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       =======  Understanding Hinduism  =======


Click on underlined words to open paragraph

Rules of Impurity (Sutak)
The days of impurity are ten for the relatives on the father’s
and mother’s side. People should avoid taking meals during
this period with the relatives of the dead.

Funeral Speeches
A collection of scriptural texts about death and life

1. The wise have said that the Atman
is immortal and that the phenomenon
of death is merely the separation of the
astral body from the physical body.

From the Mahabharata

2.  Upon the consumption of fuel fire is no longer seen.
It mingles with space

From the Mahabharata

3. Valmiki Ramayana on Death

4. Funeral of Mother

How to overcome grief

6. Wondrous indeed is this world where one who was
here yesterday may not be found today.

Mahabharata - Gita - Bhrtruhari - Sharadadevi

7. These tears, like sparks of fire, burn the
dead for whom they are shed.


8. Life and Death
From Brhadaranyaka Upanisad

9. The creature that dies only goes into another form.
The body alone dissolves away


10. Those who are seated in Sattwa (purity) go upwards;
the Rajasic (Passionate) dwell in the middle


11. Just as clay is described as a jar, just as gold
is described as an earring
so is Brahman (the Supreme Reality) described
as jiva (individual embodied soul).

From Aparokshanubhuti of Sri Sankaracharya

12. Just as the space that is inside of a pot becomes
one (merges) with the universal space when the pot is broken

Swami Shivananda, Divine Life Society, Rishikesh


A very brief summary of a few
ceremonies before and after funerals

Garuda Purana
[Acharya Satyam Sharma Shastri, our resident Panditjee, gave a
series of discourses based upon the Preta-kanda of the Garuda
Purana.Some points are highlighted or very briefly summarized below.]

The Garuda Purana is in the form of a dialogue between Lord Vishnu and Garuda. It deals with present life and afterlife, it deals with Bandhan and Moksha or bondage and liberation and describes the pathways that lead to Bondage and the pathways that lead to Liberation, it deals with the essential ceremonies required to be performed after the death of relatives and the consequences of not performing such ceremonies.

For example, it is stated in the Garuda Purana that when the death of a near relative takes place within the period of Panchak, within one year, five members of the family can die if proper ceremonies are not performed after the death. Panchak dates are based upon astrological calculations. (Hindu calendars usually list Panchak tables). The funeral and the last rites must be performed the proper way. For Panchak death there are specific instructions given in our scriptures that are to be performed upon the dead body before cremation. Four small dolls made from Kusha grass (described as hair of Lord Vishnu) are to be placed, accompanied by Mantras, on shoulders and knees of the dead body before igniting fire.

Clay pot with sesame seeds, milk, ghee etc,. are to be ceremoniously given away. Such proper observances of the procedures before and after cremation means then only the Preta (the soul of the deceased) reaches Param Gati or satisfaction and peace.

Upon death, DharmaRaj Yama decides by which path the through which door the soul will enter his domain, East, West, North or South.

The good people enter by the East Gate. Those who during the rainy seasons give gifts or provide shelter to the homeless, those who serve their mothers and fathers and teachers, those who read religious books and the Puranas, worshippers of Siva and of deities, Pure minded people enter through the East Gate.

The West Gate (Pashchim Marga) is for the worshippers of Lord Vishnu, Those who read scriptures, make japas of Gayatri, who practice non-violence, non-stealing, agni hotra or havan ceremony, who recite the Vedas, who practice brahmacharya, ascetics, renunciates, who have the attitude of non-attachment (vairagya) and who have spiritual knowledge, enter through the West Gate

The South Gate is for the sinners who suffer the worst tortures in hell of the Baitarani river that holds boiling hot blood and flesh.

A must in all Hindu homes is to have Ganga water Ganga water makes the house holy. A drop of Ganga jal in the mouth of the dying, brings great benefits to both the giver of the water and to the one on the death bed.

Panditjee explained about the ten day shraddha ceremony and also explained what should be done when death of a relative occurs in a far away place, when to begin shraddha? It is from the day the news is received. When the news is received but if the body is not found, then make a doll from Kusha grass, and taking the name of the deceased, burn it and place the ashes in water. When a pregnant woman dies, the unborn infant under 7 months, must be taken out and buried and then the woman is cremated. Infants upto 27 months are buried and 28 months and above are cremated. Pre-mature, still-born, miscarriage babies are not cremated but are buried

After the death of such infant, bathing cleanses the family. No Sutak and no ceremony are required. If child dies before milk teeth come out, then there is no Sutak. After death of such a child, feed milk and rice to children. When a child of 5-to 12 years dies, then ten days ceremony is done with ten pindas.

When a wedded girl dies, then the in-laws side does the Sutak. Girl, who is engaged only, then both sides observe Sutak.

When a son dies and the father is alive, then the father cannot apply or light the funeral pyre, and there is no Sapindi ceremony. Father does not do Vidhi (ceremony) for son.

The living son performs the ten day ceremony for the soul and not for the body. Living son performs the ceremony to liberate from father’s debt. If there are many sons, any one son can perform the ten-day ceremony. Sons staying apart can each perform the ceremony. Final rites for the mother and for the father, done according to scriptures, yield fruits that are equal to making Parikrama or circumambulation of earth.

Garuda Purana explains the make up of the physical body as well as the subtle body with the six Chakras, and advises that we breathe 21600 times during 24 hours and that each inhaling and exhaling be made into an act of japa mala with such mantras as Soham, Hare Ram etc.

