Long long ago, in fact, millions of years ago, our Sastras have explained graphically and with minute details not only what processes the soul undergoes 'At death' and what happens 'After death'.
Sri Ramanuja's SriBashya based on the Vedas and Upanishads clearly portrays
these aspects and Swami Sri Vedanta Desika has incorporated these in
Adhikaras 20.21 and 22 of his Rahasya Traya Sara in his own inimitable
style. We discuss below the subject as told by these pioneers
The very thought would send a chill through the spine to any person especially one who is face to face with death. Those who are impervious to such a sensation would be those driven to suicidal proclivity by deep distress, untold miseries, jilted love, betrayal by trusted ones, financial breakdown or mental alteration caused by drug , dope and the like. Though the media blares forth day in and day out cases of murder, loot, arson and rape along with a good sprinkling of suicides - the suicide instances are comparatively few and far between.
On the other end of the continuum, there are of course, a few exceptional cases who 'liked to live and not die' for very different reasons. For example, when Sri Rama beckoned Anjaneya to ascend with him to Paramapada, the latter declined politely saying that the relationship he had acquired with Sri Rama on earth would be unavailable in Paramapada and therefore preferred to ' live' here on earth! Similarly, Thondar Adippodi Alwar also liked to stay back saying that he would not trade in the pleasant experience he had in this world serving Sri Ranganatha with any of the pleasures that Paramapada itself could offer !.
Swami Desikan also saysTvam Chet Praseedasi Tavaasmi Sameepatas Chet Tvayi Asti Bhaktir Anagha Kari Saila Naatha Samsrijyate Yadicha Daasajanaas Tvadheeyah Samsaara Yesha Bhagavaan Apavarga Eva
" O! Lord! If thou art gracious, if I am always by thy side, if there is in me pure devotion to thee, if I am in the company of those who are thy servants- Then, this Samsara itself is salvation"
Death and total non-existence are unbearable and unacceptable to the ordinary mortal in spite of the trauma attaching to the struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest. THE MAJORITY, HOWEVER, WOULD RATHER LIKE TO LIVE THAN 'JOIN THE MAJORITY'. This has been very vividly portrayed in the Puranic story of a man hounded by a wild animal and falling into a deep well surrounded by poisonous snakes clinging to a branch that was being gnawed by rats- still going in for the momentary pleasure of tasting the rare drop of honey dripping from the honeycomb nested on the branch of the tree just above his head.
Life of man on earth is likened to the flight of a sparrow through a banquet hall in winter, with a good fire in the midst, while storms of rain and snow batter abroad. The sparrow is flying in at one door and immediately exiting out at another. During the passage in the hall he is safe from the wintry storm but after a short sojourn of fair weather, he instantly vanishes into the dark winter from which he emerged. The only difference is that the sojourn here is really not that rosy while the Scriptures say that the beyond is beautiful to the one who has played by the rule while on earth. Says Dr. Radhakrishnan " The fleeting is enclosed on both sides by an eternity which is real"
Another reason for the dread is the prospect of one's having to contend with death 'all alone'. Even when one is involved in a collision dash on the road or, or a train smash or a plane crash or a ship wreck when hundreds die, each one has to go through the throes of death 'all by oneself'..
More than the inevitability of death itself, the fact of the pangs involved in the process is forbiddingly threatening.
It is here that our Vedas, Sastras, Itihasas, Puranas and in fact the entire gamut of our sacred scriptures step in to assure that one could actually look forward to death as a welcome guest, LIVE PEACEFULLY TILL IT ARRIVES AND DIE GRACEFULLY.
Lord Krishna , the Charioteer friend turned Acharya of Arjuna intended to convey this comforting formula to us under the pretext of advising Arjuna. He deliberately goaded Arjuna to ask a leading question by feigning to slip out an apparent indiscretion when he said to Arjuna " I taught this great truth to Vivaswan (the Sungod), he to Manu and Manu to his son Ikshvaku etc."
