top of page


[A reference, say, to Ch.2, Shloka 7 of the Bhagavad-Gita would simply be given as “(2 – 7)”

without mentioning the Bhagavad-Gita.

You may want to keep a copy ready on hand.]

  2. Two ‘Selves’


According to Vedanta, the doer/experiencer is the one who has identified with one’s body, mind, intellect (BMI). If you don’t identify yourself with your BMI, you are not the doer/experiencer. But who is this ‘you’ that is being talked about? That is the clinching issue. There is a triple personality that we should know of in order to know ourselves.


(Note that I am following here the last five shlokas of the fifteenth chapter of the Gita and the explanations given in Panchadashi. I should also acknowledge the influence of Aurobindo’s Essays on the Gita and of my father’s lectures and writings in what I write below).


The first is the outer personality, by which I mean, not the external personality that others see in us, but the personality that we claim in our heart of hearts as “I”. This outer personality of mine includes my BMI, along with all the innermost thoughts that I know are mine, and therefore my ego also. [Important note to scholars. By the ‘outer personality’ I am linking together the ‘concrete body’ (sthula-sharIra) and the ‘subtle body’ (sUkShma-sharIra) – purely for the purpose of clarity of this series of articles.] But behind the body-mind-intellect (BMI) there exists something which gives it life. Without this, the BMI cannot express itself. We call this the ‘JIva’. The corresponding English word ‘soul’ may be used most often though it may not have all the connotations that ‘JIva’ has. “What dies when separated from the soul is the body; the soul does not die” (Ch. U. VI – 11 -3). This soul is nothing but the spark of the Absolute Consciousness (7-5; 15–7) and therefore it is sentient. The Lord of the Gita introduces this in the seventh chapter and says: His own divine Energy – called Cosmic Nature (Sanskrit: PrakRti) – is two-fold. One is superior and the other is not so superior. This latter is the source of all matter. It manifests actually as eight-fold matter, namely, the five elements, plus mind, plus intellect, plus ego. In its manifestation as the five elements PrakRti constitutes all of what science has unfolded about the universe and all of what it continues to unfold. In the manifestation in each individual as one’s mind-intellect-ego, PrakRti constitutes all “the actions of one’s past lives individualised and earmarked for this life together with the accumulated tendencies from all one’s past lives” (Shankara’s Commentary on (3 – 33)). The Superior prakRti (Sanskrit: parA-prakRti) is what becomes all the souls. Each soul takes several bodies (physical appearances) one after the other just as the same individual dons different clothes. ( 2 – 22). In all these different appearances of the same soul, though it takes different bodies, the same mind sticks on to it. (15 – 7, 8). But the memories of the mind do not go with it since they stay in the brain and perish along with it. However, in each such life of the particular soul, the mind accumulates tendencies (‘vAsanAs’) that go on with it into succeeding lives where it gets other bodies. It is these tendencies that give a character to the mind. This character is a mixture of the three basic strands of prakRti – the divine (satva), the dynamic (rajas) and the dull (tamas). Without BMI the soul cannot express itself as an individual. Without the sentient soul, mind is just inert matter. But when it sticks on to the soul in the latter’s physical expression through BMI, it gets (a borrowed) sentience. Now the soul interacts with the universe of matter as well as with the other living beings. But even this interaction has to take place only through the medium of the BMI. There is therefore a seemingly endless play of the sentient Consciousness within and the insentient universe of matter outside through the medium of the BMI. In this play, the sentient Consciousness within, which is nothing but the spark of the Absolute, is called ‘PuruSha’ or Self.

[Important note: I plan to use ‘PuruSha’ in this context systematically, though its English equivalent ‘Self’ is available. The ‘Self’ is already the English equivalent of ‘Atman’. ‘Atman’ and ‘PuruSha’ will turn out to be the same at the end of all this discussion, but at this point of the discussion where we are dwelling on the ‘triple personality’, it is better to keep the word ‘PuruSha’ for purposes of technical clarity of communication as we go along. And the word  ‘PuruSha’ has the inbuilt meaning ‘the resident in the body’ which aptly describes what we are talking about in this discussion.]


[Optional note: ‘The resident in the body’ – this meaning comes from the derivation of the word ‘puruSha’ from its etymological roots. ‘puri shete iti puruShaH’ – He who resides in the body-city is puruSha. Recall (5 – 13) ‘navadvAre pure dehI’.]


Everything else, including the interaction with other beings, is of course prakRti. This interplay of puruSha and prakRti is what constitutes our passage through life. Now the Lord says: There are two puruShas. (15 – 16). They are: the perishable puruSha (also called ‘empirical self’) and the imperishable puruSha. The perishable one expresses itself through the BMI. When the BMI vanishes in the cycle of time, it can no more express itself. So this personality is termed “Perishable” (Sanskrit: ‘kShara’). The full Sanskrit term is “kShara-puruSha”. It is this Perishable PuruSha – whom we shall hereafter denote by ‘PP’ for convenience of brevity in writing – who does all the work in the external world and thinks all the thoughts.


[A note for the novice: In my style of a mathematics teacher who uses a lot of symbols for communication, may I suggest that as you read these posts, do not keep reading ‘PP’ as ‘PP’ but keep reading it as ‘Perishable puruSha’. That will protect you against possible confusions that might arise when I introduce other notations like ‘IP’ – imperishable puruSha ! Also by reading it for what it means, the sentences will not tend to become unintelligible mechanical mantras!]


