Akshar Purushottam Darshan within Shrimad Bhagavad Gita
The Prasthānatrayī are three scriptures that are foundational in Vedanta philosophy of Hinduism — the Upanishads, Brahmasutras and Shrimad Bhagavad Gita.
Today, we will look at the Akshar-Purushottam Darshan, one of the seven Vedanta darshan, through the words of Shri Krishna Bhagwan in the Bhagavad Gita.
The Shrimad Bhagavad Gita — part of the greater Mahabharat scripture — is one of the most revered scriptures in Hinduism. It is the dialogue between Bhagwan Shri Krishna and Arjuna on the common themes of life — happiness, stability, one’s true identity, dharma and faith.
This article is directly taken from Mahamahopadhyaya Bhadreshdas Swami’s discourse during the Akshar-Purushottam Darshan Satra series in Ahmedabad (Gujarat) in the Gujarati language. This article takes the various verses from the Bhagavad Gita and understands those verses through the lens of Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s philosophical tradition, similar to the commentaries by Shri Ramanujacharya and Shri Shankaracharya.
Watch the Akshar-Purushottam Darshan Satra (Part-3) to better understand the below concepts.
Adhyay 2–7: Brahman in the Bhagavad Gita
To begin, the titles of Adhyay 8 & 15 are Aksharbrahma/Brahma Yog and Purushottam Yog, respectfully. Regardless of the philosophical tradition, these titles are universally used.
Let’s begin with Adhyay 8…
In beginning verses of Adhyay 8 (titled ‘Aksharbrahma Yog’), Arjun asks, “What is Brahman?”
किं तद्ब्रह्म... | 8.1 |kiṁ tad brahma...Arjun asks: What is Brahman?
Why does Arjun ask this question?
From Adhyay 2 to 7, Shri Krishna Bhagwan uses brahman numerous times.
In Adhyay 2 (Sāṅkhya-yoga), Shri Krishna Bhagwan explains eighteen verses on one who is stitpragna —characteristics of a stable-minded person. Arjun asks,
स्थितप्रज्ञस्य का भाषा समाघिस्थस्य केशव।
स्थितघीः किं प्रभाषेत किमासीत व्रजेत किम् || 2.54 ||sthita-prajñasya kā bhāṣhā samādhi-sthasya keśhava
sthita-dhīḥ kiṁ prabhāṣheta kim āsīta vrajeta kimO Keshav! What are the characteristics of one whose mind is entirely focused on Paramātmā and who possesses unwavering conviction? How does one with such unwavering conviction speak? How do they sit? How do they move about?
After eighteen verses of explanation on the characteristics of one who’s forever equiposed, Shri Krishna Bhagwan uses the word brahman for the first time in the Bhagavad Gita.
एषा ब्राह्मी स्थितिः पार्थ नैनां प्राप्य विमुह्यति।
स्थित्वाऽस्यामन्तकालेऽपि ब्रह्मनिर्वाणमृत्व्छति || 2.72 ||eṣhā brāhmī sthitiḥ pārtha naināṁ prāpya vimuhyati
sthitvāsyām anta-kāle ’pi brahma-nirvāṇam ṛichchhatiArjun! This is the state of Aksharbrahma. Having attained this state, one is not deluded. Furthermore, even at the time of death, upon being in this state, one attains Akshardhām— the abode of Brahman.
Shri Krishna Bhagwan uses the word brahman again in Adhyay 3 (Karma-yoga)…
कर्म ब्रह्मोद्भवं विद्धि ब्रह्माक्षरसमुद्भवम् |
तस्मात्सर्वगतं ब्रह्म नित्यं यज्ञे प्रतिष्ठितम् || 3.15 ||karma brahmodbhavaṁ viddhi brahmākṣhara-samudbhavam
tasmāt sarva-gataṁ brahma nityaṁ yajñe pratiṣhṭhitamUnderstand that actions related to the yagna arise from the Veda. The Veda, in turn, arises from the cosmic sound of Aksharbrahma. For this reason, the Veda, which is revealed as all-pervading because of its revelation on the methods of performing all action, forever resides within the yagna— the Veda reveals all yagna.
And Adhyay 4 (Jñāna-yoga), where he mentions brahman six times…
ब्रह्मार्पणं ब्रह्म हविर्ब्रह्माग्नौ ब्रह्मणा हुतम् |
ब्रह्मैव तेन गन्तव्यं ब्रह्मकर्मसमाधिना || 4.24 ||brahmārpaṇaṁ brahma havir brahmāgnau brahmaṇā hutam
brahmaiva tena gantavyaṁ brahma-karma-samādhināThe instruments utilized in brahma-yagna are Brahman. The havis and other oblations are Brahman; as is the act of offering oblation within the sacrificial fire, which is the form of Brahman, by the hotru, who is also Brahman. Moreover, the destination attained by one who performs karma upon becoming entirely engrossed in Brahman in this way is indeed also Brahman.
