Commentary on the Bhagavadgita
by Swami Krishnananda

Discourse 25: The Eighth Chapter Continues – Types of Liberation

In the beginning of the Seventh Chapter we are given a brief statement on what true religion can be, and ought to be. In the Eighth Chapter, we are taken further into the necessity to know the relevance of our present life in the future life. Religion is lived in this world for the sake of transporting us into a new realm of being, which is called after-death. The Eighth Chapter discusses what philosophers generally call eschatology, or the question of life after death. The kind of religion that we live in this world, of course, is a matter of this life; and it has been well described in the Seventh Chapter how we have to be truly religious, truly spiritual, in an unbiased and impersonal manner.

Now, what will happen to us after leaving the body? That question is very important to us because we will not be living in this world for an indefinite period of time. If a very good man—very religious, highly spiritual, practicing yoga—quits this world, what happens to him? The manner of conducting oneself inwardly at the time of passing has been described with poetic beauty, in a touching style, in the verses that I recited yesterday. It was pointed out that intense concentration has to be practised on a point which is a blend of the understanding and the feeling, wherein we enter into an insight to reality which will take us to that integral vision after death. We must chant Om while leaving the body, and that will create a vibration of cosmic impetus: om ityekākṣaraṁ brahma vyāharan mām anusmaran, yaḥ prayāti tyajan dehaṁ sa yāti paramāṁ gatim (8.13).

Ananyacetāḥ satataṁ yo māṁ smarati nityaśaḥ, tasyāhaṁ sulabhaḥ pārtha nityayuktasya yoginaḥ (8.14): “I am very easy of attainment. Don’t be under the impression that I am unapproachable, that it is difficult to reach Me. I am very easy of approach.” But the Lord puts several conditions in order that He may be easy of approach. What are the conditions? Ananyacetāḥ: “One who is undividedly absorbed with his whole mind and soul in Me.” Satataṁ: “And this absorption is not only for a minute. He must be constantly absorbed in Me always, and he must be engaged in this meditation on Me daily. Such a person who is eternally and permanently united with Me in his mind and soul, to such a person I am very easy of approach.” Whether He is really easy of approach or not, we can find out from this condition that He has laid. Under so many conditions, everything will be available to us. This is a moot sloka. Devotees chant it something like a mantra: ananyacetāḥ satataṁ yo māṁ smarati nityaśaḥ, tasyāhaṁ sulabhaḥ pārtha nityayuktasya yoginaḥ. We can go on chanting this.

How kind God is, provided we are kind to Him! How can we expect Him to be so concerned with us if we are not equally concerned with Him? The whole point is that. He is not putting unnecessary conditions, like a lawyer. That is not what is intended here. It is a necessary equilibration of consciousness that we have to establish between our soul and the Universal Soul. The Universal Soul can respond only to an element of universality in us. Dissimilars cannot act and react with each other. There must be a content in us which is equal in kind to the universality that God is. Hence, these conditions are nothing but an instruction on the necessity to remodel ourselves into an element of universality—a little universality, and not a particularity. It is the whole of God that we are aspiring for; and in that case, He also wants the whole of us—not our possessions, assets and legacies. These things we cannot offer to God. We have to offer that which is dearest and nearest to us. The most dear thing in us is ourselves. If we can offer that, then we shall be flooded with that great joy that we are expecting as God-realisation.

Mām upetya punarjanma duḥkhālayam aśāśvatam, nāpnuvanti mahātmānaḥ saṁsiddhiṁ paramāṁ gatāḥ (8.15): You shall not return from God. Is it worthwhile to go there if you cannot come back? Ninety percent of devotees have a question of this kind: “What good is there in reaching God if I cannot come back?” Sometimes they galvanise this desire to come back after plunging into God by saying that they will be able to do better social work in this world and be endowed with a greater capacity to transform the world. “Now I am a feeble man with little understanding and a frail body, but when I plunge into God-experience and then return, I shall be a master in this world for the benefit of all people.” But the Lord says we will not come back. Then, what good is there? If we are not going to come back to see our own brothers and sisters here, and see this great world which has supported us, educated us, taken care of us, fed us, are we going to desert this world?