Arjuna promptly seized the slip to question Krishna that since they themselves were just contemporaries, how could Krishna have taught anything to Vivaswan. The launching pad thus set adroitly, Krishna proceeds to explain the secret of his Avatara, how the imperishable soul transmigrates to newer bodies and therefore he should not imagine he was killing the soul and how the perishable body is cast away by the soul in successive births so that he should not feel sorry for the destruction of the body which, in any case, was going to perish.
" Many births of mine have passed away, Arjuna! as well as many of yours. I know them all but you know them not, Slayer of foes"
He further explains how even though he has no birth he is born out of his own sheer will while others are born due to their karma.
This concept of transmigration of the soul , the central theme of Hinduism imparts the much needed solace to the troubled minds of those fearing death. It presents the prospect of death as a welcome experience not to feel sorry about, prepares us to cast off our mortal coils, 'IF THE TIME COMES, WHEN IT COMES' with absolute ease and equanimity.
"To understand man's life as important, but not all important, as good but with a chance to be still better, is to relax the grip of terror a bit, and to see things in perspective. When one does see things in perspective - 'freedom from existence' can become the goal which transcends and transforms the threat of death to a sweet promise."
How the soul escapes at the time of death has been engaging the attention of
researchers all over the world. They experiment with persons with '
paranormal' and 'Near- death- experiences' (NDE). Even recently, in the USA,
a person terminally ill with a prognosis of imminent death was enclosed in a
glass domed cubicle. When he actually died, the scientists wondered how the
breath could have escaped through the air tight, hermetically sealed
cubicle. They noticed a minuscule - less than hairline fracture in the glass
that was not there earlier when the dome was examined with sophisticated
instruments before the experiment. The experiment conclusively proved that
the soul must have pierced through the glass dome.
Swami Desika describes how the soul leaves the body through the various Nadis (veins) and how the soul of a Prapanna and that of a Non-Prapanna take different routes and different destinations. First, he emphasizes how in the case of a Prapanna the attainment of Moksha is certain even if he had committed any indiscretions after performing Prapatti.
A person who has performed Prapatti will not consciously commit any sins. But, due to 'Prarabda karma' that had begun to yield fruits while he is living in this world, some may swerve:
(i) He may display feelings of 'I' and 'My' and commit certain offences consequently. The Lord will make him realize his folly by making wisdom dawn on him.
(ii) He may display a taste or desire for an object other than the Lord. Even when a Prapanna desires and prays for it, Isvara will not grant what is not good for his spiritual upliftment. This is like a mother preventing her child from falling into fire. The Lord declares 'when I decide to bless someone with Moksha, I strip him of his possessions; inflict on him tragedies of death of his dear and near ones; if, in spite of all these, he clings to me ( as he surely will), I grant him the bliss which even the Gods cannot secure'5 Or, he might grant what he desires in such an abundant measure as to create a revulsion and aversion to what he had asked for ( as in the case of Kuchela) The idea is that in any case, the person chosen would emerge a fully evolved soul to deserve Moksha.
(iii) He may contact other deities. In such cases, the Lord would create a situation by associating him with Paramaikantins and make him feel ashamed of his deviate behavior.
(iv) Being weak minded, he may desire to adopt other Upayas. The Lord will in due course dispel his desire to adopt other Upayas. By all means, the Lord would rid the Prapanna of any failings or foibles he might have contracted due to the interaction of his 'Prarabda karma' and eventually make him fit and qualified for Moksha - all before the Prapanna actually arrives at the point of departure from this life.
For the Prapanna who has not swerved, the delay in securing Moksha is only so long as he desires it. The Lord is anxious to bring him into the company of Nityasuris ( Never born) and is actually sorry for the delay desired by the Prapanna. He, therefore, produces an eagerness in the mind of the Prapanna to attain the goal. He creates a suitable atmosphere for the Prapanna to leave his worldly life and decides on the appropriate time and pretext for the event.
