Akshara-Brahma Yoga


 Taraka-Brahma Yoga


In the general structure of the Gita, this Eighth Chapter has
a special purpose. We have seen in previous chapters how the
various streams of spirituality existing anteriorly to the Gita
have been taken up one after the other and contradictions, if
any, between them reconciled by the dialectical method which is
called Yoga.

The apparent contradiction between wisdom and action
(jnana and karma) was initially resolved. Then the
revaluation passed on to spiritual expressions belonging to
the ancient background of India, such as tapas (austerity),
dana (charity) and yajna (sacrifice), which were reconciled
or fused one with another. This survey was undertaken so
as to bring them all under review at one glance and so that
their sum total could lead to the full discussion of Brahmavidya
(the science of the absolute) in the two chapters which
symmetrically occupy the centre of the Gita.

But before the accomplishment of this task, the author has to
overcome a specific difficulty. The transition from the
highest form of spirituality belonging to the relativist
context to that properly understood in the absolutist sense
has to be presented without conflict.

If we take the case of number and had to give the
distinction between a number comprising one hundred
digits and infinity we could safely say that for all practical
purposes the difference would be negligible, although in
principle a difference did exist. The Gita does not intend to
banish practice from precept. Therefore in its form of
revaluation in this


chapter, superior relativism is made to tally with absolutism,
although these strictly belong to different categories.
In Verse 16 of this chapter we find that the world of
Brahma (the highest Vedic god) is still considered to belong
to the relativist aspect. But in Verse 26 the emancipated soul
which passes through the path of light belonging to Brahma
(the god) is said not to return any more. In other words,
judged by the effect, the soul or Self attains an Absolute
status. There is a subtle contradiction here which becomes
inevitable and excusable in the light of the special purpose
this chapter has to fulfil. When we remember that the Gita
is a revaluation of both a philosophy and a way of life, both
being treated together without duality, the apparent
contradiction becomes understandable.

Although starting with questions suggested at the end of
the previous chapter, this present chapter covers many
miscellaneous items, such as rebirth, yogic practices,
cosmological cycles, the bright and dark path of the soul,
culminating in praise of a way of life which clearly belongs
to the Gita as its own in the name of Yoga or dialectics,
a way which is supposed to go beyond all prior particular
expressions of spirituality.

We notice also that this chapter is conceived more in
the spirit of a song reminiscent of a Vedic chant than has
been the case with the immediately preceding chapters.
The emotional content comes into play, gathering up all
trends of spirituality, before stating the case of the Gita
more openly and philosophically in the two following

This chapter has been named Akshara-Brahma-Yoga (The
Perennial Absolute Unitively Understood) and also Taraka-
Brahma Yoga (The Absolute Unitively Understood as That
which Bears or Carries away; the Saviour). In spite of the
miscellaneous character of the subjects covered, the
justification of the title is sufficiently clear from 
Verses 11 and 28 together.


Arjuna uvacha
kim tad brahma kim adhyatmam
kim karma purushottama
adhibhutam cha kim proktam
adhidaivam kim uchyate

Arjuna said:
What is that Absolute? What (is) the Principle of
the Self? What (is) action, 0 Highest Spirit? What
is said to be the Principle of existence, and what is
spoken of as the principle of divinity?


adhiyajnah katham ko'tra
dehe'smin madhusudana
prayanakale cha katham
jneyo 'si niyatatmabhih

Here in this body, what and how is (to be understood)
the principle of sacrifice, 0 Madhusudana (Krishna)?
Again, how are You to be known by self-controlled
persons at the time of going forth from the body?


A volley of eight questions is fired by Arjuna. Why does
he not put them singly? The reason is evidently because the
author wants to fuse together and revalue the spiritual
content of many anterior traditional trends. It is at the
time of death that all currents of spirituality in the normal
life of the individual tend to come together naturally into
one master life-tendency reaching out to fulfilment, which
can be satisfied only when met by the wholesale wisdom of
the Absolute going to be treated here. It is thus that
this chapter gains its unity.

The opening question: "What is that Brahman (the Absolute)?"
in its scope covers all secondary questions, leading up to
the heart of the subject with which the Gita is primarily

To think of the Absolute in terms of the Self is a later
development of the Upanishads. From gods such as Indra
and Varuna, and through a unitive Godhead, the notion of a
cosmological Brahman (Absolute) first found its place in the
Upanishads. This, in its turn, was transformed into a more
perfected psychological Brahman in terms of the Atman
(Self). Thus Brahman (Absolute) and Atman (Self) became
interchangeable terms. Karma (ritual) itself was historically
connected with the notion of Brahman, whether
cosmological or psychological, at least in the Indian
background. Brahmavidya (the science of the Absolute) .
was the natural outgrowth of Vedic sacrifices. Thus the
relevancy of the references to sacrifice are understandable.
The reference to bhutah (elements) is also understandable
in the light of the previous chapter. Brahmavidya (the
science of the Absolute) is also related to the brighter
values of life as


against the regretful or smoky values such as belong to the
way of the forefathers. Thus, how these seemingly different
questions hang together vis-à-vis the science of the
Absolute is sufficiently clear; especially when adhidaiva
(the principle of divinity) is going to be defined in almost
heretical terms in Verse 4, as pertaining to purusha (spirit)
which has nothing theologically holy associated with it.
The devas ("shining" divinities), taken individually, do not
seem to matter here. The hypostatic content of deva-hood or
divinity as essentially belonging to the purusha (spirit)
aspect of the Absolute (as distinct from its prakriti-nature,
matter-aspect) is the important thing.