This question, this doubt, is not a foolish question. It is a question and doubt that will arise even in the most intelligent of persons. Most learned philosophers, highly educated, will have this question: “Am I deserting this world in my desire to plunge into God? And what good is this desire of mine to plunge into God when many other people are suffering in deep ignorance here in this world? Should I not work for their welfare?” Have we not heard people saying that they shall not attain God until the last man leaves this world and attains God? These are very touching sentences, which stimulate our emotions: “It would be good to postpone the idea of going to God until the time when the world is transmuted completely into the gold of God-consciousness. Until heaven descends to this earth, until the physical body itself becomes immortal, until every ant and crawling insect also is transformed into a divine superman, until the last individual reaches God, I shall not.” This would be a so-called unselfish declaration of the charitable mood of a great saint and sage, but it is repudiated at once by the statement that we shall not come back after reaching God.

No impure mind can understand what this means. The impurities of the mind are social, physical, sentimental, and biological. They are limited to family and community—limited to the human species. Are we not thinking only of mankind, as if that is the only thing that God has created? When we say “work for the world”, we mean work for only the human species. We are not interested in lions, tigers, snakes, scorpions and mosquitoes. We behave as if they do not exist at all, and do not care if they perish. “My species,” the frog says. “My species,” the snake says. “My species,” man says. Thus, there perhaps is a little bit of idiocy at the back of this so-called pious aspiration of people to come back from God and work for the welfare of humanity, as if humanity is the only thing that God has created.

The Almighty Himself has told us that if we go to Him, we will not come back; and if we want to come back, we need not go to Him at all. He is not compelling us to go to Him. But our attitude is like a double-edged sword. On one side we say, “I’ll reach God.” On the other side we say, “I’ll come back to work for my fellow humans.” We decide which is good for us before thinking deeply.

Mām upetya punarjanma duḥkhālayam aśāśvatam: “After reaching Me, you shall not enter this impure, perishable abode of sorrow because I shall absorb you into the timeless state of eternity, and not send you back to the time-ridden, space-limited world of sorrow and death.” Nāpnuvanti mahātmānaḥ saṁsiddhiṁ paramāṁ gatāḥ: They have reached utter perfection. Having attained Supreme Perfection in the Almighty Universal, the question of coming back does not arise. It is as if we want to go back to the dream world after having woken up. In the world of dream we had friends, relatives, large assets, money, and the goodwill of people. When we woke up, what happened to all those people? Have we not committed a deeply treacherous, selfish act by waking up and leaving all our relations in the condition of dream? If we think that we have done a treacherous, selfish act in waking up from dream, we will do the same thing when we reach God. Remember this.

Ᾱbrahmabhuvanāllokāḥ punarāvartino’rjuna, mām upetya tu kaunteya punarjanma na vidyate (8.16): Even if we reach Brahmaloka, there are certain conditions in which we may have to come back; but after reaching the Absolute, we will not come back. Many a thing is said regarding Brahmaloka in the Brahma Sutras and in certain commentaries on the Bhagavadgita. It is said in the Upanishads that after having reached Brahmaloka, there is no coming back; and anāvṛttiḥ śabdādanāvṛttiḥ śabdāt (B.S. 4.4.22) is the last verse of the Brahma Sutras. But the Gita says that we will come back.

The only person who has clarified this point is Madhusudana Saraswati, in his commentary. Mostly people go glibly over this sloka, and repeat what the original says: “Even after going to Brahmaloka, we will have to come back; but after reaching the Almighty, we need not come back.” They do not try to reconcile the so-called conflict, as it were, that seems to be there between the Upanishads saying that there is no coming back after reaching Brahmaloka and the Bhagavadgita is saying that we do come back.

There are no contradictions. Both the statements are correct. The concept of Brahmaloka is to be clarified first. What do we mean by Brahmaloka? The concept of Brahmaloka that is in our mind is what will decide whether we will come back from there or not. Generally, Brahmaloka is something like our idea of the Universal Being: it is spread out everywhere as an all-pervading, brilliant, divine existence into which we enter, where we stay and abide in the glory, beauty and grandeur of that kingdom.

