Garuḍa Purāṇa 15

Garuḍa Purāṇa proceeds to discuss the reasons for the subtle bodies to become ghosts. Because of the sins committed in previous births, men become ghosts after death.  The sins that cause ghosthood are desecrating wells, tanks, lakes, parks, temples, water bodies, trees and any such holy and natural places.  Those persons who commit these sins always remain as ghosts without any relief.  Persons who have committed the above sins are killed by cāṇḍāla-s (cāṇḍāla – a person who commits only sinful acts and hence considered as the worst among men), serpents, animals, death in water, lightning and all such unnatural deaths cause ghosthood.  Habitual sinners are made to commit suicides, or burnt alive, or death occurs due to incurable ailments, death at the hands of thieves or any other unnatural means of death. Those who do not perform proper sacrificial rites for ancestors also become ghosts.  Those who shirk their duties of taking care of his parents, spouse, children, sons-in-law and daughters-in-law attain ghosthood. Cheating one’s brother, murdering knowers of Vedas, slaughtering cows, consuming intoxicating liquor also become ghosts after death. The one who deviates from family and cultural traditions also become a ghost.

Ghosts feel the hunger and thirst, but these cannot be satiated. They cannot speak and are unconscious. They live in the places that are unclean. They haunt those who keep their bodies unclean. They also haunt those places where mantras are not recited and where religious rites are not performed.

For driving away the ghosts, one should take a bath either at his home or in holy places and offer water oblations to a deity at the root of a fig (pipul) tree. One has also to give black pepper as a gift, perform religious worships, including fire oblations. At the end of these rituals, gifts should be offered to Vedic pandits. A discourse about the Lord should be made.  At the end of all these rituals, ghosts leave the place for good. 

Garuḍa then asks the Lord certain interesting questions that are relevant even today. The questions are: 1. Though śāstra-s say that no pious person dies a premature death, still pious men die at young age. Why? 2. Vedic scholars and great kings also have the premature death. Why? 3. Though Vedas say that a man lives for 100 years, almost everyone dies well before 100 years.  Why?

Lord Viṣṇu begins His reply to Garuḍa.  A man’s full life is 100 years.  Vedas are right.  However, it is due to the accumulated sins of a person, his life span is cut short. Not studying Vedas, not following the Scriptural dictums, laziness and consequent non-performance of one’s prescribed duties, eating food in all the houses they visit (as per śāstra-s, one can take food only if cooked by his wife, mother or his own cooking), meddling with others spouses, etc. cause premature deaths.  Forsaking religious practices also cause sins and as a result, his life span is reduced.    

{According to Rig Veda, full life span of a human is 100 years.  It says (VII.66.16),

“tac cakṣur devahitaṁ śukramuccarat |

paśyema śaradaḥ śataṁ jīvema śaradaḥ śatam ||

तच् चक्षुर् देवहितं शुक्रमुच्चरत्।

पश्येम शरदः शतं जीवेम शरदः शतम्॥

Meaning of this verse is:  That God-ordained bight eye of the universe rises: may we behold it for a full hundred autumns and may we live a hundred autumns.}

Sins are described as three fold.  Sins begin to unfold in a person only if he is born as a human being. When he is deposited in a human womb, after having existed as birds, animals, etc., he recollects all his past actions and repents for his sinful actions. Once he is born, he again forgets all his past actions.  The moment he is born, his soul is engulfed by ignorance. His physical growth now begins.  He begins to suffer at different stages of his life, depending upon the velocity of his sins.  If he had committed serious crimes in his previous life, he dies after his fifth year.  Both his good deeds and bad deeds decide the quality of his life.    

If one dies as a child of less than five years, he should be buried. His relatives should distribute milk to the children in the neighborhood to appease his soul.  If the child is above five years, all the prescribed rituals should be performed including consuming his mortal remains to the fire.