Pragmatic Gita

Akshara Brahma Yoga

Akshara Brahma Yoga: Shlokas 1 to 4

If you have not already done so, I would request you to review the Chapter 7, Jnana Vijnana Yoga before studying chapter 8 as that would help set the right context.
You can find the explanation of the previous set of shlokas, 26 to 30 of chapter 7 here. Please go through that to get a better understand and maintain continuity in your learning.
You can also listen to all the episodes through my Spotify Portal.

Introduction and Verses 8.1 to 8.4

 

अर्जुन उवाच | किं तद्ब्रह्म किमध्यात्मं किं कर्म पुरुषोत्तम | अधिभूतं च किं प्रोक्तमधिदैवं किमुच्यते || 1||

अधियज्ञ: कथं कोऽत्र देहेऽस्मिन्मधुसूदन | प्रयाणकाले च कथं ज्ञेयोऽसि नियतात्मभि: || 2||

arjuna uvācha kiṁ tad brahma kim adhyātmaṁ kiṁ karma puruṣhottama adhibhūtaṁ cha kiṁ proktam adhidaivaṁ kim uchyate

adhiyajñaḥ kathaṁ ko ’tra dehe ’smin madhusūdana prayāṇa-kāle cha kathaṁ jñeyo ’si niyatātmabhiḥ

अर्जुन उवाच (Arjuna uvāca) – Arjuna said; किं (kim) – what; तद्ब्रह्म (tadbrahma) – that Brahman; किमध्यात्मं (kimadhyātmam) – what is the self; किं (kim) – what; कर्म (karma) – is action; पुरुषोत्तम (puruṣottama) – O Supreme Person; अधिभूतं (adhibhūtam) – the material manifestation; च (ca) – and; किं (kim) – what; प्रोक्तम (proktam) – is said; अधिदैवं (adhidaivaṃ) – the demigods; किमुच्यते (kimucyate) – is called.

अधियज्ञ: (adhiyajñaḥ) – the principle of sacrifice; कथं (kathaṃ) – how; कोऽत्र (ko’tra) – who here; देहे (dehe) – in the body; अस्मिन् (asmin) – in this; मधुसूदन (madhusūdana) – O Madhusudana; प्रयाणकाले (prayāṇakāle) – at the time of death; च (ca) – and; कथं (kathaṃ) – how; ज्ञेयोऽसि (jñeyo’si) – are You to be known; नियतात्मभि: (niyatātmabhiḥ) – by the self-controlled.

O Supreme Lord, what is Brahman (Absolute Reality), what is adhyatma (the individual soul), and what is karma (action)? What is said to be adhibhuta (the material manifestation), and who is said to be Adhidaiva (the divine)? Who is Adhiyajna (the Lord of sacrifice) in the body and how is He the Adhiyajna? O Krishna, how are You to be known at the time of death by those of steadfast mind?

श्रीभगवानुवाच | अक्षरं ब्रह्म परमं स्वभावोऽध्यात्ममुच्यते | भूतभावोद्भवकरो विसर्ग: कर्मसञ्ज्ञित: || 3||

śhrī bhagavān uvācha akṣharaṁ brahma paramaṁ svabhāvo ’dhyātmam uchyate bhūta-bhāvodbhava-karo visargaḥ karma-sanjñitaḥ

श्रीभगवानुवाच (Śrībhagavānuvāca) – The Supreme Lord said; अक्षरं (akṣaraṃ) – imperishable; ब्रह्म (brahma) – Brahman; परमं (paramaṃ) – supreme; स्वभावोऽध्यात्ममुच्यते (svabhāvo’dhyātmamucyate) – nature is called the self; भूतभावोद्भवकरो (bhūtabhāvodbhavakaro) – the creator of material existence; विसर्ग: (visargaḥ) – creation; कर्मसञ्ज्ञित: (karmasañjñitaḥ) – is called action.

