Chapter 9 Pt 2: Gems from the Gita

The Gita

If the Upanishad lays down the broad theoretical framework for the subject of death and immortality, the Gita turns it masterfully into its practical application. The problem of the average worldly man is not so much of a striving after immortality but a cognitive frame to face the spectre of death that haunts his life and interferes with the right law of action due to his blind and nervous-sensorial attachment to life. The Gita enlightens our will and teaches us the attitudes we need to develop in facing death in our everyday life.

Gems from the Gita

नासतो विद्यते भावो नाभावो विद्यते सतः। 
उभयोरपि दृष्टोऽन्तस्त्वनयोस्तत्त्वदर्शिभिः॥१६॥

That which really is, cannot go out of existence, just as that which is non-existent cannot come into being. The end of this opposition of ‘is’ and ‘is not’ has been perceived by the seers of essential truths.[1]

“That which really is, cannot go out of existence, though it may change the forms through which it appears, just as that which is non-existent cannot come into being. The soul is and cannot cease to be. This opposition of is and is not, this balance of being and becoming which is the mind’s view of existence, finds its end in the realisation of the soul as the one imperishable self by whom all this universe has been extended. Finite bodies have an end, but that which possesses and uses the body is infinite, illimitable, eternal, indestructible.”[2]

अविनाशि तु तद्विद्धि येन सर्वमिदं ततम्।
विनाशमव्ययस्यास्य न कश्चित्कर्तुमर्हति॥१७॥

Know that to be imperishable by which all this is extended. Who can slay the immortal spirit?[3]

अन्तवन्त इमे देहा नित्यस्योक्ताः शरीरिणः।   
अनाशिनोऽप्रमेयस्य तस्माद्युध्यस्व भारत॥१८॥

Finite bodies have an end, but that which possesses and uses the body, is infinite, illimitable, eternal, indestructible. Therefore fight, O Bharata.[4]

य एनं वेत्ति हन्तारं यश्चैनं मन्यते हतम्। 
उभौ तौ न विजानीतो नायं हन्ति न हन्यते ॥१६॥

He who regards this (the soul) as a slayer, and he who thinks it is slain, both of them fail to perceive the truth. It does not slay, nor is it slain.[5]

न जायते म्रियते वा कदाचि-
न्नायं भूत्वा भविता वा न भूयः।
अजो नित्यः शाश्वतोऽयं पुराणो
न हन्यते हन्यमाने शरीरे॥२०॥

This is not born, nor does it die, nor is it a thing that comes into being once and passing away will never come into being again. It is unborn, ancient, sempiternal; it is not slain with the slaying of the body.[6]

वेदाविनाशिनं नित्यं य एनमजमव्ययम्।
कथं स पुरुषः पार्थ कं द्यातयति हन्ति कम्॥२१॥

He who knows it as immortal eternal imperishable spiritual existence, how can that man slay, O Partha, or cause to be slain?[7]

वासांसि जीर्णानि यथा विहाय
नवानि गृह्णाति नरोऽपराणि।  
तथा शरीराणि विहाय जीर्णा-
न्यन्यानि संयाति नवानि देही॥२२॥

The embodied soul casts away old and takes up new bodies as a man changes worn-out raiment for new.[8]

“He has spoken of the physical life and the death of the body as if these were the primary realities; but they have no such essential value to the sage and the thinker. The sorrow for the bodily death of his friends and kindred is a grief to which wisdom and the true knowledge of life lend no sanction. The enlightened man does not mourn either for the living or the dead, for he knows that suffering and death are merely incidents in the history of the soul. The soul, not the body, is the reality. All these kings of men for whose approaching death he mourns, have lived before, they will live again in the human body; for as the soul passes physically through childhood and youth and age, so it passes on to the changing of the body. The calm and wise mind, the dhīra, the thinker who looks upon life steadily and does not allow himself to be disturbed and blinded by his sensations and emotions, is not deceived by material appearances; he does not allow the clamour of his blood and his nerves and his heart to cloud his judgment or to contradict his knowledge. He looks beyond the apparent facts of the life of the body and senses to the real fact of his being and rises beyond the emotional and physical desires of the ignorant nature to the true and only aim of the human existence.”[9]

