Chapter 13. Matter and Spirit

*Krishna, I wish to learn about:
prakriti and purusha,
kshetra and kshetrajña,
knowledge and its purpose.
Prakriti refers to ‘material nature’.
Purusha refers to ‘indwelling spirit’.
Kshetra means ‘field’, ‘domain’, or ‘realm’;
in different contexts, it also means body, matter, or world.
Kshetrajña is ‘one who knows the field’ or ‘domain expert’;
it can also mean soul, spirit, or lord.

*This verse is not found in all versions and hence is not numbered.

1The wise refer to this body as the kshetra;
one who knows the kshetra
is called kshetrajña.

2I am the kshetrajña in every kshetra.
In my opinion, true knowledge is
knowledge of the kshetra and the kshetrajña.
True knowledge comprises knowledge of
matter (organic and inorganic) and spirit.

3I shall briefly explain about the kshetra,
its attributes, its origins, and how it changes.

I will also tell you about
the kshetrajña and his powers.

4Seers have revealed this in many distinct ways
in the sacred hymns of the Vedas.
It is also conclusively stated
in the Brahma Sutra.
Here, ‘this’ refers to knowledge of matter and spirit. Brahma Sutra is a collection of aphorisms that Vyasa compiled, drawing from the Vedic philosophy. It is an authoritative text that concisely presents the nature of brahman (supreme being) and how to attain brahman.

5The five great elements,
the five sense organs,
the five sensations,
the five organs of action,
the unseen, mind, ego, intellect,
6desire, hatred, pleasure, pain,
awareness, courage, and the body –
these together constitute the kshetra.
The five great elements are earth, fire, water, air and space/ether.
The five sense organs are ears, eyes, nose, tongue, and skin;
the five sensations are sound, sight, smell, taste, and touch.
The five organs of action are mouth, hands, feet, genitals and anus.

7Humility, freedom from hypocrisy,
non-violence, patience, honesty,
reverence towards one’s teacher,
purity, steadiness, self-control;
8absence of egoism,
reasoned disregard towards sensates,
insight into the limitations and tribulations
of birth, death, old-age, sickness, and pain;
9freedom from selfishness,
devoid of undue love for family and community,
constant equanimity towards
desirable and undesirable events;
10unwavering and single-minded devotion to the supreme,
seeking solitude and avoiding sordid crowds;
11sincere persistence in knowing the supreme,
and the quest for the truth –
these numerous factors constitute true knowledge;
anything contrary to these is ignorance.

12Next, I shall explain about that
which ought to be known.
Once you know it,
you will be immortal.
It is the supreme brahman
which is without beginning;
it is spoken of as neither real nor unreal.
Brahman, the supreme being, transcends existence and non-existence.
13With heads, hands, legs,
eyes, ears, and mouths everywhere,
brahman abides in the universe
encompassing everything.
14It is free from the influence of the senses
and yet is fully aware of all sensations.
It supports everything but remains unattached.
It is free from gunas and yet enjoys them all.
Here, ‘it’ refers to brahman.
Gunas are inherent tendencies of a human being.

15It is outside, yet within all beings;
motionless, yet always moving;
far away, yet nearby;
it is too subtle to grasp.
16It is the undivided whole
yet it appears divided among beings.
It supports all the creatures,
consuming them as well as creating them.

17It is the knowledge,
it is the knowable subject,
it is the purpose of knowledge;
it is seated in the heart of all beings.
It is the light of lights, beyond all darkness.

18I have briefly told you about the kshetra and
also about Knowledge and its purpose.
Having learned this,
my devotee is united with me.

19Prakriti and purusha
are both without beginning.
Change arises from prakriti
and so do the gunas.
Everything in the universe constantly undergoes change because everything arises from prakriti (nature), which is always changing; whereas purusha (spirit) is beyond change.

20Prakriti is the material basis
of the body and
associated activities.
Purusha is the cause
of the experiences of
pleasure and pain.
Prakriti is the source of the five elements and the body, including the five senses, mind, ego, and intellect.
Purusha is the cause of one’s feeling of being alive and the associated experiences of pleasures and pains.

21When associated with prakriti,
purusha experiences the gunas
that arise from prakriti.
Attachment to the gunas is the cause of one’s rebirth,
for the better or for the worse.
Any attachment, good or bad, leads to bondage (rebirth). The type of experiences to which one is most attached in this life determines the type of person one is going to be in the next.

22The indwelling purusha is said to be
the witness, the approver, the supporter, the enjoyer,
the supreme lord, and the supreme self.

23One who thus understands
purusha, prakriti, and the gunas,
although engaged in worldly activities,
will not be born again.

24Some people perceive the atman
through meditation,
some realize it through wisdom, and
others through selfless action.
25Those who don’t know these paths
pursue the atman by hearing it from others;
they too transcend death by faithfully following
what they have learned from others.

26Every being that exists – fixed or moving –
is born as a result of the interaction
between kshetra and kshetrajña.

27He truly sees who sees
the same Supreme
living in all beings and
undying within the dying.

28He doesn’t degrade himself
for he sees the same lord
established everywhere.
He attains the supreme state.
He recognizes the same supreme spirit in himself and in others.
See 6:29-30.

29He truly sees who sees that
all actions are performed by prakriti alone
and the purusha is a mere witness.

30When one observes the diversity of existence
as having a common source in the Supreme and
all manifestations arising from that alone,
then he becomes one with brahman.

31,32Arjuna, the supreme self is imperishable,
without beginning, and beyond attributes.
Though it resides in the body,
it does not act and it is not tainted;
just as the all-pervading space
remains pure because of its subtlety.
Space is the unlimited expanse that is within and outside everything. Though all events occur in space, nothing happens to it because it is far too subtle and ethereal.
33Just as a single sun illuminates the whole world,
so also the kshetrajña illumines every kshetra.
In the original, the word ‘kshetrin’ -– the owner of the field or the lord -- has been used instead of ‘kshetrajña’.

34Those with spiritual insight
recognize the difference between
kshetra and kshetrajña;
they know how all beings are liberated
from the bondages of prakriti;
they reach the supreme!
The wise see a distinction between the lower (kshetra/prakriti)
and higher (kshetrajña/purusha) levels of reality.

Krishna starts with,
‘true knowledge is knowledge of kshetra and kshetrajña’.
He concludes by pointing out the difference between the two.

It is important for us to learn in total and then distinguish the important from the trivial. There is no short cut to true knowledge.

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