The Bhagavadgita On The Human Body
Summary: This essay presents the significance and symbolism of the human body and its role in the liberation of humans according to the Bhagavadgita
According to Hindu scriptures, the human body is unreal because it perishable, subject to decay, sickness and death. Hence, one should cultivate detachment towards it and become established in the Self, which is real, eternal, and indestructible. In Hinduism, from a spiritual perspective, anything which is perishable and changeable is projection of Nature and illusory. Whoever craves for things that are impermanent is bound to suffer from the duality of attraction and aversion. Like all other objects, the human body is also a formation or appearance. Hence, it is the Not-Self or not the real Self. So are the mind, the senses and all other parts and aspects of the human body. They constitute the physical self or the outer Self. One should look beyond them to experience oneness with the Self, or the divine entry which is hidden in all.
The human body as a source of misery
The Bhagavadgita states clearly that one should not develop attachment to the body, nor consider it their true Self. Identifying with the body and accepting it as the real self is a delusion caused by the impurities of the mind. The delusion that the body is real and the Self is false is universal. Even those who are deeply religious may not wholeheartedly accept their spiritual identities. If you look at the world around you, you will see how deeply the world is obsessed with looks and forms. According to the Bhagavadgita, accepting one’s mind and body as real is responsible for bondage and rebirth. People who identify themselves with them and accept them as true remain ignorant of their spiritual nature and suffer from fear and anxiety about their Wellbeing and mortality.
Arjuna was filled with sorrow when he entered the battlefield in the chariot driven by Krishna. When he saw both the armies arrayed on two sides, his heart was shaken and he was filled with an overwhelming sorrow at the idea of the great destruction that was to follow from the fighting. He knew that whoever might be the winner, a great destruction on both sides was inevitable. The armies consisted of great heroes of his time. Some were eager to fight to settle old scores, while some had been filled with remorse since they knew people on the other side of the battlefield whose destruction they did not want to see or cause. No one can predict the future, but no one willingly wants to kill anything, unless one is extremely psychopathic and filled with evil.
Arjuna was overwhelmed with sorrow in the battlefield because he was looking at the names and forms. He was not thinking beyond his physical identity or those of others. He was certain that everyone was going to die, and he did not want to cause. He did not consider himself a spiritual being or the real Self, until Lord Krishna pointed it to him and assured him that the Self was eternal and indestructible. Unfortunately, the power of Maya is so strong that even if you are told a hundred times that you are an eternal Self, you may still not be able to get rid of your body-centric thinking and the notion that you are the mind and body and death is a mere interlude in the long journey of the soul in the mortal world.
Symbolism of the body in the Bhagavadgita
According to the Bhagavadgita, the body is perishable, destructible, subject to the process of aging, sickness and disease. It is like a covering or a dress we wear. Hence, the scripture affirms that just as a man discards his worn out clothes and takes on new clothes, the soul discards worn out bodies and takes on new ones (2.22). Just it passes through in this body from childhood to youth and later to old age, it passes from one body to another (2.11) The wise men are therefore not deluded (2.13) and do not grieve over the dead or the living (2.11).
The body is the city of nine gates (5.5), the seat of the senses, and the field of Prakriti. It is made up of the five mahabhutas (great elements namely the fire, the water, the earth, the air and the ether), the ego, buddhi, the invisible (self), the ten senses (the ears, the eyes, the skin, the tongue, the nose, the hands, the feet, the mouth, the anus and the sexual organ) and the five objects of the senses (the sound, the taste, the touch, the smell and the shape). Other constituents of the body are desires, repulsion, happiness, sorrow, the aggregate, dynamic awareness, decisiveness (13.5&6).
The body is the seat of illusion where Prakriti enacts its play through the triple gunas or qualities namely, the sattva, the rajas and the tamas. The interplay of these gunas creates desires in the being through the activity of the senses and through desires delusion of the mind and bondage. Under the delusion caused by the gunas, man becomes egoistic, thinking that he is the doer, and there by becomes attached to the modes and actions (3.29).
