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Emancipation by The Mahabharata


From The Mahabharata
Aswamedha Parva, Section XVII
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Vasudeva said: Touching the feet of that sage (Brahmana), Kasyapa asked him some questions that were exceedingly difficult to answer. That foremost of all righteous persons then discoursed on those duties that were referred to.

Kasyapa said:

How does one become emancipated after passing through a repeated round of painful births?

How does Jiva (embodied soul), freed from the body, attain to what is different from it (viz., Brahman or Supreme Reality)?

Where do the acts exist of one that is devoid of body?

Urged by Kasyapa, the emancipated sage answered those questions one after another.

The Brahmana said:
Whatever acts, good or bad, Jiva does in a former body, have certainly to be enjoyed or endured by him. By such enjoyment and endurance former acts are exhausted, and other acts, again, accumulate, till Jiva has succeeded in acquiring a knowledge of the duties included in that contemplation which leads to Emancipation. Regarding this, I shall tell thee those acts by which Jiva, while coursing through a repeated round of re-births, becomes happy.

Gifts, observances of austerity, Brahmacharya (celibacy), bearing Brahman according to the ordinances laid down, self-restraint, tranquillity, compassion for all creatures, restraint of passions, abstentions from cruelty as from appropriating what belongs to others, refraining from doing even mentally all acts that are false and injurious to living creatures on earth, reverently serving mother and father, honouring deities and guests, worship of preceptors, pity, purity, constant restraint of all organs, and causing of all good acts, are said to constitute the conduct of the good.

From observance of such conduct arises Righteousness which protects all creatures eternally. Such conduct, one would always behold among persons that are good. Verily, such conduct resides there eternally. That course of practices to which persons of tranquil souls adhere indicates Righteousness. Among them is thrown that course of practices which constitutes eternal Righteousness. He who would betake himself to that righteousness would never have to attain to a miserable end. It is by the conduct of the good that the world is restrained in the paths of Righteousness when it falls away. He that is a Yogi is Emancipated, and is therefore, distinguished above these (viz., the good).

Deliverance from the world takes place, after a long time, of one who acts righteously and well in every occasion as he should. A living creature thus always meets with the acts done by him in a former life. All these acts constitute the cause in consequence of which he comes into this world in a state different from his true form.

There is a doubt in the world as regards the question: ‘By what was the acceptance by Jiva of a body first determined’? The Grandsire of all the worlds, viz., Brahma having first formed a body of his own, then created the three worlds, in their entirety, of mobile and immobile creatures. Having first himself assumed a body, he then created Pradhana. That Pradhana is the material cause of all embodied creatures, by whom is all this covered and whom all came to know as the highest. This that is seen is said to be destructible; while the other is immortal and indestructible. This that (is seen) is said to be Kshara (the destructible); that, however, which is Para (the other) is the Immortal, (as also) Akshra (the indestructible).

Of each Purusha taken distributively, the whole is duality among these three. Seen first (to appear in an embodied form) Prajapati (then) created all the primal elements and all immobile creatures. Even this is the ancient audition. Of that (acceptance of body), the Grandsire ordained a limit in respect of time, and migrations among diverse creatures and return or rebirth. All that I say is proper and correct, like to what a person who is endued with intelligence and who has seen his soul, would say on this topic of previous births.

That person who looks upon pleasure and pain as inconstant, which, indeed, is the correct view, who regards the body as an unholy conglomeration, and destruction as ordained in action, and who remembers that what little of pleasure there is, is really all pain, will succeed in crossing this terrible ocean of worldly migration that is so difficult to cross. Though assailed by decrepitude and death and disease, he that understands Pradhana beholds with an equal eye that Consciousness which dwells in all beings endued with consciousness. Seeking the supreme seat, he then becomes utterly indifferent to all other things. O best of men, I shall now impart instruction to thee, agreeably to truth, concerning this. Do thou, O learned Brahmana, understand in completeness that which constitutes the excellent knowledge, as I declare it, of that indestructible seat.

The Brahmana said: He who become absorbed in the one receptacle (of all things), freeing himself from even the thought of his own identity with all things, - indeed, ceasing to think of even his own existence, - gradually casting off one after another, will succeed in crossing his bonds.

[Note: Without even retaining the consciousness of his own identity with everything. Not even thinking that he is existing. The Sanskrit wordings ‘purvam purvam parityajya’ implies the gradual merging of the grosser in the subtler, i.e., the successive stages of Yoga before absorption into Brahman.]

That man who is the friend of all, who endures all, who is attached to tranquillity, who has conquered all his senses, who is divested of fear and wrath, and who is of restrained soul, succeeds in emancipating himself. He who behaves towards all creatures as towards himself, who is restrained, pure, free from vanity and divested of egoism is regarded as emancipated from everything.

