Shree Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita 2.12 states:

"There never was a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor any of these temporal kings. Nor will there be any time in future when all of us shall cease to be."

And the following is the commentary of Ramanujacharya on this verse:

I, [Krishna] who am, as you know, the eternal Lord of all, was never non-existent, but have always existed. There never was a time when these Selves (jīvas) like you [and the others], who are subject to My sovereignty, did not exist. You have always existed, and 'all of us' — I and you, shall never cease to be 'in the future'; we shall always exist. Just as there is certainly no doubt that I, the Supreme Self and Lord of all, am eternal, likewise, you [and all others] who are embodied Jīvas, should never doubt your eternality either.” The foregoing teaching implies that the difference between the Lord who is the sovereign over all, and the individual jīvas; as also the differences among the individual jīvas themselves, are real. This has been declared by the Lord Himself because different terms like 'I', 'you', 'these', 'all' and 'we' have been used by the Lord while explaining the truth of eternality in order to remove the misunderstanding of Arjuna who is deluded by ignorance. As regards the doctrine of Bhaskara [and the Advaitins] that the above mentioned distinctions [between the Lord and jīvas, and between the jīvas themselves] are unreal and due to some limiting condition (Māyā) — it would be highly improper [for the Lord] to make reference to distinctions at the time of imparting the [ultimate] Truth. If we examine [Bhaskara's] theory of upādhi (adventitious limitation), which states that the apparent differences among jīvas are due only to the bodies (adventitious limitations), it must be admitted that discussion of differences is out of place when explaining the ultimate Truth, because according to the theory [of Bhaskara and the Advaitins] there are no such differences in reality. The inherent differences mentioned by the Lord are taught by the Veda also:— 'Eternal among eternals, the intelligent among the intelligent, the one among many who fulfils desires’ (Sve. Up. 6:13, Ka. Up. 2:2:13). The meaning of this text is: — ‘Among the eternal sentient beings who are countless, He, who is the Supreme Spirit fulfils the desires of all.' As regards the doctrine of the Advaitins that the perception of difference arises from ignorance (ajñāna or avidya) only, and is not actually real; [it may be pointed out that] the Supreme Being — whose comprehension must be perfect, free from all ignorance and its effects —must therefore have a direct cognition of the true nature of the ātman; comprised of eternal consciousness, and being without any differentiation and unchangeable. He therefore cannot possibly be aware of the so-called differences which arise from ignorance. It is, therefore, unimaginable that He would then engage Himself in activities such as teaching which are based entirely upon such a perception of differences arising from ignorance. It may be argued that the Supreme Being, though perfectly aware of non-duality, can still be aware of such difference which persists even after sublation. For example a burnt piece of cloth may continue to look like a cloth, and that such continued [perception] of the nullified does not cause Him bondage. Such a proposition is invalidated in the light of another analogy of a similar kind, namely, the perception of the mirage. When a mirage is realised to be what it is, one does not then persist in an attempt to fetch water there from. In the same way, even if the impression of difference persists after it has been nullified by the realisation of non-dualism, it cannot impel one to activities such as teaching; for the person to whom the instruction is to be imparted is discovered to be unreal. The idea is that just as the discovery of the non-existence of water in a mirage brings an end to all efforts to get water from it, so also when all duality is negated by enlightenment, no activity like teaching disciples etc., could take place. Nor is it acceptable that the Supreme Lord was at one time ignorant and obtained knowledge of non-duality through the Scriptures, and is still being subject to the continuation of the suppressed experiences. Such a contention contradicts the Veda (Śruti) and the Smrti (Canon Law): — 'He, who is all-knowing and all wise' (Mun.Up., 1.1.9); His supreme power is indeed revealed as varied and inherent, and consists of omniscience, omnipotence and action' (Sve. Up. 6.8); 'I know, Arjuna, all beings of the past, present and future but no one knows Me,' etc. (Gita 7:26). And again, if the perception of difference and distinction are said to persist even after the non-dual Self has been decisively realised, the question arises— to whom will the Lord and the succession of teachers of the tradition (Guru Parampara) impart the knowledge in accordance with their realisation? The question requires an answer. The realisation of non-duality cannot possibly coexist with the perception of differences. If the Advaitins reply using the Bimba-Pratibimba (the original and the reflection) argument that teachers give instructions to their own reflections in the form of disciples such as Arjuna, it is absurd. For, no sane person would attempt to give instructions to his own reflection seen in precious stone, the blade of a sword or a mirror, knowing, as he does, that they are non-different from himself! The theory of the persistence of the sublated is thus impossible to maintain, because the knowledge of the non-dual Self is supposed to destroy the very ignorance in which differences external to the Self are alleged based. 'The persistence of the sublated' does indeed occur in cases where the cause is the result of some physical defect such as the seeing of two moons, in impaired eyesight known as double-vision (diplopia). This double vision cannot be nullified by the right understanding that there is only one moon. Even though the perception of the two moons may continue, it is rendered inconsequential on the strength of strong contrary evidence. For, it will not lead to any activity based upon a real experience. But in the present context [in the case of Sri Krishna teaching Arjuna], the concept of difference — where both object and cause are admittedly unreal — is negated by the knowledge of reality. So the 'persistence of the sublated' is impossible. Thus, if the Supreme Lord and the succession of preceptors (guru-parampara) have attained the realisation of [a non-dual] reality, their perception of duality [after realisation] and activities such as teaching proceeding from such [non-dual] realisation, are impossible. If, on the other hand, the perception of difference persists because of the continuation of ignorance and its causes, then these teachers are themselves ignorant of the Truth, and they will be incapable of teaching the Truth. Moreover, as the preceptor has attained the realisation of the non-dual ātman and thereby overcome the ignorance obscuring Brahman and all the effects of such ignorance, there is no purpose in instructing the disciple. If it be argued that the preceptor and his teaching are just in the imagination of the disciple, the disciple and his knowledge are similarly the product of the imagination of the preceptor, and as such the ignorance in question cannot be overcome. If it is maintained that the disciple's knowledge, even though imaginary, overcomes ignorance etc., because it annuls the previous state of non-enlightenment, the same can be asserted of the preceptor's knowledge. The futility of such teachings is obvious. Enough of these unsound doctrines which have all thus been refuted!

