23. The mind and intellect cannot function without the vitalising force of Atman. So in this verse Krsna discusses Atman. The world consists of the five great elements – space, air, fire, water and earth. These elements affect the body, mind and intellect which are matter. They do not have the power to influence, control or affect Atman as Atman is the subtlest. The gross cannot affect the subtle. As the famous saying goes –
“Stone walls do not a prison make nor iron bars a cage
Minds innocent and quiet take that for a hermitage.”
However modern and sophisticated a weapon may be, it cannot destroy Atman. In fact even space remains untouched by a nuclear explosion. The air gets polluted, not space. Fire cannot burn Atman as there has to be something other than fire to burn. Only Atman exists. The rest is a mere projection of the mind. Water cannot wet Atman. Water can only wet porous substances. Again, there is nothing other than Atman so It cannot be wet. Water molecules need to be present for wind to dry a thing. There is no water in Atman so wind cannot dry It.
Say to yourself, ‘weapons cannot cut me.’ But weapons kill your body! Then who are you? If you believe yourself to be the body, mind and intellect you get affected by the world. You become a victim, tossed around by the fluctuations in the world. Shift your focus to Atman. The world will no longer torment you. Even the mind, intellect and vasanas are immune to physical changes in the world. When you are engrossed in a book you are oblivious to hunger, thirst and other demands of the body.
The masters emphasise that all suffering is because of wrong identification. The world by itself has no power to disturb you. You become vulnerable when you mistakenly believe yourself to be the body-mind-intellect. When you understand you are Atman the world ceases to traumatise you. You may interact with the world and do what you have to but as a master, not slave. Only then can you enjoy the world.
24. In this verse Krsna explains why Atman cannot be cut, burnt, wet or dried. Atman is beyond the grasp of the intellect as It is the power that enables the intellect to function. Just as a torch can illumine everything except itself. At best we can get some idea by way of pointers. Here Krsna gives some pointers for us to contemplate upon.
Nitya – Eternal. Time, space and causation belong to the world. They are intellectual concepts. Atman enables the intellect to understand everything in the world. Atman was there before the intellect came into being. Hence It is beyond time.
Sarvagata – all-pervading. Atman pervades the microcosm, individual, as well as the macrocosm, universe, and exists beyond as well. It pervades the waking, dream and deep sleep states and is beyond, in Its pristine glory. That Atman you are!
Sthanu and acala – steady and immoveable. Two types of movement are possible. Movement from one place to another and movement at a given place. You can move from a place where you exist to a place where you do not exist. Atman is everywhere hence cannot move.
Sanatana – Permanent, ancient. Time is defined as the interval between two experiences. Atman existed even at the first experience hence it is before time, eternal.