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The Teachings of the Bhagavadgita
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 8: Creation and Life After Death

The Bhagavadgita is a moksha-shastra, a scripture on the science of the liberation of the spirit. Thus it follows the course of the return process along the same lines as the evolutionary process of the descent of the soul from the Supreme Being. The first six chapters may be said to be engaged in an exposition of self-discipline from the individual point of view, the integration of the human personality and the preparation of the whole man for the greater task which is yet to come – namely, the at-one-ment of the individual with the set-up of the universe. Some of the interpreters and commentators on the Bhagavadgita hold that the first six chapters have a relevance to the significance of the term 'twam' in the famous Upanishadic passage – tat twam asi. The next six chapters pertain to the characteristic of 'tat', or That, and the last six chapters are confined to the exposition of the process of the union of the two, signified by the term 'asi', That Thou Art. Thou That Are, to put it another way – twam tat asi. So this twam is in the first six chapters, tat in the next six, and asi in the last six. This is one of the opinions held by certain interpreters like Madhusudana Saraswati and commentators of that category. However, there seems to be some point in this opinion that the first six chapters are concerned with the discipline of the person, which culminates in the art of concentration, meditation – dhyana-yoga, which is the theme of the sixth chapter.

Now, if we can remember again the scheme of the entire process of the descent of the evolutes in the cosmological process from the higher realities, we would realise that this individuality, this personality, this so-called 'I-consciousness' of ours is a phenomenal appearance. The individual essence itself may not be phenomenal, but what we call the principle of individuality – characteristics which go to constitute the isolated individuality of ours – these externalising features are phenomenal in their nature because it is not true that the individual is totally cut off from the universe. This will be clear and obvious to us if we know how we came from the higher regions. So, the study of cosmology is the background and the rock-bottom, as it were, of any kind of study in philosophy, and certain modern thinkers have held that metaphysics is a critique of cosmologies. This is something very interesting, and without knowledge of the cosmological process it will be difficult for us to know where we are standing today. From the position we are occupying at this moment, we have to ascend further, gradually, through the stages by which we have come from the highest status – the Supreme Being. The Bhagavadgita, from the seventh chapter onwards, right up to the eleventh or the twelfth, occupies itself with this grand subject: the theme of the constitution of the whole universe and its relationship to the creator, Ishvara, Paramatman, Purushottama – the Supreme Being as the director of the whole of creation.

Yesterday, we concluded our studies with a little mention of the five elements, which are the grossest manifestations of the cosmical substance, by a permutation and combination of whose inner constitutions the individuals are formed – organic or inorganic. Now, the very commencement of the seventh chapter touches upon this principle of the five elements, which are the visible forms of the inner constitution of the universe as it is visible to our eyes. Bhūmir āpo'nalo vāyuḥ khaṁ mano buddhir eva ca, ahaṁkāra itīyaṁ me bhinnā prakṛtir aṣṭadhā (Gita 7.4): The outer cloak as it were, of the Creator, is this physical universe, eminently organised by the presence of the Supreme Being.

Here we have a very important task to perform, because now we are entering into certain processes of practice which are more difficult than the ones we passed through earlier during the course of the first six chapters. The discipline of the first six chapters is difficult enough. It is not easy for a person to pass through this course of the first six chapters of discipline, culminating in the art of meditation as described in the sixth chapter. Now, the greater difficulty is before us – our relationship to the universe as a whole, our association with this cosmos and the relevance that obtains between us and God Himself. This is a frightening theme for unprepared minds and persons uneducated in the art of thinking profoundly in this manner, because the world persists in being recognised as an external object due to the force by which the senses work, and most of the theories of knowledge – these processes of the science of epistemology, as they are called – stand on the hypothesis that the world is outside and the whole perceptional process becomes meaningful only if the object is somehow outside the knowing subject. A sort of outsideness of the object is necessary for seeing any meaning at all in the process of perception or visualisation of the object of the senses. The knowledge of the world is the knowledge of the object of the senses. So in all perception which would be considered as purely empirical in its character, the world is taken for granted as something totally outside us, and to establish any kind of meaningful relationship with that which is entirely outside us would appear to be a futile endeavour, because that which is totally outside us bears no connection with us. We cannot even know that the world exists if it is wholly outside.

