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Day, Night, and the Two Paths

Part 58 of the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

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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 know the true day and night who know Brahma’s Day a thousand yugas long and Brahma’s Night a thousand yugas long (8:17).

I will not weary you–or 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 Sriyukteswar 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:

At the approach of Brahma’s Day, all manifested things come forth from the unmanifest, and then return to that at Brahma’s Night. Helpless, the same host of beings being born again and again, merge at the approach of the Night and emerge at the dawn 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 there exists, higher than the unmanifested, another unmanifested Eternal which does not perish when all beings perish. This unmanifest is declared to be the imperishable, which is called the Supreme Goal, attaining which they return not. This is my supreme abode (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 Being [Parampurusha], attained by one-pointed devotion alone, within which all beings do dwell, by which all this 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.

Two paths

Now I shall tell you of the times in which the yogis, departing at the time of death, return or do not return (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 points in time that determine (or at least influence) 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, light, daytime, the bright lunar fortnight, the six months of the sun’s north path: departing then the Brahman-knowers go to Brahman. Smoke, nighttime, the dark fortnight, the six months of the sun’s south path: thereby attaining the lunar light, the yogi returns again. Truly these two light and dark paths the world thinks to be eternal. By one he goes to non-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.

No yogi who knows these two paths is confused. 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:

Whatever meritorious fruit is declared to accrue from study or recitation of the Vedas, sacrifice, tapasya, and almsgiving–beyond all these goes the yogi who knows the two paths; and he attains to the supreme, primeval Abode (8:28).

“Therefore, be a yogi!” (6:46).

Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: The Supreme Knowledge

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Introduction to The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

Preface to The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

Bhagavad Gita for Awakening links:

  1. The Battlefield of the Mind
  2. On the Field of Dharma
  3. Taking Stock
  4. The Smile of Krishna
  5. Birth and Death–The Great Illusions
  6. Experiencing the Unreal
  7. The Unreal and the Real
  8. The Body and the Spirit
  9. Know the Atman!
  10. Practical Self-Knowledge
  11. Perspective on Birth and Death
  12. The Wonder of the Atman
  13. The Indestructible Self
  14. “Happy the Warrior”
  15. Buddhi Yoga
  16. Religiosity Versus Religion
  17. Perspective on Scriptures
  18. How Not To Act
  19. How To Act
  20. Right Perspective
  21. Wisdom About the Wise
  22. Wisdom About Both the Foolish and the Wise
  23. The Way of Peace
  24. Calming the Storm
  25. First Steps in Karma Yoga
  26. From the Beginning to the End
  27. The Real “Doers”
  28. Our Spiritual Marching Orders
  29. Freedom From Karma
  30. “Nature”
  31. Swadharma
  32. In the Grip of the Monster
  33. Devotee and Friend
  34. The Eternal Being
  35. The Path
  36. Caste and Karma
  37. Action–Divine and Human
  38. The Mystery of Action and Inaction
  39. The Wise in Action
  40. Sacrificial Offerings
  41. The Worship of Brahman
  42. Action–Renounced and Performed
  43. Freedom (Moksha)
  44. The Brahman-Knower
  45. The Goal of Karma Yoga
  46. Getting There
  47. The Yogi’s Retreat
  48. The Yogi’s Inner and Outer Life
  49. Union With Brahman
  50. The Yogi’s Future
  51. Success in Yoga
  52. The Net and Its Weaver
  53. Those Who Seek God
  54. Those Who Worship God and the Gods
  55. The Veil in the Mind
  56. The Big Picture
  57. The Sure Way To Realize God
  58. Day, Night, and the Two Paths
  59. The Supreme Knowledge
  60. Universal Being
  61. Maya–Its Dupes and Its Knowers
  62. Worshipping the One
  63. Going To God
  64. Wisdom and Knowing
  65. Going To The Source
  66. From Hearing To Seeing
  67. The Wisdom of Devotion
  68. Right Conduct
  69. The Field and Its Knower
  70. Interaction of Purusha and Prakriti
  71. Seeing the One Within the All
  72. The Three Gunas
  73. The Cosmic Tree
  74. Freedom
  75. The All-pervading Reality
  76. The Divine and the Demonic
  77. Faith and the Three Gunas
  78. Food and the Three Gunas
  79. Religion and the Three Gunas
  80. Tapasya and the Three Gunas
  81. Charity and the Three Gunas
  82. Sannyasa and Tyaga
  83. Deeper Insights On Action
  84. Knowledge, Action, Doer, and the Three Gunas
  85. The Three Gunas: Intellect and Firmness
  86. The Three Kinds of Happiness
  87. Freedom
  88. The Great Devotee
  89. The Final Words
  90. Glossary

Visit our e-library page for Free Downloads of this and other ebooks in various formats.

Read the Maharshi Gita, an arrangement of verses of the Bhagavad Gita made by Sri Ramana Maharshi that gives an overview of the essential message of the Gita.

Read The Bhagavad Gita (arranged in verses for singing) by Abbot George Burke (Swami Nirmalananda Giri).

Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary

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