Death and after
Courtesy : Vedic Culture By Pandit Ganga Prasad Upadhyaya
Contributed by Shri Keshav Arya Ji
Materialistic view of life takes no cognizance of death or after. Why should it? Death is the close of life. And all that pertains life should create when death overtakes it. But if death is the end of all, there is no question of culture. The cessation of the life of seed is not the realization of its potentialities. The struggle for the continuation of existence has some meaning. You struggle to live and not to die. Hence, the real culture should take a due notice of our past, our present, as well as of our future. The Vedic culture does so remarkably well. The Vedic philosophy looks upon the souls not only as immortals but eternals. There was no time when they were not and there will be no time when they will not be. Thus the souls being allowed a never ceasing eternality, the present life is but a biv-ouac, a link in a long chain of lives. These lives are but stages in which the seed powers of the soul undergo an evolution. Different species have different spans of life. Even human life has incalculable variations. Some men live only for minutes. Others attain even a century of years or more. It will be absurd to regard these lives as self-sufficient units. They serve no purpose. They can have meaning only so far as to be short stages of a very long journey. This leads to the doctrine of transmigration of souls which is the corner—stone of the Vedic culture. Apart from logical and psychological subtleties of the principle, even if we look at the question from mere culture-point of view, the value of transmigration is very high. From the sowing of the seed up to the reaping of the fruit there is a long series of stages of various lengths which all contribute towards the evolution of the seed powers. Then the life of the seed does not end there. It existed before it was sown. It must exist after it has bloomed into a fully-grown stage of evolution. Think of a babe who dies an hour after he is born. If this one-hour’s life is the only life of his, what evolution has he gone under? Why did nature call him to life and why has he been sent back to the world of non-existence? If you say that nature is -so fickle, the whole question of culture comes to nothing. What would culture mean when nature is so fickle? A chance-life of a hundred years is as good or as bad as a life of a few seconds. Culture, in order to be a culture should be more enduring. Every succeeding stage of a plant bespeaks the skill and sagacity of the farmer. Culture is possible only in a world of certain and unflinching laws. The Rigveda says: “Ritam cha satyam chaSbhiddhat tapsoSdhyajaayata” Rita means Law. Satya means the actual world. The verse means that the law and the world which is strictly governed by law are brought into revelation by the all-wise and all active God. There is nothing fickle in nature. It is perfectly teleological. Every item of life has a meaning. And what is that meaning. It is the culture of the souls. This culture should not come about by magic. lf the short undeveloped lives of minutes, hours or even a few years are regarded as self—sufficient, the huge waste which meets our eye is simply appalling. Is nature so wasteful? If I am allowed to live only a few hours, duration quite insufficient for my development and this is only life I obtain, of what use is it to me? The cultures which do not admit of the spiritual existence of souls or their eternality cannot solve the problem. They are too short-sighted. An insect which is born in the morning grows at noon and dies in the evening cannot think of those problems of life which a statesman, or a scientist, or a philosopher of advanced age can. The Vedas neither inculcate the theory of the soul ending with the physical death, nor that of eternal condemnation after death. Theirs is a message of hope. It is never too late to mend. If you fail in this life, try in the next. Rome was not built in a day. Nor can full development of a soul take place in one life. Beatitude, internal beatitude, the beatitude which does not pour forth from outside like a cloak of cloth or the body, but grows internally step by step, like the skin, cannot be obtained in such a short time as one life. Those who do not believe in the doctrine of transmigration of soul do not understand the value of realities of life. Life for them is a chance growth. The whole question of culture turns upon one question. What is the nature of the thing to be cultured? A thing that does not exist cannot be cultured. A thing that is absolutely perfect cannot be cultured. Only that thing can be cultured which is susceptible to deterioration by outer influences. Such is the nature of the soul. In the Vedic literature it has often been compared with air which is neither cold nor hot, but, which becomes cold by coming in contact with water, and gets hot by coming in contact with fire. In this world, there is a constant struggle between matter and the spirit. Material things invade us from all sides. If we are weak, we fall victim to the snares or threats of matter and get enslaved. lf we are strong, we dominate