Friday, November 11, 2011

From Death to Immortality

From Death to Immortality

What will happen to me after death? In the second chapter of Bhagavad Gita Lord Krishna explains this subject to Arjuna in great detail. Arjuna was faced with a situation where, in order to uphold dharma, he had to fight and kill people who were very dear to him, his own relatives and friends. As one might expect, it caused great disturbance to Arjuna, and when he finally saw the people with whom he was going to fight, he lost all composure and began to cry. Arjuna threw down his bow and told to Lord Krishna, "na yotsya", I shall not fight.

His anxiety and grief was based on his false identification of the body as the self. He thought the self ceases to exist when the body dies. To correct this misconception and to establish Arjuna in full knowledge of the self, Lord Krishna spoke the Bhagavad Gita on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.

He began by first establishing the eternality of the soul:

nayam bhutva bhavita va na bhuyah

ajo nityah sasvato ’yam purano

na hanyate hanyamane sarire

"For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time. He has not come into being, does not come into being, and will not come into being. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain."

The body is simply an external covering of the soul. Being material, the body is by nature temporary, and must at some point deteriorate and die. The soul on the other hand is spiritual in nature. For it there is no beginning nor end. Matter and spirit are qualitatively opposite. Whereas the matter's natural quality is that it is temporary, full of ignorance and full of suffering, the qualities of the soul are that it is eternal (sat), full of knowledge (cit) and full of bliss (ananda).

Anything that has a beginning in time will also certainly have an end. Thus the body will inevitably come to an end, but the soul, which is beginningless, will continue its existence:

dhruvam janma mrtasya ca

tasmad apariharye ’rthe

na tvam socitum arhasi

"One who has taken his birth is sure to die, and after death one is sure to take birth again. Therefore, in the unavoidable discharge of your duty, you should not lament."

Krishna describes death in the Bhagavad Gita as being nothing more than a change of dress:

vasamsi jirnani yatha vihaya

navani grhnati naro ’parani

tatha sarirani vihaya jirnany

anyani samyati navani dehi

"As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, the soul similarly accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones."

This body is nothing but a vehicle, and the soul is the passenger. When this vehicle is no longer suitable for the soul, due to old age and decay, the soul is given a new vehicle. Thus death is simply the transition from one vehicle to the next.

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