The human body is subject to disease, old age, infirmity etc. and yet we hope to live but we do not realise for what purpose. While the senses are working, practice self-realisation. Therefore make good use of time for self-realisation. Youth does not come back. Wealth is like a dream that can vanish. Death can come during waking hours and during sleep. We feed ourselves with sensual pleasures. Surrounded by love and hatred, Chinta or worries eat the alive and Chita eats the dead. Contentment brings happiness and attachment produces misery. Bound by iron chains can be loosened, but worldly attachments, which are invisible, are very difficult to detach. As the song goes "Kuchh Aise Bandhan Hote Hai Jo Bina Bandhe Bandh Jaate Hai."

For ten days, listen to this katha (Garuda Purana) after some one passes away. This provides liberation to the Pitrs and the son gets desires fulfilled. The speaker as well as the listener of Garuda Purana benefit. Upon death of mother and father, reading Garuda Purana gives them salvation and the entire family becomes prosperous.

Those atheists, immoral people who ignore these instructions, even their waters become impure. Deities and ancestors avoid their houses. They become poor, miserable and unhappy. Where no shraddha is performed, where Garuda Purana is not read, where other ceremonies are not performed, they are never released from the three types of rin or debts.

Rules of Impurity (Sutak)
From the Preta-kanda of the Garuda Purana.

The impurity accruing from birth and death is fourfold. The rules of impurity are applicable to all the four castes.

    The days of impurity are ten for the relatives on the father’s and mother’s side. People should avoid taking meals during this period with the relatives of the dead. The bereaved family should neither offer nor receive gifts, should neither undertake nor conduct sacrifices. The study of the Vedas and Shastras (scriptures) is strictly prohibited.

  1. One should observe the following while performing obsequies rites; suitability of place and time, sufficiency of wealth, justification of purpose, validity of reason and his capability.
  2. If a person dies in a forest conflagration or in some foreign country, then the impurity is soon removed by merely taking a bath.
  3. If a child is dead in the womb or is born dead (still born), there should be no obsequies rite, no water libation and no impurity at all.
  4. Artisans, architects, physicians, slaves (male or female), kings and Vedic scholars are purified immediately.
  5. He who is undergoing a fast (abstaining from food), he who is performing a sacrifice reciting the mantras, he who has set up a sacrificial fire or he who is a reigning monarch (ruler) – these are exempt from the rules of impurity as are also those who are exempted by the king.
  6. For impurity accruing from birth, the rules are not so strict. Mother is purified after ten days; father just after taking a bath.
  7. Manu has said that there is no impurity if a person dies during the days of marriage, during festivities, during days of sacrifice (religious ceremonies). The foodstuff prepared or collected for use can be utilised by the persons concerned.
  8. Birth:relatives incur no impurity. Impurity attaches to parents alone. Primarily, it is the mother who becomes impure. Father is purified by the touch of water alone.
  9. In birth or death, impurity lasts for ten days.
  10. By giving food to the hungry and to the poor and the needy, the parents get rid of impurity the sages have declared.
  11. Man is purified after bathing in water from an earthen jar, mixed with gingelly seeds and clay from holy places.
  12. He should give gifts of some articles to the village assembly (local community organization). Wealth should be given to a Brahmin.
  13. A person distanced by seven or eight generations or he who has not undergone the Sacrament incurs no impurity.
  14. For men who have lost their lives for the sake of (protection of) Brahmins, cows, women, or in the battlefield, infirmity lasts for a single night only.
  15. Brahmins do not incur impurity if they are engaged in auspicious rites. Those who arrange cremation of an orphan child with a Brahmin assisting them in this act become purified as soon as they take bath.


Funeral Speeches

A collection of scriptural texts about death and life

From the Mahabharata


The wise have said that the Atman is immortal and that the phenomenon of death is merely the separation of the astral body from the physical body. The five elements of which the body is composed return to their source. Our scriptures teach us that just as pilgrims unite and separate at a public inn, so also fathers, mothers, sons, brothers, wives, relations unite and separate in this world. He who thus understands the nature of the body and all human relationships based upon it will derive strength to bear the loss of our dear ones. In the Divine plan, one day each union must end with separation.

In the Mahabharata, Bhishma says: " Develop this attitude based on wisdom:- I am alone. There is no one who is mine; nor do I belong to anyone. Even this body does not belong to me. These objects of the world are not mine; nor do they belong to others. Or, all things belong equally to all beings. Therefore there is no need for any mind to grieve over these."

On behalf of the entire community, we offer our heartfelt condolences and together we offer our prayer: May the Lord grant strength and courage to the surviving members of ……… family. To all relations and friends may the Lord grant ability to give comfort to the bereaved families. May the Lord grant everlasting peace to the departed soul.

Om Aasto ma sadgamaya, tamaso ma jyotirgamaya, mrityorma amritam gamaya, Om shanti, shanti, shanti.


The Mahabharata, Santi Parva:

Upon the consumption of fuel fire is no longer seen. It mingles with space because there is no longer any visible object in which to inhere, and hence it becomes incapable of perception by us. Similarly, upon leaving the body, the soul lives in space, and cannot be seen in consequence of its extreme subtlety, as is doubtless the case with fire. Birth is subject to the sway of death, and death awaits for no man. When man is constantly running towards the jaws of death, the accomplishments of righteous acts are proper at all times.

The wheel of life moves on. It is overwhelmed by decrepitude and grief, and it has diseases and calamities for its progeny. That wheel relates in time and place. Day and night are the rotations of that wheel. It is characterised by production and destruction going on ceaselessly. When one's time comes, one cannot escape. There is none dear or hateful to time. Youth, beauty, life, possessions, health and the companionship of friends, all are unstable.

