The Day and Night of Brahman

Just as the Gita has distinguished various aspects of the Purusha, the Kshara Purusha involved in the activities of Nature, the Akshara Purusha uninvolved and detached from Nature, and the reconciling, encompassing Purushottama which exceeds and contains both the other aspects, so in a similar way the Gita sets forth a paradigm that encompasses manifestation and withdrawal from manifestation of the entire created universe.

The traditional yogas treat liberation as the opposite of involvement in the universe. The seeker is either “bound” or “liberated”. The Gita recognizes them as two complementary aspects, not opposites. Similarly, the traditional goal is seen as freedom from any further involvement in the manifestation, an ultimate liberation that is considered to be the highest result. The Gita makes it clear that the escape from the manifested creation is not a necessary element of liberation and that those who seek the Purushottama obtain the fruit of liberation, whether or not there is action or a release from action.

This brings us to the question of the need for rebirth. The “bound” soul undergoes a constant cycle of birth-death-rebirth. The “liberated” soul need not return for rebirth in the traditional conception. The Gita makes it clear that in its viewpoint, those who attain to the Purushottama can be freed from the necessity of rebirth, but they are also not prevented from taking rebirth. “To know him so and so to seek him does not bind to rebirth or to the chain of Karma; the soul can satisfy its desire to escape permanently from the transient and painful condition of our mortal being.”

The Gita goes further and relates the birth-death-rebirth cycle of the individual with the great cosmic cycles of manifestation and non-manifestation, known in the traditional sense as the “day” and the “night” of Brahman. According to this understanding, the entire creation goes through periods when it is non-manifest, and then it is loosed forth and the creation once again comes into existence. Here too the Gita inserts its wider paradigm to show that both the “day” and the “night” of Brahman are encompassed within the scope of the Supreme Divine. Sri Aurobindo explains: “But this unmanifest is not the original divinity of the Being; there is another status of his existence…, a supracosmic unmanifest beyond this cosmic non-manifestation, which is eternally self-seated, is not an opposite of this cosmic status of manifestation but far above and unlike it, changeless, eternal, not forced to perish with the perishing of all these existences.” This is the supreme status that those attaining to the Purushottama reach: “For the soul attaining to it has escaped out of the cycle of cosmic manifestation and non-manifestation.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part I, Chapter 3, The Supreme Divine, pp. 283-284