The Bhagavad Gita | Study Guide


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The Bhagavad Gita | Chapter 13 : The Field and Its Knower | Summary



Krishna explains the distinction between the body as the "field" and the Self as the "knower of the field." Krishna reports that he is "the Knower of the field / in every body": he is the ultimate "Self" present in all beings. On the most basic level, Krishna is the Self/knower in every field/body. He describes the elements that make up the "field" and the attributes of a "knower." The "object of knowledge" is the supreme reality and essence of all things. A truly wise person demonstrates "persistence in knowing the Self / and awareness of the goal of knowing." Krishna refers to this as authentic knowledge. He tells Arjuna that a devotee who understands these concepts and their relation to one another "is ready for [God's] state of being."

According to Krishna, nature causes activity, such as heat or cold, in the body. The Self is what generates responses to bodily activity, such as pain and pleasure. Both are manifestations of God and are "without beginning." Whether positive and loving, passionate and active, or dull and negative, a person's natural disposition interacts with nature. Nature creates the activity in the body that makes up existence and all its chaos. Still, the Self is separate from the experience of nature and the body with their related positive and negative reactions and feelings. Understanding this separation will help free a person from the cycle of rebirth. Krishna wants Arjuna to understand that the Self is part of God, even though while embodied it experiences the impact of both nature and the body. A wise person knows that the Self is ultimately separate from nature and the body. Realizing this separation will bring the devotee serenity because the Self will stop being affected by the temperament of one's nature.


Continuing his discourse on the nature of existence and transcendence, Krishna outlines three elements of existence. These are the field, the Knower, and the object of knowledge. The field describes nature, or the physical world, which includes the body and the entire perceivable world. When Krishna outlines the field, he mentions the 5 elements and the 10 senses. The five elements include the standard four of earth, air, fire, and water, and the fifth of ether, or space. The 10 senses that the text mentions can be divided into two parts: sensory and motor. The sensory faculties include sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. The motor faculties and related uses include the hands for grasping, voice for speaking, legs for walking, genitals for procreating, and anus for eliminating. Humans experience nature, or the physical world, through these faculties.

The Knower in Krishna's explanation is the Self. Because the Self and God are ultimately one, the Knower is both the Self and God. The Self and God are the same and reside "outside yet within all beings ... / subtle beyond comprehension." The Knower "is seated in the hearts of all beings." In other words, a devotee has a body to experience nature, but the Self is not the physical body. The Self and God, or presence, is always within each being whether clearly perceived or not. By detaching from the body and developing awareness of this presence of Self and God, one moves closer to Krishna.

Krishna speaks frequently of "knowing" and "knowledge." The type of knowing he describes is different from the way the term is usually used in English. The verb to know in English expresses knowing or familiarity with a fact or an individual. However, in the context of yoga and Krishna's teachings, the word has a deeper significance. It can be thought of as more like the terms to get and to understand, as in "to get a joke." When someone goes from the state of not getting a joke to the state of getting that joke, an internal change occurs. In the same way, a person might understand and know the basic principles of what Krishna is teaching. Until the person moves into a state of truly getting those concepts, they have not achieved liberation from the cycle of suffering or rebirth.

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