Death is a natural process that cannot be avoided and should not be feared. Quality of one’s birth and death is directly related one’s karmas. Karmas are of three types – sañcita, prārabdha, and āgāmika. This concept has been already explained in detail. Karma is the record book of one’s thoughts and actions of all the previous births. The concept of karma is applicable only to human beings as the cause of karma is the mind, which is the sixth sense. Mind is the cause for all actions. Mind receives inputs of the material world through sensory organs and based upon the inputs, mind commands the organs of action to act. Not all the inputs to the mind are translated into actions. There are certain inputs that stay in the mind and attain potency over a period of time. These are known as thought processes or thoughts. A thought attains potency because, the mind in which a particular thought is embedded repeatedly thinks about the cause of such thoughts. Two kinds of thoughts are possible, one is good and another is bad. Every thought is associated with a person or an object. If the mind thinks good about a person, it is a positive thought, let us say a friend or relative’s elevation in his workplace. If a person thinks about his own elevation, then it is a desire.
Positive thoughts produce positive cosmic energy that reaches the person associated with that thought. In this state, both are benefited. The person who generates positive cosmic energy and focuses it on the beneficiary is also healed during this process. The person on whom his thoughts and cosmic energies are focused also gets benefited through the positive energy infused by the other person. Negative thoughts are like fire. They not only destroy the person associated with the evil thought (the one who is to be affected by his bad thoughts about him), but also destroy the one, who nurtures these negative thoughts. Cursing, abusing, disrespecting, etc fall under negative thoughts. Negative thoughts cause huge karmic impressions than evil actions. Those with negative thoughts are the worst sinners. They not only destroy themselves, but also the people around them.
When a person is dead, the first thing that happens is the calculation of his karmic account. Scriptures attribute a name for the one who does this work. He is called Citragupta, the accounts manager of god of death, Yama. When the causal body leaves the gross body at the time of death, the dead person’s karmic account is already ready and Yama decides the fate of the causal body that has just escaped from the dead body. Yama is a great upholder of justice and only goes by the law book “Law of Karma”, which is the Law of the Lord. Yama does not have any discretion to override the Law of Karma. Upaniṣad-s repeatedly say that every god functions out of fear for Brahman.
When the causal body, the individual soul and prāṇa leave the gross body, they escape from the body with great force, due to the pressure of prāṇa. Prāṇa generates extreme pressure to push out the causal body and the soul from the physical body. They literally go out like a rocket. Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad (VI.i.13) describes this to a tied horse that got released and ran away by uprooting everything that came across during its release. Because of this extreme force, there is always a discharge either through nose, mouth or organs of excretion from the physical body. Now the journey of the causal body begins till it formulates the next body, as fixed by the Law of Karma. If one’s karmic impression is too bad, the causal body is made to form a fetus almost instantaneously. If one’s karma is good, the causal body takes a sojourn at different planes of cosmos. The frequency of birth and death purely depends upon one’s quality of karmas. The quality of life is also determined by karmas. We often come across pious persons who are made to suffer during the final stages of their lives. This means that they are about to nullify their karmic account and at the time of death, they get liberated. There are many checks and balances in the operation of the karmic law. Rituals pertaining to death have been sufficiently discussed in the series Garuḍa Purāṇa.
With this brief background in mind, we will now look into what Vedas and Upaniṣad-s say about pitṛ (पितृ). Pitṛ-s mean the ancestors.
Yajur Veda classifies pitṛ-s as one among the several deities. In III.iv.5.3, the Veda says, “पितरः पितामहाः परेऽवरे ततास्ततामहा इह माऽवत। pitaraḥ pitāmahāḥ pare'vare tatāstatāmahā iha mā'vata |”. The meaning of this verse is – O! You fathers, grandfathers, you are near and far, O! Great ancestors protect me.” In this verse ancestors are invoked and prayed to protect the invoker.
Āpastamba-Śrauta-Sūtra (XX.xvi.11) says, “He praises the ancestors with three verses in Yajur Veda” by making a reference to Yajur Veda IV.vi.6.9-11, which says, “स्वादुष्सदः पितरो वयोधाः कृच्छ्रे श्रितः शक्तीवन्तो गभीराः svāduṣmsadaḥ pitaro vayodhāḥ kṛcchre śritaḥ śaktīvanto gabhīrāḥ” and the verse further goes. These three verses say, “The fathers who are established in Bliss, through their invincible power, bestow on us health and strength to make our living in difficult places by overcoming enemies.” Enemies here means desires, attachments, etc. In other words, ancestors are prayed for health, strength and prosperity and to lead a comfortable life.
There are two verses in Rig Veda (X.xiv.7 and 8) which are addressed to the pitṛ who has just died requesting his soul to follow the path shown by his ancestors (forefathers) and realize the Brahman. The verse describes Brahman as illustrious Lord of cosmic order and the Lord of cosmic intelligence rejoicing in Svadhā. The next verse prays to the pitṛ thus, “My you be united with your forefathers also with the Lord of cosmic order and experience the fulfilment of your wishes in the highest heaven.” The prayer further seeks his union with another celestial body so that he is not born again. First verse (verse 7) uses the word Svadhā. When oblations are made in favour of gods, then sacrifice is made by saying svāhā and in the case of ancestral rites, oblations are made by saying svadhā. There is a purāṇic reference which says, that svāhā and svadhā are the two wives of Agni, the god of fire.
Praśna Upaniṣad (I.9 and 10) talks about the worlds that ancestor reach after their death. It says that the one who lives by performing Vedic rites and also work for the betterment of the society by digging wells, etc with ego, reach the sphere of moon known as Candraloka. Though he meticulously followed the dictums of Vedas and served for the betterment of the society, he did all this with ego. He took pride in saying he did all this, forgetting that the Brahman is the cause for all his actions. The Upaniṣad says though he (his causal body and soul) landed in Candraloka, he is born again because of the ego. The Upaniṣad also says that sages and saints are reborn as they had performed sacrifices with some desire or other in minds. They performed sacrifices only to fulfill their desires. They reach the world of ancestors and do not attain Brahman.
The next verse of this Upaniṣad (verse 10) says that there is another category of men who attain knowledge about Brahman by understanding the Scriptures and falling at the feet of a Guru with a sole prayer that he should teach them the path to liberation. At the time of death, they are lead to the sphere of sun and are not reborn again. They attain immortality because they followed the spiritual path by first attaining knowledge about the Brahman and later surrendering to a Guru (not guru) with the sole purpose of attaining liberation. Such men after their death reach Sūryaloka.
The difference between Candraloka and Sūryaloka is very significant. Those ancestors who reach Candraloka take a comfortable sojourn there and are reborn again when their karmic accounts make them to reborn. On the other hand, those ancestors who have reached the Sūryaloka are not reborn, but their causal bodies still exist. Over a period of time such souls reach the Brahmaloka (the world of Brahman) and get finally liberated. Their causal bodies cease to exist and merge with the Brahman. All the traces of that causal body are totally annihilated and his individual soul becomes one with Him, from where it originated several thousands of years ago. Candraloka, Sūryaloka and Brahmaloka refer to different cosmic planes.
(this discussion will be continue)