The Lord explained: Brahman is the Supreme, Indestructible, imperishable Entity; the individual soul is referred to as adhyatma. The term Karma encompasses fruitive activities pertaining to the material nature of living beings, guiding their progress and experiences in the material realm.

अधिभूतं क्षरो भाव: पुरुषश्चाधिदैवतम् | अधियज्ञोऽहमेवात्र देहे देहभृतां वर || 4||

adhibhūtaṁ kṣharo bhāvaḥ puruṣhaśh chādhidaivatam adhiyajño ’ham evātra dehe deha-bhṛitāṁ vara

अधिभूतं (adhibhūtaṃ) – the material nature; क्षरो भाव: (kṣaro bhāvaḥ) – mutable being; पुरुषश्चाधिदैवतम् (puruṣaścādhidaivatam) – the Supreme Person is the divine; अधियज्ञोऽहमेवात्र (adhiyajño’ham evātra) – I am the sacrifice here; देहे (dehe) – in the body; देहभृतां वर (dehabhṛtāṃ vara) – O best of the embodied.

O best of the embodied souls, the physical and material nature that is constantly changing is called adhibhūta; the universal form of God, which presides over the celestial gods in this creation, is called Adhidaiva; I, who dwell in the heart of every living being, am called Adhiyajna, or the Lord of all sacrifices.

Introduction to chapter 8

This 8th Chapter of the Bhagavad Gita is titled “Akshara Brahma Yoga” or “The Yoga of the Imperishable Absolute,” and serves as a profound exploration into the mysteries of life, death, and what lies beyond. In this chapter, Lord Krishna explains the eternal, unchanging nature of the soul, the concept of the ultimate reality (Brahman), and the paths that lead to the highest goal of self-realization.

As we embark on this chapter, we are invited to delve into the depths of our own consciousness and confront the fundamental questions of our existence: What happens to us after death? What is the nature of the universe? How can we achieve lasting peace and liberation? Through a dialogue that is both intimate and universal, Krishna and Arjuna discuss the importance of understanding the imperishable nature of the soul and the significance of living a life rooted in dharma (righteousness).

This chapter challenges us to reflect on our priorities and the transient nature of the physical world. It encourages us to focus on spiritual growth, emphasizing the power of meditation, devotion, and the right understanding of the self as the pathway to achieving eternal peace. The teachings of this chapter are not just philosophical concepts but practical guidelines for living a life of purpose, clarity, and liberation from the cycle of birth and death.

As we journey through the verses of this chapter, we are reminded of the importance of remembering the divine at the time of death, for it is this remembrance that determines our next journey. The message is clear: by cultivating a constant awareness of the divine, practicing mindfulness, and living a life of virtue, we can aspire to reach the highest state of being, merging with the eternal essence of the universe.

In this chapter, Shri Krishna  reassures us that by understanding the eternal nature of the soul and aligning our lives with the divine will, we can overcome the fear of death and move towards a state of everlasting bliss and realization. This chapter is not just a discourse on philosophy but a call to action, urging us to live our lives with awareness, devotion, and a deep sense of connection to the imperishable truth.

In the previous, 7th chapter, Shree Krishna had mentioned a few terms like Brahman, adhibhūta, adhiyātma, adhidaiva, and adhiyajña. He also explained that the enlightened souls are in full consciousness of Him even at the time of their death. 

Here in the beginning of the 8th chapter, Arjuna asks Krishna seven questions that Krishna very kindly answers for the benefit of all of humanity.

We should note that in the opening verse, Arjuna is addressing Krishna as Puruṣottama, Supreme Person. This is another evidence that Arjuna is in the mode of pariprashna, inquiring with humility with a mindset of surrendering to Krishna.

Arjuna understands that these doubts in his mind are like demons that slow down his spiritual growth. So in the second verse, he is addressing Krishna as madhusudhana, so that he can kill his demoniac doubts just like he killed the demon madhu.

Now, let us see the questions Arjuna asks in the first two verses and the answers that Krishna provides.

