Matter, Spirit… What’s the Difference?

The Bhagavad Gita is about what a person really needs to do to become perfectly fulfilled. The thesis is that a person is a fragment of God, therefore to become perfectly fulfilled we have to situate our fragmental self in the divine whole of Godhead. The proposition Kṛṣṇa establishes with Bhagavad Gita is that the most profound and perfect way of doing that is through love (bhakti) – the most powerful force at the core of the soul.

Thus the Bhagavad Gita is about bhakti – linking to the divine by way of love. The entire book is about bhakti, but the middle six of its eighteen chapters are the most explicitly, overtly, and thoroughly so. The other 12 chapters are about other important things which help us excavate and reestablish the eternal loving nature of our soul. One topic is karma-yoga, selfless action. The first 6 chapters focus on how selfless action helps us establish bhakti, divine love. The other topic is jñāna-yoga, logical science. The last 6 chapters of Gita focus on how logical sciences help us establish divine love, bhakti.

How we got from Chapter 12 to Chapter 13

In Chapter 12 Arjuna asked, directly, “what is the most perfect yoga?” In other words, “what is the most perfect method of linking our fragmental self to the divine whole?” Kṛṣṇa plainly answered that divine love, bhakti, is the most perfect yoga – the most perfect link between the self and God.

Then Arjuna asked, “Then how should bhakti-yoga be done?”

Kṛṣṇa answered that affectionate emotions should cause ones heart and mind to always wrap around Kṛṣṇa. If that is too advanced, he said that one should practice doing it. If that is too advanced then one should start by engaging his physical actions in pleasing Kṛṣṇa. If even that is for some reason too advanced then one must prepare for bhakti yoga by doing supportive yogas, karma and jñāna yogas. Best is if one can do karma-yoga: working for the benefit of others without selfish motive. If that is impossible, one should cultivate knowledge, jñāna-yoga, which will reduce ones ego and allow one to enter selfless karma-yoga.

Because of that last statement of Kṛṣṇa, the 13th chapter came about. Arjuna realized that proper knowledge of the world is the ultimate foundation for bhakti-yoga, therefore he wanted to ask Kṛṣṇa questions about this knowledge.

What happens in Chapter 13

Arjuna asks Kṛṣṇa to explain three subjects

  1. What is the subject of knowledge?
  2. Who gains the knowledge?
  3. How does s/he gain it?

In texts 2-7

Kṛṣṇa answers that the body and the world it interacts with is the immediate subject of knowledge. The soul is the person who gains knowledge through the body. There is also a Supersoul, distinct from the individual soul, who has knowledge of all bodies and all worlds.

Kṛṣṇa explains the various components that make up the body and its world and explains that transformations arising from interactions among these components create sensations which the soul interprets as happiness or distress, pleasure or pain, desire or disgust, etc.

In texts 8-19

Kṛṣṇa addresses the subject of education – how do we gain knowledge. He explains that true knowledge of the world comes to the soul by cultivating qualities that allow crystal clear perception. The foremost of these qualities is humility.

He then explains that the real subject of education is not the world, but the soul who knows the world. The soul should be known, but beyond that the soul of the soul is the ultimate subject for education. This entity is called paramātmā or “Supersoul” or “oversoul” or “allsoul.” Kṛṣṇa describes the Supersoul thoroughly as the knower of all subjects, the experiencer all fields, all worlds, and the Supreme Godhead.

He concludes by saying that true education, real scientific logic, causes one to understand the position of the self in relations to the super-self and therefore fall in love with the Superself.

The Current Text For Study

Now we come to our current text, the 20th text. This begins a new section, six texts (20-26) in which Kṛṣṇa will explain the subject of knowledge and the possessor of knowledge using the terms prakriti and purusha.

prakṛtiḿ puruṣaḿ ca – matter (prakriti) and spirit (purusha) have something in common (ca).

iva – certainly. Don’t doubt what you will now hear even though it may shock you.

Viddhyyou must understand that…


 Ubhāvare both of them.

 Api – Yes! Even! It’s true!

So in other words, “Matter and spirit are both eternal.” But, but… but… I thought the material world was “temporary”???? So, Kṛṣṇa clarifies…

Vikārāḿś ca  – Transformations / instability, and…

Guṇāḿś caivaAnd qualifications / relativity too, without a doubt

 Viddhiyou must understand

Prakṛti-sambhavānonly exist in matter.

So now we have the full picture, which is this, “Matter and spirit are both eternal. But relativity and instability arise only in Matter, not spirit.”

How my Guru Explained it to me.

We were in Śrī Dhāma Vṛṇdāvana, if memory serves, and I believe it was Goverdhan Parikrama – unless I am blending memories. With a mild smile on his face, as is quite common for my Gurudev, he told me: “Matter and spirit are both eternal. Spirit is eternally the same. Matter is eternally changing. When the spiritual soul takes a material identity, it is subjected to unnatural conditions of relativity and constant decay and change. Thus it suffers in search of joy.”

Further Discussion

If anyone has any comments or would like to ask any questions about this I would be quite happy to reply to the best of my ability.


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  1. At first glance this all resonates. Then I re-read it and sometimes feel like my understanding is eons away from truly grasping it. Truly divine in of itself.

    As far as questions go mine are endless. 🙂 Not even sure they would be quite on topic too. But thank you Vic for these beautiful gems you so generously share!


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