These are eternal laws that work ceaselessly. Yet an untimely death brings upon us great sorrow and grief. But scriptures point out this kind of event as unavoidable destiny.

We share with the family and friends and relations of ............. the most profound sorrow and grief. An untimely death brings upon us great sorrow and grief. The deceased's physical presence is no longer with us and that hurts. But scriptures point out this kind of event as unavoidable destiny. These are eternal laws that work ceaselessly.

The wheel of life moves on. It is overwhelmed by decrepitude and grief, and it has diseases and calamities for its progeny. When one's time comes, one cannot escape. Youth, beauty, life, possessions, health and the companionship of friends, all are unstable.

On behalf of the entire community, we offer our prayers for the attainment of supreme peace and bliss for the departed soul. May the Lord grant family and friends strength to overcome this grievous loss.

Om Asato Ma sad gamaya, Om Tamaso ma jyotirgamaya, Om Mrityorma amritam gamaya. Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.


Valmiki Ramayana on Death

All ripe fruits must drop down from the tree. Even so a man has to wait the inevitable hour of death. - 105-17

Even as a mansion with firm and massive pillars dilapidates, so do mortal men, decayed and withered by efflux of time, fall a prey to ruthless death withered by old age and eventually die. 105-18

A night that flies returns no more even as the waters of the Yamuna river flowing into the sea do not roll back from the same. - 105-19

Death closely follows a man wherever he goes and wherever he sits, and returns with him until his journey ends, however long may be the distance travelled. 105-23

Wrinkles begin to appear all over the body and the hairs turn grey. Man's mortal frame is crumbled by old age. What can mortal power avail? -105-28

There is not one who can live as he intends to. What power then has he over the death of those for which he grieves? -105-28

As a bystander on a road coming across a batch of travellers says he will also follow them, even so do we follow the footsteps of our grandfathers. How can a person grieve when he is in that track from which he cannot swerve? - 105-29/30.

Like a torrent that cannot flow back, past life cannot be retraced. Life should therefore be directed towards happiness, as bliss is the heritage of man. -105-31

Just as a tidal wave brings together two logs in a boundless ocean and another wave separates them, even so wives and children, relatives and wealth hold us and separate themselves to meet no more. Not one can avoid the common lot of all. The separation of these is certain. -105-27.

At the dawn men are delighted with their acquisitions and at sunset they revel in nocturnal pleasures. But they never reflect to see that their life is shortened by each sunrise and sunset. 105-24.

Men rejoice at the advent of every new season that comes afresh. But few realise their lives' decay as the seasons smile. 105-26.

Just as the sun's rays evaporate quickly all water during summer, even so the rolling days and nights steal our moments as they fly. 105-20.

Why do you lament for others? Grieve for yourself as every moment of yours is gradually taking away your life whether you remain stationary or move about. 105-21.

All accumulated treasures perish. Every climax has an anti-climax. All unions end in separation and all life must come to an end. 105-16.

It is an old saying that all beings lose their sense when they are near their end of life. 106-13.

A courageous and intelligent man shall avoid in all moods and states, these various forms of grief, lamentations and cries.


From the Mahabharata
Santi Parva, section cclxvi
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Funeral of Mother

The mother is the panacea for all kinds of calamities. The existence of the mother invests one with protection; the reverse deprives one of all protection. The man who, though divested of prosperity enters his house, uttering the words, "O mother!"- has not to indulge in grief. Nor does decrepitude ever assail him.

A person whose mother exists, even if he happens to be possessed of sons and grandsons and even he himself is hundred years old, but in the eyes of his mother he looks like a child of two years of age. Whether the mother is able or disabled, lean or robust, the son is always protected by the mother. None else, according to the ordinance, is the son's protector.

Then does the son become old, then does he become stricken with grief, then does the world look empty in his eyes, when he becomes deprived of his mother. There is no shelter like the mother. There is no refuge like the mother. There is no defence like the mother. There is no one so dear as the mother. For having borne him in her womb the mother is the son's dhatri. For having been the chief cause of his birth, she is his janani. For having nursed his young limbs, she is called amva (Amma). For nursing and looking after the son she is called sura. The mother is one's own body. There is no mode of life that is superior to serving one's mother.


From the Mahabharata Santi Parva
section CCCXXXII:

How to overcome grief

Narad Muni says: The Supreme Soul is without beginning and without end. It resides as a witness in the Jiva-soul as the embodied soul. It is inactive and without form. Those people who, beholding the course of life and death in the world with the aid of their intelligence, do not shed tears, are said to behold properly. Such persons have never to shed tears. When any such calamity comes, productive of either physical or mental grief, as is incapable of being warded off by even one's best efforts, one should cease to reflect on it with sorrow. This is the medicine for sorrow, viz., not to think of it. By thinking of it, one can never dispel it; on the other hand, by thinking upon sorrow, one only enhances it.

Mental griefs should be killed by wisdom; while physical grief should be dispelled by medicines. This is the power of knowledge.

Youth, beauty, life, stored wealth, health, association with those that are loved- these are all exceedingly transitory.

One should not lament individually for a sorrowful occurrence that concerns an entire community.

All combinations are destined to end in dissolution. Union is sure to end in disunion. and life is certain to end in death. One`s allotted period of life is running continually. It stops not in its course for even a single moment. Days and nights are ceaselessly running bearing away in their current the periods of life of all human beings.

