restricted access CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Karma, Vidyā, Mokṣa: Liberation from Rebirth
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173 CH APTER THIRTEEN Karma, Vidyā, Mokṣa Liberation from Rebirth From the unreal lead me to the Real, From darkness lead me to light, From ignorance lead me to knowledge, From death lead me to immortality. —Aitareya Brāhmaṇa II, 1 Thus does the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad describe the process of dying: Just as a heavily loaded cart moves creaking, so the ātman of the body with the ātman of wisdom on it moves creaking, when breathing becomes small through old age or disease then just as a mango or some other fruit loosens itself so this puruṣa frees himself from these limbs and returns again to the womb. . . . When this ātman becomes weak and confused, as it were, all the prāṇas, the life breaths gather round him. He takes into himself those sparks of light and recedes into the heart. When the eye puruṣa departs, he cannot recognize forms any more. “He is becoming one, he does not see,” so they say; “he is becoming one, he cannot smell,” they say; “he is becoming one, he does not taste,” they say; “he is becoming one, he does not speak,” they say; “he is becoming one, he does not hear,” they say; “he is becoming one, he does not think,” they say; “he is becoming one, he does not feel,” they say; “he is becoming one, he does not know,” they say. The point of his heart becomes lighted up and by that light the ātman departs either through the eye or through the head or through other apertures of the body. And when he thus departs, the prāṇas depart after him. He becomes understanding, he follows after understanding. His knowledge and his deeds follow him as does also his previous wisdom. Just as a caterpillar, when it has come to the end of 174 PART II: T R I M Ā RGA one blade of grass, and after having made its approach to another one, draws itself together toward it, so this ātman, after having thrown away this body and after having dispelled ignorance, draws itself together. And as the goldsmith , taking a piece of gold, turns it into another, newer and more beautiful shape, even so does this ātman, after having thrown away this body, make unto himself newer and more beautiful shapes like that of the Pitṛs, the gandharvas , the devas, of Prajāpati, of Brahmā or some other being. This ātman indeed is brahman consisting of understanding, mind, life, sight, hearing, earth, water, air, space, light and darkness, desire and desirelessness, anger and freedom from anger, righteousness and unrighteousness and all things. This is what is meant by saying: “It consists of this and consists of that.” As one acts and as one behaves so one becomes. The one who does good becomes good; the one who does evil becomes evil. One becomes righteous by righteous action, unrighteous by unrighteous action. Others, however, say: a puruṣa consists of desire (kāma). As his desire is, so is his determination (kratur); as his determination is such deed he commits; whatever deed he commits, that he attains. On this there is the following verse: The object to which the mind (manas) is attached, the subtle self (liṅga) goes together with the deed, being attached to it alone. Exhausting the results of whatever works he did in this world he comes again from that world to this world for work. This is true for the mind with desires. The mind who is free from desire, whose desire is satisfied, whose desire is the ātman, his prāṇas do not depart. Since he is brahman, he goes into brahman. On this there is the following verse: “When all the desires that dwell in the heart are cast away, then does the mortal become immortal, then he attains brahman here.”1 Death is a theme that looms large in the Upaniṣads. Death is the creator and the destroyer of all that is. Death, especially in the form of re-death (punarmṛtyu)2 is the greatest evil that threatens the human existence. Belief in rebirth seems to be accepted in the Upaniṣads without further argument. Scholars generally assume that it forms part of the religion of the indigenous peoples of India, which influenced Vedic religion quite heavily. According to the Upaniṣads the Vedic yajña cannot save from repeated death, to which even the devas are subjected...


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