What is brahman?

It is the indestructible, transcendental living entity (Jiva) which is separate from the material body. Further context: Brahman is absolute and never changing. The word Brahman is derived from the Sanskrit root brah, meaning “to grow or expand”. Brahman is ever growing, expanding and also the cause of any kind of growth in any living entity.

After hearing Bhagavad-gītā from the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Arjuna accepted Kṛṣṇa as Paraṁ Brahma, the Supreme Brahman. Every living being is Brahman, but the supreme living being, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is the Supreme Brahman. As explained by Srila Prabhupada, the Absolute Truth is realized in three phases of understanding, and all of them are identical. Such phases of the Absolute Truth are expressed as Brahman, Paramātmā, and Bhagavān.” Shri Krishna has explained this in Srimad Bhagavatam, 1.2.11. 

वदन्ति तत्तत्त्वविदस्तत्त्वं यज्ज्ञानमद्वयम् । ब्रह्मेति परमात्मेति भगवानिति शब्द्यते ॥ ११ ॥

vadanti tat tattva-vidas tattvaṁ yaj jñānam advayam brahmeti paramātmeti bhagavān iti śabdyate

Learned transcendentalists who know the Absolute Truth call this nondual substance Brahman, Paramātmā or Bhagavān.

The ultimate truth can be understood in different ways, but it’s all the same at its core. Some people see it as a vast, formless presence (Brahman), others feel it as a divine presence within everything (Paramātmā), and some know it as a personal god (Bhagavān). It’s like looking at the same thing from different angles. Bhagavān is the complete form of this truth, Paramātmā is a part of it, and Brahman is like the light that comes from it, similar to how sunlight comes from the sun. Sometimes, people who study these ideas argue about which view is right, but those who truly understand know that these are just different ways of seeing the same truth.

Srila Prabhupada has explained these three divine aspects by the example of the sun, which also has three different aspects, namely the sunshine, the sun’s surface and the complete sun as a star. One who studies the sunshine (Brahman) only is the preliminary student. One who understands the sun’s surface (Paramatma) is further advanced. And one who studies the sun in its completeness as a star (Bhagvan) is the highest. Therefore, the bhaktas, or the transcendentalists who have realized the Bhagavān feature of the Absolute Truth, are the topmost transcendentalists, although all students who are engaged in the study of the Absolute Truth are engaged in the same subject matter.

Purusha and Brahman are fundamental concepts in Vedic literature, each representing different aspects of the ultimate reality or the cosmic principle, but their interpretations vary across different philosophical systems.

Purusha: In the Sankhya philosophy (dualistic), Purusha is considered to be the cosmic man or the universal spirit, representing pure consciousness or the self. It is seen as passive, eternal, and unchangeable, transcending the physical and material aspects of the universe. Purusha is the observer, distinct from Prakriti (nature), which is dynamic and responsible for the creation and diversity of the material world. The interaction between Purusha and Prakriti gives rise to the manifest world and the experience of individual selves.

Brahman: In Advaita Vedanta philosophy (non-dualistic), Brahman is the ultimate reality or the supreme cosmic principle. It is beyond all definitions and descriptions, existing as the eternal, infinite, and indivisible essence of all that exists. Brahman is both existing within and above everything or transcendent, pervading the entire universe and beyond. Brahman is considered to be the sole reality, with the phenomenal world being an illusion (Maya). The individual soul (Atman) is ultimately identified with Brahman, highlighting the oneness of all existence.

Differences:

Purusha is often conceptualized as a cosmic entity or spirit within a dualistic framework, especially in Sankhya philosophy, where it coexists with Prakriti (matter) as a separate and distinct principle. Brahman, however, is the non-dualistic ultimate reality that transcends all dualities and distinctions, embodying the essence of everything in the universe.

Purusha is primarily seen as the consciousness or the observer, separate from the material world, whereas Brahman is the underlying substance of the universe itself, from which everything emerges and into which everything ultimately dissolves.

