Chapter 8. The Imperishable

1What is brahman?
What is adhyatma?
What is karma?
What is adibhuta?
Who is the adidaiva?

2Who is the adiyajña?
Who resides in this body?
In a yajña (traditional fire ritual) several deities are invoked, like Soma, Varuna, Rudra, Indra, and Mitra. Arjuna wishes to know the real recipient of the prayers and offerings; in other words, he is asking “who is truly venerated in a yajña?”.

How does a man of self-restraint
attain the supreme state of mind
at the time of his death?

3Brahman is the imperishable, supreme being.
Adhyatma is the essence of one’s unique qualities;
it is an individual’s real identity.
Karma is every activity associated with
origin, sustenance, and destruction.
Karma refers to all activities, including the creative impulse that brought all creation into existence and keeps it going.

4Adibhuta refers to the body,
the perishable aspect of all beings.
The adidaiva is purusha, the supreme spirit.
Indeed, I am the adiyajña and
I am the one who resides in the body.
See 9:16 and 16:18.

5At the moment of death,
those who depart from their body
thinking of me alone,
will surely be united with me.

6The state of mind prevailing at the time of one’s death
is the very state one will attain
because those thoughts are a true reflection
of the kind of life one has led.
7So remember me at all times,
even during combat.
Fix your mind and intellect on me
and you will surely come to me.

8One who meditates on the supreme
with steady focus and discipline
becomes one with the supreme.

9,10Brahman is all-knowing,
primeval, timeless, and
beyond one’s imagination.

Brahman is the primal cause,
the sovereign ruler,
the primordial poet, and
the supporter of all.

Brahman is subtler than the subtlest
and mightier than the mightiest.

Brahman is radiant like the sun
and beyond all darkness.

At the time of death,
one who fixes the prana
in the middle of the eyebrows
with the power of yoga
and meditates on the
magnificent brahman
with sincerity and steadiness,
certainly attains the brahman.
Prana refers to ‘vital breath’. It is the source of our energy.
For without breathing, from where else do we get energy?

11The seers call it the eternal state.
Those who hope to reach that state
lead a life of brahmacharya and
sages who are rid of passions attain it.
I will briefly tell you how one reaches there.
Brahmacharya is following the path of brahman, leading a life of purity, and not letting the mind wander around trivial things.
12,13Closing all the gates of the body,
focusing the mind inward, and
drawing the prana to the forehead;
invoking the supreme by
chanting ‘om’, the one-syllable brahman;
and thus being established in yoga
while departing from the body,
he attains the supreme state.
The body is considered as a city of nine gates
(the nine gates being: two eyes, two ears,
two nostrils, a mouth, a genital organ, and an anus).

‘Closing all the gates…’ refers to holding back the senses from being attracted to the outside world.

Prana is distributed all over the body as it energizes all the cells;
‘…drawing the prana to the forehead’
means ‘focusing all energy upward’.

Om is a single syllable word that denotes brahman, the supreme being. It is the most sacred sound according to Hindu belief.

14Arjuna, the yogi who is steadfast and
constantly contemplates on the Supreme
easily attains the supreme state.

15Great souls who have attained the supreme
have reached the state of highest perfection.

They are spared from rebirth,
which is impermanent and sorrowful.

16All the realms from the earth
up to that of lord Brahma
are subject to rebirth.
But on reaching the supreme,
there is no rebirth.
According to the Hindu belief of afterlife, there are many intermediate abodes between earth and the supreme state like Pitr loka, Deva loka, Yama loka, Brahma loka, etc. All these in-between realms are impermanent. The supreme state of no return is eternal.

Lord Brahma has a life span of 100 Brahma years (around 300 trillion human years). He arises from brahman and performs the function of creation. At the end of his tenure, he is absolved and another Brahma emanates. Note that lord Brahma is different from brahman.

17A day of lord Brahma spans a thousand yugas and
a night of lord Brahma also spans a thousand yugas.

Only those who know this fact truly understand
the cosmic meaning of day and night.
A yuga is equal to 4.32 million years.
So, a day or night of lord Brahma spans 4.32 billion years.

