yatra kāle tv anāvṛttim
āvṛttiḿ caiva yoginaḥ
prayātā yānti taḿ kālaḿ
Translation of Bhagavad Gita 8.23
O best of the Bharatas, I shall now explain to you the different times at which, passing away from this world, the yogi does or does not come back.
Commentary by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
The unalloyed devotees of the Supreme Lord, who are totally surrendered souls, do not care when they leave their bodies or by what method. They leave everything in Krishna’s hands and so easily and happily return to Godhead. But those who are not unalloyed devotees and who depend instead on such methods of spiritual realization as karma-yoga, jnana-yoga and hatha-yoga must leave the body at a suitable time and thereby be assured whether or not they will return to the world of birth and death.
If the yogi is perfect he can select the time and situation for leaving this material world. But if he is not so expert his success depends on his accidentally passing away at a certain suitable time. The suitable times at which one passes away and does not come back are explained by the Lord in the next verse. According to Acarya Baladeva Vidyabhushana, the Sanskrit word kala used herein refers to the presiding deity of time.
Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
“You have said in verse 21 that anyone who attains you does not come back, but you have not mentioned about any particular path that the devotee must go on. Since the devotee is beyond the gunas, his path is also beyond the gunas, not a sattvika path such as going through the sun planet. But I am asking about the path taken by the yogis, jnanis and karmis.”
“The time when the prana leaves the body stands for the path as well. I will speak about the path (kalam) of return and no return that they travel upon when they have died.”
Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:
8.23 – 8.24 Here, the term ‘time’ denotes a path, having many deities beginning with day and ending with year. The deities preside over divisions of time. The meaning is — I declare to you the path departing in which Yogins do not return and also the path departing in which the doers of good actions return. By the clause, ‘Light in the form of fire, the day, bright fortnight, six months of the northern course,’ year also is denoted.
Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:
Thus it has been explained by Lord Krishna that the worshippers of the Supreme Lord having successfully attaining Him never return to the material existence, whereas others continue to revolve in samsara the perpetual cycle of birth and death. So the question might be asked, by which path is one free from samsara and by which path does one remain subject to samsara? Clarification of these questions is being answered in this verse. The construction of the verse is as follows: Lord Krishna first speaks of time declaring He will tell of the time when the aspiring yogi or one perfecting the science of the individual consciousness attaining communion with the ultimate consciousness departs his body at the moment of death and is free from samsara and the time when the departing yogi at the moment of death still remains subject to samsara. Here the occurrence of death at special times like the six months of the waxing light of the sun in its northern course is not intended according to the evidence established in the Brahma Sutras. In Brahma Sutra IV.II.XVIII it states: The atma or soul of one who has realised the brahman or spiritual substratum pervading all existence, when departing their body follows the rays of the sun. In Brahma Sutra IV.II.XX it states: Because of this brahman realisation the atma follows the suns rays even during the six months when the sun is waning in its southern course. Therefore the reference to time is in regard to the path attained under guidance of the presiding demigods identified with a specific time whose service is to conduct the atma. This is what is denoted by the word kale referring to the dictates of the presiding demigods of the different time periods.
Those who have realised the brahman and those who are performing yagna or propitiation and worship to the Supreme Lord to eventually realise the brahman are two different categories and have two different destinations. At whatever time period one who has realised the brahman departs their body; be it day or night, the moon waxing or waning in its monthly cycle, the sun waxing in its northern course or waning in its southern course in its yearly cycle; such a person goes directly to Brahmaloka which is the highest material planet to finish perfection. Those performers of yagna and ritualistic activities who have not realised the brahman go to Svargaloka the heavenly planets to enjoy for millenniums the rewards of their ritualistic activities; but when these rewards have been used up such performers of yagna are immeadiately recycled back into samsara and reborn again in this world of mortals to work out and finish their karma.
Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:
In this verse Lord Krishna speaks of the presiding demigods who when the atma or soul departs the body at the moment of death assists one in achieving moksa or liberation from material existence or conducts one back into samsara the perpetual cycle of birth and death. The term yatra kale meaning according to the dictates of the presiding demigod, is only a qualifying statement. Since through the demigods like Agni in charge of fire are also avenues, Lord Krishna discourses on them.
Now begins the summation.
The demigods presiding over time are those who assist one after they depart their physical body at the time of death. Even though demigods such as Agni are not in charge of actual time as thought of in general usage. Those who depart their bodies in death during daksinayana or when the sun is in its waning southern course receive the respects of their departed ancestors and acquiring the beautiful, youthful forms of the demigods attain the corresponding world they have qualified for by their karma or reactions to previous life activities. But for one who has realised the brahman or spiritual substratum pervading all existence, it is they who travel along the rays of the sun and reach the highest material planet of Brahmaloka where they complete their perfection. Others go to the heavenly planets to enjoy the rewards of their pious activities from the previous life and when they are finished they are reborn again in the worlds of mortals. Thus for one who has realised the brahman there is no return for them either if death comes during uttarayan when the sun is in its waxing northern course or if death comes during daksinayana. So the wise have confirmed that those who have realised the brahman do not return to the world of mortals regardless of when they depart their physical bodies at the time of death. The Padma Purana states: One who has realised the brahman attains the Supreme destination regardless of when they deaprt their body at the time of death.
Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:
Lord Krishna has declared that those who realise the brahman or the spiritual substratum pervading all existence and also those who attain realisation of the Supreme Lord are not subjected to samsara the perpetual cycle of birth and death and no longer take birth in the worlds of mortals, whereas others must take birth there. There are the route of the celestials and the route of the Manes or ancestors. Now the question to be known is by what route does one not take birth again? Lord Krishna introduces both paths beginning with the words yatra kale meaning by which time. Here the word kale refers to the route taken by the soul departing the body of an aspirant and escorted by the servitor of the presiding demigod of the day, month, year, etc. who are the transporting demigods. The names Agni and Jyotis are referring to the presiding demigods of fire and illumination. They are not referring to time because in the Chandogya Upanisad IV.XV.V it states: From a year to the sun god, etc. The presiding demigods such as Surya the sun god are stated in the conclusion which is appropriate as the preceding and succeeding names are prescribed for the demigods and thus a day, month, etc. stands for their respective times of these demigods. The purport is that the aspirants taking the route of the respective demigods are twofold: Those who have perfected the path of spiritual knowledge and those who have perfected the path of detached renunciation. Those who have reached perfection by spiritual knowledge do not take birth again. Those who even though have perfected detached renunciation still must take birth again.
Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:
8.23 Bharatarsabha, O best of the Bharata dynasty; vaksyami, I shall speak; tu, now; tam, of that; kalam, time; prayatah, by departing, by dying; (-these words are to be which time; yoginah, the yogis; yanti, attain; anavrttim, the State of Non-return, of nonrebirth; ca eva, and also; of the time by departing at which they attain its opposite, avrttim, the State of Return. By ‘Yogis’ are implied both the yogis (men of meditation) and the men of acitons (rites and duties). But the men of action are yogis by courtesy, in accordance with the description, ‘through the Yoga of Action for the yogis’ (3.3). The Lord speaks of that time: [This is Ast.’s reading.-Tr.]
Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:
8.23 Yatra etc. The non-return : emancipation. The return : i.e., for enjoying [worldly life]. (23)
Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:
yatra kale tv anavrttim
avrttim caiva yoginah
prayata yanti tam kalam
Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:
yatra — at which; kāle — time; tu — and; anāvṛttim — no return; āvṛttim — return; ca — also; eva — certainly; yoginaḥ — different kinds of mystics; prayātāḥ — having departed; yānti — attain; tam — that; kālam — time; vakṣyāmi — I shall describe; bharata-ṛṣabha — O best of the Bhāratas.