The consideration of yajna (sacrifice) gives rise to two
questions, "how" and "who" and is further limited to what
pertains to the body here itself. Arjuna wants an answer
consistent with the science of the Absolute, not in a
theoretical form but as it would apply to a personal way
of life here and now, as also to one passing from this
life to the hereafter. All these questions and answers
imply the common factor called niyatatmabhih (by those
whose Self has been brought under control), though strict
grammar may not require such a collective interpretation,
and might restrict the epithet to the speaker of the last
question only. Thus, the questions suggest and circumscribe
the answers very definitely, to make the answers all the
more telling.


Sribhagavan uvacha
aksharam brahma paramam
svabhavo 'dhyatmam uchyate
visargah karmasamjnitah

Krishna said:
Perennial, the Absolute, supreme - (Its) own nature,
principle of Self is called. The creative urge, the
cause of the origin of existent beings, is designated


The precise answers to the questions that follow are
based on the science of the Absolute as revalued in the
Gita. This revaluation began, as we said, with the
Upanishads themselves. There the rational heterodox
schools of philosophy


joined hands with Vedic cosmological and eschatological
schools to form one body of wisdom.

The word purusha (spirit), for example, associated with
the Samkhya system, having its origin in ancient books such
as the Tattva Samhita, and handed down to the Samkhya
Karika of later date, is not to be identified with any one
of the Vedic gods, although the word is not altogether
unknown, especially in compound terms as puranapurusha
(ancient spirit) or purushottama (highest spirit). The
term Brahman (the Absolute) has had its own evolution in
the Vedas, culminating in the Vedanta. In the course of
the revaluation to which these fundamental notions were
subjected, yajna (sacrifice) itself came to be identified
with the Absolute or Self.

The definition of karma (action) contained in this verse is
an example of how far this form of revision could be precise
and philosophically sound. Karma (action) as comprising
every kind of action, human or natural, in the universe,
is brought under one sweeping definition consisting of the
visargah (creative urge) bhutabhavodbhavakarah (which
causes the origin of existent beings). This compound word
lifts karma (action) from its ritualist limitations and gives
it a philosophical status as clear and modern as that of
Bergson, who speaks of pure becoming. Bergson himself, we
know, derived such notions from Plotinus and even from
pre-Socratic philosophers like Zeno. The notion is not
peculiar therefore to any particular philosophical school,
Indian or Greek. Although Sankara would make it out that
karma (action) would refer more directly to sacrificial
offerings which, we must admit, is in keeping with the
tendency so evident in many of the major Upanishads, and
thus natural and justifiable when critically examined in
themselves, we prefer to take here the plainer and more
universal meaning independent of the Indian background.
Even the definition of the Absolute as "Perennial" or
"Imperishable" points at a preference for the universal on
the part of the author himself. The whole intention of those
definitions is evidently to make Vedic or Upanishadic
notions more universally valid as belonging to a coherent
science of the Absolute.

Adhyatman (principle of the Self) is referred to simply
and plainly as svabhavah (own or proper nature), a term
which makes no distinction even between subject and

The definition, aksharam brahma paramam, could be translated
in three ways, making one or other of the three terms the


subject and the two remaining words the attributes. As this
definition is meant to be directly related to the question
in Verse 1, we prefer to make Brahman (the Absolute) the
subject, and the other two words aksharam (perennial) and
paramam (supreme) the attributes. In finding the intended
meaning of the other definitions the same rule holds good.


adhibhutam ksharo bhavah
purushas cha 'dhidaivatam
adhiyajno 'ham eva 'tra
dehe dehabhritam vara

The principle of existence is the transient aspect, and
spirit is the principle of divinity; what pertains
to sacrifice is Myself here in the body, 0 Most Superior
Bearer of the Body (Arjuna).


The abstract idea of the Absolute, when unitively understood
together with its various counterparts or aspects, is
brought down to definite concrete terms of a Self lodged in
the body of the subject here and now. Between the Supreme
and the concrete individualized subject is the amplitude
within whose range the perennial unitive principle is to be
understood for purposes of emancipation, which is proper to
the Gita teaching.

Ritualistic sacrifice, which is usually associated with the
word yajna (sacrifice), is here identified with aham (I),
which one would at first think had more to do with the Atman (Self). When we permit the larger Self to be the
connotation of the "aham" used here, such a Self could he
construed as a value which constitutes the Absolute. That
sacrifice and the Self as the Absolute are interchangeable
terms is allowed in the light of iii, 15.

Yajna (sacrifice), taken as a relation between the
sacrificer and the god, attains the same status of an
Absolute value. In other words, as a principle, sacrifice
occupies a neutral position between subject and object and
thus has a new status which is neither the one nor the other,
as implied in xv, 24. Yajna (sacrifice) and Atman (Self) thus
become interchangeable terms. Brahman (the Absolute) in
this sense, may be said to be lodged in the body without
violating any theoretical principles. In fact such is the
implication of xviii, 61 taken together with iii, 10.


This identity of the Absolute with the Self on one side and
sacrifice on the other is supported by the Taittiriya Samhita,
1, vii- 4 cited by Sankara as stating, "Sacrifice is verily
Vishnu". Note however, that here it is the Self of Krishna
and not any human soul which is identified with sacrifice.
This statement does not contradict what was said in vii, 12
because there it was specialized manifestation in nature
which was discussed, and not the conscious Self as understood
in a human and personal context.

The epithet dehabhritam vara (O Most Superior Bearer of a Body)
as applied to Arjuna here, should be understood in the same
personal way, with this difference, that when Krishna refers
to himself as living in his own body, the accent is on his
higher, nature, while in the case of Arjuna, the accent is on
the ontological side. In both cases it is the personality
which is under consideration and, when neutrally conceived,
the personality equals the Absolute. This, in turn, equals
the principle of sacrificial relationship. The ontological
or the existential aspect of the Absolute here referred to
under adhibhutam (principle of existence) is transient, in a
state of constant flux or becoming. It has its counterpart
in the purusha (spirit) which is a subsistantial reality
given to formal reasoning. As such, it has a permanency,
though still within the range of implicit duality.