Upon the dissolution of the body, another body, which is as much destructible as the one that is destroyed, is kept ready for the burnt or destroyed creature (to migrate into) even as one boat goes to another for transferring to itself the passengers of the other boat.

When the allotted period of a person's life is at its close, the five primal elements of the body attain to the seventh and the ninth stages and then cease to be. The soul however undergoes no change. The ten stages of a person's life are: 1. Residence within the womb. 2. Birth. 3.Infancy up to five years 4. Childhood up to 12 years 5. Pauganda (teen years) up to 16 years. 6. Youth up to 48 years. 7. Old age. 8. Decrepitude 9. Suspension of breath. 10.Destruction of body.

On behalf of the entire community, we offer our heartfelt condolences and together we offer our prayer: May the Lord grant strength and courage to the surviving members of …………. family. To all relations and friends, may the Lord grant ability to give comfort to the bereaved families. May the Lord grant everlasting peace to the departed soul.

Om Asato ma sad gamaya, Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya, Mrityor ma amritam gamaya. Om Shanti, shanti, shanti.


From the Mahabharata:

Wondrous indeed is this world where one
who was here yesterday may not be found today.
Birth is preyed upon by death; brilliant youth by old age. Health of people is destroyed by hundreds of varied ailments of body and mind. Life is as insecure as a drop of water attached to the edge of a lotus leaf and dispersed by the wind.

We cannot be certain of living the next moment. Days and nights are ceaselessly running bearing away in their current the periods of life of all human beings. Like currents of rivers, these flow ceaselessly without ever turning back.

Birth and death are plays of Maya. He who is born begins to die. He who dies begins to live. Life is death and death is life. Birth and death are merely doors of entry and exit on the stage of this world.

The human body is the house. We imagine that Vidhataa grants to the embodied soul a lease of plus-minus a hundred years to occupy this house with an escape clause to vacate at short notice. Change of dwelling place is what we call death. In the Gita, chapter 2, verse 30 the Lord says: This, the Indweller in the body of everyone is ever indestructible. Therefore you should not grieve for any creature.


The Lord further says in Gita, ch. 2, shlok 22:

Vasaansi jirnaani yathaa vihaaya, Navaani grhnaati narah aparaani Tathaa shariraani vihaaya jirnaani Anyaati sanyaati navaani dehi

Just as man casts off worn out clothes and puts on new ones, so also the embodied Self casts off worn out bodies and enters others which are new.

Death is separation of the soul from the physical body. The physical body is made up of the five elements but not the soul. The physical body will disintegrate back into the five elements. The soul is indestructible.
In the same chapter of the Gita, in shlok 23 the Lord describes the soul as:

Nainam chhindanti shastraani, nainam dahati paavakah Na cha enam kledayanti Aapah, Na shoshayati maarutah.

Weapons cannot cut it, fire cannot burn it, water cannot make it wet (water cannot drown it), and air cannot make it dry. This is symbolic language saying that none of the five elements can destroy the soul. Weapons are made of earth element. Fire element, water element or air or wind element cannot destroy the soul.

Death becomes the starting point of a new and better life. Death does not end your personality and self-consciousness. It merely opens the door to a higher form of life. Death is only the gateway to a fuller life.,/p>

Bhartruhari wrote:

Dhanaani Bhoomau Pashavascha Goshthe
Bharyaa Gruh Dwaare, Swajan Smashaane,
DehasChittayaam Parlokmaarge
Karmaanu Go Gacchati Jeev Ek

Your wealth will remain on earth; Your cattle will remain in the stable (or your car will remain in the garage);
Your wife will come till the entrance door; your relatives and friends will come till the cremation ground;
your body will accompany you till the funeral pyre, but on the way beyond this life only your Karmas will accompany you.

Sri Sarada Devi, the Holy Mother:

Sri Sarada Devi, the Holy Mother said: Don't be afraid my child, these earthly ties are transitory. Today they seem to be the be-all and end-all of life, and tomorrow they vanish. Your real tie is with God. God is one's very own. It is the eternal relationship. He is ever looking after you. Call on the Lord who pervades the entire universe. He will shower His blessings upon you.

On behalf of the entire community, we bid our fond farewell to ……… and offer our prayer: may the Lord grant strength and courage to the surviving members of .......... family, to all relations and friends. May the Lord grant ability to give comfort to the bereaved families. May the Lord grant everlasting peace to the departed soul.

Om Asato ma sadgamaya, Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya, Mrityorma amritam gamaya. Om Shanti- Shanti- Shanti


These tears, like sparks of fire, burn the dead for whom they are shed.

From The Mahabharata, Stree Parva, Section I, II & III

While King Dhritarashtra was indulging in such lamentations, (with grief on account of the death of his son), Sanjaya addressed him in the following words for dispelling his grief:

"Cast off your grief, O monarch! You have heard the conclusions of the Vedas and the contents of diverse scriptures and holy writ, from the lips of the old, O King! You are possessed of learning and intelligence and are always truthful. They that are so righteous and possessed of such intelligence as you are never stupefied by grief. The man who indulges in grief never wins wealth. By grieving one loses the fruits one desires. Grief is again an obstacle to the acquisition of objects dear to us. The man who gives way to grief loses even his salvation.

The man, who shrouds a burning coal within the folds of his attire and is burnt by the fire that is kindled by it, would be pronounced a fool if he grieves for his injuries. The tear-stained face, O King, which you bear now is not approved by the scriptures or praised by the wise. These tears, like sparks of fire, burn the dead for whom they are shed. Kill your grief with your intelligence, and bear yourself up with the strength of your own self!"

