What is the definition of 'Self'?

In Gita (as it is) chapter 13 verse 30, it has been mentioned that all activities are performed by the body and that the Self does nothing.

In the commentary below this verse, nothing is explained about the 'Self'. The only thing that has been told about the 'Self' (in the commentary) is that, IT is outside all bodily activities. 

The sanskrit term used by the Lord is 'atmanam'.

But the Lord or the  commentator didn't explain in full detail, the nature of this atma or Self.

Can someone please enlighten me on this topic. Thanks.

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  • Hmm Hare Krishna,

    I hope your doubts are clarified..I agree with Bharat Prabhu too.

    I want to explain a little more about it just to improve my own knowledge. I am glad that you are doing a deep study of  BG.  Its so nice to see such commitment trying to understand... going deep into philosophy.

    The topic is complex as it is not something material and tangible to discuss in terms day to day language.

    Its my attempt to study along with you. BG itself is so tough what to do. Though we may think we are knowing everything in it. It always amuses me and keeps me in riddles and I keep struggling to understand myself .. What can I explain .. I seek Lord Krishna's help now to go further to explain this. I may be wrong but please bear with my ignorance.

    having said that.. Self or atma is Sat or eternal or existence in itself...that which is real is only the Self.  We say Atma satyam..jagat mithya.

    Atma is only the reality and existing. rest all is perishable .. But we percieve this world thru this atma only. So it appears like the jagat is also real. Prakriti or material nature is perishable and even this body which is made up of pancha bhootas is perishable. When the body dies..all that we accumlated over time all is lost. skin, bones, muscles.. tissues,, organs...organ systems.. brain,.. mind ,,, intellect all is lost. Sthool Shareera is lost.

    Sookshma Sharira or the subtle body is made up of mind, false ego and intellect along with this atma ( SELF) is existing. Even though we may say these mind , ego and intellect are also made up of material things only so they also should be perished. But their existence is only felt percieved by the Atma. Atma along with this sookshma sharira  is the cause of taking up the next sharira. they are also unreal and perishable but in connection with Atma they look realistic.

    Now your doubt is.. does Atma move in and out of the body?

    no Atma is eternal, imperishable, indesctructable and immovable. .. It doesn't move on its own. Its the sookshma sharira that makes a move. Why is this moving? To find a suitable body as ( mind , false ego and intellect is carrying.. so many impression and has many dispositions and desires...to fulfil these things.. the Sookshma sharira is trying to find a body suitable to fulfil its desires. Atma or self is untouched by all these things..

    It is just a witness to all the activities performed by the sthool shreera shareera.. But it is the powering agent like.. a  constant supply of electricity to a fan ..the fan keeps on moving .. Fan itself has no intrinsic power to move...Its the electricity which makes its blades to move.

    The atma or self is also powering all the functions of the body to fulfill its desires. It is though the doer of all actions but remains untouched and uncontaminated by any of the Karma done by the body. 

    Subtle body records and keeps all the data.. wishes, desires... despositions.. anger,, hate...every event and according to that you ( self) gets another body.

    Let us say.. the person is dying has a deep desire to fly in air.. and he dies..suddenly......this desires are noted by the mind..and this subtle body keeps this information.. When this person dies.. the atma or the soul along with the this subtle body ( having the desire to fly) will get a body of bird to make his desire fulfilled. Now what is this atma doing here? Atma is just powering this body of bird to fly and solve the desire of the subtle body.

    Let us say.. the soul freed of all desires.. there is no more impressions left on the subtle body. atma is called mukt aatma now. Mukti is  basic step which happens immediately after this connection between atma and subtle body is lost.  after Mukti also the atma cannot feel blissful becoz .. it keeps craving to be part of the Bliss Supreme. It gets a spiritual body to serve Lord Sri Krishna in Goloka vrindavan. 



