Heaven, Hell and Liberated World of Hinduism
(Naraka, Svarga and Brahmaloka )
(Compilation for a discourse by N.R.Srinivasan, Nashville , TN, September 2014)
Heaven and Hell both are temporary resting place for the soul. A person enjoys Heaven for his good deeds then Hell for bad deeds. After the Paapa (Sinful deeds) or Punya (righteous deeds) is consumed the person again has to take birth on the Earth till the time he has not attained Nirvikalpa Samadhi. The cycle of birth, existence and death continues on earth.
Naraka in Sanskrit means Hell. According to Eastern religions of Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism Naraka is a place of torment (expiation) or Hell. The word Neraka (Colloquial or apabhramsa of Naraka) in Indonesia and Malaysia has also been used to describe the Islamic concept of Hell. Members of Arya Samaj who strictly follow Vedic Rituals and do not believe in Moorti Upaasana (iconic worship) don’t accept the existence of Naraka or consider it metaphorical. In Puranas like Bhagavata Purana, Garuda Purana and Vishnu Purana there are abortive description of many kinds of hells. They are located above Garbhodaka Ocean. Garuda Purana contains details of life after death, funeral rites and the metaphysics of reincarnation, and therefore is recited as a part of antyeshti (Antim Sanskar) or funeral rites (funeral liturgy) in Hinduism.
According to Hindu Belief Yama, Lord of Justice puts living beings after death for appropriate punishment. All humans struggling in Samsaara being of trans-migratory nature have to experience Naraka for expiation. After the period of punishment is complete, they are reborn on earth in human or animal bodies. Therefore neither Naraka nor Svarga are permanent abodes. Yamaloka is the abode of Lord Yama. Yama is Dharmaraja or God of justice; Yamaloka is a temporary purgatory for sinners (papayonis). According to Hindu scriptures, Yama's divine assistants Chitraguptas maintain a record of the individual deeds of every living being in the world, and based on the complete audit of his deeds, dispatch the soul of the deceased either to Swarga (Heaven) or to the various Narakas according to the nature of their sins. The scriptures describe that even people who have done a majority of good deeds could come to Yama Loka as it happened in the case of Dharmaraja for redemption from the small sins Pandavas have committed. Once the punishments have been served for those sins they could be sent for rebirth to earth or to heaven. In the epic of Mahabharata even the Pandavas who fought for Dharma and virtuousness had to spend a brief time in hell for their small sins.
All created beings are imperfect and thus have at least one sin to their record. Even Yudhishtira known for his virtues had committed one sin and so had to visit Naraka and witness the sufferings of others. But if one has generally led a pious life, one ascends to Swarga, a temporary realm of enjoinment which is like Paradise, after a brief period of expiation in Hell for punishable sins and before the next reincarnation according to the Karmic law. Mahabharata says that both Pandavas who fought for Dharma and also the Kauravas who fought according to Kshatriya Dharma and died in the battle field went to Heaven. Swargarohana Parva in Mahabharata describes that Yudhisthira was taken round on a walking tour of hell first before ascending to Swarga or heaven where he is surprised to see Duryodhana enjoying life in Swarga. Indra tells him that Duryodhana is in heaven because he did his Kshatriya duties in keeping with the doctrine preached in Bhagavadgeetaa where one should keep to his assigned Dharma, here Ksatriya Dharma. Then Indra shows Yudhisthira illusory hell where his brothers were undergoing punishment but later he was happy to learn that it was all a test for Yudhisthira. He saw his brothers and Kauravas both are in heaven and both lived happily in divine abode of gods whom he also joined. Hells are also described in various Puranas and other scriptures. Garuda Purana gives a detailed account of Hell, its features and enlists amount of punishment for most of the crimes like a modern day penal code.
Strangely enough though Svarga is mentioned several times in the Upanishads, its opposite Naraka (hell) has not been alluded to, except in one minor Upanishad. A hell of the type met with in the Puranas seems to be unknown to the Upanishads. Mukundmala by the Srivaishnava saint Kulasekhara Azhwar talks about a terrible hell called Kumbheepaakam. “Naaham vande ………././kumbheepaakam gururumapi hare naarakam naapanetum”--I do not pay my obeisance to you with the idea of saving myself from the terrible hell known as Kumbheepaaka. Here the saint-poet indicates that one has to spend his time even in the severest hell based on his karma and even the act of surrendering at the feet of the Lord will not expiate him as the couplet suggests. Probably the prayer by such a person may give him the courage to face the painful situation but with the hope that when that time is over good Lord will accept him to his fold with his change of mind and service to Him.
Previously the Vedic priests had performed their rituals publicly and in large groups with the intention of creating merit that would allow them to go to heaven in the afterlife. Vedic thinkers eventually became concerned about the possibility of using up or losing this merit in the afterlife. They believed that residence in heaven might be a temporary state, and that when one’s religious merit ran out, one would experience the greatly-feared “re-death” (), and subsequent loss of the felicities of heaven.
Some Vedic thinkers (particularly in the Brahmana texts) attempted to solve this spiritual conundrum using further ritual, magical means. The authors of the Upanishads, however, took a radically new approach which seems to have arisen from an equally-radical new experience. Instead of thinking up even-more elaborate rituals, the Upanishad seers emphasized the cosmic connection behind the ritual. They saw that Brahman and Atman were identical, and therefore heaven could never be lost. If Brahman and Atman are identical, the need for the ritual itself disappears. Rituals are just God worshipping God, so what’s the point? And so the writers of the Upanishads gave up ritual and public sacrifice altogether, and went into seclusion to seek an experience of the union of Brahman and Atman through meditation. We can see this as the beginning of a tradition of intentionally seeking out non-dual awareness and of the philosophical speculation about non-dualism.
[Moksha consists of two words moha+kshya. When you get rid of all Moha or desires you get a desire-less state attaining the eligibility to live in Svarga or attain Moksha. This you attain by lower level Upaasana. That is not yet liberation, according to Vedanta]
What happens to a person who dies without becoming a Jeevanmukta or realizing Brahman or Aaatman? Various Upanishads have thrown light on the subject. Those who have performed Sakaama karma (desire motivated actions) or practiced lower kinds of Upaasana like temple worship, poojas and rituals, acts of charity etc. without the focus on Self and seeking temporary solutions for their difficulties, get their desires fulfilled. Some of them go to Svargaloka or the so called heaven. They will spend a pleasant time there in the company of similar fellow beings or Devas but they will have to return to this world after exhausting the results of their good deeds. Some Upanishad describe this as the Dhoomramarga, the path of smoke, also called Pitryaana or Dakshinaayana wherein the soul is led through the smoke, night, the dark fortnight and the six months of the southern solstice to the Chandraloka attaining the greatness of the manes and gains saayujya with the Moon. After exhausting the results of meritorious deeds one returns again to this earth, through the sky, rain, vegetation and living beings.
Bhagavdgeetaa echoes what the Upanishads say as to who can attain temporary status to enjoy the pleasures in Svarga and return to this mortal world and who can get liberated to enjoy eternal bliss in the following slokas:
Agnir jyotir ahah suklah shanmaasaa uttaraayanam |
Tatra prayataa gacchanti Brahmaa brahmavido janaah || 8-24 ||
Dhoomro raatris tathaa krishnah shanmaasaa dakshinaayanam |
Tatra chaandramasam jyotir yogee praapya nivartate || 8-25 ||
Suklakrishne gatee hyoete jagatah saasvate matae |
Ekayaa yatyanaavrittim anyayaavartate punah || 8-26 ||
Fire, the flame, the day, the bright half of the month and the six months’ of sun’s northern course—departing by this path of the celestial controllers, Uttaraayana, the knowers of Brahman (yogis) attain Brahman.
Smoke, the night, the dark half of the month, and the six months of the sun’s southern passage of darkness of materialism and ignorance---departing this path of Dakshinaayana the Yoga practitioner attains the lunar sphere and returns to the earth or reincarnate.
The path of light (of spiritual and self-knowledge) and the path of darkness (of materialism and ignorance) are thought to be the world’s two eternal paths. The former leads to salvation or liberation (path of no return), and the latter leads to rebirth (path of return).
Traividyaa maam somapaah pootapapaa yajnair ishtvaa svargatim prarthayante |
Te punyam-aasaadya surendralokam asnanti divyaan divi devabhogaan || 9-20 ||
Te tam bhuktvaa svarglokam visaalam ksheene punye martyalokam visanti |
Evam trayeedharmam anuprapannaa gataagatam kaamakaamaa labhante || 9-21 ||
Those who perform rituals in the three Vedas and those who drink Soma juice (nectar of devotion), whose sins are cleansed, worship Me by doing fire rituals (yajnas) for attaining Swarga (heaven). They having attained the meritorious sphere of Indra, experience in heaven celestial enjoyment of the Gods.
Having enjoyed the extensive heavenly sphere, they enter the mortal world and are reborn. Thus those who take refuge in the religious pursuit of Vedas take repeated births and deaths.
