Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Ramanuja | Discourse 8 verse 1-8

Chapter 8
Tāraka
Brahma Yogaḥ
The Way to the Immutable Brahman

Summary of the Teaching

In the seventh chapter, Śrī Krishna taught that [He Himself as] Vāsudeva, the Supreme Brahman, is the object of meditation and that He is the ruler and the proprietor of all things, animate and animate.

He explained how He is the cause [of all things], how He is the support of everything; how He is denoted by all words on account of all beings being His ‘corporeality’ or ‘modes of expression’.

He taught how He is the controller of all; and how He alone is supreme over all on account of His multitude of auspicious attributes.

He also taught how He is obscured by Sattva, Rajas and Tamas in the form of bodies and senses and as the objects of experience arising from the stream of negative Karma from beginningless time.

He also taught how this obscuration can be removed by taking refuge in Him, and through the performance of virtuous deeds.

He also taught the gradation among the practitioners based upon their personal goals which are generated by the relative proportions of accumulated merit; these goals being material prosperity, self-knowledge and the attainment of God.

He extolled the greatness of the aspirant who seeks attainment of God with single-minded devotion on account of His inexpressible love for such a devotee.

He referred to the rarity of such a devotee and also mentioned the differences among the things that should be known and those that should be practiced by the three classes of aspirants.

Now, in the eighth chapter Śrī Krishna gives a detailed description of certain principles and practices that have already been treated in brief earlier:—

Arjuna uvāca
kiṃtad-brahma kim-adhyātma kiṃkarma puruṣottama |
adhi-bhūtaṃca kiṃproktam adhi-daivaṃkim-ucyate || 1 ||

Arjuna said:
1. What is that Brahman (Ultimate Reality)? What is Adhyātma (that which is associated with the Self)? What is Karma (action)? What is said to be Adhibhuta (pertaining to matter)? O Supreme Being, who is said to be Adhidaiva (pertaining to the gods)?

adhi-yajñāḥkathaṃko’tra dehe’smin madhusūdana |
prayāṇa-kāle ca kathaṃjñeyo’si niyatātmabhiḥ|| 2 ||

2. Who is Adhiyajña (principle of sacrifice) in this body, and how is He the Adhiyajña, O Krishna? And how are You to be known at the time of death by the self-controlled?

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

What is the tad brahma or the supreme, spiritual substratum pervading all existence? What is adhyātma or the soul within all embodied beings? What is karma or the equal reaction to any action?

How is it possible to reach mokṣa or liberation from the cycle of birth and death by knowing these things and taking shelter of Bhagavan or the possessor of full knowledge, full power, full fame, full wealth, full beauty and full renunciation, who is the Supreme Lord Krishna?

What is the Adhibhūta or embodied being and adhidaivas or demigods which the atharthis or seekers of wealth must know?

What also is indicated by the term Adhiyajña which all three classes of aspirants have to be cognisant of beings atharthis, jijnasurs or those desiring soul realisation and jñānis or those exclusively seeking the Supreme Lord and why is it specially characterised?

Finally Arjuna wanted to know specifically in what way is the Supreme Lord Krishna to be realised by persons of controlled mind and senses at the time of death.

śrībhagavān uvāca
akṣaraṃbrahma paramaṃsvabhāvo’dhyātmam-ucyate |
bhūta-bhāvodbhava-karo visargaḥkarma-saṃjñitaḥ|| 3 ||

The Blessed Lord said;

3. The Brahman is the supreme, indestructible Self (akṣara). One’s own material nature (svabhāva) is said to be that which dwells with the Self. The externalised creative force which gives rise to material entities is known as Karma.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

What is designated in verse one as tad brahma or the supreme spiritual substratum pervading all existence is the akṣaram paramam or the supreme indestructible ātma or soul.

Akṣaram is that which is not subject to decay or imperishable and is the collective given by the kṣetra-jñānis or those knowledgeable of the field of action or the informers of uninformed matter and ātma embodied beings.

The Subala Upaniṣad II states:

The Unmanifest (avyakta) is absorbed into the Imperishable (akṣara), the Imperishable (akṣara) is absorbed into Source (Tamas)

 Avyakta, the indiscernible compound of spirit and matter merges into the akṣara, the indivisible compound, which descends into tamas or nescience.

Parama akṣaram is the superior indestructible ātma nature which is completely disengaged from prakṛti or the material substratum and not connected to even the akṣaram which comprises embodied beings and combines both.

