Chapter II, Verses 23 and 24
Sri Nerode’s Translation:
(Know that) weapons cannot cleave the spirit; flame can burn it not; neither can waters overpower it; nor can winds wither it.
Impenetrable, incombustible, undrownable, unperishable, immutable, all-encompassing, immovable, stable, eternal, this Spirit is.
The material elements of earth, water, fire, and air cannot harm individualized consciousness (the soul).
The soul is “all” as much as it is “nothing”. Everywhere, still, eternal.
Verses 23 and 24 address the soul’s relationship to four of the traditional five elements (earth, water, fire, and air – but not to ether). Verse 23 states that earth, water, fire and air cannot touch the individualized consciousness, while verse 24 states that consciousness does not retain any of the qualities of the material elements of earth, water, fire and air. The fifth traditional element of ether is not mentioned because ether is the realm of phantasm (dreams & apparitions).
From verse 11 through verse 30 of this chapter, Krishna describes the relationship (really the lack of a relationship) between the soul and the material universe in the context of mourning. In other words, Krishna explains in detail that material creation is an illusion that neither defines nor impacts the soul.
Consider each verse of this section explained with a single phrase:
Verse 11: Mourning shows a lack of understanding.
Verse 12: Individual consciousness always exists.
Verse 13: Many and varied bodies do not impact consciousness.
Verse 14: Sense experiences pass, attachment indicates ignorance.
Verse 15: The wise experience opposites (joy/sorrow) as one.
Verse 16: Consciousness is complete.
Verse 17: Change does not add or subtract from the whole.
Verse 18: Bodies are inhabited by Consciousness.
Verse 19: One body may destroy another body, but Consciousness remains.
Verse 20: Consciousness is not born and does not die.
Verse 21: Consciousness cannot be slain.
Verse 22: Clothes are to a human, like bodies are to the soul.
Verse 23: Earth, water, fire and air cannot impact Consciousness.
Verse 24: Consciousness never assumes qualities of these elements.
Verse 25: Understanding that Consciousness is prime, do not mourn.
Verse 26: Even if one is attached to birth and death, mourning the inevitable is useless.
Verse 27: Anything which is born will die and that which dies will be reborn, mourning is pointless.
Verse 28: Beings exist only when consciousness is present.
Verse 29: Consciousness limited to a body only wonders about the meaning of life.
Verse 30: Be wise, know that Consciousness is complete and stop mourning.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna gives multiple variations on an idea in order to reach humankind whether ignorant or enlightened. For the ignorant, some phrases may seem repetitive while they provide a different way to contemplate the point Krishna makes. For the enlightened, the variations define deep states of consciousness and how to express that knowledge in material terms.
Easter Eggs (hidden references to deeper meanings) in the original version of this this verse include:
For the student of Sanskrit, the descriptions symbolically represent the nadis and the human nervous system. The details in the phrases are like explaining the differences between a knife and a fork when using Sanskrit as a tool versus a common language.
The exclusion of the element of “ether” is notable. Ether holds a unique role among the physical elements. Ether is like a blueprint that contains all plans for creation. Christians describe ether as the “Holy Ghost” while Hindus describe it as “Prakriti”. Ether is omnipresent and all-powerful when activated.
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