UPANISHADS ON BRAHMALOKA
What then is Brahmaloka? Is it a state of inner experience or an actual world to which liberated soul retires? Most of the Upanishads are not explicit on this or provide only scanty information. However Chandogya Upanishad describes it as a world, third from this earth where we find two oceans Ara and Nya. There is also a smaller reservoir or food-juice known as Airammadeeya; Somasvana a peepal tree and a city called Aparajita, containing golden hall are also mentioned as being there to comfort us.
Atha yadanaasakaaya-namityaachakshate brahmacharyameva tat | Esha hyaatmaa na nasyati yam brahmacharyenaanuvindate | atha yadarnyaaya-namityaachakshate brahmacharyameva tat arascha ha vainyaschaarnavau brahmaloke triteeyasyaamito divi | tadairammaddeeya(m) sarah tadsvattah somasavanah tadaparaajitaa poobrhamanah prabhuvimita(m ) hiranmayam || Ch. Up. 8-5-3 ||
Tadya evaitaavaranchanyanchaarnavau brahmaloke brahmacharyenaanu-vindanti teshaamevaisha brahmalokah | teshaam sarveshu Lokeshu kaamaachaaro bhavati (Ch.Up. 8-5-4)
That which is called as “continuance in fasting” is verily Brahmacharya alone. The aatman whom one obtains through Brahmacharya never gets destroyed. That which is called “Living in forest” (arnyaayana) is verily Brahmacharya. There are two oceans called “Ara” and “Nya” in the world of Brahman, which is the third loka, known as “Dyuloka”. There is a lake called “Airam-madeeyam” and there is a pippala tree (asvattha) called “Somaasvana”. There is a city called “Aparajitaa”. There is a golden hall which is made and graced by the Lord.
This world of Brahman is only for those who reach the two lakes—Ara and Nya and gain them through Brahmacharya. For them there will be free movement at will in all worlds (like Narada--triloka sanchaari).
[Here Brahmacharya means the most celebrated of all Saadhanas or means of realization of Brahman]
Te ya evametadvidurye chaamee aranye sraddhaam satyamupaasate te archirabhi sambhavanti | Archirsho aharahna apooryamaana-pakshapaa pooryamaana-pakshaadyaan shanmaa saan-udhangdah aaditya eti maasebhyo devalokam, devalokaad aadityam aadityaadvaidyutam| tanvaidyutaanpurusho maanasa etya brahmalokanaamayati | te teshu brahmalokeshu paraah paraavanto vasanti teshaam na punaraavrittih || (Br.Up. 6-2-15)
Those who meditate upon the individual Self as Brahman and those that retire to the forest and meditate upon Brahman called as Satyam (Truth) as the inner soul of the Jeevaatman as associated with waters etc.--both these attain the presiding deity of fire. From fire they go to the deity of the day, from day to the deity of fortnight in which the moon waxes, from him the deity of the six months in which the sun moves northward, from the world of Gods to the Sun, from the Sun to the God of Lightning. The God of Lightning who is the mind born of Supreme Brahman comes to them and leads them to the worlds of Supreme Brahman. In those worlds of Supreme Brahman the celebrated souls dwell with the Supreme Lord. There is no return for them to this mortal world. [Please note the repetition of the same in Bhagavadgeetaa above.]
KAUSEETAKI UPANISHAD ON LIBERATION
Kauseetaki Braahmanopanishad belonging to Rigveda gives a more picturesque information. It gives a detailed description of the Devayana and Pitruyana Path. Those who go through Devayana travel throughseveral worlds-- Agniloka, Vaayuloka, Aadityaloka, Varunaloka, Indraloka and Prajaapatiloka. Finally they reach Brahmaloka which includes another river Virajaa, two door keepers, Indra and Prajaapati, a throne called Vichakshana and a couch by name Amitaujas. The liberated soul is greeted and fondled by five hundred celestial nymphs. The fragrance and flavor of Brahman enters the liberated soul at the appropriate state of his entrance. This is what Madhvacharya explains as different states of attainment of soul as Saallokya, Saameepya and Saayujaya. Anyone reaching the Brahmaloka will not return to mundane existence.
Tanmaa ritavo martyava aabharadhvam || Tena satyena tapasarturasmyaartavo asmi tvamasmeeti || tamatisrijate || sa etam devayaanam panthaanam-aapadya-agnilokam-aagcchati sa vaayulokam sa varunalokam sa aadityalokam sa indralokam sa prajaapatilokam sa brahmalokam || Tasya havaa etasya brhamlokasyaaro hridah muhoortaa yshtihah || virajaa (jaraa) nadee || Tilyo vrikshah || saalajyam samsthaanam || Aparaajitamaayatanam || Indraprajaapatee dwaaragopau || Vibhupramitam || Vichakshnaa aasandee || amitaujaah paryankah || Priyaa cha maanasee pratiroopaa chaa-chaakshushee pushpaanyapachayatah || yato vai cha jagatyambaschaambaa-vayavaa (sa) schaapsaraso ambayaa nadeem || Tamittham-vidaagacchati || Tam brahmaaha-abhidhaavata mama yasasaa virajaam (vijaraam) vaa ayam n adeem praapat || Na va ayam hi jigeeshyati iti || Jarayishyati iti ||
Tam pancha sataan-apsarasaam pratidhaavanti satam maalaa-hastaah satam anjana-hastaah satam choorna-hastaah satam vaaso-hastaah satam phana-hastaah tam brahma-alankaarenaalamkurvanti || Sa brahmaalankaarena alankrito brahma vidwaan brahmaiva abhipraiti || (Kau. Up. 1-19 to 34)
[The liberated Self that has to proceed to the celestial abode of Paramaatman through Archiradi addresses Seasons (Ritus) thus:]
O Seasons! Pray do not offer me to God of Death, Mrityu which repeats in the form of birth and death! I am the form of Season characteristic of month. Season, year and Yuga, that is of the form of time being blessed by the Supreme Being who was pleased on account of penance of the form of self-surrender. I am kah or the four faced Chaturmukha or Brahama: I am verily thou (aham) that signify Paramaatman who is my inner-self.
The moon permits one who replies thus to proceed on the path of Archiradi, knowing that he is fit for that.
The one who knows Brahman comes upon the path of Devayaana and reaches the world of Agni (Fire), there upon the world of Vaayu (Air) and there upon the world of Varuna (Water) then the world of Aaaditya (Sun), then Indraloka, then Prajaapatiloka and finally Brahmaloka.
Near that Brahmaloka there is the lake named Ara. Nearby there are people with staff in their hands called by the name Muhurtas (they drive away those who are not knowers of Brahman). There is the river Viraja which is opposed to Jara-rajas (Aging and Rajo guna). Nearby there is a tree named Tilya. There is a celebrated place named Saklajya. There is an abode called Aparajita.
There are gatekeepers called by names Indra and Prajapati, there is a hall of gold and there is a very spacious throne of Dharma known as Vichkshana. There is a yoga couch called by name Amithouja: two ladies (goddesses), one named Priya, presiding deity over mind and another named Pratiroopa, the presiding deity over the eye, plucking flowers.
Just like the divine ladies Priya and others, there are other ladies also, the Apsara-damsels who are the mothers of all the Universe and other Apsaras who are their part and parcel (amsa) jubilant with great delight along with the foremost mother.
One who knows Brahman of this nature arrives at the Brahmaloka of this kind. Paramaatman then commands the Apsaras to go towards that Brahamvit (knower of Brahman) to receive him who has come near river Viraja on account of His grace. Hereafter the Brahmavit is free to come to Viraja.
Five hundred of those Apsaras damsels run towards him, a hundred of them holding garlands, a hundred holding anointment adjuncts, a hundred with fragrant flowers, a hundred of them holding garments, a hundred holding ornaments, they are going to decorate him with the decoration of Brahman. The realizer of Brahman proceeds towards Brahman after having been decorated with the decoration of Brahman.
[These Apsaras (damsels) are like mothers showering their maternal affection on their children on home-coming permanently—a real family re-union after being lost wandering in the wilderness of interminable cycle of births and deaths called Samsaara. It is totally devoid of sexual allusions.]
[This is in total contrast to Islamic depiction of sensual pleasures which says when an infidel is killed the killer would go to heaven where he would have all the earthly pleasures including 72 virgins waiting to serve him in Sensual Paradise. This promise of happiness and sexual bliss in paradise is not only the motivator for the Islamic terrorists but also motivator for others who are fed up with strict celibacy and restricted sex indulgence called for in their religions to join the ranks of Islam. However in order save the face Islam defenders of Islam faith say that in original Arabic Quran there is no such promise of 72 or even one virgin exists in the Quran. But converts and terrorists refuse to believe in them and go by the translated version of Quran.
