Chapter 56 — State of the Soul after Death; Ancestor Worship & Benefits to the Dead

Vasishta continued:—

In the meantime the king’s eyeballs became convoluted, and his lips and cheeks and entire face grew pale and dry. There remained only the slender breath of life in him. His body became as lean as a dry leaf, and his face turned as ghastly as the figure of death. His throat gurgled like the hoarsest beetles and his lungs breathed with a bated breath. His sight was darkened upon the unconsciousness of death and his hopes were buried in the pit of despair. The sensations of his external organs were hidden within the cavity of his heart. His figure was as senseless as a picture in painting and all his limbs were as motionless as those of a statue carved from a block of marble. What need is there of a lengthier description when it may be said in short that his life quitted his body, like a bird flies far away from a falling tree?

The two ladies, with their divine eyesight, saw his animal spirit in its aerial form flying upwards in the sky and his consciousness disappearing like the odor of a flower blown by the wind. His individual soul being joined with its spiritual body began to fly higher and higher in the air as it was led by its inner desire or expectation of ascending to heaven.

The two ladies kept following that conscious soul, like a couple of female bees pursuing a particle of perfume borne afar in the air on the wings of the wind. Then, in a moment after the fainting fit of death was over, the conscious soul was roused from its unconsciousness like some fragrance expanding itself with the breeze. 10 It saw the porters of death carrying away the souls of the dead that had resumed their grosser forms from the food offered by their kinsmen during ancestor-worship rituals. 11 After a long year’s journey on the way, it reached the distant abode of Yama with the hope of reaping the reward of its acts, but found the gate guarded by beasts of prey.

12 Yama, on seeing the departed spirit of everybody brought before him, demanded to know all its foul acts committed during its lifetime. 13 On finding the prince’s spirit spotless, ever inclined to virtuous acts and nourished by the grace of the goddess of wisdom, 14 he ordered it to be released. The spirit re-entered its former dead body that lay buried under the flowers in the tomb. 15 It was then allowed to fly in the ethereal path with the swiftness of a stone shot from a sling. The living Leela and the goddess followed in the air.

16 The individual soul of the king sailing through the sky did not see the forms of the two ladies who followed it, though they saw it all along its course. 17 They passed through many worlds and soon passed beyond the bounds of the extra-mundane systems until they arrived at the solar world from where they descended to this earth.

18 The two self-willed forms of Leela and the goddess followed the individual soul of King Padma and arrived at his royal city where they entered Leela’s apartment. 19 In a trice and of their own free will, they entered the palace of King Padma like air passes in flowers and the sunbeams penetrate water and odors mix with air.

20 Rama asked, “How was it sage, that they entered into the abode adjoining to the tomb, and how could they find the way to it? One had been dead a long time, and all three were bodiless emptiness.”

21 Vasishta replied:—

The tomb of the king’s dead body, being impressed on his soul and the object of its desire, led his spirit insensibly to it, as if by its inborn instinct.

22 Who does not know that the endless desires in the human breast, like countless fig seeds, grow up in time to become big trees? 23 Just as the living body bears its seed, the subtle body (linga deha) in the heart that germinates and in the end grows into a tree, so every particle of the intellect bears the material seed in itself. 24 As a man placed in a far distant land sees his own house within himself, so the soul sees the objects of his distant desires ever present before it. 25 The individual soul always longs after the best objects of its desire, even though it may undergo a hundred births and become subject to the errors and delusions of his senses and of this illusory world.

26 Rama replied, “There are many persons who are free from desire to receive funeral cakes. Now tell me, sage, what becomes of those souls who get no cake offering at their ancestor worship (shradh)?”

27 Vasishta replied:—

A man having the desire settled in his heart to receive food offerings, and thinking it to be offered to him, is surely benefitted by its offering. 28 Whatever is in the heart and mind, the same notions form the nature of living beings. Whether these are in their corporeal or incorporeal states, they think themselves as such beings and no other. 29 The thought of having received the pinda cake (cake offered at a shradh ancestor worship ritual) makes a man sapinda (ancestors to the sixth degree), though it is not actually offered to him. On the other hand, the thought of not being served with the cake makes a sapinda become a nispinda.

30 It is truly the desire of all living beings to be whatever they have in their hearts, and that is the cause of their becoming so in reality. 31 It is a man’s thought that makes poison taste like nectar, and it is his very thought that makes an untruth seem as truth to him. 32 Know this for certain, that no thought ever rises in anyone without some cause or other. Therefore, the desire or thought that is inherent in the spirit is the sole cause of its regeneration on earth. 33 Nobody has ever seen or heard of any event occurring without its proper cause; except the being of the Supreme Being which is the causeless cause of all beings from their state of not-being into being.

34 Desire is inherent in consciousness, like a dream in the soul. Desire appears in the form of acts, as the Will of God is manifested in his works of creation.

35 Rama said, “How can a spirit that is conscious of its faults foster any desire for its future good? How can it benefit from others’ pious works for its salvation? 36 Tell me also whether the pious acts of others, offered to ancestors, go for nothing. Do the good wishes of others have any effect on the future prospects of an undeserving ghost?”

37 Vasishta said:—

A desire naturally arises in its proper time and place and by application of appropriate acts and means. The rising of the desire necessarily overcomes its absence. 38 Pious gifts made for the sake of departed souls accrue to them as their own acts. It gives them a sense of worthiness and fills them with better hopes and desires for their future state.

39 Just like the stronger man gains the better of his adversary, so the later acts of piety drive away the former impiety from the spirit. Therefore the constant practice of pious acts is strictly encouraged in the scriptures.

40 Rama said, “If the desire arises in its proper time and place, then how could it arise in the beginning when there was no time or place? 41 You say that there are accessory causes that give rise to desires, but how could the will arise in the first place without any accessory cause whatever?”

42 Vasishta replied:—

It is true, O long-armed Rama, that there was neither time nor place in the beginning when the Spirit of God was without its will. 43 And there being no accessory cause, there was not even the idea of the visible world, nor was it created or brought into existence. It is so even now.

44 The phenomenal world has no existence. All that is visible is the manifestation of Divine Consciousness which is everlasting and imperishable. 45 Later I will explain this to you in a hundred different ways, and it is my main purpose to do so, but now hear now tell you what relates to the matter under consideration.

46 Having arrived in that house, they saw its inside beautifully decorated with garlands of flowers as fresh as those of the spring season. 47 The palace residents were quietly employed in their duties, and the king’s corpse was placed upon a bed of mandara and kunda flowers. 48 Wreaths of the same flowers were strewn over the sheet that covered the body and there were the auspicious pots of water placed bedside. 49 The doors of the room were closed and the windows were shut fast with their latches. Lamps cast a dim light on the white washed walls and the corpse was lying as a man in sleep with the suppressed breathing of his mouth and nostrils.

50 There was the bright full moon shining with her delightful luster, and the beauty of the palace would make Indra’s paradise blush. It was as charming as the center of the lotus of Brahma’s birthplace, and it was as silent as dumbness or a dummy itself, and as beautiful as the fair moon in her fullness.