[Advaita-l] The states between death and the next body - are they like dreams etc?

Sunil Bhattacharjya sunil_bhattacharjya at yahoo.com
Thu Sep 29 11:29:07 CDT 2011

Dear Raghav Kumarji,

Good post. 

Will you not like to add to it the transition that takes place in the first 10 days  in case of a brahmana and or in the first 12 days in case of a kshatriya after death? To my knowledge Bhishma could leave his earthly body fully only when he acquired his divine body on the 13th day of his death and on the performance of his last rites on the 13th day he left for his divine abode.
Will you also like to say something on the effect of the other people reciting the Bhagavad Gita (or any other shastra) before a dying person in his or her acquiring a new body. 


Sunil K. Bhattacharjya

From: Raghav Kumar <raghavkumar00 at gmail.com>
To: A discussion group for Advaita Vedanta <advaita-l at lists.advaita-vedanta.org>
Sent: Thursday, September 29, 2011 8:29 AM
Subject: [Advaita-l] The states between death and the next body - are they like dreams etc?

SrI Sudhakar Kabra ji, namaste - you wrote : At death, the physical body
falls off. In between the time period before it acquires a new body,
>z) can it be treated as a state like dream without an activity of the
physical body.
>a) If yes,  then can we call it pratibhasika satyam. Any references?
>b) If no, then why?  What is the level of satyam that is assigned to it in
the scriptures.

The Chandogya Upanishad verses 5.10.4 to 5.10.8 and the accompanying
commentary by SrI Sankara-bhagavatpAda are quite remarkable detailing the
events between death and the acquisition of a new body and almost feel like
a vivid National Geographic Channel style documentary on manned space flight
and re-entry .  Its a wonder how bhAShyakAra collated all these intricate

z) Can the *entire* experience of the state between death and the
acquisition of a new body be treated like a dream without any activity in a
physical body ?
   Answer: No. The pitR-s, i.e., departed ancestors who were righteous in
their earthly conduct, ascend through the dhUma-mArga (the path of 'smoke')
and are said to acquire a  body predominantly made up of water
(Apya-sharIraM) in the lunar sphere and also have experiences of enjoyment.
The use of the word 'Apa' is significant. Such a body may well be subtle but
is nevertheless a "physical" body. Similarly the bodies of those who depart
by the arci-mArga (the path of light) are said to be made of air (vAyavIya
sharIra), of tejas (light), AkASha (ether) etc (mentioned in
brahmasUtra-bhAShya), also indicating their subtler-than-water nature in
keeping with the fact that the path of light is harder/subtler to gain than
the path of smoke.

>a) Are such experiences purely prAtibhAsika (subjective) ?
Answer: No, they are to be regarded as vyAvahArika (transactionally
real). The enjoyments and other experiences in this pitR loka (the world of
the manes i.e., the lunar sphere) are not subjective imaginations of the
departed -  since they involve communion and interaction with other
celestial beings viz., the devata-s. (bhAShyakAra says explaining the
Chandogya Upanishad 5.10.4 shloka portion "taM devA bhakShayanti" - the pitR
is cosumed by the Gods. SrI bhagavatpAda says  - na ca teShAm stryAdInAM
puruSha-upabhogyatve'pi upabhogo nAsti. tasmAt devAnAm upabhogyA api santaH,
sukhino devaiH krIDanti - Just because a woman is herself an object of
enjoyment for a man, that does not imply that she herself does not thereby
experience enjoyment too. Thus, even while these departed souls are the
objects of enjoyment of the Gods, they themselves thereby are happy and
"play" with the Gods - Chandogya Upanishad 5.10.4 bhAShya.) Such references
indicate that the body and the experiences of the manes with other
devata-s, enjoy definite transactional reality (vyAvahArika sattA or
empirical reality). (Note:  It is safe to assume that sRShti-dRShti-vAda is
not wrong ; the Vedic devata-s are transactionally real.)

b) What is the level of satyam (reality) assigned in the scriptures ?
Answer: Already addressed in the previous paragraphs. One additional point
regarding "ascent" to pitR-loka and "descent" from pitR-loka -
The ascent of the jIva to either the lunar sphere (through the path of
smoke) or one of the satya-lokA-s (through the path of light) is with full
awareness and alertness like a person consciously climbing a tree . Such
ascent is said to be commence through one or the other of the nAdii-s
(pathways in the subtle body generally corresponding to certain nerves.).
The initial role of these subtle nAdii-s at the commencement of the departed
soul's jouney is therefore sometimes compared to the dream experience;  in
dream, the different dream objects are "created" by our saMskAra-s (past
impressions) which are stored (or have their locus) in these nAdI-s of the
subtle body. The comparison of the departed's experience with conventional
dream does not mean that such experiences are purely subjective; they only
mean that these experiences are subtler than our waking state experiences
which are garnered through a gross earthly body -  a pArthiva-sharIra (body
made of earth etc).