And Adhyay 5 (Sannyāsa-yoga)…
बाह्यस्पर्शेष्वसक्तात्मा विन्दत्यात्मनि यत्सुखम् |
स ब्रह्मयोगयुक्तात्मा सुखमक्षयमश्नुते || 5.21 ||bāhya-sparśheṣhvasaktātmā vindatyātmani yat sukham
sa brahma-yoga-yuktātmā sukhamakṣhayamaśhnuteOne who is unattached to worldly pleasures experiences the bliss of Paramātmā. Joined with Aksharbrahma, they enjoy undiminishing bliss.
And Adhyay 6 (Dhyana-yoga)…
युञ्जन्नेवं सदात्मानं योगी विगतकल्मषः।
सुखेन ब्रह्मसंस्पर्शमत्यन्तं सुखमश्नुते ।। 6.28 ।।yunjannevam sadātmānam yogīvigatakalmashaha
sukhena brahmasansparshamatyantam sukhamashnute. In this way, a yogī, who is without wrongdoing, effortlessly enjoys the everlasting bliss experienced by Aksharbrahma while always uniting the ātmā with Paramātmā.
And Adhyay 7 (Vijnana-yoga)…
जरामरणमोक्षाय मामाश्रित्य यतन्ति ये |
ते ब्रह्म तद्विदु: कृत्स्नमध्यात्मं कर्म चाखिलम् || 7.29 ||jarā-maraṇa-mokṣhāya mām āśhritya yatanti ye
te brahma tadviduḥ kṛitsnam adhyātmaṁ karma chākhilamUpon seeking refuge under me, those who strive to free themselves from old age and death, they realize that Brahman, all karma, and all adhyātma.
Adhyay 8: Aksharbrahma Yog
Now we get back Adhyay 8. Arjun finally asks Shri Krishna Bhagwan, “What is brahman?” And Shri Krishna Bhagwan answers….
किं तद्ब्रह्म... | 8.1 |
अक्षरं ब्रह्म परमं... | 8.3 |kiṁ tad brahma...
akṣharaṁ brahma paramaṁ...Arjun asks: What is that Brahman?...
Shri Krishna Bhagwan said: The superior Akshar is Brahman...
Shri Krishna Bhagwan explains that akshar is brahman. Akshar can loosely be translated into ‘imperishable’ or ‘undestroyable.’
But what really is akshar? For Arjun to not ask what akshar is, Shri Krishna Bhagwan himself explains what akshar is…
यदक्षरं वेदविदो वदन्ति
विशन्ति यद्यतयो वीतरागा: |
यदिच्छन्तो ब्रह्मचर्यं चरन्ति
तत्ते पदं संग्रहेण प्रवक्ष्ये || 8.11 ||yad akṣharaṁ veda-vido vadanti
viśhanti yad yatayo vīta-rāgāḥ
yad ichchhanto brahmacharyaṁ charanti
tat te padaṁ saṅgraheṇa pravakṣhyeThat which those who know the Vedas describe as Akshar;
that which ascetics who are without worldly desire enter;
and that which those who desire it practice brahmacharya
— that location I will briefly describe to you.
Shri Krishna Bhagwan continues in the following verses to explain what Akshar is. One such examples is as follows:
सर्वद्वाराणि संयम्य मनो हृदि निरुध्य च।
मूर्ध्न्याधायाऽऽत्मनः प्राणमास्थितो योगधारणाम्॥
sarvadvārāṇi sanyamya mano hrudi nirudhya cha;
mūrdhnyādhāyā’’tmanah prāṇamāsthito yogadhāraṇām.
ॐ इत्येकाक्षरं ब्रह्म व्याहरन्मामनुस्मरन्।
यः प्रयाति त्यजन्देहं स याति परमां गतिम्॥
aum ityekāksharam brahma vyāharanmāmanusmaran;
yah prayāti tyajandeham sa yāti paramām gatim.
Having controlled all of the senses,
established the mind within Akshar and Purushottam,
who reside within the heart,
and positioned one’s prān within the head,
one who is engaged in the concentration of yoga,
while identifying with Aum — the one Aksharbrahma —
and remembering me, attains the supreme end after leaving the body.