At the appointed time, the Lord projects for the Prapanna to behold a remembrance of all his thoughts, desires and deeds during his lifetime in a sort of flashback. " A certain amount of experimental evidences has been gathered from those who have come very close to death through some accident and then been restored to life; the trend of this evidence is to support the idea that at the moment death was nearest, they passed in review the events of their whole life"6 There is a dictum that one who dies during daytime, Sukla paksha ( bright fortnight of the moon), and Uttarayana ( the six month period when the Sun moves northward) alone can reach Paramapada through what is known as Archiradi marga ( the shiny path) and the others go through the Dhumadi marga (the smoky path) only to be reborn. This view has been expressed in several contexts thus: Lord Krishna declares-"O! Arjuna! I shall declare to you the path following which the yogis attain the state of not returning and also those who attain the state of returning. Light in the form of fire, the day, the bright fortnight preceding the full moon, the six months of the Sun's northern progress- departing therein, men who know Brahman go to Brahman. Smoke, night, the dark fortnight of the waning moon and the six months of the Sun's southern journey- departing in these periods, souls attain the light of the moon and come back to be reborn. Indeed, these two paths, the bright and the dark, for the world of the departing souls are deemed to be eternal. By the one, one attains the state of nonreturning; by the other one comes back again"
The same idea has been expressed in Mahabharata But, this is not applicable in the case of a Prapanna who may die at any time- day or night, in the bright or dark fortnight, in Uttarayana or Dakshinayana etc., since in his case, Karma lasts only as long as the body lasts; and, the moment he sheds his mortal coil, he moves to Paramapada through Archiradi marga. Brahmasutram also makes this point very clear Chandokya Up also confirms this;
' Whether the funeral rites are performed or not by their heirs, these Brahmagnanis ( who have done Prapatti) reach only this bright and shiny path and are led by a superhuman force to Brahman through the Deva marga ( Shiny path) or Brahma marga ( Path leading to Brahman). Those who have gone through this path never, never return to this mundane world' In the case of a Prapanna , all his Sanchita karmas are destroyed on performing Prapatti, like the bales of cotton that are burnt by fire. 'Prarabda karma' alone remains ( that which the Prapanna had agreed to go through during his lifetime). At the time of his death, the balance , if any, of his Punya karmas are transferred to his friends who have done him good and Papa karmas to those who had remained inimical to him. This is done because, the Prapanna's karma account has to show a nil balance and also because, Punya is like golden fetters and Papa is like iron fetters - thus making no difference to the soul which yearns for freedom from all shackles.
At the appointed moment, the lord joins the Gnanendriyas ( Sense organs ) and the Karmendriyas (Motor organs) with the mind. When the sense of speech ceases to function, we see that the mind continues to work. This is true when someone is so ill as not to be able to talk; or one who is observing a vow of silence; also we have seen mute persons whose minds however keep working. Even so, when other senses cease to function, the mind is still found to be working. Then, the mind with the sense organs affiliated to it is joined with the Vital air (Prana). We see this when a person is in a state of coma or unconsciousness , he merely breathes and even the functioning of the mind appears stalled. The Prana (with which are joined the senses and mind) is then united with the Jeevatma or the soul. This, however, will not be perceptible to the onlooker. The jeeva is then churned out of the physical body and united with the subtle form of fire and other primary elements. It can be noticed that even though a person is pronounced dead, there is some heat still felt in some part of the body indicative of this union of Jeevatma with the subtle element of fire. Similarly, all other elements (Panchbhutas) ( the five natural elements) are also joined with the Jeevatma ready to depart. This has been stated in Chandokya Up.
Brihadaranyaka. up also states that" all the vital airs go with the Jeeva at the time of death even as the faithful followers of a king go with him in his victorious march even without his specific bidding"
Since the jeeva would have become emaciated due to the churning, the Lord
embraces him to give him solace and rest. Upto this point, the preparation
for departure of the soul is common to both the Prapanna, Bhakta and also
others , sinners and saints alike.
Three specific ways have been identified through which the souls escape:
1. There are 72,000 Nadis or ( invisible veins ) which branch off from the heart and end up with nine major openings ( Navadwara) as also innumerable pores on the skin ( through which one perspires). Some run horizontally and some downwards. These are either colorless or dim. Through them go those who had been so wicked during their sojourn in this life that they have to expiate the results of their sins only by suffering in the penitentiary ( Naraka ) after which they are born in the world as animate beings like animals, birds or even as trees. Those whose account shows a predominance of evil deeds have to remain condemned to being inanimate objects like stone, mud etc for specific periods during which time they will be incapacitated to indulge in any wrong doing.