Thus was the King comforted by the high-souled Sanjaya. Vidura then once again addressed the King, displaying great intelligence.

Vidura said: Rise, O king! Why are you stretched on the earth? Bear thyself up with thy own self. O King, even this is the final end of all living creatures. Everything massed together ends in destruction; everything that gets high is sure to fall down. Union is certain to end in separation; life is sure to end in death. The Destroyer drags both the hero and the coward. When one's time comes, O King, one cannot escape.

As regards living creatures, they are non-existent at first. They exist in the period that intervenes. In the end they once more become non-existent. What matter of grief then is there in this? The man that indulges in grief succeeds not in meeting with the dead. By indulging in grief, one does not himself die. When the course of the world is such, why do you indulge in sorrow? Death drags all creatures, even the gods. There is none dear or hateful to death. As the wind tears off the top of all blades of grass, even so, O bull of Bharata's race, Death overmasters all creatures. All creatures are like members of a caravan bound for the same destination. (When death will encounter all) it matters very little whom he meets with first.

It behoveth thee, O King, not to grieve for those that have been slain in battle. Invisible they had been (before birth). Having come from that unknown region, they have once more become invisible. They are not thine, nor art thou theirs. What grief then is there in such disappearance?

Comforting thyself with thy own self cease to grieve. It behoveth thee not to suffer thyself to be overwhelmed with sorrow and to abandon all actions. There are thousands of mothers and fathers and sons and wives in this world. Whose are they, and whose are we? From day to day thousands of causes spring up for sorrow and thousands of causes for fear. These, however, affect the ignorant but are nothing to him that is wise. There is none dear or hateful to Time. Time is indifferent to none. All are equally dragged by Time. Time causes all creatures to grow and it is Time that destroys everything. When all else is asleep, Time is awake. Time is irresistible.

Youth, beauty, life, possessions, health and the companionship of friends, all are unstable. He that is wise will never covet any of these. It behoveth thee not to grieve for what is universal. A person may, by indulging in grief, himself perish, but grief itself, by being indulged in, never becomes light. If you feel your grief to be heavy, it should be counteracted by not indulging in it. Even this is the medicine for grief that one should not indulge in it. By dwelling on it one cannot lessen it. On the other hand, it grows with indulgence. Upon the advent of evil or upon the bereavement of something that is dear, only they that are of little intelligence suffer their minds to be afflicted with grief. This is neither Profit nor Religion, nor Happiness, on which thy heart is dwelling.

The indulgence of grief is the certain means of one's losing one's objects. Through grief, one falls away from the three great ends of life (Virtue, Wealth and Pleasure). [ See page "Virtue, Wealth and Pleasure" - See the column on the left]. They that are destitute of contentment are stupefied on the accession of vicissitudes dependent upon the possession of wealth. They, however, that are wise, are on the other hand, unaffected by such vicissitudes.

One should kill mental grief by wisdom, just as physical grief should be killed by medicine. Wisdom has this power. They, however, that are foolish, can never obtain tranquillity of soul. The acts of a former life closely follow a man, insomuch that they lie by him when he lies down, stay by him when he stays, and run with him when he runs. In those conditions of life in which one acts well or ill, one enjoys or suffers the fruit thereof in similar conditions. In those forms (of physical organisation) in which one performs particular acts, one enjoys or suffers the fruits thereof in similar forms. One's own self is one's own friend, as, indeed, one's own self is one's own enemy. [Note: Refer also to Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 6, Verses 5 & 6 ]. One's own self is the witness of one's acts, good and evil. From good acts springs a state of happiness, from sinful deeds springs woe. One always obtains the fruit of one's acts. One never enjoys or suffers weal or woe that is not the fruit of one's own acts.

He that is wise obtains tranquillity by subduing both grief and joy through means by which one may escape from grief and joy. All those things about which we are anxious are ephemeral. The world is like a plantain tree, without enduring strength. Since the wise and the foolish, the rich and the poor, all, divested of their anxieties, sleep on the crematorium, with bodies reft of flesh and full of bare bones and shrivelled sinews, whom amongst them will the survivors look upon as possessed of distinguishing marks by which the attributes of birth and beauty may be ascertained? (When all are equal in death) why should human beings, whose understandings are always deceived (by the things of this world) cover one another's rank and position?

The learned say that the bodies of men are like houses. In time these are destroyed. As a person casting off one attire, whether old or new, wears another, even such is the case with the bodies of all embodied beings. [Note: Refer also to Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2, Verse 22]. Creatures obtain weal or woe as the fruit of their own acts. Through their acts they obtain heaven, or bliss, or woe. Whether able or unable, they have to bear their burdens, which are the result of their own acts.

As amongst earthen pots some break while still on the potter's wheel, some while partially shaped, some as soon as brought into shape, some after removal from the wheel, some while in the course of being removed, some after removal, some while wet, some while dry, some while being burnt, some while being removed from the kiln, some after removed there from, and some while being used, even such is the case with the bodies of embodied creatures. Some are destroyed while yet in the womb, some after coming out of the womb, some on the day after, some on the expiration of a fortnight or of a month, some on the expiration of a year or of two years, some in youth, some in middle age, and some when in old age. Creatures are born or destroyed according to their acts in previous lives. When such is the course of the world, why do you then indulge in grief? As men, while swimming in sport on the water, sometimes dive and sometimes emerge, O King, even so creatures sink and emerge in life's stream. They that are of little wisdom suffer or meet with destruction as the result of their own acts. They, however, that are wise, observant of virtue, and desirous of doing good unto all living creatures, they, acquainted with the real nature of the appearance of creatures in this world, attain at last to the highest end.