So the Vedanta epistemology, especially, goes deeper into the implications of the very process of perception. The knowledge of the world is not such a simple process – it is not so innocent as it appears on the surface. We do not just jump into the world and see that it is there; there is some complicated implication behind and underneath this outer association of our personality through the senses with the objects of the world, the world as a whole. It is not true that the world is really outside us. The five elements are not objects in such a way as to be totally disassociated from even our sense organs. A little inkling of this suggestion was given to us in the third chapter of the Gita when we were told: Gunah guneshu vartante. The very characteristic of the senses as an impulsion towards contact with objects is indicative of there being a common feature between themselves and the objects outside, and it was made clear to us that the perception of the world by the senses, or rather, the contact of the senses with the objects outside, is a colliding of the gunas of prakriti with the gunas of prakriti. The sattva-rajas-tamas combination, which is the constituent assembly of the individual, comes in contact with its own expanse in the form of a so-called world presented outside. Na tad asti pṛthivyāṁ vā divi deveṣu vā punaḥ, sattvaṁ prakṛtijair muktaṁ yad ebhiḥ syāt tribhir guṇaiḥ (Gita 18.40): Nothing in the world, nothing in the individual, nothing in heaven and earth can be outside the purview and operation of these three gunas of prakriti. Not even heaven is outside the operation of these gunas. The heaven of Indra, or all the planes of existence, even up to Satya-loka – whatever is in this physical world, whatever is in you and me and everywhere – all these things are the permutation and combination of these building bricks of the cosmos: sattva, rajas, tamas. Thus the perception of the world, the knowledge we have of an external object is a very interesting phenomenon taking place of which we, as individuals, do not have a complete picture before our mind's eye. The world beholds itself, as it were, in all processes of perception, and it is not 'A' or 'B' looking at a 'C' outside, unconnected with it. The world is not a 'C' outside 'A' or 'B' as an individual. So, in the process of the practise of yoga in its higher reaches, especially from the beginning of the seventh chapter, we are performing a Hanuman's feat of leaping across this ocean of the large expanse of the cosmos and recognising the basic fraternity that is there already, from time immemorial, between ourselves as subjects and the whole cosmos, the world outside, as an object of ours.

I will bring our minds back to the earlier stages of our studies, lest we may forget them. We began with the first chapter where we are confronting the social atmosphere of the Mahabharata, and it was all a chaotic presentation before the distracted mind of Arjuna, due to which he was disarmed completely, psychologically, and he found himself in a social chaos and an unintelligible relationship between himself and his kith and kin and society in general. This problem had to be tackled by the Samkhya mentioned in the second chapter and explained further in the third chapter. A right understanding of the nature of human relationship was essential, and it became necessary further on to know the nature of one's own personality also. Thus, the social relationships got integrated with the existence of the individual whose coming together may be said to constitute a society.

Then we come to the harder task of relating the individual itself with its original, from where it has come – the cosmos. This is a third step, as it were, we are taking, and a more difficult step because the subject of epistemology is a crucial theme in all philosophical studies, and it is an essential introduction to all further studies in the philosophical fields. It is a very difficult theme and much has been said and written about it – still people are saying and writing about it, without coming to a final conclusion as to how we come in contact with the world at all, and how we know that anything is there at all. Even today we are not able to come to a final conclusion about it because the doctrines of philosophy vary from each other for obvious reasons, and we are still at loggerheads as far as finals are concerned.

