Akshara-Brahma Yoga

|| भगवद्गीतासारः ||

M. R. Dwarakanath


Introduction: Eknath Easwaran in his book ‘The Bhagavad Gita’ usesthe title ‘The Eternal Godhead’ for Akshara-Brahma Yoga for the subject of this chapter. The subject moves from the message thus far on Karma, Sannyasa and Jnana to how souls and Yogis can reach the eternal godhead. Krishna also addresses a number of assorted topics in this chapter. At the end of the previous chapter, Krishna introduced new terminology, which naturally prompted Arjuna to ask for an elucidation of such terms. In addition, Arjuna asks about the sacrificial principle in the body and how one might contemplate on Him (the Lord) at the time of death. A part of Krishna’s answer to the last question is enigmatic as it is unclear how the answer is to be taken – literally or in some Lakshanika or figurative sense.

It may help to recall the final two verses of chapter-7 where Krishna says: Those who having taken refuge in me, striving for relief from old age and death, get to know that Brahman as well as the entire field of actions. Those who see me as manifesting in Adhyatama, Adhibhuta, Adhidaiva, and Adhiyajna, while being yoked to the intellect even at the time of death, realize me.

The Technical Terms are: Adhyatama, Adhibhuta, Adhidaiva, and the Adhiyajna. They appear here for the first time in the Lord’s teaching and naturally elicits the question from Arjuna who wants further explanation, and also how one with mind focused, can reach out to Krishna at the final hour. The prefix Adhi is used as an intensive or something that stands apart as best in class. Krishna provides a terse response to each of these terms. Brahman is the highest immutable and eternal. The essential nature (Svabhava) or the conscious self, not the ego, is Adhyatma, The insentient non-eternal is Adhibhuta. The Purusa or the supreme spirit is Adhidaiva. Krishna being immanent in one’s body and partaking of the sacrificial offering is Adhiyajna. In Gita-5.29, Krishna says much the same that he is the enjoyer of all sacrifices. Similarly in Gita-15.14, he refers to himself as Vaiswanara that is responsible for digesting the food. Consumption of food is to be seen as an offering of oblation or a Yajna. Karma is the process by which both sentient and insentient are created. Karma is the cause of all change in the Darshanas. These technical terms have been elaborately interpreted by the Acaryas but it is sufficient to stay with Krishna’s definition for the purpose of this article.

The Soul’s hankering at the time of death determines its future. Krishna says that when one breathes one’s last with mind set on Him, the supreme, there is no doubt that he will reach him. This is release. He adds: whatever one is ruminating on in the final moments of life, such a soul will realize the same. This idea is in contrast to predestination. The future can be willed, at least in principle. When a Jeeva has unrealized desires, it gets fixated on it and keeps brooding over it especially later in life as an unmet goal. This is called Vasana. Vasanas direct the Jeeva’s future as if to satisfy its unmet hankering in this life, at least in the next. It is thus up to each Jeeva to prepare for its desired future outcome. The episode of Jadabharta, who was born as a deer because of his attachment to a motherless fawn to the end of his life, illustrates this point aptly.

Noble thoughts cannot necessarily be willed at the last moment for a desirable outcome! Thus, it is necessary to constantly practice thinking noble thoughts at all times so that it becomes second nature and stays with the individual even to the end when the mind is likely to be agitated. Thus, if the desire is for release or reaching the supreme, one should keep meditating on the Lord at all times. When the mind is thus focused on him always, there can be no doubt that one will remember Him at the critical time of passing and reach Him. However, this is not easy; it is a struggle to constantly focus the mind on noble thoughts and deeds and not let the mind drift to other worldly preoccupations. Having lectured about cultivating noble thoughts and deeds, Krishna is aware that this may the escape hatch Arjuna is looking for and dodge the task at hand; so reminds him about the fight at hand! Arjuna’s duty is to fight the righteous war but he can still do so as an offering to the Lord which is not in conflict with the teaching just received.

Yogic Meditation for release: Krishna now gives an arduous prescription for reaching the supreme; the how of it especially suited for a Yoga master. He says one who meditates on the supreme with thoughts aligned with constant practice, and not letting the mind drift elsewhere will surely reach the effulgent Purusa. One who at the time of death, full of devotion, with a steady mind, mustering the strength of Yoga brings to focus the Pranic energy in the region between the eyebrows, contemplates on the omniscient, the eternal, the law giver, subtler than the subtle, the sustainer of all, having unimaginable form, splendorous as the sun and beyond darkness, attains the divine Purusa. This Purusa, known by those versed in the Vedas as the imperishable, is reached by the sages who have overcome all attachments and desirous of it lead a life of abstinence. The Yogi who casts off his body while shutting tight all the gates of the body, confining the mind in the heart, bringing the Pranic energy to the crown of the head, maintaining Yogic composure, uttering the sacred syllable OM and remembering Krishna will reach the supreme goal. The gates of the body number nine; possibly eleven if the navel and the fontanel are also included. These gates represent the sense organs of knowledge and action. They are the sources of distraction and perturbation. Shutting the gates implies reining in the senses and desires. When Prana or the vital breath leaves the body through the crown of the head (fontanel) or Brahma-randhra, there is no rebirth. This is a tall order for an ordinary initiate but attainable by a Yogic master. Krishna assures that he is easily reached by such Yogis who are ever engaged and remember him constantly without letting the mind wander. Having reached him there is no rebirth which is the abode of sorrow and where all things are ephemeral. Even those who reach the abode of Brahma are destined to return but not those who reach Krishna.