Life and Death

From Brhadaranyaka Upanisad

Translated from the original Sanskrit by
Swami Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester

Addressing King Janaka, Yagnavalkya said:
When man, the individual soul, is born, and assumes relationship with the body and sense organs, he becomes associated with the evils of the world. When at death he gives up the body, he leaves all evil behind.

There are two states for man- the state of this world, and the state in the next; there is also a third state, the state intermediate between these two, which can be liked to dream. While in the intermediate state, a man experiences both the other states, that in this world and that in the next; and the manner thereof is as follows:

When he dies, he lives only in the subtle body, on which are left the impressions of his past deeds, and of these impressions he is aware, illumined as they are by the pure light of the Self. Thus it is that in the intermediate state he experiences the first state, or that of life in the world. Again, while in the intermediate state, he foresees both the evil and the blessings that will yet come to him, as these are determined by his conduct, good and bad, upon the earth, and by the character in which this conduct has resulted. Thus it is that in the intermediate state he experiences the second state, or that of life in the world to come.

In the intermediate state, there are no real chariots, nor horses nor roads; but by the light of the Self he creates chariots and horses and roads. There are no real blessings nor joys nor pleasures; but he creates blessings and joys and pleasures. There are no real ponds nor lakes nor rivers; but he creates ponds and lakes and rivers. He is the creator of all these out of the impressions left by his past deeds.

As a man passes from dream to wakefulness, so does he pass at death from this life to the next.

When a man is about to die, the subtle body, mounted by the intelligent Self, groans- as a heavily laden cart groans under its burden.,/p>

When his body becomes thin through old age or disease, the dying man separates himself from his limbs, even as a mango or a fig or a Bunyan fruit separates itself from its stalk, and by the same way that he came he hastens to his new abode, and there assumes another body, in which to begin a new life.

When his body grows weak and he becomes apparently unconscious, the dying man gathers his senses about him and completely withdrawing their powers, descends into his heart. No more does he see form or colour without.
He neither sees, nor smells, nor tastes. He does not speak, he does not hear. He does not think, he does not know. For all the organs, detaching themselves from his physical body, unite with his subtle body. Then the point of his heart, where the nerves join, is lighted by the light of the Self, and by that light he departs either through the eye, or through the gate of the skull, or through some other aperture of the body. When he thus departs, life departs; and when life departs, all the functions of the vital principle depart. The Self remains conscious, and conscious, the dying man goes to his abode. The deeds of this life, and the impressions they leave behind, follow him.

As a leech, having reached the end of a blade of grass, takes hold of another blade and draws itself to it, so the Self, having left this body behind it unconscious, takes hold of another body and draws himself to it.

As a goldsmith, taking an old gold ornament, moulds it into another, newer and more beautiful, so the Self, having given up the body and left it unconscious, takes on a newer and better form, either that of the fathers, or that of the celestial singers, or that of the gods, or that of other beings, heavenly or earthly.

The Self is verily Brahman (The Supreme Self). Through ignorance it identifies itself with what is alien to it, and appears to consist of intellect, understanding, life, sight, hearing, earth, water, air, space, fire, desire and the absence of desire, anger and the absence of anger, righteousness and the absence of righteousness. It appears to be all things- now one, now another.

As a man acts, so does he become. A man of good deeds becomes good, a man of evil deeds becomes evil. A man becomes pure through pure deeds, impure through impure deeds.

As a man's desire is, so is his destiny. For as his desire is, so is his will; as his will is, so is his deed; and as his deed is, so is his reward, whether good or bad.

A man acts according to the desires to which he clings. After death he goes to the next world bearing in his mind the subtle impressions of his deeds; and after reaping there the harvest of his deeds, he returns again to this world of action. Thus he who has desires continues subject to rebirth. But he in whom desire is stilled suffers no rebirth. After death, having attained to the highest, desiring only the Self, he goes to no other world. Realising Brahman (the Supreme Self), he becomes Brahman. When all the desires which once entered into his heart have been driven out by divine knowledge, the mortal, attaining to Brahman, becomes immortal. As the slough of a snake lies cast off on an anthill, so lies the body of a man at death; while he, freed from the body, becomes one with the immortal spirit, Brahman, the Light Eternal.

Other worlds there are, joyless, enveloped in darkness. To these worlds, after death, go those who are unwise, who know not the Self. When a man has realised the Self, the pure, the immortal, the blissful, what craving can be left in him that he should take to himself another body, full of suffering, to satisfy it?

He that has once known the glory of the Self within the ephemeral body- that stumbling block to enlightenment- knows that the Self is one with Brahman, Lord and Creator of all. Brahman may be realised while yet one dwells in the ephemeral body. To fail to realise Him is to live in ignorance, and therefore to be subject to birth and death. The knowers of Brahman are immortal; others, knowing him not, continue in the bonds of grief.

He who with spiritual eye directly perceives the self-effulgent Being, the Lord of all that was, is, and shall be- he indeed is without fear, and causes fear in none.

He who knows Brahman to be the life of life, the eye of the eye, the ear of the ear, the mind of the mind- he indeed comprehends fully the cause of all causes. By the purified mind alone is Brahman perceived. In Brahman there is no diversity. He who sees diversity goes from death to death.