2. One hundred Nadis of various colors, white, black, blue, golden yellow and red go upwards from the heart. Those who go through these Nadis that go upwards go to the higher worlds to experience the fruits of the extraordinary Punya they had accumulated and after exhausting such Punya return to the earth to experience the results of their other karma ( both good and bad).
This is called the Dhumadhi marga (smoky path) or Pitruyana (the path of the manes) A soul that had performed meritorious deeds has to enjoy the fruits thereof. So, such a soul accompanied by the senses and elements reaches the moon through the Dhumadhi marga and reach heaven or Svarga (which is different from Moksha). There the soul assumes a subtle body to enjoy the fruits. When the good deeds get almost exhausted, it is reborn in this world along with the balance of Karma13 :This has also been very extensively explained in Chand.up which deals with 'Panchagni vidya' ( a special treatise on the journey of the soul from death to rebirth) according to which such a soul passes through five fires after falling down from Moon (Apram) viz.
i. Heaven or Svarga where the soul enjoys the fruits of the extraordinary good deeds and falls into the sky.( Sradda)
ii. After enjoying, the soul enters the rain bearing clouds ( Soman).
iii. Then, along with the rains, ( Vrishti) it comes down to earth and is united with paddy, etc that grow on earth
iv. When the food ( Annam) made out of these is consumed by the male, the soul gets into his seminal fluid.
v. When the male and the female unite, this creative fluid ( Retas) enters the womb of the female and subsequently born into this world on delivery.
There is, however, one Nadi other than the 100 mentioned above which
starting from the navel (Mooladhara) goes past the heart and ends up on the
top of the crown. This is a special Nadi reserved only for a Prapanna (who
attains Moksha at the end of the current life itself) or a Bhakta ( who
attains Moksha at the end of the life in which he reaches a nil balance in
his karma account- which may be at the end of the current life or after many
lives). The Lord illuminates this Nadi at the point where it goes past the
heart and the departing soul sensing the flickering radiance leaves the
heart and escapes through an aperture like bursting through a push- door
into this Nadi. This Nadi is called the Moordhanya Nadi or Sushumna Nadi or
Brahmanadi or Brahma Randra since it opens at the top of the skull of the
person leading him to Brahmam itself through the Shining path or the
Archiradhi marga . The soul starts its journey with the help of the rays of
the Sun. This has been explained in Kata Up also.15
The Prapanna will attain Moksha even if he is unconscious and unable to remember the Lord or utter any Mantra ( especially Dvaya) at the time of his death.
In the famous VARAHA CHARAMA SLOKA , the Lord assures- " The man who, when his mind is in its normal condition, when the body is not shattered and when the Dhatus (elementary constituents of the body ) are in perfect equipoise meditates on me as the one who has the world as my body and as the one who is not subject to births due to karma-- when that man lies like a log of wood or a piece of stone in his dying moments, I think of him ( my devotee) and lead him to attain the highest state" 16 Thus, for the Prapanna, the Lord will himself appear in his last thoughts and save him and he need not strive to effect it as an Upaya.
It is said that in the case of others destined to be born again, they become in their next birth what they were thinking of at the time of their death. This is expressed by Lord Krishna in BG17 This happened in the case of JADABHARATA, a great sage who reared a deer and became so much attached to it that his last thoughts were hitched on to that dear deer. He was himself born as a deer in his next birth.
The last thought is that which arises when all sense organs have ceased to
function and the person is in a state similar to a deep dreamless sleep
(Sushupti). It will not be known to the onlookers who may be near the dying
person. It can be cognized only by the dying person especially, if he is a
Prapanna and the Lord who confers this remembrance to him purely as a matter
of his Grace-' Kevalam Madeeya Dayaaya' in the words of Sri Ramanuja. As for
the place of death and the omens or signs under which the death occurs,
Swami Sri Vedanta Desika says that wherever and whenever and under whatever
omens or signs a Prapanna dies that becomes auspicious. This is because like
a father who descends into a well full of slushy mire to take out his
beloved child that had fallen into it, the Lord himself who abides in the
cave of the heart (dahara) condescends to help the Prapanna to enter the
special 101st Nadi through which he reaches Paramapada.