It is he, the PP, who is the “I” of ordinary conversation. Vedanta says it is not ‘the real I’ because of the perishability of PP. He is the mutable, thinking, acting personality, subjected by Ignorance to the outward workings of PrakRti. We said the soul expresses itself through the BMI. But in so expressing itself, it invariably makes the mistake of thinking it is just the PP and nothing more. In other words, the soul commits the colossal error of identifying itself with the BMI. This colossal error is the beginningless ignorance. And here starts all the problems of life. All the pleasure and pain, ups and downs, light and darkness, good and bad, that the BMI suffers through, are mistakenly assumed by the soul as its own experiences. Not only this. All the actions of the BMI are also appropriated by the soul. Thus arises the common expression: ‘I am the doer’, ‘I am the experiencer’. Just to quote from one of the hundreds of places where Shankara emphasizes this process as a superimposition, here is one from his Commentary on Brahma-SUtra II-3-29:

Though the Self is not an agent and experiencer, and though it has no transmigratoriness and is ever free, still it comes to have the states of being an Agent and an experiencer, this being caused by the superimposition of the modes of intellect acting as a limiting adjunct.’ (“buddhy-upAdhi-dharmAdhyAsa- ………. nityamuktasya sata AtmanaH”).


The PP (or the soul in its present state of oneness with the PP) is involved in the actions of Nature. He reflects the different workings of the modes of Nature. He associates himself with the doings of prakRti and thinks he is the doer. He identifies himself with the play of personality and clouds his self-knowledge with the ego-sense in PrakRti so that he thinks himself as the ego-doer of works. (3 - 27).


The second of the triple personality is ‘the Imperishable PuruSha’ – which we shall denote hereafter by ‘IP’ for convenience of communication. It is a higher, deeper, reality -- some exponents call it ‘inner reality’ – than the PP. It is the eternal impersonal self within. It is the ‘sat-chid-Ananda’ (Existence-Knowledge-Bliss) of Vedanta. The full Sanskrit term is “akShara-puruSha” -- ‘akShara’ meaning ‘imperishable’. It has no share in the action and movement of the PP except to support it by its presence and be a non-participating witness.


Some one pinches my body. It hurts. Who feels this hurt? I feel the hurt. Who is this I that is speaking? It is the PP. Why does the PP feel the hurt? Because it has identified itself with the BMI. Therefore it becomes the experiencer (‘bhoktA’). Recall that the soul has already fallen into the colossal error of thinking that it is the PP and nothing more. Not only do I feel the hurt, but I flare up at the other person. Who is this I that is flaring up now? It is again the PP. Why does the PP flare up? Because it has identified itself with the BMI. As a consequence of this identification, it not only experiences the hurt, but falls into the trap of the gang of peace-breakers like anger and ego and flares back. So it becomes the ‘kartA’ (doer)


 What does the Lord say on this now? He says there are two puruShas – perishable and imperishable. The imperishable is never hurt and can never be hurt, says He. “This cannot be cut into pieces; this cannot be burnt; this cannot be tainted; this cannot be dried”. (2 – 24) 8 So He says: “My dear Arjuna, You (the PP / soul) are wrongly identifying yourself with this BMI. Don’t do this. Identify yourself with the IP within you. Then there will be no hurt. Only Happiness” This is the bottom line. This is the essential philosophical content of the entire teaching of the Gita. This is the message of all spiritual teaching. This is the grand recipe for Happiness.


Vedanta comes to our help in analysing this message for us. Vedanta reduces everything to five fundamentals. 'sat' (Existence) -- revealed by the fact that it 'exists' (*asti*) 'chit' (Consciousness) -- revealed by the fact of 'knowing' (*bhAti*) 'Ananda' (Bliss) -- revealed by the fact of 'happiness' (*priyam*) 'nAma' (Name) -- everything has a name 'rUpaM' (Form) -- every visible thing has a form. The first three are permanent, eternal. Each one of them constitutes what we called the IP. The last two are ephemeral, transient. Our BMI belongs to the last two above. Anything in our experience belongs to this ‘Name’ and ‘Form’. When somebody pinches me I feel the pain. It is really the BMI that senses the pain and reacts to it. But the BMI would not have done it if 'I' were not there. (for example, a dead body) – that is, if the sentience, borrowed from the IP within, were not there. It is the association of 'I' with the BMI that makes 'me' feel and react. The ‘superimposition’ of BMI and its experiences on the ‘I’ is the problem. When I, the one whose outer personality is called Krishnamurthy, ceases to associate the 'I' with the BMI and remains what it should be, namely, the IP, there should be no feeling of pain and no provocation for a reaction or action. This is what Krishna says to Arjuna.


Thus all action happens only when the association of the permanent facet of man namely the 'sat-chit-Ananda' facet of man is associated with the 'nAma-rUpa' facet of the same man. Or, it may also be said the other way. The ‘nAma-rUpa’ facet and its goings-on are superimposed on the ‘sat-chid-Ananda’ facet. It is this association/superimposition that is the actor and the reactor. It is this association/superimposition that is the feeler, the thinker. Who makes this association/superimposition? It is the empirical Self, the Jiva. All that Vedanta says is this: Get over this mixing up of the 'sat-cit-Ananda' with the 'nAma-rUpa'. To sum up, we ended up the previous post with the question “ Who is the ‘We’ in the statement ‘We are identifying ourselves with the BMI’?” 9 It can be answered now. ‘We’, the agent or subject who does the identification is the PP/soul/ ‘empirical self’ who expresses himself through the BMI. If we do not so identify then the hurt or pain which affects the body, mind, intellect will not be ‘felt’. (Easy to say this! But at this point it has to be granted at least as an academic truism). At least this is what Krishna says. It is at this point of the discussion we have to spend considerable thought on the key-words “non-participating witness” in the paragraph above that introduced the IP. It is in fact the punchline of Vedanta, particularly of advaita. We shall take this and the allied concept of ‘the empirical self’ in the next two sections. They are likely to be dense in content. Be prepared to proceed slowly and steadily!

bottom of page