Which of these things doesn’t belong?
BG 2.24: “This individual soul is unbreakable and insoluble, and can be neither burned nor dried. He is everlasting, present everywhere, unchangeable, immovable and eternally the same.”
Yesterday I happened upon a list compiled by Time Magazine of its selection of the top 50 web sites from last year, and on it was the Sesame Street web site. I hadn’t thought about Sesame Street in a while, maybe because I haven’t lived with a television since I was a kid. Maybe they don’t have the “which of these things doesn’t belong” segments anymore, but it was pretty common when I was a kid. There would be a square divided into quarters, with a different image in each one. Three of the pictures would share some distinct trait the the other one lacked.
That little game reminds me of Srila Prabhupada’s translation of Bhagavad-gita 2.24.
The verse begins by identifying the subject as “This individual soul.” Clicking on the Sanskrit for this phrase (“ayam”), seems to indicate that the word normally just means “this,” but it seems quite common for Srila Prabhupada to elaborate on the meaning of words when he translates.
Krishna then goes on to list various qualities, which Srila Prabhupada has indicated are describing the individual soul. They are:
can’t be burned
can’t be dried
eternally the same
Immediately I see one of these is different. I noticed this very early in my Bhagavad-gita study, but tried not to think about it.
So… “Present everywhere” is different. Srila Prabupada taught that the individual soul is localized and has a diameter of 1/10,000 of the tip of a hair. I guess that means a hair of about average size, but I guess it could relate to the diameter of Krishna’s hair or of Vyasa’s hair. It seems to be anybody’s guess. The problem with th is is that Srila Prabhupada says in the purport that the all-pervasiveness of the soul is not due to its numerical strength, because there are “living entities are all over God’s creation.”
We have seven adjective phrases describing the soul, except that one of them does not describe the “individual soul,” which Srila Prabhupada said was the subject, but rather all the souls together, which many years ago I heard was a definition of the name “Narayana.”
Why would Krishna include this adjective indicating omnipresence that we are told applies to infinite numbers of souls together, when we are also told it refers to the individual soul? It seems like very sloppy grammar, not exactly what I would expect from Krishna. On the other hand, if the grammar is understood in a way that makes logical sense, it would seem that all the qualities Krishna gives describing the “individual soul” actually refer the soul in a way that does not make sense to think of numerically, something leaning more toward nonduality than the Hare Krishnas’ idea of bhakti.
One little piece of trivia I’d like to add… If one takes a look at the Devanagari for this verse in Bhagavad-gita As It Is, either the 1983 original printing or the 1994 reprint (I don’t have any in between to check, but I presume it’s in all the printings in between), a wrong word is used. Instead of saying acchedyo ‘yam adhayo ‘yam, the Devanagari reads acchedhyo ‘yam acintyo ‘yam. I wonder how that happened. At some point the error was fixed though. I’m not sure when, but I think it was after I wrote to the BBT about it. I don’t suppose many people read the Devanagari, but I have and first noticed this myself.