How do Advaitins counter the above rebuttal by Ramanujacharya on Advaita Vedanta?

Update: Ramanujacharya also tries to refute Advaitic doctrine of absolute unity of the Jiva while commenting on Bhagavad Gita 5.16 (But to those whose ignorance is destroyed by Self-realisation, their enlightenment is supreme and illumines like the sun) where He says:

In the case of the enlightened ones, their delusion is destroyed by wisdom. This enlightenment arises from [studying] the teachings about the real nature of the ātman, and is then realized by daily practice. The purity of this wisdom is unsurpassed, and in the case of those Jīvas who regain the expansive consciousness that is natural to them, it is found to be unlimited and un-contracted and illumines everything like the sun.

The essential plurality of the Jīvas in their original state is expressly mentioned in connection with the enlightened or fully realized ones by the expression 'those' in the above text. In the beginning (Gita 2:12) it was said — “There never was a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor any of these kings of men. Nor will there be any time in future when all of us shall cease to be” — this statement is clarified here. Moreover, this plurality [of Jīvas] cannot be due to limiting factors imposed on a single universal ātman [as taught by the Advaitins]. For, as stated here, there is no residual trace of such limiting adjuncts (such as ignorance) for those that are fully enlightened, and yet still, they are described [by Krishna] as a plurality. Here consciousness is taught as an attribute inseparable from the essential nature of the Self, because a difference between the Self and its consciousness is indicated by the statement, 'Knowledge, in their case illuminates like the sun’. By the illustration of the sun, the relationship of the knower to its knowledge is likened to the luminous object and its luminosity. Therefore, it is appropriate to consider that one’s consciousness contracts through Karma, in the condition of Samsāra (transmigration) and expands in the stage of Mokṣa (liberation).

  • He has given good arguments. But why he is using analogy? – Turiyanāth Feb 6 at 16:33
  • @Rajas. Um...What's wrong with analogy? – Surya Kanta Bose Chowdhury Feb 6 at 16:36
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    Any philosopher before using analogy, should first establish one to one correspondence between reality & analogy. For eg, Advaitins while describing Brahman & MAya uses the word - 'Desert' being a Brahman & mirage being 'unreal world', but at the same time they say Brahman is not conceivable & transcendental, then why they are relating Brahman with the desert?? This whole practice of establishing analogy without establishing one to one correspondence is entirely absurd IMO. – Turiyanāth Feb 6 at 16:42

There are three ways to answer this question. First, from the standpoint of the Atman, we are all the Atman and we exist eternally.

