na tv evāhaḿ jātu nāsaḿ
na tvaḿ neme janādhipāḥ
na caiva na bhaviṣyāmaḥ
sarve vayam ataḥ param

Translation of Bhagavad Gita 2.12

Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.

Commentary by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of Gaudiya Sampradaya:

In the Vedas, in the Katha Upanishad as well as in the Shvetasvatara Upanishad, it is said that the Supreme Personality of Godhead is the maintainer of innumerable living entities, in terms of their different situations according to individual work and reaction of work. That Supreme Personality of Godhead is also, by His plenary portions, alive in the heart of every living entity. Only saintly persons who can see, within and without, the same Supreme Lord can actually attain to perfect and eternal peace.

nityo nityanam cetanas cetananam
eko bahunam yo vidadhati kaman
tam atma-stham ye ’nupasyanti dhiras
tesham shantih sasvati netaresam 

The same Vedic truth given to Arjuna is given to all persons in the world who pose themselves as very learned but factually have but a poor fund of knowledge. The Lord says clearly that He Himself, Arjuna and all the kings who are assembled on the battlefield are eternally individual beings and that the Lord is eternally the maintainer of the individual living entities both in their conditioned and in their liberated situations. The Supreme Personality of Godhead is the supreme individual person, and Arjuna, the Lord’s eternal associate, and all the kings assembled there are individual eternal persons. It is not that they did not exist as individuals in the past, and it is not that they will not remain eternal persons. Their individuality existed in the past, and their individuality will continue in the future without interruption. Therefore, there is no cause for lamentation for anyone.

The Mayavadi theory that after liberation the individual soul, separated by the covering of maya, or illusion, will merge into the impersonal Brahman and lose its individual existence is not supported herein by Lord Krishna, the supreme authority. Nor is the theory that we only think of individuality in the conditioned state supported herein. Krishna clearly says herein that in the future also the individuality of the Lord and others, as it is confirmed in the Upanishads, will continue eternally. This statement of Krishna’s is authoritative because Krishna cannot be subject to illusion. If individuality were not a fact, then Krishna would not have stressed it so much—even for the future. The Mayavadi may argue that the individuality spoken of by Krishna is not spiritual, but material. Even accepting the argument that the individuality is material, then how can one distinguish Krishna’s individuality? Krishna affirms His individuality in the past and confirms His individuality in the future also. He has confirmed His individuality in many ways, and impersonal Brahman has been declared to be subordinate to Him. Krishna has maintained spiritual individuality all along; if He is accepted as an ordinary conditioned soul in individual consciousness, then His Bhagavad-gita has no value as authoritative scripture. A common man with all the four defects of human frailty is unable to teach that which is worth hearing. The Gita is above such literature. No mundane book compares with the Bhagavad-gita. When one accepts Krishna as an ordinary man, the Gita loses all importance. The Mayavadi argues that the plurality mentioned in this verse is conventional and that it refers to the body. But previous to this verse such a bodily conception is already condemned. After condemning the bodily conception of the living entities, how was it possible for Krishna to place a conventional proposition on the body again? Therefore, individuality is maintained on spiritual grounds and is thus confirmed by great acaryas like Sri Ramanuja and others. It is clearly mentioned in many places in the Gita that this spiritual individuality is understood by those who are devotees of the Lord. Those who are envious of Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead have no bona fide access to the great literature. The nondevotee’s approach to the teachings of the Gita is something like that of a bee licking on a bottle of honey. One cannot have a taste of honey unless one opens the bottle. Similarly, the mysticism of the Bhagavad-gita can be understood only by devotees, and no one else can taste it, as it is stated in the Fourth Chapter of the book. Nor can the Gita be touched by persons who envy the very existence of the Lord. Therefore, the Mayavadi explanation of the Gita is a most misleading presentation of the whole truth. Lord Caitanya has forbidden us to read commentations made by the Mayavadis and warns that one who takes to such an understanding of the Mayavadi philosophy loses all power to understand the real mystery of the Gita. If individuality refers to the empirical universe, then there is no need of teaching by the Lord. The plurality of the individual soul and of the Lord is an eternal fact, and it is confirmed by the Vedas as above mentioned.

Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:

“Now, O friend, I will ask you a question. When you see the death of a person you love, you lament. But is the object of affection while the person is in this world the soul or the body? Sukadeva says that the soul is most dear in all living beings: sarvesam eva bhutanam nrpa svatmaiva vallabhah. (SB 10.14.50) If the soul is the object of affection, the soul should not be the object of lamentation, because it cannot suffer death, since both types of atma, the jiva and isvara are eternal.” Thus he speaks this verse.

