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Death in Geetaa

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Death in Geetaa?
Taken from ISSP List, by Sandeep Thakre, on Nov 9, 2011

What will happen to me after death? In the second chapter of Bhagvad Geetaa Lord Krishn explains this subject to Arjun in great detail. Arjun was faced with a situation where, in order to uphold Dharm, he had to fight and kill people who were very dear to him, his own relatives and friends. As one might expect, it caused him great disturbance, and when he finally saw the people with whom he was going to fight, he lost all his senses and began to cry. Arjun threw down his bow and told to Krishn, "na yotsya", I shall not fight. His anxiety and grief was based on his false identification of the body as the self. He thought the self ceases to exist when the body dies. To correct this misconception and to establish Arjun in full knowledge of the self, Krishn spoke the Bhagavad Geetaa in the battlefield of Kurukshetra.

He began by first establishing the eternality of the soul:
"na jaayate mriyate vaa kadaachinnaayam bhootwaa bhavita vaa na bhooyah
ajo nityah shaashwato ayam puraano na hanyate hanyamaane shareere ||2:20||

"For the soul, there is neither birth nor death at any time. He has not come into being, does not come into being, and will not come into being. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain."

The body is simply an external covering of the soul. Being material, the body by nature is temporary, and must at some point deteriorate and die. The soul on the other hand is spiritual in nature. For it, there is no beginning nor end. Matter and spirit are qualitatively opposite. Whereas the matter's natural quality is that it is temporary, full of ignorance and full of suffering, the qualities of the soul are that it is eternal (Sat), full of knowledge (Chitt) and full of bliss (Aanand). Anything that has a beginning in time will also certainly have an end. Thus the body will inevitably come to an end because it has a beginning, but the soul, which has no beginning, will continue its existence :
aatasya hi dhruvo mrityurdhruvam janma mritasya cha
tasmaad apariharye arthe na twam shochitumarhasi ||2:27||

[If you think that the soul is always born and dies then also, according to this rule] "One who has taken his birth is sure to die, and after death one is sure to take birth again. Therefore, in the unavoidable discharge of your duty, you should not lament."

Krishn describes death in the Bhagavad Geetaa as being nothing more than a change of dress:
vaasaansi jeernaani yathaa vihaaya navaani grhnaati naro parani
tathaa shareeraani vihaaya jeernaanya  nyaani sanyaati navaani dehee ||2:22||

"As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, the soul similarly accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones."

This body is nothing but a vehicle, and the soul is the passenger. When this vehicle is no longer suitable for the soul, due to old age and decay, the soul is given a new vehicle. Thus death is simply the transition from one vehicle to the next.
dehino asmin yathaa dehe kaumaaram yauvanam jaraa
tatha dehaantar-praaptir dheeras tatra na muhyati  ||2:13||

"As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change."

The soul is actually covered by two bodies, one physical (Sthool Shareer) and the other one the subtle (Sookshm Shareer). The physical body is composed of the elements earth, water, fire, air and ether. This is what people generally think of as themselves - what they see in the mirror. The subtle body is composed of mind (Manas), intelligence (Buddhi) and false identification (Ahankaar). This subtle body stores all of the thoughts, desires, and experiences one has had, in every single life one has lived. As each new life comes, the experiences of the older lives are pushed deeper and deeper inside, thus they are forgotten. Sometimes these inner thoughts again resurface due to a dramatic occurrence or due to meditation and Saadhanaa. In the case of a dramatic occurrence, the result is confusion, as the person cannot figure out which life is actually his. In the case of meditation, the Yogee develops full conviction that he is not the body, and the lives he has experienced are not the reality.

It is the subtle body that carries the soul to his next destination at the time of death. From the time of the soul's original embodiment in matter it has possessed the same subtle body, regardless of the external bodies it had. After the death, the physical body is changed, but the subtle body continues with the soul on his further journey. Only at the time of liberation this subtle body finally is cast off, diffused back into the cosmic elements.

What determines, where the body will go to at the time of death? Krishn answers this question as follows :
yam yam vaapi smaran bhaavam tyajatyante kalevaram
tam tamevaiti kaunteya sadaa tadbhaav bhaavitah ||8:6||

"Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, O son of Kuntee, that state he will attain without fail."

According to our consciousness at the time of death we receive the body. What we remember at the time of death is not just a matter of the momentary thought that occurs. What we have done throughout our entire life will naturally come to our mind as we leave our body. Just prior to death, our entire life is flashed before our mind's eye in a split second. One particular event will be very attractive to us, and we will focus on that. Based on that desire we will be given our next body, sometimes higher and sometimes lower. If our mind focuses on an activity which is very ignorant (Tamo Gunee), we will receive a Tamo Gunee body among the lower species of life - as a plant, a fish, a tree, or an animal. But if our mind focuses on an activity which is passionate (Rajo Gunee), we will be given a body within the human categories of life. If our mind focuses on an activity which is primarily of goodness (Sato Gunee), we will receive a body on one of the higher planets - Swarg Lok etc.

Normally we focus our mind on an activity based on how we have lived our entire life. It is not possible to suddenly make our consciousness pure if we have spent our entire life engaging in improper activities.

The ultimate result of this transmigration from one body to the next is that we have tied one more knot in the rope of attachment which binds us to this material world. No matter what the destination, it is still not a victory. Whichever body we receive, we are still embodied - it is an artificial covering entrapping us.