नैनं छिन्दन्ति शस्त्राणि नैनं दहति पावकः।
न चैनं क्लेदयन्त्यापो न शोषयति मारुतः॥२३॥

Weapons cannot cleave it, nor the fire burn, nor do the waters drench it, nor the wind dry.[10]

“Finite bodies have an end, but that which possesses and uses the body, is infinite, illimitable, eternal, indestructible. It casts away old and takes up new bodies as a man changes worn-out raiment for new; and what is there in this to grieve at and recoil and shrink? This is not born, nor does it die, nor is it a thing that comes into being once and passing away will never come into being again. It is unborn, ancient, sempiternal; it is not slain with the slaying of the body. Who can slay the immortal spirit? Weapons cannot cleave it, nor the fire burn, nor do the waters drench it, nor the wind dry. Eternally stable, immobile, all-pervading, it is for ever and for ever. Not manifested like the body, but greater than all manifestation, not to be analysed by the thought, but greater than all mind, not capable of change and modification like the life and its organs and their objects, but beyond the changes of mind and life and body, it is yet the Reality which all these strive to figure.”[11]

तस्मादेवं विदित्वैनं नानुशोचितुमर्हसि॥२५॥

It is unmanifest, it is unthinkable, it is immutable, so it is described (by the Shrutis); therefore knowing it as such, thou shouldst not grieve.[12]

“There is no such thing as death, for it is the body that dies and the body is not the man… and what is there in this to grieve at and recoil and shrink?… who can slay the immortal spirit?”[13]

अथ चैनं नित्यजातं नित्यं वा मन्यसे मृतम्।
तथापि त्वं महाबाहो नैवं शोचितुमर्हसि॥२६॥

Even if thou thinkest of it (the self) as being constantly subject to birth and death, still, O mighty-armed, thou shouldst not grieve.[14]

“Even if the truth of our being were a thing less sublime, vast, intangible by death and life, if the self were constantly subject to birth and death, still the death of beings ought not to be a cause of sorrow. For that is an inevitable circumstance of the soul’s self-manifestation. Its birth is an appearing out of some state in which it is not non-existent but unmanifest to our mortal senses, its death is a return to that unmanifest world or condition and out of it it will again appear in the physical manifestation. The to-do made by the physical mind and senses about death and the horror of death whether on the sick-bed or the battlefield, is the most ignorant of nervous clamours. Our sorrow for the death of men is an ignorant grieving for those for whom there is no cause to grieve, since they have neither gone out of existence nor suffered any painful or terrible change of condition, but are beyond death no less in being and no more unhappy in that circumstance than in life.”[15]

जातस्य हि ध्रुवो मृत्युर्ध्रुवं जन्म मृतस्य च।
तस्मादपरिहार्येऽर्थे न त्वं शोचितुमर्हसि॥२७॥

For certain is death for the born, and certain is birth for the dead; therefore what is inevitable ought not to be a cause of thy sorrow.[16]

देही नित्यमवध्योऽयं देहे सर्वस्य भारत।
तस्मात्सर्वाणि भूतानि न त्वं शोचितुमर्हसि॥३०॥

This dweller in the body of everyone is eternal and indestructible, O Bharata; therefore thou shouldst not grieve for any creature.[17]

“When we have known ourselves as this, then to speak of ourselves as slayer or slain is an absurdity. One thing only is the truth in which we have to live, the Eternal manifesting itself as the soul of man in the great cycle of its pilgrimage with birth and death for milestones, with worlds beyond as resting-places, with all the circumstances of life happy or unhappy as the means of our progress and battle and victory and with immortality as the home to which the soul travels.”[18]

अन्तकाले च मामेव स्मरन् मुक्त्वा कलेवरम्।
यः प्रयाति स मद्भावं याति नास्त्यत्र संशयः॥५॥

Whoever leaves his body and departs remembering Me at his time of end, comes to my bhava (that of the Purushottama, my status of being); there is no doubt of that.[19]