However, it has to be accepted finally that, from the point of view of at least the implications of the possibility of knowing anything at all, the knowledge process should imply, suggest and include a kind of kinship between us and that which is known by us. The Bhagavadgita is explicit in this matter. There is nothing outside this Supreme, Creative Principle: Mattaḥ parataraṁ nānyat kiñcid asti (Gita 7.7); ahaṁ kṛtsnasya jagataḥ prabhavaḥ pralayas tathā (Gita 7.6). These magnificent proclamations may sometimes go above our heads; we cannot understand how this could be – how God could be everywhere. Man's mind is weak and is not endowed with that much strength as to enable it know how God could be everywhere and, yet, we also could be there at the same time to know that God is there. How could God be an object of our consciousness, of our perception? How could the world be there at all as something that we know through our senses? This difficulty has been obviated by the Samkhya doctrine mentioned in earlier chapters, and now we are going deeper into a vital connection that we have, as souls rather than as bodies, with the vitality of the whole creation.

In the beginning, at the commencement of this seventh chapter almost, we are not introduced into the principle of God or Creator very much, though it is mentioned here and there in a scattered manner. A vista of a larger expanse of the universe is opened up before our eyes, wider than our individuality and even our social relations, and we are merely told that God created the world. The principle of creation, or the hypothesis of God creating the world, keeps us in a position of awe, wonder, and our devotion to God as the creator of the universe is sometimes called, in certain fields of theology, aisvarya-pradhana-bhakti – devotion charged with the spirit of awe, wonder and majesty as we would look upon a judge of the Supreme Court or a monarch ruling an empire, who is far above us in power, knowledge, and in every respect. The concept of God in religions, at least in the earlier stages, seems to involve a sense of awe and a distance between us and God. This distance is maintained in the seventh chapter, though the distance gets diminished and narrowed down, as it were, as we go further and further in the eighth, ninth, tenth and eleventh chapters, until we reach the eleventh where the narrowness gets abolished completely in the commingling of us with the All-Being. The seventh chapter therefore introduces the principle of the Creator, who is not mentioned at all in the earlier chapters up to the sixth, because the first six chapters seem to be confined to the discipline of the individual which is very essential for even knowing something about there being such a thing as Creator himself, or God.

Now we are introduced into the cosmological principle of creation and the Creator, which theme was essential in the earlier stages of mere discipline of the personality which culminated in dhyana, in the sixth chapter. God Is! And when we are passing through a mere disciplinary process, such things need not be told us. When we are in the earlier stages of our schooling, we do not even know who is ruling our country, we do not know that there is a government at all, because we need not be concerned with such things which are beyond our heads and which do not constitute part and parcel of our education in the earlier stages. Later on, we begin to study geography and history and political science, civics, and then we come to know something more about the environment and the ruling powers, and so on. So in the first six chapters we are in a preparatory stage, and so we were not introduced into that higher area which is cosmology, theology, and so on – to which we are now introduced, from the beginning of the seventh chapter. But there is something higher than these five elements. Apareyam itas tvanyāṁ prakṛtiṁ viddhi me parām, jīvabhūtāṁ (Gita 7.5): There is a subtle organising power behind the physical elements. The universe is not dead; it is not constituted of inanimate matter as it may be told us in the earlier stages of our study. There is nothing dead and insentient in this cosmos. Everything is vibrant with energy, everything is moving, everything is flowing, everything is living. In some form or other, in some incipient potentiality of consciousness, it manifests living characteristics. The Soul of the Universe vibrates through even the minutest atom and the electron, which perhaps explains the purposiveness that we recognise in the movement of even the littlest of things in the world. There is a teleological movement of everything in the world, there is a purpose in everything – it is not a dead mechanism that operates, though that appears to be our interpretation of things from purely a spatio-temporal point of view. Thus, the existence of God becomes a necessary postulate in earlier stages – a hypothesis, you may say – to explain the purposefulness in creation and the nature of the very evolutionary process of the cosmos.

