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Chapter 17

Mahabharata English - ASWAMEDHA PARVA

“Vasudeva said, touching the feet of that sage, the Brahmana asked himsome questions that were exceedingly difficult to answer. That foremostof all righteous persons then discoursed on those duties that werereferred to.

‘Kasyapa said, ‘How does the body dissolve away, and how is anotheracquired? How does one become emancipated after passing through arepeated round of painful rebirths? Enjoying Prakriti for sometime, howdoes Jiva cast off the particular body (which Prakriti gives)? How doesJiva, freed from the body, attain to what is different from it (viz.,Brahman)? How does a human being enjoy (and endure the fruits of) thegood and bad acts done by him? Where do the acts exist of one that isdevoid of body?[10]

‘The Brahmana said,–Thus urged by Kasyapa, the emancipated sage answeredthose questions one after another. Do thou listen to me, O scion of theVrishi race, as I recite to thee the answers he made.’

‘–The Emancipated sage said, ‘Upon the exhaustion of those acts capableof prolonging life and bringing on fame which are done in a particularbody that Jiva assumes, the embodied Jiva, with the span of his lifeshortened, begins to do acts hostile to life and health. On the approachof destruction, his understanding turns away from the proper course. Theman of uncleansed soul, after even a correct apprehension of hisconstitution and strength and of the season of both his own life and ofthe year, begins to eat at irregular intervals and to eat such food as ishostile to him.[11] At such a time he indulges in practices that areexceedingly harmful. He sometimes eats excessively and sometimes abstainsaltogether from food. He eats bad food or bad meat or takes bad drinks,or food that has been made up of ingredients incompatible with oneanother. He eats food that is heavy in excess of the measure that isbeneficial, or before the food previously taken has been digested. Heindulges in physical exercise and sexual pleasure in excess of the duemeasure, or through avidity for work, suppresses the urgings of hiscorporeal organism even when they become pronounced. Or, he takes foodthat is very juicy, or indulges in sleep during daytime. Food that is notproperly digested, of itself excites the faults, when the time comes.[12]From such excitement of the faults in his body, he gets disease ending indeath itself. Sometimes the person engages in perverse or unnatural actslike hanging (for bringing about his death). Through these causes theliving body of the creature dissolves away. Understand correctly themanner as I declare it to thee.[13] Urged on by the Wind which becomesviolent, the heat in the body, becoming excited and reaching every partof the body one after another, restrains all the (movements of the) vitalbreaths. Know truly that excited all over the body, the heat becomes verystrong, and pierces every vital part where life may be said to reside. Inconsequence of this, Jiva, feeling great pain, quickly takes leave of itsmortal casement. Know, O foremost of regenerate persons, that when thevital parts of the physical organism become thus afflicted, Jiva slipsaway from the body, overwhelmed with great pain. All living creatures arerepeatedly afflicted with birth and death. It is seen, O chief ofBrahmanas, that the pain which is felt by a person when casting off hisbodies is like what is felt by him when first entering the womb or whenissuing out of it. His joints become almost dislocated and he derivesmuch distress from the waters (of the womb).[14] Urged on by (another)violent wind, the wind that is in the body becomes excited through cold,and dissolves away the union of matter (called the body) into itsrespective elements numbering five.[15] That wind which resides in thevital breaths called Prana and Apana occurring within this compound ofthe five primal elements, rushes upwards, from a situation of distress,leaving the embodied creature. It is even thus that the wind leaves thebody. Then is seen breathlessness. The man then becomes destitute ofheat, of breath, of beauty, and of consciousness. Deserted by Brahman(for Jiva is Brahman), the person is said to be dead. By those ductsthrough which he perceives all sensuous objects, the bearer of the bodyno longer perceives them. It is the eternal Jiva who creates in the bodyin those very duets the life-breaths that are generated by food. Theelements gathered together become in certain parts firmly united. Knowthat those parts are called the vitals of the body. It is said so in theSastras. When those vital parts are pierced, Jiva, rising up, enters theheart of the living creature and restrains the principle of animationwithout any delay. The creature then, though still endued with theprinciple of consciousness, fails to know anything. The vital parts beingall overwhelmed, the knowledge of the living creature becomes overwhelmedby darkness. Jiva then, who has been deprived of everything upon which tostay, is then agitated by the wind. He then, deeply breathing a long andpainful breath, goes out quickly, causing the inanimate body to tremble.Dissociated from the body, Jiva, however, is surrounded by his acts. Hebecomes equipped on every side with all his auspicious acts of merit andwith all his sins. Brahmanas endued with knowledge and equipped with thecertain conclusions of the scriptures, know him, from indications, as towhether he is possessed of merit or with its reverse. Even as menpossessed of eyes behold the fire-fly appearing and disappearing amiddarkness, men possessed of the eye of knowledge and crowned with successof penances, behold, with spiritual vision, Jiva as he leaves the body,as he is reborn, and as he enters the womb. It is seen that Jiva hasthree regions assigned to him eternally. This world where creatures dwellis called the field of action. Accomplishing acts good or bad, allembodied creatures attain to the fruits thereof. In consequence of theirown acts, creatures acquire even here superior or inferior enjoyments.Doers of evil deeds here, in consequence of those acts of theirs, attainto Hell. This condition of sinking with head downwards, in whichcreatures are cooked, is one of great misery. It is such that a rescuetherefrom is exceedingly difficult. Indeed; one should strive hard forsaving oneself from this misery. Those regions where creatures dwell whenthey ascend from this world I shall now declare truly. Do thou listen tome with attention. By listening to what I say, thou shalt attain tofirmness of understanding and a clear apprehension of (good and bad)acts. Know that even those are the regions of all creatures of righteousdeeds, viz., the stellar worlds that shine in the firmament, the lunardisc, and the solar disc as well that shines in the universe in its ownlight. Upon the exhaustion, again, of their merits, they fall away fromthose regions repeatedly. There, in Heaven itself, is distinction ofinferior, superior, and middling felicity. There, in Heaven itself, isdiscontent at sight of prosperity more blazing than one’s own. Even theseare the goals which I have mentioned in detail. I shall, after this,discourse to you on the attainment by Jiva of the condition of residencein the womb. Do thou hear me, with concentrated attention, O regenerateone, as I speak to thee!’

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