What Is The Bhagavad Gita?
The Bhagavad Gita is a compilation of Sanskrit verses and texts. The ancient scripture consisting of 701 shlokas (verses) was written in the year 2 B.C, by Sage Veda Vyasa. Followers of the Hindu religion hold the Bhagavad Gita in very high regard.
The verses of Bhagavad Gita are actually the dialogue that took place between Lord Krishna and Prince Arjuna. Through the medium of this dialogue, Lord Krishna imparted many words of wisdom that were put together to form the Bhagavad Gita. The Gita, as it is commonly known, offers an insight into the world of Yoga, spiritual awareness, reincarnation, and the afterlife to name a few. This sacred book also offers knowledge about the spiritual understanding of life and death.
The Cycle Of Life, Death, And Rebirth As Explained In Bhagavad Gita
The beauty of Bhagavad Gita is that it speaks the language of the reader. The modern-day millennial can relate to it as much as the Yogis living thousands of years ago did. The Bhagavad Gita portrays the concept of life in a slightly different light than what is commonly known.
The concept of life, re-birth, and death is explained in a rather unique way in the Bhagavad Gita. The Bhagavad Gita teaches that the body and spirit are different. The body is merely a medium through which our spirit acts. Our spirit desires and our body acts; that is how we live our life. The 17th shloka of the 2nd Adhyaya of the Bhagavad Gita explains this concept clearly. The verse as it is in Sanskrit is as follows.
“avinasi tu tad viddhi
yena sarvam idam tatam
na kascit kartum arhati”
Its English translation would be “Know that the one to pervade the entire body cannot be destroyed. It is beyond anybody to destroy the soul as it does not perish.”
As per this verse, the soul or spirit which is intangible is present everywhere in the body. The chapter further lays emphasis on the fact that each body and every soul is individual. The pains and happiness experienced by one body and the soul are the same; and yet they can be experienced by no other body or soul in the same manner. The physical body has a timed existence after which it must merge into its origin i.e. the universe. Death destroys the body but the soul has a timeless existence. For the soul, death is just the beginning of the journey forward, before it merges with another physical body and begins a new life.
Lord Krishna told Arjuna that it is the responsibility of every physical body to work towards the advancement of their soul. Detachment of the body from the material wealth and desires in the world is a way for the soul to become spiritually enlightened.
The Pancha Koshas are five coverings or sheaths of the physical body that cover the inner conscious self or the atman. Everything other than the atman, like our physical body or our material possessions, is the anatman. The Pancha Koshas are anatman as well. The Taittiriya Upanishad discusses the concept of Pancha Koshas in depth.
These are the five Koshas that layer the atman.
Annamaya kosha (layer of food)
The word Anna stands for ‘matter’ or that which is material. Annam means food in the Sanskrit language. Our tangible, externally visible physical body is the Annamaya kosha. It derives its energy from food eaten by the mother during intrauterine life, and food eaten by self after birth. The material body is anatman as it will perish and return to the dust and dirt which made it.
Pranamaya kosha (layer of vital energy)
Prana means life. Pranamaya kosha is more subtle than Annamaya kosha, and facilitates human existence. Human life is possible because Prana enters the Annamaya kosha. Pranamaya kosha has an absolute and direct effect over the Annamaya kosha.
Manomaya kosha (layer of mind)
Mann is Sanskrit for the mind. Manomaya kosha is even more subtle than Pranamaya kosha. The brain is closely associated with Manomaya kosha. This layer encasing the atman is powerful as it can create emotions and feelings.
Vijnanamaya kosha (layer of intellect)
Vijnana stands for knowledge. The Vijnanamaya kosha is that part of your mind which allows you to think, rationalize and act in a logical way. It supersedes all the three koshas mentioned earlier.
Anandamaya kosha (layer of bliss)
Anandam is happiness or bliss. Only the intangible, uninfluenced atman can experience pure bliss. Anandamaya kosha is the closest layer to the atman. However, it is still not as free and limitless as the eternal soul.
To appreciate the concept of life, death, and reincarnation, one must acquaint themselves with all the koshas. The koshas teach how the body is different from the mind, and the mind is different from the soul. The atman and anatman are two different forms encased within one another; one is perishable and one immortal. It is the spiritual duty of every human being to work toward the betterment of their soul, and detach themselves from the anatman.
Correlation of Yoga With Life And Death
The Bhagavad Gita describes amply, the benefits of Yoga to develop one’s mental and physical health. However, there is a deep connection of Yoga with the human soul as well. With regular practise of Yoga one detaches himself from the material body and focuses on the elevation of his spiritual self. This is what the Bhagavad Gita says about the contribution of Yoga in the circle of life, death, and rebirth. Lord Krishna advocates that Yoga pushes human beings towards attaining the ultimate goal that should control every enlightened person, which is to become one with the infinite universe.
Practising Yoga disciplines the mind and spirit of the practitioner. When the material body dies and the soul is born in a new body, it will carry the disciplines and other qualities imbibed in it in the previous birth due to practicing Yoga.