PAUL ELLIS via Getty Images presented an antique Quran manuscript in Birmingham England on July 22, 2015. This Quran -- or at least portions of it -- predates Muhammad, and moves back the years that an Arabic literary culture is in place well into the 500s. This would radically alter the edifice of Islamic tradition and the history of the rise of Islam in late Near Eastern antiquity would have to be completely revised, somehow accounting for another book of scripture coming into existence 50 to 100 years before, and then also explaining how this was co-opted into what became the entity of Islam by around AD 700.” Probably this is the original Arabic Quran they are talking about which may not contain any reference to 72 virgins and sensual pleasures.]
BRIHADAARANYAKA UPANISHAD ON LIBERATION
Brihadaaranyaka Upanishad describes the third path, the path of lower creatures such as animals and insects. Unrighteous ones who do not qualify for either path of Dakshinaayana or Uttraayana return again and again to this earth and may even be reborn at sub-human levels, such as animals and worms. The immortal soul wanders endlessly through the ocean of transmigration made up of 8.4 million different species of life on the planet. Human birth, faith in God and the good fortune of getting the help of a Guru comes only with the grace of Supreme Being.
Atha ye yajnena daanena tapasaa lokaan jayanti | te dhhoomam-abhisambhavanti | Dhoomaadraatrim raatrer-apaksheeyamaana pakshamapaksheeyamaana-pakshaadyaan shanmaasaan-dakshinaaditya eti maasebhyah pitrulokam pitrilokaadcchndram te chandram praapyaannam bhavanti | taamstatra devaa yathaa somamraajaanam-aapyaayasvaa paksheeyasvetyevamenaamstatra bhakshayanti | Teshaam yadaatatparya vaithyathe-mamevaakaasam-abhinishpadyante aakaasaadvaayum vaayorvrishtim vrishteh prithiveem te prithiveem praapyaannam bhavanti | Te punah purusha-agnauhooyante | tatoe yoshaagnau jaayante |Te lokaanpratyutthaayinasta evamevaanu-parivartante | atha ya etau panthaanau na viduste keetaah patangaah yadidam dandasookam ||(Br.Up. 6-2-16)
While those who conquer the worlds through sacrifice, through charity and through penance reach the deity of smoke, from him the deity of the night, from him the deity of the fortnight in which the moon wanes, from him the deity of six months in which the Sun travels southward (Dakshinaayana) from the months of deity to the world of manes, and from them the Moon. When they reach the moon they become food. Then the gods there enjoy them as the priests drink shining soma juice addressing with the words, “flourish; dwindle”. When their past Karma is exhausted they come down to the Aakaasa (sky), from Aaakaasa to Vaayu (air), and from Vaayu to the rain and from the rain to the Earth. Reaching the Earth they become food. Then they will be offered as oblation into the fire of Purusha and thence in the fire of woman. Then they are born and perform rites to gain the higher worlds. Thus they re-cycle. While those who do not know either of the two paths called Devayaana and Pitruyaana become insects, birds and biting creatures like flies and mosquitoes.
Atha ya ime graame ishtaapoorte dattamityupaasate te dhoomamabhisambhavanti | dhoomaad ratrim ratrer-apara-paksham aparapakshaat yaan shad dakshinaiti masaa(m)sthaan naite samvatsaramabhipraapnuvanti || (Ch.UP.5-10-3)
Maasebhyah pitrulokam pitrulookaadaakasam aakaasaac-chandramasam | Esha somo raaja a tat devaanaam-annam tam devaa bhakshayanti || (Ch.Up. 5-10-4)
Tasmin yaavatsampaatamushitvaa athaitamevaadhvaanam punarnivartante yathetamaakaasam aakaasaadvayum | vaayurbhootvaa dhoomo bhavati dhoomo bhootvaa abhram bhavati || (Ch.up. 5-10-5)
Abhram bhootvaa megho bhavati | megho bhootvaa pravarshati | ta iha vreehiyavaa oshadhi-vanaspatayasitilamaashaa iti jaayante | Ato vai khalu durnishprapataram yo yo hyannamatti yo retah sinchati | tadbhooya eva bhavati || Ch. Up. 5-10-6)
Tadya iha ramaneeyo abhyaaso ha yat te ramneeyaam yonimaapadyeran braahmana yonim vaa kshatriya yonim vaa vaisya yonim vaa | atha ya iha kapooyacharanaa abhyaaso ha yat te kapooyaam yonimaapadyeran svayonim vaa sookaryonim vaa chandaalayonim vaa || (Ch.Up. 5-10-7)
Athaitayoh pathorna katarena chana taaneemaani kshudraanyasakridaavarteeni bhootaani bhavanti jaayasva mriyasveti—Etat triteeya sthaanam | tenaasau loko na sampooryate | tasmaat jugupseta | tadesha slokah || (Ch.Up. 5-10-8)
Steno hiranmayasya suraam pibamscha gurostalpamaavasan brahmahaa cha |
Ete patanti chatvaarah panchamschaa charam staih || (Ch.Up.5-10-9)
Those who live in villages as householders and perform sacrifices, humanitarian acts such as building water tank etc., and give charity and others go to the Deity of Smoke and from Smoke to the Deity of Night and to the Deity of the Dark-half of the month. From this deity they go to the Deity of Dakshinaayana and from that deity they do not go to Deity of Samvatsara. (Vedas mediate on Samvatsara as emanation or Vyaahriti of Brahman)—3.
From the month of Dakshanayana, they go to the worlds of Manes (pitrus). From there, they go to Aaakaasa and from there to the World of Moon. This is the King Soma of Gods and that is the food of Gods. The Gods eat him.—4.
They remain in the Moon till the fruit of their Karma lasts. Having remained there till that time they return by the same route up to Aaakaasa; from Aakaasa they go to Vaayu (air) and then become vapor and Vapor they become Abhra (the immediate pre-state of cloud)—5.
Having become Abhra (entity bearing water) he becomes the cloud. The cloud falls on earth as rain: And those Jeevaatmans that are closely embraced by the subtle elements along with rain, having fallen on the earth they enter into rice, corns, plants, sesame, beans etc.; It is certainly a very long and difficult route to take the position of seed! Seed takes birth, in the form of him whoever eats food and whoever ejects semen.—6.
Those whose conduct has been good here will shortly get birth in positions such as Brahmin or Kshatriya or Vaisya (This is not to mean caste but in mental faculties as learned, strong built or trading skills etc.) But those whose conduct has been evil will be born in evil births shortly as the birth of a dog or pig or the birth of a Chandaala (cursed lot)—7.
On the other hand those small creatures (like gnat, mosquitoes, worms etc.) which do not go through either of those two paths are migrating again and again here alone. -That is the third state (of sinners) which is indicated by the words “Be born and die”. Other world (Dyuloka) does not become full. So the course of life of those that are born and struggle in this world here is deeply sorrowful and disgusting because of the repeated migratory nature of life. There is a verse regarding this—8.
He who steals gold, drinks wine, dishonors the teacher’s bed, kills a Brahmin (learned Vedic scholar)--these four and the fifth none who associates with them will all fall --9.
Athottarena tapasaa brahmacharyena sraddhayaa vidyayaa aatmaanam aadityamabhijayante | etadvai praanaanaam aayatanam etadamritam-abhayam etat paraayanam etasmaat na punaraavartante ityesha nirodhastadesha slokah || Pr.Up. 1-10
Meditating upon (seeking) Pramaatman through austerity, celibacy (of the form of absence of sex life), faith and knowledge of Self that they attain the Sun who is the medium for attainment of Brahman. This Parmaatman is the ground of all living beings. This is the Immortal, fearless, the highest goal of attainment. From this the seekers do not return to this world. The Paramaatman is the averter of rebirth. Pertaining to this Samvatsaraatma Prajapati this verse is rendered.
MAHANARAYAN UPANISHAD (MNU) ON LIBERATION
MNU declares in its last mantra that one that dies in Dakshinaayana attains the greatness of the manes and gains saayujya with the Moon. Does that mean to say those that attain the Moon are destined to be born again in this world? Is that the reason why Bheeshma waited for Uttaraayana to give up his ghost at will as per the special boon he enjoyed and also as he wished not to return back to this world? The last anuvaka (Jnaanayajan) reads like this:” On the other hand he who dies during the period of the sun’s movement towards southern direction gets only the greatness of the manes or pitrus and attains similarity with the moon. A meditator who is a Brahmopaasaka (meditator on Brahman) gains the glory of the Sun and the Moon. Afterwards he attains the greatness of Brahman. He attains the greatness of Brahman. The secret teaching concludes thus” From this it is very clear only those who are not Brahmajnas (knowers of Brahman) attain the Moon through Pitruyaana and return to this world by the same way. But a Brahmajna (knower of Brahman) proceeds further from the Moon to Brahman. He does not return to this world on account of the fact that there is no reason at all for his bondage as he is completely divested of all Karmas.