These things raise doubts in our mind. Arjuna had difficulties; he was startled by these enunciations. (I mentioned to you, I'm passing through these chapters very very briefly, partly because we have very little time, partly because already I have gone through these chapters in greater detail, in a different session whose themes you can study in a printed form.) These mentions made in the seventh chapter raise questions of a cosmological nature: What is the universe? What is the world? What is the soul? What is God? What is creation? When we are told that we are there, the cosmos, the universe is there, we are related to it some way, organically, and the universe is created by God, many cosmological questions arise in the mind – kiṁ tad brahma kim adhyātmaṁ kiṁ karma puruṣottama, adhibhūtaṁ ca kiṁ proktam adhidaivaṁ kim ucyate (Gita 8.1) – and so on and so forth. Adhiyajñaḥ kathaṁ ko'tra (Gita 8.2) – Questions of this type are raised.

There is an indubitable existence of ourselves; there is the individual existence of ours:

  1. I am there, you are there, there and we are many people here in this world.
  2. There is this world outside.
  3. There is a Creator of this world.
  4. There is a relationship between this Creator and this world.
  5. There is a relationship between you and the world.
  6. There is a relationship between you and the Creator.

And, number 7, number 8. Many other involved questions arise concerning the mutual relations of these categories mentioned: the Supreme Creator, the universe created, the individual, including human society, and the mutual relationship among them.

This is the commencement of the eighth chapter, which concludes with a short enunciation, a narration of the life beyond this world, studies which are comprehended in what is called eschatology – life after death. The world is involved in a cosmical relationship, as you and I are. These terms are differently explained by different interpreters and students of the Bhagavadgita. There is no uniformity among the understanders of these terms. Brahma, karma, adhiyajna, adhibhuta, adhidaiva, adhyatma are intriguing terms into which we can read any meaning from our philosophical, predilection point of view. And if we read different commentators, they will tell different things to us – all of which may be right in their own way, and yet there are more things to be said about them than perhaps are available in existing commentaries. There is an interrelationship of everything. The world is a structure of interrelated constituents. Everything is connected to everything else. In this sense we may say that everything is everywhere.

A very homely and easily intelligible analogy that I may place before you to understand this interconnectedness is the organism of our own personality, the sarira, which is the illustration given by such theologists and philosophers like Sri Ramanuja. God is sariri, and the whole creation is sarira. The relationship between the universe and God is sarira-sariri-sambandha. What is the relationship between the body and the soul? There is some sort of a very clear, intelligible relationship between the body and the soul, though we may not identify one with the other. The body is not the soul, but we cannot keep the body here and the soul there; they are so much related that even the word 'relation' is a poor word to describe what sort of association is there between the soul and the body. They are one, as it were, yet they are not one. A kind of non-separate existence is enjoyed by the soul and the body, notwithstanding the fact that we cannot say that the one is the other. This is, perhaps, the viewpoint of Ramanuja – the theologians who hold that the universe is organically related to the Supreme Being, call Him Vishnu, Narayana, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva or the Supreme Being, or any name we would like. I do not wish to stretch this point too much to the breaking apotheosis of it, and for all practical purposes it will be enough for us to know that there is a non-separate relation of the whole of creation with God, which includes our relationship also. The words adhidaiva, adhyatma and adhibhuta are interpreted, as I mentioned, in many ways. In a subtle way, the Bhagavadgita itself gives the definition of these principles.

