This is part 4 of the series Vedas and Ancestors.
All the objects undergo constant modifications only to perish ultimately. Whenever there is growth in a matter (say a human body), it means that it is going to decay at a future date, the exact date of which will never be known to anyone except the Creator. As per Vedas, after death, several saṁskāra-s are done to the dead body; saṁskāra means purification. Mostly a dead body is consumed either to Earth or to Agni (fire). Both these are considered as sacred and a body (corpse) is purified by means various rituals and Vedic recitations to make the body one with either of the holy elements. It is also believed that certain organs do not stop functioning immediately after death. There are references to this in resurrected bodies. Some could listen to pleasant music, sound of bells or high intensity hissing sound. There are also references to the entry of pleasant environment, visuals of bright worlds, etc. However, this cannot be confirmed as they totally depend upon the statements of resurrected humans and there is no scientific proof to corroborate these statements. However, this cannot be proved through science, as the journey of the soul is considered as the most preserved secret of God. As there are no other means to know about the period immediately after death, believing and not believing is left to one’s wisdom. The same concept applies to the concept of ghosts, etc. A causal body cannot attain a gigantic proportion of a ghost. The depth of devotion and intensity of knowledge will not allow a person to think about ghosts. Ghost is nothing but the manifestation of one’s fear and guilty conscience.
Death means the end of conscious life; conscious life was active only because of the soul and the when the soul leaves the body along with prāṇa and subconscious mind, death of the gross and subtle bodies occur. One’s karmic imprints are embedded in subconscious mind, which also transmigrates along with the soul. Death is a process that unfolds within a gross body. A fetus is formed first with the soul, followed by prāṇa, which forms the causal body. Once the causal body is formed, subtle body is formed and finally gross body is formed and these formations are only around the soul. This process is called evolution. This process is reversed at the time of death and this reversal of the process is known as involution. Though the process of evolution takes approximately 270 days (from the date of conception to the birth of a child), whereas, the process involution is completed in a few seconds. When the time for death has come as per one’s karmic account, his or her organs of action and perception become one with faculties of action and perception. This is the first happening in the process death and when this process is triggered, his or her consciousness is gradually lost. These ten faculties become one with antaḥkaraṇa (mind, intellect and ego) and antaḥkaraṇa become one with the mind. Karmic impressions in the mind if any get transferred to the subconscious mind. The subconscious mind gets detached from the mind and gets attached to the soul. When this process is complete, the person loses his or her consciousness completely and consciousness gets annihilated as there is nothing in the body that can sustain his consciousness. During the final stage of death, only prāṇa and the soul with subconscious mind remain. At the appointed fraction of a second, prāṇa pushes the soul and the subconscious mind with great force into the cosmos. Because of this force, the body pushes out excretory substance from the body. The soul-subconscious mind get carried away by the wind and reaches higher planes, in case the subconscious mind is destined to take a sojourn; if not they go in search of another body where the subconscious mind is destined to enter to take another birth. The soul has no role to play in the entire process as it gives an active support for the subconscious mind. Without the soul, subconscious mind cannot move and subconscious mind is the place where one’s karmas are stored.
Transmigration is often compared to changing outer garments. During one’s life, every single action is recorded in his or her karmic account. One need not physically assault someone, but the very thought of assaulting another person causes huge karmic impressions. As far as karma concept is concerned, thoughts are more powerful than action. When a person fails to take care of his or her parents at their old age with love and compassion and if this person gives any amount of gifts while performing last rites of his or her parents, none of them will bring good karmas to him, nor help the departed soul in its journey. His indifferent attitude towards his parents during their life time will never be accepted by his pitṛ-s and as result of which his children will be affected in someway or other. There is no remedial measure for ancestral curses and any money spent on performing such rituals to remove their curses will never have any effect. Karma cannot be wiped out or eradicated and there is no other go except to experience the karma. The human life is the most precious gift of God and as long as one lives, he should know to love and help others to the extent possible. Extravaganza and vanity will never produce positive karmas and in fact they will push the one who indulges in such acts to doomsday.
Brahma Sūtra-s (of Śaṃkarācārya) also talk about transmigration. Brahma Sūtra III.i.1 says, “In the matter of obtaining the next body, the individual soul moves out enveloped by the subtle elements…” Though there are interpretations to the contrary, it means that the enveloped by the subtle elements refers to the subconscious mind of the deceased person, as at the time of death, all the elements are compacted and get embedded in the subconscious mind in the form of karma. Chāndogya Upaniṣad (V.x.7) says, “Those men who did good work in this world attain good birth and whose who did bad work in this world attain a bad birth being born as a dog, a pig ...” Therefore, it is abundantly clear that a person with huge bad karmas is bound to be born in any form, not necessarily a human. Since the liberation is possible only through a human birth, he has to undergo pains and miseries of having born as an animal and after having spent away the bad karmas to a great extent, he is born again as a human and has to begin his spiritual pursuit all over again. The major component of spiritual practice is love and compassion for others and once this is practiced, spiritual enlightenment happens automatically. The Upaniṣad in the next verse says that one should not keep quite by not performing charitable works. Charitable works do not mean giving money to an organization and then sit happily. It means that one should look for those who deserve love, compassion, sympathy and help and offer all possible assistance voluntarily. The verse says, “Those who do not follow either of these two paths are born among small animals and insects again and again.” Born again and again refers to the painful process of births and deaths. Repeated pain of birth and death can be avoided by developing universal love and compassion. Nothing short to this will give relief from the pains of transmigration.
The discussion on this subject cannot be easily concluded as every Scripture discuss about birth, death and transmigration. These Scriptures have also laid down ways and means to make the human life meaningful and worthwhile. But due to ignorance and illusion, we continue to live a mundane life. The world is so vast and is full of people looking not only for material assistance but also longing for love and compassion. A true and unimpaired love not only elevates a person but also his love gets reverberated in the hearts of those who long for this love. Such a person not merely acts on his own behalf but acts on behalf of God. If his compassion and love are extraordinarily pure, then he is God to the society in which we live and this is based on the universally accepted principle that Love is God.
Several references can be drawn from Vedas and Upaniṣad-s and with many more intricate details on souls and rebirths. But the concept remains the same. It is ultimately the mind of a person that alone counts and hence it is said that human birth is the most precious gift of God. We should not lose out this opportunity. The purpose of our existence should be understood and we should make our living accordingly.
With this, Vedas and ancestors is concluded.