Yogananda's Translation and Commentary
Just as Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi has established itself as peerless and eternal among the masses of spiritual biographies and surveys published each century, God Talks to Arjuna is becoming recognized as that singular presentation of the Bhagavad Gita which will be studied and restudied by sincere seekers and scholars for ages to come.
[Original Post] I'm reading the Gita right now and I've come to a passage that is a little confusing for me. Chapter 8 verses 24-26
24 Men who know the infinite spirit reach its infinity if they die in fire, light, day, bright luner night the sun's six-month northward course.
25 In smoke, night dark luner night the sun's six-month southward course a man of discipline reaches the moon's light and returns.
26 These bright and dark pathways are deemed constant for the universe; by one, a man escapes rebirth; by the other, he is born again.
My questions have to do with what types and time tables of death it actually refers to and where in the Bible and other scriptures I might find more on the subject. Thank you D'Arcy
[Reply] I would have gotten back to you sooner but Journeyman caused me to be somewhere where I had no copy of my Gita commentaries. Now lets see if he caught that and asks how in the heck did he do that?
When studying scripture, it helps to have more than one translation and or a good commentary or two.
You quoted Barbara Stoler Miller's translation. That is my favorite translation for reading. Here is Dr. Ramananda Prasad's translation I have published on the RM site.
O Arjuna, now I shall describe different paths departing by which, during death, the yogis do or do not come back. (8.23)
Fire, light, daytime, the bright lunar fortnight, and the six months of the northern solstice of the sun — departing by the path of these celestial controllers, yogis who know the Spirit attain the Supreme. (8.24)
Smoke, night, the dark lunar fortnight, and the six months of southern solstice of the sun — departing by these paths, the righteous person attains heaven and comes back to earth. (8.25)
The path of light of spiritual practice and Self-knowledge and the path of darkness of materialism and ignorance are thought to be the world’s two eternal paths. The former leads to salvation and the latter leads to rebirth as human beings. (8.26)
Reading his translation it appears that the two paths are symbolic language for spiritual path vs a materialistic path. One leads to eternal freedom from the cycle of birth and death and one does not.
Now lets see what his Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada has in his commentary ofn translation called Bhagavad-Gita as it is.
8.24 Those who know the Supreme Brahman attain that Supreme by passing away in the world during the influence of the fiery god, in the light, at an auspicious moment of the day, during the the fortnight of the waxing moon, or during the six months when the sun travels in the north.
PURPORT: When fire, light, day and the fortnight of the moon are mentioned, it is to be understood that all of them are various presiding deities who make arangements for the passage of the soul. ... Mystics who are advanced in yoga practice can arrange the time and place to leave the body. Others have no control--if by accident they leave at an auspucious moment, then they will not return to the cycle of birht and death.
8.25 The mystic who passes away from this world during the smoke, the night, the fortnight of the waning moon, or the six months when the sun passes o the south reaches the moon planet but again comes back.
PURPORT: In the Third Cant of Srimad-Bragavatam Kapila Muni mentions those that are expert in fruitive activities and sacrificial methods attain to the moon at death. These elevated souls live obn the moon for about 10,000 years ... they eventually return to Earth.
8.26 According to Vedic opinion, there are two ways of passing from this world--one in light and one in darkness. When one passes in light, he does not come back; but when one passes in darkness, he returns.
PURPORT: The same description of departure and return is quoted in Acarya Baladeva Vidyabhusana from the Chandogya Upanishad 5.10.3-5. Those who are fruitive laborers and philosophical speculators from time immorial are constantly coming and going. Actually they do not attain ultimate salvation, for they do not surrender to KRSNA.
NOTE: Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada goes on in his commentary of verse 27 to explain that KRISHNA is explaining to Arjuna that the Path of Light is to be a good Hare Krishna. In case you don know who his Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is, he is the spiritual leader of the Hare Krishnas.
8.27 TRANSLATION Although the devotees know these two paths, O Arjuna, they are never bewildered. Therefore be always fixed in devotion.
PURPORT: Krsna is here advising Arjuna that he should not be disturbed by the different paths the soul can take when leaving the material world. A devotee of the Supreme Lord should not worry whether he will depart by arrangement or by accident. The devotee should be firmly established in Krsna consciousness and chant Hare Krsna. He should know that concern over either of these two paths is trouble- some. The best way to be absorbed in Krsna consciousness is to be always dovetailed in His service, and this will make one's path to the spiritual kingdom safe, certain and direct. The word yoga-yuktais especially significant in this verse. One who is firm in yoga is constantly engaged in Krsna consciousness in all his activities. Sri Rfipa Gosvfimi advises, aniisaktasya vi$ayiin yathiirham upayufljata/J: one should be unattached in material affairs and do everything in Krsna consciousness. By this system, which is called yukta-vairiigya, one attains perfection. Therefore the devotee is not disturbed by these descriptions, because he knows that his passage to the supreme abode is guaranteed by devotional service.