Akṣaraṁ brahma paramaṁ (Gita 8.3) – the Imperishable Eternal is the Supreme Brahman, the Absolute, Creator Supreme, the Infinite Eternal. This is Brahman, in Sanskrit language. Brahman is the total, all-comprehensive Absolute-Being, aksharam, and it is imperishable – svabhavo'dhyaatmanuchyate. Here, interpreters differ from one another in what they mean by the terms 'svabhava' and 'adhyatma'. Adhyatma is the pryatyak chetana or the internal consciousness, the subjective awareness we may say, literally understood. Svabhava is natural disposition. The natural disposition of a being is the adhyatma or the subjectivity of that being. I am giving you a non-committal definition without going into the details of it because you can read any meaning into them according to your theological standpoints, or rather, philosophical predispositions. Or more properly, to make it more clear to you as novitiates in this study, we may say that adhyatma is the individualised consciousness – consciousness locked up in the individuality of the person, which is the determinant of our svabhava, and which decides our svadharma also. Our duty as svadharma will be decided by our svabhava, or our essential nature as adhyatma, the individual principle in a particular location in the scheme or stage of evolution, a point to be underlined.

Bhūtabhāvodbhavakaro visargaḥ karmasaṁjñitaḥ (Gita 8.3) – karma is understood to be action, Everybody knows what this word means – action. Karma, karma, karma – it is understood in a thousand ways. "Oh, it is my karma," people say when they wail, weep over something, by which they mean their fate, or rather, more properly, the effect of what they did in the past, or what they do, what they have done, and so on. But more profound thinkers have understood by this word 'karma' here in this context – visarga, or the very process of the emanation of things from the Supreme Being. Visarga karmasamjnitah – the cosmic action, the original, universal impulse to diversify and project itself into this multiplicity of creation, this original creative will, as it were, may be said to be the visarga, the coming out of beings that is the karma, the original yajna, the first action. This is one interpretation, and I am not trying to go into the other interpretations which may not be necessary for us – bhūtabhāvodbhavakaro visargaḥ karmasaṁjñitaḥ. Adhibhūtaṁ kṣaro bhāvaḥ (8.4): All the perishable forms in creation are the kshara. Kshara means perishable, transient, passing. Adhibhūtaṁ kṣaro bhāvaḥ puruṣaś cādhidaivatam. Here again there are varieties of understanding of the meaning of this statement. Adhidaiva is the superintending principle, the divinity transcending the subject-object relationship, the consciousness that is the connecting link between us and the world outside, the seer and the seen. These are all very difficult things to understand and will not be grasped merely by a single utterance of them. However, let them be told at least once so that a vibration may be produced for further studies. This is perhaps the most knotty point in the Bhagavadgita as far as the cosmology of it is concerned.

Bhūtabhāvodbhavakaro visargaḥ karmasaṁjñitaḥ, adhibhūtaṁ kṣaro bhāvaḥ puruṣaś cādhidaivatam adhiyajñoham evātra. Here again we have a difficulty in understanding what adhiyajna is. Sometimes it is held that the whole field of performance in any manner whatsoever is adhiyajna – the divinity presiding over, superintending over, transcending, controlling, deciding, determining and judging. All activity in the universe is God as adhiyajna, the Supreme Being who receives the fruits of all our actions. This whole world is the field of activity. It is dharmakshetra-kurukshetra, and this field of action is the field of the performance of duty – svadharma. It is, therefore, a field of performance of sacrifice, yajna, and therefore it is holy land, the whole creation, this cosmos, this universe, this world, this society, this area which we are occupying is a sacred, sanctified dharmakshetra cosmically, where we perform our devout worship to the Almighty in the form of our duties, functions – whatever they be, whatever the shape they take. These are very difficult things to understand, but very essential, so that a correct understanding of the mutual relationship of these principles among themselves will give us a strength to face the world and provide us with that internal inner energy by which we can direct our soul-consciousness in the direction of the object of our meditation. We are thrilled, enthused, stirred and stimulated by these descriptions because we know we are a cosmical citizen. We are not a man or woman living in a corner somewhere, in some state of India – we are a citizen of the whole of creation. We have, therefore, the support of the angels in heaven and the gods everywhere and the Supreme Being Himself. Thus, meditation becomes a cosmic activity. Yoga is a universal performance on our part, and this is the message of solace that the Bhagavadgita gives us.

