This is one of the most well-known Chapters in the Gita which explains and also provides guidance to experience the Self. It is an extension of the previous Chapter in as much as it gives exhaustive instructions for meditation upon the Imperishable Formless Spirit (Unmanifest). This Chapter continues the discussion of the theme started in Chapter 7 entitled ‘Yoga of Knowledge and Wisdom’ and Chapter 8 entitled ‘Yoga of Imperishable Brahman’. The intervening four Chapters (9-12) are a slight detour in order to clarify the doubts raised by Arjuna.
As earlier stated each group of six Chapters of the Gita explains the sacred words of the Great Declaration (Mahavakya) -Tat Twam Asi - That Thou Art. The terms `Thou' and `That' were dealt with in Chapters 1-6 (Path of action or Karma Yoga) and 7-12 (Path of devotion or Bhakti Yoga) respectively. The closing group of six Chapters beginning with this Chapter explains the term `Art' (Path of knowledge or Jnana Yoga) which establishes the identity of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul.
A living organism is the Spirit functioning through the covering of matter. `That' (Spirit) covered by matter is `Thou' (Man). Therefore, man without matter covering him is the Eternal, Infinite Spirit.
One should know what constitutes this matter envelopment in order to discard it and reach the `Man' (Spirit). This discrimination between matter, which is inert, and Spirit, which is the spark of life, is the focus of discussion in this Chapter. The body called the Field (Kshetra), the soul called the Knower of the Field (Kshetrajna) and the difference between them are the subject matter of this Chapter.
The process of discarding or getting rid of the matter is nothing but the process of meditation. The techniques of meditation were explained in Chapters 5 & 6. This Chapter tells us as to what the disciplined mind and intellect have to do during meditation and how to draw ourselves from ourselves to reach our identity with the Infinite.
The matter equipments and the world of objects perceived by them is the Field. The Knower of the Field is the Supreme Consciousness which illumines the Field and therefore apparently functions within the Field. It is obvious that one can be knower only so long as one is in the field of knowable. A driver is one so long as he is driving a vehicle. Once he is out of the vehicle he is no more a driver although he, as a person, remains the same.
Similarly the Pure Consciousness when it perceives the world of plurality becomes the knower of the field (Driver). As the driver experiences the pains and pleasures of driving while performing the act of driving, the knower of the field (Consciousness) experiences the joys and sorrows of the pluralistic world while perceiving such world of multiplicity through the body equipments. Thus the joys and miseries of the samsara are the features of the knower of the field, the Jiva.
If the field and the knower of the field can be understood as separate entities through the process of meditation, one can get himself detached from the sheath of matter and consequently from the joys and sorrows associated with it. Thereby, the knower of the field who was the experiencer of the sorrows and joys of the material world himself becomes the experiencer of the Absolute Bliss just as the driver himself becomes an ordinary person without any designation when he is enjoying the pleasure of being with his own family. The knower minus the field of the known becomes the Pure Knowledge, Itself being always perfect.
This Chapter, therefore, leads us to deep spiritual insights enabling us to realize the Imperishable and the Eternal within ourselves. When the knower of the field understands his real nature which is apart from the field, he rediscovers his own Divine nature. He realizes that he is the Self which, when enveloped by the field, becomes the knower of the field full of agitations.
Krishna answers the query of Arjuna through the entire chapter. A significant contribution of this chapter is the enumeration of twenty two qualities of a jnani (enlightened person) on the lines of the listing of thirty five qualities of a bhakta in the previous chapter. This chapter concludes by showing the way towards realization of the Self and how with the Eye of Wisdom one can liberate himself.
In the last Chapter the glory and the means to realize the Absolute was not elaborately dealt with. Hence this aspect which is the subject of jnana yoga is taken up for detailed discussion in this Chapter. The kshetra, the body and the kshetrajna, the soul are entirely different from each other. It is due to ignorance that they are being identified as one and the same. In the present Chapter both these terms are differentiated for explanation and hence the title of this Chapter is Kshetra Kshetrajna Vibhaaga Yogah: Yoga of Distinction between The Field and the Knower of the Field.
Some editions of the Gita omit the first verse of this chapter containing Arjuna’s query seeking clarification on certain philosophic terms on the ground that it is a later interpolation in the text like commentator sage Madhusudana Saraswati. But its inclusion appears appropriate in view of the context of the question raised by Arjuna.
prakritim purusham chaiva kshetram kshetrajnam eva cha
etadveditumicchaami jnaanam jneyam cha keshava // 13.1 //
Prakriti (Matter) and Purusha (Spirit) also the Kshetra (The Field) and the Kshetrajna (The Knower of the Field), Knowledge and that which is to be known, all these I wish to learn, O Kesava.
Prakriti and Purusha:
Prakriti is matter, inert equipments. Purusha is the Spirit, the vital sentient truth. The spirit in itself has no expression except when it functions through matter. When Purusha joins Prakriti experiences - good or bad - take place. Electricity by itself is unmanifest but when it functions through different gadgets it is manifested as light or heat or cold etc.
The Field and the Knower of the Field:
The knower of the field is the knowing principle when it functions in the knowable. Without knowable the knower himself becomes nothing but Pure Knowledge in which the functions of knowing are absent. Arjuna desires to learn the implications of these concepts.