“The body is abandoned, but the soul goes on its way… Much then depends on what he is at the critical moment of his departure. For whatever form of becoming his consciousness is fixed on at the time of death and has been full of that always in his mind and thought before death, to that form he must attain, since the Prakriti by Karma works out the soul’s thoughts and energies and that is in real fact her whole business. Therefore, if the soul in the human being desires to attain to the status of the Purushottama, there are two necessities, two conditions which must be satisfied before that can be possible. He must have moulded towards that ideal his whole inner life in his earthly living; and he must be faithful to his aspiration and will in his departing.”[20]

यं यं वापि स्मरन् भावं त्यजत्यन्ते कलेवरम्।
तं तमेवैति कौन्तेय सदा तद्भावभावितः॥६॥

Whosoever at the end abandons the body, thinking upon any form of being, to that form he attains, O Kaunteya, into which the soul was at each moment growing inwardly during the physical life.[21]

“The Gita here lays a great stress on the thought and state of mind at the time of death, a stress which will with difficulty be understood if we do not recognise what may be called the self-creative power of the consciousness. What the thought, the inner regard, the faith, śraddhā, settles itself upon with a complete and definite insistence, into that our inner being tends to change. This tendency becomes a decisive force when we go to those higher spiritual and self-evolved experiences which are less dependent on external things than is our ordinary psychology, enslaved as that is to outward Nature. There we can see ourselves steadily becoming that on which we keep our minds fixed and to which we constantly aspire. Therefore there any lapse of the thought, any infidelity of the memory means always a retardation of the change or some fall in its process and a going back towards what we were before, at least so long as we have not substantially and irrevocably fixed our new becoming. When we have done that, when we have made it normal to our experience, the memory of it remains self-existently because that now is the natural form of our consciousness. In the critical moment of passing from the mortal plane of living, the importance of our then state of consciousness becomes evident. But it is not a death-bed remembrance at variance with or insufficiently prepared by the whole tenor of our life and our past subjectivity that can have this saving power.”[22]

कविं पुराणमनुशासितारमणोरणीयांसमनुस्मरेद्यः।
सर्वस्य धातारमचिन्त्यरूपमादित्यवर्णं तमसः परस्तात्॥६॥
प्रयाणकाले मनसाचलेन भक्त्या युक्तो योगबलेन चैव।
भ्रुवोर्मध्ये प्राणमावेश्य सम्यक् स तं परं पुरुषमुपैति दिव्यम्॥१०॥

This supreme Self is the Seer, the Ancient of Days, subtler than the subtle and (in his eternal self-vision and wisdom) the Master and Ruler of all existence who sets in their place in his being all things that are; his form is unthinkable, he is refulgent as the sun beyond the darkness; he who thinketh upon this Purusha in the time of departure, with motionless mind, a soul armed with the strength of Yoga, a union with God in bhakti and the life-force entirely drawn up and set between the brows in the seat of mystic vision, he attains to this supreme divine Purusha.[23]

“We arrive here at the first description of this supreme Purusha, — the Godhead who is even more and greater than the Immutable and to whom the Gita gives subsequently the name of Purushottama. He too in his timeless eternity is immutable and far beyond all this manifestation and here in Time there dawn on us only faint glimpses of his being conveyed through many varied symbols and disguises, avyakto akṣ ara[24]

सर्वद्वाराणि संयम्य मनो हृदि निरुध्य च।
मूर्ध्न्याधायात्मनः प्राणमास्थितो योगधारणाम्॥१२॥
ओमित्येकाक्षरं ब्रह्म व्याहरन् मामनुस्मरन्।
यः प्रयाति त्यजन् देहं स याति परमां गतिम्॥१३॥

All the doors of the senses closed, the mind shut in into the heart, the life-force taken up out of its diffused movement into the head, the intelligence concentrated in the utterance of the sacred syllable OM and its conceptive thought in the remembrance of the supreme Godhead, he who goes forth, abandoning the body, he attains to the highest status.[25]

“That is the established Yogic way of going, a last offering up of the whole being to the Eternal, the Transcendent. But still that is only a process; the essential condition is the constant undeviating memory of the Divine in life, even in action and battle — māmanusmarayudhyaca — and the turning of the whole act of living into an uninterrupted Yoga, nitya-yoga.”[26]

