Below slokas from the Gita are actually a bit mystical in nature:

BG 8.23-8.26

— O best of the Bhāratas, I shall now explain to you the different times at which, passing away from this world, the yogī does or does not come back.

— Those who know the Supreme Brahman attain that Supreme by passing away from the world during the influence of the fiery god, in the light, at an auspicious moment of the day, during the fortnight of the waxing moon, or during the six months when the sun travels in the north.

— 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 to the south reaches the moon planet (but) again comes back.

According to Vedic opinion, there are 2 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.

Vivekananada and Yogananada, both the Yogis left their body and departed during the night time. Same thing goes for Osho Rajneesh who left during the evening.
Note: Though Ramkrishna Paramahamsa died during early morning.

Now the followers of all the above 3 Yogis believe that they attained Moksha or Mahasamadhi or the Supreme abode.

  1. Does that mean that above slokas actually don't make much sense?
  2. With general rule of probability, 50% of people are likely to get Moksha. Is it Justified?
  • 1
    good question. Although you will get two possible answers here, the followers would say 'He did attain moksha' the non-followers would say 'He didn't attain Moksha'. The real Truth is: There is no way to tell whether or not someone has attained Moksha, unless you have attained it yourself. Scripturally speaking, according to Advaita, there are two types of liberation, one is Jivan Mukti, and the other is Videha Mukti. Jivan mukti is self-realization that is achieved while living in the body, by realizing the Self as God. Videha Mukti is that which is achieved while leaving the body.
    – Sai
    Sep 21, 2015 at 14:36
  • 1
    According to the advaitins, the saints Swami Vivekananda and Paramahansa Yogananda (and many many many other self-realized saints) were Jivanmuktas. In other words, they have realized who they really are. Upon such realization, they leave their body whenever they want. They stay on the Earth until they have done their task allotted to them by themselves and then when they decide to leave, they leave. All the best sir.
    – Sai
    Sep 21, 2015 at 14:39
  • 2
    @Sai In Sri Vaishnavism, in most cases a performer of Sharanagati has to experience all his Prarabdha Karma. But there's a special form of Sharanagati called Artha Prapatti where someone who has a burning desire to see Vishnu in his abode of Paramapadam right this second can request Vishnu to eliminate even his Prarabdha Karma so that he can depart the Earth immediately. Most Sri Vaishnava Acharyas don't choose this, because they want to help lead others to Sharanagati and they don't want to miss the chance to worship the divinely created statues of Vishnu on Earth, but Manavala Mamunigal did. Sep 21, 2015 at 15:13
  • 1
    @KeshavSrinivasan I will look for some good examples. As for '1200 years ...' well I am no judge of anyone. But here is an example. In Ramayana, Lord Rama waged a war against Lanka. In Mahabharata, Sri Krishna participated in the war against Kauravas. For the time and situation it is necessary. But that doesn't mean that one is free to wage war in modern times. Similarly Adi Shankaracharya was an Avatar, on a mission, to resurrect the true Knowledge. It was necessary for the situation. But most modern Advaita saints emphasize the need for unity and acceptance of all paths nowadays :). Thanks!!
    – Sai
    Sep 21, 2015 at 22:10
  • 2
    Your interpretation it too literal. The commentators I have read agree with Keshav's answer. btw, Vivekananda said he was going to be born again one more time. Not by choice, but because he said he has to accompany Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, and he was going to be born one more time before accepting complete dissolution. Sep 22, 2015 at 6:39

4 Answers 4


Other than Prabhupada's ISKCON commentary, pretty much all other commentators on the Bhagavad Gita interpret these verses as not referring to the time of death, but rather to the names of the series of gods who escort the soul on the path to Brahmaloka/Moksha. This path is described in the Panchagni Vidya of the Chandogya and Brihadaranyaka Upanishads, as I discuss in this question, this question, and this question. (I also posted this question about the origin of the Panchagni Vidya.)

Here is how the Chandogya Upanishad describes the path:

Those who know this and those who in the forest follow faith and austerities go to light (arkis), from light to day, from day to the light half of the moon, from the light half of the moon to the six months when the sun goes to the north, from the six months when the sun goes to the north to the year, from the year to the sun, from the sun to the moon, from the moon to the lightning. There is a person not human, He leads them to Brahman (the conditioned Brahman). This is the path of the Devas.