We have the following description from Mahanarayana Upanishad as to the attainment of Brahman or otherwise:
Ya evam viddhaan udgayane prameeyate, devaanaameva mahimaanam gatvaa aadityasaya saayujyam gachchatyatha yo dakshine prameeyate pitrunaameva mahimaanamgatvaa chandramasas-saayujyam gachchatyetau vai sooryaa-chandramasor-mahimaanau braahmano vidwaanabhijayati tasmaad brahmano mahimaanam-aapnoti tasmaad brahmano mahimaanam –ityupanishat || (MNU 150)
When one meditates on Jnaana-yajna (given in the previous mantra) dies during Uttaraayana, the period of the sun’s movement in the Northern solstice one attains the greatness of Gods and attains Saayujya or similarity in the characteristic of the Sun. On the other hand one who dies during the period of the sun’s movement in the Southern solstice (Dakshinaayana) he gets only the greatness of Pitrus or manes and attains similarity with the Moon. A meditator who is a Brahmopasaka gains the glory of the sun and the moon. Afterwards he attains the greatness of Brahman. He attains the greatness of Brahman. The secret teaching concludes here.
[The attainment of the greatness of moon by a Brahmajna (One who has the knowledge of Brahman) is merely to rest there for a while as the text further says he attains the greatness of Brahman.] Only those who are not Brahmajnas attain the moon through pitruyaana (Daksinaayana or path of Manes) and return to this world by the same way.
RAMANUJA PHILOSOPHY OF SAMSARA AND MOKSHA :
The Jeeva is mired in worldly pleasures and pains because of doing Kaarmic acts prohibited by scriptures and doing Kaamya (wishful) karmaas. If one understands the three truths or tattvas (Chetana, sentient; Achetana, non-sentien; and Iswara, the Lord) and if one pursues Moksha path like Bhakti Yoga or Prapatti Yoga, the Chetana gains the happiness in Moksha. Moksha can be attained only after destroying the sins and virtues that caused the family (samsara) bonds. Bhakthi or Prapatthi yoga contemplation serves as expiatory acts (Praayas-chittha) to banish the causes for worldly sufferings. The Jeeva that engages in Bhakthi yoga should not commit sins after commencing the practice of that means; those who have chosen the means of Prapatti should not acquire sins after Prapatti.
IMPORTANT DIFFERENCES BETWEEN BHAKTHI AND PRAPATTHI YOGAS: Those engaged in Bhakthi Yoga has to experience the Karmaas that have begun to yield fruit until the completion of the Bhakthi Yoga. When the Bhakthi Yoga is successfully completed, Moksha (liberation) results immediately. One who performs Prapatti (Prapanna) banishes the sins that have begun to yield fruit at the time of Prapatti. After Prapatti, the sins acquired consciously (apyupagata Praarabhdhas) will bear fruit until the end of this life. Since Prapannan has no future lives on this earth called Karmabhoomi, he undergoes some light punishments from Bhagavaan and at the end of this life gains Moksham as it happened in the lives of Sankara, Ramanuja, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa etc. Prapannan (Jeevanmukta) is so dear to the Lord that He gives some light punishment to the Prapanna for sins acquired consciously and at the end of this life leads that Prapanna (gunaateeta, or sthitaprajnya or jeevanmukta) to His Supreme abode from where the Mukta Jeeva (Liberated Soul) never returns to the World of Samsaara.
This philosophy also says at the time of death of a Jeevanmukta (prapanna), results of what remains of such good action gets transferred to friends and results of bad action to foes so as to guarantee the individual’s non-return. How can they be transferred? Vedanta Desika clarifies that punya (merits of good acts) and paapa (sins) are not transferred as such. An equal moiety to the service rendered to the Prapanna by those who were friendly to him during his lifetime and sins of equal moiety to the offenses flung at the Prapanna by those inimical to home during his lifetime gets transferred to clear the balance sheet of Punya and Paapa. But why wait till death? This is to give maximum opportunity to see whether a friend turns a foe or a foe turns a friend. A friend or foe may himself be a Mumukshu or seeker of Moksha and may be working for it on realization, in which case no Karma can be transferred to him. So everything has to be decided at the time of death only.
Puranas' hellish vision has been useful in promoting Bhaktimarga or the path of devotion as easy escape moving away from Vedic religion of merger with Brahman which calls for Jnaanamarga of sacrifice and meditation. There was little agreement among Christians, before Dante, about the nature and extent of what we call Hell. Ancient Judaism and the New Testament writers had very little to say on the subject. Jesus made a few obscure, picturesque references to the afterlife, but he usually used Gehenna as his example of a place to be feared (e.g. Mt. 5:29). Gehenna was a place on the outskirts of the Old City of Jerusalem where trash, and sometimes the bodies of crucified criminals, were burned. Virgil and Plato, the Qur'an, medieval mystery plays, and medieval theologians were what fed Dante's imagination, not the Bible. To write his famous poem, Dante imagined the setting: characters, emotions, and drama that he wanted to create, and then set about fleshing it out with an elaborate compilation of myths and philosophies. The story he created was frightening, cinematic, and universal -- and it wouldn't have been any of those things if he'd simply used what the Bible has to say on the topic. In other words, hell has nine descending circles just like the devil has hooves and a tail. So why do we continue to have such a fascination with the hell of Dante's imagination? It is certainly due to how Christians have embraced and preached it for centuries. The sad truth is that Dante's hellish vision has been useful in promoting colonizing, crusades and "conversions" for the last 700 years. But it is time for that to change. It is time for Christians, and all people of faith, to re-imagine the afterlife in less medieval terms. Towards this, wisdom contained in Upanishads has a very convincing and promising approach.
Bhagavadgeeta and Upanishads are univocal in their description as to the journey of Jeevaatma through the long, varied and winding path to be born again and again in this world. According to activities in the human life, based on Karma, one can get promotion or salvation or a demotion or transmigration or another chance for salvation by reincarnating as a human being or lower creature. The smoky dark Dakshinaayana path described in Upanishads has been later exaggerated in various Puranasa as terrific place called Naraka, the Kingdom of Yama with cells for expiation for past crimes and sins at different levels. Kumbheepaaka is the worst cell where sinners are submerged in boiling oil. The souls undergoing expiation do not die but are subjected to extreme groaning pain throughout the period of punishment which is usually very long unlike the short span of human life. Probably Puranas wanted people to avoid sins by bringing terrible fear in their minds about crime and punishment. We find all sorts of terrific description about Naraka in Puraanas at the same time they also prescribe many easy remedies which can’t be so simple also. Mahlakshmi ashtottara says that if you chant once Laksahmi ashtottaram you will be freed from all capital sins (mahaapaataka naaasanam). Upanishads on the other hand present a path of hope for every one—for a rare few immediate, for some short and for many long winding difficult paths. We do not hear any such punishment as in Puranas though mention is made in Upanishads of capital sins like Broona Hatyaa (killing of foetus), Veerahatyaa (sin of annihilation of a valorous being) and Brahmahatya (killing of a Brahmin or Vedic scholar). Meditation on Trisuparna Mantras is suggested as a remedy for such capital sins as explained in the discourse on Mahanarayana Uapanishad. Probably these Upanishad mantras inspired later Bhaktimarga verse composers who do not fail to add elaborate Phalasruthis for all Sata ashtorttaras, Sahasranama Ashtottaras and Slokas on various deities. Please refer to Lalita Sahasranamam and later Upanishads like Ganesha Atharvaseersopanishat and Narayanopanishat. Bhagavadgeetaa also says: “Giving up all duties take refuge in Me (Paramaatman) alone; I will liberate you from all sins, do not grieve”. Though this is a divine assurance it is rather vague; it does not say how long and under what conditions. Can one overcome all his past Karmas by following Bhaktimarga or endure it better? This also contradicts elaborate discussion that took place on working of the Laws of Karma by Bhagawan in earlier chapters. Geetaa concludes:
Sarvadharmaan parityajya maamekam saranam vraja |
aham tvaam sarva paapebhyo mochayishyaami maa suchah ||
Bhagavadgeetaa and Upanishadic thoughts give us a positive approach to afterlife while continuously elevating ourselves in this very life and improving further in succeeding lives till we attain the state of Gunaateetas to take a final leap towards liberation and merging with the source where individual Aaatman merges with Paramaatman. Thus it is a positive approach to life and not one of despair and agony.
1) Anantha Rangacharya, N.S., Principal Upanishads, Bengaluru, India.
2) Swami Vireswarannda, Srimad Bhagavad Gita, Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, Chennai, In
3) Swami Harshananda, Ten Cardinal Upanishads, Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, India.
4) Wikepedia and other Internet sources.
5) Anbil Ramaswamy, A Critical Study of Hinduism with Major World Religions, Sri Ranga Sri, USA.
How is Hinduism Different?
One may ask, “What separates the world’s religions from Hinduism?” The answer to this question first and foremost would be destination. For example, the Christian and Muslim follower have a destination of heaven. Within Hinduism this philosophy appears, but is a lower destination as this is implied when one goes to the Loka of the deity. The Loka of any Deity (Indraloka, Chandraloka, Sivaloka, Vishnuloka etc,) is not the final destination within Hinduism. The final destination within Hinduism is self-realization or enlightenment. A realization of oneness with Brahman, as compared with what Hindu’s would perceive as a loka for the Christian and Muslim.