As we saw, the Lord releases the soul from the gross body (Stula Sarira) and provides with a subtle body ( Sukshma Sarira) and takes it through the Brahma Nadi on the Devayana. Swami Desika compares this to a king carrying his infant prince for a stroll.
This jeeva is received with due honors by the deities presiding over the following :-
The Gods mentioned at 9 to 12 take him to the very boundaries of the manifest world ( Prakriti mandala). These deities are Called 'ADHI VAHIKAS' (Prime Guides).
A doubt may arise as to how names of divisions of time like day, bright fortnight, half- year and year could be clubbed with the names of deities. Sri Bashyam clarifies where the various divisions of time are mentioned they refer to the deities presiding over the respective time periods and therefore there is no incongruity in the listing.
Again, different Upanishads list the various Adhivahikas differently some omitting a few and some mentioning the names of certain lokas and some others jumbling the sequence. Sri Bashyam clarifies that where a more detailed listing is given it should be adopted and where only an oblique reference is made to certain deities , they should be fitted into the pattern and sequence given in the detailed listing. We have adopted the sequence and listing as consolidated in Sri Bashyam and as adopted by Swami Desika in his Rahasya Traya Sara.
WHAT HAS BEEN DECLARED IN OUR SASTRAS IN THIS REGARD IS NOT A FIGMENT OF IMAGINATION. SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH BASED ON CASES OF DEATHBED VISIONS (DBVS), NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCES ( NDE), OUT OF BODY EXPERIENCES (OBE) ETC IN THE USA AND ELSEWHERE CONDUCTED BY RENOWNED RESEARCH INSTITUTIONS CONFIRM THE FINDINGS OF OUR SCRIPTURES.(VIDE ANNEXURE 1)
Another point also requires clarification . We saw that both categories of souls that pass through the Archiradimarga and Dhoomadhimarga reach the moon on their itinerary at some stage Then, what difference does it make as between the two categories that one goes to Paramapada and the other to Svarga? Kaushitaki Up. says that all those who reach the Moon through whatever path are invariably interrogated by Moon God who permits only those that answer his questions correctly to proceed on the onward path to Vaikunta , and sends those that are unable to answer correctly to Svarga to be reborn as described in the Panchagni Vidya. Invariably, the Prapannas and Bhaktas would be able to give correct answers, having had their 'ORIENTATION DURING THEIR PROBATION' .
The question is simply "Who are you?". The answer is equally simple. The soul would reply " I have been born again and again due to beginning-less sins. Having taken refuge under the Lord who is 'Satya' and having performed Bhakti or Prapatti, I have realized the Lord to be my soul as well as the soul of all that is, including you, the moon god. I see Narayana in my own self and in everything else. Please therefore do not hurl me down to be born again and let me reach the supreme state of Paramapada". Pleased with the answer, such soul is allowed to proceed further on its onward march to Paramapada. Once it goes through this, it can no longer return.
SWAMI DESIKA SAYS THAT IT IS LIKE THE PROVISION OF A LADDER FOR A PERSON TO CLIMB UP AND ONCE ONE HAD REACHED THE TOP THE LADDER IS WITHDRAWN SO THAT THE PERSON COULD NO WAY COME DOWN AGAIN.
The soul is then made to cross the celestial Viraja river a.k.a Vijara meaning ( ageless).
The jeeva then sheds even the subtle body which had been kept on merely for the sake of journey and conversing with the Moon god ( as aforesaid).
SWAMI DESIKA COMPARES THIS TO A PERSON WHO USES A BOAT TO CROSS A RIVER. AFTER CROSSING, THE BOAT IS CAST OFF AND LEFT BEHIND ON THE BANK WHERE HE GOT OFF AND STEPPED OUT TO THE SHORE.