Krishn describes this entire universe as "Dukhaalayam A-Shaashwatam - full of suffering and temporary. No matter which body one has, these two characteristics of life are always there. But there is an alternative, a solution to this seemingly endless cycle. Krishn says:
anta-kale cha maamev smaran muktwaa kalevaram
yah prayaati sa madbhaavam yati naastyatra Sanshayah  ||8:5||

"And whoever, at the end of his life, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt."

If we are able to remember Lord Krishn at the time of death, we will become free from the external covering of the body and attain His eternal abode. This sounds very simple, but again it is not such an easy thing. Death is the ultimate test we must all face. But what will be our consciousness at that moment? For those who are attached to the body due to identifying the body as the self, death is the most difficult occurrence. The soul is forced out of the body, despite his attempts to remain within it. I cannot describe the tremendous pain one who is attached to the body goes through at death. But I can say it is greater than anything else one can experience in life.

For the self-realized devotee the situation is completely different. He understands he is not the body. He knows the body is just a vehicle, a machine, and as such he has no attachment to the external body. For him death is as simple as opening a door and walking through it. Every day when we go outside our house we open the door and walk out. It is not a dramatic event. It is practically a non-event. This is what the devotee experiences at the time of death. Because of his realization of the self he has no attachment or false identification with the body. And because his consciousness is always fixed on the Lord, his destination is complete freedom from the cycle of birth and death:
maamupetya punarjanm dukhaalayam A-Shaashwatam
naapnuvanti mahaatmaanah sansiddhim paramaam gatah ||8:15||

"After attaining Me, the great souls, who are yogis in devotion, never return to this temporary world, which is full of miseries, because they have attained the highest perfection."

The devotee is resituated in his constitutional spiritual position, free from all external material coverings. This is Mukti, or liberation - attainment of the supreme abode of Vaikunth :
na tad bhaasayate sooryo na ssashaanko na paavakah
yad gatwaa na nivartante tad-dhaam paramam mam ||15:6||

"That supreme abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by fire or electricity. Those who reach it never return to this material world."

We are all part of God. Our true nature is spiritual, "Sachchidaanand Swaroopo Shivoham Shivoham". Due to false identification with the body we are covered by illusion and forced to undergo birth and death. The soul is 10,000 times more effulgent than the Sun, but the covering of ignorance is so strong that we appear to be like a dead matter. The Upanishad advise us to move from darkness to light, from the temporary to the eternal, from death to immortality - "Asato Maa Sadgamaya, Tamaso Maa Jyotirgamaya, Mrityormaa Amritam Gamaya" - 
vidyayamritam ashnute
"By cultivating spiritual knowledge one attains immortality."

Death is not something to be feared, but something we must conquer. Excessive attachment for material things puts a man into a fearful condition of existence bhayam dwitiyabhinivesatah syat. Because we are attached to the material body, due to ignorance of our spiritual self, we therefore fear death. By cultivating transcendental knowledge of the self, and by advancing spiritually through practice of Saadhanaa, we can separate attachment to the body and become fearless.

This is actually the goal of life - to move from death to immortality. Not immortality of the body, for the body is not actually alive at any time, but the realization of the soul's eternal, blissful nature. Such a realization is possible only by sincere practice of Saadhanaa and devotional service to Lord Krishn. This was Krishn's message to Arjun, and it is His message to each and everyone of us.
man-manaa bhav mad-bhakto mad-yaajee maam namaskuru
maamevaishyasi satyam te pratijaane priyo asi me ||18:65||

"Always think of Me, become My devotee, worship Me and offer your homage unto Me. Thus you will come to Me without fail. I promise you this because you are My very dear friend."

Will I continue my current family relationships even after death?
As two straws float in a river, and sometimes touch and sometimes separate, in the same way our Karm cause us to form temporary relationships with other living entities in this world. These relationships are not eternal. First we must understand that the identities which we are relating to are themselves not eternal. For example, my mother is an eternal spirit soul. At present her soul is situated within the body of a woman, and I am calling her as mother. In her previous life, or in her next life, she may have the body of a man. How can I continue to relate to her as my mother? That relationship which depends on the body is as temporary as the body.

But there is an eternal relationship which we have with everyone. We are all part of God, and our constitutional position is in the spiritual realm. Since we are all spirit souls, part of God, we are all eternally related. At present due to the covering of illusion we do not know what our spiritual relationships are to each other. Only when we purify our own consciousness through Saadhanaa can we know our own real identity and the identities of others. Based on those spiritual identities we will have spiritual relationships.

From time immemorial we have been passing through many, many species of life. Naturally we have had many mothers, sometimes a spider mother, sometimes a dog mother, sometimes a human mother. By the mercy of the Lord we are given forgetfulness at the time of birth so that the attachments of our previous lives are buried deep within our consciousness. These countless relationships we have passed through are all reflections of our true relationships in the spiritual realm.

Knowing that we are all spirit souls, and not the external bodily covering, we should work for the spiritual upliftment of all our family members. By reestablishing someone's eternal spiritual relationship we are truly helping our loved ones, not just their temporary body. This is actual compassion. No one knows where compassion should be applied. Compassion for the dress of a drowning man is senseless. A man fallen in the ocean of nescience cannot be saved simply by rescuing his outward dress - the gross material body.


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Created by Sushma Gupta On 3/9/02
Modified on 11/18/11