There is a kind of mukti, or salvation, called salokya mukti. We are liberated when we enter the kingdom of God. That kingdom of God seems to be something like a huge, expanded dimension where God rules like a president or an emperor; and a person living in a country need not necessarily have the privilege of an audience with the king or the president. Nevertheless, we have the contentment and satisfaction of being a citizen of the kingdom of that particular emperor. This is one kind of Vaishnava devotion, or even Saiva and Sakta devotion. Among many other types of liberation which people imagine, one lower kind of devotion giving us a passport to a lower kind of experience is the permission to stay in the kingdom of God—a kingdom conceived as a vast world, as this world is, but scintillating with beauty, grandeur, and deathless immortality.

There is another kind of mukti, which is called nearness to God. We live near Rashtrapati Bhavan or near the White House, etc.—just next door. Even then, there is a satisfaction that our president is next door. Even though we may not see him at all, there is a satisfaction that he is next door. Nearness to God, though we may not see Him at all, is samipya.

Higher still is sarupya. We assume the same power, same glory, same authority, and same dignity as God Himself, but we are not God. That is, we are empowered with the ability to do all the actions that the president can do—just as during a war the field marshal is sometimes given all the powers of the president of that country, and he can use his discrimination. With all the powers of the president of the country or the king himself, the field marshal is veritably, for all practical purposes, the be-all and the end-all of all things. He can do anything he likes at that time, yet he is not the king, and not the president. That is the kind of mukti, or liberation, that people sometimes expect—where they assume the same form as God, and have the same authority, but are not God Himself.

Sayujya is entry. We become the king himself, the very president himself, and we are not merely a deputy who has been appointed for a particular purpose. Sayujya is entry into God. If we enter into God, we cannot come back. Because God is not at a distance, and God is not in time, the question of returning back should not arise. What do we mean by coming back from God? Is God an object, a place, a location? Is God somewhere in space and time? Spaceless and timeless existence is such that the coming back from it would be like coming from eternity to time—as the entry from waking into dream. Hence, there is a great point in the enunciation that we cannot return from God, and that we will not be a loser by merging in God.

The Brahmaloka that is conceived by us has two characteristics: a universal in which we find our abode, and a universal that is we ourselves. Are we going to live in Brahmaloka as residents of that place, due to the tapas we have done? If that is the case, when the effect of the tapas is over by the exhaustion of the momentum thereof, we will come back. So, in a way, there is a possibility of our coming back from Brahmaloka if we have attained it with the power of our meditation on objective universality—a vast kingdom of heaven, yet a kingdom into which we have to enter as individuals, with the prerogative of participating in the joys of that realm. If that is the case, we will come back. But if we identify with Brahmaloka as the essence of what we ourselves are—because Brahmaloka is universal, we cannot be outside it—the question of staying there as a citizen cannot arise. We have a very funny idea when we imagine that we can go and stay in Brahmaloka as a resident, as a guest, etc. Such a thing is not possible because Brahmaloka is all-pervading and inclusive of all things. If that is the case, we are also inside it, so how will we come back from Brahmaloka? We ourselves are Brahmaloka. The largest dimension of our soul is Brahmaloka. If this is our meditation, we will not come back; we will be lifted up in the Supreme Absolute. But if we think it is a kingdom which is vastly spread out, like this world, and we are only residents there, we will come back.

So, ābrahmabhuvanāllokāḥ punarāvartino’rjuna: Even if we reach that abode of the Creator as an abode where we will reside, we will come back because it is in space and time; it is an extended kingdom. Because it is an extended kingdom, it is characterised by spatiality and temporality. That is the reason why when we enter there, we will have to come back.

Mām upetya tu kaunteya punarjanma na vidyate: “You will not be reborn after having attained Me.” Would we like to be reborn? If so, we will have freedom to be reborn as we like. But if we enter that which is not capable of coming back into space and time, we will enjoy that eternal beatitude.

Some cosmological information is given to us here in the succeeding verse, as a preparation for something more that is going to be told to us regarding the departure of the soul after leaving this body. The manner of going out of this body, and ascending upwards, is described through the paths called the northern and the southern. In that context, we are told that Brahma’s life is for one hundred years, and we have to imagine what kind of one hundred years it would be.

