Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Ramanuja | Discourse 8 verse 20-28

paras-tasmāt tu bhavo’nyo’vyakto’vyaktāt-sanātanaḥ|
yaḥsa sarveṣu bhūteṣu naśyatsu na vinaśyati || 20 ||

20. There is, however, another Unmanifest Being superior to this unmanifest phase, which is eternal and does not pass away when all entities pass away.

avyakto’kṣara ity-uktas-tamāhuḥparamāṃgatim |
yaṃprāpya na nivartante tad-dhāma paramaṃmama || 21 ||

21. This has [also] been called the Unmanifest (Avyakta) and Imperishable (Akṣara). This is said to be the highest goal; My ultimate state, reaching which Jīvas do not return to Samsāra.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Lord Krishna now reveals His superior conscious avyakta or unmanifest which is different in principle and substance then the unconscious avyakta or unmanifest of Brahma which is non-intelligent and operates according to set parameters.

Lord Krishna's superior avyakta is characterised by eternality due to its possession of ātma tattva or soul realisation. Thus it is also characterised by jñāna or consciousness.

Avyakta is also known as indistinct because it beyond any perceptive faculty of the mind or senses to cognise it as a perceivable reality. The purport is that avyakta is a principle of self-consciousness and as such is completely unique in its nature.

The word Sanātana meaning eternal because His superior avyakta is not subject to combination and aggregation or resolution and disintegration

and never disperses or dissipates when all the material elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether in their rudimental forms and derivative forms dissolve away, although His superior avyakta abides within them.

This is why the Vedic scriptures call it avyakta or indistinct as well as akṣara or indestructible.

Those steeped in the wisdom of the Vedic scriptures have declared that this is the paramam gatim or supreme exalted goal to be achieved.

Lord Krishna previously mentioned akṣara in verse three of this chapter and will later mention it again in chapters XII.III and XV.XVI.

The superior state of avyakta is where ātma tattva or soul realisation abounds and when once reached immediately precludes forever the subjection to union with matter again as there is no more rebirth for reincarnation has been terminated.

Lord Krishna specifies their destination with the words dhāma paramam mama meaning His supreme personal abode of eternity, knowledge and bliss where all things reciprocate fully with Him and is the abode of the liberated beings.

The word dhāma also denotes luminosity as in the light of consciousness which is the primary attribute of the ātma or soul.

Thus Lord Krishna is indicating His paramam dhāma as non-different from the infinite consciousness of the ātma in contrast to the limited state of consciousness one possesses,

 who is oblivious to the ātma due to being deluded by the illusory material energy known as māyā and cherishing the association of the senses with sense objects.

The other avyakta where resides prakṛti or the material substratum which contains all living entities and which is perishable is controlled by Lord Krishna as well,

through His manifestation as the eternal ātma or soul within the etheric heart of all created beings throughout all existence. This is the abode of the non-liberated beings.

From the superior avyakta there is no return to samsāra the cycle of birth and death.

The next verse will show how the goal of the Jñānī or knower of the Supreme Lord is the most sublime state of consciousness, more exalted than any other.

puruṣaḥsa paraḥpārtha bhaktyālabhyas-tv-ananyayā|
yasyāntaḥsthāni bhūtāni yena sarvam idaṃtatam || 22 ||

22. But the Supreme Being in whom all beings abide and by whom all this [universe] is pervaded is to be attained by unswerving devotion, O Arjuna.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

The Supreme Puruṣa is He in whom all things reside and who resides in all things. He the Supreme Being is accessible only by bhakti or unadulterated loving devotion.

yatra kāle tvanāvṛttim āvṛttiṃcaiva yoginaḥ|
prayātāyānti taṃkālaṃvakṣyāmi bharatarṣabha || 23 ||

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Now the journey which is known as archir-adi or the path beginning with light which is common to the jijnasur the knower of ātma tattva or soul realisation as well as the bhakta or loving devotee of the parama Puruṣa the supreme personality.

The Vedic scriptures declare that the archir-adi is the path by which both these types of aspirants travel at the time of death. It is the road travelled by which there is no returning to the worlds of mortals.