From Paramahansa Yogananda's translation THE BHAGAVAD-GITA; God Talks With Arjuna, we see the following translation and commentary of the same verses.
Chapter VIII (23) I shall now declare unto thee, O best of the Bharatas (Arjuna), the path, traversing which at the time of death, yogis attain freedom; and also the path wherein there is rebirth.
(24) Fire, light, daytime, the bright half of the lunar month, the sixmonths of the northern course of the sun--pursuing this path at the time of departure, the knowers of God go to God.
(25) Smoke, nighttime, the dark half of the lunar month, the six months of the southern course of the sun--pursuing this path at the time of departurehe who follows this path only attains the lunar light and then returns to earth.
(26) These two paths for exiting from the world are reckoned eternal. The way of Light leads to release, the way of darkness leads to rebirth.
THESE MYSTERIOUS STANZAS, woefully misinterpreted by nearly all commentators, in reality contain symbolic references to the science of yoga. They describe the opening of the spiritual eye, the awakening of the cerebrospinal centers, and the ascension of life force and consciousness through them to Cosmic Consciousness and liberation in Spirit of the yogi who follows the "way of light." And, on the contrary, they describe also the descension or return to body consciousness or rebirth of those yet unable to open fully all the cerebrospinal doors that lead ultimately to Spirit. Liberation, freeing the soul from the physical, astral, and causal bodies, is the purport of these verses. The ponderous scriptures of the rishis have defined in veiled terms the labyrinth of the soul's descension and ascension. Krishna has here stated this portion of the yoga science succinctly for the comprehending Arjuna the advanced yogi-devotee. The rudiments are, as follows:
STANZA 24 STATES that the yogi who attains liberation must follow the path of "fire." Here "fire" means the life energy; the kundalini power. The devotee's first scientific step toward emancipation is to gain control of his life force. In ordinary men the course of prana is downward, "the way of darkness," flowing from the brain to the sensory nerves and the countless cells of the body; This dispersion and diffusion of life energy reveal to human consciousness the material world.
In the successful yogi, on the other hand, the course of prana is up- ward, "the way of light." By yoga he reverses the direction of the flow and is able to concentrate the whole of his life force within the brain, in the "sun" of Cosmic Consciousness. In this way God is revealed.
The " sun " of Cosmic Consciousness is the Supreme Source of life and intelligence in the body; with Its abode in the seventh or highest spiritual center, in the cerebrum, in the thousand-petaled lotus-a sunburst as of a thousand suns. All life and faculties in the body evolve from this pow- erhouse of luminosity through its projected rays of the spiritual eye. *
* "1 entered and beheld with the eye of my soul, above the same eye of my soul and above my mind, the Light Unchangeable-not this common light, which shines for all flesh; nor as it were a greater of the same kind, as though the brightness of this should shine out more and more brightly and with its greatness take up all space. Not such was this light, but different, yea, far different from all these. Nor was it above my soul as oil is above water, nor yet as the sky is above the earth; but it was above me because it made me, and I was below it because I was made by it. He that knoweth the Truth, knoweth that Light; and he that knoweth it, knoweth Eternity."-St. Augustine's Confessions
"Light" in stanza 24 refers to the divine eye in the forehead, whose awakening enables the yogi to say with Christ: "1 am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." (John 8:12.)
The light of the spiritual eye is a projection of the "sun" of Cosmic Consciousness. Through the light of the spiritual eye, the yogi moves along the path to Spirit.
"Daytime" is the manifestation of the spiritual eye during the samadhi state of meditation. This is the yogi's "daytime," for he has awakened from the sleep of delusion.
"The bright half of the lunar month" is that half of the advanced yogi's consciousness that remains "awake" and attuned to Cosmic Consciousness even when the other half of his consciousness is "asleep," or active, in the material world of delusion. A similar reference is made in 11:69: "That which is night to all creatures is wakefulness to the man of self-mastery: And what is wakefulness to ordinary men, that is night to the divinely perceptive sage." (See commentary, page 317 ff.)
The moon, whose light is a reflection of the sun, has a bright fortnight (waxing period) and a dark fortnight (waning period) in its monthly cycle. The sun of Cosmic Consciousness shining on matter (the light of the astral world and body that upholds and enlivens the material world and body) is here referred to as reflected or lunar light. In man, a miniature universe, its bright side is when it is spiritualized and turned toward Cosmic Consciousness; and its dark side is when it is turned toward delusion. In the advanced yogi, the cerebrospinal centers, though performing their activities that externally enliven the body (necessitating their working through the instruments of Nature, or delusion, the outward-flowing or "dark side"), remain nevertheless inwardly in a spiritualized or illumined state. When the yogi withdraws from external activities and enters samadhi through the light of the spiritual eye, this is the true "bright fortnight, " that period of the day when his whole being is inwardly ablaze, turned toward Spirit, basking in the "sun" of Cosmic Consciousness. The "six months" are the six spinal centers, the coccygeal to the spiritual eye. Thus, the "six months of the northern course of the sun" refers to the six periods of spiritual perceptions in these centers as consciousness and life (descended from the "sun" of Cosmic Consciousness into the body) are reversed to flow upward, "north,"* to their Supreme Source in the cerebrum.