Bhgawan says In Gita: “Yaanti devavrataa devaan pitrun yanti pituvrataah |Bhootaani yaanti bhootejyaa yaanti madyaajinopi maam |” The worshippers of Gods go to the loka of the gods, worshippers of manes go to Pitruloka, the worshippers of spirits go to the land of spirits and My worshipers come to Me. This clearly shows diferent lokas of landing after so called death with the need to incarnate and reach the final goal or salvation.
Reincarnation is a key and important distinction between Hinduism and many of the world’s major religions. Hinduism has always embraced the concept of reincarnation. Often critics argue that reincarnation does not appear within the Vedas; but the term ‘samsara’ appears frequently within the Upanishads., with the earliest references associated the Brihadaranyaka. Likewise, we see in the Rig Veda:
Om AA ta etu mana punah kratve dakshaaya jiivase,
Jyok ca suuryam drishe. Rig Veda 10.4.57.4
Jyok ca suuryam drishe. Rig Veda 10.4.57.4
“May your spirit return again, to perform pure acts for exercising strength, and to live long to see the sun.” Rig Veda 10.4.57.4
Clearly this is a reference to reincarnation, though the word reincarnation does not literally appear, rather the spirit or intention of the mantra is such.
Several of the world’s religions teach salvation, as opposed to Hinduism’s liberation. Karma is another important distinction between Hinduism and many of the world’s other religions. Occasionally there are attempts to say that karma is like the Christian “Golden Rule”, which is the ‘treat others as you would like to be treated.’ But in reality karma is a divine law that recognizes the need for realization, learning and resolution of conflict within the field of the mind. Hinduism embraces Atma-jnana or knowledge of the self. Hinduism has the most extensive teachings on meditation and the art of meditation and mantra.
LIFE AFTER DEATH IN SOME RELIGIONS
Christianity speaks about the last day of Judgement: The angels will separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of unquenchable fire. Then the righteous will shine like the Sun in the Kingdom of their Father. It is all one time hell or heaven.
Islam says the bliss of the people of Paradise will never cease and the punishment of non-believers condemned to Hell shall never cease.
It also describes Hell as follows: Hell is an infernal place of punishment for the non-believers and purification for sinful believers. Torture and punishment for the body and the soul, burning by fire, boiling water to drink, scalding the food to eat, chains, and choking columns of fire. Non-believers will be eternally damned to it, whereas sinful believers will eventually be taken out of Hell and enter Paradise. Paradise is for those who worshiped God alone, believed and followed their prophet, and lived moral lives according to the teachings of scripture. Hell will be the final dwelling place of those who denied God, worshiped other beings besides God, rejected the call of the prophets, and led sinful unrepentant lives.
Sikhism says: Nothing dies, nothing is born, everything is ever present, and it is just change of forms. The ignorant and oblivious do not serve true Guru, how will they find salvation? They die only to be reborn over and over again. They continue to be struck down at the door of death. Sikhism defines liberation as union with God and release into God’s love whereupon the soul attains self-transcendence and Bliss. This looks like embracing Madhva philosophy of Saalokyaa, Sammeepya and Saayujya—into the field of God, unto the nearness to God and ultimate merging with God.
Buddhism says: Death is merely the perishing of the physical body in which we dwell in this life. Our spirit never dies and looks for a new home in a new life. How we are reborn depends on our past Karma s in Hinduism. A person can be born in any one of the six categories: 1) to permanently reside in heaven; 2) Reborn as human being; 3) Reborn as a demon; 4) reborn as a hungry and wandering ghost; 5) reborn as animal; (permanently condemned in hell. It does not have the same guarantee as in Hinduism that everyone can be saved however sinful he may be by atonement, meditation on Bahman and complete surrender (prayschitta, dhyana and nyaasa)
Jainism does not speak about Naraka but talks about holy death while in pure meditation which is not considered as suicide. It more are less follows Veera Saiva concept who only think of merger with Linga.
Veerasaivas don’t believe in mourning or in later rites for the soul as it has merged with Easwara.
Judaism Talks about the place of the dead as Sheoul. The Book of Enoch describes Sheol as four compartments for the four kinds of Dead: 1) The faithful saints who await resurrection in Paradise; 2) The merely virtuous who await their reward; 3) The wicked who await punishment; 4) The wicked that have already been punished and will not be resurrected on the Day of Judgment. It is all one time decision as per the decision on the Day of Judgment.
Yama: The God of Death in Hinduism
Posted by The Editor, IndiaDivine.org | Aug 19, 2015 |
In Hinduism, Yama is the God of Death and the lord of infernal regions visited by humans after they leave this plane of existence. He is the embodiment of the rule of law and imparts justice according to the deeds of the departed. He is depicted as a man with dark green skin wearing blood-red robes and with coppery eyes staring out of his fearful and grim face. He wears a glittering crown upon his head.
The word “Yama” means the restrainer and he is believed to keep mankind in check from his gloomy palace Kalichi situated in Patala. Here he keeps a “Book of Destiny” in which each person’s span of life is recorded and maintained by Chitragupta. They have several attendants to help them in their many tasks. Yama’s mount is a fierce looking black buffalo, a form which he also adopts for himself on occasion. He carries a noose in one hand and a mace in the other, one to catch those who try to run away from him and the latter represents the weapon of punishment. He has the final decision about the actions of the living being when they are finally brought before his throne.
Yama is described as the First Ancestor to die in the Vedas and carries the full distinction of a Deva. His father Vivasvat is the embodiment of social morality while his mother, Saranyu is the daughter of Vishvakarma, the Architect of the Devas. Yama’s twin sister Yami, who later appears on earth as River Yamuna, has a very close bond with her brother. He is sometimes referred to as Dharma, in reference to his unswerving dedication to maintaining order and adherence to harmony. He is also believed to be the wisest of devas.
As the regent of the South quarter, Yama is also called “Dakshinasapti”. His abode is named Yamalaya and was created by Vishvakarma on the behest of Brahma. When Brahma created earth, heaven and the subterranean region, he felt that there was need for a place for judgement and punishment of the wicked. He asked Vishvakarma to complete this task who prepared a magnificent palace called Sanjeevani and created four pits to punish the wicked towards its southern door. He made three other doors for the punishment of those who were to be judged.
The palace has a trench around it which is filled with water called Vaitarani where Brahma asked Agni to enter so that the water could boil. Each person after death is required to swim across this river; it gives harmless passage to good souls but the evil ones suffer incredibly while crossing this boiling river.
Sanjeevani is believed to be about 800 miles in circumference and is free from fear, hurt or any sort of ill. Being of a mild climate, each soul is rewarded according to their deeds. Yama appears to everyone differently. To the pure of heart, he appears to be like Vishnu, beautiful, charming and kind while to the pure he is seen as a fearsome figure.
He has three wives, namely Hemamala (golden garland), Sushila (good natured) and Vijaya (victory). His two ferocious dogs, born to Sarama (the fleet one) that guards the herds of Indra have four eyes and wide nostrils. They guard the road to Yama’s abode and sometimes wander about on earth among men as Yama’s messengers. There are various stories about Yama in ancient texts, especially in Puranas which shed a different light of a more compassionate and kind God of Death. One such story is that one of Satyavan and Savitri, a princess from Mahabharata who remained faithful to her husband unto death and beyond.
Many legends exist in Puranas and they are mostly of a fearsome, rod-bearer bent on punishing people for deeds or misdeeds committed in their lives. The Vedic Yama was the basis for the Buddhist Yama which in turn became an essential part of Chinese and Japanese folklore.
Death: A Process of Growth
(Bhakti Vedanta Philosphy)
Posted by Indrani Devi Dasi | Dec 18, 2013 IndiaDivine.Org
In society today there is much talk of death and dying because of the premature loss of life due to crime, cancer, AIDS, and the increase in suicide, famine and wars. Recent topics such as living wills and euthanasia also have brought the subject of death and dying more to our attention. Even though many people are uncomfortable talking about death, especially their own of that of someone close, it is one experience of our lives we know will occur with certainty. The least certain is the time when it will happen. Because of this utter uncertainty about the time of death, we need to be prepared for it at all times.
Anyone researching the literature on death & dying finds an array of books and articles. Valuable as these numerous studies have been in shaping compassionate social attitudes toward the fatally ill and in clarifying our ways of thinking about our own life and death, most of them lack a spiritual dimension — practical guidance in what may be called the “art” of dying.
Death is a subject we try to conceal, deny and bury, but death does not go away. In times past when people died amid familiar surroundings, the sight of death was not uncommon. There were no “old people homes”, die of one ailment or another. The full cycle of life was more visible, birth, growth, sickness aging and death. Today, technological development has brought de-humanization and alienation to the dying person. It is almost impossible for anyone to hear of say any last words. New drugs appear to keep people alive longer and kill the pain but they can also diminish the consciousness, making communication very difficult.