The body as the source of liberation
The body which is the seat of illusion can also be a source of true liberation. A karma yogi who engages the organs of his body in desireless actions, keeping his body and mind under control, detached mentally, offering the fruit of his actions to God, living only to perform bodily functions, becomes liberated from the bondage of birth and death and is never reborn again (3.21-23).
The body can be a source of liberation at the time of death, for the true yogi who has mastered his senses and controlled his mind. This is possible because whatever a person remembers at the time of his death, he attains that only (8.5). Thus a person by remembering God at the time of his death, full of devotion, through the strength of the yoga, holding the life breath between the two eye brows, can easily reach him (8.10).
By closing all the openings of the body, establishing the mind in the heart and fixing life energy in the head, and uttering the syllable "AUM," the yogi can easily attain the Supreme Self (8.12&13). A man should, therefore, train his mind through buddhi yoga and always think of God only.
However, one should not subject the body to torture and severe ascetic practices. The person who tries to restrain the organs of work outwardly without inner control and detachment from sense objects is a man of deluded intellect and a hypocrite (3.6). Those are men of demoniac resolve, who practice austerities and penance not enjoined by the scriptures, under the influence of lust, power and attachment, and there by torture the body and God who dwells in the body (17.5&6).
The Yoga is not for one who is a voracious eater or a non-eater. It is also not for him who sleeps too much or who does not sleep at all (6.16). Moderation, regulated diet and relaxation, restrained actions, discipline in sleeping and waking, is the path to freedom from sorrow (6.17).
Thus according to the Gita, the body is a mere vessel, which perishable and changeable. It is the creation of Prakriti, an Adhibhuta, in which is housed the Adhiyagna, the imperishable soul, dwelling as the inner witness (8.4). Since the body is perishable, one should not identify oneself with it and not grieve over anyone’s death.
By detaching oneself from the body consciousness, by controlling the mind, by becoming wary of the play of the gunas and the senses, by constantly fixing the mind on the Higher Self, by performing the daily duties with a sense of detachment, one can achieve true liberation and the Highest Goal.
Suggestions for Further Reading
- The Samkhya Philosophy and 24 Principles of Creation
- The Bhagavadgita On The Problem Of Sorrow
- The Concept of Atman or Eternal Soul in Hinduism
- The Practice of Atma Yoga Or The Yoga Of Self
- The Problem of Maya Or Illusion and How To Deal With It
- Belief In Atman, The Eternal Soul Or The Inner Self
- Brahman, The Highest God Of Hinduism
- The Bhagavad Gita Original Translations
- The Bhagavadgita, Philosophy and Concepts
- Bhakti yoga or the Yoga of Devotion
- Hinduism And The Evolution of Life And Consciousness
- Why to Study the Bhagavadgita Parts 1 to 4
- The Triple Gunas, Sattva, Rajas and Tamas
- The Practice of Tantra and Tantric Ritual in Hinduism and Buddhism
- The Tradition Of Gurus and Gurukulas in Hinduism
- Origin, Definition and Introduction to Hinduism
- Hinduism, Way of Life, Beliefs and Practices
- A Summary of the Bhagavadgita
- Avatar, the Reincarnation of God Upon Earth
- The Bhagavadgita on Karma, the Law of Actions
- The Mandukya Upanishad
- The Bhagavadgita On The Mind And Its Control
- Symbolic Significance of Numbers in Hinduism
- The Belief of Reincarnation of Soul in Hinduism
- The True Meaning Of Renunciation According To Hinduism
- The Symbolic Significance of Puja Or Worship In Hinduism
- Introduction to the Upanishads of Hinduism
- Origin, Principles, Practice and Types of Yoga
- Hinduism and the Belief in one God
Introduction to Hinduism
The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
The Chandogya Upanishad