There are four yugas—called Krita, Treta, Dvapara and Kali. These are the time cycles or ages, as we say. We are said to be in Kali Yuga, the worst age, where there is conflict. The age of conflict is called Kali Yuga. This age is supposed to extend for 432,000 years. The duration of Dvapara Yuga is double that, the duration of Treta Yuga is triple, and Krita Yuga is quadruple. The total of all these figures is called one thousand divine years; but according to us, it is a multiple of several thousands of human years. Imagine what it means: 432,000 multiplied by 2, then multiplied by 3, and then multiplied by 4. That total is the duration of one day of Brahma. One day of Brahma is as long as this computation of the years of the four yugas, and one night of Brahma is equally long. This the is twelve hours of day and twelve hours of night of Brahma. What is the night? The pralaya, or the dissolution of the cosmos that will take place at the end of the yugas, is the night of Brahma.

There are two kinds of dissolution. There is dissolution of all life everywhere, but not dissolution of the elements—earth, water, fire, air and ether. They remain. The dissolution of all life takes place after one day of Brahma; and then he sleeps. When Brahma wakes up, he creates beings—gods, celestials, angels, men, beasts, etc.—once again, as he has done previously. But there is another kind of dissolution, which dissolves everything. The whole cosmos, including the five elements, is dissolved. After one hundred years of Brahma, the entire universe is dissolved, and Brahma also gets dissolved. He enters the Absolute.

Sahasrayugaparyantam ahar yad brahmaṇo viduḥ (8.17). One day of Brahma is one thousand years for the gods but, according to the human concept, it is many millions of years. Rātriṁ yugasahasrāntāṁ te’ahorātravido janāḥ: The length Brahma’s night is the same.

Avyaktād vyaktayaḥ sarvāḥ prabhavantyaharāgame, rātryāgame pralīyante tatraivāvyaktasaṁjñake (8.18). When the day of Brahma commences, activity starts in the universe, just as we start our business after we get up in the morning. And, we do things today in the same way that we did them yesterday. Yatha purvam akalpayat (R.V. 10.190.3): Brahma created this world in the same way that he created it in earlier cycles of time. Avyaktād: When Brahma goes to sleep, all beings, including us, merge in the avyakta prakriti. It does not mean that we will be liberated. Just as in deep sleep we are not liberated, similarly, in this avyakta prakriti, or the unconscious universal where Brahma is in deep sleep, we too enter and sleep with Brahma; and when he wakes up, we also will wake up. The cosmic sleep does not mean liberation. This is referred to in Patanjali’s Sutras as prakriti laya, etc. Cosmic ignorance absorbs us in the same way that individual ignorance absorbs us in deep sleep.

Avyaktād vyaktayaḥ sarvāḥ prabhavantyaharāgame: From the unconscious, unknown, cosmic equilibrium of darkness which is the sleep of Brahma, arises the day of Brahma; and all creation sprouts forth, as plants rise up from the earth when it is raining. But when the day concludes, everything is withdrawn, and all life goes into sleep. Rātryāgame pralīyante tatraivāvyaktasaṁjñake: We are helplessly driven back to the cosmic sleep of Brahma in the same way that we helplessly go to sleep as individuals.

Bhūtagrāmaḥ sa evāyaṁ bhūtvā bhūtvā pralīyate (8.19): Endless is creation, and endless is dissolution. How many times we have come, and how many times we have gone! In all the eighty-four lakhs (8,400,000) of species through which we have to pass, as they say, we are now at the human level. Perhaps we have passed through all these eighty-four lakhs of species. Many a time we have come, and many a time we have gone. Endless is creation, and endless is destruction. There is no beginning and no end for it. Bhūtagrāmaḥ: The total of all living beings enters and sinks into unconsciousness, and rises from unconsciousness, and again sinks into it, and rises up. Just as we sink into sleep and rise up to waking, and again sink into sleep and rise up to waking, etc., the same process also takes place in the cosmos: bhūtagrāmaḥ sa evāyaṁ bhūtvā bhūtvā pralīyate, rātryāgamevaśaḥ pārtha prabhavaty aharāgame.

Beyond that entanglement in prakriti’s ignorance, beyond that creativity and destructive process of the universe, there is the transcendent luminosity which is the Supreme Godhead—paras tasmāt tu bhāvo’nyo’vyakto’vyaktāt sanātanaḥ: Eternal radiance, light that shines beyond the darkness of the ignorance of the three gunas of prakriti.