मामुपेत्य पुनर्जन्म दुःखालयमशाश्वतम्।
नाप्नुवन्ति महात्मानः संसिद्धिं परमां गताः॥१५॥

Having come to me, these great souls come not again to birth, this transient and painful condition of our mortal being; they reach the highest perfection.[27]

“To know him so and so to seek him does not bind to rebirth or to the chain of Karma; the soul can satisfy its desire to escape permanently from the transient and painful condition of our mortal being.”[28]

I saw the mornings of the future rise,
I heard the voices of an age unborn
That comes behind us and our pallid morn,
And from the heart of an approaching light
One said to man, “Know thyself infinite,
Who shalt do mightier miracles than these,
Infinite, moving mid infinities.”
Then from our hills the ancient answer pealed,
“For Thou, O Splendour, art myself concealed,
And the grey cell contains me not, the star
I outmeasure and am older than the elements are.
Whether on earth or far beyond the sun,
I, stumbling, clouded, am the Eternal One.”[29]

“Shall I accept death or shall I turn and wrestle with him and conquer? That shall be as God in me chooses. For whether I live or die, I am always.”

Sri Aurobindo

In the Moonlight

…The old shall perish; it shall pass away,
Expunged, annihilated, blotted out;
And all the iron bands that ring about
Man’s wide expansion shall at last give way.
Freedom, God, Immortality, the three
Are one and shall be realised at length;
Love, Wisdom, Justice, Joy and utter Strength
Gather into a pure felicity….
This is man’s progress; for the Iron Age
Prepares the Age of Gold. What we call sin,
Is but man’s leavings as from deep within
The Pilot guides him in his pilgrimage.
He leaves behind the ill with strife and pain,
Because it clings and constantly returns,
And in the fire of suffering fiercely burns
More sweetness to deserve, more strength to gain.
He rises to the good with Titan wings:
And this the reason of his high unease,
Because he came from the infinities
To build immortally with mortal things;
The body with increasing soul to fill,
Extend Heaven’s claim upon the toiling earth
And climb from death to a diviner birth
Grasped and supported by immortal Will.

Sri Aurobindo

[1] Verse 2.16
[2] Sri Aurobindo: Essays on the Gita, p. 57
[3] Verse 2.17
[4] Verse 2.18
[5] Verse 2.19 — This verse needs to be read in conjunction with the other verses. For it is not a blind justification to kill as is sometimes supposed but rather an invitation to the deepest truth of our soul, that which is forever unstained. It is when we live in this inmost truth and its unperturbed poise that we can truly slay without guilt if that be the Will of God within us. But so long as we dwell in the Ignorance of Nature and act by and for the ego then we cannot escape the inner consequences of our deeds. This is what the Gita repeatedly points out to us — to live beyond the apparent good and the apparent evil, to ascend beyond the individual and social, even beyond the mere moral and such other temporary constructs and standards of our mental ignorance to the highest and eternal truths of the spirit, to live and act from the summits of our soul and for God.
[6] Verse 2.20
[7] Verse 2.21
[8] Verse 2.22
[9] Sri Aurobindo: Essays on the Gita, p. 56
[10] Verse 2.23
[11] Sri Aurobindo: Essays on the Gita, p. 57.
[12] Verse 2.25.
[13] Sri Aurobindo: Essays on the Gita, p. 58.
[14] Verse 2.26
[15] Sri Aurobindo: Essays on the Gita, p. 58.
[16] Verse 2.27
[17] Verse 2.30
[18] Sri Aurobindo: Essays on the Gita, p. 58
[19] Verse 8.5
[20] Sri Aurobindo: Essays on the Gita, p. 280
[21] Verse 8.6
[22] Sri Aurobindo: Essays on the Gita, p. 281
[23] Verses 8.9-10
[24] Sri Aurobindo: Essays on the Gita, p. 282
[25] Verse 8.12-13
[26] Sri Aurobindo: Essays on the Gita, p. 283
[27] Verse 8.15
[28] Sri Aurobindo: Essays on the Gita, p. 283
[29] Sri Aurobindo: ‘A Vision of Science’, Collected Poems, pp. 43-44

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