Author Topic: The Death Experience of Bhagavan: Hindu Mythological Perspectives:  (Read 2261 times)

Subramanian.R

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(The above article appears in Mountain Path- October -December 2015.  The author is one Savithri Krishnan.)

*

Sri Ramana Gita contains the quintessential question posed by Deivarata to Bhagavan on the paramount duty
of human beings caught up in the cycle of births and deaths:

Kim karatvyam manushyasa pradhaanimiha samsrutau
Ekam nirdhaarya Bhagavan tanme vyaakkhaatumarhati

To which Bhagavan replies:

Swasya Swaroopam vigneyam pradhaanam mahadichchataa
Pratishthaa yatra sarveshaam phalaanaamuta karmaNam

'For those desiring the highest, discovering one's Self is most important since it is the basis of all actions and
fruits.'

The above is echoed in the four well known Mahavakyas from the four Vedas, extolling Brahman (which
is no different from the Self) thus:

Prajnaanam Brahma (Consciousness is Brahman.)  This Mahavakya appearing in the Aitreya Upanishad of
the Rig Veda dwells on the nature of Brahman or the Self.

Aham Brahma Asmi ( I Am Brahman.)  Contained in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad of the Yajur Veda, this
Mahavakya expounds Brahman to be the object on which the sadhak contemplates.

Tat Tvam Asi (Thou Art That.)  The Guru instructs that he (the disciple) is the Supreme Consciousness
through this Mahavakya contained in the Chhandogya Upanishad of Sama Veda.

Ayam Atma Brahma (This Self is Brahman.)  This Mahavakya from the Mandukya Upanishad of the Atharva
Veda declares one's Self by verily the Brahman.

As for the method of attaining Self Realization, Bhagavan has time and again unequivocally asserted 
that there are only two paths.  They are:

1. Self Inquiry.

2. Complete, unconditional Surrender to the Almighty.

Bhagavan himself realized the Self through the first path, as He has, in later years narrated to the
devotees His legendary Death Experience as a youth of seventeen at Madurai.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.               

Subramanian.R

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Re: The Death Experience of Bhagavan: Hindu Mythological Perspectives:
« Reply #1 on: March 15, 2016, 11:02:33 AM »
The Hindu scriptures are replete with mythological characters who encountered Yama, the Lord of Death.
It is interesting to muse over some of these characters in the light of Bhagavan's own Death Experience.
The three foremost inspiring mythological characters that come to one's mind are Nachiketa, Savitri and
Markandeya.   While Nachiketa and Savitri directly encountered Yama and had a dialogue with him, Markandeya took the second path of absolute surrender to Lord Siva on encountering Yama.

What follows is a brief account of each of these.

Bhagavan's Death Experience:

A sudden fear of death overtook Bhagavan when He was all alone at the first floor of His uncle's house
at Madurai.  He was only seventeen years old, and there was nothing wrong with His health.  It did not
occur to Him to consult a doctor or elders.  He just felt that He was going to die, and resolved to take it
heads on and to solve the problem himself then and there.  The event that followed is best expressed in 
His own words. 

'The shock of fear of death drove my mind inwards and I said to myself mentally, without actually framing
the words:  'Now death has come;  what does it mean?  What is it that is dying?  This body dies.' 

And at once I dramatized the occurrence of death.  I lay with my limbs stretched out stiff as though rigor
mortis had set in and imitated a corpse so as to give greater reality to the inquiry.  I held my breath and kept
my lips tightly closed so that no sound could escape, said that neither the word 'I' or any other word could be
uttered, 'Well then, I said to myself, 'this body is dead.  It will be carried stiff to the burning ground and there
burnt and reduced to ashes.  But with the death of this body am I dead?  Is the body 'I'?  It is silent and inert
but I feel the full force of my personality and even the voice of the 'I' within me, apart from it.  So I am the
Spirit transcending the body.  The body dies but the Spirit that transcends it cannot be touched by death.
This means I am deathless Spirit.'  All this was not dull thought; it flashed out of me vividly as living truth
which I perceived directly, almost without thought process.  'I' was something very real, the only real thing
about my present state, and all the conscious activity connected with my body was centered on that  'I'.
From that moment onwards the 'I' or the Self focused attention on itself by a powerful fascination.  Fear of
death had vanished once and for all.  Absorption in the Self continued unbroken from that time on ...."