18When Brahma’s day begins,
all forms emerge from the hidden state.

When Brahma’s night begins,
all forms disappear from the visible state.

19Indeed, the countless beings
that come into existence again and again
are inevitably dissolved at the arrival of night.
They come forth again at the arrival of day.
This process goes on throughout the life of lord Brahma, spanning 100 Brahma years. After that, Brahma also dies, and is born again.

20But higher than this,
there is a formless eternal state of being
that remains untouched by cosmic cycles.
A cosmic cycle, spanning 8.64 billion years, equals a day and a night of lord Brahma. The eternal state of being doesn’t get destroyed even when all beings perish.

21What is spoken of as
the unseen and the indestructible
is considered the highest state.
Those who reach it, stay on forever
for that is the supreme domain.

22Purusha is the supreme spirit
who pervades the entire universe
and in whom all beings abide.
One can attain the state of purusha
by wholehearted devotion.
23When a yogi dies,
either he comes back
or he stays on forever.
Let me explain.
When a yogi dies, either he returns to earthly existence or he lives forever in the supreme domain.

24The yogi who dies during uttarayana,
the symbol of dazzling white daylight
goes forth to reach brahman.
Uttarayana is the period of six months following winter solstice. During uttarayana, the days grow longer and hence it is regarded as the ‘bright-half’ of the year.

25The yogi who dies during dakshinayana,
the symbol of hazy dark night
attains the lunar light
and is born again.
Dakshinayana is the period of six months following summer solstice. During dakshinayana, the nights grow longer and hence it is regarded as the ‘dark-half’ of the year.

The period of uttarayana is equal to one day for the gods and the period of dakshinayana equals one night; hence the mention of ‘lunar light’ with respect to dakshinayana.

This suggests that only some of the realized people get liberated. The rest of them are perhaps among us, guiding us towards liberation.
26Indeed, the bright and the dark
have always been the two paths of this world.

By one, the yogi goes to stay on forever,
whereas by the other, the yogi returns again.

27Knowing these two paths,
a true yogi is never deluded.
Thus, be established in yoga always.

28Knowing this truth,
a yogi goes beyond all the merits
of studying the Vedas or
yajña, dana, and tapah;
he truly attains that
foremost supreme state.
Yajña is the traditional fire ritual. In a broader sense,
it refers to worship and a sense of dedication to one’s work.
Dana is charity, but bordering on philanthropy.
Tapah refers to austerity, penance, and single-minded focus on work.

<< Chapter 7. Knowledge and Wisdom


  1. Anonymous7/13/2011

    This was tough one especially Brahman. What is primordial poet? And, what about primal cause? Explanation of yuga is excellent.


  2. Anonymous7/13/2011

    This was tough one especially Brahman. What is primordial poet? And, what about primal cause? Explanation of yuga is excellent.


  3. Dear Sameer: Honestly speaking, it is hard to explain "brahman" in words. Unfortunately I haven't experienced "brahman" so I can't tell you much about it. However, I feel that it is some sort of energy that prevails in the universe and is the primary source of everything.

    Primordial poet refers perhaps to the earliest poets. Krishna calls brahman a "poet" perhaps because the earliest rishis were actually poets. Most of our ancient scriptures is poetry (apart from being everything else).

    Primal cause refers to the first cause of the universe.

    In a way, both these terms (primordial poet, primal cause) are suggesting that everything came from brahman.

    Hope this clarifies,

  4. Anonymous7/15/2011

    Thank you. Yes it does answer my question.

  5. Poetry is the highest expression in a language. Poetry can be in simple words but can have deeper meaning and is an expression of creativity. A work of art that takes imagination, intelligence and the emotion to create something. Look at this universe as a manifestation of the Supreme and you see that the spirit behind is the one that manifested itself. Sort of like poets extending themselves via their poetry... it is a poetic way to calling Brahman a primordial poet!

  6. Yes, it is indeed poetic to call brahman--the supreme being--as a poet.