    Put a frying pan over the heat of the stove and put water in the frying pan..and boil a potato in it.. Potato is boiled.. it is heated.. But do you say the heat in the potato is from its own ? you would say no no heat is coming from the boiled water.. Then I would ask..Is the water the source of heat?  you will say no no.. the source lies beneath it .. it is the frying pan.. I would then say.. is the pan the source of heat?

    No frying pan is also not the source of heat.. as if you remove the pan from the stove.. the pan will be cooled off in no time. even boiling water can cool off.. .. But to a observer it might look like they are the source of heat. 

    But that stove which is burning source is also not the heat.. the fire is the eternal source of heat and its intrinsic quality of the fire.. Fire and heat go hand in hand.

    this all aquired heat from that fire looks like reality but they are not real.  That which is real is always there and will always be there forever but the others which acquired heat..will lose heat .. just as body is perishable and will die but that which was powering this body to perform the actions is the Atman and that is real and its the REAL KARTA or doer.

    who is to be blamed here? 

    Body? which performed the activity?

    or the Atma which is powering the body to do the activity

    or the subtle body or sookshma sharira which is the cause of this body itself?

    Feild of activity is the body.. ( kshetra).. Knower of the field is...( Atma). doer is the Atman. 

    But becoz of false ego this body think he is the doer. If I am writing this essay here...

    1. my hands are typing...( but I am not the hands)..

    2. my eyes are watching the screen I am percieve sounds of the key board..  ( my senses are not me).

    3. My mind which is making me to write ( getting ideas) is not me.

    4. Intellect which is judging and deciding what to write is not me.

    Who is powering all these ..1. hands, senses, mind.. intellect ??  ( HEHEHE don't say.. i eat energy bar so I am typing..its the food?)

    no ..above all these there is something which is powering all these to work. even my digestive system is powered by it to make energy,.. It is the ATMA.

    Its my false ego that is making me feel that I am  so great I am typing such a great response..  But credit goes to the SELF.

    When there is death..this sthool sharira is dying...this sharira physical body is rendered useless as it is no longer powered to perform activity by the Atman.

    But soul is never tainted by the karma done it remains pure..

    just like Fire buring the frying pan.. boiling the water and potato ( raw ) changing to the boiled potato.. 

    Fire didn't undergoe any change.. But It brought changes to the potato and the water.

    potato boiled( dead) discarded..

    now you can use the frying pan and the water to boil another potato.  Fire didn't change its quality. neither it is moving from place to place. 

    atman is in connection to this material nature ( subtle body) so it keeps changing bodies... If the same atmanam gets attached to the Supersoul or parmatma it is called Jeevan Mukt aatma.

    As this in contact with material nature or subtle body .. and has many desires ( mind , false ego and intellect has desires) depending on these desires it takes up another body suitable to its desires under the direction of Supersoul. until this connection with subtle body is lost  ( all desires gone totally free) then this Self turns towards Supersoul .. and this Supersoul then makes it take a spiritual body to go back to Godhead.

    Supersoul decides what this atma will get.. depending on the information carried by the subtle body.

    Soul leaving is not happening on its own. Its is always there at eternal and immoveable but subtle body is making it to take another body and another body.

    let me put it like this.


    Atma is pure consciousness or awareness.. right.. So the consciousness that it is this body is lost when death occurs and sthool shareera is burnt off ..the consciousness +subtle body attached to it is left off which takes up another body under Supersoul's direction. 

    I hope it makes some sense.

    Hare Krishna.



    • Thank you Gayatri mataji and Bharat prabhuji for explaining it to me so nicely.

  • Sevak

    Hare Krsna 

    In the beginning of Chapter 13 in Shloka 4 Sri Krsna says that he will be explaining about the field of activity or the material nature. Hence Chapter 13 is about the material nature and its how soul interacts with material nature. 

    As pointed by Gayatri Mataji, the second chapter elaborates in detail about the nature of atma. The teaching about atma, cycle  of brith and death etc is the first teaching of Lord Sri Krsna in Bhagavad Gita

    Hare Krsna

  • Hare Krishna,

    Srila Prabhupada ji has explained elsewhere at length about the description of the soul/atman. If you read all the purports of all the chapters in a sequential manner you wouldn't have this doubt.