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.   
                     
« Last Edit: March 16, 2016, 10:06:48 AM by Subramanian.R »

Subramanian.R

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Re: The Death Experience of Bhagavan: Hindu Mythological Perspectives:
« Reply #2 on: March 16, 2016, 10:17:37 AM »
Bhagavan stresses on the eternity of the Self notwithstanding burning to ashes of the body in which
it temporarily resides.  The indestructibility of the Atman (Self) is explained in the Bhagavad Gita
by Lord Krishna thus:

Nainam chhindamani shastraaNi  nainam dahati paavakah
Na cha enam kledyantyapoo na shoshyati maarutha

'The soul can never be cut into pieces by any weapon, nor can he be burned by fire, nor moistened
by water, nor withered by the wind.'

Na jayaate mriyate vaa kadaachinnaayam bhootvaa bhaivitaa vaa na bhooyah
Ajo nityaha shaashvatoyam puraaNam na hanyate hanyamaane shareere

'It is not born, nor dies it die.  After having been, it does not cease to be; unborn, eternal, changeless
and ancient.  It is not killed when the body is destroyed.'

In fact, this verse is included in Sri Gita Sara, a selection of 42 verses from the Bhagavad Gita by
Bhagavan.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.       

Subramanian.R

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Re: The Death Experience of Bhagavan: Hindu Mythological Perspectives:
« Reply #3 on: March 16, 2016, 03:20:51 PM »
Nachiketa's Encounter with Yama:

The story of Nachiketa appears in the Katha Upanishad.  His father Vajashravas desiring prosperity conducted
a Yagna to please the deities. As was customary, at the end of the Yagna, he donated cows to the Brahmins.
However, being a miser, he donated only old, lame, blind, barren cows that did not yield milk.  This disturbed
Nachiketa and wishing the best for his father, asked him to whom would he (Nachiketa) be offered?  Though
angered at his question, Vajreshravas chose to keep quiet.  On being repeatedly pestered, he lost his temper
and yelled, 'I give you to Death, Yama.'  Taking this as his father's command, he proceeds to Yamaloka. On
realizing his mistake, Vajashravas tries to stop Nachiketa but to no avail.

On reaching Yama's kingdom, he is told by his guards that Yama is away for three days.  Nachiketa decides
to wait at the doorstep until Yama's return, and sits there without food or water for three full days.
Yama returns on the fourth day and feels guilty for having offended a Brahmin guest by making him wait for
so long without offering any hospitality.  Since it was a sin to not to welcome an atithi (guest) he wanted to
make up for it by offering three boons.

Nachiketa sought peace with his father as the first boon.  He wanted his father to welcome him lovingly
when he returned home.  As a second boon, he wished to learn the sacred fire sacrifice which leads one
to heaven.  Yama not only instructed the method but also named the sacred fire after Nachiketa.  As a
third boon, he wanted to know the state of he soul on death.  Yama was reluctant to impart this knowledge
and evaded him by saying that this has been a mystery even to the gods, and tried to coax him into asking
a different boon.  He instead offers many material gifts such as gems, silver, gold, horses, elephants,
a regal life not only to him but for several of his progeny, and even the happiness of heaven etc., Nachiketa
stood firm with his resolve to pursue the path of realizing Brahman (the great mystery) and rejected out right
all the material gifts realizing their ephemeral nature that they would last only till the morrow.  Yama was
pleased with Nachiketa's perseverance and had to finally yield, by imparting the highest truth of Atma
Jnana to this young deserving disciple.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.             

