The Nature of the Soul (Atman)

The Nature of the Soul (Atman) – Lord Krishna Speaks to Arjuna


As Arjuna stood in the battlefield of Kurukshetra, he was overcome with feelings of weakness and confusion as he faced the prospect of potentially killing his own half-brothers, uncles, friends and teachers. At this moment, Lord Krishna, who was his companion in the battlefield, sought to allay his fears by teaching him about the distinction between the physical body (which is impermanent) and the soul or aatman (which is permanent). This article presents Shankaracharya’s commentary on the six main verses in which the nature of the aatmanis explained by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita.


Bhagavad Gita – Chapter 2, Verse 22.


vaasaa.nsi jiirNaani yathaa vihaaya
navaani gRRihNaati naro.aparaaNi.
tathaa shariiraaNi vihaaya jiirNaanyanyaani
sa.nyaati navaani dehii.. B.G. II-22

वासांसि जीर्णानि यथा विहाय नवानि गृह्णाति नरोऽपराणि।
तथा शरीराणि विहाय जीर्णान्यन्यानि संयाति नवानि देही।।

During our daily lives we change our old and/or dirty clothes and put on new and/or clean clothes whenever the need arises. Similarly, the soul or aatman casts off its worn out physical body and takes residence in a newer physical body at regular intervals in time. Just like the clothes that we wear do not represent the real state of our physical body, the state of our physical body (which deteriorates over time and is hence impermanent) does not represent the truly unchangeable and permanent nature of the soul that resides within it.

The eternal does not move from place to place but the embodied soul moves from one abode to another. It takes birth each time and gathers to itself a mind, life and body formed out of the materials of nature according to its past evolution and its needs for the future. The pyschic being is the vijnana which supports the triple manifestation of body, life and mind. When the gross physical body falls away, the vital and mental sheaths still remain as the vehicle of the soul. Rebirth is the law of nature. There is an objective connections between the various forms of life. “Like corn a mortal ripens and like corn is he born again”. (Katha Upanisad, Ch 1, verse 6).

This verse refers to the doctrine of reincarnation in Hinduism. Death is described here as the simple discarding of a worn-out garment for a new one. When the body becomes diseased and old, the ever-lasting soul forsakes it for a new disguise. Death is but a change of attire in an uninterrupted continuity of immortality. (The Bhagavad Gita Vol I, Parmahansa Yoganada, p. 218))

Bhagavad gita 0222

जैसे जगत् में मनुष्य पुराने जीर्ण वस्त्रों को त्याग अन्य नवीन वस्त्रों को ग्रहण करते हैं, वैसे ही जीवात्मा पुराने शरीर को छोढ़कर नवीन शरीर को प्राप्त करता है। अभिप्राय यह कि इस प्रकार जीवात्मा सदा निर्विकार ही रहता है।


Bhagavad Gita – Chapter 2, Verse 23.


naina.n Chindanti shastraaNi naina.n dahati paavakaH.
na chaina.n kledayantyaapo na shoshhayati maarutaH.. B.G. II-23

नैनं छिन्दन्ति शस्त्राणि नैनं दहति पावकः।
न चैनं क्लेदयन्त्यापो न शोषयति मारुतः।।

The so described aatman cannot be harmed by weapons – and since it is formless and shapeless – it cannot be cut into pieces by any instrument. In the same way, fire cannot burn it or destroy it. Water cannot wet it because water can only act on elements which have a physical description or dimension. For the same reason, wind cannot dry it or exert any force on it. Thus the aatman is beyond the influence of all the three primary forces (fire, water and wind) which can affect entities having physical form and description.

Bhagavad gita 0223

इस उपयुर्क्त आत्माको शस्त्र नहीं काटते, अभिप्राय यह कि अवयवरहित होनेके कारण तलवार आदि शस्त्र इसके अन्गोंके टुकडे़ नहीं कर सकते। वैसे ही अग्नि इसको जला नहीं सकता अर्थात् अग्नि भी इसको भस्मीभूत नहीं कर सकता।

जल इसको भिगो नहीं सकता. क्योंकि सावयव वस्तुको ही भिगोकर उसके अन्गोंको पृथक्-पृथक् कर देनेमें जलकी सामर्थ्य है. निरवयव आत्मामें ऐसा होना सम्भव नहीं। उसी तरह वायु आर्द्र् द्रव्यका गीलापन शोषण करके उसको नष्ट करता है अतः वह वायु भी इस स्व-स्वरूप आत्माका शोषण नहीं कर सकता।