Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Bhagavad Gita II.19-24
Alan Jacobs

flower picture

The following extract is from the book: 'The Bhagavad Gita: A Poetic Transcreation' by Alan Jacobs. Purchase from or

Link to the Recommended book entry.

Verses 19 - 21
One man believes he is the killer,
The other believes he has been killed.
This is the height of ignorance,
I tell you Arjuna,
There has never been a killer
Or anyone killed.
You, Arjuna, were ever, ever
Born as Consciousness, the Self,
You have never changed as
That Consciousness,
You are unborn, eternal,
Infinite, that is your Divine Nature.
You never die when your body dies.
Only the body dies,
Brain, bones, and blood.
Realizing, recognizing,
Knowing That which
Consciousness Is, as
Indestructible, Eternal,
Infinite, unborn, unchanging,
How can you ever kill
Or another ever kill the unkillable?

Once one sees that what we are is Consciousness and not the body, it all makes sense.

Verse 22
Just as you toss away
Worn out clothes and buy new ones,
So when the body is worn out
A new one is found for
The Self who lives within Consciousness.

The Gita now introduces the doctrine of rebirth. At the lowest level this is called reincarnation - at the most advanced level of understanding it does not exist. Let us use the authority of Ramana Maharshi, the universally acknowledged sage, whose exemplary life led to the renaissance of Advaita Vedanta in the twentieth century. The reincarnation theory stressed in the Gita gives psychological comfort. Ramana, as a concession to his questions, used to say it is as true as you believe it to be. In fact this theory is a very intelligent psychological device inserted by the authors of the Gita. The doctrine that social good deeds will lead you to heaven, but bad deeds will send you to hell, has preserved Indian society for thousands of years without the need of police; police were a British invention in the nineteenth century. We must look deeper into this mys-tery - and it is a mystery - nobody has returned from the dead to tell us what happens. Transmigration is an intermediate position, which will be discussed as the commentary proceeds.

Let me now quote Ramana Maharshi.

Q. Do you mean to say that I was never even born?
A. Yes, you are now thinking that you are the body and
therefore confuse yourself with its birth and death.
But you are not the body and you have no birth and
death (as Consciousness).
So you do not uphold the theory of rebirth?
A. No. I want to remove your confusion that you will
reborn. It is you who thinks that you will be reborn.

So he taught that theories about reincarnation are based on the false assumption that the individual entity is real. Once this illusion is understood, that the individual is a mind-body system in Consciousness, then after-death theories collapse. Out of compassion and as a concession to ignorant questioners, and rather than destroy their faith by feeding them with more than they could understand, he would say that if one imagined the individual self to be real then eventually it might identify with a new body. But once identification with the mind-body ends then reincarnation theories do not apply. In. these opening chapters the Gita talks about rebirth and it is a doctrine that has great ethical and moral benefits. The sages knew how to govern the majority.

However, of course, new mind-body organizations are being continuously created for the great "play" of life and death. As Ramesh Balsekar, a devotee of Ramana Maharsi, writes in his commentary on the Gita II.22:
"The impersonal Consciousness casts off worn-out body mind equipment and enters into new ones as part of general evolution."

This implies that at death the subtle body of residual life memories returns to the “pool of Consciousness" and Consciousness has now many qualities to transmigrate into new lives for its own continuance of the "dream of life," or Lila. Inborn talents and tendencies may appear in a new life and residual memories of a past one imagined. This explains child prodigies. Transmigration of souls or subtle bodies is a more tenable theory than reincarnation of egos. Egotism is a product of the brain and rots at death. Consciousness and the subtle body (feelings) leave the body at death and re-enter the pool of Consciousness for the possibility of new actors on the stage of life as we experience it.

Verses 23 - 24
Consciousness, the Self,
Cannot be pierced
By swords or arrows,
Water cannot wet it, Fire cannot burn it,
Nor can the winds dry it.

Consciousness or the Self can be understood as a screen on which the play of life appears. As in a motion picture or television show, the screen is unaffected by what takes place on it. Bombs explode, floods, wars, and violent death happen in the cinema and on TV, but the screen is unaffected.

Return to list of topics in Discourses by Teachers and Writers .

Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012