Life after death

As a general rule, man has never reconciled himself to the idea of death as the cessation of the individual ego. In some form or other, different races of mankind have believed in some kind of continuity of life after death. Four questions on this subject have been answered by a prince in this story. There is also an attempt to explain the origin of life. That is the subject of the fifth question.

Once upon a time a young Brahmin named Svetaketu went to the assembly of the Panchalas. His father had educated him at home and he was under the impression that he had completed his studies and that he knew everything that a Brahmin should know.

When he entered the assembly, discussions were going on, questions and answers were bandied about. It was usual to hold such an assembly at the time of a sacrifice or a similar ceremony.

Prince Pravahana, a Kshatriya, accosted the young newcomer, “Have you had full education young man?”

Svetaketu said with pride, “Yes, indeed!”

“Do you know where all these people go to from here after death?”

“No sir, I do not know.”

“Do you know how they return to this world again?”

“No sir, I do not know.”

“Do you know the two paths along which the dead travel and which are known as the Path of Light (Devayana) and the Path of Darkness (Pitryana)?”

“No sir, I do not know.”

“Do you know why the other world does not become overfull though so many continue to depart from this world and enter it?”

“No sir, I do not know.”

“Do you know how in the fifth stage elemental matter becomes the Purusha or the living person?”

“No sir, I do not know.”

“Then how dare you say that your education is complete? You do not seem to know anything of this important subject which concerns every one of us,” said the prince with some disparagement.

Svetaketu felt humiliated and thought he had been deceived into thinking that he was adequately educated. So he went straight to his father and said: “Father, you said my education was complete. But when Prince Pravahana asked me some five questions, believe me, I could not reply even one of them. How then did you say that I was sufficiently educated?” He then told his father the whole story about five questions and his discomfiture in the assembly of the Panchalas.

“Dear child,” replied the father, “I myself do not know the replies to the questions you have just mentioned. I do not know the reply to even one of them. If I had that knowledge, do you think that I would have ever withheld it from you?”

The father then went himself to the Prince to learn at his feet. He bowed to him respectfully and waited at his court.

Next morning when the Prince saw Svetaketu and his father, he said to the father respectfully, “Sir, I offer you wealth which is dear to all. You may demand as much as you please.”

The Brahmin said, “Great Prince, let the wealth remain with you. I do not want it at all. I want knowledge from you, I want you to talk with me as you talked with my child. I am thirsting for the knowledge of the other world.”

The Prince was pleased with the attitude of the Brahmin and requested him to stay at his court. He said, “Respected Brahmin, till now this knowledge has been traditionally known only to the Kshatriyas. It is only now and for the first time that I am imparting that knowledge to you, a Brahmin.

“I shall take up the last question first. There are, as it were, five yajnas or sacrifices, and as a result of those sacrifices it is that elemental matter is ultimately converted into life or into a person. There is the fire and the sun and elemental matter is the oblation offered to it. The result of this yajna is the production of Soma, the life giving juice. Then Soma is poured into Parjanya, the power that brings on rain. The result is rain itself. The rain is poured as an offering on the earth and food is the result. When food is offered to man and when he digests it the vital fluid called Reta (semen) is produced. When Reta enters the body of a woman the embryo is born and then a child. Thus is elemental matter converted into life after going through five stages.”

Then he gave answers to the other four questions. He said, “Since a man’s body is made up of the four elements, it is dissolved into those constituents after death. But the destiny of his soul depends upon his actions and his knowledge. If he has attained real spiritual knowledge he goes by Devayana, the Path of Light, and does not return to this earthly existence. His soul becomes immortal.

“But if he has led a life of desires and spent it in doing good deeds out of a desire for heaven, his soul goes by Pitryana, the Path of Darkness, to heaven, remains there till his merits are exhausted and then hurries back to this world and takes birth according to the general nature of his former actions.

“But if his is a life of sin and evil deeds and of wickedness, if he was all along engaged in stealing, drinking, killing and debauch or in associating with people occupied with these sinful acts (these are the five great sins) he forfeits his claim to both immortality and heaven. He is born and reborn here on earth and he goes through the cycle of lives of insects and worms and of vile vermin and suffers interminably.

“Thus of those who are born on earth, some pass on and away to the world of Brahman (Supreme Reality), from which there is no return. Some others go to heaven, stay there for a time and then return to the worldly existence. Numerous others are caught up in the ever-recurring cycle of birth and death, that is why the other world never becomes overfull. There is no such danger either!”

This is the knowledge of life, its origin, and of the destiny of the soul after death, This knowledge was given by Pravahana Jaivali, a Kshatriya Prince, to a Brahmin for the first time.


Original Article: Stories from Upanishads