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Prashnottara: Beyond Death

Excerpts from the Q&A Ses­sion dur­ing Rishikesh Retreat Pro­gram (Dec 2015)

Q: Where do we go when we die? If we look at what is explained by Vyasa Mahar­ishi, we go to a loka appro­pri­ate for us. When we say appro­pri­ate, it means the loka we deserve based on var­i­ous fac­tors includ­ing our past and present actions, both freewill and fate based appro­pri­ate­ness. You see var­i­ous lokas. We have seen there are so many lokas. Obvi­ous­ly the uni­verse is a very vast place. We have seen, there are tril­lions of galax­ies, lit­er­al­ly tril­lions of galax­ies. That is some­thing beyond con­cep­tion. We can­not even imag­ine how vast it is. Even in our own galaxy there are bil­lions of star sys­tems and hence it is very dif­fi­cult for us to imag­ine this. Once Vyasa Mahar­ishi is asked, “The rishis do such tremen­dous tapasya. After they leave the body what hap­pens?” So he explains, “They attain to lumi­nous bod­ies”. Lumi­nous bod­ies — self-lumi­nous bod­ies. Is this body self-lumi­nous? No. But when rishis attain to lumi­nous bod­ies, their lumi­nos­i­ty is efful­gent to a mas­sive extent because they have immense tapo bala. So much fuel reserve to burn! So they become mas­sive lumi­nous bod­ies. Lumi­nous bod­ies need not be just stars. There are so many oth­er lumi­nous bod­ies. So rishis attain to such lumi­nous bod­ies. In fact, that is why we refer to the sun as surya deva; we don’t call it just an object — sun. We say sun god, or surya deva — that means it is a being, with a body that is lumi­nous. We are a human being, with a body that is not lumi­nous. So, becom­ing a self-lumi­nous body is a pos­si­bil­i­ty but requires tremen­dous work. Q: Are all devas lumi­nous?

Actu­al­ly you don’t need a body like the sun. You don’t need that. It depends on what sort of a body you acquire. For exam­ple, vayu, has a dif­fer­ent body, agni has a dif­fer­ent body, like­wise it depends on the role and posi­tion that you occu­py. There is nobody with­out a body. But we can­not sim­plis­ti­cal­ly imag­ine that this(body) is the only body. There are dif­fer­ent bod­ies. But one acquires a body as per one’s back­ground, one’s effort, kar­ma.

Q: But we see non-lumi­nous bod­ies also? Okay ‘lumi­nous’ seems like a dif­fi­cult word. Take ‘tejas’ — that is a more pre­cise word. For exam­ple, ‘tejaswi’ — means one who has tejas. Tejas is lumi­nos­i­ty. Lumi­nos­i­ty is not just lit­er­al but fig­u­ra­tive as well. For exam­ple, when some­one says you are a bright stu­dent, that does not mean that you are filled with flash­ing lights! [Laugh­ter]. That means your intel­lect has good grasp­ing pow­er. Like­wise, ‘lumi­nous’ or ‘tejas’ is used in mul­ti­ple con­texts. Words are always to do with the con­text. Any­thing out of con­text will be mis­un­der­stood, unless one has a con­text for the word. Some­thing spo­ken in this con­text, if you take it out of here, it might be mis­un­der­stood, gross­ly mis­un­der­stood, because who you are talk­ing with might not have the ben­e­fit of this con­text. And hence con­tex­tu­al ref­er­ence is what is impor­tant. There are cer­tain things that are con­text inde­pen­dent, and those you call uni­ver­sal — for exam­ple, the Supreme Truth, ‘Sar­vam Brah­ma­mayam’ is con­text inde­pen­dent. It does not depend on the con­text.

It so hap­pens that dur­ing the vana par­va of the Mahab­hara­ta, Arju­na trav­els to deva loka to acquire deva astras. While trav­el­ling in the char­i­ot to deva loka, he encoun­ters a great many lumi­nous bod­ies, and he asks this ques­tion to Matali, Indra’s char­i­o­teer. Matali explains, ”Those who did excep­tion­al tapas, they accrued excep­tion­al wealth of pun­ya and hence they have attained to this form.” So through your deeds, you attain to appro­pri­ate forms and hence it is explained, “Do your actions prop­er­ly”.

Q: What hap­pens to those who do not do it prop­er­ly?

Where you go is in terms of igno­rance or avidya to be pre­cise. Why do you not do some­thing prop­er­ly? See let us say, you want to kill some­body. Why do you want to hurt some­body else? Let us say a thief wants to hurt some­one because they want mon­ey, they are ready to kill for mon­ey. Why do they do that? For their ben­e­fit. Why do they see that only killing and thiev­ing is the ben­e­fit? Because that is what they know. They iden­ti­fy them­selves as this (body). This hap­pened with Rat­nakara, the great sage Valmi­ki. He thought that he was that. For his own fam­i­ly and for their ben­e­fit he would kill any­body. For his own family’s ben­e­fit he would be killing oth­er fam­i­lies and he would not see that as wrong. For him all that mat­tered was his fam­i­ly. Towards their ben­e­fit, he would seri­ous­ly impinge on oth­er people’s lives. A thief’s frame of ref­er­ence is so small that he is not able to look at oth­ers. Thieves are not able to look at oth­ers. And hence their sense of self, “aham” and “ma-ma” are very strong. Your assump­tion that “this is me” and “this is not me” is very strong. This assump­tion “this is me, this is my fam­i­ly” is called ahamkara and mamakara, mean­ing, “I and mine”. What­ev­er is with­in that frame of ref­er­ence, you will do every­thing to pro­tect it. Out­side that frame of ref­er­ence, you don’t care. And Rat­nakara would kill any­body to pro­vide for his fam­i­ly. He would take care of them very lov­ing­ly. He was extreme­ly affec­tion­ate and attached to his own fam­i­ly, but he would go about killing oth­ers left right and cen­tre. But he did not see that as wrong. How is this rel­e­vant to the ques­tion? If you have a heavy rock strapped to you and we launch you from here, how far can you get? Not too far, isn’t it? So when we have these heavy lay­ers of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion it is dif­fi­cult to get too far after we die.

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