Commentary on the Bhagavadgita
by Swami Krishnananda

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Discourse 24: The Eighth Chapter Continues – The Thought at the Time of Death

As we noticed yesterday, several questions were raised by Arjuna regarding certain technical terms that the Lord used at the end of the Seventh Chapter. Every one of us is required to present ourselves before the Supreme Godhead in a total fashion—not partially; and in that connection, questions were raised as to what is Brahma, what is adhyatma, what is karma in the cosmic sense, what is adhibhuta, what is adhidaiva, and what is adhiyajna. Yesterday these were all explained as representing the different facets of the Supreme Being, all of which have to be taken into consideration at the same time in the final meditation, in which we have to engage ourselves daily, and especially at the time of leaving this world. The last question of Arjuna is: “How are You to be contemplated upon at the time of passing?” Prayāṇakāle ca kathaṁ jñeyosi niyatātmabhiḥ (8.2): “How are we to know You at the time of quitting this body? What sort of awareness are we to entertain? What is the consciousness that has to envelop us at that time?”

Bhagavan Sri Krishna has already described what akshara is, what Brahma is, etc. Now he takes up the very important subject of the departure of the soul from this body, and the art of meditation that has to be our principle occupation at that time.

You may ask me, “How do I know when I will pass away? Should I think that I will pass away just now, and collect myself in tremendous earnestness? Or should I be at ease with myself because I may not die so quickly, because I have a long tenure of life—for ten, twenty, thirty or forty years more, as the case may be? So are you telling me that I can postpone this meditation to later for consideration, and now I can be merry in this world?” Not so is the case. We cannot expect to have that blessing of concentration at the time of passing from this body unless we have cultivated that habit even earlier throughout our life. If we have lived a dissipated, indulgent life during our normal tenure here, our span of life, do we think some butter will come by churning water? Butter comes only by churning milk.

So it is necessary to expect that certain other factors also may prevent us from thinking of God at the time of death. We do not know what kind of physical ailment we may have at that time. Not everybody has physical illness at the time of death. Many pass away suddenly after a good meal; they sit on a chair, and just go. But one cannot say that it is always the case. Many are bedridden for months together and suffer; and at that time, what are they going to think in the mind? What is the use of postponing the concentration on God until the time of death? At that time, we may not be able to speak. Our minds may be disturbed, or we may be delirious. We may be in a coma. Anything is possible, although we need not expect all those unfortunate situations. So let our minds enter God’s lotus feet now itself, and not later on when it is possible that we may be afflicted with physical illness and mental delusion. The whole of life is a preparation for death. The whole of the time process is a preparation for eternity. All our activities are a worship of God, and every step that we take in this world is a movement in the direction of the final liberation of the spirit. So there is no question of postponing this great duty on everyone’s part to a future date, which may not come at all.

Antakāle ca mām eva smaran muktvā kalevaram, yaḥ prayāti sa madbhāvaṁ yāti nāsty atra saṁśayaḥ (8.5): “Whoever contemplates My Glorious Being while leaving this body will be inundated with that Being after death.” This is because the shape that the mind takes at the time of death will be the shape into which it will enter after death. Thus, the pattern of our future life in the other world is laid at the time of our passing from this body, depending on the state of thinking in which the mind is lodged.

“Whoever contemplates on Me only”—you may ask what this ‘Me’ is. Yesterday we had occasion to note this total vision that we have of God. The Supreme Being is a total blend of all the aspects of possible concepts—the adhyatma, adhibhuta, adhidaiva, etc. It is a timeless conceptualisation of an eternal possibility, whose details were briefly stated in the last two verses of the Seventh Chapter; and that is the kind of ‘Me’ on which we have to concentrate.

The Universal Being is telling us: “Concentrate on Me.” The Universal Being shall reveal itself completely in the Eleventh Chapter. Now it is preparing the way for it. It is gaining momentum; the tempo of the teaching is gradually rising. The heat is rising, as it were, in the very manner of the exposition, until it reaches the culmination in the Visvarupa Darshana. Therefore, it is this Universal Visvarupa, the Total Existence, that is the object of our concentration. “That is Me, and on Me (that type of ‘Me’) you concentrate yourself.” We should attempt to bring our mind to that point of meditation when we depart from this body. That is the antakala, or the end period of our life. If we think that any moment is the end period of our life, it will be good on our part to be meditating like this always. There is no loss in getting engaged in this meditation day in and day out. We will not lose anything by thinking of God.

Antakāle ca mām eva smaran muktvā kalevaram, yaḥ prayāti: “Whoever departs while deeply brooding over Me in My essential nature attains to the blessed abode, reaching which there is no return. There is no doubt about this.” God says: “There is no doubt about it. You will certainly reach it.” Do not have the apprehension that perhaps it is not possible. It is certainly possible. Nāsty atra saṁśayaḥ: No doubt.

