This chapter briefly explains several important terms and concepts that are presented more fully in the Upaniṣhads. It also describes what decides the destination of the soul after death. If we can remember God at the time of departing from the body, we will certainly attain him. Therefore, we must practice to think of him at all times, alongside with doing our daily works. We can remember him by thinking of his qualities, attributes, and virtues. We must also practice steadfast yogic concentration upon him by chanting his names. When we perfectly absorb our mind in him through exclusive devotion, we will go beyond this material dimension to the spiritual realm.
The chapter then talks about the various abodes that exist in the material realm. It explains how, in the cycle of creation, these abodes and the multitudes of beings on them come into existence, and are then again absorbed back at the time of dissolution. However, transcendental to this manifest and unmanifest creation is the divine abode of God. Those who follow the path of light, ultimately reach the divine abode, and never return to this mortal world, while those who follow the path of darkness keep transmigrating in the endless cycle of birth, disease, old age, and death.
Arjun said: O Supreme Lord, what is Brahman (Absolute Reality), what is adhyātma (the individual soul), and what is karma? What is said to be adhibhūta, and who is said to be Adhidaiva? Who is Adhiyajña in the body and how is he the Adhiyajña? O Krishna, how are you to be known at the time of death by those of steadfast mind?
The Blessed Lord said: The Supreme Indestructible Entity is called Brahman; one’s own self is called adhyātma. Actions pertaining to the material personality of living beings, and its development are called karma, or fruitive activities.
O best of the embodied souls, the physical manifestation that is constantly changing is called adhibhūta; the universal form of God, which presides over the celestial gods in this creation, is called adhidaiva; I, who dwell in the heart of every living being, am called Adhiyajña, or the Lord of all sacrifices.
Those who relinquish the body while remembering me at the moment of death will come to me. There is certainly no doubt about this.
Whatever one remembers upon giving up the body at the time of death, O son of Kunti, one attains that state, being always absorbed in such contemplation.
Therefore, always remember me and also do your duty of fighting the war. With mind and intellect surrendered to me, you will definitely attain me; of this, there is no doubt.
With practice, O Parth, when you constantly engage the mind in remembering me, the Supreme Divine Personality, without deviating, you will certainly attain me.
God is omniscient, the most ancient one, the controller, subtler than the subtlest, the support of all, and the possessor of an inconceivable divine form; he is brighter than the sun, and beyond all darkness of ignorance. One who at the time of death, with unmoving mind attained by the practice of Yog, who fixes the prāṇ (life airs) between the eyebrows, and steadily remembers the Divine Lord with great devotion, certainly attains him.
Scholars of the Vedas describe him as Imperishable; great ascetics practice the vow of celibacy and renounce worldly pleasures to enter into him. I shall now explain to you briefly the path to that goal.
Restraining all the gates of the body and fixing the mind in the heart region, and then drawing the life-breath to the head, one should get established in steadfast yogic concentration.
One who departs from the body while remembering me, the Supreme Personality, and chanting the syllable Om, will attain the supreme goal.
O Parth, for those yogis who always think of me with exclusive devotion, I am easily attainable because of their constant absorption in me.
Having attained me, the great souls are no more subject to rebirth in this world, which is transient and full of misery, because they have attained the highest perfection.
In all the worlds of this material creation, up to the highest abode of Brahma, you will be subject to rebirth, O Arjun. But on attaining my abode, O son of Kunti, there is no further rebirth.
One day of Brahma (kalp) lasts a thousand cycles of the four ages (mahā yug) and his night also extends for the same span of time. The wise who know this understand the reality about day and night.
At the advent of Brahma’s day, all living beings emanate from the unmanifest source. And at the fall of his night, all embodied beings again merge into their unmanifest source.
The multitudes of beings repeatedly take birth with the advent of Brahma’s day, and are reabsorbed on the arrival of the cosmic night, to manifest again automatically on the advent of the next cosmic day.
Transcendental to this manifest and unmanifest creation, there is yet another unmanifest eternal dimension. That realm does not cease even when all others do.
That unmanifest dimension is the supreme goal, and upon reaching it, one never returns to this mortal world. That is my supreme abode.
The Supreme Divine Personality is greater than all that exists. Although he is all-pervading and all living beings are situated in him, yet he can be known only through devotion.
I shall now describe to you the different paths of passing away from this world, O best of the Bharatas, one of which leads to liberation and the other leads to rebirth. Those who know the Supreme Brahman, and who depart from this world, during the six months of the sun’s northern course, the bright fortnight of the moon, and the bright part of the day, attain the supreme destination. The practitioners of Vedic rituals, who pass away during the six months of the sun’s southern course, the dark fortnight of the moon, the time of smoke, the night, attain the celestial abodes. After enjoying celestial pleasures, they again return to the earth. These two, bright and dark paths, always exist in this world. The way of light leads to liberation and the way of darkness leads to rebirth.
Yogis who know the secret of these two paths, O Parth, are never bewildered. Therefore, at all times be situated in Yog (union with God).
The yogis, who know this secret, gain merit far beyond the fruits of Vedic rituals, the study of the Vedas, performance of sacrifices, austerities, and charities. Such yogis reach the Supreme Abode.