Srimad Bhagavad-gita Study Group
- Chapter 13 -
Distinction Between Matter and Spirit
Our body is known as Ksetra (the field of action) and he who knows the body is called Ksetrajna. The Lord is also known as Ksetrajna in the absolute sense. Krishna tells Arjuna that qualities such as humility, forbearance, pridlessness, honesty, self-control and detachment constitute real knowledge. He then mentions the indwelling spiritual principle situated in the hearts of all and present everywhere and at all times as That which is to be known. He further explains that both Maya and the living beings are eternal and Maya or Prakriti is the cause and effect of all phenomenon in this world and the living beings (purusa) are the cause of their own suffering and enjoyment due to their attachment and interaction with Prakriti. As well as these principles of Prakriti and purusa within the body there exists a third principle or the Parama-Purusa, the witness and sanctioner of everything, the Supreme Lord known as Paramatma or the Supersoul. Whoever knows this Supreme Person, whether by meditation, inner enlightenment or the yoga of selfless action, never has to take birth again in this material world. Everything that comes into existence in this world is produced by the union of prakriti and purusa. If one sees the Supreme Lord situated equally in all things, is without self-deception and understands that the spirit-soul or jivatma proper is situated in a dormant state and therefore does nothing and understands that everything is the interaction of the material elements, then he is truly in knowledge. And the Supreme Lord although always fully present as the indwelling monitor, He also does nothing and is never affected by any action. Just as the Sun illuminates everything but is never tainted thereby so the Supreme Lord pervades everything but remains fully transcendental. The knower of the body (ksetra) is the jiva, the knower of Prakriti (material nature) is Paramatma and those who have spiritual vision can understand the path of the jivas liberation from Prakriti or Guna-Maya and ultimately attain the Lord’s lotus feet in His all-blissful abode.
Useful Acronym to remember the chapter contents:
The final six chapters focus on divya-jnana - transcendental wisdom which helps one become detached from materialistic aspirations and simultaneously attached to Krishna. Chapter Thirteen covers topics previously discussed, but explores them in a more analytical way. Thus, wise readers can take advantage of the logical presentation made by Krishna to strengthen their conviction and deepen their understanding
W Wise Questions
I Items of knowledge
S Soul & Supersoul
W – Wise Questions (Verses 1-7) - Arjuna asks Krishna to define six subjects: prakrti (nature), purusa (the enjoyer), ksetra (the field of activities), ksetra-jna (the knower of the field), jnanam (knowledge and the process of knowing), and jneyam (the object of knowledge). These subjects are key constituents of Vedic philosophy and Krishna therefore spends the entire chapter defining and discussing them. Arjuna, although an established transcendentalist, plays the part of a materially entangled individual so he can pose questions for the benefit of humanity. His astute enquiries create the opportunity for Krishna
to offer answers to life’s most profound mysteries. Krishna begins by defining ksetra and the ksetrajna.
I – Items of knowledge (Verses 8-12) - These verses describe how the ksetra-jna (spirit soul) can disentangle himself from the ksetra (body) by cultivating jnana (knowledge). Since true knowledge is revealed within the heart of a deserving person, the real method of acquiring knowledge is the cultivation of divine qualities, of which humility is foremost. Knowledge is not about information and memorisation, but rather about exemplary personal character and practical behaviour. One who nurtures a saintly disposition experiences a change of heart which disentangles the eternal soul from its deep rooted identification with the body – its temporary dress.
S – Soul & Supersoul (Verses 13-19) - Having described the ksetra, ksetra-jna and jnanam, Krishna now describes jneyam, the object of knowledge. The purpose of knowledge is to realize the soul and the Supersoul, who are eternally individual but at the same time intimately connected. It is the prerogative of the soul to understand the Supersoul, but the Supersoul is sometimes described as avijneyam, or unknowable. How to reconcile this? Empirical researchers who try to fathom the Supreme using mundane logic and material sense perception are invariably baffled, and the Supersoul within remains unknowable to them. However, those who approach the subject matter with the proper attitude, ready and willing to gain insight through the eyes of great teachers, can surely realise the Supersoul, the object of all knowledge.
E – Enjoyer (Verses 20-35) - The chapter concludes with descriptions of the final two terms – prakrti and purusa. The conditioned soul desires to control and enjoy matter (prakrti) and it is this enjoying spirit that binds him to the material world. The Supersoul, however, is the actual enjoyer (Parama-purusa) and everything (material nature and the individual souls) is ultimately meant for His enjoyment. Just as pouring water over the root of a tree energizes the trunk, branches, and twigs, similarly, offering worship and service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead for his pleasure and satisfaction, automatically brings satisfaction to all living entities, including ourselves.
Questions on Chapter 13
Chapter 13 sloka to learn:
upadraṣṭānumantā cha bhartā bhoktā maheśvaraḥ
paramātmeti chāpy ukto dehe ’smin puruṣaḥ paraḥ 
paraḥ puruṣaḥ–The Supreme Person; upadraṣṭā–witness; anumantā–sanctioner; bhartā–support; bhoktā–maintainer; mahā-īśvaraḥ cha–and Supreme Lord; asmin dehe–within this body; api uktaḥ–is also described; iti cha–as; paramātmā–Paramātmā, the Supersoul. 
23 The Supreme Person—the witness, sanctioner, support, guardian, and almighty Lord within this body, is known as Paramātmā, the Supersoul.
ya evaṁ vetti puruṣaṁ prakṛtiñ cha guṇaiḥ saha
sarvathā vartamāno ’pi na sa bhūyo ’bhijāyate 
yaḥ–One who; evam vetti–thus knows; puruṣam–the Supreme Person; prakṛtim cha–and material nature; guṇaiḥ saha–with its modes; saḥ–he; vartamānaḥ api–though present; sarvathā–in any situation; na abhijāyate–is not born; bhūyaḥ–again. 
24 Thus, one who truly knows the Supreme Person and material nature with its modes, will never in any circumstances have to take birth again.