The Soul Is Like the Road in the Journey of Life

Krishna's Teachings

by Jayaram V


Chapter 2, Verse 19

19. He who thinks that this slays and he who thinks that this is slain, both of them fail to perceive the truth. This one neither slays nor slain.

The soul is a passive witness. It does not directly engage in any actions, but remains in the background. The soul is very much like the road in a journey. The road does not move, but supports all the activity that happens upon its surface and facilitates the journey of beings. In the body the soul does the same. It does not engage in any actions, nor is it hurt or effected by any actions of the mind and body, but it facilitates actions of the organs and the journey of the being in which it dwells by providing necessary support.

Why this knowledge is important? It is helpful to change your perspective from a body centric existence to soul centric. If you think you are a mere physical being, you will experience fear, anxiety and insecurity, because our bodies are so fragile and vulnerable. Knowing that you are an eternal Self, you can overcome that problem. Further, you can disengage from many things in your life that do not matter. You can unclutter your life, and simplify it so that you can focus upon what matters to you and to your wellbeing.

In spiritual practice, first you must accept your spiritual identity, or the knowledge that you are an eternal soul. Having stabilized your faith in that conviction, you must engage in actions with detachment, knowing that you are imperishable and impervious to any modifications of your mind and body. The soul remains pure even amidst active life. One must follow that example to manifest the same principle in worldly life also through spiritual practice and karma yoga. This is the message Lord Krishna intended to convey to Arjuna in this and subsequent verses.

The nature of soul is described in this and subsequent verses. Having experienced excessive grief and suffering which are integral to earthly life and having understood the true nature of his physical existence and the reality around him, Arjuna was advised to change his perspective from his physical identity to his spiritual identity. That change would not happen without faith in the teachings of his master and an inner transformation which would culminate in self-realization. For the moment, it was just a teaching, but overtime it would lead to a profound spiritual transformation. For that to happen, he must overcome his ignorance and discern the true nature of the soul.

Thoughts are important. Your thoughts influence your behavior and attitude towards others and yourself. Your relationships, successes and failures, your actions and your very existence on earth depend upon the nature of your thoughts we harbor in our minds. Even our perceptions are colored by our thoughts. And unless we are willing to change our thoughts we cannot bring about any change in ourselves. In this context Lord Krishna's emphasis on thinking is therefore understandable.

But thoughts do not change by themselves. It needs practice. Our thoughts to a great extent are influenced by our beliefs. We accept as truths what we believe to be true. By changing ones beliefs, we can try to change our thoughts. As long as we believe that we are mere physical beings subject mortality, we model our lives on that belief and remain preoccupied with our physical comforts and survival. We would not look beyond the present life, which we would accept as the one and true. This would limit our vision, our aims and thoughts to our present lives.

In this verse, Lord Krishna was trying to change Arjuna's beliefs and his way of thinking by explaining to him the true nature of his soul. This new awareness would take Arjuna's mind beyond the present life and beyond the immediate concerns. It would broaden his vision and make him think of his duties and obligations beyond his physical body and his immediate life.

In worldly life, we cannot remain passive, like the soul, to what happens to us or around us. We react and respond to the events according to our desires, perceptions and intelligence. Sometimes it works in our favor and sometimes against us. No one can predict the consequences that may arise from our actions. However, we must be aware that all actions have consequences, and it is wise to act with caution and discernment. It is still better if we can engage in selfless actions with detachment. The world is bound to touch you in many ways. You cannot escape from it. However, with faith and detachment you can avoid becoming too involved with worldly life.

Note : These commentaries are not part of the Bhagavadgita Complete Translation.

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