Now, you may have noticed that in Shri Krishna Bhagwan’s answer, he states, “akṣharaṁ brahma paramaṁ.” Some may think that the word paramaṁ (highest) is associated with brahman, potentially thinking that brahman means the highest entity/God.
However, Shri Krishna Bhagwan himself explains what paramaṁ means in verse 21…
अव्यक्तोऽक्षर इत्युक्तस्तमाहु: परमां गतिम् |
यं प्राप्य न निवर्तन्ते तद्धाम परमं मम || 8.21 ||avyakto ’kṣhara ityuktas tam āhuḥ paramāṁ gatim
yaṁ prāpya na nivartante tad dhāma paramaṁ mamaThat unmanifest is called Akshar. It is identified ad the superior end/destination. Upon reaching it, one never returns to this mortal world. That Akshar is My Supreme Abode.
Paramaṁ refers to the highest abode of God. The surpreme and main goal to reach is brahman. This is the resolve that the abode of the highest entity, being Paramatma, is brahman or brahmadham.
पुरुष: स पर: पार्थ भक्त्या लभ्यस्त्वनन्यया |
यस्यान्त:स्थानि भूतानि येन सर्वमिदं ततम् || 8.22 ||puruṣhaḥ sa paraḥ pārtha bhaktyā labhyas tvananyayā
yasyāntaḥ-sthāni bhūtāni yena sarvam idaṁ tatamO Arjun! All beings reside within Purushottam, and he pervades this entire world. That Purushottam is superior to Akshar and attained by singular devotion.
Adhyay 15: Purushottam Yog
The second aspect of the Akshar-Purushottam Darshan from the Bhagavad Gita is Purushottam.
Purushottam can be divided up into two words: Purush + Uttam.
Uttam means ‘the highest.’
But Purush? What is Purush? Shri Krishna Bhagwan explains himself…
द्वाविमौ पुरुषौ लोके क्षरश्चाक्षर एव च |
क्षर: सर्वाणि भूतानि कूटस्थोऽक्षर उच्यते || 15.16 ||dvāv imau puruṣhau loke kṣharaśh chākṣhara eva cha
kṣharaḥ sarvāṇi bhūtāni kūṭa-stho ’kṣhara uchyateThere are two kinds of beings in creation, the kṣhar (perishable) and the akṣhar (imperishable).
The perishable are all beings in the material realm (bonded to maya).
Akṣhar is forever above the material realm.
Kshar is bonded to maya. Akshar is forever above/never bounded by maya. Some might say that akshar refers to all liberated beings.
But as Mahamahopadhyaya Bhadreshdas Swami explains, the Sanskrit grammar makes a big difference. One such example is in this verse. There is a singular and plural differences, which is imperative in this verse.
“kṣharaḥ sarvāṇi bhūtāni” is plural in grammar.
“kūṭa-stho ‘kṣhara uchyate” is singular in grammer.
Understanding this, there are many kshar, but only ONE Akshar.
Returning to the discussion on Purushottam, Shri Krishna Bhagwan says…
उत्तम: पुरुषस्त्वन्य: परमात्मेत्युदाहृत: |
यो लोकत्रयमाविश्य बिभर्त्यव्यय ईश्वर: || 15.17 ||uttamaḥ puruṣhas tv anyaḥ paramātmety udāhṛitaḥ
yo loka-trayam āviśhya bibharty avyaya īśhvaraḥHowever, the supreme purush is another and is called Paramātmā. He is the unchanging controller of all and, pervading all worlds, is their support.यस्मात्क्षरमतीतोऽहमक्षरादपि चोत्तम: |
अतोऽस्मि लोके वेदे च प्रथित: पुरुषोत्तम: || 15.18 ||yasmāt kṣharam atīto ’ham akṣharād api chottamaḥ
ato ’smi loke vede cha prathitaḥ puruṣhottamaḥThus, I am superior to kshar and also Akshar. I am, therefore, renowned in the world and in the Vedas as Purushottam.
Another aspect to realize is that in order to understand Purushottam, one needs to understand kshar and Akshar. Without understanding kshar and Akshar, one cannot fully realize Purushottam.
Mahamahopadhyaya Bhadreshdas Swami explains that if one was to go back-track the Bhagwad Gita, one will realize:
- Akshar and Purushottam are different and distinct entities.
- Akshar and Brahman are interchangeable.
Note: These are my notes on the Akshar-Purushottam Darshan in the Shrimad Bhagavad Gita. Forgive me if I have made mistakes and I will made edits as clarifications come through.