The distinction between Purusha and Brahman also reflects their origins in different philosophical systems within Hinduism. Sankhya philosophy, which emphasizes the dualism between Purusha and Prakriti, offers a different perspective on the cosmos compared to Vedanta, which promotes a non-dualistic view of the ultimate reality as Brahman.

What is adhyatma?

Adhyatma is a concept that helps us understand the deeper nature of our existence. The term itself is a combination of two Sanskrit words: “adhi,” meaning “above” or “beyond,” and “atma,” meaning “self” or “soul.” So, adhyatma refers to our higher self, something that goes beyond our everyday physical and mental experiences.

Think of adhyatma as the purest form of our being, the true essence that resides within each of us. This essence is a part of Brahman, the ultimate reality or the universal soul that exists everywhere and in everything. Within the context of adhyatma, each individual’s soul is seen as a direct manifestation of this universal Brahman, making it the eternal witness of our lives. It’s like having a piece of the vast universe inside us, guiding and observing our journey through life.

The concept also suggests that the Supreme Lord, or the highest soul, is the essence that sustains all other souls. Someone who recognizes and fully embraces this connection with the Supreme Soul, dedicating themselves to understanding and aligning with this higher reality, is called as adhyātma-cetasā (adhyatma conscious). Being adhyatma conscious means seeing beyond the surface of material life, focusing instead on this eternal essence and connection with the divine.

In simpler terms, adhyatma is about realizing that there is more to us than just our bodies and minds. It’s about understanding that at our core, we are part of something much larger and more profound. This realization helps us see the world and ourselves in a new light, guiding us toward a life of deeper meaning and connection with the universe.

What is karma?

It is the fruitive actions performed by a person that keeps the soul trapped in the cycle of material existence, taking on different bodies during each birth. As we discussed in earlier chapters, there are 84 lacs (8.4 million) living species on earth and the soul can get any one of these bodies based on their karmic balance. I advise you to revise chapters 3 and 4 to refresh your memories about various aspects of karma. 

The key to understand in the context of this chapter is that karma is related to ‘fruitive actions’ and when the actions are performed without attachment to results, then it is no more to be considered as ‘fruitive actions’, they become ‘nishkama’ and therefore not subject to karmic reactions.

What is adhibhuta?

It is the constantly changing material body or physical world. Material bodies pass through six stages: they are born, they grow, they remain for some duration, they produce some by-products, they diminish, and then they die.

Let’s try to understand the difference between Prakriti and Adhibhuta:

Prakriti: This term refers to the fundamental, primal nature or the basic material substance of the universe. In the Sankhya philosophy, Prakriti is considered the source of the material world, encompassing the three gunas (qualities or tendencies) known as sattva (goodness, constructiveness, harmony), rajas (passion, activity, dynamism), and tamas (darkness, destructiveness, chaos). Prakriti is unmanifested matter that, in interaction with Purusha (spirit or consciousness), gives rise to the manifested universe and all its forms. It is the primal energy responsible for creation, maintenance, and destruction of the cosmos, essentially the material cause of the universe.

Adhibhuta: This concept refers more specifically to the manifested or physical aspect of the universe that is perceptible and subject to change. Adhibhuta encompasses all forms of physical existence that evolve from Prakriti—the earth, nature, bodies, objects—everything that has form and is mutable. It highlights the transient, impermanent nature of the physical world.

The main difference lies in their scope and emphasis: Prakriti is the overarching, unmanifested material principle that underlies all physical forms and phenomena, essentially the cosmic raw material. Adhibhuta, on the other hand, specifically denotes the manifested, changeable aspects of that material principle as experienced in the everyday world. While Prakriti is the fundamental cause and substance, Adhibhuta represents the diverse, ever-changing forms that arise from Prakriti.

What is adhidaiva?

The universal personality of the Supreme Lord that encompasses all the demigods and their different planets. Adhidaiva is the universal controller of everything.

