giving birth

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Tue Jan 15 17:33:00 CST 2002

On Tue, 8 Jan 2002, Prasad Balasubramanian wrote:

> namasthe,
> I heard from many learned elders advising bramhachAris to takeup
> gruhasthAshramA with a vAkyA from the vedas.
>   "prajayA hi manushyaH pUrNaH"
> Can someone explain the significance of this vAkyA ?

It's pretty straightforward really, it says that Man is made complete by
progeny.  This is related to the idea that by birth we are under three
debts, to the Devas which is fullfilled by puja, yajna etc., to the Rshis
which is fulfilled by study of the shastras, and to the Pitrs which is
fulfilled by having children.

As well the significance of pitru tharpaNam ?  If possible, the
relationship between these two.

The pitrs are our ancestors who have ascended to the chandraloka.  Just as
the Devas are maintained in svarga by our offerings, the pitras are
maintained by tarpana, and shraddha offered by their descendents.  Though
both the devas and pitrs who have reached their blessed status through
their good deeds in the past will be reborn once their punya runs out.

> Why has it been declared in Vedas that a man is complete only if he
> gives birth ?

For the reasons above.  In the Vedas and throughout Indian philosophy we
see a debate between two outlooks on life.  One stresses action.
Dharma, artha, and kama are the highest ends.  One finds paradise in a
good life here (or in a heaven which differs from earth only in quality.)
The quote you gave is an example of this.  Or Manusmrti, which says the
Grhastha should be considered the best ashram because it is the support of
all the others.

On the other hand, you have the idea that selfishness and worldliness is
the cause of pain and suffering and salvation lies beyond this world in a
wholly seperate place.  One finds statements like that of
Brhadaranyakaopanishad (I.4.10) that men are like cows or other herd
animals to the Gods to be "milked" for offerings.  They don't like Man to
achieve jnana because it will deprive them of their lucrative income.
Instead of dana being seen as a noble virtue that supports society, it is
viewed as con game.   Isn't this a surprising thing to read in a "holy
book"?  In  the Puranas as well we see lots of xamples of ambivalence.  A
Rshi can rise to prominence by the power of his tapa but in the proces or
with an inadvertant curse or boon can upset the order of the world to such
a degree only intervention by Vishnu Bhagawan or Shiva Bhagawan etc. can
put things right again.

People try to read their own intellectual prejudices into these things.
But the truth is we are the heirs of both these points of views.  A big
preoccupation of the followers of the Vedas (and for that matter the
nastikas too)  has been to try and reconcile the two.  At the one extreme
you have the Mimamsakas and the Charvakas, people whose gaze is firmly on
this world.  At the other you have Samkhya, or the Buddhists or Jains who
place little or no value to worldy life.  Then you have those who try and
combine jnana and karma in various ways.  Most of the Vedantic acharyas do
this.  Shankaracharya is actually rather radical in insisting that jnana
alone is the key to mukti.  This has led to accusations that he is a
pracchanna bauddha (Buddhist in disguise.)  But if we look carefully, his
ideas are much more subtle than they seem.

Yes, the values of the ascetic sannyasi are paramount he says but they
can only be practised outside of society.  And if the high standards
required for renunciation cannot be met, there are no half-measures, one
must abide by ones' traditional worldly obligations.  Unlike say the
self-contained Buddhist sangha with its many rules and regulations, there
can be no Vedantic society.  It's an oxymoron.  When Buddhism was at its
height in India, there were huge viharas with thousands of bhikshus.  But
when the Muslim invasions destroyed those centers it became extinct.
Sanatana Dharma survived because it was thoroughly entwined with society.
It was able to bend without breaking.  And for that, all astikas should
thank Shankaracharya because even in the process of shunning karma, he
made karma an intellectually viable path again.

The balance was upset again in the 19th century with the rise of "modern"
varieties of Hinduism.  Their inferiority complexes in regard to the
onslaught of Western thought and their love/hate relationship with Indian
culture made Advaita Vedanta attractive to their thinkers precisely
because they thought it was authentically Indian yet seemed to be a
rebellion against traditional mores.  (Not coincidentally this was the
time of the "rediscovery" of Buddhism amongst the Indian intelligentsia.)
There was a big swing towards mysticism and the rational, and worldly
aspects were neglected.  And what was the result?  As far as I can see the
only legacy of modern Hinduism has been mass illiteracy.  It is naive, no
downright stupid to think ideas, even the best ideas can propagate through
history by themselves.  All the books on philosophy in the world will do
no good if there is no one to read them.

The purpose of this long digression is to explain why we we frequently
talk about "casteism" and "ritualism" and all those supposedly
non-"spiritual' things here.  We don't just want to be curators of some
dusty old museum, we want our dharma to be as vital in 1000 years time as
it was 1000 years ago.  For that there has to be more than talk.  There
has to be action.  The karmakanda of the Vedas and the shastras that
derive from it tell us how to act, what our duties are.  When we have done
our duty and passed our inheritance to future generations then only we are
purnah or complete.

>  What happens to one who is not able to give birth in
> his/her present jenma (will he/she be reborn ? )  Commentaries on Brahma
> Sutras by Swami Krishnananda has two paragraphs as following
> <<Jiva or soul, for the purpose of our subject, is a concentrated point
> of desire. The soul that we are discussing about here is not the
> Universal Soul; it is rather the bound soul and no one can be bound
> unless there is a concentralisation of desire at a spatio-temporal
> point.
> It is desire that is born, not a child. The human being is a shape taken
> by a mass of desires. Every cell of our body is made up of desires. It
> vibrates with desires -- any number of desires. But since any number of
> desires cannot be fulfilled through a single body, a certain set of
> desires is chosen intelligently for the purpose of fulfilling them
> through a single incarnation. >>
> If this is so, then is giving birth just helping a set of desires to
> takeup a body so that it continues fulfilling itself ?

Yes.  It is the "unfinished business" of previous lives which impells the
jiva to be born again and again.  He thinks "this time I will do things
right" but each action creates more consequences which leads to more
actions and the cycle contines.

> If one does not give birth Or is not able to give birth, is a different
> set of parents selected for the soul to be given a body ? I dont know
> whether the very sentance "soul is taking a body" is right or not.  As
> well, the process of a souls getting a bodies is not (if not "is not",
> it should be atleast "should not") going to stop when a set of parents
> are not able to give birth. In which case, why cant one intentionally
> refrain from giving birth ?

It depends on why one intends to refrain.  If there is some selfish reason
(i.e. "taking care of a baby is too much trouble") then one will continue
to be reborn.  The Brahmasutras explain that rebirth doesn't necessarily
happen straight away.  There can be an intermediate state where the jiva
is in the rain or in plants or animals.  Then after a little or a
long time somehow it will make its' way back into the womb of a sentient
being and be born and hopefully here the liberating teachings of Vedanta.

> Hows this veda vAkyA applicable to sannyasis and others who get/dont get
> liberation in the present Jenma?

When a jnani realizes that he is and ever was the immortal, all-pervading,
and imperishable Brahman, then he is not afraid of being incomplete and
words and obligations mean nothing to him.  If for some external reason he
fails to get mukti in this life, those reasons may compel him to be be
reborn but in a higher world or somewhere where he will be successful.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at>
It's a girl! See the pictures -

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