And here is how the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad describes it:

Those who thus know this, and those who in the forest worship faith and the True, go to light (arkis), from light to day, from day to the increasing half, from the increasing half to the six months when the sun goes to the north, from those six months to the world of the Devas (Devaloka), from the world of the Devas to the sun, from the sun to the place of lightning. When they have thus reached the place of lightning a spirit comes near them, and leads them to the worlds of the (conditioned) Brahman. In these worlds of Brahman they dwell exalted for ages. There is no returning for them.

Note that the terms in this passage, like "day" and "year" aren't destinations as such; it's not like there's a place called "the day" that the soul goes to. Rather, it refers to the god of the day, the god of the year, the god of lightning etc. These gods are involved in escorting the soul to Brahmaloka/Moksha: the first god leads the soul to a certain place, then the second god leads it even further, etc., until finally a being whom I discuss here escorts it to the final destination. See Adi Shankaracharya's commentary on the Brahma Sutras here and here.

Like I said, almost all the commentators say that the Gita verses are referring to the path described in the Panchagni Vidya. Here is what Adi Shankaracharya says in his commentary on Gita verse 8.24:

As the expression ‘mango grove’ is used with regard to a place where mango trees are more numerous, similarly, the expressions ‘at which time’ and ‘that time’ (in the earlier verse) are used in view of the predominance (of the deities presiding over time). [If the first two (fire and light) are taken as Vedic deities, then the remaining three are the only deities of time. Still, the latter being numerically greater, all the five deities are referred to as deities of time. The deities of both the Paths-of gods and manes, or of the Northern and the Southern Paths as they are called-who are gods of time, are referred to here as ‘time’ by such words as day, fortnight, six months, etc.] So also, ahah, daytime, means the deity of daytime. Suklah, the bright fortnight, implies the deity presiding over the bright fortnight. Sanmasah uttarayanam, the six months of the Northern solstice-here, too, is understood the deity presiding over the Path. This is the principle (of interpretation followed elsewhere (in the Upanisads also).

And here is what Ramanujacharya says in his commentary on the same verse:

Here, the term ‘time’ denotes a path, having many deities beginning with day and ending with year. The deities preside over divisions of time. The meaning is — I declare to you the path departing in which Yogins do not return and also the path departing in which the doers of good actions return. By the clause, ‘Light in the form of fire, the day, bright fortnight, six months of the northern course,’ year also is denoted.

And here is what Madhvacharya says:

It should be understood that Agni, Archi, Ahah and others are the presiding demigods of the respective time periods. Otherwise it would not be in accordance with the Vedic scriptures to say that during the daytime one reaches the bright waxing time of the month. The Brahma Purana states: Since in essence there only exists days which also includes nights, how can one situated in equanimity be said to have achieved the brahman only in the day during the bright waxing time of the month. So it is clear to the lucid that the presiding demigods in tandem with their corresponding time periods is the only logical interpretation in accordance with Vedic scriptures.

By the way, it should be noted that while Ramanujacharya and Madhvacharya see this path as the direct path to Moksha, Adi Shankaracharya only sees this path as a path to Brahmaloka, as I discuss here and here. Now Adi Shankaracharya did believe that the inhabitants of Brahmaloka would eventually get Moksha once Brahma dies at the end of the Mahakalpa, but it's a much slower route than just getting Moksha as soon as you die. So insofar as Vivekananda and the other people you mentioned were Advaitins who wanted Moksha as soon as they died, the Gita verses we're discussing would be irrelevant to their goals.

  • The 1st & 2nd block quotes are similar but if you can explain their meanings in the context of your answer, it will be more useful. The text written as it is, doesn't make sense to me. Also explain what is "deity of time"?
    – iammilind
    Sep 22, 2015 at 1:10
  • OK, I added a few sentences explaining the Upanishad quotes. In any case, what doesn't make sense to you? "Deity of time" simply means a god associated with a given period of time. Different gods govern different time periods: there's a god of Monday, a god of Tuesday, a god of daytime, a god of nighttime, a god of the year, etc. Sep 22, 2015 at 2:07
  • Though I went through the various links you put and the commentaries, I still don't get the convincing substance of the slokas. I would be more interested in the translating a deity as an element of nature rather than the other way. e.g."May Varundev bless" = "Have a sufficient rain" is more understandable to me. Why in the slokas this "deity" word is not explicitly mentioned? This doesn't mean that I don't get what you wrote. This answer is quite informative as your others are and I too have upvoted your answer already as I have done for many of your others. :)
    – iammilind
    Sep 22, 2015 at 10:31
  • @iammilind I don't know why you have an aversion to talking about the gods, but for better or worse that's what the passages are referring to. Think about the alternative: what would it even mean for someone to "go to the day", "go to the year" etc.? Sep 22, 2015 at 14:25
  • Adi Sankaracharya says this on the Br. Upanishad quote : tinyurl.com/pf82ouy "The flame here does not refer to a tongue of fire, but the deity identified with the flame and called by that name, who is stationed in the northern route. They reach him, for monks have no relation to the flame. Hence word means the deity of that name. ... Since there can be no restriction with regard to the time of death, the word 'day' also means the deity of the day.... Nor do those who die at night wait for the day, for another Sruti says 'He reaches the Sun as quickly as the glance of the mind.'" Sep 22, 2015 at 14:29

