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.
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 Krishna! What are the characteristics of a stable-minded person? In what way does such a person speak? In what way does he sit? In what way does he walk?
After eighteen verses of explaination, 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 ṛichchhati“O Arjuna, this is the brahmic state. Having once attained this state, one is never again subject to infatuation. If this state is attained even at one’s last breath, one attains Brahmadham”
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 pratiṣhṭhitamThe duties for human beings are described in the Vedas, and the Vedas are manifested by Brahman. Therefore, Brahman is eternally present in acts of sacrifice.
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-samādhināFor those who are completely absorbed in God-consciousness, the oblation is Brahman, the ladle with which it is offered is Brahman, the act of offering is Brahman, and the sacrificial fire is also Brahman. Such persons, who view everything as Brahman, easily attain Him.
And Adhyay 5 (Sannyāsa-yoga)…
बाह्यस्पर्शेष्वसक्तात्मा विन्दत्यात्मनि यत्सुखम् |
स ब्रह्मयोगयुक्तात्मा सुखमक्षयमश्नुते || 5.21 ||bāhya-sparśheṣhvasaktātmā vindatyātmani yat sukham
sa brahma-yoga-yuktātmā sukham akṣhayam aśhnuteThose who are not attached to external sense pleasures realize divine bliss in the self. Being united with Brahman through Yog, they experience unending happiness.
And Adhyay 6 (Dhyana-yoga)…
योऽन्त:सुखोऽन्तरारामस्तथान्तज्र्योतिरेव य: ।
स योगी ब्रह्मनिर्वाणं ब्रह्मभूतोऽधिगच्छति ।। 6.24 ।।yo 'ntaḥ-sukho 'ntar-ārāmas tathāntar-jyotir eva yaḥ
sa yogī brahma-nirvāṇaṁ brahma-bhūto 'dhigachchhatiThose who are happy within themselves, enjoying the delight of God within, and are illumined by the inner light, such yogis are united with Brahman and are liberated from material existence.
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 chākhilamThose who take shelter in Me, striving for liberation from old-age and death, come to know Brahman, the individual self, and the entire field of karmic action.
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 Brahman...
Shri Krishna Bhagwan said: 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 pravakṣhyeScholars 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.
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 dimension is the supreme goal, and upon reaching it, one never returns to this mortal world. That 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 tatamThe 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.
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 īśhvaraḥBesides these, the one who is different is known as Paramatma. He enters the three worlds as the unchanging Controller and supports all living beings.यस्मात्क्षरमतीतोऽहमक्षरादपि चोत्तम: |
अतोऽस्मि लोके वेदे च प्रथित: पुरुषोत्तम: || 15.18 ||yasmāt kṣharam atīto ’ham akṣharād api chottamaḥ
ato ’smi loke vede cha prathitaḥ puruṣhottamaḥI am transcendental to the perishable world of matter, and even to Akshar; hence I am celebrated, both in the Vedas and the world, as Purushottam.
Hence, Purushottam is the highest entity, even above Akshar.
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.