Yaṁ yaṁ vāpi smaran bhāvaṁ tyajaty ante kalevaram, taṁ tam evaiti kaunteya sadā tadbhāvabhāvitaḥ (8.6): We will become after death whatever we have been thinking in our life now. This is the way we can know what we will become after death. We need not consult astrologers and palmists. Our conscience will tell us what kind of person we are. If we are a good person, to what extent are we good? Otherwise, to what extent are we something else? What is the percentage of our involvement in God-thought? What is the extent of our wanting God in our life? Is it an absolute necessity, or is it a need that we may consider sometime later? What sort of attitude do we have towards God? This concept of God will determine our future. Those who meditate on a particular deity by doing mantra purascharanas and daily ritualistic worship, etc., are supposed to reach only that particular deity. They will reach the world of Ganesha or Devi or Siva or Vishnu, or whatever it is; but there is a return. Even if they go to the abode of the Creator, they are likely to come back even from that stage, inasmuch as creation is involved in space and time: ā brahmabhuvanāl lokāḥ punarāvartina (8.16).

Whatever is our interest, whatever it is that we are attracted to, the life and death issues of our existence, whatever we brood on the whole day, day in and day out—the basic fundamental background of our thinking—that is what we are actually thinking. It is not that we are thinking only one thought every day. There are varieties of thoughts. We have workaday thoughts of the business of life; but behind that, there is a background of thought which we cannot forget, and it is that background of thought that will determine our future life. Whatever be our business, whatever be our office-going, whatever be our secular occupation, that is not important. What is important is what we are, basically, when we are absolutely alone to ourselves. In our kitchen, bathroom and bedroom—when nobody sees us—what are we thinking? Are we thinking only of the office? Or do we have a little time to brood and go deep into our own aloneness? Religion is supposed to be that which one does when one is alone. It is the aloneness into which we enter. Religion is a kind of aloneness of spirit where we are isolated from all relationships which are secular, mortal, and relative.

Whatever be the thought that we have been entertaining in our life, that will be the pattern of our life in the next world. Hence, everyone can know to some extent what they will become in the next life. How much greed, how much anger, how much desire for wealth, property and position, how much prejudice, how much competitiveness do we have? If these things are inundating us, and our very fibre of existence and our very flesh and blood are made up of these prejudices alone, we can well imagine what we will be in the next birth.

The Chhandogya Upanishad tells us what our fate will be if that is the way we live in this world. However, here is a brief theorem laid down before us for a further elucidation through its corollaries: Whatever we think in our mind, whatever we brood upon, whatever our interest is, whatever our deepest love and longing is, that shall materialise into a shape in the next realm of being which we enter. But if our pattern of thinking has always been universal and never relatively construed, and we have been judging all things from the universal point of view, we will enter into the Universal when we leave this body. Inasmuch as the Universal is not here and there, it is not now and afterwards, it is not in space and time, the question of rebirth does not arise—because the Universal cannot be reborn. Eternity is our blessedness.

Tasmāt sarveṣu kāleṣu mām anusmara yudhya ca, mayy arpitamanobuddhir mām evaiṣyasy asaṁśayaḥ (8.7): “Therefore, I tell you: be constantly devoted to Me day in and day out, and engage yourself in your prescribed duty.” The word yudhya is used here, which means ‘fight’. In that particular historical context of the Mahabharata war, the instruction was: “Resort yourself to Me, surrender yourself to Me, completely rely on Me, and then fight.” It may apply to any kind of fight. The confrontation that we feel in our life, the opposition that we have to face, the duties that we have to perform, the obligations which are incumbent upon us are actually the yuddha, the war in which we are engaged in this big battlefield of God’s creation. “Resorting to Me completely, engage yourself in this duty that is incumbent upon you.”

Sarveṣu kāleṣu. Lord Krishna said, “Think of Me at the time of death.” Now He says, “You must think of Me always.” This is because He was conscious that if He said to think of Him after many years, Arjuna would not worry about Him at all, and go on postponing until it is too late to do anything. Therefore, a proviso is added by the great Master: “It is not enough if you think that you will meditate on Me at the time of passing. Every moment you must be with Me, in Me, and in a state of total surrender to Me. I shall protect you and take care of you.” Sarveṣu kāleṣu mām anusmara.

Mayy arpitamanobuddhiḥ: “If your mind, intellect and reason are totally dedicated to Me, you shall certainly reach me. There is no doubt.” Asaṁśayaḥ: Here also it is declared that there is no doubt about it.