The Vedic scriptures when explaining pañca-agṇi-vidyā, the system of the five fires states:

“So those who know it (the essential nature of the Self) thus, (as taught in the Doctrine of the Five Fires), and those too (ascetics) who dwell in the forest, worshiping with faith and practicing meditation go to (the deity ruling over) the rays of light, and from there to the Ruler of the day”. (Chāṇḍogya Upanishad 5.10.1)

One who travels by the archi-adi path reaches Parabrahma the supreme being and thus returns not to the material worlds. This is confirmed in the Chāṇḍogya Upaniṣad 4.15.5:

“Then there is a being, non-human, who leads them to Brahman, this is the path of the gods, the way to Brahman. Those who arrive by this path do not return to the human condition”

Those who have realised the ātma are not in the same category as those aspirants who diligently practice the para-vidyā, the supreme knowledge declared by Brahma because success in that is determined first by ātma tattva or soul realisation.

Otherwise if there was no difference between the two then it would have been unnecessary for Lord Krishna to mention the path leading to rebirth and the path leading to no rebirth.

The Chāṇḍogya Upaniṣad V.IX.I states:

“Thus, indeed, in the fifth oblation the waters become human. This foetus having laid inside for ten or nine months or more or less, is then born”. (Chan. Up., 5.9.1)

 “Those with a balance of positive Karmas.......and those with a balance of negative Karmas”. (Ibid., 5.10.7).

Those who have performed righteous deeds and those who have performed abominable deeds receive physical forms in conjunction and accordance with these activities and are fashioned out of the five elements in which water is predominant.

The ātma is not these forms but just embodied in these forms by the dictates of karma or reactions from past actions.

So this is the distinction and those who understand the reality of ātma in this way qualify for the archir-adi and achieving mokṣa or liberation no longer return to the realms of mortal existence.

The conclusive understanding is that non-intelligent nature being material like the physical body is always fit to be discarded and the intelligent nature being spiritual like the ātma is always fit to be embraced.

Those who follow the spiritual nature and realise the ātma travel the path of archir-adi and return not to samsāra, the perpetual cycle of birth and death.

The previous passage that the servitor Amanava escorts the souls to Brahmaloka is applicable to both the followers of the spiritual nature being the jijñāsā or the soul seeker and the jñāni, the god seeker,

as the meditation of the former consists of reflecting on the ātma, devoid of matter without any material conceptions as being one with the Brāhman or the spiritual substratum pervading all existence.

This conforms with the Vedic axiom known as tat krata-nyaya or that similar efforts yield similar results; therefore when realisation of the Brāhman is the focus of one's aspirations then one devotes themselves to contemplation of the Brāhman.

So the realisation of the Brāhman is achieved by dint of the aspirants contemplation on the Brāhman.

How exactly jijñāsā have to contemplate the Brāhman is that they look at the Brāhman as ancillary to the ātma which is the primary goal.

Whereas the Jñānī meditates on the Brāhman as the effulgence of the Supreme Lord Himself and looks at the ātma as ancillary to that, the Supreme Lord being the primary goal.

Giving credence to the fact that the ātma or soul is in reality part and parcel of the eternal ultimate Supreme Being as well as the Brāhman is verified in the Brihadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad V.VII.XXII beginning ya ātmani tisthan which states:

“The Brāhman abides in the ātma, by whom the ātma is the body.”

agnir-jyotir-ahaḥ śuklaḥ ṣaṇmāsāuttarāyaṇam |
tatra prayātāgacchanti brahma brahma-vido janāḥ|| 24 ||

24. Light in the form of fire, the day, the bright fortnight, the six months of the northern course of the sun —the knowers of Brahman who take this path go to the Brahman.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Time in this verse indicates the route where the presiding demigods over the various time divisions from the day up to a year, reside in great numbers.

Their route is either that path going by which yogis are not subject to rebirth; or that path where persons of righteous deeds are born again. This last path Lord Krishna is describing next.

The mention of fire, illumination, day, waxing moon and the suns six month sojourn on its waxing northern journey implies the year as well.

dhūmo rātris-tathākṛṣṇaḥ ṣaṇmāsādakṣiṇāyanam |
tatra cāndramasaṃjyotir-yogīprāpya nivartate || 25 ||

25. Smoke, night, the dark fortnight, the six months of the southern course of the sun —the Yogi who takes this path reaches the light of the moon and returns.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

The word dhūmo meaning smoke indicates the presiding deva of the path in which lies the Pitri-loka the realm of the manes or ancestors. The word yogi has been used to denote a spiritual person who performs Vedic activities.

