Srimad Bhagavad-gita Study Group
- Chapter 8 -
The Merciful Absolute
The Supreme Lord says that the eternal and unchangeable form of Aksara (imperishable absolute reality) is Para-Brahman or the Transcendental all-blissful Shyamasundar form. He then explains Adhyatma (the soul), Karma (action), Adhibuta (worldly plane) and Adhidaiva (celestial plane). He who remembers the Supreme Lord at the time of death surely attains to His blissful abode. But who meditates on some other object or being at the time of death attains to that plane in their next birth. The Lord then explains that Aksara or the Parama-purusha is attained by deep meditation with unswerving attention while vibrating the primeval sound Om, knowing the Lord’s Holy Name as one and the same with him. The lord then explains the difference between karma-misra bhakti, jnana-misra bhakti and yoga-misra bhakti—mixed devotion—and suddha-bhakti or unadulterated, pure, loving devotion. All the worlds including the heavenly Brahma-loka are subject to the cycle of transmigration of the soul. But one who takes absolute shelter in the Lord through the path of purest bhakti is never born in this mundane world again. Rather they attain to the highest and ultimate end of divine Love in His all joyful realm of unending happiness and soul’s fulfilment beyond measure.
Useful Acronym to remember the chapter contents:
It is a sign of sanity and wisdom if one takes time to contemplate their death. During special festivals, Latin Americans hang skulls in their houses to remind themselves. Yogis in India meditate on the banks of the Ganges where open-pyre funerals are being conducted. Although many would consider it morbid to contemplate death, it is nevertheless a real situation that nobody wants to experience but that everyone has to face. The Bhagavad-gita outlines four such unavoidable predicaments: birth, disease, old age, and ultimately death. We often forget the inevitability of death, and thus, in Chapter Eight entitled “The Merciful Absolute”, Krishna deals with this very subject.
E End of life
A Attaining the Supreme
D – Doubts (Verses 1-4) – Doubting is a function of intelligence and at no point in the Bhagavad-gita does Krishna reprimand Arjuna for asking so many questions. On the contrary, He encourages Arjuna to intelligently contemplate all His answers and subsequently make his own decisions. This chapter opens with Arjuna’s doubts and questions on several spiritual concepts. Krishna concisely answers seven of Arjuna’s eight questions immediately, and then prepares to answer the final question - “How can one attain a spiritual destination at the time of death?” The rest of the chapter is solely dedicated to answering this essential inquiry.
E – End of life (Verses 5-8) - Imagine you are going to watch a movie and you meet someone who just saw it. “You’ll never guess what happens,” they say... before they even finish that statement you’ll interject and stop them; after all, knowing the end spoils the whole film. Similarly, for those engaged in worldly pursuits, hearing about, contemplating and accepting “the end” (death) is not the most inspiring reflection. It simply spoils their “movie of life” in the here and now. For a spiritualist, however, “the end” is not a depressing thought since his concept of life and its purpose is much broader. For one who is born, death is certain, and for one who dies, birth is around the corner. Krishna explains how a person’s thoughts at death sum up their consciousness and
aspirations cultivated throughout life. Thus, one’s state of mind at the time of death determines their next situation. For those who remember God at death, they reach the kingdom of God.
A – Attaining the Supreme (Verses 9-22) - The entire world is a temporary university specifically created to dispense life lessons. When one becomes frustrated by the pursuits of this world, they realise that happiness lies in another realm. As spiritual beings, life in a complex world of matter is an incompatible situation. While the material world is rubber-stamped as a constantly changing place of misery, the spiritual world is distinguished as being eternal and all-blissful. There are many painstaking ways in which different spiritualists conduct their lives in order to attain that supreme destination, and having attained it one never returns to this temporary realm again.
D – Devotion (Verses 23-28) – Since various spiritual practices are discussed in this chapter, Krishna concludes by outlining the most effective process to attain the Supreme. Bhakti-yoga, the path of active service to God in a mood of devotion, is described as the topmost spiritual path. In an age of rampant materialism and temptation coupled with individual weakness and lack of spiritual aspiration, a highly practical and powerful spiritual process is required. Through bhakti-yoga anyone can experience an incredibly fulfilling spiritual connection in a very short time. If one is thus able to saturate their consciousness in God, they will be sure to attain the supreme destination regardless of all the technicalities and intricacies that other spiritual processes may stress.
Questions on Chapter 8
Chapter 8 sloka to learn:
ābrahma-bhuvanāl lokāḥ punar āvartino ’rjuna
mām upetya tu kaunteya punar janma na vidyate 
(he) arjuna–O Arjuna; ābrahma-bhuvanāt–from Brahmaloka, the highest plane in the universe, downwards; lokāḥ–all planes or their residents; punaḥ āvartinaḥ–by nature repeatedly return; tu–but; (he) kaunteya–O son of Kuntī; mām upetya–reaching Me, atttaing My shelter; na vidyate–there is no; punaḥ janma–rebirth. 
16 O Arjuna, from the plane of Lord Brahmā downwards, all planes or their residents are subject to return. But, O Kaunteya, there is no rebirth after reaching Me.