Bhagavad Gita’s Notion of Freedom of One’s Self
A fundamental conflict in the Bhagavad Gita is the notion of whether or not the “self” is independent of, or synonymous with the larger supreme spirit, (or “Self”), manifested in Krishna; it is the main distinguisher between reading the text from either a monistic or dualistic perspective. In other words, does an individual’s “self” truly belong to itself – or is it a part of a larger entity? The idea that the self is independent of Krishna is essential to the foundation of the validity of the Bhagavad Gita, for it supports the validity of Krishna’s existence, and the concepts of dharma, karma, and reincarnation.
To define individuality in a living being, in the context of the Bhagavad Gita, is to assign it an essence that distinguishes one being from another, some sort of a “soul” or a “self” at the core of one’s being. The text addresses three levels of one’s being being synthesized to:  the physical body that is ephemeral,  the mind and the ego, and  the “self” that is eternal and indestructible in nature. This “self” lives multiple lifetimes in multiple bodies in the endless cycle of death and rebirth until one relinquishes attachment and performs unrelenting devotion to Krishna, for only he can rescue them “from the ocean/of death and rebirth” (110, 12.7). Those who have mastered the worldly world, will then exist in the infinite spirit, be illuminated by the knowledge of the self, which will illuminate the ultimate reality of existence, and find true release in something infinite and euphoric that no other worldly experience could ever compare. As presented in the text, this “self” is described as a double spirit, one that is “transient and eternal” and the other as “the supreme spirit of man” (125, 15.16). Outside of the individual “self” that each living being encases, is a larger spirit, manifested in Krishna. Krishna claims that “since I transcend what is transient/and I am higher than the eternal,/I am known as the supreme spirit of man/in the world and in sacred lore” (126, 15.18). This claim serves as a huge ellipses that Krishna is to be the sole real “self” and is presented as the manifestation of the “Self”. Yet this portrayal is a double-edged sword. Granted that this manifestation of Krishna defends this transcendent spirit of a Divine, it challenges the idea and extent of every living being’s individuality.
Should the Bhagavad Gita suggest that the individual “self” is a part of Krishna, it poses a large contradiction to the foundation of the Bhagavad Gita; it challenges the validity of Krishna’s power, and the “beginningless” of the supreme “Self” (117, 13.31). As Krishna describes himself and his vast being, and within his “womb is the great infinite spirit;/in it I place the embryo,/and from this, Arjuna,/comes the origin of all creatures/the infinite spirit the great womb/of all forms that come to be/in all wombs,/and I am the seed-giving father” (119, 14.3). This passage could be interpreted as that there is a portion of Krishna in every living being, for he is the “seed-giving father” (119, 14.3). Should the “self” and Krishna, as a manifestation of the divine spirit that is all encompassing, be synonymous, then by extension, every living being holds a part of the deity and divine essence within. Every living being, therefore, must be deified and divinised by extension. This suggests that the there is a beginning and an end, a before and after, where the “Self” has given parts of himself to be infused into all living beings, and as these living beings reach nirvana, they will eventually go back to the “Self” until no more “selfs” remain on earth. This then invalidates the influence and power that Krishna holds, the “beginningless” of the supreme “Self,” and therefore provides the assumption that all living beings holds an innate individuality that is separate from Krishna.
By assuming the former is an incorrect interpretation of the text, one can preserve the idea that there is a deity who is above transient living beings, and that people have an innate individuality to their self. Therefore, Krishna is a separate entity, while being a manifestation of the supreme infinite spirit, is the ultimate “Self.” This distinction between the “Self” and the “self” is made clear when Krishna says to Arjuna, “knowing me in reality/he enters into my presence” (143, 18.55), “I am not in them, they are in me” (74, 7.12). This asserts the idea that the “Self” is real, and in comparison the world and the body are nothing. However, to an extent, it risks the validity of the existence of Krishna in temporal reality. When Krishna reveals his true form to Arjuna, temporally, it seems rather impossible to comprehend such a being to exist in the physical world. However, the Bhagavad Gita states that to completely understand Krishna and his expanse, one cannot reach him through temporal means, but rather through faith, by seeing “the self through the self” (116, 13.24). One must put aside their empirical human ego, for only with the help of Krishna’s guidance, can one transcend reality and reach nirvana. However, very few beings will reach nirvana. Krishna says that “he is the rare great spirit who sees/‘Krishna is all that is’” (75, 7.19). Though intense introspection, and devout devotion to Krishna, one must gaze into the self to truly see the “Self.”
The true individualistic essence of the “self” is essential to the validity of the Bhagavad Gita and provides a dualistic approach to the text that reflects the hierarchical difference between the “Self” and the individual “self.” However, this individuality is not an individualism. This individuality is an essential part to society and reality, as well as in spirituality, however each being is constantly working to elevate itself to the supreme “Self”hood. Though individual, each living being does not exist for itself, but rather existing for everything else, and this is the beautiful message that this Song of the Lord sings.
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