Let us try to understand the difference between Adhidaiva and Purusha: 

Adhidaiva: Literally meaning “pertaining to the deity,” Adhidaiva refers to the divine or celestial aspect of the universe. It is often associated with the gods or higher beings who preside over the forces of nature and the cosmos. In the context of the Bhagavad Gita, Adhidaiva can represent the divine principle that governs the universe, manifesting through various deities or divine entities. This concept is closely tied to the understanding of the cosmos as being imbued with divine consciousness, where every aspect of nature is seen as an expression of the divine.

Adhidaiva focuses on the divine aspect as it manifests within the framework of the material universe, often associated with divine intervention, guidance, and the overseeing of natural laws through various deities.

Purusha: As explained earlier, this term has a broader and more profound connotation, often translated as “spirit” or “cosmic cause.” In the Sankhya philosophy, Purusha represents pure consciousness, the cosmic spirit, or the universal principle of consciousness that is eternal, unchanging, and beyond the physical world. Unlike Prakriti, which is material nature, Purusha is the spiritual essence that observes, experiences, and transcends the material realm. 

Purusha represents the ultimate consciousness or the spirit principle that transcends the physical and material aspects of the universe. It is the observer, the true self, or the essence of consciousness that exists beyond time, space, and the cycles of creation and destruction.

The primary difference between Adhidaiva and Purusha lies in their respective domains and roles within the cosmological and philosophical frameworks of Vedanta.

While Adhidaiva is concerned with the divine manifestations within the universe, Purusha points to the transcendental, unmanifested aspect of consciousness that underlies and pervades all existence.

Who is adhiyajna?

The enjoyer and the Lord of all sacrifices. If you remember, we studied in the 5th chapter, God is the bogta of all yajnas (bogtharam yajna tapasam). Adhiyajna is also termed as paramatma. We will learn more about this in the next few verses.

How is adhiyajna known in the body?

In essence, adhiyajna is realized and felt within the heart. It’s not just about the physical heart that beats within us but refers to the spiritual heart, the center of our being where our deepest feelings and intuitions reside. This sacred presence in the heart is what inspires us to undertake sacrifices and engage in pious activities. These actions are not merely rituals or obligations; they are expressions of our connection to something greater than ourselves, motivated by the divine influence of the adhiyajna.

Imagine the heart as a space where the divine whispers, guiding us toward actions that purify our existence and connect us more deeply with the universal truths. This divine influence, adhiyajna, doesn’t command or demand. Instead, it inspires, gently leading us to acts of kindness, generosity, and devotion. Through sacrifices and pious activities, we not only honor the divine but also align our lives with the rhythms of the cosmos, fostering a deeper harmony within and around us.

Adhiyajna, then, is like a sacred fire burning within the heart, a fire that fuels our spiritual journey. This fire illuminates our path, encouraging us to give, to share, and to dedicate ourselves to the higher principles of love, compassion, and selflessness. It’s through this inner light that we come to understand the true essence of sacrifice – not as a loss but as a means of gaining a closer connection with the divine and with the eternal flow of life itself.

How to realize Krishna at the time of death?

This question is answered by Krishna throughout the rest of the 8th chapter

Although it is good to know and understand the various technical terms described above, like adhiyajna, adhidaiva etc, what is most important is to remember the power of bhakti and continue to strive towards becoming a dear devotee of the Lord. 

The story of Santh Kanaka Dasa may inspire us further on this path:

Story of Santh Kanaka Dasa

In the 1500s, in a small village in Karnataka, India, there lived a man named Kanaka Dasa. His story is one of faith, courage, and a deep love for Lord Krishna.

Kanaka was born into a shepherd family. From a young age, he felt a strong connection to Lord Krishna, which he expressed through music and poetry. Despite the beauty of his songs and the depth of his faith, the scholars and pandits of his village kept placing barriers in his way because of his low caste.