śukla-kṛṣṇe gatīhyete jagataḥ śāśvate mate |
ekayāyāty-anāvṛtim anyāyāvartate punaḥ|| 26 ||

26. These two paths, the bright and the dark, are said to be everlasting. By the former, one attains the state of non-return, by the other, one returns again.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

The path of light is the archi-adi being illuminating and the path of darkness is the dhūmadi or smoke.

One who at death is guided on the path of light does not return to the worlds of mortals; but one who is at death guided on the path of darkness does return and must be reborn again.

The path of light is dual for two types of aspirants being: the jñāni the god seeker and the jijnasuh the soul seeker.

The path of darkness is singular for the atharthi or fruitive seeker who performs meritorious activities with the desire to reap the benefits and rewards in the hereafter.

Thus two paths are given for the three types of aspirants.

The Chāṇḍogya Upaniṣad V.X.I-III states:

Those who know this and those who worship with faith, meditate in the forest etc., they go to the light”. (Chan. Up., 5.10.1)

Those aspirants who have realized the ātma or soul and those who in seclusion meditate with faith and devotion on the omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent Supreme Lord enter the archi-adi path of light and do not return.

But those who in the village perform Vedic and secular acts of a meritorious nature and the giving of alms —they pass to the smoke”. (ibid., 5.10.3).

Those aspirants who in their daily affairs devote themselves to Vedic rituals, public works, charity and philanthropic activities as well as other pious acts, all enter the dhūmo ,the path of darkness and must return.

naite sṛtīpārtha jānan yogi muhyati kaścana |
tasmāt sarveṣu kāleṣu yoga-yukto bhavārjuna || 27 ||

27. No Yogi, O Pārtha, who knows these two paths is ever deluded. Therefore, O Arjuna, at all times engage yourself in Yoga.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

For one knowing the archi-adi, the path of light which leads to mokṣa or liberation from material existence, and the path of darkness, which leads to bondage in the material existence, there will never be any infatuation and delusion at the time of death.

Such a yogi will travel by his own self earned divine path escorted by the presiding demigods of the path of light.

Thus one should with great faith and enthusiasm meditate and perform selfless Vedic activities without desire that keeps one firmly upon this path.

Daily meditation constitutes the proper performance of one's daily activities as authorised by the bona fide spiritual master either Vaiṣṇava or Brāhmaṇa from one of the four bona fide sampradāyas as revealed in Vedic scriptures.

vedeṣu yajñeṣu tapaḥsu caiva dāneṣu yat puṇya-phalaṃpradiṣṭam |
atyeti tat sarvam idaṃviditvāyogīparaṃsthānam upaiti cādyam || 28 ||

28. Whatever meritorious results are declared to accrue from the study of the Vedas, from the performance of sacrifices, from the practice of austerities and charity, all this is transcended by the Yogi who knows this teaching of Mine, he reaches the Supreme, Primeval abode.

Rāmānuja’s Commentary

Whatever gain is said to be obtained from the four meritorious actions:—

(a) adhyāyana —the regular study of the Vedas,

(b) yajña —the performance of sacrifices,

(c) tapa —self-restraint,

(d) dāna —charity

all this is transcended by knowing this teaching, namely the greatness of the Lord as taught in these two chapters (7 and 8). By the immense joy arising from the knowledge of the greatness of the Divine, one regards all these merits as insignificant as straw.

By being a Yogi, that is, an enlightened person one reaches the Supreme, Original State which is eternal —beyond time.

hariḥ oṃ tatsat
iti śrīmad bhagavadgītāsupaniṣatsu
śrī-kṛṣṇārjuna saṃvāde tāraka-brahma-yogo

Thus in the Upanishads of the Glorious Bhagavad Gita
The science of the Eternal, the Scripture of Yoga
The dialogue between Śrī Krishna and Arjuna
Ends the eighth discourse entitled
“The Way to the Immutable Brahman”