The word svabhāva is also called adhyātma and indicates subtle material elements and its accompanying erratic tendencies:

These subtle elements are what adheres to the ātma in the descent of the supra subtle quintuple process from spirit to matter,

the last being the fifth stage which becomes the seminal fluids referred to in the Pañca-agṇi-vidyā or five-fold sacrificial fires which are described in the Chāṇḍogya Upaniṣad: V.III-X which is essential and has to be known by all aspirants.

Both akṣara and adhyātma must be realised by the mumumkshus or emancipation seekers for mokṣa or liberation from material existence

as akṣara, the immortal soul, is that what is worthy of selection and adhyātma the embodied being incarcerated in matter is worthy of rejection.

The sequence which manifests this descent into matter by the jīva or embodied being is called viṣarga and

karma refers to that specific action which activates a corresponding reaction and determines the destination and manifestation of all creatures into embodied states whether human, animal, fish etc.

The final action which actually causes manifestation into material existence is known as procreation between males and females of different species.

The Vedic scriptures declare that in the fifth stage the male discharges the sacrificial water into the females sacrificial fire and a new embodied being is created. This act is known as karma.

The knowledge of karma, akṣara and adhyātma are all prerequisites of knowledge absolutely essential for those seeking mokṣa or liberation from the material existence.

Otherwise one will be ignorant of what is worthy of rejection and what is worthy of attention and unable to properly interact accordingly. An example is following in verse 11 concerning brahmacharya or celibacy.

adhibhūtaṃkṣaro bhāvaḥpuruṣaś-cādhidaivataṃ|
adhiyajño’hamevātra dehe deha-bhṛtāṃvara || 4 ||

4. Adhibhūta (pertaining to matter) are those perishable things, O best of the embodied beings; the Adhidaivata (that which is superior to the gods) is the Puruṣa (individual Self). I Myself am the Adhiyajña (Principle of Sacrifice), here in this body.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

By the word Adhibhūta or those things pertaining to physical objects sought after by aiśvaryarthis or fortune seekers are those things of a perishable nature

including the supra subtle principles of sound, sight, smell etc. which are latent in their elements of ether, fire, earth etc. and develop therefrom into their support system being the senses.

All these things must certainly be comprehended and contemplated by them.

The word Adhidaivata refers to the puruṣa or the ultimate, original supreme being whose status is superior and elevated above the 330 million demigods and all other celestials and lesser divinities and gods as well.

This is the Supreme Lord Krishna who is the possessor and enjoyer of all the supra-mundane enjoyments of rare and equisite delights of His transcendental senses of sound and sight etc. as the ultimate recipient of all yajña or worship and propitiation, even more then that experienced in the heavenly planets by Indra and Brahma.

The aiśvaryarthis or fortune seekers must meditate on the puruṣa as the Supreme Being and ultimate enjoyer of all the subtle transcendental delights and this is what is called knowing the Adhidaivata.

The Adhiyajña denotes the Supreme Lord Krishna, Himself.

It is He as the indwelling monitor in all the demigods and other gods and all sentient beings and whose total aggregate of ātmas or eternal souls constitute His transcendental, spiritual body and as such He receives first worship and propitiation from all yajñas.

Thus as the Adhiyajña he is the indwelling monitor established in the heart of all beings and He is the one whom the three classes of devotees have to realise and meditate upon as a mahā yajña or great offering in all their nitya and naimittika or eternal and occasional acts of worship.

antakāle ca mām-eva smaran-muktvākalevaram |
yaḥprayāti sa mad-bhāvaṃyāti nāsty-atra saṃśayaḥ|| 5 ||

5. And the one who, at the last moment, while leaving the body, departs, contemplating upon Me alone, attains My being; of this, there is no doubt.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

The process of meditating on Lord Krishna at the time of death is also well known to the three stages of aspirants mentioned previously being arthis, jijnasur and jñānis.

One who when their life cycle has the Supreme Lord in their constant remembrance at the moment of departing their body attains the Supreme Lord.

The word mad bhāvam means like unto the Supreme Lord's nature. Whatever nature of the Supreme Lord is vividly envisioned in one's mind at the moment of death that nature one becomes without fail.

Examples are like the history of Jada Bharata and others who were reborn in animal forms:

He was attached to a deer he had raised after seeing its mother killed by a tiger and at the exact moment of death looking at this deer he was concerned about its future welfare and hence in his next life he was born as a deer due to this last impression of consciousness.