Brahman can be apprehended only as knowledge itself- knowledge that is one with Reality, inseparable from it. For He is beyond all proof, beyond all instruments of thought. The eternal Brahman is pure, unborn, subtler than the subtlest, greater than the greatest.

Let therefore the wise aspirant, knowing Brahman to be the supreme goal, so shape his life and his conduct that he may attain to Him. Let him not seek to know Him by arguments, for arguments are idle and vain.

Verily is Brahman the great unborn that dwells within the lotus of the heart, surrounded by the senses. He is the Intellect of the intellect, Protector of all, King of all, Lord of all. Good works do not make Him more, nor do evil works make Him less. Lord, King, Protector of all, He transcends the three worlds.

Devotees seek to know Him by study, by sacrifice, by continence, by austerity, by detachment. To know Him is to become a seer (Rishi). Desiring to know Him alone, monks renounce the world. Realising the glory of the Self, the sages of old craved neither sons nor daughters. "What have we to do with sons and daughters," they asked, "we who have known the Self, we who have achieved the supreme goal of existence?" No longer desiring progeny, nor wealth, nor life in other worlds, they entered upon the path of complete renunciation.

Craving for progeny leads to craving for wealth, and craving for wealth leads to craving for life in other worlds. Two cravings there are: the craving for a life of pleasure in this world, and the craving for a life of greater pleasure in other worlds.

The Self is to be described as not this, not that (neti, neti). It is incomprehensible, for it cannot be comprehended; undecaying, for it never decays; unattached, for it never attaches itself; unfettered, for it is never bound. He who knows the Self is unaffected, whether by good or by evil. Never do such thoughts come to him as "I have done an evil thing" or "I have done a good thing." Both good and evil he has transcended, and he is therefore troubled no more by what he may or may not have done.

The eternal glory of the knower of Brahman, beginning less and endless, revealed by divine knowledge is neither increased nor decreased by deeds. Let a man therefore seek to obtain it, since having obtained it he can never be touched by evil. Self-controlled is he who knows the Self, tranquil, poised, free from desire. Absorbed in meditating upon it, he sees it within his own soul, and he sees all beings in it. Evil touches him not, troubles him not, for in the fire of his divine knowledge all evil is burnt away. Freed from evil, freed from desire, freed from doubt, he becomes a knower of Brahman.

This O King, is the truth of Brahman. Do thou attain to it.


From The Mahabharata, Santi Parva, Section CLXXXVII

Brigu said: The creature that dies only goes into another form. The body alone dissolves away. The living creature, though depending upon the body, does not meet with destruction when the body is destroyed. There is no destruction of the living creature, or of what is given, or of our other acts.

The living creature is not seen after the destruction of the physical frame just as fire is not seen after the consumption of the fuel with which it was ignited.

Bharadwaja said: If there is no destruction of the living creature like that of fire, I submit, fire itself is not seen after consumption of the fuel (that ignited it). When the supply of fuel is stopped, the fire becomes extinguished, and, as far as I know, becomes annihilated. This should surely be regarded to have met with destruction which has no longer any action, which furnishes no proof of its existence, and which no longer occupies any space.

Brigu said: It is true that upon the consumption of fuel fire is no longer seen. It mingles with space because there is no longer any visible object in which to inhere, and hence it becomes incapable of perception by us. Similarly, upon leaving the body, the creature lives in space, and cannot be seen in consequence of its extreme subtlety, as is doubtless the case with fire. It is fire or heat that sustains the breaths called Prana and the others. Know that that heat (thus existing) is called life or the living agent. That heat which is the sustainer of the breaths, becomes extinguished in consequence of the suppression of breath. Upon that heat in the physical frame being extinguished, the frame itself loses animation. Falling down, it is transformed into earth, for that is its ultimate destination.

The breath that is in all mobile and immobile objects mingles with space, and the heat that is in them follows that breath. These three (viz., space, air and fire), mingle together. The other two (viz., water and earth) exist together in the form of earth. There is air where space is, and there is fire where air is. They are formless, it should be known, and become endued with form only in respect of embodied creatures.

Bharadwaja said: If in the physical frames of all living creatures there are heat, air, earth, space and water, what then, are the indications of living agent? Tell me these, O sinless one! I desire to know the nature of the life that is in the bodies of living beings; bodies made up of the five primal elements, engaged in the five acts, endued with the five senses and possessed of animation. Upon the dissolution of the body, which is a union of flesh and blood, and a mass of fat, sinews and bones, that which is a living agent cannot be seen. If this body, composed of the five elements, were destitute of what is called life, who or what then is that which feels misery upon the appearance of either bodily or mental pain?

The living agent hears what is said, with the aid of the ears. It, however, happens again, O great Rishi, that the same agent hears not when the mind is otherwise engaged. It seems, therefore, that that which is called the living agent serves no purpose. The whole scene that the living agent sees with eyes acting in concert with the mind, the eye beholds not, even when lying before it, if the mind is otherwise engaged. Then again, when it is under the influence of sleep, that agent neither sees nor smells, nor hears, nor speaks, nor experiences the perceptions of touch and taste. Who or what then is that which feels joy, becomes angry, gives way to sorrow, and experiences tribulation? What is that which wishes, thinks, feels aversion, and utters words?

Brigu said: The mind is also made of the five elements in common with the body. For this reason it is of no consequence with respects to the acts mentioned by thee. Only the one internal Soul sustains the body. It is he that perceives smell, taste, sound, touch and form and other properties (that exist in external nature). That Soul, pervading all the limbs, is the witness (of the acts) of the mind endued with five attributes and residing within the body composed of the five elements. It is he who feels pleasure and pain, and when separated from him the body no longer experiences them. When there is no longer any perception of form or of touch, when there is no heat in the fire that resides within the body; indeed, when that animal heat becomes extinguished, - the body in consequence of its abandonment by the Soul, meets with destruction.

