Arjuna said: O Krishna, who is the Eternal Being or the Spirit? What is the nature of the Eternal Being? What is Karma? Who are the mortal beings? And who are Divine Beings? Who is the all pervading Supreme Being and how does He dwell in the body? How can You, the Supreme Being, be remembered at the time of death by those who have control over their minds, O Krishna? (8.01-02)
DEFINITION OF SUPREME SPIRIT, SPIRIT, AND INDIVIDUAL SOUL
Lord Krishna said: The eternal and immutable Spirit of the Supreme Being is called Eternal Being or the Spirit. Basic nature, powers, and expansions of Eternal Being are called Adhyatma or the nature of Eternal Being. The creative power or urge of Eternal Being that causes manifestation of the living entity is called Karma. (8.03)
Spirit is also called Eternal Spirit, Spiritual Being, Eternal Being, or God in English; and Brahma, or Eternal Brahma (Note: Brahma is also spelled as: Brahm, Brahman but is different from Brahma) in Sanskrit. Spirit is the cause of all causes. The word ‘God’ is generally used for both Spirit, and the Supreme Spirit (or the Supreme Being), the basis of Spirit. We have used the word ‘Eternal Being’ for Spirit; and ‘Supreme Being’, ‘Absolute’, and ‘Krishna’ for the Supreme Spirit in this rendering.
The subtle body consists of six sensory faculties, intellect, ego, and five vital forces called bioimpulses (Life forces, Prana). The individual soul (Jiva) is defined as the subtle body sustained by Spirit. The individual soul is enshrined in the physical body. The subtle body keeps the physical body active and alive by operating the organs of perception and action.
Mortal beings, made up of the five basic elements, are changeable or temporal. Various expansions of the Supreme Being are called Divine Beings. I, the Supreme Being reside inside the physical bodies as the Divine Controller and Supreme Enjoyer (Ishvara), O Arjuna. (8.04)
THEORY OF REINCARNATION AND KARMA
One who remembers Me exclusively, even while leaving the body at the time of death, attains the Supreme Abode; there is no doubt about it. (8.05)
Whatever object one remembers as one leaves the body at the end of life, that object is attained. Thought of whatever object prevails during one's lifetime, one remembers only that object at the end of life and achieves it. (8.06)
One’s destiny is determined by the predominant thought at the time of death. Even if one has practiced devotion and God-consciousness during one’s lifetime, the thought of God may or may not come at the hour of death. Therefore, God-consciousness should be continued till death (BS 1.1.12). Sages continue their efforts in their successive lives, yet at the moment of death they may fail to remember God. One cannot expect to have good thoughts at the time of death if one has kept bad company.
Keep the association of perfect devotees and avoid the company of worldly-minded people for success in spiritual life. Whatever thought one nurtures during life, the same thought comes at the time of death and determines one’s future destiny. Therefore, life should be molded in such a way that one should be able to remember God at the time of death. People should practice God-consciousness in everyday life from childhood by forming a habit of remembering God before taking any food, before going to bed, and before starting any work or study.
A SIMPLE METHOD OF GOD REALIZATION
Therefore, always remember Me and do your duty. You shall certainly attain Me if your mind and intellect are ever focused on Me. (8.07)
The supreme purpose of life is to always remember a personal God one believes in; so that one can remember God at the time of death. To remember the absolute and impersonal God may not be possible for most human beings. A pure devotee is able to experience the ecstasy of Lord's personal presence within and reach His Supreme Abode by always remembering Him. Live in a state of constant spiritual awareness.
By contemplating Me with an unwavering mind that is disciplined by yogic practice, one attains the Supreme Being, O Arjuna. (8.08)
One gets spiritual awakening and the vision of God by constantly thinking of God in meditation, silent repetition of the holy names of God, and contemplation. The endeavor of our whole life shapes our destiny. Spiritual practices are meant to keep the mind absorbed in His thoughts and fixed at His lotus feet. Ramakrishna said that when you desire anything, pray to the Mother aspect of God in a lonely place, with tears of sincerity in your eyes, and your wishes shall be fulfilled. He also said that it might be possible to attain Self-realization within three days. The more intensely one practices spiritual disciplines, the more quickly one attains perfection. The intensity of conviction and belief, combined with deep yearning, restlessness, intense longing, and persistence, determine the speed of spiritual progress. The real practice of HathaYoga is not only the yogic exercises taught in modern yoga centers, but also the consistence, persistence, and insistence in one’s search for the Supreme Truth.