Second, from the standpoint of the eternal Brahman, there is no time - time exists inside Maya alone. As such, every moment of time exists eternally within Brahman. As such you exist eternally. You are not aware of your eternal existence but from Brahman's standpoint you can think of time as a line, we are on the line and see ourselves moving along it always every point on the line a new moment of time. We are not aware of the line but only the point we are on. From Brahman's standpoint, He 'sees' the line in its completeness. He 'sees' ever moment always - eternally. The passage of time and your awareness of the passage are only within Maya. As such, you - meaning your body, exists eternally.

The third way you can answer this is the repetition of the world. After every destruction of the world, it is recreated as before. Brahma Sutras I.3.30 (Swami Vireswarananda translator) says:

And because of the sameness of names and forms (in every fresh cycle) there is no contradiction (to the eternity of the Vedic words) even in the revolving of the world cycles, as is seen from the Sruti and the Smriti.

and Shankara's commentary on this verse says:

...This eternal existence of the world in gross and fine forms are brought out by the Sruti and Smriti texts. "As formerly the Lord ordered the sun and moon, heaven, earth, the sky" etc. (Rg-Veda 10.190.3).

Swami Vivekananda writes (Complete Works, V2, pp 229-31, Jnana Yoga, sub-heading Immortality, available here - http://www.advaitaashrama.org/cw/content.php)

But the question of immortality is not yet settled. We have seen that everything in this universe is indestructible. There is nothing new; there will be nothing new. The same series of manifestations are presenting themselves alternately like a wheel, coming up and going down. All motion in this universe is in the form of waves, successively rising and falling. Systems after systems are coming out of fine forms, evolving themselves, and taking grosser forms, again melting down, as it were, and going back to the fine forms. Again they rise out of that, evolving for a certain period and slowly going back to the cause. So with all life. Each manifestation of life is coming up and then going back again. What goes down? The form. The form breaks to pieces, but it comes up again. In one sense bodies and forms even are eternal. How? Suppose we take a number of dice and throw them, and they fall in this ratio — 6 — 5 — 3 — 4. We take the dice up and throw them again and again; there must be a time when the same numbers will come again; the same combination must come. Now each particle, each atom, that is in this universe, I take for such a die, and these are being thrown out and combined again and again. All these forms before you are one combination. Here are the forms of a glass, a table, a pitcher of water, and so forth. This is one combination; in time, it will all break. But there must come a time when exactly the same combination comes again, when you will be here, and this form will be here, this subject will be talked, and this pitcher will be here. An infinite number of times this has been, and an infinite number of times this will be repeated. Thus far with the physical forms. What do we find? That even the combination of physical forms is eternally repeated.

A most interesting conclusion that follows from this theory is the explanation of facts such as these: Some of you, perhaps, have seen a man who can read the past life of others and foretell the future. How is it possible for any one to see what the future will be, unless there is a regulated future? Effects of the past will recur in the future, and we see that it is so. You have seen the big Ferris Wheel* in Chicago. The wheel revolves, and the little rooms in the wheel are regularly coming one after another; one set of persons gets into these, and after they have gone round the circle, they get out, and a fresh batch of people gets in. Each one of these batches is like one of these manifestations, from the lowest animals to the highest man. Nature is like the chain of the Ferris Wheel, endless and infinite, and these little carriages are the bodies or forms in which fresh batches of souls are riding, going up higher and higher until they become perfect and come out of the wheel. But the wheel goes on. And so long as the bodies are in the wheel, it can be absolutely and mathematically foretold where they will go, but not so of the souls. Thus it is possible to read the past and the future of nature with precision. We see, then, that there is recurrence of the same material phenomena at certain periods, and that the same combinations have been taking place through eternity. But that is not the immortality of the soul. No force can die, no matter can be annihilated. What becomes of it? It goes on changing, backwards and forwards, until it returns to the source from which it came. There is no motion in a straight line. Everything moves in a circle; a straight line, infinitely produced, becomes a circle. If that is the case, there cannot be eternal degeneration for any soul. It cannot be. Everything must complete the circle, and come back to its source. What are you and I and all these souls? In our discussion of evolution and involution, we have seen that you and I must be part of the cosmic consciousness, cosmic life, cosmic mind, which got involved and we must complete the circle and go back to this cosmic intelligence which is God. This cosmic intelligence is what people call Lord, or God, or Christ, or Buddha, or Brahman, what the materialists perceive as force, and the agnostics as that infinite, inexpressible beyond; and we are all parts of that.

