arjuna. (See also 7.06) (13.26)

The one who sees the imperishable Supreme Lord dwelling equally within all perishable beings truly sees. (13.27)

Seeing the same Lord existing in everybeing, one does not injure the other self and thereupon attains the Supreme goal. (13.28)

Those who perceive that all works are done by the (Gunas of) Prakriti alone, and thus they are not the doer, they truly understand. (See also 3.27, 5.09, and 14.19) (13.29)

When one perceives diverse variety of beings resting in One and spreading out from That alone, then one attains Brahman. (13.30)

The imperishable Supreme Self, being beginningless and without Gunas, though dwelling in the body (as Atman) neither does anything nor gets tainted, O Arjuna. (13.31)

As the all-pervading ether is not tainted because of its subtlety, similarly the Self, seated in everybody, is not tainted. (13.32)

O Arjuna, just as one sun illuminates this entire world, similarly the creator illumines (or gives life to) the entire creation. (13.33)

They, who understand the difference between the creation (or the body) and the creator (or the Atman) and know the technique of liberation (of Jeeva) from the trap of Maya with the help of knowledge, attain the Supreme. (13.34)

Citation and Use

This reading was taken from the following source.

Levin, Noah, ed. “Self and Atman.” In South and East Asian Philosophy Reader, an Open Educational Resource, 105–15. NGE Far Press, 2019. https://human.libretexts.org/Bookshelves/Philosophy/Book%3A_South_and_East_Asian_Philosophy_Reader_(Levin_et_al.)

Use of this work is governed by CC-BY-SA-NC license.


  1. Dharma may be defined as the eternal law governing, upholding, and supporting the creation and the world order. It also means duty, righteousness, ideal conduct, moral principles, and truth. Adharma is an antonym to Dharma. Expert guidance should be sought during the moment of crisis.
  2. Atma or Atmann means consciousness, spirit, soul, self, the source of life and the cosmic power behind the body-mind complex. Just as our body exists in space, similarly our thoughts, intellect, emotions, and psyche exist in Atman, the space of consciousness. Atman cannot be perceived by the senses, because, the senses abide in Atman.

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