The jeeva acquires a super-sensuous divine form made of Suddha satva ( Aprakrita ). It is then taken to a divine tank ( as big as an ocean ) called Airammadeeyam and then to a huge Aswattha tree called Somasavana. There 500 Apsaras in batches of 100 each adorn the jeeva with garlands, collyrium, perfumes, garments and ornaments respectively and receive it with royal honors. Then divine fragrance ( Brahma Gandha), divine flavor ( Brahma Rasa) and divine splendor ( Brahma Tejas) enter into the jeeva.
The jeeva is then received by Nityasuris who take it to the portals of the city with high walls adorned with festive banners in the world called 'Aparajita'. Indra and Prajapati who are the guards there welcome the Jeeva like their master and offer honors befitting a crown prince with Purnakumbha, lamps and other Upacharas ( services).This is ' Salokya'
Then, the Jeeva is led to the enchanting assembly hall , a Gopura ( Tower) studded with precious gems called 'Prabuvimitam' or 'Vibupramitam'.
Then, the Jeeva acquires divine form and fame ( Divya yasas). This is called 'Saroopya'
Then, the Jeeva is led to the seat of the Lord called 'Vichakshana Peetam'. This is ' Sameepyam'
The Lord allows the Jeeva to climb up his divine couch called 'Amitoujas' and reveals his blissful form to the Mukta This is 'Sayujya'.
The Lord restores to the jeeva its essential nature with the 8 qualities viz., Being free from
The Lord bestows Sayujya which means ( being united in equal enjoyment), places the Mukta in the galaxy of Nityas and other Muktas for enjoying infinite being, infinite knowledge and infinite bliss. The Lord mingles with them like friends of the same youthful age group as Nitya yuva as he himself.
This Archiradi is the shortest route to Moksha in the sense that even though the various stages have been described elaborately in Chandokya Up. , Kaushitaki Up. and other scriptures and in Sri Bashya , THE JEEVA IS SAID TO TRAVERSE THROUGH ALL OF THEM INSTANTANEOUSLY WITH A BEWILDERING SUPERSONIC SPEED IMMEDIATELY ON SHEDDING THE MORTAL COILS (STULA SARIRA). THIS IS BECAUSE OF THE UTMOST INTENSITY FOR ' THE GET-TOGETHER' SENSED AND SHARED EQUALLY BY THE PARAMATMA AND THE JEEVATMA.
Archiradi is not the only route to Moksha. There are other routes for those who had acquired an eligibility to enter Paramapada through various Upasanas and Vidyas prescribed in Bhaktiyoga.
1. Those who practice Madhuvidya obtain positions like those of Vasus
2. Those who meditate on the four faced Brahma as the body of Narayana reach his Satyaloka and stay with him till the end of Brahma's life called Para when dissolution takes place and having fulfilled themselves they enter the highest seat Paramapadam along with him. So says Kurma Purana
3. Certain others reach Anirudda and after staying with him for sometime they go to Pradyumna, then to Sankarshana and finally to Paravasudeva (Narayana)
4. Jayakya Samhita mentions another route for Bhaktas who practice some other Vidyas. " They go from here to Svetadweepa and reach Hari who has the Universe as his form. Then, they reach Hari in his form as Anirudda who is in the ocean of milk. From there, they go to Hari who is the Lord of Brahma and all others. Then, they proceed to Samkarshana and finally to the eternal Bhagavan, Vasudeva"
These are known as 'Krama Mukti" ( Release by gradation) and are applicable to those who practice Bhakti yoga and we need not be concerned about them.
FOR US PRAPANNAS , THE SIMPLEST, SHORTEST, SUREST AND SETTLED ROUTE IS THE ROYAL ROUTE OF ARCHIRADI MARGA.
In daily meditation, the Prapanna reminds himself of the Archiradimarga since such remembrance becomes an end in itself producing a keen delight in knowing that very soon he would be treading the same path to attain Moksha.
SWAMI DESIKA LIKENS THIS TO THE ANXIOUS EXPECTATION OF A PROSPECTIVE
BRIDEGROOM WHO COUNTS THE DAYS BEFORE THE ENSUING WEDDING DAY THAT HAD
BEEN FIXED ALREADY.