|Dr. Bibek Debroy|
How will you translate the word संसार? If you say world or life, that’s not quite wrong. But it doesn’t capture the entire nuance. It’s a cycle and the passage of the atman through that cycle of existence. Birth is not a beginning. Nor is death the end. The cycle goes on, from one life to another. As long as one is tied down in that cycle, one is not freed. One has not attained emancipation or liberation, मोक्ष. Dharma, artha and kama, described as the three objectives (trivarga) of life, don’t get you that moksha. That’s the reason something like the Mahabharata has an entire section on moksha dharma, as opposed to ordinary dharma.
The more important point is the following. We cannot comprehend the atman through the standard senses and physical experiences. How can we comprehend what the atman goes through, beyond death, through these physical analogies? There is no Chitragupta who sits there with a ledger and determines where the atman will go. Those are all simplifications. Yes, the atman goes through karma in this life. This leads to the balance sheet I mentioned earlier. Ideally, the debits and the credits should be settled in this life itself.
I think that is the original idea behind प्रायश्चित्त, atonement or expiation. This doesn’t mean that I have visited a temple and have sacrificed a goat and thereby, all my sins have been cleansed. The cleansing and the purification is entirely internal. The net balance that remains, after death, carries forward to whatever the atman experiences after death. However, unless one has attained moksha, those experiences are temporary and transitory. One has to be reborn again, into this cycle of life. Beyond death, there are thus multiple exit options for the atman, not a single one. The rare person obtains moksha. Most of us have to be born again.