The Udupi Krishna Temple was a place where Kanaka Dasa hoped to deepen his connection with Krishna. However, the temple had strict rules about who could enter, based on caste. When Kanaka tried to enter, he was turned away. The people guarding the temple told him he could not come in because of his caste. Kanaka Dasa felt sad about not being able to enter the temple and pray to his dear Krishna.

But Kanaka didn’t give up. He found a spot outside the temple and started to sing his heart out to Lord Krishna. His songs were full of love and devotion. They were so powerful that they say Lord Krishna Himself heard them.

Moved by Kanaka’s unwavering devotion, a miracle happened. Inside the temple, the statue of Krishna, which could not be seen from the outside, turned around to face west, the direction where Kanaka was singing from outside. This was Lord Krishna’s way of showing that true devotion can break through any barrier.

Because of this miracle, a small window was opened in the temple wall, which came to be known as “Kanakana Kindi.” This window was where Kanaka Dasa was allowed to have a glimpse of Lord Krishna. It became a symbol that devotion and love for God are beyond caste and societal divisions.

The most profound lesson in Kanaka’s journey came through an unusual test. One night, as Kanaka Dasa lay in a state between wakefulness and sleep, a vision came to him. It was Lord Krishna, radiant and majestic, standing before him in all His glory. Kanaka, overwhelmed by the presence of the Lord, fell to his knees, his heart overflowing with love and eyes brimming with tears of devotion.

Shri Krishna spoke to Kanaka in a voice that felt soft and yet as deep and vast as the universe itself. He spoke of love, of devotion, and of the trials that come with true faith. As Krishna’s words washed over him, Kanaka felt a surge of emotions, a mixture of joy, love, and a deep sense of surrender.

Then, in a moment that would forever be etched in Kanaka’s heart, Krishna reached out and “slapped” him. This was no ordinary slap, but a divine touch, a leela (divine play), meant to teach, to test, and ultimately to transform. It was a moment of profound intimacy between the divine and His devotee, a moment where earthly logic failed, and spiritual truth reigned supreme.

The slap was a message, a divine signal to Kanaka that the path of devotion is fraught with challenges, that true faith is tested in the fires of adversity. It was Krishna’s way of preparing Kanaka for the trials ahead, assuring him that divine love is constant, unshakeable, and sometimes expressed in ways beyond human understanding.

This divine interaction left Kanaka Dasa transformed. He arose from his vision with a deeper understanding of divine love and a renewed sense of purpose. The slap was not a punishment but a blessing, a direct transmission of divine energy that fortified his spirit and deepened his devotion.

Kanaka Dasa went on to sing even more passionately about Lord Krishna, his songs imbued with the wisdom of his experience. The story of the slap became a part of his legacy, and an encouragement for all who seek the divine through the path of love and devotion.

This moment between Krishna and Kanaka Dasa reminds us that the divine can interact with us in mysterious ways, ways that may not always align with our expectations but are always aimed at our spiritual growth. It teaches us that true devotion is not just about adoration but also about openness to the divine will, however it manifests.

The Udupi Krishna Temple, also known as the Sri Krishna Matha, still exists and is an active place of worship and pilgrimage. This temple is famous due to the story of Kanaka Dasa, whose devotion led to the creation of “Kanakana Kindi,” a window through which he was allowed to have darshan of Lord Krishna.

The temple is located in the city of Udupi, in the state of Karnataka, India. The precise address is:

Sri Krishna Matha
Car Street, Temple Square,
Udupi, Karnataka, 576101,
India

Udupi is well-known for its religious and spiritual heritage, and the Krishna Temple is at the heart of this, drawing devotees from all over India and the world. The temple’s management also runs a unique dining hall, where visitors are served free meals in a tradition that has been going on for centuries.

You can find the explanation for the next set of shlokas, 8.5 to 8.10 over here:

Hare Krishna.

kṛṣṇadaasa
Servant of Krishna
Aka +Vinayak Raghuvamshi