There are 3 main paths of liberation as described in scriptures based on 3 modes of Prakriti:-

1) Bhakti Yoga for Tamas

2) Karma/Kriya Yoga for Rajas

3) Gyan Yoga for Satva

This has been explained by Krishna in Uddhava Geeta(Geeta Press Version)

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1) Bhakti Yoga most suited for Kaliyug and for people with Tamas guna. Type of Liberation explained by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Examples, Ramakrishna Paramhans. Followers often worship Vishnu and enter his abodes.

The jivas (individual souls) are all separated parts of the Lord. In bound state the jivas are under the influence of matter, due to their tatastha nature. In the liberated state the jivas are free from the influence of matter, due to their tatastha nature. The jivas and the material world are both different from and identical to the Lord.

2) Karma Yoga/Kriya Yoga(Raja Yoga). Most suited for Dwapar/Treta Yuga or people with Rajas guna(Many of them switch into Bhakti or Gyan) Very diverse topic, includes Pranayama, Karam Kand, Ashtang-Hatha Yoga etc. Yogis travel through Chandra or Surya Marg which has been explained by Krishna in Bhagwat Geeta and Uttara Geeta. Best of Yogis who have control over their Prana, alone can travel through different nerves in body and make their soul(causal body) escape to Sahasrara(Satya Loka) and enter into actual Satya Loka(realm of Brahma) from there and gets liberated along with Brahma, at time of final desolution. Examples, Vivekananda, Yogananda etc.,

  1. Surya Marg :- On the right side spreads the Pingalã Nãdi (i.e., from the sole of the right foot right up to the top of the head where the Sahasrãra exists), it is bright and shining like a great circle of Fire (or the Sun); this product of virtue (Pingalã) is called the vehicle of the devas. (Meaning, that those who can fix their mind in this Nãdi, can journey through the sky like Devas; therefore it is called the "Deva-Yãna" or the vehicle of the Devas.)
  2. Chandra Marg :- On the left side stretches forth the Ida (i.e., from the sole of the left foot up to the Sahasrãra at the top of the head), the brightness of this Nãdi is comparatively less, like the disk or circle of the Moon; it dwells with the breath of the left nostril and it is called the vehicle of the Pitrs. (Meaning, that those who can fix their mind in this Nãdi, can ascend the Pitr Loka and no further; hence it is called "Pitr-Yãna" or the vehicle of the Pitrs.)
  3. In the heart (of the person who thus imagines) dwells the Mahar-Loka, the Jana-Loka exists in the throat, the Tapo-Loka between the two eyebrows, while the Satya-Loka exists in the head.

3) Gyan Yoga. Most suited for Satya Yuga or people with Satva. Gyanis attain Kaivalya Moksha(non-dual union with Brahman). In above 2 paths, soul remains separate from Isht/God/Brahman as long as Brahman Gyan is not attained, but after it is obtained ignorance of self(causal body and subtle body) are destroyed and Brahman alone remains. Examples Adi Shankaracharya, Sadashiva Brahmendra, Raman Maharshi etc., Followers often worship Shiva as Brahman, as it is clear from Gyan Yogis like Dattatreya's work Avadhut Geeta.

Gyan Yog explained by Sanat Kumaras in Mahabharat Shanti Parva.

The Yogin who is desirous of final Emancipation suppresses by Yoga-knowledge the seven, and continues to dwell in the world of life, freed from attachments; and taking those seven for certain means of grief, he casts them off and attains afterwards to that state which is Indestructible and Infinite. When universal destruction comes, those persons who have succeeded in completely consuming by Knowledge their gross and subtle and karana bodies, always enter into Brahman. All their Senses also which have action for their essence and which are not identical with Brahman, merge into the same. When the time of universal destruction comes, those Jivas who have attained to the position of Devas and who have an unexhausted remnant of the fruits of acts to enjoy or endure, revert to those stages of life in the subsequent Kalpa which had been theirs in the previous one. This is due to the similarity of every successive Kalpa to every previous one. Those again whose acts, at the time of universal destruction, have been exhausted by enjoyment or endurance in respect of their fruits, falling down from heaven, take birth among men, in the subsequent Kalpa, for without Knowledge one cannot destroy one's acts in even a hundred Kalpas. When Yogi's Chitta becomes cleansed by Yoga, and when he practises Samyama, this perceptible universe appears to him as only his own fivefold senses. Enquiring with a cleansed mind, Jiva attains to a high and stainless end. Thence he attains to a spot which knows no deterioration, and thence attains to eternal Brahman that is so difficult of acquisition.