Self-realization is not a simple act but a process of gradual spiritual growth, starting with resolve, proceeding gradually to vow, divine grace, faith, and finally realization of Truth (YV 19.30). The Supreme Being is not realized through discourses, intellect, or learning. It is realized only when one sincerely strives for it with vigorous effort. Sincere effort brings divine grace that unveils the Supreme Being (MuU 3.02.03-04). God helps those who help themselves. Also read more about divine grace in verse 9.29.
How to meditate on God at the time of death is described in the two verses:
One who meditates at the time of death with steadfast mind and devotion on the Supreme Being as the omniscient, the oldest, the controller, smaller than the smallest and bigger than the biggest, the sustainer of everything, the inconceivable, self-luminous like the sun, and transcendental (or beyond the material reality) by causing the breath (life forces, Prana) to enter between the eyebrows by the power of yogic practices; attains Me, the Supreme Being. (See also verses 4.29, 5.27, 6.13) (8.09-10)
Now I shall briefly explain the process to attain the Supreme Abode that the knowers of the Veda call immutable, into which the ascetics, freed from attachment, enter; and desiring which people lead a life of celibacy. (8.11)
ATTAIN SALVATION BY MEDITATING ON AUM AT THE TIME OF DEATH
When one leaves the physical body, by controlling all the senses, focusing the mind on God and the bioimpulses (Life forces, Prana) in the cerebrum, engaged in yogic practice, meditating on Me, and uttering AUM---the sacred monosyllable cosmic sound power of the Spirit---one attains the Supreme Abode. (8.12-13)
Scriptural knowledge has its place, but it is through direct realization that the inner core can be reached and the outer shell discarded. Meditation is the way to inner realization and should be learnt, personally, from a competent teacher. Realization of the true nature of mind leads to meditation.
A simple technique of meditation is described here:
(1) Wash your face, eyes, hands, and feet and sit in a clean, quiet, dark place, using any comfortable posture, with head, neck, and spine straight and vertical. No music or incense during meditation is recommended. The time and place of meditation should be fixed. Follow the good principles of living by thoughts, words, and deeds. Some yogic exercises are necessary. Midnight, morning, and evening are the best times to meditate for 15 to 25 minutes every day.
(2) Remember any name or form of the personal god you believe in and ask His or Her blessings.
(3) Close your eyes, tilt head slightly upward, and take 5 to 10 very slow and deep breaths.
(4) Fix your gaze, mind, and feelings inside the chest center, the seat of the causal heart, and breathe slowly. Mentally chant ‘So’ as you breathe in and ‘Humm’ as you breathe out. Think as if breath itself is making these sounds ‘So’ and ‘Humm’ (I am That Spirit). Mentally visualize the breath going in and coming out through the nostrils. Be alert, and feel the sensation created by the breath in the body as you watch the breath. Do not try to control or lead your breathing; just watch your natural breathing.
(5) Direct the will towards the thought of merging yourself into the infinite space of the air you are breathing. If your mind wanders away from following the breaths, start from step
(6). Be regular, and persist without procrastination.
The sound of ‘OM’ or ‘AUM’ is a combination of three primary sounds: A, U, and M. It is the source of all sounds one can utter. Therefore, it is the fittest sound symbol of Spirit. It is also the primeval impulse that moves our five nerve centers that control bodily functions. Yogananda calls ‘AUM’ the sound of the vibration of the cosmic motor. In the beginning was the word of God (OM, Amen, Allah) and the word was God. This cosmic sound vibration is heard by yogis as a sound, or a mixture of sounds, of various frequencies.
The Omnic meditation, mentioned here by Lord Krishna, is a very powerful, sacred technique used by saints and sages of all religions. Briefly, the Omnic method entails getting the mind permeated by a continuous, reverberating sound of AUM. When the mind gets absorbed in repeating this divine sound, the individual consciousness merges into the Cosmic Consciousness.
A simpler method of contemplation is given below by Lord Krishna for those who cannot follow the conventional path of meditation discussed above.
I am easily attainable, O Arjuna, by that ever steadfast devotee who regularly remembers Me till death and whose mind does not go elsewhere. (8.14)
It is not an easy task to remember God regularly till death. One must have a basis to remember God all the time. This basis could be an intense love of God or a passion to serve Him through the service of humanity.