    Chapter 2 is all about soul/atman and its nature.

    2.18 purport -"  The minute particle of the whole spirit acquires this material body according to his work, and therefore observance of religious principles should be utilized. In the Vedānta-sūtras the living entity is qualified as light because he is part and parcel of the supreme light. As sunlight maintains the entire universe, so the light of the soul maintains this material body. As soon as the spirit soul is out of this material body, the body begins to decompose; therefore it is the spirit soul which maintains this body."

    2.19 purport--" The spirit soul is so small that it is impossible to kill him by any material weapon, as will be evident from subsequent verses. Nor is the living entity killable, because of his spiritual constitution. What is killed, or is supposed to be killed, is the body only.''

    2.20 purport--" Qualitatively, the small atomic fragmental part of the Supreme Spirit is one with the Supreme. He undergoes no changes like the body. Sometimes the soul is called the steady, or kūṭa-stha."

     "The by-products of the body, namely children, are also different individual souls; and, owing to the body, they appear as children of a particular man. The body develops because of the soul’s presence, but the soul has neither offshoots nor change. Therefore, the soul is free from the six changes of the body."

    "The soul is full of knowledge, or full always with consciousness. Therefore, consciousness is the symptom of the soul. Even if one does not find the soul within the heart, where he is situated, one can still understand the presence of the soul simply by the presence of consciousness"

    "There are two kinds of souls – namely the minute particle soul (aṇu-ātmā) and the Supersoul (vibhu-ātmā)"

    2.22 BG As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, the soul similarly accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.

    2.22 BG purport--"Transference of the atomic individual soul to another body is made possible by the grace of the Supersoul. The Supersoul fulfills the desire of the atomic soul as one friend fulfills the desire of another."

    2.23 BG purport- "Nonetheless, the soul can never be cut into pieces, nor annihilated by any number of weapons, regardless of scientific devices."

    2.24 BG " 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."

    2.25 BG It is said that the soul is invisible, inconceivable and immutable. Knowing this, you should not grieve for the body.

    “Both the Supersoul [Paramātmā] and the atomic soul [ jīvātmā] are situated on the same tree of the body within the same heart of the living being, and only one who has become free from all material desires as well as lamentations can, by the grace of the Supreme, understand the glories of the soul.”

    Soul or Atmanam or the Self is Sat, Chit ananda swaroopa. By nature qualitiatively it is similar to Supersoul ( Parmatman) but the size is too minute when compared to the supersoul.

    If you have any further doubts lets discuss more. 

    Hare Krishna.

    • On one hand Prabhupada says in verse 2.24 BG that the soul is immovable. -- ("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.")

      But then in 2.18 purport Prabhupada says that -- ("As soon as the spirit soul is out of this material body, the body begins to decompose...")

      Also in 2.22 BG purport he says -- ("Transference of the atomic individual soul to another body is made possible by the grace of the Supersoul.)

      No offence but if you ask me, his commentaries seems contradictory ... My point is, if the soul is really immovable, then how can the soul get out of the material body in the first place. Again, how can there be a transference of the immovable atomic soul to another body?

      Only a movable object will pop in and pop out and transfer itself to another body. Not a static object. 

      • Sevak

        Hare Krsna 

        Only a movable object will pop in and pop out and transfer itself to another body. Not a static object. 

        The word used by Lord Sri Krsna for atma in BG 2.24 is acalah. This word has been translated as immovable by Srila Prabhupada. Acalah or immovable can be understood as stable or non-waivering as opposed to chanchalah which is flickering like the nature of the mind.  When lord Sri Krsna uses the word acalah he does not mean static. When Srila Prabhupada uses the word immovable he does not mean static. It means stable or resolute or non-wavering. 

        There is nothing contradictory in the words of Lord Sri Krsna or in the words of Srila Prabhupada. In BG 2.22 Lord Sri Krsna has clearly described the transmigration of the soul from one body to another. So Lord cannot be contradicting by saying soul is static after 2 shlokas. Similarly Srila Prabhupada is not saying atma is static. 