  • Very informative. Could you please tell, from where have you added the English explanations of surya marg, chandra marg, the nadis etc. that you posted above in quotes. Are those your personal explanations or were they taken from scriptures, if it's the latter then which scripture and whose translation? Many thanks. Aug 29, 2018 at 8:49

Moksha is deliverance from Karma and it is possible only through Bhakti Yoga or Prapathi(Surrender). No one in Kali Yuga is qualified to follow the Bhakti route and hence Prapathi is the only means to achieve it. Only Sriman Narayana can grant Moksha and no other Devatha has the powewr to do so. The saints who were not worshiping Sriman Narayana nor performed Prapathi could not have hence attained Moksha. The souls that are granted Moksha take the Archiradhi Marga (illuminated) and those granted Swarga take the Dhoomadi Marga (Foggy) and those destined to go to Hell the dark Naraka Marga. Advaita does not recognize Moksha as they insist that the illusive Jiva disppears (jivan mukthi) once the Brahmam comes out of its Avidya mode!


We have to study the slokas in question (Slokas 8:23 to 8:26) along with the following slokas in the same chapter, i.e, chapter 8.

ओमित्येकाक्षरं ब्रह्म व्याहरन्मामनुस्मरन्।

यः प्रयाति त्यजन्देहं स याति परमां गतिम्।।8.13।।

He who departs by leaving the body while uttering the single syllable, viz Om, which is Brahman, and thinking of Me, he attains the supreme Goal.

Here, Sri Krishna clearly stating that He, who departs by leaving the body while uttering the single syllable, viz Om, which is Brahman, and thinking of Me, he attains the supreme Goal.

So according to the above Sloka, there is no question of coming back (or) non-attaining of Moksha by Swami Vivekananda and others, who died fixing their concentration on the BRAHMAN, though they might have died in the night.

The meaning of the slokas 8:23 to 8:26 are to be studied with reference to Karma Yoga, but not in literal sense.

KARMA YOGA says DO YOUR JOB WITHOUT ATTACHMENT SO THAT THE RESULT WILL NOT ACCRUE TO YOU lest you should reap the result. This was what Sri Krishna reiterated in the sloka 8:26.

शुक्लकृष्णे गती ह्येते जगतः शाश्वते मते।

एकया यात्यनावृत्तिमन्ययाऽऽवर्तते पुनः।।8.26।।

These two courses of the world, which are white and black, are verily considered eternal. By the one a man goes to the State of Non-return; by the other he returns again.

If the result does not accrue to the doer, then nothing is left and there is no coming back to this world for reaping the fruits of his previous KARMA.

If the doer does karmas with an intention of getting result, he has to come back to this world for reaping the fruits of his KARMA. This what said in the following sloka.

वेदेषु यज्ञेषु तपःसु चैव

दानेषु यत्पुण्यफलं प्रदिष्टम्।

अत्येति तत्सर्वमिदं विदित्वा

योगी परं स्थानमुपैति चाद्यम्।।8.28।।

Having known this, the yogi transcends all those results of rigtheous deeds that are declared with regard to the Vedas, sacrifices, austerities and also charities, and he reaches the primordial supreme State.

At the time of giving discourse to Arjuna, Sri Krishna was merged in Brahman. Hence, the intricacies of the various Yogas HE mentioned in Gita can be understood and explained by another such Yogi (or) a Sage like Sri Ramana Maharshi.

In order to understand that was stated nearly 5,000 years ago, we need to understand the systems, notions, beliefs, methods prevailing at that time, but should not be judged with the background of our present systems, notions, beliefs, methods.

In case of any doubt, that apparently contradicting the established procedures/beliefs, Scriptures advice of a GURU (OR) an ENLIGHTENED SOUL, though not a scholar.

  • This doesn't answer the question, which is about those specific Gita quotes, so I'm deleting your answer. Oct 25, 2015 at 12:46
  • OK, since you edited the post, I'm undeleting your answer. Oct 25, 2015 at 15:45

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