Paras tasmāt tu bhāvo’nyo’vyakto’vyaktāt sanātanaḥ, yaḥ sa sarveṣu bhūteṣu naśyatsu na vinaśyati (8.20): If all people die, that Eternal Being will not die. Even if millions of Brahmas come and go, that unblinking Eternal is aware of all that is happening. In the Yoga Vasishtha, it is said that within the time that a great being like Vishnu or Siva closes his eyes and opens his eyes, millions of Brahmandas, or cosmoses, come and go. This is the mystery of the relativity of the cosmos.

Avyakto’kṣara ityuktas tam āhuḥ paramāṁ gatim (8.21): The Supreme Abode of eternal beatitude is beyond even this cosmic ignorance, and that is the goal of all beings, including Brahma himself. Te brahma-lokeṣu parāntakāle parāṁṛtāḥ parimucyanti sarve (M.U. 3.2.6): Together with Brahma, we merge into the Absolute at the end of time. Avyakto’kṣara ityktas tam āhuḥ paramāṁ gatim, yaṁ prāpya na nivartante tad dhāma paramaṁ mama: Again it is said that after reaching That, we will not come back. Tad dhāma paramaṁ mama: “That is My abode.”

Puruṣaḥ sa paraḥ pārtha bhaktyā labhyas tvananyayā (8.22): That Supreme Abode, the great brilliance which is God Almighty, can be attained only by unconditioned devotion. This is only a repetition of the idea that has already been mentioned—that unconditioned devotion is the only way to God-realisation. Unconditioned devotion means wanting God only, and wanting nothing else at any time. Puruṣaḥ sa paraḥ pārtha bhaktyā labhyas tvananyayā. Ananya bhakti is a dispassionate devotion to God which cares not for the values of anything else in the world. Anya bhakti is an adulterated kind of devotion which has love for something else also—vyabhicharini bhakti. Avyabhbicharini bhakti is totally concentrated devotion on one thing only, to the exclusion of any other possibility. Puruṣaḥ sa paraḥ pārtha bhaktyā labhyas tvananyayā, yasyāntaḥsthāni bhūtāni yena sarvam idaṁ tatam: That transcendent thing beyond all concepts of even Brahmaloka is also here, just now. Do not be under the impression that it is a long journey in the process of time, for millions and millions of years, as if we are going to reach a distant star. It is nothing of the kind. It is a timeless experience and, therefore, it is an instantaneous experience. It is not dying and, therefore, it is not above us; it is also within us.

After the passing from this body, how do we approach the realms of being that are above us? Do we suddenly enter God as if we are shaken up by a kick, or do we move to God gradually, stage by stage? The stage by stage ascent to God is called krama mukti—a graduated ascent to the Supreme Being. The sudden illumination is called sadyo mukti—immediate dissolution in God. Immediate dissolution is like a drop on the surface of the ocean sinking into the ocean; it does not have to travel any distance to go into the ocean. Krama mukti is like reaching a distant place by trudging along a long road and having many experiences on the way.

What kind of path it is that we are going to tread after the dispatch of the soul from this body? The coming verses describe to us the process of krama mukti, or gradual ascent through various stages—just as when we go to Badrinath there are so many choultries (halting places). We halt in one place and then move on, and halt in another place, and so on, until we reach our destination. We take rest in the choultries and resume our journey in the morning, and when it is sunset we halt at another choultry. We take rest there, have a little refreshment, and then continue onwards.

Similarly, there are various stages in our movement towards God. We do not suddenly jump like a rocket and rise to the topmost level. How are we going to ascend? What are the stages of the ascent? Here the ascent is to be taken in the sense of the ascent of a purified soul on the way to God. It is not an ascent to hell, or to a nether region, or treading the path of rebirth, etc. That is not described here, because after death we may tread the path of ascent towards God, or we may tread another path of coming back to this world through rebirth, or we may even go to hell; that is also possible. But that is not the subject here. The subject here is in connection with the purified soul who is going to reach God, and not the soul who not so purified as to deserve the instantaneous merging but has permission to go gradually by a self-purification process that takes place slowly, step by step.