Prashnottara: Beyond Death

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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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