The technique of Yoga involves several poses known as asanas. Each asana helps to build and improve one’s physical health and mental health. However, there are certain yoga poses that focus on enlightening the spiritual being of the person which is the soul. These poses are known as Yoga asana.
What Does The Bhagavad Gita Say About Death And After Life?
Death is the end of the physical body and not of the consciousness and soul residing within the body. And death will come to you one day or the other. The Bhagavad Gita explains how death affects the human body and the soul. The 27th shloka in the 2nd Adhyaya of Bhagavad Gita is as follows.
jātasya hi dhruvo mṛityur dhruvaṁ janma mṛitasya cha
tasmād aparihārye ’rthe na tvaṁ śhochitum arhasi
Its literal translation is as follows.
Death is certain to come for the one who has taken birth, and rebirth is mandatory for he who has passed away. Therefore, it is wise not to lament over that which is inevitable.
Death is unknown to us. And those who have experienced it do not return to the material world to speak about it. The fear of the unknown is the greatest fear that mankind can experience. But the one who has read the Gita has nothing to fear, for he knows that death is only a stepping stone for the spiritual progress of the soul. After the material body perishes, the soul will take birth again into the world as a new physical being.
Rising Like A Phoenix From The Ashes
Death is thought to be the end of one’s journey in the world. It is true, but only for the physical body. For the atman it is merely a break before beginning a new journey. The Bhagavad Gita explains the concept of death and reincarnation in a beautiful manner. In the sixth shloka of the eighth adhyaya of the Gita Lord Krishna says:
yaṁ yaṁ vāpi smaran bhāvaṁ tyajatyante kalevaram
taṁ tam evaiti kaunteya sadā tad-bhāva-bhāvitaḥ
Whatever goes on in the mind at the time of death, O son of Kunti, one retains that same state of mind, and always keeps thinking.
This verse highlights that the soul remains unchanged and untouched by death. It will just pass on from one material body to the other. The shloka also touches on one crucial aspect of life and death. The eternal soul feels and senses everything. The state of mind in which a person dies is the same state in which his/her soul will be reborn. If a person is happy and feels accomplished as they take their last breath, the soul is satisfied and reincarnated as a happy one. He who faces rejection, betrayal or sadness during his final moments will be reborn as a dissatisfied soul.
Through the verse, Lord Krishna asserts the vital role that your ideology and education play in your life. Here, education is not your bachelor’s or master’s degree, but what you have learned in life through your experiences.
Importance Of Continued Learning
Learning is a never-ending process. It begins from infancy and continues till one takes his/her last breath. Lord Krishna explains in the Bhagavad Gita that the atman continues to pass on from one physical body into another without getting affected by a death. The soul also carries its gunas (characteristic qualities) and its attachments in the next life. For instance, if a person is passionate about music, it is his soul and not his body that likes music. The soul may carry forward its affinity towards music when it is reincarnated.
Therefore, Lord Krishna urges the readers of Bhagavad Gita to continue learning and advancing in every life. A person’s aim should be to detach from the material body and submit oneself to the universe completely. In every birth, the physical body and mind must strive to elevate the atman to a higher spiritual level.
The Connection Of Ashtanga Yoga With The Cycle Of Life, Death, And Rebirth
Ashtanga Yoga means the eight limbs of Yoga. Maharishi Patanjali elaborates on the topic of Ashtanga Yoga in his writings Yoga Sutras. The practice of Yoga poses as a form of exercise is merely one limb of the Ashtanga Yoga.
The eight limbs of Yoga teach a way of a disciplined life while practising virtuous behavior. Each of these limbs is explained below.
Each of the yamas indicates the things that a disciplined person abstains from. Violence, lies, stealing, infidelity, and greed are unethical practices one must avoid.
Niyama means rules. This limb of Yoga teaches about the virtues one must possess, like purity of mind and body, disciplined behavior, accepting self and others to name a few.
Asana is a posture that one can attain for a long time while remaining relaxed and keeping a focused and steady mind. The third limb of Ashtanga Yoga is the one that deals with practise of Yoga postures.
Pranayama is the art of controlled breathing. Maharishi Patanjali has described in detail the technique of breathing, regulation of breathing, and ideal postures to practise pranayama in the Yoga Sutras.
Pratyahara is a combination word that means working on one’s conscious awareness. While going through the path of pratyahara one learns to avoid getting controlled by external influences. This pushes people, a step closer to connecting with their inner self, their soul.
Dharana teaches the technique of focusing one’s mind on a singular point while forgetting everything else. This is the basic technique used in Dhyana which is the 7th limb of Yoga.?
Where there is Dhyana, there has to be Dharana. One always leads to the other and one cannot exist without the other. Dhyana means thinking or pondering. It is the technique of meditation that requires tremendous mental focus (Dharana).
Samadhi is a state of total spiritual elevation, where one has successfully learned to merge with their soul and forget the material body. Samadhi allows one to completely absorb themselves with their elevated state of mind.