Now, people die in the alien world of the modern medical hospital or among strangers in a nursing home, who are dealing with the fear of death themselves. Contemporary medicine’s approach to the dying seems to be dominated by a determined effort to conquer death and delay its advent at all cost.
In refusing to face death, we close off a part of life. There is an interesting tendency in Western thinking to dissociate death from life. In Western thinking, the answer to the problem of death is to try to conquer it or postpone its arrival as long as possible, whereas, in ancient and non-western cultures, there is the recognition of the utmost importance of dying as an integral aspect of life. In these cultures, the theme of death has had a deep influence on religion, ritual, life, mythology, and philosophy. For ancient cultures, dying is sometimes seen as a step up in the spiritual hierarchy, a promotion into the world of revered ancestors, powerful spirits or as an upward transition from the complicated earthly life fraught with suffering and problems.
We need to examine the meaning of human life. Ancient scriptures tell us that human life is meant for reviving one’s eternal relationship with the Lord. All religious injunctions are meant for awakening is brought about, the quicker the mission of human life is fulfilled. The awakening occurs by processes. The process of expressing life is growth. The process of dying is growth also. From the time we enter this world, we are in a process of growth – – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. In order for these growth processes to occur we must “die” a little. The dying has to occur in order to live. What is that dying? To die means there are things we put behind us. Things we have to kill out of our system. As we grow, we die to the life chosen by family, society, friends and the media. To grow, we must continuously die and be reborn at another stage, in the same way a caterpillar becomes a butterfly.
From the first moment at birth until our last breath at death we go through six changes as does everything on this material earth: birth, growth, maintenance, disease, old age, death. Some examples of growth processes are graduation from school and finding work, getting into or out of relationships, losing one’s job, moving to a new location, or starting a new profession. Whatever the situation, it is one of growth, yet it is filled with anxiety and fraught with a sense of danger. But it is also filled with excitement as well as joy.
Moving through any of the examples given, we may recognize certain stages we go through which are similar to the stages of dying given by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her book Death and Dying. Her work with the terminally ill has helped many people to deal with the dying process. She describes the stages of dying as denial, rage/anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Haven’t you had those feelings when a relationship is breaking up? When moving to another location due to loss of a job? When divorcing a partner of many years of when someone you love dies? Aren’t those feelings there? All are a part of our life experiences yet are part of a “dying” experience also. We die to load ways of thinking, to doubt and fears and we are reborn to live life more fully. These “dying” experiences continue until the final growth experience occurs, the death of the physical body when the eternal soul is freed to return to the Lord; Hopefully.
Life and death are not demarcated. They are not conditions existing independent of each other. They are merely facets of one natural process (growth) both present at any given time. It is the denial of death, as a part of the process that is partially responsible for people living empty, purposeless lives. When you live as if you will live forever it becomes easy to postpone the things you must do. Most people live their lives in preparation for tomorrow of in remembering yesterday and meanwhile today is lost. But if you live each day as if it could be your last, then you could use each day to grow because each day we are in the dying process preparing for the final growth process – – death.
To understand these processes, we need to have a strong belief system – religious, spiritual and /or philosophical that teaches us who we are, the purpose of life, and where we go after death. We must have some understanding of who or what dies. Most people believe they are a body and a mind, and”I”, an ego identified by name, i.e “I am Jane from Boston”. “I am American”. “I am Black”.
A spiritual perspective includes the understanding that we are more than the body: we are spirit/soul in a body. Understanding this is the real preparation for the process of growth called death. This means remembering the real purpose of life. This really means developing a higher consciousness by which we perceive ourselves to be eternal.
In order to work with the concept of knowing who we are, we need to study and examine how ancient religions and spiritual and philosophical teachings describe death and an afterlife. You will find it is a more comforting explanation of the relationship between life and death than what is offered in many Western religions.
If we are to have true contentment we must free ourselves from the chain of birth and death. We need to gain knowledge of the self. To do this we go to books and teachers of higher knowledge. The oldest of these books of knowledge are the Vedas, original scriptures spoken by the Lord himself. The purpose of books of knowledge is to train us to understand our position as pure soul.
One such book i the Bhagavad-Gita As It Is by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, in which Krishna, the Supreme Lord, provides instructions on the nature of the self to His student Arjuna who is struck with terror by the task of slaying his kinsmen on the field of battle. Krishna tells Arjuna that, although the body perishes, the soul cannot be injured and does not die because it is eternal. Arjuna is informed that knowledge means to know the difference between matter and spirit and the controller of both. Knowledge is the preparation for facing the process of dying leading to the final process of growth – death. Krishna tells Arjuna that “one who has taken birth is sure to die, and after death one is sure to take birth again…” That is until one engages in devotional service to the Supreme and moves toward ending the cycle of birth and death. Ending the cycle of birth and death means remembering that we are part and parcel of the Supreme Lord, controlling the mind and senses and moving beyond the pull of the material world, to return to the spiritual would, our true home.
Unfortunately, much of modern society feels that death is the greatest of human misfortunes and that dying is the final agonizing struggle against extinction. Just as people are afraid of heights, the dark, deep water and the future of the unknown. Many try to relieve their anxiety by more and more self-gratification. But death does not forget about us. Therefore we should always remember the real purpose of life and that life is nothing but a moment on our path towards self-realization.
Srila Prabhupada’s message of self-realization to this Western world is in essence that we are not the body. We are spirit/soul, part and parcel of the Lord. He stressed that it is not simply a matter of saying “I am not the body”, but of actually realizing it. Until we truly understand that, we will continue in the cycle of birth and death. But we are not left to figure out how to do this. We are given a wonderful process; chant the Names of the Lord and engage in devotional service to the Lord. We will then be less fearful about death and more fulfilled about life.
Introducing Garuda Purana
Purana Sarodhhara (Extracted essence of the Garuda Purana) was compiled or
written by one Navanidhirama, son of Sri Hari Narayana, who lived in the city
of Jhunjhunu, which was ruled by a King Sri Sukhalalaji. It was done for the
helping of those who cannot understand the difficult earlier works; but itself
is not easy to understand, and required much labor, the author informs us. It
is entirely originally written, he says, and comprises the results of very deep
study of the sacred books, and is the extracted essence of them on the subjects
with which it deals.
is used all over India at funeral ceremonies, but some are afraid to read it on
other occasions, thinking it inauspicious.
I to VII deal with Hells;CHAPTERS VII to XIII deal with Ceremonies for the dead;
CHAPTER XIV deals with Heaven; CHAPTERS XV & XVI deal with Yoga and
neo-theosophists, among the great good they have done to the world, have
revived the idea that Hell is a living reality, and not a superstitious
fiction, created by a designing priest craft, to keep Humanity on its good
behavior. Among the educated, with the vanishing of the belief in an
after-life, has vanished also the belief in Hell. But owing to the labors of
the Psychical Research Society and similar other bodies, there are few educated
persons now, who deny the existence of the afterlife, as they used to do some
thirty years back. But though the belief in after-life has revived, yet the
cognate belief in Heaven and Hell is still very vague. Our Hindu Puranas,
however, among the great mass of rubbish that they contain, have always been
very clear on this question of Heaven and Hell. Serious writers of law books
also like Yajnavalkya and Vishnu have described as-seriously the existences of
various Hells, as they have done the various joys of Heaven. No doubt, the
subject of Hell is not a very savory one, and nervous persons have always
fought shy of studying this unpleasant department of existence. But, pleasant
or unpleasant, the science does not take into account the human feelings. No
one is forced to study the subject, unless he feels strong enough to do so, as
no one is bound to study Medicine, unless he is prepared to face the scenes of
the dissecting room.
question then is do these hells really exist? If so, where? This is a question
of fact, and must be decided like all questions of fact, on the evidence of
reliable witnesses who have, from personal experience, described this region.
