vāsāṁsi jīrṇāni yathā vihāya
navāni gṛhṇāti naro ’parāṇi
tathā śarīrāṇi vihāya jīrṇāny
anyāni saṁyāti navāni dehī
As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.
Bhagavad Gita 2.22
Krishna, in the verse 2.18, awakens us to the contrast that we are eternal beings living in transient bodies. How does a bird feel in a cage? That’s how a soul feels in a material body. Enmeshed in perishable bodies, we’re temporarily controlled by the mind, intelligence, and false ego made up of subtle matter. We’re glued to that which will perish in some time. And due to proximity with the perishable we think we’ll be destroyed, too. However, our inner nature longs for eternal experiences. That’s why we want to remain young forever. For us, bodily pleasures should last forever.
When a lion herds with sheep, he thinks himself a sheep. In a body of made up of matter, the soul worries about discontinuity of pleasure. And continuous worry over decay and death gives birth to Botox and DNA manipulation. But the body is bound to perish. Arjuna is worried about that which is inching closer to destruction every moment, anyway. In the verse 2.19, Krishna tells Arjuna that neither the soul can slay, nor it can be slain. So why worry about that which can’t happen (destruction of the soul) and why fret over that which can’t be prevented (destruction of the body).
Krishna is quite practical. In the verse 2.22, He compares our bodies to the clothes we wear. We change clothes as they become dirty. We exchange old ones for new. We discard those clothes that don’t appeal to our senses or those that become outdated. Is Krishna being insensitive here? Has Krishna issued us a free license to kill in the Gita by comparing bodies to clothes? Some years ago someone filed a court case in Moscow that the Bhagavad Gita teaches violence. Using a verse out of context and misunderstanding it is a sign of lower nature. Imagine how one can mess up their mind if one hears someone saying, “Why are you feeding me poison?” and understands it out of context. A bitter Ayurvedic medicine tastes like a poison but it heals one of even chronic diseases. So, for someone who can’t handle the taste, the medicine is like a poison. But the doctor has prescribed this medicine to heal the patient not harm him. Developing a deeper understanding that I’m eternal and unaffected by the reactions of this world can help us rise above the daily bickering, ego clashes, greed, envy, anger and lust. And if each one of us internalizes this knowledge, conflicting situations won’t arise at all.
Similarly, applying only a line of verse out of 574 verses that Krishna spoke in the Gita and claiming that we live by the principles of the Gita is no less a spiritual crime. In India, people are often heard saying, “Krishna kahte hai aapna karam karo. Bas.” I heard this too from a chemist during the book marathon 2014. The chemist said with a sense of ultimate knowledge and pride “Krishna says just do your duty. And I’m doing my duty. I don’t to read the Gita.” So this man who sells medicines at 50-70% profit, he should keep doing it without pondering over how he should spiritualize the profit he has been making. According to this chemist, he doesn’t need to study the Gita because what this man has been doing is what Krishna has been repeatedly teaching in the Gita. Out of 574 verses that Krishna has spoken in the Gita, people conveniently remember only a part of one verse. We don’t wish to know how many types of karmas we are bound by, and we conveniently think that Krishna repeats “aapna karam karo. Bas.” in the remaining 576 verses. We customize God’s words to our convenience.
Let’s think about this: To save us from a terrorist, our rescuer ends up shooting the terrorist. And now about this: we’re drowning and the rescuer saves our clothes and lets us drown. In the first scenario, the act of terrorism becomes the cause of the terrorist’s killing. But the soul that played the role of the terrorist will be released from this experience. And this soul will move on to another bodily experience based on the karmic patterns and the thoughts that dominated his consciousness at the time of death. So, the soul will wear a new garment; change into a new body. In the second scenario, saving the clothes is analogous to protecting the body. And letting the body drown is analogous to not rescuing the soul from the ocean of maya. We’re here to use our transient bodies to achieve our eternal purpose. Inventing temporary purposes to give fading pleasures to the decaying body is like saving the dress of a drowning person. Krishna says save yourself, O soul. Don’t wear yourself out, O soul, to participate in the fashion parade of 84 million dresses (read species).