Subramanian.R

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Re: The Death Experience of Bhagavan: Hindu Mythological Perspectives:
« Reply #4 on: March 17, 2016, 10:06:32 AM »
Savitri's rendezvous with Yama:


As per the Vana Parva of the Mahabharata,  Asvapati the king of Madra and his queen Malavi being childless
wish for a son for their lineage to continue.  They undertake an ascetic life and offer oblations to Sun God
Savitr.  Pleased with their devotion, God Savitr appears before them and grants a boon that they will have
a daughter.  They are overjoyed at the prospect of having a child, and name the daughter Savitri in honor
of the god.  Needless to say, she imbibes the traits of asceticism and devotion as she was born out of them.
When she reaches the age of marriage, her father is worried as none come forward to seek her hand realizing
their inability to match her purity and beauty.  Hence her father tells her to find a husband on her own. 
She travels across and beyond the kingdom for this purpose and finally chooses Satyavan, the son of a blind
king named Dyumatsena, who after losing everything including his kingdom and eyesight lives in exile as
a forest dweller.

When Savitri discloses her decision, Sage Narada warns Asvapati about her bad choice.  He reveals that
though Satyavan is peerless and perfect in every way, he is destined to die in a year.  Asvapati's repeated
pleas to Savitri to reconsider her decision fall on deaf ears as she is adamant on her choice.  He finally
acquiesces and conducts the marriage of Savitri and Satyavan with great pomp.  Soon after her marriage,
she too takes to ascetic way of life, dons the attire befitting a hermit's wife, and lives in perfect obedience and
respect to elders.  As the destined day of Satyavan's death approaches, Savitri takes a three day vow of
fasting and vigil.  Though her father in law advises her against such harsh austerities, she convinces him
and seeks his permission to accompany her husband to the forest on the third day.  Dyumatsena accedes
to her request as she had not asked for anything during the entire year's stay at the hermitage.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.   

Subramanian.R

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Re: The Death Experience of Bhagavan: Hindu Mythological Perspectives:
« Reply #5 on: March 18, 2016, 10:40:42 AM »
On the day of Satyavan's predicted death, he suddenly becomes weak, while cutting wood and places
his head on Savitri's lap. Yama himself comes to claim the soul of Satyavan.  She follows him as he caries
Satyavan's soul away.  His effort to convince her to return goes in vain.  With her wit and wisdom, she wins
over Yama. She first speaks about Dharma, then the benefits of having acquaintance with the wise and the
disciplined, and praises Yama for his just rule and hails him as Dharmaraja. Impressed, he offers her two
boons. except the life of Satyavan.  She first asks for the restoration of both kingdom and eyesight for her
father in law.  She then asks a hundred sons for her father.  Having granted the boons,  Yama proceeds
to his kingdom but is surprised to find Savitri still trailing him. Taking pity on her, he offers to grant her a
third boon.  But this time, he forgets to add the clause, 'except Satyavan's life.' Savitri wisely asks for a
hundred sons for herself and Satyavan.  Yama is in a dilemma as this would indirectly mean restoring
Satyavan's life. However, pleased with Saviri's purity, perseverance and wisdom, he revives Satyavan
and blesses her with eternal happiness.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.           

Subramanian.R

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Re: The Death Experience of Bhagavan: Hindu Mythological Perspectives:
« Reply #6 on: March 19, 2016, 10:30:12 AM »
Markanedya's Unconditional Surrender to Lord Siva on Encountering Yama:

The story is narrated in the Skanda Purana.  Being issueless for a long time, Rishi Mrikandu and his wife
Marudmati intensely worship Siva and seek the boon of progeny.  Pleased with their devotion, Lord Siva
appears before them and offers two choices;  a dim witted son who would live for a hundred years or an
exceptional son with a short life span of only sixteen years.  The couple chose the later.  As expected,
Markandeya (literally son of Mrikandu) grows up to be a handsome and an exemplary child quickly mastering
all Vedas and Sastras.  He soon becomes an accomplished sage and is extremely devoted to Lord Siva.
As he was nearing sixteen, his parents grew nervous.  Observing this, Markandeya sought to know the reason
and learnt about his impending death.  He consoles them assuring that Lord Siva would surely come to his
succor.  Since then, he intensely offers worship to the Siva Lingam, and on the destined day, Yama himself
approaches Markandeya, as his minions were unable to take away his life owing to his extreme devotion
towards Siva.

