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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Life After Death PART XVIII (Hinduism and Death: The Hindu view on Death)

Hinduism and Death: The Hindu view on Death
Hinduism believes in the rebirth and reincarnation of souls. Death is therefore not a great calamity, not an end of all, but a natural process in the existence of soul as a separate entity, by which it reassembles its resources, adjusts its course and returns again to the earth to continue its journey. In Hinduism death is a temporary cessation of physical activity, a necessary means of recycling the resources and energy and an opportunity for the jiva (that part which incarnates) to review its programs and policies. When a person dies, his soul along with some residual consciousness leaves the body through an opening in the head and goes to another world and returns again after spending some time there. What happens after the soul leaves the body and before it reincarnates again is a great mystery about which we can form an idea after studying the scriptures.

The Bhagavad gita describes two paths along which souls travel after death. One is the path of the sun, also known as the bright path and the other is the path of the moon, also known as the the dark path. When a soul travels along the path of the sun, it never return again, while those which travel along the path of the moon return again. (8.24). How is the path of the sun attained? Lord Krishna provides the clue in the following verses:

"Controlling all the openings of the body, with the mind established in the heart, fixing the prana in the self at the top of the head establishing oneself in the Yoga, uttering the monosyllable AUM, which is Brahman, who leaves the body remembering Me, he achieves the highest goal. (8.12-13)

What happens to a soul after the death of a mortal being on earth depends upon many factors, some of which are listed below:

1. His previous deeds. If a person has committed many bad deeds in his life, he will go to the lower worlds and suffer from the consequences of his evil actions. On the contrary if he performed good deeds, he will go to the higher sun filled worlds and enjoy the life there.

2. His state of mind at the time of death, that is what thoughts and what desires were predominant in his consciousness at the time of his death, decides in which direction the jiva will travel and in what form it will appear again. For example if a person is thinking of his family and children at the time of his death, very likely he will go the world of ancestors and will be born again in that family. If a person is thinking of money matters at the time of his death, very likely he will travel to the world of Vishnu and will be born as a merchant or a trader in his next birth. If a person is thinking of evil and negative thoughts he will go to the lower worlds and suffer in the hands of evil. His suffering may either reform him or push him deeper into evil depending upon his previous samskaras( tendencies). If he is thinking of God at the time of his death, he will go to the highest world.

3. The time his death. The time and circumstances related to death are also important. For example it is believed that if a person dies on a battle field he will attain the heaven of the warriors. If a person dies on a festival day or an auspicious day, while performing some puja or bhajan in the house, he will go to heaven irrespective of his previous deeds.

4. The activities of his children, that is whether they performed the funeral rites in the prescribed manner and satisfied the scriptural injunctions. There is a belief that if funeral rites are not performed according to the procedure, it will delay the journey of the souls to their respective worlds.

Belief in many heavens and hells: Hinduism believes in the existence of not one hell and one heaven but in the existence of many sun filled worlds and many dark and demonic worlds. Apart from these, each of the Trinity of gods has his own world, which is attained by their followers after their death. Vaikunth is the world of Vishnu, Kailash is the world of Siva and Brahmalok is the world of Brahman. Indralok is the standard heaven to which those who please the gods through their activities upon the earth go. The standard hell is Yamalok, which is also ruled by a god called Lord Yama, who is also the ruler of the southern quarter. He is assisted by an attendant who is know as Chitragupt, who is some kind of a chronicler, who keeps an account of the deeds of all human beings on earth and reads them out as the jivas stand infront of Yama in his court and await his verdict.

The purpose of heavens and hell: In the ultimate sense, the purpose of these worlds is neither to punish or reward the souls, but to remind them of the true purpose of their existence. In finally analysis, the difference between heaven and hell is immaterial because both are a part of the great illusion that characterizes the whole creation. The difference is very much like the difference between a good dream and a bad dream. In the end it does not matter whether a soul has gone to the heaven or to some hell, because in both cases it learns important lessons and goes back to earth to continue its play.

A soul which goes to heaven, will enjoy the pleasure of heaven and in the end realizes that seeking heavenly pleasures is not the ultimate goal since however intense these pleasures may be, they do not last long. A soul which falls into the darker world gets a taste of the horror of the evil it tried to project on earth, with a multiplier effect and with an intensity and severity that would make it realize the horrors of evil. Thus in either case, the purpose of heavens and hells is to impart an attitude of wisdom and detachment to the souls. However how far these lessons will help the souls to mould their future lives, we do not know because once they return to the earth consciousness, because of the power of may, they forget much of what they have learned.

During the Afterlife A soul can exist in many planes: It is not necessary that after death a jiva should go to only one world. Depending upon its activities earth, it may stay in many worlds, one after another before returning to the earth. It may stay in some hellish worlds before moving to the heavenly worlds or vice versa. Whatever may be the pattern, at the end of it, the soul should have learned some important lessons for its further journey on earth.

The Purpose of Cremation: After death, Hindus are not buried, but cremated. The idea is that the human personality is made up of five elements of which four belong to the body and come from this world, namely fire, earth, water and air while the fifth the ether (fine matter) belongs to the domain of the subtle body and comes from the higher worlds. By cremating the body, the elements are rightfully returned to their respective spheres, while the subtle body along with soul returns to the worlds beyond for the continuation of its afterlife.

A lot of rituals are associated with the cremation ceremony. When a person dies, the body is given a final bath, carried on a wooden stretcher by his kith and kin with the chanting of the name of Rama and cremated on the community cremation grounds generally by the eldest son. This is followed by some rituals in which the sons make offering of food to the departed soul under the supervision of a priest. Generally a function is organized on the fifteen day and guests are invited for a meal. Generally Hindus who have lost an important relation in their families do not celebrate functions and festivals for a specific period of time as a mark of respect. While cremation is the standard procedure, Hindus consider it very auspicious if a dead body is immersed in the Ganges or cremated on its banks since the river is considered very sacred.

The Best way to reach God: According to Hindu scriptures the best way to attain salvation is to think of God all the time through dhyana (contemplation), remembrance and repetition of god's name. If a person trains his mind to remember God all the time, very likely at the time of his death he will be able to concentrate his thoughts on God and attain Him. Through mastery of their senses and minds, many saints and seers gain complete control on the process of death and develop an intuitive awareness of when and in what manner they would depart from this world. When the time comes, leaving necessary instructions to their disciples, they leave their bodies, immersed in a state of samadhi or deep trance. In the Bhagavad gita Srikrishna declares that at the time death he who concentrates his prana between the two eye brows with the strength of his yoga and is engaged in devotion with an unwavering mind he attains the Divine and transcendental


Anonymous,  October 24, 2008 at 2:05 AM  

Nice posting on the Gita. Do you know about this edition?


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