In this article I will explain some astrological concepts, found in the Bhagavad-gītā, connected to the moment of passage-what we call death, even if it is only a transformation. In particular we will see the example of one of the most famous heroes of the Mahābhārata, Bhīṣma: his incredible story, his terrible vow and the blessing he obtained.
The setting of the Mahābhārata
The Mahābhārata is one of the oldest epic poems of ancient India, a mammoth work of 100,000 verses. This text recounts the events leading up to the bloody Kurukṣetra War, a battle of worldwide proportions that saw two branches of the same royal family clash. Just before this war, when the armies were arrayed in front of each other, the Bhagavad-gītā was narrated by Kṛṣṇa to Arjuna. This exchange is recorded in the chapter entitled. Bhīṣma-parvan. It is no accident that this chapter is named after Bhīṣma, the patriarch of this royal dynasty, the historical memory of the lineage to which the two factions belonged .
Bhīṣma was the eighth semi-divine son of Emperor Śantanu and the divine Gaṅgā. Once Gaṅgā returned to the heavenly planets, Śantanu wanted to marry again. Śantanu thus fell in love with Satyavatī, whom he met during an excursion. But the father of the beautiful woman, in order to grant his daughter's hand, demanded an impossible condition: the son born of their union would become the new emperor. Śantanu refused. He thus returned to his kingdom, deeply despairing: how could he take away his first son, Bhīṣma's birthright? Bhīṣma was qualified in all aspects and had received a heavenly education, by virtue of his semi-divine origin.
Bhīṣma in the corner.
Śantanu was in crisis. On the one hand, love for his son and on the other, obsession with that wonderful woman. Śantanu was no longer the same, and Bhīṣma became aware of his father's condition. After asking Śantanu in vain, after consulting ministers and after investigating the matter, Bhīṣma was able to trace the cause. The cause was himself, or rather what he represented: the heir to the throne of Hastināpura. In front of Satyavatī's father, Bhīṣma made a vow to renounce the kingdom, so that the firstborn son of the new union would be emperor. But this was not enough. Satyavatī's family should have continued the royal lineage by creating a new branch, and Bhīṣma's descendants should not have laid claim to it, for if Bhīṣma had children, they would have-sooner or later-had precedence to the throne over the descendants of Satyavatī's branch.
Bhīṣma could not see her father in that condition. He had to make a choice. He had been educated, by divine teachers, that life is meant to serve. We are here, in this world, to make our contribution. He therefore decided to resolve the situation with his sacrifice. So, after washing his hands and feet, he took his sacred thread and made a solemn vow. He would remain celibate for life: he would not marry or have children. He would serve the throne of Hastināpura all his life. But not as a king. Rather as defender, administrator, minister, high official. As a servant of the king, but not as a king. Only those who have read the Mahābhārata know how much difficulty Bhīṣma had because of this vow, all the temptations that came before him, and ultimately his heroic determination to follow it.
As soon as the solemn words were enunciated by Bhīṣma, the heavens made a roar. Heavenly beings played drums and issued thunder in admiration at the dedication of this great personality. He was thus given the name Devavrata: the one who issued a divine vow, or through his vow satisfied the divine beings.
His father Śantanu, when he learned of his son's act of dedication and love, tried in every way to have that terrible vow annulled, but Bhīṣma was as determined and immovable as a mountain. Seeing Bhīṣma's pure character, Śantanu gave him a blessing: icchā-mṛtyu. That is, Bhīṣma could have chosen when to die, he could have chosen the time at which to die. In a nutshell Bhīṣma became almost immortal.
Paradoxically - a paradox that is resolved when the highest plane of human existence is realized-in the Bhagavad-gītā's philosophical dialogue, which soon turns into an exchange between teacher and student, the theme of death is soon resolved (as early as the first verses of the second chapter) by the concept of the eternity of the self. At the very place - the battlefield - where Death is there waiting counting the seconds, this is soon dismissed as insubstantial, incapable of afflicting the inherent nature of being: a cyclical transition as natural as the changing of a garment. By the way you can look at these lectures of mine: Destination after Death e Samsara.
The esoteric meaning of Bhīṣma's blessing.