It is imperative that one understands Ashtanga Yoga because each limb is dependent upon the previous limb. The first to eight limbs of Yoga are in an outer to the inner sequence. The eighth limb that is Samadhi is a state where one is able to detach from one physical self while merging with one soul. This proves yet again that the soul is eternal while the body perishes. Not everyone can attain Samadhi. Great Hindu saints attained a state of Samadhi after many years of meditation and mastering several spiritual techniques.
The soul must undergo several cycles of birth, death, and reincarnation before becoming so refined, as to attain a state of Samadhi. Samadhi is the true state of spiritual elevation where the soul is truly ready to merge into the universe.
The Concept Of Imperishable Soul As Explained In Ashtavakra Gita
Ashtavakra Gita or Ashtavakra Samhita is one of the sacred Hindu scriptures. Sage Ashtavakra compiled this text by writing several Sanskrit verses that teach the basic principles of leading life in a righteous manner. Several verses in the book shed light on the concept of death, reincarnation and how these factors do not affect spiritually elevated souls.
The eighth shloka of the third adhyaya of , Ashtavakra Gita goes like this:
ihaamutra viraktasya nityaanityavivekinah
aascharyam mokshakaamasya mokshaad eva vibhishika
This shloka translates as this:
It is a matter of surprise that the one who lacks interest in this or the next material world, who possesses the intelligence to embrace the concept of permanent and temporary, who seeks to be free, is afraid of death.
Through this shloka, sage Ashtavakra addresses the omnipresent fear of death. Death is inevitable and everyone fears it. We may not fear death directly, but most of our fears revolve around facing the unknown mysteries of death. However, the one who possesses higher knowledge is least bothered by the cycle of life and death. The elevated mind knows the difference between the imperishable soul and the temporary physical body. Such a mind seeks to liberate itself from the continuous cycle of life and death to attain complete salvation.
One must strive to reach this level, rather than being bothered by worldly worries. Sage Ashtavakra preaches that those who are truly detached do not find themselves tangled in the material world and its matters. This state of complete indifference to the material world is attained when one practices Yoga, meditation, and other spiritual activities.
The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is an integral part of the Upanishads. Sage Yajnavalkya compiled this Sanskrit language scripture in an era that dates back to 700 B.C. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is like an encyclopedia on the subject of atman. The book also discusses the concept of metaphysics. Metaphysics discusses the relation between the abstract mind and soul with the material body.
The first chapter of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad talks about the creation of the universe from nothingness. After creating the universe, lord Prajapati breathed life into it while sacrificing himself.
The fourth chapter of Brihadaranyaka correlates the cosmic energy that is the universe, with the concept of soul or atman. Since the universe came from nothing, it is considered to be one with the atman, whose existence cannot be traced back to its origin. Here the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad asserts that the soul is invisible and yet it is present everywhere.
The Madhu Khanda literally translating to the ‘honey theory’ is one of the most important sections of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. The word honey is used as a metaphor here. Honey making is a laborious process that bees undertake. Honey is compared to the fruit or the result of hard labor. Nectar which is a raw material for making honey is a source of food or many insects. In this way, honey becomes food for other beings.
The wandering soul and material body are dependent on the five elements of nature (fire, air, water, earth, and space) and vice versa. One is the honey to the other; meaning that all help one another and get benefits from one another. The atman (soul), everything it depends on and everything dependent on it is, in turn, part of the larger universe which is a cosmic force in itself.
The universe is eternal and will never cease to exist. The atman which is a part of the universe is eternal too. It is separate from the physical body, and yet it is merged within a body so well during each cycle of reincarnation.
Katha Upanishad is a dialogue between a young boy Nachiketa and Lord Yamaraj, who is the Hindu God of death. They discussed human nature in general, the concept of atman, and Moksha.
Katha Upanishad insists upon the existence of the abstract atman which seeks liberation and knowledge to elevate itself spiritually. The book also expounds on the connection between Yoga and atman. Regular practise of Yoga and meditation helps the material body to connect with the atman and work towards its spiritual progress.
The atman is above and beyond the material body, its worldly desires, the five senses, the mind, and the intellect. Superseding the atman is the cosmic energy, the universe which came from nothing. Therefore beyond the universe is nothing. The ultimate goal of every atman is to attain moksha or salvation and blend with this nothingness.
Katha Upanishad describes atman as something one can know when one reaches a stage of complete self-realization. The book describes the soul as being composed of internal calmness and spiritual knowledge. Deep introspection, practising meditation, and Yoga are ways to connect with your inner self. The soul or atman is a fragment of the eternal universe. The Atman cannot be created or destroyed. It was, it is, and it will always be.
Other Sanskrit language scriptures that support the concept of atman, reincarnation, and perishable material body are the Ribhu Gita, Ganesh Gita, Vedas, Upanishads, and some of the Mahapuranas.
Ancient Hindu texts lay emphasis on the eternal equality of the soul while stating that the physical body is a perishable entity. The soul will continue to live on in the material world even after the physical body is burnt to ashes.
The soul seeks Moksha, which is the highest form of spiritual elevation. Moksha is the state of total liberation which allows a soul to free itself from the shackles of reincarnation. It is a state of surrender that allows the soul to unite with the universe.