What is Brahm, Adhyātma, Karma?

अक्षरं ब्रह्म परमं स्वभावोऽध्यात्ममुच्यते।

भूतभावोद्भवकरो विसर्ग: कर्मसञ्ज्ञित:।।8.3।।

akṣharaṁ brahma paramaṁ svabhāvo ’dhyātmam uchyate

bhūta-bhāvodbhava-karo visargaḥ karma-sanjñitaḥ. (8.3)

The Blessed Lord said The immutable is the Supreme Brahman; self hood is said to the entity present in the individual plane. By action is meant the offerings which bring about the origin of the existence of things.

~ Chapter 8, Verse 3

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अधिभूतं क्षरो भाव: पुरुषश्चाधिदैवतम्।

अधियज्ञोऽहमेवात्र देहे देहभृतां वर।।8.4।।

adhibhūtaṁ kṣharo bhāvaḥ puruṣhaśh chādhidaivatam

adhiyajño ’ham evātra dehe deha-bhṛitāṁ vara. (8.4)

That which exists in the physical plane is the mutable entity, and what exists in the divine plane is the Person. O best among the embodied beings, I Myself am the entity that exists in the sacrifice in this body.

~ Chapter 8, Verse 4

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Questioner (Q): When Arjuna asks, “What is Brahm, adhyātma, karma, adhibhūt, adhidaiva, adhiyagya?” Shri Krishna’s response is presented in the verses above. I want to understand the meaning of adhyātma, karma, adhibhūt, adhidaiva, adhiyagya and why do they prefix ‘adhi’ here?

Acharya Prashant (AP): So, to complete these two we must also go to the two verses that precede these. I will read them out for you. These are the opening verses of the 8th chapter:

अर्जुन उवाच।

किं तद्ब्रह्म किमध्यात्मं किं कर्म पुरुषोत्तम।

अधिभूतं च किं प्रोक्तमधिदैवं किमुच्यते।।8.1।।

अधियज्ञ: कथं कोऽत्र देहेऽस्मिन्मधुसूदन।

प्रयाणकाले च कथं ज्ञेयोऽसि नियतात्मभि:।।8.2।।

arjuna uvācha

kiṁ tad brahma kim adhyātmaṁ kiṁ karma puruṣhottama

adhibhūtaṁ cha kiṁ proktam adhidaivaṁ kim uchyate. (8.1)

adhiyajñaḥ kathaṁ ko ’tra dehe ’smin madhusūdana

prayāṇa-kāle cha kathaṁ jñeyo ’si niyatātmabhiḥ. (8.2)

Arjuna said, Krishna! What is that Brahman? What is Adhyātma? and what is Karma?, and what is Adhibhūt and what is Adhidaiva? Who is Adhiyagya? and how does he dwell in the body? And how are you to be realised at the time of death by those of steadfast mind.

~ Chapter 8, Verses 1-2

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Then comes the reply of Shri Krishna in the next two verses.

“Shri Bhagavan said, The supreme indestructible is Brahm, the supreme indestructible is Brahm. One's own self”—by ‘self’ here is meant the individual self, not the Supreme Self—”one's own self is called adhyātma, and the primal resolve of God Visarga which brings forth the existence of things is called Karma.”