Kshetra & Kshetra-Jna: Working of Nature and Consciousness as per Vedic thought

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By Gaurav Sharma

Why read the Gita?

It is said that the essence of all Upanishads is the Gitopanishad, Bhagavad Gita (The Song of God). A beautiful analogy describes the Gita as a cow which is being milked by Lord Krishna and Arjuna, as a calf, drinking milk from the cow (Gita Mahatmya 6). 

Photo Credit: theosophynexus.com
Photo Credit: theosophynexus.com

People who are seeking self-realization will relish drinking the nectar-like milk of Bhagavad Gita in the same way as Arjuna did, without personal interpretations.

After deriding Arjuna’s reluctance to fight as degrading impotence, explaining the methods of executing variegated branches of Yoga and manifesting the Universal form, Lord Krishna enlightened Arjuna on the philosophical meaning of Kshetra (the field) and Kshetra-jna (the knower of the field) and finally satiated Arjuna’s inquisitiveness.

The one tree of material existence appears in many forms of attaining heaven, hell and liberation. Since it is born from the Lord’s external energy, it is called maya-mayam. By the grace of spiritual masters one can understand this tree. Those who are in knowledge of Kshetra and Kshetra-Jna actually know the Vedas.

The Field of Activity vs the Knower of the Field

The body is called Kshetra, the field and one who owns the body is called the Kshetra-Jna, knower of the field. The material body is the field of activity for the conditioned soul. This body is the ground for material contact and is the so-called field because it is the ground on which the material existence grows.

The jiva who knows this body is called the Kshetra-Jna, both in the conditioned and the liberated stage. The fundamental difference between the two is that the body undergoes changes but the Self remains the same.

The body transforms from childhood to youth to old age. The Self, on the other hand does not pertain to ephemeral designations of religion, caste, profession, nationality, body etc. but to the owner of the body. The field is thus, a non-permanent material thing whereas the knower of the field is an eternal factor.

Composition of the Field of Activity

Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Ether, known as the five great elements (maha-bhuta), are the primordial components of the world. There is false ego, intelligence, and unmanifested modes of material nature (pradhaan).

Then there are the five working senses: hands, legs, voice, genitals and anus and the five senses for acquiring knowledge: eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin along with the deeper inner sense, the mind.

Finally, there are the five sense objects: sound, touch, smell, taste and form.

Desire, hatred, happiness and distress emerge through the interaction of maha-bhuta of the gross body. The symptoms of life, consciousness and conviction are the natural expressions of the subtle body (mind, ego, intelligence).

The body is, thus, a combination of the twenty-four material elements and the subtle manifestation of the symptoms of life. This is also confirmed by the aphorisms of Vedanta-Sutra. There are different bodies because each soul has a different capacity to lord over the material nature.

Knowledge and the Super-Knower of the Field

After describing the field of activity, Lord Krishna unfolded the mystery of the knower of the field.  He defines Jnana or knowledge as proper understanding of the body and its knower. The realization that one is not the body but the soul constitutes knowledge. However, at its best, this is incomplete knowledge.

For attaining the liberated platform (brahma-bhuta), one needs to understand the other kind of knower: the Supersoul or Paramatma.

Photo Credit: gitatherapypranakishore.wordpress.com
Photo Credit: gitatherapypranakishore.wordpress.com

In every field or body, there are two souls, like two birds on a tree: the individual soul (atma) and the Supersoul (Paramatma). Just like a farmer may know about his individual patch of land but the government official knows about all the patches of land, in the same way, the individual soul is the knower of his particular body but the Supersoul is the knower of all the fields.

By explicitly stating “I am also the knower in all bodies” the Lord quelled the impersonalist misconception of oneness. After all, how can one aspect of the ‘one’ which is by definition undifferentiated, give knowledge to the other aspect of the ‘one’?  How could something undifferentiated even possess an aspect?

Although Lord Krishna is the Supreme Truth himself, he corroborates the distinction between the Soul and the Supersoul by referring to the Vedanta-Sutra. The aphorisms na viyad ashruteh, natma shruteh and paraat tu tac-chruteh indicate the field of activity or body, the living entity or soul, and the Supreme.

The Vyashti system mentioned in the Taittiriya Upanishad, in which a person directs the meditation towards the self and thus seeks to understand the absolute by considering himself a fragment of the Supreme, also confirms this.  In this system, one observes the different layers or sheaths (Koshas) of consciousness that are encased within a living entity, also known as the five different stages of Brahman realization (brahma puccham).

The fourth and fifth stages highlight the difference between the two. In the vigyana-maya stage, the platform of transcendental knowledge, one realizes himself as an eternal spirit separate from his gross and subtle body. In the ananda-maya stage of consciousness one realizes the all-blissful nature of the Lord and engages himself in his service.

Thus, the crux of all the Vedic injunctions is that the Supersoul is the super-knower of the field, the living entity is the subordinate knower, and the body or nature is the field of activity.
*Based on commentaries of Vaishnava Acaryas.