Sri Sankara argues that the differences refer to bodies and not to the Self.

Never, at any time, was I not; on the contrary, I certainly ever was. Though My body originated and pershed in the past, in them all, like space in pots and the like, I remained an eternal entity. This is the idea. Similarly you were not non-existent; on the contrary, surely you too existed. So also these rulers of men were not non-existent; they too existed, to be sure. So too we all shall not cease to exist, but continue to be in the future as well, after the disintegration of the body. The idea is that in all the three divisions of time we are eternal as identical with the Self. The plural number in verse 12 refers to differences in respect of bodies; it does not point to a plurality of Selves.

Bhagavad Gita Basya of Sri Sankaracharya translated by A. G. Krishna Warrier

Why would Lord Krishna talk about bodily notions in a lecture meant for moksha?

A probable answer is that Lord Krishna is only at the start of his teaching and does not want to confuse Arjuna who is presumably ignorant of high philosophy. Arjuna is a representative of the common man and it is better to start with concepts that he is familiar with rather than proceed with higher conceptions at the very beginning. He will be gradually led to subtler and finer concepts as the lecture proceeds. This is how almost all teachings proceed.

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    Shankaracharya definitely says that difference is wrt bodies. But if you add why speaking of such a notion when imparting ultimate knowledge to Arjuna is justified on part of lord, then the answer would look more complete. The point of Ramanujacharya is thet God would not propose such a bodily notion nd that God is nt speaking from standpoint of maya bt from stanpoint of absolute. – Vishal prabhu lawande Feb 6 at 14:02
  • Good point. I have discussed a probable reason why Lord Kirshna may have meant bodies. – Pradip Gangopadhyay Feb 6 at 14:14
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    @SuryaKantaBoseChowdhury maybe that's a flow of explanation, maybe Krishna's point of view was meant to educate Arjuna from a root point of Vedanta philosophy, because if you see....Arjuna was terrified to see Krishna in his absolute Vishwaroopa form and asked him to return to his original body. So Krishna might just have meant the physical shell. Either way both the philosophies are fluid and logical. – user9072 Feb 7 at 14:28
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    @SuryaKantaBoseChowdhury Krishna is speaking to a largely ignorant Arjuna in the middle of a battle field. Even if Krishna has experienced nonduality, there is no reason to believe Arjuna has experienced it. Thus Krishna is talking in dualistic language. There is no concept of a teacher and student in the nondual realm. Who will teach whom since there is no second entity? Thus it is reasonable to assume that Krishna is talking about bodies. – Pradip Gangopadhyay Feb 7 at 14:48
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    The Guru is not speaking from his perspective. He is speaking from the student's level from which he'll slowly elevate his pupil to the non-dual stage. – user9072 Feb 7 at 15:08

As far as I know, the only major Advaitin commentator on the Bhagavad-Gita to have responded to Ramanuja's rebuttal on this verse, is Bal Gangadhar Tilak:

In commenting on this stanza, it is stated in the Ramanujabhasya that if both “I”, that is, the Supreme Being, and ‘You and these Kings’, that is, the other Atmans, existed in the past and will be born in the future ten, according to this stanza, the Supreme Being, and the Atman both become separate, independent, and permanent entities. But, this argument is not correct, it is a partisan argument in support of a particular doctrine; because, this stanza is intended to explain only that both are permanent; and their mutual inter-relation is not stated here, nor was there any occasion for doing so. When that occasion arose later on, we find stated in clear terms in the Gita Itself, the Non Dualistic (advaita) doctrine that the Paramesvara, that is, the Blessed Lord, is the embodied Atman in the bodies of al created beings.

Also, the argument of Upadhis can be used to refute the Vishishtadvaitin argument by applying the analogy of sunlight reflecting on broken glass pieces that looks like thousand of Suns reflecting back. Hence, according to the Advaita school, Krishna is only referring to the bodies here. However, this argument has been already countered centuries back by the Vishishtadvaita school in Vedanta Desikan's "Tarpaya Chandrika".

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