Within relativity, duality–positive and negative–is an absolute necessity for manifestation. Being alive, the cosmos requires that all things manifest this duality in a cyclic manner, that the positive and the negative polarities alternate in dominance. This can be seen in everything that lives. In fact, the more alive something is, the more evident are the alternating cycles. This principle manifests most obviously in the human body. The universe, being the body of God, also possesses this duality. Just as the image of God, the human being, breathes in and out to live, in the same way God breathes. The creation/manifestation of the universe is the exhalation of God, and its withdrawal/dissolution is the inhalation. Therefore Krishna says: “They who know that the day of Brahma extends as far as a thousand yugas, and that the night of Brahma ends only in a thousand yugas; they are men who know day and night” (8:17).
I will not weary you–and me–with the mathematical basis for arriving at the numbers assigned to the ages, known as yugas. There are smaller ages within greater ages–wheels within wheels. Anyhow, some say that a day of Brahma lasts 4,320,000,000 years, and the night is of equal length.
However, Paramhansa Yogananda, whose guru Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri was a foremost expert in these calculations, says in his Autobiography of a Yogi: “The universal cycle of the scriptures is 4,300,560,000 years in extent, and measures out a Day of Creation or the length of life assigned to our planetary system in its present form. This vast figure given by the rishis is based on a relationship between the length of the solar year and a multiple of Pi (3.1416, the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle). The life span for a whole universe, according to the ancient seers, is 314,159,000,000,000 solar years, or ‘One Age of Brahma.’”
Krishna continues: “From the unmanifest, all manifestations come forth at the arrival of [Brahma’s] day. At the arrival of [Brahma’s] night, they are dissolved or: reabsorbed], at that point to be known as the unmanifest again. This multitude of beings, having come to be again and again, is dissolved helplessly at the arrival of night. And it comes into existence again at the arrival of day” (8:18, 19).
This is the situation of us all: compelled to manifest and compelled to return to unmanifestation in unending cycles. Will this ever end? Yes and No. It can end for those who wish it to end. For the rest, the coming and going will never end. Krishna will now show us how we can step off the ever-rotating wheel.
The Supreme Unmanifest
“But higher than this state of being is another unmanifest state of being higher than the primeval unmanifest, which when all beings perish, does not perish. This Unmanifest is the Imperishable, thus it is said. They call it the supreme goal, attaining which, they do not return. This is My supreme dwelling place” (8:20, 21).
Although the germs of the cosmos are unmanifest when withdrawn and invisible, there is another Unmanifest that is the Supreme Being behind both manifestation and dissolution. This is the ultimate source of all, eternal and changeless, untouched by the ever-changing condition of relative existence. It is the Reality behind the cosmic illusion-drama. To attain that state of being is the highest attainment possible for finite beings, for it is Infinity Itself. Only those who reach that are freed from rebirth. For all the worlds from the highest to the lowest are subject to continual rebirth. The Unmanifest lies beyond all worlds, transcendent and changeless. And those who enter It become themselves transcendent and changeless.
“This is the supreme Spirit, attainable by single-minded devotion, within which all beings stand, and by which all this universe is pervaded” (8:22). Bhakti, the word here translated as “devotion,” means much more than mere emotion, but means devotion in the sense of being absolutely devoted–dedicated–to the endeavor to unite with God. As Swami Sivananda said: “Bhakti begins with two and ends in One.” (He also said: “Devotion is not emotion.”)
Yoga (union) in the highest sense must be the driving force of the aspirant’s life, the point of reference around which he arranges his entire existence. Dabblers and fiddlers-around are not yogis, nor are those who are only intellectually intrigued by the possibility of divine union. The real yogis are those who live the words: “Arise, awake, and stop not till the goal is reached.” God is the only Goal for them. And the search for God is their only life.
“But at which times the yogis return or do not return, as they depart at death, of these times I shall speak” (8:23).
We have already seen in the first part of this chapter that the state of mind and being in which we have habitually dwelt in life will determine the state we will attain at death. Here Krishna adds another factor, telling us that there are times that determine whether or not the departing soul will return to earthly rebirth or pass on to evolve in higher worlds–perhaps even reaching the Absolute directly.
Now he describes them: “Fire, brightness, day, the bright lunar fortnight, the six months of the northern course of the sun: departing then, the Brahman-knowers go forth to Brahman. Smoke, night, the dark lunar fortnight, the six months of the southern course of the sun: attaining by these the lunar light, the yogi is born again. These are the two paths, light and dark, considered to be perpetual for the universe. By the one he does not return; by the other he returns again” (8:24-26).
