Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 8, Verse 16

आब्रह्मभुवनाल्लोका: पुनरावर्तिनोऽर्जुन |
मामुपेत्य तु कौन्तेय पुनर्जन्म न विद्यते || 16||

ā-brahma-bhuvanāl lokāḥ punar āvartino ’rjuna
mām upetya tu kaunteya punar janma na vidyate

a-brahma-bhuvanal lokah punar avartino ’rjuna
mam upetya tu kaunteya punar janma na vidyate

ā-brahma-bhuvanātup to the abode of Brahma; lokāḥworlds; punaḥ āvartinaḥsubject to rebirth; arjunaArjun; māmMine; upetyahaving attained; tubut; kaunteyaArjun, the son of Kunti; punaḥ janmarebirth; nanever; vidyateis

Translation

BG 8.16: 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.

Commentary

According to the Vedic scriptures, there are fourteen worlds in our universe. Seven planes of existence beginning with earth and higher —bhūḥ, bhuvaḥ, swaḥ, mahaḥ, janaḥ, tapaḥ, satyaḥ. The higher planes are the celestial abodes called the Swarga. The remaining seven planes that are lower than earth are the hellish abodes called narak. These are —tal, atal, vital, sutal, talātal, rasātal, pātāl. Similar references are made by other religions as well. Islam mentions the seventh sky or the sātvāñ āsmān as the highest of the seven heavens. The Talmud, the book of Jewish law and theology, has also enumerated seven heavens, the highest being Araboth.

These fourteen planes of existence are called the lokas or various worlds of our universe. The satyaḥ lok, also known as Brahma Lok, the abode of Brahma is the highest among them, and pātāl lok is the lowest. However, all these lokas are under the realm of Maya, the material energy of God. Hence, the dwellers of all the fourteen lokas go through the cycle of birth and death. It is because of their impermanent nature Shree Krishna in the previous verse called these worlds to be aśhāśhvatam (temporary) and duḥkhālayam (full of misery).

All those who are born in these lokas of material existence are subject to death someday. Even the king of the celestial gods, Indra, has to die.

The Puranas mention an incident where Indra ordered the celestial architect, Vishwakarma, to construct a huge palace for himself in Swarga.  However, the extension plan kept on increasing, and the construction was not ending. Vishwakarma got weary and prayed to God for help. God visited Indra and enquired, “How many Vishwakarmas have you engaged in constructing such a huge palace?” Indra was surprised by God’s question because he thought there was only one Vishwakarma. Smiling, God said to Indra, “Similar to this universe with its fourteen worlds, there are infinite universes. And each universe has an Indra and a Vishwakarma”.

At the same time, Indra saw several ants walking toward him in queues. Surprised, he asked God; where all these ants were coming from. God said, “All these ants were Indras in their past lives; I have called them to meet you.” Indra was speechless.

Soon after, a revered sage, Rishi Lomesh, visited Indra. He was carrying a straw mat on his head and had a circle of hair on his chest. However, there were gaps in that circle, made by fallen hair. Indra received the sage respectfully and then asked him politely; why he was carrying a mat on his head? Also, what does the hair on his chest signify?

The Rishi said, “I am blessed with a boon, to be chirāyu (endless life). The hair on my chest signifies life on this universe. Whenever the tenure of an Indra ends, one hair falls. And several such falls have caused the gaps in my chest hair.” Indra was astonished. Lomesh Rishi then added, “I carry this mat on my head because during the day it protects me from sun and rain. Also, I spread it on the ground at night and sleep. My disciples want to build a permanent residence for me to stay. But I think, when life itself is temporary, why build a house here?” Hearing this from someone who has the lifespan of many Indras; humbled Indra. His pride shattered, he thought to himself, “What is the point in building such a huge palace, if someday, I have to leave it all and go?” He asked Vishwakarma to stop the construction immediately and released him.

It is marvellous how these stories from the Puranas and the Bhagavad Gita give an insight into; cosmology of the universe. Amazingly, these scriptures were written in ancient times, several thousand years ahead of modern astronomy. It was only in the sixteenth century that a western scientist, Nicholas Copernicus, first proposed a heliocentric theory stating that; the sun was the centre of the universe. This theory changed the previous belief that the earth was the centre of the universe.

Further advancement in astronomy revealed that even the sun was not the centre of the universe. It was part of a galaxy called the milky way having countless stars like our sun, each with its own solar system. And all stars, along with their solar systems, are revolving around the epicentre of the galaxy. Further research has revealed; that similar to the Milky Way, several galaxies are gyrating in our universe.

However, the Vedic philosophy states that the earth or the Bhūr Lok is revolving around Swar Lok, and the realm between them is Bhuvar Lok. The Swar Lok is again moving around Jana Lok, and the realm between these two is the Mahar Lok. Jana Lok is also not stationary and is circling the Brahma Lok (Satya Lok), and Tapa Lok is the realm between them. These are the seven higher planes, and similarly, there are seven lower planes as well. It is incredible; that our Vedic scholars had such insight into the subject over five thousand years ago.

In this verse, Shree Krishna states that all the fourteen worlds of this universe are within the realm of His material energy Maya. Hence, the occupants are subject to the cycle of birth and death. Only those who attain God-realization get liberated from the clutches of maya. Upon death, they leave their material bodies and go to His divine abode to stay there forever. They receive divine bodies and participate in the divine Pastimes of God eternally.  They need not take birth in the material world. However, some saints and pious souls come back to the material world. Although liberated, they do so to engage in the divine welfare of humankind. These pious souls are the great Masters and Prophets. They descend on earth to help others get out of the bondage of maya and guide them on the path toward God-realization.