We are immortal. That applies to everyone. It applies to us. It applies to all the kings who were on the battlefield. It applies to Bhīṣma. The self, the soul, the life force that makes the body alive, is immortal. It is only the body that is transformed. From this perspective what sense, then, does the blessing make. icchā-mṛtyu Śantanu gave to Bhīṣma?
Bhīṣma could have died (mṛtyu) whenever he wanted (icchā). Why die then? Why not always remain in this body? Well, Bhīṣma's body was subject to aging. The clause did not provide for eternal youth. Bhīṣma's life was full of responsibilities, crises and fluctuations of fortune. There was no clause that provided for eternal happiness. Icchā-mṛtyu: Bhīṣma could die whenever he wished. What can it be used for? What would you have done with this blessing?
The instant of birth
Our birth occurs at a specific time. That moment contains within it the karma that we will experience in life. Therefore, Vedic Astrology looks at the time, day and place of birth to observe your karma. You can learn more by looking at these articles: The influence of the Asters, Saturn, Vedic Horoscope, The threads of Karma.
Birth is a transformation, after all, haven't you already existed since conception? Didn't you wallow like a little tadpole in amniotic fluid for nine months? Then something broke, a light hit you as you were catapulted into a world you could not see, a cold, dazzling, noisy world. The first thing you did was scream.
The instant of death
Likewise, death is a passage, a transformation. When you die, you do not die at a random moment. The moment of death reveals what will happen after passing, the future destination, the waiting time and much more. It is a crucial moment because as the moment of birth establishes the karma of this life, the moment of death establishes the karma of the next life. By the way you can see these articles: Destination after Death, Samsara, Puṇya Cakra - Horoscope of the Deceased
Bhīṣma had received the power to die-or rather to execute this passage-at the moment he wished. He could choose the instant. In other words, Choosing the instant, he could have chosen the destination after death. This is considered a siddhi (perfection) of yoga.
What if you received this blessing?
Okay, imagine for a moment that you are Bhīṣma.. Imagine that you have received his blessing. You can choose when to die and in doing so you can choose where to go, but what connection is there between time and destination?
As I told you, you need to study astrologically verses 24 and 25 of the eighth chapter of Bhagavad-gītā. Verse 24 explains how to achieve liberation, while verse 25 explains what temporal conditions cause rebirth. Let's look at them together after looking at some preliminary astrological concepts.
The two paths of the Sun
The Sun moves between constellations just as the other planets do. The Sun changes zodiac sign every month. In this process the Sun travels two paths, sayings ayana (lit. away, go):
- When the Sun moves southward, the path is called Dakṣiṇāyana. This occurs when the Sun travels through the arc between Karkaṭa-rāśi to Dhanur-rāśi. That is, when the Sun enters 0° Cancer, travels through Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio and reaches 30° Sagittarius. This occurs July to January.
- When the Sun moves northward, the path is called Uttarāyaṇa. This occurs when the Sun travels through the arc between Makara-rāśi to Mithuna-rāśi. That is, when the Sun enters 0° Capricorn, travels through Aquarius, Pisces, Aries, Taurus and reaches 30° Gemini). This occurs January to July.
The two transition points Between these two paths are called Makara-saṅkrānti, when the Sun enters Capricorn (around January) and Karkaṭa-saṅkrānti, when the Sun enters Cancer (around July).
The phases of the moon
The Moon constantly fluctuates from light to shadow. The apex of light is the Full Moon, while the apex of shadow is the New Moon. The lunar month is divided into two phases:
- La growing phase (śuklaḥ), where the Moon changes from New to Full.
- La waning phase (kṛṣṇaḥ), where the Moon changes from Full to New.
The subtle meaning is easily deduced. The moon reflects the light of the sun, representing knowledge and spirituality. While the darkness of the moon is like an eclipse, so it represents Rahu.