Now, the Bhagavadgita still keeps God away from us a little bit, and does not want us to jump into God immediately, though much has been said about our relationship to creation and the existence of God as the Supreme Creator. There is a necessity felt by us to understand what happens to us after we quit this body. "Well, I understand what you say. Here I am, here in this vast world, this universe, and the Great God is there as the Creator. Yes, perfectly okay; but when I leave this world, what happens to me?" This is the subject of eschatology – the life after death subject. "When a person dies, what happens?" This was the question of Nachiketas as we have it recorded there in the Kathopanishad. What happens when we quit this world? When the soul leaves this body, where does it go?

Yaṁ yaṁ vāpi smaran bhāvaṁ tyajaty ante kalevaram, taṁ tam evaiti (Gita 8.6) – Here is a psychology of the transition of the soul from this body to another realm. Whatever be the determining force behind the psychic operation in us, especially at the time of the passing, that would decide our future. Precisely stated, whatever we deeply think at the time of passing will decide where we go and what we will be. Now, this may raise a question in our minds. "I must think some noble thoughts at the time of death so that I may go to some higher region, if not God Himself. So, I must have a holy thought in my mind, but I am not going to die today – everybody knows this. I will not die today, maybe after many, many years – so, there is time enough." Here is a terrible delusion in our minds. Nobody will ever believe that today is the last day – it cannot be for obvious reasons. There are forms of logic which substantiate this view that it is not today definitely; it is not tomorrow either, and not the day after tomorrow. "These are frightening things, don't tell me all these things. Oh! The day after tomorrow, horror! It is after many, many years, thirty, forty, fifty years. So the last thought, if it is going to determine my future, I shall look after it afterwards; now, let me live any kind of life." This is a delusion. The last thought is not an isolated link, but the fruit of the tree of the whole life that we have led in this world. We cannot have apples from thistles, so if we have sown seeds of thistles, we know what will come out of it. Therefore do not be under the impression that the holy God-thought will come at the end when we have lived a life of abandon, distraction, deceit, and so on.

The last thought is the cumulative outcome of the total force exerted by us throughout our life upon our mind. So it is not the last thought in a chronological sense; it is only a 'logical last', not the 'historical last' – we have to understand this very clearly. So, do not be under the impression that death is very far, and the last thought shall be taken care of after some time. It is not so. Whatever we have sown will decide what we will reap, and therefore the thoughts, the feelings, the preponderating impulses in us throughout our life will be the determining conditions of our last feeling, last thought. This last thought is not merely a psychological operation; it is a surge of our total being. The nerves will crack, the muscles will melt, as it were, we will feel as if the bones are breaking and the whole of us will rush out of this body. It is not merely shallow thinking as we think that the tree is outside us. This kind of thought is not the thought that will be there at the time of death. It is a shattering of the whole structure of the individuality and a wrenching of oneself with such force that the last thought is not a thought at all in the ordinary psychological sense; it is a surge of whatever we are, and an inundation of our whole being with the cumulative completed form of our whole accumulated ascent throughout our life. We cannot imagine what will happen to us at the time of passing, when the whole of us quits this body. They say, sometimes, it is like 72,000 scorpions stinging at one stroke. This is a frightening illustration given by old grandmothers, touching upon the fact that there are so many nerve currents in our body – not 72,000, even much more. Every one will crack, and if we break one nerve we know what happens to us – we feel it and then know the pain of it – and when 72,000 nerves break, we will know what it means. Such a pain will be felt by the departing spirit because of the attachment which we have to the body, through every cell of our body. We are wholly involved in this body, we have become the body; we are the body itself. Don't be afraid of this! Perhaps we are all more blessed – Swami Sivananda's grace is there! And God will be more merciful, such a cracking of the nerves will not take place. We will happily go to the Supreme Being. Be happy!

So, now, the question of the predicament of the soul after death is taken up towards the end of the eighth chapter, briefly. I will touch upon it in another session.