over matter and use it at our will. It is said in the Upanishad that the material bodies are our cars. We are the travelers. As long as cars are in our control, we can reach our destination. As soon as cars go out of our control, we meet our destruction. This truth is by no means difficult to realize. We meet such experiences every day. There is hardly anybody who does not feel the strength of worldly temptations. Our strength to combat those temptations depends upon the extent of our culture. This is a measure of our culture. Can we wrestle successfully with matter? If we can, we are cultured. This is the difference between a saint and a sinner. What is sin if not the weakness to yield to temptations? Now, this strength to withstand temptations comes by the realization of our spiritual nature. Generally we are so engrossed in material affairs that we forget what we are. We begin to feel that we are only eating or drinking entities and as soon as these wants are satisfied, we feel gratified. This is the end of our activities. We need no more. This is the lowest rung of the ladder of our culture. We are swine-like, most uncultured. Our culture begins with the gradual realization of our self as a non-material spirit. The more we realize this fact, the more we are cultured. But this realization does not come at once. Like all cultures, it is a long process. We have to rise step by step. Our present life is too short for such an achievement. Even if we are fully awake, we can obtain only a partial success. Take an analogy. A boy wants to be a great mathematician. How long does he need? Supposing he belongs to a nation where even simple notation and numeration are not well known. He must learn his 3R’s. Then easy problems on arithmetic, algebra, geometry or trigonometry. How long does he need? Supposing he is given only twenty five years to live. Will he make some progress? Now mathematics is one thing to be learnt. It is not all. The cultivation of one’s faculties, so that one might get mastery over matter? Is a great thing. This must take several lives. Look at myriads of sentient beings. All on different levels. All rising slowly. Most of them stationary or almost stationary. Some of them faltering. Some of them even going back and then making amends for their weaknesses. Rise and fall; fall and rise. This is the way how souls develop their faculties. For them one life is quite inadequate. Nature must be very cruel indeed, if for a few deeds or misdeeds, it sends one to an eternal hell or eternal heaven. It must be most merciless indeed, if it puts a full stop to our present life and offers to us no other chance to mend. We see so many living beings dying every day. What is their level of culture at the time of death? Will all these lives be extinct after this death? lf they will, of what avail is the culture, however partial, so far gained? Or will they be deposited at some place with their various degrees of culture so far gained? lf so, how will they utilize their present attainments? Which is the place just fit to accommodate them? These are the questions which naturally rise in one’s mind. The only reasonable answer is what is given in the following Vedic verses: Punrno asum prithivi dadaatu punrdyai devee punarantariksham I punarnah somastanvam dadaatu punah pooshaa pathyam yaa svastih || (Rig: 10-59-7) “May the earth give us breath again and may the shining heavenly region and the atmosphere restore the same to us; May Soma, all-creating God, give us body again (after our death) and may Pushan, the all-nourishing God, lead us on the path of peace and happiness” OR Punarmetvindrayam punraatmaa dravinam braahmaanaam cha I punargneyo dhishnayaa yathaasthaam kalpayantaamihaiva II (Atharvaveda: 7-67-1) “May I again receive my sense organs in my future life and may I receive my spirit, together with worldly possession and knowledge divine so that I may perform fire-offering on the altars and may ever attain prosperity.” The long and short of the whole thing is that it is never too late. We can correct our mistakes in future lives. We can add to our past earnings. We can evolve what so far remains up evolved. There are some who have acquired by teaching and by tradition a sort of horror at the belief of reincarnation. They are loath to admit any sort of kinship or connection between a tiny insect, a cat or dog, a cow, an elephant, a savage and saint. How can an insect be a saint and a saint an insect? A hog wallowing in mud and saint with his prayerful life in a mosque, church or temple But they forget that this view of theirs is only materialistic. They look at the corporeal bodies and not at the I souls which dwell in them. The same man can dwell in a hotel, a hut, a small house, and even a palace. Kings living in palaces are doomed to live in a dirty prison cell. Men born in huts become kings and dwell in palaces. Our bodies are our dwelling houses. Our non-material souls are not so huge that insect bodies may be too small for us, nor so tiny that elephant bodies may not accommodate them. To borrow an analogy from botany, our bodies are but the bees wherein our seed-powers grow. They are our culture-houses.