Abhyāsayogayuktena cetasā nānyagāminā, paramaṁ puruṣaṁ divyaṁ yāti pārthānucintayan (8.8): The supreme resplendent Purusha, the Absolute Being, is our goal. By the constant practice of the yoga of meditation, and not allowing the mind to flicker hither and thither, absorbing ourselves entirely in this practice of total concentration on the Universal Reality, we shall attain to that supreme Sun of all suns—paramaṁ puruṣaṁ—and we shall be most blessed. Eternity and infinity shall be the fruits that we gather by this hard effort of meditation on the Universal Existence of God Almighty.

Kaviṁ purāṇam anuśāsitāraṁ aṇor aṇīyāṁsam anusmared yaḥ, sarvasya dhātāram acintyarῡpaṁ ādityavarṇaṁ tamasaḥ parastāt (8.9): For the purpose of enabling us to picture that Supreme Being at the time of death—or always, as the case may be—we are told what kind of person that Supreme Being is. That Being is All-knowing—kavi. There is nothing that we can hide from that Almighty Being. That Supreme Being is most ancient—purāṇa—because it was there even before creation. Before there was space, before there was time, before there was anything, it was there. Therefore, it is the purana purusha, the adi purusha, the most ancient one; the all-knowing ancient one: kaviṁ purāṇam.

Anuśāsitāraṁ: It is the ruler of all the worlds, the ultimate destiny of everything, the final authority of all things, and the great God of creation.

Aṇor aṇīyāṁsam: It is subtler than the subtlest. Atoms, electrons and energy cannot be seen except in a mathematical fashion as points, but even such conception is not possible here. It is subtler than the subtlest, because of the fact that it is pure subjectivity. The grossness characterising objects of sense cannot touch this pure subjectivity. It is deeper than our ordinary physical subjectivity as Mr. So-and-so, etc. It is deeper than our psychological subjectivity as learned persons, great persons, etc. It is deeper than even the causal personality of individuality. It is an unconditioned, deepest essence and, therefore, it is the highest subjectivity. The highest subjectivity means free from any kind of externality of space, time and connection. Therefore, it is called subtle—the subtlest of all—and not even the subtlest space can be compared to it.

Aṇor aṇīyāṁsam anusmared yaḥ: Whoever can contemplate this Mystery of mysteries. What kind of mystery? Sarvasya dhātāram: The father and the grandfather of all people, the great protector of all beings, the final resort of everyone.

Acintyarῡpaṁ: Unthinkable is that Being. Our eyes will be blinded, we will become deaf by the vibrations that it produces, and our sense organs will simply melt into the liquid of an experience that can best be described as spiritual realisation—acintyarῡpaṁ.

Ᾱdityavarṇaṁ: Solar light is the brilliance of that goal. The sun is like a shadow before that light. Thousands of suns cannot stand before it. Na tatra sῡryo bhāti  (Katha 2.2.15): The sun does not shine there. The rays of the sun, the light of the sun is like darkness before it—pitch darkness—because of the excess of light. When light increases in frequency, it becomes darkness. Because of a commonness of frequency between the apparatus of our eyes and the light of the sun, we are able to see it; but if the level of the sunlight’s frequency is raised or lowered, we will not see the light at all, just as radio waves cannot be heard unless the radio’s frequency is the same as the frequency in which the waves are being broadcast by the radio station. Hence, the solar description is symbolic and does not mean that God is merely like a sun. Millions of suns will be darkness before that light of all lights—jyotiṣām api taj jyotis (13.17); light that is beyond all lights, light that is tamasaḥ paraṁ—beyond the darkness of the ignorance of people. Ᾱdityavarṇaṁ tamasaḥ parastāt: The whole world is darkness in comparison with that light of all lights. We think we are in daylight, but it is pitch darkness before that utter luminosity. Can we contemplate on that? We must contemplate on that at the time of passing: prayāṇakāle (8.10).

Manasācalena: Without allowing the mind to go hither and thither, but getting absorbed in all love and affection and endearing feeling; pouring ourselves on that, and allowing it to pour itself on us without allowing the mind to flicker; full of devotion for that, and wanting nothing else, and crying for it always.

Bhaktyā yukto yogabalena caiva: Full of devotion to it, but at the same time we are highly determined to see that we get it. “Now or never! Let this flesh melt and the bones crack. I shall not get up from this place until I get it!” was the resolution of Buddha. If we have that resolution with a devotion that surpasses all understanding, we are really blessed. Bhaktyā yukto yogabalena caiva: Yogabala is the power of the will of concentration.