The descent from the pitR loka back to this mortal world is however
unawareful/unconscious and an automatic process guided by the law of karma
operating under the overseership of Ishvara. The jIva on the return journey
frodm pitR-loka (called the anushayi-jIva) until his acquisition of a new
earthly body in the womb of the new earthly mother, is compared to an
unconscious/comatose man who had been hit on the head with a club,  who is
then carried by others unknowingly from one place to another or to a person.
(yathA ca mudgarAdi-abhihatanAM
tad-abhighAtavedanA-nimitta-sanmUrChita-pratibaddha-karaNAnAM, svadehenaiva
deshAd deshAntaraM niyamAnAnAM viGyAna-shUnyatA dRshTA. - one who having
been struck with a club, becomes unconscious due to the intense pain and
with his limbs having become senseless, is bodily carried from one place to
another - even so is the descent from pitR-loka to the new womb)  . He is
also compared with one who falls down from a tree after losing
consciousness. (...na tathA chandramaNdalAd avarurukShatAM vRkShagrAdiva
patatAM sacetanatvaM..- Ch.Up.5.10.6)

There is one other reference in the bhAShya which says - "tathA arcirAdinA
dhUmAdinA ca gamanaM svapna iva udbhUta-vijGYAnena,
labdhavRtti-karma-nimittatvAt-gamanasya. na tathA  anushayinAM
vrIhyAdi-bhAvena jAtAnAM saviGYAnameva retaH-sig-yoshid-dehasambandha
upapadyate, na hi vrIhyAdi-lavana-kaNdana-peShanAdau ca savijn~AnanAM
sthithirasti" (Paraphrased by me : In both the paths of ascent i.e., through
either light or smoke, since the karma conferring those higher loka-s has
already attained maturity, the jIva *ascends* to these loka-s with full
awareness *like in a dream*. On the other hand, this (awarefulness) is not
there for the jIva when he descends ( since he is, as it were, asleep and
not dreaming) and the jIvA becomes (merely) associated with rice etc. (but
is not actually "born" as the rice-sheaf etc., since his karma still awaits
maturation,) until he attains a womb. (upon which he can be said
to partially atleast wake up in the womb and identify with his new
embodiment as the karma has now matured.) since the jIva cannot be said
to remain conscious when the rice is threshed, pounded, ground etc. (and
subsequently enters the man who eats the rice and through his semen,
he ultimately enters the womb of a woman.)

Here, the use of the word, dream, is only to stress that the karma which is
giving that other higher loka-s has attained manturity and so the jIva
actually enjoys the ride (so to speak)  to the other higher loka. He is not
asleep. On his return, he is "asleep" and is thankfully spared the travails
of wakefully experiencing the various stages of rebirth viz., living dormant
in some water body for innumerable long years, being absorbed with rain
water in to a sheaf of rice/barley, then pounded and cooked along with the
rice, being eaten by a man, and then finally entering the new womb. At that
point of womb-re-entry the karma has matured and so he is now *identified*
with the embryo/foetus. In all the earlier stages, the water merely provided
a suitable vehicle for the jIva-s movement through the clouds, rain, plants,
man and semen, to attain rebirth.

There is a third path different from the path of the manes or the path of
the Gods nad that is referred to as - path where there is only
jAyasva-mRyasva (be born and die continually as small insects etc.) In this
path meant for those who have commited grevious pApa, there is no ascent to
any other higher loka. Instead, continually, the jIva is born for short time
in an insect, plant or some other similar body and dies within a short time.
The transition from one body to another is painful since it occurs with
awareness and is not an unconscious process like in the case of the
anushayI-jIva returning from pitR-loka. So this third category of jIva
experiences hellish travails of moving consciously from one body to another
and living insecurely and then dying and again struggling to find another
body like a leech which moves from one body and attaches to another. In this
case, each birth as a plant, insect etc is an actual "birth", and that
particular embodiment is not merely a vehicle for that jIva. (ye tu anye
anushayIbhyaH..karmaNa hi tair vrIhi-yavAdi-deha upAtta iti,
tad-upabhoga-nimitta-kShaye vrIhyAdi-stamba-deha-vinAshe yathAkarmAjitaM
dehAntaraM navaM navaM jalUkA-vat saMkramante *savijn~Ana eva* - "savijn~Ano
bhavati savijn~nAnameva anvavakrAmati" Br.Up.4.4.2)

To make the distinction clear, what this implies is that there is one or
more jIva-s who is merely resident in the body of a plant/man etc at any
given time, called the anushayI (sleeping jIva(s) with un-matured karma who
does not suffer even if the host jIva suffers etc) and then there
is host-jIva who is actually undergoing the matured prArabdha-karma
who actually identifies with and suffers the travails of the embodiment like
the man, plant etc.

Needless to say, the entire descirption, as the bhAShya makes clear, is
to enable us to get vairagya and say "enough is enough", and "no more of
this samsAra." and thereby move towards calling the bluff, through

hariH Om

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