These paths, or bands of subtle energies on which the soul either ascends or descends, are spoken about in the Brihadaranyaka and Chandogya upanishads. All commentators on the upanishads and the Gita agree that these lists are symbolic of psychic energies or magnetism which draw the astral and causal bodies of the dying person upward or downward.
Various specific interpretations are possible. For example, light and fire represent clarity of consciousness, whereas night and smoke symbolize darkness and confusion of mind. The bright fortnight of the month and the northward movement of the sun refer to the upward orientation of the consciousness, and the dark fortnight and the southern solar movement indicate the habitual turning of the consciousness downward to materiality and ignorance. The moon is a symbol of the astral worlds in which earthly rebirth is inevitable, but the sun symbolizes those astral regions in which the soul is free of the compulsion to material re-embodiment and can move on to higher levels of existence for continued evolution.
Obviously the two paths or streams of energy and consciousness are being taken by each one of us right here in our present life, and will continue, then, after our subtle bodies are separated from the physical at the process we call death–though it is really a movement into a different mode of life. Therefore we should seriously analyze our life and see which stream we are moving in. For after death we only continue on just as we have been, although in the subtler realms the nature of our life becomes more evident.
In this world we can lie to ourselves and others, but not “over there.” There the truth of things is revealed. Unless, of course, at the moment of death we merely fall into a psychic coma and know nothing until someone whacks us on the backside at the time of our next birth. This happens to a large percentage of human beings. It takes a definite degree of evolution to go to either heaven or hell! As John Oxenham wrote: “The high soul climbs the high way, and the low soul gropes the low, and in between on the misty flats the rest drift to and fro” as spiritual sleepwalkers
“Knowing these two paths the yogi is not confused at all. Therefore, at all times be steadfast in yoga” (8:27). This implies that only the yogi follows the upward path to liberation. What about virtuous, sincerely religious people who are not yogis? We would assume that they, too, go the upward path, but Krishna concludes with these words:
“The yogi, having known all this, goes beyond the meritorious fruit of prescribed action which comes from study of the Vedas, sacrifices, austerities, and charity, and goes to the supreme primal state” (8:28).
“Therefore, become a yogi!” (6:46).
Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: The Supreme Knowledge
Bhagavad Gita for Awakening links:
- The Battlefield of the Mind
- On the Field of Dharma
- Taking Stock
- The Smile of Krishna
- Birth and Death–The Great Illusions
- Experiencing the Unreal
- The Unreal and the Real
- The Body and the Spirit
- Know the Atman!
- Practical Self-Knowledge
- Perspective on Birth and Death
- The Wonder of the Atman
- The Indestructible Self
- “Happy the Warrior”
- Buddhi Yoga
- Religiosity Versus Religion
- Perspective on Scriptures
- How Not To Act
- How To Act
- Right Perspective
- Wisdom About the Wise
- Wisdom About Both the Foolish and the Wise
- The Way of Peace
- Calming the Storm
- First Steps in Karma Yoga
- From the Beginning to the End
- The Real “Doers”
- Our Spiritual Marching Orders
- Freedom From Karma
- In the Grip of the Monster
- Devotee and Friend
- The Eternal Being
- The Path
- Caste and Karma
- Action–Divine and Human
- The Mystery of Action and Inaction
- The Wise in Action
- Sacrificial Offerings
- The Worship of Brahman
- Action–Renounced and Performed
- Freedom (Moksha)
- The Brahman-Knower
- The Goal of Karma Yoga
- Getting There
- The Yogi’s Retreat
- The Yogi’s Inner and Outer Life
- Union With Brahman
- The Yogi’s Future
- Success in Yoga
- The Net and Its Weaver
- Those Who Seek God
- Those Who Worship God and the Gods
- The Veil in the Mind
- The Big Picture
- The Sure Way To Realize God
- Day, Night, and the Two Paths
- The Supreme Knowledge
- Universal Being
- Maya–Its Dupes and Its Knowers
- Worshipping the One
- Going To God
- Wisdom and Knowing
- Going To The Source
- From Hearing To Seeing
- The Wisdom of Devotion
- Right Conduct
- The Field and Its Knower
- Interaction of Purusha and Prakriti
- Seeing the One Within the All
- The Three Gunas
- The Cosmic Tree
- The All-pervading Reality
- The Divine and the Demonic
- Faith and the Three Gunas
- Food and the Three Gunas
- Religion and the Three Gunas
- Tapasya and the Three Gunas
- Charity and the Three Gunas
- Sannyasa and Tyaga
- Deeper Insights On Action
- Knowledge, Action, Doer, and the Three Gunas
- The Three Gunas: Intellect and Firmness
- The Three Kinds of Happiness
- The Great Devotee
- The Final Words
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