The moment of release
This is the Sanskrit verse (BG 8.24) that explains that people (janāḥ) who have knowledge of their spiritual nature (brahma-vidaḥ) and making the transition (prayātāḥ) under certain conditions get (gacchants) liberation (brahma).
agnir jyotir ahaḥ śuklaḥ
tatra prayātā gacchanti
brahma brahma-vido janāḥ
In addition to the fact that the person must be spiritual or know one's spiritual nature, these are the conditions expressed in the verse:
- When there is strong Agni energy (agniḥ), the energy of fire:
- It can be connected to Tuesday and Sunday, both of which are ruled by fiery planets-Mars and Sun;
- It can be connected to the Hora of Mars or the Sun (there are 24 Hora in a day);
- It can be connected to noon, Sun in House 10; House representing the celestial dimension (svarga-loka);
- It may be related to ritual fire sacrifice or yajña (in this era the sankīrtan-yajña), or leaving the body during a sacred rite;
- When there is light (jyotiḥ):
- It can be the light from celestial bodies, that is, under favorable planetary conditions;
- It can be the light of consciousness, that is, leaving the body in a state of grace;
- It can be under sunlight, outdoors;
- by day (ahaḥ), between sunrise and sunset;
- In the crescent phase of the Moon (śuklaḥ);
- in the six months (ṣaṭ-māsāḥ) in which the Sun transits from Capricorn to Gemini (uttara-ayanam), from January to July.
Liberation is not achieved
In contrast, verse 8.25 shows the opposite conditions from the previous verse:
dhūmo rātris tathā kṛṣṇaḥ
tatra cāndramasaṁ jyotir
yogī prāpya nivartate
If the transition occurs in an unconscious state (dhūmaḥ), at night (rātriḥ), in the waning phase of the Moon (kṛṣṇaḥ), from July to January (ṣaṭ-māsāḥ dakṣiṇa-ayanam), the person must reincarnate again.
The three key aspects of the transition
Three aspects are considered in the Bhagavad-gītā, listed in ascending order of importance:
- The moment when you die (Chapter 8, verses 24-25), which can be observed in retrospect through the card of the deceased; this is what we have seen in this article. By the way you can go further with Puṇya Cakra - Horoscope of the Deceased.
- consciousness and the thoughts one has at the time of the transition (Chapter 8, verses 5-6, 10); Life is a preparation for death, so the thoughts you will have at that time depend on how you live your life. If at the fateful moment you can recite mantras and prayers by fixing your mind on the Absolute, that's it! The moment you leave the body is derived from the consciousness you have at the moment of passing.
- the spiritual progress of the person (Chapter 6, verses 40-45); the spiritual progress a person has made in life is never lost and is recalled in due time in the future destinations that a person will be guided to take. The time when you die and the thoughts you will have at the time of death are determined by your spiritual progress that you have accrued in this and other lives. By the way you can look at these lectures of mine: Destination after Death e Samsara.
These three aspects are interrelated and are modified by a fourth element, which can always be a game changer: divine grace.
What happened then to Bhīṣma?
There, we have come to the epilogue of our article.. Bhīṣma - who was fighting, because of his vow, in the rival faction-was defeated by a ruse by Arjuna, during the Battle of Kurukṣetra. Since Bhīṣma was almost immortal., Arjuna pierced him with thousands of arrows. Not an inch of his body remained free from the arrows. Being able to choose when to die Bhīṣma-who had listened to the Bhagavad-gītā while Kṛṣṇa was narrating it to Arjuna-waited for the auspicious moment. This was during the dakṣiṇa-ayanam phase. He waited more than a month lying in this special bed made of arrows, worthy of a hero.
We find this in chapter 1.9 of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa (particularly in verse 1.9.29):
dharmaṁ pravadatas tasya
sa kālaḥ pratyupasthitaḥ
yo yoginaś chanda-mṛtyor
He waited for the sun to pass into Capricorn, the crescent moon, l'eighth day since the New Moon, of day while the Sun shone in the sky. There present the survivors and lotus-faced Kṛṣṇa. Bhīṣma was there, lying on a bed of arrows, after una life dedicated to service, dedicated to others. Quiet, relaxed, beyond the pain of those sharp darts.
As his last service - Under Kṛṣṇa's request-he instructed Arjuna's elder brother, Yudhiṣṭhira. Yudhiṣṭhira, which paradoxically means "the one who is balanced even during war," was shaken, depressed by the deaths of so many people, he saw no future. Yudhiṣṭhira would be the new monarch, he was supposed to rule the empire, but he no longer had the strength. Bhīṣma, the mahājana (great personality), gave him instructions of light and hope.
Life is service. Life is dedication. Life is a sacred act of true love.
After performing this last act, in the arms of Kṛṣṇa, while whispering the mantra "eh Govinda" in full divine consciousness, he decided to go.