2.16 nAsathO vidhyathE bhAvO

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Chapter 2

<< Chapter 2 verse 15

SlOkam – Original

nAsathO vidhyathE bhAvO nAbhAvO vidhyathE satha: |
ubhayOr api drushtO ’nthas thvanayOs thathvadharSibhi: ||

word-by-word meaning (based on puththUr krishNamAchArya swAmy’s thamizh translation)

asatha: – dhEham (body/matter) which is known as non-existing (temporary)
bhAva: – eternity which is an attribute of AthmA (soul)
na vidhyathE – not present
satha: – AthmA which is known as existing
abhAva: – temporary nature of achith (matter)
na vidhyathE – not present
anayO: – about these two – dhEham (body/matter) and AthmA (soul)
antha: – end of
thathvadhaSibhi: – the true knowers
dhrushta: – known (in this manner)

Simple Translation (based on puththUr krishNamAchArya swAmy’s thamizh translation)

Eternity which is an attribute of AthmA (soul) is not present in dhEham (body/matter) which is known as non-existing (temporary); Temporary nature of achith (matter) is not present in AthmA which is known as existing; The end of these two – dhEham (body/matter) and AthmA (soul), are known (in this manner) to the true knowers.

Rendering based on ALkoNdavilli gOvindhAchArya swAmy’s English translation of gIthA bhAshyam

To the non-constant (asat=matter) fixity is not; to the constant (sat=spirit) non-fixity is not. To Truth-Seers are known, the essential natures of both.1

Of that which is ‘asat’, or body, it cannot be predicated that it is ‘sat’. Of that which is ‘sat’ or spirit, it cannot be predicated that it is ‘asat’. To Seers of truth (or Sages), the ultimate natures (anta) of both these postulates are matters of their definite apprehension (or direct perceptual matters of observation)2.

Anta is literally the ‘end’. Here it means the ‘end’ of proof, or the conclusive end of a thing indicated. (So that the ‘end’ of sat and asat means their ultimate or essential natures).

The conclusion or certitude arrived at by Sages in this matter is that the nature of the non-sentient ‘body’, is ‘asat’ only (=inconstancy), and that the nature of the sentient ‘atma’ is ‘sat’ only (=constancy). Asat is thus that which is of the perishable character, and sat that which is of the imperishable character. Says Bhagavān Parāśara:

‘O Twice-born (dvija)! There is therefore nothing, even a little, – that, in the number of things, can at any time be said to be (sat) with the exception of the intelligent (vijñāna-ātmā)3.’

‘(What has been told you by me) is that jñāna (=ātmā) is that which is (truth=satyam); everything else is that which is not (asatyam)4.’

‘That which is indestructible is admitted by the wise to be the highest Truth (paramārtha). But that which is derived by means of destructible things is doubtless destructible.’5

‘What would you call that, O King!, thing?, which by changes, etc., effected by time, receives not different signs (names)?, what is that?’6. And so on.

In Gita itself it is affirmed:

‘These bodies have endings etc.,” (ii-18)

‘But as for that, know it is indestructible.’ (ii-17)

Hence it is clear that what are indicated by ‘satva’ and ‘a-satva‘) are these (viz., ātmā and body).

The context does not here admit of this verse having any reference to what is known as the satkārya-vāda. For, the occasion indeed is one when Kṛishṇa has to explain to Arjuna – who is laboring under the delusion of not knowing the distinction between the natures of body and ātmā, – the perishability and the imperishability of these two (categories), in order to dispel that delusion.

It is to show this that the verse: ‘As respects bodies or as respects ātmās etc. (ii-11)’ was begun. And it is to further elaborate the same (subject) that verses:

‘But know that to be indestructible etc.’ (ii-17),

‘These bodies have endings etc.,’ (ii-18),


But how is ātmā’s (or the soul’s) indestructibility known? The next verse7 tells us:

>> Chapter 2 verse 17

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  1. Rāmānuja tells us that this verse has no allusion to the Sathkārya-vāda of the Sānkhyās (vide, Sānkhya Sūtra I-78). Yogi Pārthasārathi writes: ‘What is here taught is, not the inconvertibility of nothing into a thing, but the inconvertibility of one kind of thing or category (viz., the ever mutable matter) into another kind of thing or category (viz., the ever immutable soul). …
  2. This means that the essential or substantial natures of these super-sensuous categories are demonstrably or by observation, known to Sages. They are as certain knowledge to them as sense-knowledge to us.
  3. Ibid; II-12, 45.
  4. Ibid; II-14, 24.
  5. IBid; II-14, 24.
  6. IBid; II-13, 100.
  7. Next verse 2.17.

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