To a Hindu there is needed no greater testimony than that of Yogi Yajnavalkya
who, in the Prayaschitta Adhyaya of his law book, mentions 21 hells. The author
of Vishnu Smriti also has followed in his footsteps. Hell, then, according to
Hindu seers, is a particular locality walled off from the surrounding regions
of space by the messengers of Yama, the ruler of Hell. Within this particular
space so specially guarded, no joy can enter. It is a region of pain–sharp,
intense and severe. Sinners clothed in their painful bodies (jatana
deha)–replica of their physical bodies, though made of subtler matter, suffer
the punishments deserved by their sins. But there is one distinguishing mark
between the Hindu idea of Hell and that of votaries of Semitic creeds. The
punishment in Hell is not eternal. It is Reformatory and Educative. The hell
punishment is not remembered by the soul when it is re-born, no more than it
remembers the joys of heaven. But the permanent educative effect remains in
that part of the sold–called the conscience. The natural fear, which certain
souls feel at the sight of temptation to sin, is the result of the finer
development of conscience, in the furnace of hell-fire. This is the permanent
gain which the soul has acquired, and which it will never lose through ages to
come, by passing through the bitterness of the valley of Yama–the merciful
ruler of Hell.
is then this Hell situated? According to Hindu belief, its locality is in the
astral region of the physical South Pole, as the Heaven is situated in the astral region of the physical North
Pole. As a prison house is a prison only to the criminal, but not to the
visitor, who goes there on his mission of mercy and charity, so Hell is a place
of punishment and pain only to the sinners and not to those who go there on
similar missions. The readers of the Hindu Sacred literature will no doubt
remember the beautiful episode of Nachiketas going to Hell, and learning from
its Ruler the secret of cosmic evolution, miscalled the secret of death.
twenty-two hells are described in the Vishnu Smriti as enumerated below in a
After being thus purified by Hell-fire, the
soul is re-born with keener conscience and under circumstances where it can, if
it so chooses, makes better use of its faculties says Yajnavalkya in verse 218
of the Third Adhyaya that the lords of mercy place such souls in very favorable
if the soul so favorably placed, omits to do good action or commits evil deeds
again, and leaves its senses unrestrained, there is again a fall for that soul,
as is mentioned in the next verse.
there any physical Hell also, or is it in the astral plane only? As Heaven is
both physical and astral, and as the Svarga is on the physical plane also,
where the great rishis like Vyasa, Asvathama, Markandeya and others are said to be still
living in their physical bodies, so there are physical hells also, though not
known as Hells. What are these prison houses in every well-governed community
but physical hells? What is this out-casting by the society, but making one
feel the torture of hell, in fact Gautama in his law book definitely calls this
stage hell, and some say that Gautama did not believe, in another form of hell.
the fact of concrete existence of hell cannot be doubted. Leaving the testimony
of Hindu seers aside, in modern times we have the evidence of a hard-headed man
of science like Swedenborg, of a refined artist and poet like Dante, and the
great sage Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.
there any means by which a man may save himself from the pains of hell? On this
point, our ancient authors held different opinions. One class of thinkers held the
view that sin could not be expiated by any act of man, however meritorious
it may be in its nature, but one must
suffer the full consequences of his sins. The later view, which has gained
ascendency now, is that for the intentional mortal sins–kama kritamahapataka,–there is no penance, except the death penance, which can
save the man from future troubles. Several kinds of death penances are
described in our law books, and in this age, a very salutary rule is laid down
by the pundits that no death penance should ever be described, if a sinner asks
the pundits for the appropriate penance of his sin. Thus in certain cases of
incest, the only operative penance is to embrace a red-hot iron image and die
in that way. Similarly, the penance for drinking spirituous liquors is death by
drinking boiling liquors or butter. But no Pundit is allowed, by the rule of
the present Iron age, to describe these death penances to any sinner. The
result therefore, is that according to the law, every mortal sinner must pass through
the period of purification process of hell. For minor sins, the rule is
different. The after-life consequences can be warded off by appropriate
penances. And here is a rich field which the Brahmin priest=craft of India,
preying on the gullibility of its votaries, has exploited to its extreme
extent. For every sin, there is a penance, and also a pilgrimage, with its
concomitant result in the shape of so much fees (dakshina) to be paid to the
have become a farce in Modern India. Like the dispensations of the Popes of
Rome, penances can be compounded by the payment of amounts ranging from a
cowrie shell to thousands of rupees to Brahmins. It is not that the gifts to a
deserving man washes away sins, for modern Hinduism has done everything in its
power to throw in ‘the background that rational idea, but a gift to a Brahmin,
however bad he may be, as the saying goes that no one feeds a docile donkey,
but a kicking cow, for the sake of her milk. This presupposes that a kicking
Brahmin has milk to give, which is far from the truth.
practice of Prayaschittas (Expiation) or penances is based upon a more rational
basis. Repentance for sin is the highest prayaschitta, the infliction of bodily
pains is of secondary importance. One who has performed such penance has
exhausted the evil effects of his sins and for him there is no penance.
Punishments stated in Garuda Purana
(1) Tamisram(Heavy flogging)-Those who rob others of their wealth are bound with ropes by Yama’s Servants and cast into the Naraka known as Tamisram. There, they are given a thrashing until they bleed and faint. When they recover their senses, the beating is repeated. This is done until their time is up.
(2) Andhatamtrsam(Flogging)-This Hell is reserved for the Husband or the Wife who only treat their spouses well when they are to profit or pleasure to them. Those who forsake their wives and husbands for no apparent reasons are also sent here. The punishment is almost the same as Tamisram, but the excruciating pain, suffered by the victims on being tied fast, makes them fall down senseless.
(3) Rauravam(torment of snakes)- This is the hell for sinners who seize and enjoy another man’s property or resources. When these people are thrown into this hell, those whom they have cheated, assume the the shape of “Ruru”, a dreadful serpent. The serpent(s) will torment them severely until their time is up.
(4) Mahararuravam(death by snakes)- Here there is also Ruru serpents but more fiercer. Those who deny the legitimate heirs, their inheritance and possess and enjoy others property will be squeezed and bitten nonstop by this terrible serpents coiling around them. Those who steal another man’s wife or lover will also be thrown here.
(5) Kumbhipakam(cooked by oil)- This is the hell for those who kill animals for pleasure. Here oil is kept boiled in huge vessels and sinners are plunged in these vessels.
(6) Kalasutram( Hot as hell)- This hell is terribly hot. Those who don’t respect their elders, esp. when their elders have done their duties are sent here. Here they are made to run around in this unbearable heat and drop down exhausted from time to time.
(7) Asitapatram(sharp flogging)- This is the hell in which sinners abandon one’s own duty. They are flogged by Yama’s Servants with whips made of asipatra (sharp-edged sword-shaped leaves). If they run about under the flogging, they will trip over the stones and thorns, to fall on their faces. Then they are stabbed with knives until they drop unconscious, when they recover, the same process is repeated until their time is up in this Naraka.
(8)Sukaramukham(Crushed and tormented)- Rulers who neglect their duties and oppress their subjects by misrule, are punished in this hell. They are crushed to a pulp by heavy beating.When they recover, it is repeated until their time is up.
(9) Andhakupam( Attack of the animals)- This is hell for those who oppress the good people and not helping them if requested despite having the resources. They will be pushed into a well, where beasts like Lions, tigers, eagles and venomous creatures like snakes and scorpions. The sinners have to endure the constant attacks of these creatures until the expiry of the period of their punishment.
(10) Taptamurti( Burnt Alive)- Those who plunder or steal Gold and jewels are cast into the furnaces of this Naraka which always remains hot in blazing fire.
(11) Krimibhojanam(Food for worms)- Those who do not honor their Guests and make use of men or women only for their own gain, are thrown into this Naraka. Worms, insects and serpents eat them alive. Once their bodies are completely eaten up, the sinners are provided with new bodies, which are also eaten up in the above manner. This continues, till the end of their term of punishment.
(12) Salmali(Embracing hot images)-This Naraka is intended for men and women who have committed adultery. A figure made of iron, heated red-hot is placed there. The sinner is forced to embrace it, while Yama’s servants flog the victim behind.
(13) Vajrakantakasali-(Embracing sharp images)- This Naraka is the punishment for Sinners who have unnatural intercourse with animals. Here, they are made to embrace iron images full of sharp diamond needles that pierce through their bodies.
(14) Vaitarani(River of Filth)- Rulers who abuse their power and adulterers are thrown here. It is the most terrible place of punishment. It is a river which is filled with human excreta, blood, hair, bones, nails, flesh and all kinds of dirty substances. There are various kinds of terrible beasts as well. Those who are cast into it are attacked and mauled by these creatures from all sides. The sinners have to spend the term of their punishment, feeding upon the contents of this river.
(15) Puyodakam (Well of hell)- This is a well filled with excreta, urine, blood, phlegm. Men who have intercourse and cheat women with no intention of marrying them are considered like animals. Those who wander about irresponsibly like animals are thrown in this well to get polluted by it’s contents. They are to remain here till their time is up.
(16) Pranarodham (Piece by Piece)- This Naraka is for those who keep dogs and other mean animals and constantly hunt and kill animals for food. Here the servants of Yama, gather around the sinners and cut them limb to limb while subjecting them to constant insult.
(17) Visasanam(Bashing from Clubs)- This Naraka is for the torture of those rich people who look down at the poor and spend excessively just to display their wealth and splendour. They have to remain here at the whole term of their punishment where they will be bashed nonstop from heavy clubs from Yama’s Servants.
(18) Lalabhaksam-(River of semen)- This is the Naraka for lustful men. The lascivious fellows who makes his wife swallow his semen, is cast into this hell. Lalabhaksam is a sea of semen. The sinner lies in it, feeding upon semen alone until his period of punishment.
(19) Sarameyasanam(Torment from dogs)- Those guilty of unsocial acts like poisoning food, mass slaughter, ruining the country are cast into this hell. There is nothing but the flesh of dogs for food. There are thousands of dogs in this Naraka and they attack the sinners and tear their flesh from their bodies with their teeth.
(20) Avici( turned into dust)- This Naraka is for those who are guilty for false witness and false swearing. There are hurled from a great height and they are utterly smashed into dust when they reached the ground. They are again restored to life and the punishment is repeated till the end of their time.
