Chapter 2: Sankhya-yogah/ Topic of knowledge

Last time we saw Arjuna shifting from a personal mode to a question about dharma-adharma and something that is even more important–the question of moksha. Understanding that the question of moksha is about self-discovery, he declares himself as a student to Lord Krishna ? Arjuna calls himself a `shishya’, one who sees himself as a person who deserves to be taught. Arjuna’s self-esteem is pretty high and this is confirmed by Krishna’s readiness to teach him.

The second chapter will basically be handling this question of moksha: What is moksha? What is self-knowledge? What is Atman, its nature, the nature of birth and death, freedom from birth and death? Is there a God? The nature of that God?… What are the signs of a realized soul? This is a broad outline…We will also look at the lifestyle one should lead to gain this knowledge.

The eleventh verse of the second chapter is the beginning of the teaching. Arjuna, seeing his cousins, his teachers, his loved ones on the opposite side, has declared that he is deeply pained by this war and doesn’t want to fight. The noise and the din of the battle recede into the background for Krishna and Arjuna. Krishna starts with a bang. He tells Arjuna, `You are speaking words of wisdom but at the same time you are grieving for the kith and kin who are going to die’. A person who is wise, he continues, will not grieve for those who are living or those who are dead.

But isn’t grief natural? Wouldn’t one have to be cold and unfeeling to be this way?

For a human being grief is natural, but Krishna is looking at it more philosophically.

Before proceeding, I want to point out that I’m not going in the same sequence of verses as they are in the chapter; I’m going at it as a logical topic.

At one point in this chapter, Krishna says, `For those that are born death is inevitable, and those that are dead will be born again…So why grieve over that which is inevitable?’ You can only accept it, he says. Like the seasons, after the summer come the rains and after that the winter and then summer again….You don’t crib about that, because it’s an inevitable cycle of nature and you accept it. Easier said than done. Krishna elaborates by giving another example—he says just as you discard old clothes, you discard the old body and pick up a new one.

dehino ‘smin yatha dehe kaumaram yauvanam jara

Tatha dehantarapraptirdhirastatra na muhyati

Just as, for the jiva, the indweller of this body, there is childhood, youth, and old age, similar is the gaining of another body. With reference to that, a wise person does not come to grief. (Ch 2, verse 13)

For the modern man, for a rational, thinking person that is hard to believe…

True. There is no direct scientific evidence for birth and rebirth for the simple reason that this knowledge is non- scientific. There are paradigms other than science, which are also equally valid. This falls into one of those. And the work of Dr Tom Moody, Dr Brian Weiss has supported this idea of rebirth. ….And it is not as though modern man does not buy into paradigms which are not scientific….Economics is not scientific but it rules the modern world. There is nothing scientific about the share market, it’s not a scientific discipline, but there is some logic and there is reason.

Similarly, Psychology is not a science but therapy is very useful…Therapy is not scientific, it is a discipline of knowledge which is studied under the section of Arts, not Science….In fact, hard-core psychiatrists refuse to accept Psychology as a science, but that doesn’t mean it is not valid. Economics as a science is valid. Psychology, which is not a science, is valid; they try to make it valid by saying they are social sciences. What is science anyway if you are looking at a broader question of looking at the validity of these beliefs?… I accept birth and rebirth are beliefs, and there is only some supporting logic available, but that is true of many other disciplines that pass off as `sciences’. If I were to ask a quantum physicist if an electron is a particle or a wave, the best answer from a scientist would be, `When you are observing it, it is a particle, otherwise it is a wave…’ That doesn’t sound very scientific to me, that sounds like mumbo-jumbo….But I’m willing to accept it as science, because there is some experimental verification, etc., available.

Let us look on this epistemologically. i.e. How do we gain knowledge? In the Vedanta paradigm, obviously, perception is the first means—seeing, hearing, tasting etc. Based on perceptual data, we make an inference (anumana); that would be the second means. The third would be arthapathi or `deductive logic’. The fourth would be `comparison’ called upamana. The fifth is cognising things that are not present. All human knowledge in any field is gained using these five means (called pramana).

What a human being cannot figure out is revealed by the sixth means of knowledge called the shabd pramana—the word. The Veda and Vedanta including books like the Gita etc make up this sixth means of knowledge. Now a means of knowledge (pramana) may or may not use logic. Inference does use logic, but not perception. What you see you see—there is no logic there. Similarly, when Veda talks about life after death, other dimensions, rebirth, etc., these are beyond logic i.e. you cannot logically establish them or dismiss them. However, they have to be logically understood. There is some supporting logic available in the works of Dr Tom Moody, Dr Brian Weiss.

Think about this though….When matter and energy itself cannot be destroyed but can only be interchanged, how can life itself be destroyed? It seems foolish to say that the one who is dealing with matter and energy can be destroyed, but matter and energy themselves cannot be destroyed. That seems too foolish. It also comes from our biological paradigm of life; we take a very materialistic paradigm i.e. inert matter has made up the whole world and all consciousness is nothing but an expression for matter. If you take a very materialistic view, then where do we place art, poetry, literature, music? All that goes out the window. From that standpoint they don’t have any value, but human beings seem to value them the most.

Then there is another paradigm according to which all matter is nothing but solidified consciousness, because one thing is true—nobody can wish away the presence of consciousness, nobody can wish away the presence of matter. You have to explain the presence of both, and the Gita explains the presence of both.

Coming back to the main question:` Is there life after death?’ Krishna says, yes, no one is dead and gone forever. In fact, what he says is: We are always there. You, me, and these kings who are going to die on the battlefield are always there. Neither are we born and neither are we being killed.  As a halfway-house measure, he said: `What is your problem? You are born and then you die. It’s inevitable, learn to accept it.’ If we stop there, at the most what it can offer is solace. A loved one is dead, he’s not here, but he’s up there somewhere…That’s only solace, not a solution to the mortality I face vis-a-vis my loved ones as well as my own. So Krishna answers at a deeper level.

To understand Krishna’s answer, without going into those verses, brings us to the only question that is worth asking or answering in Vedanta i.e. Who am I? The search for identity is nothing new, it is as old as the human race. One recognizes instinctively that one is more than what one has believed oneself to be. `Who am I?’ is the most fundamental question…If you understand that, everything in Vedanta is answered. And if you don’t answer that, nothing in Vedanta is understood. We will deal with that in the next post.

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