Water is the form of all embodied creatures. In that water is the Soul, which is displayed in the mind. That Soul is the Creator Brahman who exists in all things. When the Soul becomes endued with vulgar attributes, it comes to be called Kshetrajna. When freed from those attributes, it comes to be called Parmatman or Supreme Soul. Know that Soul. He is inspired with universal benevolence. He resides in the body like a drop of water in a lotus. Know well that which is called Kshetrajna and which has universal benevolence. Darkness, Passion and Goodness (Tamas, Rajas and Sattwa respectively), are the attributes of the living agent. The learned say that the Soul has consciousness and exists with the attributes of life.

The Soul exerts and causes everything to exert. Persons that have a knowledge of the Soul say that the Soul is different from life. It is the Supreme Soul that has created the seven worlds and sets them agoing. There is no destruction of the living agent when the dissolution of the body takes place. Men destitute of intelligence say that it dies. That is certainly untrue. All that the living agent does is to go from one unto another body. That which is called death is only the dissolution of the body. It is thus that the Soul, wrapped in diverse forms, migrates from form to form, unseen and unnoticed by others.

Persons possessed of true Knowledge behold the Soul by their keen and subtle intelligence. The man of wisdom, living on frugal fare, and with heart cleansed of all sins, devoting himself to Yoga meditation, succeeds every night, before sleep and after sleep, in beholding his Soul by the aid of his Soul. In consequence of a contented heart, and by abandoning all acts good and bad, one can obtain infinite happiness by depending upon one's own Soul. The king of fiery effulgence, residing within the mind is called the living agent. It is from that Lord of everything that this creation has sprung. Even this is the conclusion to be arrived at in the enquiry into the origin of creatures and the soul.


From the Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 14, Verse:18

Those who are seated in Sattwa (purity) go upwards; the Rajasic (Passionate) dwell in the middle; and the Tamasic, abiding in the function of the lowest guna, go downwards.
[Note: Those who abide in Sattwa become the lords of heaven after giving up the physical body. The Rajas are reborn on this earth as human beings. The Tamasic go downward, i.e., they will be born in the wombs of cattle or beasts. They may take their births amongst the lowest grades of human beings. The lowest grades of human beings are only brutes though they have assumed human form. Their actions are brutal. Commentary by Swami Shivananda, Divine Life Society, Rishikesh.]

The BhagavadGita, Chapter 14, Verse 20 : The embodied one having crossed beyond these three gunas out of which the body is evolved, is freed from birth, death, decay and pain, and attains to immortality.


Just as clay is described as a jar, just as gold is described as an earring so is Brahman (the Supreme Reality) described as jiva (individual embodied soul). 60

Some verses from Aparokshanubhuti of Sri Sankaracharya
Translated by SwamiVimuktananda, Belur Math

Just as clay is described as a jar, just as gold is described as an earring and a nacre (mother of pearl) as silver, so is Brahman (the Supreme Reality) described as jiva (individual embodied soul). 60

Just as blueness in the sky, water in the mirage and a human figure in the wooden stump of a tree are but illusory, so in the universe in Atman (Self). 61
[Note: Not only jiva (the embodied soul), but the whole universe is an illusion in Atman.]

Just as the appearance of a ghost in an empty place; of a castle in the air; and a second moon in the sky (is illusory), so is the appearance of the universe in Brahman. 63

Just as it is water that appears as ripples and waves, or again it is copper that appears in the form of a vessel (a pot), so it is Atman that appears as the whole universe. 64

Just as a jar is all clay, so also is the body all consciousness. The division, therefore, into the Self and non-self is made by the ignorant to no purpose. 69

Just as a rope is imagined to be a snake and a nacre (mother of pearl) to be a piece of silver, so is the Atman determined (imagined) to be the body by an ignorant person. 70

Just as earth (clay) is thought of as a jar (made of it) and threads as a cloth, gold as earring and water as waves, so is Atman. 71-72


Some explanations from the writings of Swami Shivananda
Divine Life Society, Rishikesh

Just as the space that is inside of a pot becomes one (merges) with the universal space when the pot is broken (when the limiting adjunct is removed), so also the individual soul becomes one with Brahman, when the limiting adjunct, ignorance, is annihilated (removed). Just as there is no return of the 'pot-space' (space that was within the pot) after it has become one with the universal space when the pot is destroyed, so also there is no return of the individual soul after the limiting adjunct (the antahkarana, i.e., mind and the other inner instruments) is destroyed. He becomes one with Brahman (the Supreme Soul).

Reflection (pratibimba) is only a portion of the object (bimba). The reflected sun is only a portion of the real sun (the rays of the sun). When the water is removed the reflected sun goes back to the original sun, as it were. It does not return to the water again. Even so, when ignorance or the mind is annihilated, the jiva (individual soul) which is a reflection of Brahman is absorbed in Brahman. He does not return to this world of birth and death.

The Individual soul is only an imaginary or fictitious portion of Brahman. He is a portion, as it were. For the Supreme Being is indivisible. He has no parts. He would be liable to destruction when the parts are disjointed or removed. In essence the jiva is identical with Brahman. The difference is on account of delusion or imagination or superimposition.

Related articles:
Shraddha & Tarpan/Pitr-Paksha

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