This vestige of duality will be abolished in Verses 20 and 21,
as we shall see. We should remember, however, that when
we refer to the transience or mutability of existence, this
does not affect the archetypal concepts which are behind the
multiplicity of created things. If the permanence of such
archetypal forms is denied, existence itself would have no


antakale cha mam eva
smaran muktva kalevaram
yah prayati sa madbhavam
yati na 'sty atra samsayah

And he who, at the time of death, thinking of Me alone,
leaves the body and goes forth, reaches My being; herein
there is no room for doubt.


We find now that we enter a section which might be
called eschatological in character. The reference to antakale
(the time of ending), the termination of life, is necessary to
bring all


life-values into focus as it were, towards a unified stream
of interest. When a person is faced with death, minor or
trivial interests of everyday life tend to recede into the
background, and a master-interest is bound to prevail.
The object of such interest, if it happens to be an
Absolute value, and if a strict bipolarity is established
between subject and object, can be expected to lead the
subject along the highest path from which there is no
return. Besides the duality between what is a wholehearted
life-interest which is happiness, and mere pleasures which
attract and repel here, there is also another order of duality
as between the relative world of manifestation and the
world which is higher than either the manifested or the

The rest of the chapter touches on these aspects in the
spiritual progress of a person. Although the chapter opens
with many questions; in answering them a unitively global
or wholehearted way of life is chalked out by the author by
the time we come to the end.

The importance of what a person thinks of before the
time of death in determining his next birth in the context
of the theory of reincarnation is familiar to us in various
texts such as the Yoga Vasishta, and even in the Ramayana and
Mahabharata. A bee in a lotus trampled by an elephant in
the Yoga Vasishta is reborn as an elephant, and Ravana
killed by Rama in the Ramayana enters into the beatitude
or salvation of Rama-hood which is the same as

Although we need not interpret the implications of this
theory here in such graphic terms proper to the Puranas
(legendary writings), it is not difficult to understand
what is stated here in a more philosophical or psychological
sense. "Like attracts like" may be said to be a law of life.
To put it more precisely, counterparts tend to abolish
each other in the Absolute. Arjuna as a disciple here is
the counterpart of Krishna who represents the Absolute
value. Strict bipolarity established between the two must
sublimate whatever is relative in Arjuna in terms of the
Absolute that Krishna represents. The implications of this
theory broadly enunciated in this verse are worked out in
greater detail in the rest of the chapter, stage by stage.
Na'sty atra samsaya (herein there is no room for
doubt) - this is meant to underline the theory elaborated in
the Gita which is one of its cardinal contributions, as
evidenced in the two Verses ix, 34 and xviii, 65, whose
significant positions we have already emphasized. It is
a doctrine of paramount importance.


yam-yam va 'pi smaran bhavam
tyajaty ante kalevaram
tam-tam evai 'ti kaunteya
sada tadbhavabhavitah

Whatever manifested aspect a man might think of
at death when he leaves the body, that, 0 Son of
Kunti (Arjuna), he reaches, whose thoughts always
conform to that particular life-expression.


The general law is enunciated without reference to the
Absolute in this verse. As a man thinks, he becomes. This is
a popular form in which many writers have stated this law,
well known all over the world. The Buddhist Dhammapada
recognizes this when it says at the beginning: "All that we
are is the result of what we have thought". There is a
bipolarity implicit in life which determines our progress in
general, and above all what might be called spiritual

Relative progress is also subject to this law. But when
Absolute value enters in as the major counterpart of the
situation, then the progress may be said to be the highest
or final.

The expression sada tadbhavabhavitaha (always conforming to
that particular life-expression) refers to the general aspect
of the law. In other words a person might have at the time
of death an intense and bipolar interest in a dearly-beloved
person. The theory may be then understood to imply that he
would be born again with a dearly-beloved person as a
condition in fulfilment of this desire. If such a value was
not a person, it might be an object of worship or adoration,
such as a favourite form of deity, or God, which would perhaps
apply better than a particularized interest which is bound
to be partial or weakened in bipolar interest.


tasmat sarveshu kaleshu
mam anusmarayudhya cha
mayy arpitamanobuddhir
mam evai 'shyasy asamsayah

Therefore at all times remember Me and fight; when your
mind and intelligence are surrendered to Me, you shall
come to Me; (have) no doubt.



Based on the general law of Verse 6, what is recommended
here for the disciple is to fix his mind on the Absolute
represented by Krishna, not only at the time of death,
but sarveshu kaleshu (at all times). The intention of
the reference to the time of death in the earlier verses
becomes clear now from the sense of this verse. It was
merely to bring out into clear perspective the bipolar
relationship demanded as a prerequisite for proper
spiritual progress. It is not meant as a dictum for the
practice of piety only just before death. One has to have
sustained interest in the Absolute throughout a lifetime.
The expression yudhya cha (also fight) coming again as a
direct reference to fighting when its need as a literary
device has been left well behind, is rather striking, and
has to be understood in the same light as in Verse 13 of
this same chapter where there is again a double-edged or
two-sided injunction given. There "Aum "has to be recited
on the one hand, side by side with thinking of the Absolute.
The reference to fighting has undergone various modifications
in former chapters as we have had occasion to point out.
Between Arjuna as a warrior who drops his weapons and
Arjuna as a disciple in the pure context of wisdom there
are grades marking the transition between actual warfare,
or what may be said to be the moral implications of warfare.
The enemy in iii, 43, becomes kamarupam (the form of his
own desire) and further in iv, 42, the enemy becomes a
subtler factor of intelligence, merely, which is there
named ajnanasambhutam (an ignorance-born doubt), and all
that Arjuna is asked to do is to stand up against it.