It is not that I, the paramatma, have ever not been in existence, but rather I have always existed. You also, a jivatma, have also ever existed. These kings also, jivatmas, have existed. Here the Lord shows that previous non-existence (prag abhava) is absent for all souls. And it is not that I, you, and all these kings (sarve vayam) will not exist in the future. Rather we will certainly exist. Here he shows that the soul is devoid of destruction (dhvamsa abhava). By this he concludes that since the paramatma and the jiva are both eternal, there is no cause for lamentation. The sruti says:

nityo nityanam cetanas cetananam eko bahunam yo vidadhati kaman

He is the chief eternal among all eternals. He is the chief conscious entity among all conscious entities. The one fulfills the needs of all others. Svetasvatara Upanisad 6.13

Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:

2.12 Indeed, I, the Lord of all, who is eternal, was never non-existent, but existed always. It is not that these selves like you, who are subject to My Lordship, did not exist; you have always existed. It is not that ‘all of us’, I and you, shall cease to be ‘in the future’, i.e., beyond the present time; we shall always exist. Even as no doubt can be entertainted that I, the Supreme Self and Lord of all, am eternal, likewise, you (Arjuna and all others) who are embodied selves, also should be considered eternal. The foregoing implies that the difference between the Lord, the sovereign over all, and the individual selves, as also the differences among the individual selves themselves, are real. This has been declared by the Lord Himself. For, 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. [Now follows a refutation of the Upadhi theory of Bhaskara and the Ignorance theory of the Advaitins which deny any ultimate difference between the Lord and the Jivas.] If we examine (Bhaskara’s) theory of Upadhis (adjuncts), which states that the apparent differences among Jivas are due to adjuncts, it will have to be admitted that mention about differences is out of place when explaining the ultimate truth, because the theory holds that there are no such differences in reality. But that the differences mentioned by the Lord are natural, is taught by the Sruti also: ‘Eternal among eternals, sentient among sentients, the one, who fulfils the desires of the many’ (Sve. U. VI. 13, Ka. U. V. 13). The meaning of the text is: Among the eternal sentient beings who are countless, He, who is the Supreme Spirit, fulfils the desires of all.’ As regards the theory of the Advaitins that the perception of difference is brought about by ignorance only and is not really real, the Supreme Being — whose vision must be true and who, therefore must have an immediate cognition of the differencelss and immutable and eternal consciousness as constituting the nature of the Atman in all authenticity, and who must thereby be always free from all ignorance and its effects — cannot possibly perceive the so-called difference arising from ignornace. It is, therefore, unimaginable that He engages himself in activities such as teaching, which can proceed only from such a perception of differences arising from ignorance. The argument that the Supreme Being, though possessed of the understanding of nom-duality, can still have the awareness of such difference persisting even after sublation, just as a piece of cloth may have been burnt up and yet continues to have the appearance of cloth, and that such a continuance of the subltated does not cause bondage — such an argument is invalid in the light of another analogy of a similar kind, namely, the perception of the mirage, which, when understood to be what it is, does not make one endeavour to fetch water therefrom. In the same way even if the impression of difference negated by the non-dualistic illumination persists, it cannot impel one to activities such as teaching; for the object 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 stops all effort to get water from it, so also when all duality is sublated by illumination, no activity like teaching disciples etc., can take place. Nor can the Lord be conceived as having been previously ignorant and as attaining knowledge of unity through the scirptures, and as still being subject to the continuation of the stultified experiences. Such a position would stand in contradiction to the Sruti and the Smrti: ‘He, who is all-comprehender’ (Mun. U., 1. 1. 9); all knower and supreme and natural power of varied types are spoken of in Srutis, such as knowledge, strength and action’ (Sve. U. 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 unitary Self has been decisively understood, the question will arise — to whom will the Lord and the succession of teachers of the tradition impart the knowledge in accordance with their understanding? The question needs an answer. The idea is that knowledge of non-duality and perception of differences cannot co-exist. If it be replied by Advaitins holding the Bimba-Pratibimba (the original and reflections) theory that teachers give instructions to their own reflections in the form of disciples such as Arjuna, it would amount to an absurdity. For, no one who is not out of his senses would undertake to give any instruction to his own reflections in mediums such as a 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, as the knowledge of the unitary self destroys the beginningless ignorance in which differences falling outside the self are supposed to be rooted. ‘The persistence of the sublated’ does occur in cases such as the vision of the two moons, where the cause of the vision is the result of some real defect in eyesight, nor removable by the right understanding of the singleness of the moon. Even though the perception of the two moons may continue, the sublated cognition is rendered inconsequential on the strength of strong contrary evidence. For, it will not lead to any activity appropriate for a real experience. But in the present context (i.e. the Advaitic), the conception of difference, whose object and cause are admittedly unreal, is cancelled by the knowledge of reality. So the ‘persistence of the sublated’ can in no way happen. Thus, if the Supreme Lord and the present succession of preceptors have attained the understanding of (Non-dual) reality, their perception of difference and work such as teaching proceeding from that perception, are impossible. If, on the other hand, the perception of difference persists because of the continuance of ignorance and its cause, then these teachers are themselves ignorant of the truth, and they will be incapable of teaching the truth. Further, as the preceptor has attained the knowledge of the unitary self and thereby the ignorance concerning Brahman and all the effects of such ignorance are thus annihilated, there is no purpose in instructing the disciple. It it is held that the preceptor and his knowledge 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 can not put an end to the ignorance in question. If it is maintained that the disciple’s knowledge destroys ignorance etc., because it contradicts the antecedent 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 been refuted.

Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:

The underlying reason these relations or any relations should never be considered objects of grief is now being given by the Supreme Lord Krishna stating: never at any time did I the Supreme Lord not exist. Even though the Supreme Lords eternally pure conscious spiritual body which is associated with His divine pastimes appears to come into existence and appears to cease to exist; He is now confirming unconditionally that He is beginningless, existing always eternally and that never did He nor Arjuna, nor all the kings, nor any living entity not exist, but existed always being a micro part of Himself and even so it is not that the living entities shall not exist hereafter for they certainly will exist, their eternal soul having neither birth or death, they should not be grieved for.

Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:

Why is such a statement being put forth? Never was there a time when I was not. The Supreme Lord Krishna being eternal, such a statement is self evident; but it was only given to illustrate the point that even as the Supreme Lord is eternal as confirmed in the Vedic scriptures, even so, you and all these kings of the earth are also eternal.

Now begins the summation.

Lord Krishna informs Arjuna that due to fraternal feelings he was neglecting his own nature not to fulfil his duty according to righteousness. Is it because of the fear of losing his life or is it because of a lapse in consciousness? The physical body is in all respects subject to destruction so there is no purpose in being frightened, nor should there be any concern over the possibility of destruction of the individual consciousness because its nature is also eternal.

In the Skanda Purana it is stated:

There is no possibility of any destruction of the Ultimate Consciousness of the Supreme Lord the same similarly applies to the individual consciousness of all living entities. The Supreme Lord is eternal among the eternal, the Ultimate Consciousness among all individual consciousness, the One who so desiring manifests as the many. The connection and disconnection from the physical body is known as birth and death. Such is this reality for all living entities; but for the eternal and transcendental Supreme Lord this reality has no relevance and is in no way applicable.

Since the Supreme Lord may appear to have the destruction of His transcendental body and the transmigration of His transcendental consciousness to those who are deluded; this point is being clarified by the word tu in the verse beginning na tu evaham meaning but I certainly never. Although such a doubt did not arise in the case of Arjuna, the resplendent Supreme Lord Krishna elucidates this point for the benefit and welfare of all the worlds. Even though this dialogue is actually spoken in confidence, through the medium of Mahabharata by the mercy of Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa it is disseminated throughout the universe.

Now begins the summation.

Those who are illuminated are factually illuminated by knowledge due to realization. They are prajnah or wise and knowledgeable. Avadah means they who are opposed to the Vedic injunctions. Whatever the wise and knowledgeable proclaim is always in conjunction with the Vedic injunctions. Whatever is contrary to the Vedic injunctions on any level of consciousness is not worthy of contemplation. This is factually what is meant here in this verse.

Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:

Next it might be questioned why do the wise not lament for the living or the dead? Lord Krishna here gives the reason to this establishing that the soul is eternal and not the physical body. The words na and eva meaning certainly never, destroys any conception of the physical body being able to ever be equated with the soul. As the Ultimate Soul among all individual souls it is not that the Supreme Lord did not exist before this time for He always existed. Similarly it is not that Arjuna and all the kings on the battlefield did not exist before this time, for they all certainly existed for the immortal soul transmigrates from body to body. By the authority of Bhagavad-Gita this verse spoken by the Supreme Lord Krishna refutes such statements as: and it is not again shall we all exist hereafter from the present time till the end to come, meaning that indeed we shall all exist. So this explains and puts into the proper perspective the dissolution of the material manifestation at the time of universal destruction. By negating the origin and destruction of the soul, its very existence is proved in the middle. In this way the souls existence is proven in all three being creation, maintenance and destruction. All souls are immortal being eternal and hence should never be grieved for.

Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:

2.12 Why are they not to be grieved for? Because they are eternal. How? Na tu eva, but certainly it is not (a fact); that jatu, at any time; aham, I ; na asam, did not exist; on the contrary, I did exist. The idea is that when the bodies were born or died in the past, I existed eternally. [Here Ast. adds ghatadisu viyadiva, like Space in pot etc.-Tr.] Similarly, na tvam, nor is it that you did not exist; but you surely existed. Ca, and so also; na ime, nor is it that these ; jana-adhipah, rulers of men, did not exist. On the other hand, they did exist. And similarly, na eva, it is surely not that; vayam, we; sarve, all; na bhavisyamah, shall cease to exist; atah param, after this, even after the destruction of this body. On the contrary, we shall exist. The meaning is that even in all the three times (past, present and future) we are eternal in our nature as the Self. The plural number (in we) is used following the diversity of the bodies, but not in the sense of the multiplicity of the Self.

Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:

2.12 See Comment under 2.13

na tv evaham jatu nasam
na tvam neme janadhipah
na caiva na bhavisyamah
sarve vayam atah param

Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:

na — never; tu — but; eva — certainly; aham — I; jātu — at any time; na — did not; āsam — exist; na — not; tvam — you; na — not; ime — all these; jana-adhipāḥ — kings; na — never; ca — also; eva — certainly; na — not; bhaviṣyāmaḥ — shall exist; sarve vayam — all of us; ataḥ param — hereafter.