Friday, 13 September 2013

Dharma, Artha, Kāma, Mokṣa – XI

Dr. Bibek Debroy
There is something that has tangentially cropped up and needs to be explicitly mentioned now.  This is a critical element in Hinduism and thousands of shlokas, from thousands of texts, can be cited.  Here, for example, is 2.12-13 of the Bhagavad Gita.  न त्वेवाहं जातु नासं न् त्वं नेमे जनाधिपाः। न चैव न भविष्यामः सर्वे वयमतः परम्॥देहिनोऽस्मिन् यथा देहे कौमारं यौवनं जरा। तथा देहान्तरप्राप्तिर्धीरस्तत्र न मुह्यति॥ “It is not the case that I, or you, or these kings, did not exist before this.  Nor is it the case that we won’t exist in the future, all of us will be there. The soul passes through childhood, youth and age in this body, and like that, attains another body. The wise don’t get bewildered by this.”  

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.

I am somewhat bemused when I hear expressions like स्वर्ग, नरक, heaven and hell respectively, and descriptions about these.  Apsaras (actually the plural should be apsarases) will dance around you and gandharvas will sing to you in heaven.  You will ride on celestial vehicles, vimanas.  In hell, Yama’s messengers will boil you in red-hot oil and impale you with stakes.  For a start, even in the sacred texts, there isn’t a single heaven, or a single hell. There are layers.  For instance, even in the worlds above (heaven say), there are supposed to be seven lokas or worlds – bhurloka, kharloka, svarloka (svarga), mahaloka, janarloka, taparloka and satyaloka (or brahmaloka).  Similarly, even in the worlds below (hell say), there are supposed to be seven – atala, vitala, sutala, rasatala, talatala, mahatala and patala.  

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.

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