The reference to fighting in this verse, therefore, has to be
credited with all these sense-modifications before its true
implications as intended by the author can be understood.
Life itself is spoken of in most languages as a fight.
Lapsing into negative attitudes is the danger to be avoided,
as much in spiritual as in actual life. Between these two, a
necessary vestige of duality is still consciously retained by
the author. Religious practices belonging to different
schools or traditions have all been brought under one view
in this chapter and it is too early to abolish even here this
duality, so necessary for the discussion to be developed.
But this vestige of duality will be discarded later. A person
can admire a sunset and ride a bicycle without the two acts
coming into conflict, if the cyclist is a well-practised
person. The secret of Yoga implies this kind of harmony


between the two aspects of life. Automatic activities of a
reflex action can co-exist with wilful or consciously chosen
activity. Physical fighting, when found absolutely necessary
cannot come into conflict with the conscious cultivation of
philosophical absolutism. The former is to be taken for
granted or as permissive in certain rare circumstances, as
Krishna here judges the present occasion to be. The, fault of
recommending action and wisdom together does not arise in
this rare instance.


abhyasa yogayuktena
cetasa na 'nyagamina
paramam purusham divyam
yati partha 'nuchintayan

Meditating with the mind engaged in the Yoga involving
positive effort, undistracted by anything else, he goes to
the supreme divine Person, O Partha (Arjuna).


Before passing over, in the few verses that follow, into a
rhapsodic, exalted adulation of the highest spiritual path
combining all the various disciplines, this verse states the
theme of this chapter by way of a summary, in plain
unexaggerated terms.

The reference to abhyasayoga (Yoga involving spiritual
effort) indicates that we are still reaching the climax of
the discussion of Yoga. The reference to paramam purusham
divyam (the supremely divine person) cannot mean anything
but the Absolute, described in the plain words belonging to
normal spirituality, religion or theology. The rest of the
verse only ensures the bipolar conditions required for true
emancipation mentioned as the cardinal doctrine of the Gita.
The epithet divyam (divine) as applied to purusha (person)
does not suggest anything of the nature of ancestor-worship,
but ancestor-worship is not excluded as we shall see in the
next verse. Retrospective references are not altogether
ruled out.


kavim purnam anusasitaram
anor aniyamsam anusmared yah
sarvasya dhataram achintyarupam
adityavarnam tamasah parastat

prayanakale manasa 'chalena
bhaktya yukto yogabalena chai 'va
bhruvor madhye pranam avesya samyak
sa tam param purusham upaiti divyam

He who meditates on the Poet-seer, the Ancient, the Ordainer,
minuter than the atom, the Dispenser of all, of unthinkable
nature, sun-coloured, beyond the darkness -

who meditates at the time of departure with a steady mind
possessed of devotion, as also of the strength that comes
from Yoga, well-fixing the life-breath betwixt the eyebrows,
he reaches that Supreme Divine Person,


After the plain statement of the position given in Verse 8,
these two verses rise into a crescendo of rhapsody. Verse 9
further makes up for the omission of restrospective values in
spirituality specifically referred to by the phrase anusmared
yaha (one who is to be remembered).

Terms like puranam (ancient) further accentuate the same
retrospective vision. But the whole sense of the verses
cannot be said to be within the scope of what may be thought
to be ancestor-worship. Cosmological and philosophical, not
to speak of theological and purely mystical epithets, are
piled one on to the other here to make a confection of
inimitable poetical sublimity.

The epithet anusasitaram (the ordainer) is evidently
theological; and anor aniyamsam (minuter than the atom) is
philosophical, especially reminiscent of the Vaiseshika
school; and the epithet adityavarnam (sun-coloured) marks,
as it were, the limit of the poetic excess, reminiscent of
Vedic chants. This last epithet can only have a deeply
mystical import because of the suggestion implied here that
when we travel retrospectively through the darkness of
unknowing, we come again to a Light beyond all light, which
can only be the Light of the Self.

Verse 10 continues the rhapsody, but in prospective terms.
The whole verse is intended to reveal a central global attitude
of the spirit, especially of a yogi related to the Absolute
according to the technique already covered. The reference to
prayanakale (time of departure) again here, is meant as
before merely to reveal the prospective orientation of the
spirit, and not necessarily to any form of piety that might be
peculiar to


the time of death only. Here again theology, Yoga and
worship are all suggested by the various expressions used.
The phrase bhruvor madhye (centre of the eyebrows) for
example, belongs to the context of Yoga practice. The
reference to divyam purusham (divine person) is theological.
The attempt by the author clearly is to bring into one
confluent expression the various spiritual streams of
discipline. This is the task to be accomplished by the end of
this chapter, as the last verse will sufficiently indicate, so
that the deck is cleared, as it were, for the proper discussion
of the central topic of the Gita.

The word kavi which can merely mean a poet or a man of
imagination in the usual sense, as referring to the Absolute,
is to be specially noted here. It has within its own range of
meaning divinities that are omniscient, dwelling in the region
of the primordial sun. From the immanent to the transcendent
all personalized values can be covered by this expression.


yad aksharam vedavido vadanti
visanti yad yatato vitaragah
yad ichchanto brahmacharam charanti
tat te padam samgrahena pravakshyo

That imperishable (value) which the knowers of the Vedas speak
of, which the Self-controlled and passion-free enter, which
desiring they lead the life of the disciplined (Vedic) student,
that state I shall succinctly describe.


What has been stated in eschatological language is restated
in this verse without reference to the time of death,
but with the intention of focussing different trends of
spirituality into one master channel directed towards a more
finalized and revalued notion of spirituality.

The different references in this verse therefore to (1) the
vedavid (Veda-knower), (2) the yati (anchorite or ascetic)
whose characteristic is self-control, and (3) the brahmachari
(initially a Vedic student, but later connoting one who walks
the path of the Absolute, as understood in the Upanishads).
This collective enumeration is not a new method, but is
already familiar in the Upanishads - e.g., Katha Up. ii, 15,
the object being the same, namely the revaluation and
restatement of existing trends in spirituality.


