Knowing God to Have a Good Death

Bhagavad Gita – Jack Hawley 7.1

Chapters 7 and 8 in The Bhagavad Gita begin Part 2, entitled “The Very Nature of God”, in Jack Hawley’s translation. Chapter 7 starts to first clarify the difference between knowledge and wisdom, which is important in our practice of yoga and in our possible understanding of Divinity. “One learns knowledge through the senses and mind – that is, through sight and thinking; one gains wisdom through direct grasp, through insight and intuition. Knowledge ‘knows’ it at an intellectual level; wisdom ‘realizes’ it fully and is able to apply it in daily living.” (7.2) We cannot just read and learn about yoga, or Divinity, or God…these things are meant to be “realized”, acted upon, and experienced. I am reminded of a story from the 10-day Vipassana Meditation courses that I do (and the practice is also referred to by the teacher as ‘The Gita in action’) that is such a great example of this … you can listen and watch here.

In this reading, the foundation of life in the play of Purusha (“life force, source of consciousness in all beings, animator of all life” 7.4-5) and Prakrti (“realm of nature, even subtle components” 7.4-5) are explained in more detail and Krishna also begins to explain to Arjuna the workings of Indian cosmology as well. Krishna describes the evolutes of the consciousness (mind, ego, and discriminative buddhi) and the three gunas (sattva, rajas, and tamas) that are the energies that make up all of nature. These and all other aspects of nature give us context and ways to dissect and explore the experience of our self in practice, slowly distinguishing that small self attached to nature (prakrti) from that of the Divine Self within (purusha). Gaining knowledge of this distinction brings us out of our Avidya (spiritual ignorance), the reason we are on this “battlefield” of life in the first place.

Chapter 7 highlights how Universal the practices and concepts of yoga are. The Bhagavad Gita of course had a very specific cultural context when written, but it has survived the test of time and culture and background. No matter what spiritual faith or religion you follow, “Whatever form of God people choose to worship in good faith, it is I, the Godhead, who makes their faith steady and unwavering.” (7.21) And, we all likely fall into one of the four categories described by Krishna as we start out in our practice of yoga or join in any faith or philosophy. (7.16-26).

  • world weary, looking to alleviate physical or mental agonies
  • looking for favorable outcomes or worldly happiness
  • seeking spiritual advancement through knowledge alone
  • becoming united with the Divine

The point is that we are all on the same trajectory no matter what path we choose to take toward the Divine, no matter how long it may take us. Krishna reminds us that any life trajectory leads to death, and since life is made up of action and karma, living your life in wisdom is the best plan.

The Bhagavad Gita – 8.14

And, “Actually, the moment of death does not mean some future instant in time, it means this very moment! Any moment may be your last…Live in a state of constant spiritual awareness.” (8.7) This constant awareness in actions of mind and body toward Spirit is what makes yoga an Adhyatmik endeavor. If you want more details on how even our familiar practice of asana pertains to this idea, you can always turn to Prashant Iyengar and his book, Yogasana: An Adhyatmik Academy, for clarification.

Chapter 8 goes into some of the concepts of time and karma in relation to Vedic philosophy. But, it doesn’t matter whether you believe in a next life, an afterlife, or nothingness when death arrives. Our actions take root right now, getting us mired in experiences of pleasure or pain or ups and downs, or on a focused path toward God. Divinity is the essence of all things and is the only constant, so steering every action toward that knowledge and wisdom will lead us to a more balanced and united experience of life overall.

As The Gita is set on the very question of Arjuna killing or not killing his family members in this war, it is impossible not to really look at our own thoughts on life and death while reading. “Because death stirs people to seek answers to important spiritual questions, it becomes the greatest servant of humanity, rather than its most feared enemy” (7.29) What is a “good life” and what is a “good death” in the realm of Divinity? The answer is to be found within.

Jennie Williford CIYT

Jennie Williford (CIYT Level 3) is a transplant to LaCrosse via Montana, Illinois, and originally Texas. Throughout her life moves and 5 trips to India, Jennie has acquired a well-rounded and multi-faceted approach to Iyengar Yoga since her start in 1998. Jennie loves the experimental and explorative nature of yoga in accessing deeper knowledge of the Self on every level. The practice of yoga can be intense and introspective, however as practitioners we can be light-hearted and open-minded in our discipline. Jennie is intrigued by the philosophy of yoga and hopes to share this depth of subject while teaching the physical and mental benefits that come from the practice of posture.