(21) Ayahpanam(Drinking of burning substances)- Those who consume alcohol and other intoxicating drinks are sent here. The women are forced to drink melted iron in liquid form, whereas the men will be forced to drink hot liquid molten lava for every time they consume a alcoholic drink in their earthly lives.
(22) Raksobjaksam(Revenge attacks)- Those who do animal and human sacrifices and eat the flesh after the sacrifice will be thrown in this hell. All the living beings they killed before would be there and they will join together to attacking, biting, and mauling the sinners. Their cries and complaints would be no avail here.
(23) Sulaprotam(Trident Torture)- People who take the lives of others who have done no harm to them and those who deceives others by treachery are sent to this “Sulaportam” hell. Here they are impaled on a trident and they are forced to spend their whole term of their punishment in that position, suffering intense hunger and thirst, as well as enduring all the tortures inflicted on them.
(24) Ksharakardamam(hanged upside down) -Braggarts and those who insult good people are cast into this hell. Yama’s servants keep the sinners upside down and torture them in many ways.
(25) Dandasukam(eaten alive)- Sinners who persecute others like animals will be sent here. There are many beasts here. They will be eaten alive by these beasts.
(26) Vatarodham(weapon torture)- This hell is for those who persecute animals which live in forrests, mountain peaks and trees. After throwing them in this hell, sinners are tortured with fire, poison and various weapons during their time here in this Naraka.
(27) Paryavartanakam( torture from birds)- One who denies food to a hungry person and abuses him is thrown here. The moment the sinner arrives here, his eyes are put by being pierced the beaks of birds like the crows and eagles. They will be pierced later on by these birds till the end of their punishment.
(28) Sucimukham(Tortured by needles)- Proud and Miserly people who refuse to spend money even for the basic necessities of life, like better food or buying food for their relations or friends will find their place in this hell. Those who do not repay the money they have borrowed will also be cast into this hell. Here, their bodies will be constantly pricked and pierced by needles.
Hell Is a Myth -- Actually, a Bunch of Myths
Jon M Sweeney--Sent by Courtesy Huff post
If I had the opportunity to meet Paul of Tarsus in the flesh, I'd take it in a heartbeat. I'd meet him on a sunny afternoon in June at one of those lovely places along the Via del Colosseo in Rome. I'd ask him questions about his pre-conversion life. Did you ever attend a gladiator match in the Forum over there? Did Russell Crowe portray it well? Did you ever personally stone a Christian to death, or did you just watch it happen?
I'd also want to ask about the whole "Road to Damascus" thing. Did you really hear God's voice? Does God even have a "voice," and if so, what in the world does it sound like? We'd be together for hours, until the late afternoon sun begins to bathe the yellow and red stones of the hotels nearby.
When the questions turned to more specifically religious and theological topics, I imagine Paul would have quick and ready answers. What did you really mean by "To live is Christ"? He would probably quip, Let me also refer you to a letter I once wrote to the church in Galatia (or Ephesus, etc.), where I dealt with that subject in greater detail.
But if I were to ask St. Paul what he believes about hell, I'll bet he would give an uncharacteristically vague answer. Why? For the simple reason that to the nascent Christian church, even to Paul, hell barely existed. All they knew from the Hebrew scriptures was Sheol, which literally means "grave" and was believed to be the dusty deep place within the earth itself to which every soul traveled after death, accompanying its body. And of course Paul lived, wrote, and was martyred for the faith before any of the Gospels were written.=
There were rumblings and speculations of an afterlife in the century of Christ, Philo, and Paul, but these came mostly from what was then pop culture: Greek and Roman mythology. The rumblings blossomed briefly and opaquely in the Gospels, and then at various points throughout late antiquity and the Middle Ages, including in the revelations to the Prophet Muhammad recorded in the Qur'an and again in the writings of the greatest theologian, Thomas Aquinas.
It was the Italian poet Dante Alighieri who changed everything with his famous Inferno, which he began writing in about 1306 CE. But to read the Inferno today is to realize how little it has to do with the Bible. There is more Greek and Roman mythology ― adapted by Dante from classics such as Hesiod's Theogony, Virgil'sAeneid, and Ovid's Metamorphoses ― than there is scripture in Dante's nine circles of hell. Where Augustine had criticized writers like Virgil and Ovid, saying that Christians shouldn't read them, the pagan poet Virgil serves as Dante's expert tour guide through the upside-down cathedral of the Inferno. Using a bunch of philosophies and myths, we have Dante to thank for making eternal punishment exotic, real, and... Christian.
Dante's hell has influenced our thinking in ways we rarely notice. "All hope abandon, ye who enter in," is scrawled above the door to hell by Dante, and the sentence has subsequently been adopted by many a Goth website, heavy-metal band, T-shirt, video game, and even a few novelists. One popular Finnish band recorded an album a few years ago called Venus Doom, in which its nine songs are intended to represent each of the nine circles of hell. From the lyrics, the band, called HIM, clearly wants to embrace and celebrate what feels like their inevitable damnation. The track "Bleed Well" perhaps says it all, even though it's an acoustic number. Even Rick Riordan's gigantic best-selling Heroes of Olympus series of novels for elementary school kids has recently added The House of Hades as book four. Now, third and fourth graders everywhere are coming home from school talking with their parents about the river Styx, Tartarus, Mars, and Aphrodite in the same way that I used to come home and tell my parents about ― I don't know ― The Hardy Boys?
At this very moment, tourists are flocking to Florence hotels for "Dan Brown Packages," and one-day trips for "Dan Brown Tours," during which they visit key sites in the life of Dante featured in Brown's New York Times bestseller, Inferno.
But, you see, there was little agreement among Christians, before Dante, about the nature and extent of what we call hell. Ancient Judaism and the New Testament writers had very little to say on the subject. Jesus made a few obscure, picturesque references to the afterlife, but he usually used Gehenna as his example of a place to be feared (eg. Mt. 5:29). Gehenna was a place on the outskirts of the Old City of Jerusalem where trash, and sometimes the bodies of crucified criminals, were burned.
Virgil and Plato, the Qur'an, medieval mystery plays, and medieval theologians were what fed Dante's imagination, not the Bible. To write his famous poem, Dante imagined the setting, characters, emotions, and drama that he wanted to create, and then set about fleshing it out with an elaborate compilation of myths and philosophies. The story he created was frightening, cinematic, and universal -- and it wouldn't have been any of those things if he'd simply used what the Bible has to say on the topic. In other words, hell has nine descending circles just like the devil has hooves and a tail.
So why do we continue to have such a fascination with the hell of Dante's imagination? It is certainly due to how Christians have embraced and preached it for centuries. The sad truth is that Dante's hellish vision has been useful in promoting colonizing, crusades and "conversions" for the last 700 years. But it is time for that to change. It is time for Christians, and all people of faith, to re-imagine the afterlife in less medieval terms.
Jon M. Sweeney is the author of Inventing Hell: Dante, the Bible, and Eternal Torment, just published by Hachette.
Follow Jon M. Sweeney on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jonmsweeney
1) Hell and Heaven are the greatest marketing tools in history. How to keep believers in line? Convince them that we know where they go when they die and how to get to the good place and avoid the bad place. Then watch the money flow..... There is no Hell or Heaven -- when we die, we die. Eternity is in the fond memories and love we leave behind. Stop trying to satisfy the bizarre rules of whatever faith you follow and live in the here and now. Love those who love you, treat all with decency and respect.
2) Well said. The carrot & stick / reward vs. punishment approach has been with us forever, it seems. The marketers of faith realized that they needed to fabricate concepts that would take hold of our psyches, thus they needed to put them out of our reach, well beyond this world and unprovable. Such a simple notion really—an eternity of bliss or one of pain—and extremely persuasive, based on the numbers who have accepted the myth.
3) Thank you for this discussion. It is exactly the references to Gehenna in Matthew (that you seem to quickly dismiss) that give us a frightening insight into what hell may be like. Forget about Dante. I've never read him. But Matthew worries me.
4) Don't forget that Matthew is written well after Paul. Prior to Christianity, Gehenna was the place where children were sacrificed to the god Moloch originally in the "valley of the son of Hinnom," to the south of Jerusalem. Matthew confuses this with Tartarus in Hades where the platonic separation of body and soul occurs and the naked soul if is judged as unrighteous will be sent there for eternal punishment and vengeance (See Plato's dialogue with Gorgias).
5) "It is time for Christians, and all people of faith, to re-imagine the afterlife in less medieval terms." Rrriiiiight, because ancient religious stories aren't mythical, they're totally down to Earth and real. Or obviously were all meant as allegories all along, or however you choose to hang on to your particular superstition and tell yourself that it isn't superstition. Literarily, Dante is great, and not just the Divine Comedy. Theologically, he's a close follower of Aquinas, who's about as mainstream Christian as anyone. I'd suggest you just think for yourself, Mr. Sweeney, but I really don't think you'd know what I mean.