This is because the prominence position of such thoughts and images in one's consciousness automatically direct and transport one to that which one envisions.

That reality that whatever ideas and images that are present in one's mind in the very last thought before death is what one absolutely becomes in their next life is further elucidated in the next verse.

yaṃyaṃvāpi smaran-bhāvaṃtyajaty-ante kalevaram |
taṃtam-evaiti kaunteya sadātad-bhāva-bhāvitaḥ|| 6 ||

6. Whatsoever concept (bhāvam) one thinks of while leaving the body at the end, to that alone one attains, O Arjuna, having ever been in the contemplation thereof.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Whatever image prominently floats in one's thoughts at the moment of death and one leaves one's physical body with that final thought one will become in their very next life. This is what Lord Krishna is stating in this verse.

Their final thought will become form. One's final thought will naturally be what was constantly reflected upon and mediated on during their span of life based upon one's association and daily habits.

tasmāt sarveṣu kāleṣu mām-anusmara yudhya ca |
mayyarpita mano-buddhir-mām evaiṣyasy-asaṃśayaḥ|| 7 ||

7. Therefore, ever mindful of Me at all times, fight; with your mind and intellect dedicated to Me, you shall surely come to Me, there is no doubt.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

In as much as the last flash of consciousness of a dying person determines a person’s destination and specification in their very next birth.

This flash will naturally be that which one pondered and contemplated and became accustomed and habituated to performing as a daily practice.

Therefore it is imperative that if one desires to achieve the ultimate goal of human existence they shall learn about the Supreme Lord Krishna

and becoming attached to Him unceasingly meditate upon Him until the very moment of departure from this material existence at the moment of death.

Lord Krishna also advises with the words anusmara yudhya meaning fight while remembering Him.

This was applicable to Arjuna who was a kṣatriya or warrior from the royal line and it is his duty to protect righteousness.

But it also applies to everyone to perform their prescribed duties according to the injunctions enjoined in the Vedic scriptures. This includes ones daily duties and sometimes special occasional duties as ordained by varṇāśrama or one's position and rank within society.

Thus while performing ones specific duties daily adhering and following the ordinances of the Vedic scriptures one should meditate upon the Supreme Lord with every action one performs.

In this way one will be constantly thinking of Him and perpetually He will be infused in one’s consciousness. This is the most perfect and expedient way to succeed in keeping the mind and will fixed upon Lord Krishna

and thus naturally at the moment of death one who has meditated throughout their life on Him will of course easily be remembering Him at the final moment of departure from the physical body and will immediately transcend to join Him in the eternal spiritual worlds according to their wish. There is no doubt about this whatsoever.

Lord Krishna having explained in general for everyone that the achievement of a particular form and destination in the next life is determined by the very last thought in this life,

He will elucidate the different modes of meditative devotion appropriate for each class and compatible with the goal they cherish to attain.

First He will describe in the next verse the type of meditation practised by the artharthis or those seeking wealth and fortune as well as the type of final thought adopted by them consistent with the mode of meditation they use.

abhyāsa-yoga-yuktena cetasānānya-gāminā|
paramaṃpuruṣaṃdivyaṃyāti pārthānucintayan || 8 ||

8. Constantly meditating with a mind made steadfast by habitual practice, without thinking of anything else, one reaches the Divine Supreme Being, O Arjuna!

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

By the daily practice of regulated meditation the mind becomes fixed and does not wander or meander away from the point of focused attention.

With the mind so habituated and properly trained in meditation, the Supreme Lord Krishna is to be fixed in one's mind as the final thought at the time of death up to and including the last moment.

So thinking of the Supreme Lord at such a crucial moment as death is the pivotal point in human existence for one can thus attain Him in the spiritual worlds. This will be explained in more detail in the next two verses.

It should be clearly understood that by thought alone one achieves whatever one desires, whether it is the Supreme Lord or dominion over the worlds or great fortune, etc.

Whereas Jada Bharata left the human species and became an animal due to reflecting upon the welfare of a deer; a person by the power of their meditation will be born with qualities comparable to the Supreme Lord by meditating upon Him at the moment of death.

The word abhyāsa is the habituating and training of the mind to meditate upon the focused object of attention in a regulated manner.

Whereas yoga is a mode of meditation with fixed procedures and fixed times every day, abhyāsa is a mode of meditation beyond the times one's set aside for regular daily and special occasions; abhyāsa mode of meditation is more of a continuous phenomenon in all activities of life.