On seeing Yama, out of fright, Markandeya hugs the Siva Linga  tight with undivided devotion and surrenders
completely.  When Yama throws his noose around the young sage, it encircles the Siva Lingam too.
Enraged at Yama's audacity to throw the noose over Siva Lingam, Lord Siva emerges out from the Linga
in his fiery form and strikes at Kaala (Yama is also known as Kaala or time, since time brings an end to all
things) with his trident.  He then revives Yama under the condition that the devout youth would be a
Chiranjeevi (one who lives forever).  Markandeya is thus bestowed with immortality much to the delight of
his parents.  'Siva thenceforth was known as Kaalantaka (end of Kaala).  He is also Mrtyunjaya (conqueror
of death) and Mahakaaleswarar (ruler of time who is beyond time and death).

Here ends the narration as found in the scriptures.  The text that follows is an attempt, from a layman's
standpoint, to interpret the events given their puzzling nature.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.                     

Subramanian.R

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Re: The Death Experience of Bhagavan: Hindu Mythological Perspectives:
« Reply #7 on: March 20, 2016, 09:49:21 AM »
Ever since I first came across the stories of Nachiketa and Savitri in the Sanskrit classes during my
high school days,  I have wondered at the possibility of traveling to Yama Loka.  Is it a concrete place
on Earth such as India or the United States? Is it possible to visit the place at all as one would travel
from say Bangalore to Tiruvannamalai?  As, when Bhagavan first came to know that Arunachala is in fact
a place on Earth from His uncle,  He looked up an atlas to figure out the route to reach Tiruvannamalai.
So when Nachiketa's father says he is offering him unto the God of Death, how does Nachiketa actually
embark?  It is said that he waited at Yama's door for three days without food and water. One would
obviously end up surmising that this only figuratively depicts the rigorous fast and penance that Nachiketa
undertook for three days in the quest of Death.  Likewise, Savitri too undertakes fast and severe austerities
for three days prior to the destined for Satyavan, and also travels with Yama for miles together up to the
doorstep of Yamaloka.  All these obviously cannot be at a physical realm but can only be mental.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.         

Subramanian.R

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Re: The Death Experience of Bhagavan: Hindu Mythological Perspectives:
« Reply #8 on: March 20, 2016, 04:30:58 PM »
As  Bhagavan says, He mentally enacted Death by imitating a corpse and posed Himself a series of questions
to get the source of the ego.  Moreover, the Scriptures point out that none can go to heaven or even to the
nether world in flesh and blood, but only the soul  (barring a few exceptions like Sundaramurti Nayanar,
Jnaneswarar).  Perhaps Nachiketa and the others too had a physical death with only the soul traversing
to the Yama Loka, and later coming back alive, somewhat akin to Bhagavan's second death experience
(though He did not travel to any other world) at the Tortoise Rock on Arunachala where He says that His
physical faculties like the heart beat, circulation of blood and respiration had completely stopped for about
15 minutes with the body turning livid blue, but with His usual current of awareness continuing to remain
in that state as well.  Thereafter, apparently a shock passed suddenly through His body reviving respiration
and circulation with enormous force bringing back the color of life on the skin.

Another striking point with Nachiketa's and Savitri's episodes is the period of penance for 'three days'. 
Perhaps it has some spiritual significance as Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa too experienced nirvikalpa
samadhi in a matter of only three days leaving his Advaitin initiator Totapuri stunned as he himself attained
the state only after years of practice.  Sri Ramakrishna's utter disregard for food and water, and one pointed
concentration on the objective instructed by the Guru, and the subsequent attainment of the goal in a mere
three days was hailed as absolutely phenomenal by His own instructor.

With respect to boons, one may wonder that if they encountered Death only at the mental realm by keen inquiry,  how was it possible to obtain them from Yama.  This perhaps may be interpreted in the light of
questions posed by Ganapati Muni in Ramana Gita on worldly desires.  Jnaanaayaiva samaadhih kim
kaamaayaapyuta kalpate and Kaamena yogamabhyasa sthitaprajno .. saaphalyam adhigachchati va na va.
He asks Bhagavan whether the spiritual practice would confer only Jnana on the Sadhak or would it also
fulfill his worldly desires.  He further asks that if a Sadhak starts his practice with the objective of getting
his worldly desires fulfilled and eventually attains Self Knowledge, what would be the fate of those desires.