*(...North" is the upper part of man's bod~ specifically the brain with its spiritual center of Cosmic Consciousness. See similar reference in 1:11, page 110, in relation to the death of Bhishma, who would not leave his body "until the sun moves north in the heavens.")
What transpires as the yogi moves along this "way of light" is a veritably intricate transition of his life and consciousness through the spiritual eye: First, life and consciousness move upward through the physical spine and brain, freeing the yogi from the physical body; then transition through the three astral spines of light (sushumna, vajra, chitra), freeing the yogi from the astral body; and, lastly, ascension through the causal "spine" of consciousness (brahmanadi), whereby the soul is liberated in Spirit. At death, the soul of the successful yogi, following this path, rises majestically, unencumbered, from the revolving cycles of obligatory rebirths.
Now IS DESCRIBED, in verse 25, by contrast, . the "way of darkness" that leads to continued mortal bondage.
"Smoke" means ignorance, or delusion, that obscures divine perception of reality, and that holds man, even the still-aspiring yogi, in body consciousness.
"Nighttime" is the state of darkness caused by ignorance. Jesus said: "The light of the body is the eye (the omniscient single or spiritual eye): if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil (obscured by delusion), thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is In thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!" (MattheW,6.22-23.)
"The dark half of the lunar month" is the outflowing life and consciousness from the cerebrospinal centers in the spiritually unawakened man that causes him to dream the dreams of delusive material activity in his nighttime of ignorance.
"The six months of the southern course of the sun" refers to the descent of the delusion-clouded "sun" of Cosmic Consciousness through the six spinal centers to the lower or "southern" part of the body; specifically the three lower spinal centers associated with material consciousness.
These references in this context are specifically in relation to the time of death or departure from the physical body; Those whose inner divine sight is clouded by the "smoke" of delusion leave the body in the "nighttime," or darkness of ignorance-unconscious, or at least not fully conscious, of the transition from the physical to the astral body and world. Departing in the "dark lunar fortnight," with his unawakened consciousness in the spinal centers still attracted to delusive material activities, his exiting consciousness and life force retire from the physical body and flow downward, "the southern course." In this way; unconsciously moving through the "dark side" or outflowing energy; of the six spinal centers, he descends into the astral body. His state of advancement and good karma determine whether his exit from the physical body and subsequent stay in the astral are passed through in oblivious darkness, like a deep sleep, with perhaps occasional dreams or glimpses of the astral world ( only evil persons experience astral nightmares, or "hell"), or whether he is fully awake in the glory of the heavenly realms. In any case, not having attained freedom in Spirit, but only the "lunar light," or astral encasement of his soul, he remains in the astral world for a karmically predetermined time; and then his physical desires and karma cause him to take rebirth. In the "darkness" or sleep of astral death, he passes into the sperm-and-ovum-united cell and begins his rebirth in the dark womb of his new mother.
Even the accomplished yogi who in samadhi meditation attains high states of divine communion but has not opened all doors to liberation from the physical, astral, and causal soul-encasements, has to return from samadhi to body consciousness. At death, his astral sojourn is a glorious one. But having attained only the "lunar light" of the as- tral heaven, and harboring unfinished material desires and karma, he revolves back to rebirth on earth, but with divine aspiration that pre- disposes him to a spiritual life.
A literal interpretation of these verses, that the yogi must die in the daytime as well as in a luminous fortnight occurring within the six-month period of the northern passage of the sun, is senseless. An illumined yogi leaves his body instantaneously at any time he chooses during the day or night, the bright or dark lunar fortnight, the northern or southern course of the sun! He does not have to consult the brainless stars for an auspicious hour. Since time began, never has there been an "inauspicious" hour for man to awake from delusion!
NOTE: Paramahansa's commentary is different for verse 27 and 28.
(27) No yogi who understands these two paths is ever deluded (into following the way of darkness). Therefore, O Arjuna! at all times maintain thyself firmly in yoga.
(28) He who knows the truth about the two paths gains merit far beyond any imPlicit in the study of the scriptures, or in sacrifices, or in penances, or in gift-giving. That yogi reaches his Supreme Origin.
To KNOW THAT HE LIVES IN A STATE of cosmic delusion is man's first precious glimpse of truth. To learn and practice yoga-the method of deliverance from delusion-is to possess an incomparable treasure. So, O devotee! "at all times maintain thyself firmly in yoga."