The expression aksharam (imperishable) is meant to refer
to the content in most generalized terms of Vedic learning
taken as a whole. Whatever may be the particular deities or
gods mentioned specifically in the Vedas; when taken
together the whole of the Vedas may be said to be directed
to the understanding of what is here called the Imperishable.

The word vedavid occurs in the same sense in xv, 1, and
there as here, it is employed to mean a person who is able to
take a comprehensive or a wholesale view of Vedic
teaching. Though still relative, Vedic teaching taken in this
way can have a counterpart or an implied subject-matter
which could be spoken of as the Imperishable, thus
approximating to the Absolute as far as it is possible within
the relativist context of such a religious scripture. The great
fig tree or banyan referred to in xv, i, represents a vision of
the Absolute as seen by one who is still a relativist. But in
so far as such a vision takes a wholesale view of humanity,
it becomes a respectable objective even in the more truly
contemplative context. What the Vedic visionary can see is
therefore held up to view in laudatory terms in this present
verse, although on final scrutiny this chapter holds a more
thoroughly absolutist pattern of spirituality.

The term visanti (enter) states a goal, not in terms of
understanding as in the former case, but as conforming to a
way of life. Rajas (passion) is the enemy of spirituality as
understood in the Gita (iii, 37). The importance of the
phrase vitaragah (those passion-freed) here lies in its being
the sole qualification for spirituality.

Even in the case of a simple brahmachari (dedicated
student on the path of the Absolute); he has a desired end,
though perhaps of a more theoretical nature. But he
submits himself voluntarily to certain disciplines or ways
of life because of such an aim or desire. Whatever the
nature of the goal, whether conceived in terms of wisdom
or discipline, even with ends and means treated without
difference, the subject-matter or content of spirituality
remains the same, which is the Absolute understood in the
Gita. Such a neutral state is implied in the word padam
(foothold, base, state).

The phrase samgrahena (in brief) reveals unmistakably
the nature of the task which this chapter sets out to
accomplish. It is neither a merely religious, a philosophic
nor a yogic goal which is kept in view, but a goal which is
all these at once.



sarvadvarani samyamya
mano hridi nirudhya cha
murdhny adhaya 'tmanah pranam
asthito yogadharanam

aum ity ekaksharam brahma
vyaharan mam anusmaran
yah prayati tyajan deham
sa yati paramam gatim

Inhibiting all exits, holding the mind-factors convergent
in the heart, vitality-functionings operating centred
between the eyebrows, well-established in sustained unitive

Uttering the one-syllabled word Aum, which is the Absolute,
while constantly remembering Me, he who departs, abandoning
the body, he it is who treads the highest path.


These verses sum up the position reviewed from different
standpoints but this time in a language closer to the view of
the author of the Gita, which is primarily a yogasastra (a
textbook on the science of dialectics).

The reference to Aum as the verbum or logos or Word,
should be understood in the same light as elaborated in the
Mandukya Upanishad. Aum (the Word) is here identified
with Brahman (the Absolute).

The control of the different openings and the focussing of
mental tendencies in the heart, and the gathering of vitality
in the region of the forehead, and finally sustaining the state
of unity or Yoga, are all notions which are familiar to us in
various parts of the Upanishads.

A psycho-physical theory peculiar to the Upanishads is
implied here. Whatever the discipline recommended, the
culminating key-word to the state of perfection here is the word
Aum. It is here recommended, it should be voiced, that the
uttering of the word is to be accompanied by its own mental
counterpart which is that of remembering the Absolute
- mam anusmaram - remembering Me. The double or parallel
nature of the injunctions implied here is in keeping with
the spirit of this chapter, as we have pointed out under Verse 7.


Note that the eschatological reference is not omitted even
in this restated form, as the words tyajan deham (leaving the
body) indicate. Life-values, whether here or hereafter, are
thus brought together without duality.

Those inclined to see a reference here to particular hatha
(effort) Yoga practices, would be departing from the simpler
rational meaning implied here. The numerous references in
the Upanishads should be our guide in this matter.

The parama gati (supreme road), referred to here, should
be distinguished from the lesser, more relativist, ways spoken
of in some of the verses which follow. It is easily reached,
as Verse 14 points out. The distinction is further elaborated
in Verses 16 and 23, and in Verse 26 it is definitely stated
that there is a path treading which one never returns. The
Gita takes the stand on this finalized idea of the Absolute,
and any other references to paths less absolutist should be
looked upon as incidental to the discussion of the whole
subject, as intended by the comprehensive survey of this


ananyachetah satatam
yo mam smarati nityasah
tasya'ham sulabhah partha
nityayuktasya yoginah

One without extraneous relational mental interests,
remembering Me day in and day out, to such an
ever unitively affiliated man of contemplation I
am easy of attainment, 0 Partha (Arjuna).


This verse states that the path indicated by the Gita is
easy. Elsewhere it was often repeated that it was rare and
difficult, as for example, in vii, 3.

The facility implied here is in the sense that it is a simple
matter of establishing a relation between the relative and
the Absolute which is the prerequisite for spiritual progress.
When the two important conditions for such a bipolar
relationship are strictly fulfilled, the results take place
spontaneously and with case. These two conditions for the
ensuring of this bipolarity are referred to here quite

The first condition is implied in the expression
ananyachetah (one without extraneous relational mental
interests). For strict bipolarity to be established, all
interfering third interests have to be carefully eliminated.


The second condition is implied in the term nityasah (day
in and day out). It is not enough that the relation should be
established in bipolarity for any limited period. It has to
have an undeflecting character which has to be maintained
in terms of eternity rather than in terms of time.