Bhruvor madhye prāṇam āveśya samyak is one type of concentration that is prescribed here: concentration on the point between the eyebrows because of the fact that in the waking condition the mind is supposed to be actively operating in the ajna chakra, which is located there. In the dream state, it is in the throat, as it were; and in the sleep state, it is in the heart. Inasmuch as we are mostly in the waking condition and the mind is already in the point between the eyebrows—which is its svasthana, or its own abode—it is profitable for us to concentrate on that point instead of dragging the mind from its abode to some other direction. So it is said to concentrate the mind on the point between the eyebrows and raise the prana to that point—because wherever the mind is, there the prana is. The prana rushes to wherever we are concentrating our mind, and even the bloodstream moves in that direction. Sa taṁ paraṁ puruṣam upaiti divyam: By this practice, we shall reach that Parama Purusha, Purushottama, the Being of all beings, the Supreme God, Whose realisation is our be-all and end-all.

Yad akṣaraṁ vedavido vadanti  (8.11): “I shall now tell you a secret—that imperishable secret which is known to the knowers of the Veda, the students of the three Vedas. There is a secret which is known to them, and I shall tell you what it is.” Viśanti yad yatayo vītarāgāḥ: “That secret which I am going to tell you is the quintessence of Vedic knowledge, and is that abode into which restrained tapasvins and yogins enter.” Yad icchanto brahmacaryaṁ caranti: “The longing for the union of which, people practise continence, and restraint of the senses and the mind.” Tat te padaṁ saṁgraheṇa pravakṣye: “Briefly I shall tell you what this imperishable seed is on which you have to meditate always, and at the time of passing.”

Sarvadvārāṇi saṁyamya (8.12): “Close all the gates of your body.” The five senses of perception, these avenues which are the windows of knowledge, are closed completely. Do not see, or hear, or touch, or smell, or taste; and do not allow any agitation of the other active limbs such as the hands and the feet, etc. Neither the sense organs of knowledge, nor the organs of action should be active at that time. These principles of action are withdrawn completely into the mind, in which case the mind becomes intensely potent. Usually the mind is weak because more than fifty percent of its energy is depleted through sense perception—through the sense organs of knowledge and the activities of the other karmendriyas, or organs of action. A little knowledge is there, and that is also distracted by the activities of the senses. But when the activity of the senses is withdrawn, the holes through which the energy goes out in the direction of space and time are blocked. This is called sarvadvārāṇi saṁyamya: Blocking all the holes which are the ten sense organs.

Mano hṛdi nirudhya ca. It was said that the mind is to be concentrated on the point between the eyebrows. Now it is being said that the mind will be concentrated in the heart. In deep sleep, in death, and in the samadhi state, the mind goes to the heart; but at other times it moves in the throat or the brain. In deep meditation, transcending the consciousness of the concentration that we are practising on the point between the eyebrows, we go deeper into the heart. When the mind is made to slowly descend to the position of the heart, it ceases from externalised ways of thinking, and settles in its true abode. The final abode of the mind is the heart. As the Upanishads tell us, in the state of deep sleep it is supposed to be lying in the puritat nadi.

Mῡrdhny ādhāyātmanaḥ prāṇam āsthito yogadhāraṇām: A very difficult technique is placed before us here. The pranas have to be raised to the centre of the head. At the same time, it is said that the mind has to be concentrated on the heart. This seems to be a very difficult injunction. The idea is that our reason, feeling, understanding and emotions should get blended together so that what we think through the brain—the concentration that is active through the reason—is blended together with our deepest feeling. We are not merely in a state of understanding or feeling; we are in a state of intuition, which is a direct grasp of the total essence of things. Therefore, it is an injunction for two things: concentration on the centre of the head, which is the abode of the activity of rationality, and concentration on the heart, which is the abode of feeling.

Ᾱsthito yogadhāraṇām: Thus being absorbed in the highest mood of yoga meditation; om ity ekākṣaraṁ brahma vyāharan (8.13): Chant Om. When we chant Om, we will feel that it finally becomes soundless. The matra of the pranava, or omkara, becomes amatra, or soundless vibration. The message that we receive from the broadcasting station is not a moving sound. It is a vibration which is converted into sound waves in our receiving set. In a similar manner, the sound that is articulated in the form of chanting Om, or pranava, becomes rarefied into a soundless universal equilibrium of energy wherein we get lodged as the Soul of the cosmos. Om ity ekākṣaraṁ brahma: The eternal Brahma it is, in His form of vibration. Vyāharan: Chanting like this, uttering this great pranava, and deeply concentrating on My Being; yaḥ prayāti: whoever departs from this body; yah prayati tyajan deham: whoever leaves this world quitting this body; sa yāti paramāṁ gatim: he reaches the eternal abode.