The four Faced Brahma: The learned know that a day of Brahma consists of a thousand Caturyugas – a span of 4.32 Billion human years. Similar is the span of a night of Brahma. Creation is the process by which the non-manifest comes to manifest. This act is like the sprouting of a seed into a sapling and a tree. The seed is potency while the tree is manifest. Creation begins with Brahma’s day and with the arrival of Brahma’s nightfall the reverse (dissolution) occurs; all manifest creation reverts to its potential form. The hordes of beings, subject to rebirths, dissolve into the seed form when the cosmic night begins only to blossom at the beginning of the cosmic day. Beyond this non-manifest exists the transcendent non-manifest called the Purusa. The Purusa continues to exist even when all else ceases to exist. This is called the imperishable. (A similar idea is expressed in chapter15, verses 16-17 where Krishna says: greater than the perishable is the immutable and greater yet is the Uttama Purusa or Paramatma, who pervades and transcends the three worlds.) Those who reach the Purusa do not return to the world of rebirth. That is Krishna’s supreme abode. This Purusa by which everything is pervaded and all beings reside inside can be reached only by absolute devotion.

Two Periods: Krishna abruptly changes his message to discuss the fate of Yogis who shed their mortal coils at different times in the year, the lunar cycle, the day and so on. It seems odd that the fate of the Yogi would depend on the time of death rather than the Yogi’s actions or what is on his mind in the final moments. After all, the teaching so far has been on the latter. It appears that death during the six months of the northern transit of the sun, during the waxing phase of the moon, during day time, when the fire is effulgent leads to release. This path is called Devayana. By contrast death during the six months of the southern transit of the sun, during the waning phase of the moon, at night, when smoke is prevalent returns the Yogi back to the world of Samsara. This path is known as Pitryana. This idea seems to be substantiated by the great Bhishma, a Yogi who waited for the time of northern transit of the sun before shedding his mortal coil on the battlefield in Kurukshetra.

Taken randomly, approximately one in Sixteen or so die during Devayana when all the four conditions are opportune, and a similar one in sixteen die during Pitryana. What then is the fate of the Yogi who sheds his body during northern transit of the sun but the waning phase of the moon and or at night etc.? This idea of astronomical time determining the fate of a Yogi does not square with the more important feature – the thought that is on the mind of the Yogi. The reference to fire and smoke also casts some doubt on taking astronomical time very literally. What can be discerned as a common factor in the two situations of Devayana and Pitryana is the state of light which invariably is taken to be the hallmark of enlightenment or knowledge. In Devayana, the Sun’s rays are getting more direct and intense, the brightness of the moon is increasing, light is ubiquitous during daytime, and fire is light and energy. By contrast, light is either absent or waning during Pitryanna. There is no contention that knowledge or light leads to release and ignorance or darkness leads to continued bondage. Thus, one may instead view Kala as not denoting the astronomical times but the times when light or darkness is in ascendency. By extension, the divine vibrations created by the presiding (Abhimani Devatas) of the astronomical events, at the time of death may be conducive or otherwise for release. When a Jeeva sheds its body at a time when the deities representing light are in command leads to release and when the deities representing darkness are in charge, release would be hindered.

Also, the argument from statistics may be deemed inappropriate as this law is applicable only to Yogis who, like Bhishma, can will their time of departure. This law does not then apply to the larger number of ordinary souls who have neither the capacity to control their Pranic energy nor the time of departure. Krishna’s words do support this position. He says the paths of Devayana and Pitryana are eternal facts and no Yogi who is aware of these two paths ever gets deluded. Therefore, he urges Arjuna to become a Yogi – only not just now! The Yogi realizing this profound truth does not seek rewards for performing sacrifice, charity or austerity which are never to be given up.

Summary: This chapter represents a slight digression from the primary teaching of the Gita. Krishna begins by explaining the technical terms introduced at the end of the previous chapter and then goes on to highlight the importance of the final thoughts one entertains before passing away. The final thoughts are the Karmic baggage that defines the next life. Final thoughts cannot be willed at the end; they have to become second nature by constant practice. He gives a prescription for how Yogis can reach the supreme goal though meditation and control of Pranic energy. He mentions how creation and involution occur during Brahma’s day and night and concludes by addressing the topic of Devayana and Pitryana which are two paths or periods of time that result in the final release or being born again.


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