Arjuna asks Krishna about the body and spirit as objects of wisdom. Krishna says that beings can grasp the “sacred ground” of knowledge, but must also learn what it is that knows the sacred ground—wisdom requires knowing both the lower material and the higher knowing selves. He promises to explain each of these in turn.
Although yoga aims to transcend the body, one must understand what comprises the body (as one must come to know the true self) before one can learn to hold back its forces.
Krishna briefly describes the sacred ground: it includes “awareness of ‘I,’” insight, the senses and their powers, desire and pleasure, hatred and pain, the body, and thought. But an absence of arrogance, deceit, and harm; a commitment to patience, purity, and restraint; indifference to the senses and a refusal of the self; a lack of clinging to worldly desires and outcomes; and endless devotion to Krishna in yoga: all these qualities comprise the true wisdom of the “supreme self.”
The body comprises far more than physical things and the senses; it includes what many would consider the “mind,” which demonstrates that the body is what consciously learns to turn away from the material world before this wisdom is encoded in the eternal self. Therefore, even though the body is the seat of self-awareness, the eternal self is the seat of wisdom because “wisdom” figures more as an orientation toward existence than a conscious form of knowledge.
One gains immortality by coming to know Brahman, which lies beyond the world and is “said to be neither being / nor non-being.” This pervades everything, even though it is immaterial; it “bears all” without clinging and partakes of the gunas despite having none. It is inside and outside, far and near, too subtle for most to understand. It is what bears beings, “the absorber / and creator.” It lies beyond light and darkness, constituting wisdom’s content and its goal.
Brahman supersedes not only dualities that exist in the world but also the duality of being and non-being that governs what is and is not in the world. This is because, as Krishna has previously argued, Brahman is everywhere and pervades everything, even the material world and its gunas, even though it is itself immaterial and formless.
Krishna explains that a devotee who understands the sacred ground, wisdom, and wisdom’s object can become one with him. He tells Arjuna that matter and spirit have no beginning, and that gunas and transformation come from matter, as do cause and effect, whereas pleasure and pain are grounded in the spirit, which can reside in matter and cling to the gunas. Indeed, one is born only because the spirit clings to gunas. The highest spirit or highest self is that which observes.
The “sacred ground” is not only the lower self, but also that which must be known in order for one to gain true knowledge. Although pleasure and pain are evidence of one’s unwise attachment to the world, they nevertheless reside in the spirit because they arise from the way the spirit interacts with the gunas (especially rajas, or passion).
Some can “see the self / in the self, / through the self,” in meditation; others use the yoga of samkhya and others the yoga of action. Others still pass “beyond death” through devotion, even if they only come to know the self through testimony from others.
Krishna confirms that there are three separate, equally valid paths to transcendence: knowledge, action, and devotion. Although seeing the self in the self seems like a form of knowledge, it is subtly different from samkhya: the former comes from perceiving the self directly, whereas the second comes from abstract philosophical thought.
Anything that comes into being emerges from the union between the sacred ground and the knower. One who sees the highest lord everywhere, does not harm the self, realizes that they are not the agent of their material actions, and sees a multiplicity of ways of being everywhere can move beyond death. The imperishable self lacks gunas, a beginning, or action; it is like space, everywhere yet unmarked by anything that occupies it. It illuminates the sacred ground like the sun illuminates the earth. Knowing the difference between this sacred ground and the knower can lead people to the freedom of the highest realm.
All material things exist at the juncture of lower and higher selves, so their character relies upon the particular understanding that the knower (higher self) develops about the sacred ground (lower self). Wisdom means seeing the higher self that is immanent in all lower selves (recognizing that everything has the same kind of essential higher self and is therefore a dimension of the same universal being) while still sharply distinguishing between what properly belongs to the higher self and what does not.