The nature of the conditions emphasized here are further
underlined in the last phrase nitya yuktasya yoginah (by the
ever unitively affiliated man of contemplation. It is the yogi
or the contemplative and not a mere devotee or religious
person who is always to be kept in mind in the Gita and,
though, all paths lead to him as stated earlier, it is he who
fulfils these conditions, who finds the path easy to tread.


mam upetya punarjanma
duhkhalayam asasvatam
na 'pnuvantu mahatmanah
samsiddhim paramam gatah

Having attained to Me, they do not return to this transitory
abode of suffering, they having reached the highest attainment.


The Absolute character of the highest path of wisdom is
for those rare or great ones who are different from relativists
of whatever kind or grade who may be mentioned hereafter.
The one characteristic which distinguishes such absolutists
is that they do not return to a life of suffering at all. This
never-returning characteristic is always referred to as the
chief feature, not only elsewhere in the Gita, but throughout
the Upanishads. One who returns to another birth, however
superior, is still a relativist; but the absolutist is one who,
once gone, never returns. This makes all the difference
between the two categories. 

The reference to duhkhalayam (abode of suffering) on the
one hand, and to mahatmanah (rare great ones) on the other
hand, who can escape such suffering by simple affiliation to
the way of the Absolute, by its implicit contrast, gives a
certain poetic sublimity to this verse.


a brahmabhuvanal lokah
punaravartino 'rjuna
mam upetya tu kaunteya
punarjanma na vidyate


All worlds beginning from here to the world of Brahma
are subject to phenomenal repetition, Arjuna;
but on reaching Me, 0 Son of Kunti (Arjuna), there
is not another birth.


Before passing on to a cosmological discussion after this verse, the two contrasting positions are clearly brought into relief here. It should be noticed that the world of Brahma, although it has the highest status cosmologically, as a goal to be attained in the Vedic context, is still relegated to a secondary position, as against the goal represented by Brahman, the Absolute.

Beginning from this work-a-day world or everyday realm,
we can imagine a series of graded worlds, each of
which represents the goal to which the religious man
aspires. The highest of such realms known to the Vedas is
still not the best as understood in the Gita. Krishna here
not only represents the Absolute cosmologically, but also
psychologically, and even in every other spiritual context
known till then.

The cosmological or theological colorations that might
limit the notion of the Absolute are eliminated by the
striking contrast here. The non-returning character is again
referred to as the distinguishing feature. Cyclic repetition
of phenomena is the characteristic of the relativistic world.


sahasryayuga paryantam
ahar yad brahmano viduh
ratrim yugasahasrantam
te 'horatravido janah

Those who know that the day of Brahma is a thousand unit
periods in the cosmic cycle, and the night of a thousand
(such) units, they are understanders of the day and night


A discussion of certain cosmological principles follows
in this section up to Verse 19 inclusive. just like the
alternation of day and night, a theory is postulated here
which implies that Brahma, the Author of creation, belongs
to a cycle of existence which has two aspects. A "day" of
Brahma comprises a thousand yugas (unit periods in the
cosmic cycle), whatever the duration of such a period may
be in terms of actual time as we understand it empirically,
the important fact referred to


here is the alternation. A thousand units of a bright period
are balanced by a thousand periods of a dark period. Those
who can understand this alternating ambivalent principle,
implicit in the notion of the Absolute, theologically or
cosmologically, are referred to here as ahoratravido janah
(understanders of the day and night), i.e., those who can
intuitively enter into all the implications of such a theory
of alternating day and night in eternal duration.


avyaktad vyaktayah sarvah
prabhavanty aharagame
ratryagame praliyante
tatrai 'va 'vyaktasamjnake

From the unmanifested all the manifested proceed at the
coming of day; at the coming of night they merge in that
same, named the unmanifested.


The same alternation is described here in terms of
manifestation and dissolution. Although creation as we
experience it daily is not dissolved at night, but continues
actually outside and virtually inside our own consciousness,
in the larger sense of a cosmology conceived from a
contemplative angle, this alternation can be spoken of as
taking place more strictly or theoretically as between the
manifested and the unmanifested. In the wakeful state
everything has actuality. In the states of sleep and dream,
existence has only a virtual status. When we speak in terms
of consciousness, in this sense it is that this verse declares
that the manifested emerges from the unmanifested and
returns to it when night comes. This is not to be taken in the
language of the positive sciences, but should be understood
as belonging to the contemplative context where consciousness,
rather than objectivity, is given primacy. In the phrase
tatra eva avyaktasamjnake (in that same named the unmanifested)
the insistence on it being the same indicates that the
unmanifested is a more inclusive or general notion akin
to the concept of mahat (the great) or Brahman (the Absolute)
as understood in Vedanta. This implication is clarified in 
Verse 20.


bhutagramah sa eva 'yam
bhutva-bhutva praliyate
ratryagame 'vasah partha
prabhavaty aharigame


This very same aggregate of beings, coming into existence
again and again, merges, subject to necessity, at the onset
of night, 0 Partha (Arjuna), and comes into being at the
coming of day.


This verse states the same alternation conversely, drawing
further attention to the everlasting continuity of this
alternation, as it were, in the amorphous matrix of eternal
duration. Further, it adds the complementary fact that it is
sa eva ayam (this very same) aggregate of beings, once
merged in this matrix, which is again merged, after being
created afresh. Things are viewed here as if eternally
existing sub specie aeternitatis.

Thus the identity of particular objects as such remains
constant and unchanged in principle. The emphasis here,
taken with tatra eva (that same) of the previous verse,
gives our interpretation sufficient justification.


paras tasmat tu bhavo 'nyo
'vyakto 'vyaktat sanatanah
yah sa sarveshu bhuteshu
nasyatsu na vinasyati

But beyond this unmanifested there is yet another
unmanifested perennial existence which among perishables
itself does not perish.