After attaining Me, the great souls do not incur rebirth in this miserable transitory world because they have attained the highest perfection. (8.15)
Human birth is full of suffering. Even the saints, sages, and God in human form cannot escape the sufferings of the human body and mind. One has to learn to endure and work towards salvation.
The dwellers of all the worlds---below the domain of Brahma---are subject to the miseries of repeated birth and death. But after attaining Me, O Arjuna, one does not take birth again. (See also 9.25) (8.16)
THE CYCLIC OF CREATION
Those who know that the duration of creation lasts 4.32 billion years and that the duration of destruction also lasts 4.32 billion years, they are the knowers of the cycles of creation and destruction. (See also 9.07) (8.17)
All manifestations come out of the subtle body of Brahma (or Prakriti) during the creative cycle, and they merge into the same during the destructive cycle. (see also 9.07, 15.18) (8.18)
Thus, one complete creative cycle of Brahma lasts 8.64 billion solar years. This consists of one day and one night of Brahma, the Creator. The duration of partial dissolution, during which all heavenly planets, the earth, and the lower planets are annihilated and rest within Brahma, is 4.32 billion years and is called Brahma’s night or Kalpa. Complete dissolution takes place at the end of Brahma's (or creative cycle's) full life-span of 100 solar years, or 8.64 billion years x 360 days/year x 100 years = just over 311 trillion solar years called one MahaKalpa (See also BP 12.04.01-43), according to Vedic astrology. At this time, the complete material creation, including the modes of material Nature, enters into one of the four main, partial manifestations of the Absolute (See also 15.18)---called Avyakta Brahma or Adi Prakriti, the source and sink of the total material energy---and is annihilated. During the complete dissolution at the end of a MahaKalpa, everything is said to take rest in the abdomen of Avyakta Akshar Brahma (See verse 15.16) until the beginning of the next cycle of creation. In the first phase of the cycle of creation, Lord’s energies enter into all the universes to create and support diversities. And in the next phase, the Absolute is diffused as the all-pervading supersoul in the universes and remains present within the atoms and every cell of everything---visible or invisible.
The Will power of the Cosmic Mind of Brahma is called Brahma, the creator (YVa 11.2-3). Entire creation is created by this power of Mind. The domain of Brahma lies below the domain of Brahma mentioned in verse 8.16. This domain is also known as the world or domain of Maya or Mind.
The same multitude of beings comes into existence again and again at the arrival of the creative cycle and are annihilated, inevitably, at the arrival of the destructive cycle. (8.19)
According to the Vedas, creation is a beginningless and endless cycle, and there is no such thing as the first creation.
There is another eternal transcendental existence (Purusha or Spirit). This is higher than the changeable material Nature, Prakriti, and does not perish when all created beings perish. This is also called the Supreme Abode. Those who attain the Supreme Abode do not take birth again. (8.20-21)
This Supreme Abode, O Arjuna, is attainable by unswerving devotion to Me, within which all beings exist and by which the entire universe is pervaded. (See also 9.04 and 11.55) (8.22)
TWO BASIC PATHS OF DEPARTURE FROM THE WORLD
O Arjuna, now I shall describe different paths departing by which, after death, the yogis do or do not come back to the mortal or temporal world. (8.23)
Verses 8.23-26 are considered to be the most mysterious and misunderstood verses in the Gita. What appears to refer to the auspicious times of departure of the living entity during death in verses 8.24 and 8.25, actually refers to the presiding deities of various astral planes during gradual passage of the soul after death. This is made clear in verse 8.26. It should be noted that one’s final destination and the corresponding path leading to the destination has to be earned and may determine the time of death. Eligibility to tread the path, and not the time of departure as is sometimes commonly misunderstood, determines the path of departure.
Lord explains in verses 8.24-25 that there are two goals in life which people seek. These two goals are achieved by two different paths guiding the two types of seekers to their destinations. One is called the path of no return (verse 8.24), and the other is the path of return (verse 8.25). These two paths are renamed in verse 8.26 as the path of light and the path of darkness, the path of Moksha and path of coming and going, the path of the seekers of spirituality and seekers of materialism, path of the light of knowledge and of darkness of ignorance.