Bhagavan says,  Kaamaarabdhassamaadhistu kaamam phalati nischitam - Such worldly desires with which
the Sadhak sets out before attaining Jnana would certainly be fulfilled.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.               

Subramanian.R

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Re: The Death Experience of Bhagavan: Hindu Mythological Perspectives:
« Reply #9 on: March 21, 2016, 10:55:19 AM »
Perhaps Nachiketa strongly wanted to appease his father after having an altercation over his donating senile
cows to the Brahmins.  And so on attaining Jnana, this desire of his was fulfilled, along with his other desire
to know the secret fire sacrifice that takes one to heaven.  Likewise, Savitri too would have wanted her father's
lineage to continue, and during her year's stay at the hermitage, she would have strongly desired for the
restoration of Dyumatsena's kingdom and eyesight, as also the longevity of Satyavan.  So when she won over
Yama (attained Self-knowledge), these desires were naturally fulfilled.

Sri Aurobindo in his master piece, the epic poem, Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol, beautifully correlates each of the characters in the story to different qualities and asserts that each of the characters in the story are not
mere personified qualities, but incarnations or emanations of living and conscious Forces, that have taken human bodies in order to help man  and show him the way from his moral state to a divine consciousness and
immortal life.

He proclaims that Satyavan is the soul carrying the divine truth of being within itself but descended into the grip of death and ignorance.  Savitri is the Divine Word, daughter of the Sun, goddess of the supreme Truth
who comes down and is born to save.  Asvapati, the Lord of the Horse, her human father, is the Lord of
Tapasya, the concentrated energy of spiritual endeavor that helps us to rise from the mortal to the immortal
planes.  Dyumatsena, the Lord of the Shining Hosts, father of Satyavan, is the Divine Mind here fallen blind,
losing its celestial kingdom of vision, and through the loss its kingdom of glory.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.               
« Last Edit: March 22, 2016, 11:19:38 AM by Subramanian.R »

Subramanian.R

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Re: The Death Experience of Bhagavan: Hindu Mythological Perspectives:
« Reply #10 on: March 22, 2016, 11:37:53 AM »
With reference to the story of Markandeya, his faith in Lord Siva, is so firm that he convinces his parents
not to worry.  Knowing beforehand his foreseen death, he intensely contemplates on the Lord and
with undivided devotion hugs the Siva Linga taking refuge in Him completely.  When Yama throws the noose
around Markandeya's neck, his ego was no longer present having completely merged in the Self (Siva,
the noose consequently landing on the neck of Siva.  Since the e Self is immortal, the noose has no effect
on it.  Siva thus bestows the boon of 'Immortality' on Markandeya. The implication of which is Markandeya
attains enlightenment. He was no longer bound by time (Kala) or death having gained oneness with Lord
Mrityunjaya and conquered death itself.

This reminds one of the second dhyna sloka of Bhagavan's Ulladu Narpadu as stated  in Sat Darsanam
the meaning of which runs thus:  'The 'I' thought is the first to die for those who have taken refuge,
out of fear of death, at the feet of the conqueror of death.  Thereafter, they are naturally 'immortal'.
Can they ever again be assailed by the fear of death?  This perfectly relates to Markandeya with a possible
minor alteration that it was with 'total surrender' that he took refuge at the feet of the conqueror of death,
more than 'out of fear of death' (though the story says that fear gripped him on seeing Yama, and so he
tightly hugged Siva Linga), which ultimately led him to 'immortality'!

Time or Kaala, as represented by Yama, brings an end to all things, but Siva brings death to time itself
as He is eternal and is beyond time and death.  Hence He is hailed as Mahakaala and Mrutunjaya.
To take away from the episode is that one should contemplate on Mrutunjaya Siva like Young Markandeya
to attain Jnana for it was Siva's grace that saved Markandeya.

The stories of these mythological characters, together with Bhagavan's death experience inspire the earnest
Sadhakas to realize the Self, with ever flowing grace of Sad Guru Ramana.

concluded.

Arunachala Siva.