This verse finalizes explicitly what has been implicitly
stated in the two previous verses, according to which the
unmanifested, instead of having a status merely as the
opposite of the manifested, has a reality which is higher
still, approximating to the wonder of the Absolute.
While this unmanifested comprises both the manifested
and the unmanifested, it is here referred to as being distinct
from the latter, and must belong to an epistemological order
of its own. The force of the words parah (higher) and tu
(indeed), employed by the author to underline the distinction
between the mere unmanifest in the dualistic context, and
the unmanifest which knows no duality at all, and
approximates itself to the Absolute, becomes thereby quite
justifiable and understandable. This unmanifest is further
called sanatanah (ancient or perennial). It is not subject
to the alternating process of manifestation and destruction.
The larger and more comprehensive concept of the Absolute
gives room to the dual process


of emanation and dissolution without contradicting or
compromising such a view.

The paradoxical statement at the end of the verse has the
familiar ring of that variety of wisdom treated in the
Upanishads. It seems to admit of a vague middle ground between
two opposites or contradictions. Usual logic, however, does
not allow, by its law of an excluded middle, of such a
middle ground. The reasoning here therefore is taken to be
intuitive or contemplative rather than mere mechanistic
ratiocination as in the hands of Locke, Hume and Mill.
The central Absolute value indicated here is the basis of
the notion of the Absolute as understood in all Vedanta
writings. The sunya-vada (nihilism) is often attributed to
rationalistic approaches like Buddhism, because such
schools do not arrive at a clear notion of the Absolute as
something of a superior status or order, as implied in this


avyakto 'kshara' ity uktas
tam ahuh paramam gatim
yam prapya na nivartante
tad dhama paramam mama

That unmanifested, it is called the imperishable.
That they speak of as the highest (spiritual) path,
attaining which they return not. Such is My supreme abode.


Here the seal is finally placed on the notion of the Absolute
arrived at in the last verse, as a living word, as a path
and as an abode, thus giving it a status as a value and not
merely a logical or academic abstraction.

The word mama (my) which refers to the personality of
Krishna himself as a representative of the Absolute, makes
such a value come well within the ambit of human interests.
On one side there is the seeker and on the other side there
is his own final goal, both being treated in terms of human
value for purposes of final identification one with the other
through contemplation.


purushah sa parah partha
bhaktya labhyas tv ananyaya
yasya 'ntahsthani bhutani
yena sarvam idam tatam


This is the supreme Spirit, 0 Partha (Arjuna),
within whom all existences abide and by whom all
this is pervaded, who is attainable however, by
devotion exclusive (of all extraneous factors).


A further degree of personalization is brought about here.
The manifested world which we see before us is pervaded
by a purusha (spirit) which is here referred to as the highest.
These two aspects, the manifested world and the spirit,
which still reflect the duality of the Samkhya (rationalist)
system, are meant to be understood unitively without vestige
of duality. Any vestige will be finally abolished in the next
chapter as we have said, and is here retained only for
purposes of discussion.

The emphasis on devotion which knows no other, is again to
secure the bipolar relation already referred to. All manifested
beings are here referred to as having their dwelling within
the spirit. Here again the duality implied will be, progressively


yatra kale tv anavrittim
avrittim chai 'va yoginah
prayata yanti tam kalam
vakshyami bharatarshabha

That (cosmological) occasion in which yogis go
forth (causes them) to return or not to return (as the
case may be) that temporal circumstance, I am
going to tell you, O Chief of Bharatas (Arjuna).


The Gita in this chapter wants to stress the way of intelligence
or light. The reference to the way of darkness is resorted to
merely for purposes of contrast.

Rather abruptly, it would seem, this verse begins the final
section of this chapter. But when we notice a subtle
difference implied here, it will not be difficult to see how
the unity of this chapter has been maintained. The yogi who
is said to return and the yogi who is said not to return are
not strictly contradictory cases. The one who does not return
has a unique status by himself, while the one who returns
comprises. All grades of spiritual aspirants, from the most
inferior to the most superior. These latter are still to be
regarded generally under the category of relativist seekers.
The contrast is


therefore not one of opposites merely, but of two distinct
orders of reality, one having nothing to do with the other.
The relativists tread the dark path while the absolutists
may be said to tread the bright path. In terms of pure
understanding the contrast may be said to be again maintained.
In this last section, in keeping with the rest of the
chapter, this trace of duality is retained for the sake of
discussion. The object of the author here is finally to praise
the absolutist way as belonging to the path of light (in 
Verse 24) and to relegate all other ways, however superior
they might have been as found in various scriptures;
including even the propitiation of Brahma, the highest of
the Vedic gods, to a lower status, as belonging to the path
of darkness (in Verse 25). The intention is unmistakable
from the last verse of this chapter (Verse 28) where it is
finally stated in an exalted rhapsodic style.

The reference to "yogis" here is justified by the fact that
the whole of the Gita is a Yoga sastra (textbook of unitive
understanding or applied dialectics) and therefore it is with
the yogi or man of contemplation that the text here is
primarily concerned.

The reference to time of death here, as we have said
already, is merely to bring out the radical distinction
between those who return and those who never return,
because this is the familiar idiom by which such a
distinction is understood throughout Vedanta literature.


agnir jyotir ahah suklah
sanmasa uttarayanam
tatra prayata gachchhanti
brahma brahmavido janah

dhumo ratris tatha krishnah
sanmasa dakshinayanam
tatra chandramasam jyotir
yogi prapya nivartate

Fire, light, day-time, the bright fortnight, the six
months of the (summer) northern solstice, going
forth on that (cosmological) occasion, those people
who can understand the Absolute reach the Absolute.