        The word immovable need/should not be understood as static. The dictionary has other meanings also - such as impossible to alter, steadfast, not moving emotionally

        The most appropriate meaning for acalah or immovable would be steadfast 

        There is not contradiction in the words of Sri Krsna or in the words of Sri Krsna's representative - Srila Prabhupada. Contradictions perceived by us can be attributed to our own understandings. 

        Hare Krsna

        Definition, Synonyms, Translations of immovable by The Free Dictionary
      • Again i came across contradictory statements.

        On one hand, the soul (in ch.13 verse 30) is being described as an actionless entity ...but then in (chapter 18 verse 14) its being said that,

        the kshetra/body,

        the performer/soul/jivatma,

        the various senses,

        the many different kinds of endeavor,

        And ultimately the supersoul/parmatma, 

        all these are the 5 factors of action.


        Praphupada further explains in his (ch.18 , v14) purport that -- the soul within, is acting to bring about the results of activity and is therefore known as karta, the doer.


        My question is, how can the actionless soul, at the same time, become a performer of actions?

        • Sevak

          How can the actionless soul, at the same time, become a performer of actions?

          The perspectives in shloka BG 13.30 and in BG 18.14 are different. 

          In BG 13.30 Sri Krsna is describing how the material activites are viewed from absolute or transcendental point of view. Srila Prabhupada explains this in the purport as below 

          To fulfill desires, one is given the body, with which he acts accordingly. Practically speaking, the body is a machine, designed by the Supreme Lord, to fulfill desires. Because of desires, one is put into difficult circumstances to suffer or to enjoy. This transcendental vision of the living entity, when developed, makes one separate from bodily activities.

          From transcendental point of view : there are 1. Material desires, due to which one obtains 2. material body, and 3. material nature makes the material body to perform 4. material action in various ways.

          So Material desire -> Material Body -> Material Nature -> Material Action. 

          The spirit soul is completely transcendental to all the material activities. But one who does not have transcendental vision cannot see the activities as being perfromed by material nature. Those with material vision think themselves to be the doer as Sri Krsna explains in BG 3.27

          prakṛteḥ kriyamāṇāni
          guṇaiḥ karmāṇi sarvaśaḥ
          kartāham iti manyate

          The spirit soul bewildered by the influence of false ego thinks himself the doer of activities that are in actuality carried out by the three modes of material nature. ( BG 3.27)

          In BG 18.14 Sri Krsna is explaining how the actions are accomplished from sankhya perspective. For this he lists that there are 5 factors for acomplishing action ( BG 18.13). One of the factors mentioned in by Sri Krsna in BG 18.14 is kartā. This has been translated as worker/doer/perfromer. In BG 3.27 Krsna states that bewildered soul falsely considers himself as kartā. 

          In BG 18.14 Krsna states that the five factors are 1. Material Body 2. kartā 3. Material senses 4. Material Endeavour 5. Supersoul

          In this verse the action is not presented from transcendental perspective but from sankhya perspective ( BG 18.13). Because the bewildered soul considers himself as kartā due to acceptance of material desires/body etc the soul has been designated as kartā.

          From sankhya perspective soul which has material desire/vision is designated as kartā. 

          From transcendental or Absolute point of view soul is separate from material desires and is not kartā. 

          So it is not that actionless soul is becoming performer of actions. Soul in absolute sense is not acting, but under the bewildered false ego soul considers itself as doer. And due to this, from sankhya perspective the soul is designated as kartā. 

           For most conditioned souls like us we closely associate with our material desires thinking that this is my desire and I have to accomplish such and such activities. For such people lord Sri Krsna has advised in BG 18.16. 

          So the goal is to develop the vision that we are not material body/ material mind. We belong to spiritual energy, but currently we are materially entangled in material nature which is under the supervision of Supreme Lord Sri Krsna, who in any case is always the supreme factor in accomplishing any action.

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