Passing gradually after death, through celestial controllers of fire, light, daytime, the bright lunar fortnight, and the six months of the northern solstice of the sun, yogis who know the Self attain supreme abode (and do not come back to earth). (8.24)
The path of no return, described above, is also called the path of gods (Devayana), the path of light of Self-knowledge, the northern path, the solar path, and the path of slow and gradual development (Krama-mukti), the ascending path of evolution. This path is blocked for the ignorant and persons devoid of the necessary qualities such as austerity, abstinence, faith and knowledge. Those who have above mentioned qualities will walk this path. It is also said that this path is closed during the six months of southern solstice of the sun as mentioned in verse 8.25.
Following the path of spiritual advancement and knowledge on the earth, the individual soul advances to several higher and higher soul planes (five planes mentioned in verse 8.24) in the spirit world; finally reaching a level until it has developed enough to merge back to Brahma where we came from.
Fire, light, day-time, the bright fortnight and the six months of the northern solstice of the sun indicate deities presided over by the Sun. It is said in the Upanishads (ChU 4.15.05, BrU 6.2.15) that those who qualify for the northern path after death reach the celestial ruler of fire, light, from there to the celestial ruler of the day, from there to the celestial ruler of the bright fortnight, from there to the celestial ruler of the six months during which the sun travels northwards, from there to Sun, and from there to lightening. Then a Superbeing, created from the mind of Brahma, comes and leads them to the world of Brahma. Becoming perfect at each stage, they stay in the world of Brahma till the end of the cycle of creation or a MahaKalpa; at that time they merge in Brahma together with Brahma.
The northern path described above is open to those who know Brahma but are not completely Self-realized. Such persons have some trace of dormant desires (or Vasana) left. When all desires born of ego are completely eradicated by Self-knowledge, one instantly merges in Braham in this very life after death (Gita 5.26, 18.55, BrU 4.4.07, MuU 3.2.09, YVa 39.122). This is called Jeevan-Mukti or Brahma Nirvana. Time of death does not matter for such souls.
Passing gradually after death, through celestial controllers of smoke, night, the dark lunar fortnight, and the six months of southern solstice of the sun, the righteous person attains heaven and comes back to earth again. (8.25)
The destination of righteous persons, who work to enjoy the fruits of their labor, is described in the above verse. Those who leave the world after spending their lifetime in doing good and performing rituals and worship to enjoy the results so accrued, travel by the southern path. This path is also called the path of darkness of ignorance, the path of return, the path of ignorance, the path of ancestors, lunar path and the path of materialism. This path is presided over by the Moon god, representing the world of matter and sense enjoyment. Those who qualify for this path, after death, reach the celestial ruler of smoke, from there to the celestial ruler of the night, from there to the celestial ruler of the dark fortnight, from there to the celestial ruler of the six months during which the sun travels southwards, and from there to heaven. Such yogis return to the mortal world, after enjoying heavenly pleasures for a period of time, when the fruits of their virtuous deeds are exhausted.
The path of light of spiritual practice and Self-knowledge and the path of darkness of materialism and ignorance are thought to be the world’s two eternal paths. The former leads to salvation, and the latter leads to rebirth as human beings. (8.26)
The path of transmigration may be included in the path of reincarnation, or it may be called the third path. The Upanishads describe this third path as the path of lower creatures, such as animals and insects. Unrighteous ones, who do not qualify for the two paths mentioned in verses 8.24 and 8.25, transmigrate into lower wombs, such as animals, birds, and insects (BrU 6.02.15-16). The immortal soul wanders endlessly through the ocean of transmigration, made up of 8.4 million different species of life on this planet. The good Lord, out of His sweet will known as “The Law of Grace”, bestows the precious gift of the human body that is like a raft to carry one across the ocean of transmigration (TR 7.43.02-04). Consider what we are is God’s gift to us, and what we become is our gift to God. It is also said that human birth, faith in God, and the help of a real guru come only by His grace. Our present life provides the opportunity for preparation for the next life. According to the activities in this life, one can either get a promotion or salvation, a demotion or transmigration, or another chance for salvation by reincarnating as a human being.
SELF-KNOWLEDGE LEADS TO SALVATION
Knowing these two paths, O Arjuna, a yogic practitioner is not bewildered at all. Therefore, one should be resolute in attaining salvation---the goal of human birth ---at all times. (8.27)
One who knows all the knowledge (discussed in this Chapter) goes beyond getting the benefits of the study of the Vedas, performance of sacrifices, austerities, and charities; and attains salvation. (8.28)
OM TAT SAT