Smoke, night, the dark fortnight, the six months of
the (winter) southern solstice, on that (cosmological)
occasion, the yogi attaining the lunar (relativist) light,


In Verse 24, astronomical references and the reference to
the element of fire may be elaborately commented upon in
the light of scriptural and other writings, endlessly.
However, we can see in a simple fashion the overall
intention of the author. The meaning has to be derived from
its contrast with the content of Verse 25, where all dark or
negative factors, astronomical or elemental, are enumerated.
In Verse 24, therefore, it is that side of existence dominated
by light which is the same as intelligence which is
comprised by all the allusions to the bright half of the
month and the northern path of the sun, where more light
prevails. Guru Narayana's Darsana Mala (Garland of Visions of
Reality) refers (Chapter 1) to the same as the taijasi
(the bright side) and the tamasi (the dark side) of
existence. That the same contrast is in the mind of the
author here is revealed by Verse 26 where the paths are
specifically referred to as the suklakrishna gati (white and
black paths). To think of devayana (way of the divine or
shining ones) and pitriyana (way of the fathers or ancestors)
would not be repugnant to the contrasting description stated
in more general and scientific terms here.

The contrast in Verse 25 does not hold good when closely
examined, because it is here again evidently the same yogi
of Verse 24, who follows the path of some light, however
feeble it may be, there referred to as belonging to the moon.
So even here the yogi is not following total darkness, but
only a relatively dim light.

The highest path of the lower order of Verse 25 may
approximate ever more closely with the path of pure
absolutist light implied in Verse 24, but however much they
may come together, the two paths are not the same when
tested by the touchstone of returning (i.e., relativism) and
non-returning (i.e., pure absolutism). This is the subtle
contrast which this chapter, as the one occupying a special
position as we have said, in the Gita as a whole, intends to
clarify, before coming to its own fully revalued statement.


suklakrishne gati hy ete
jagatah sasvate mate
ekaya yaty anavrittim
anyaya'vartate punah


These, the white and the black, are known to be in this
world the twin perennial paths; by one of them one attains
to non-return, while by the other one comes back.


The contrast between the sukla (white or bright) and
krishna (black or dark) twin paths is brought into full relief
here. It is around this question of return or non-return that
the contrast is to be understood. The superior or white path
of absolutist wisdom is favoured for purposes of more
thoroughgoing treatment in the chapters that follow.
The expression sasvate ("two" everlasting) would suggest
that both have a perennial status in this world. Although this
duality is present in this world, unity is to be established
even between them by the yogi who may be said to sacrifice
the lower black in favour of the white.


nai'te sriti partha janan
yogi muhyati kaschana
tasmat sarveshu kaleshu
yogayukto bhava 'rjuna

Understanding (the basic nature of) these two paths,
0 Partha (Arjuna), one of contemplation is not confounded
at all; therefore at all times, 0 Arjuna, be unitively
established in Yoga.


The duality that seemed to be finalized as everlasting in
this world is not so rigidly dualistic when comprehended in
terms of wisdom. This wisdom consists of unitive understanding,
otherwise known here as Yoga.

These paths, though everlastingly different, as mentioned
in the last verse, can still, it is here suggested, be brought
under unitive vision by the yogi; and when thus brought to
union, all confusion and perplexity is abolished by the one
who understands their true nature. Though different they
belong to the same principle of light, the dark side being
only less bright.

Relativism, though it is opposed to absolutism in a certain
sense, is capable of being absorbed into the Absolute by the
ascending dialectics of Yoga. Such a Yoga is here recommended
as being worthy of cultivation at all times.

We can recognize that a dream is different from waking
reality, but the knowledge of dream and waking reality as


being comprehended in one global consciousness gives the
yogic view which abolishes conflict. Similarly, the
recommendation here is that of knowing the nature of the
higher and the lower paths properly, both becoming
unitively comprehended in the wisdom which results from
yoga, and which Arjuna is asked to cultivate for all time.


vedeshu yajneshu tapahsu chai 'va
daneshu yat punyaphalam pradishtam
atyeti tat sarvam idam viditva
yogi param sthanam upaiti' cha 'dyam

Whatever meritorious result is found implied in the Vedas, in sacrifices, austerities and gifts, the contemplative who is unitively established, having understood (this teaching here) transcends all these and attains to the supreme primal state.

By way of rounding off the discussion in this chapter where different trends of extant spirituality have been fused and revalued and unitively brought under a comprehensive vision in terms of wisdom, this verse finally, in its more archaic metre, refers to the items of spirituality once again, and dismisses all of them in favour of this simple unitive wisdom to which we have arrived after all the systematic reasonings in this work up to this point.

Notice here that it is the word punya (holy) suggesting religious merit which is taken up. The ordinary religious man is concerned with his religious merits, by the accumulation of which he reaches final emancipation. As if to give an assurance to such a natural mental disposition it is pointed out here that the way of wisdom whose character is essentially one of simple knowing as suggested by the term viditva (having known) by which the unitive contemplative or man of wisdom atyeti tat sarvam (transcends everything) is superior to the way of accumulation of merits through acts of piety, learning, austerity, sacrifices, etc.

The reference to adyam (primal) suggests that a clean slate is left for proper spirituality to begin from this chapter onwards. The pristine purity is regained by the yogi capable of contemplative wisdom. Such is the position we have reached at the end of this chapter.


The goal referred to in terms of a divine person or purusham divyam in Verse 10 has been changed here into a state of pristine original purity. In the light of the discussions that followed Verse 10, all vestiges of Samkhya (rationalist) duality or Vedic divinity in thinking of the supreme state, are thus removed, and so the stage is set for the direct pronouncements of Krishna himself in the two chapters which follow and which occupy the symmetrical centre of the work.

ity srimad bhagavadgitasupanishatsu brahmavidyayam
yogasastre srikrishnarjunasamvade
aksharabrahmayogo nama 'shtamo 'dhyayah

Thus ends in the Upanishads of the Songs of God, in the
Science of the Wisdom of the Absolute, in the Dialogue
between Sri Krishna and Arjuna, the Eighth Chapter, entitled
The Unitive Way in (General) Spiritual Progress,
(The Perennial Absolute Unitively Understood).