He also is emancipated who looks with an equal eye upon life and death. Pleasure and pain, gain and loss, agreeable and disagreeable. He is in every way emancipated who does not covet what belongs to others, who never disregards any body, who transcends all pairs of opposites, and whose soul is free from attachment. He is emancipated who has no enemy, no kinsman and no child, who has cast off religion, wealth and pleasure (Dharma, Artha, Kama), and who is freed from desire or cupidity.

He becomes emancipated who acquires neither merit nor demerit, who casts off the merits and demerits accumulated in previous births, who wastes the elements of his body for attaining to a tranquillised soul, and who transcends all pairs of opposites. He who abstains from all acts, who is free from desire or cupidity, who looks upon the universe as unenduring or as like an Aswattha tree, ever endued with birth, death and decrepitude, whose understanding is fixed on renunciation, and whose eyes are always directed towards his own faults, soon succeeds in emancipating himself from the bonds that bind him.

He that sees his soul void of smell, of taste and touch, of sounds, of belongings, of vision, and unknowable, becomes emancipated.

[Note: The Soul being destitute of these Chinmatra, i.e., a pure Chit without the attributes superinduced upon it by Nescience or ignorance.]

He who sees his soul devoid of the attributes of the five elements to be without form and cause, to be really destitute of attributes though enjoying them, becomes emancipated.

[Note: Formlessness implies subtlety. ‘Without cause’ implies increate or as identical with eternal Brahman. Dissociation from attributes while enjoying them implies an emancipate condition,]

Abandoning with the aid of understanding, all purposes relating to body and mind, one gradually attains to cessation of separate existence, like a fire unfed with fuel.

[Note: The Sanskrit word Nirvana, according to orthodox commentators, implies the annihilation or cessation of separate or individual existence by absorption into universal and external Brahman.]

One who is freed from all impressions, who transcends all pairs of opposites, who is destitute of all belongings, and who uses all his senses under the guidance of penances, becomes emancipated.

[Note: The impressions caused by objects outside self are destroyed by those belonging to contemplation. The latter, again, should be destroyed before absorption into Brahman can occur.]

Having become freed from all impressions, one then attains to Brahman which is eternal and supreme, and tranquil, and stable, and enduring, and indestructible.

After this I shall declare the science of Yoga to which there is nothing superior, or how Yogis, by concentration, behold the perfect soul. I shall declare the instructions regarding it duly. Do thou learn from me, those doors by which directing the soul within the body one beholds that which is without beginning and end.

Withdrawing the senses from their objects, one should fix the mind upon the soul; having previously undergone the severest austerities, one should practice that concentration of mind that leads to Emancipation.

[Note: ‘Fixing the mind upon the soul’ is that concentration which leads to Emancipation. This becomes possible in consequence of severe austerities undergone previously.]

Observant of penances and always practising concentration of mind, the learned Brahmana, endued with intelligence, should observe the precepts of the science of Yoga, beholding the soul in the body. If the good man succeeds in concentrating the mind on the soul, he then, habituated to exclusive meditation, beholds the Supreme Soul in his own soul. Self-restrained and always concentrated, and with all his senses completely conquered, the man of cleansed soul, in consequence of such complete concentration of mind, succeeds in beholding the soul by the soul. As a person beholding some unseen individual in a dream recognizes him, saying – This is he,- when he sees him after waking, after the same manner the good man having seen the Supreme Soul in the deep contemplation of Samadhi recognises it upon waking from samadhi.

[Note: Having seen the Supreme Soul in Samadhi, upon waking from it, he recognises it in the universe, i.e., regards the universe to be nothing else than the Supreme Soul.]

As one beholds the fibrous pith after extracting it from a blade of the Saccharum Munja, even so the Yogi beholds the soul, extracting it from the body. The body has been called the Saccharum munja, and the fibrous pith is said to stand for the soul. This is the excellent illustration propounded by persons conversant with Yoga. When the bearer of a body adequately beholds the soul in Yoga, he then has no one that is master over him, for he then becomes the lord of the three worlds. He succeeds in assuming diverse bodies according as he wishes. Turning away decrepitude and death, he neither grieves nor exults. The self-restrained man, concentrated in Yoga, can create (for himself) the godship of the very gods. Casting off his transient body he attains to immutable Brahman.

No fear springs up in him at even the sight of all creatures falling victims to destruction (before his eyes). When all creatures are afflicted, - he can never be afflicted by any one. Devoid of desire and possessed of tranquil mind, the person in Yoga is never shaken by pain and sorrow and fear, the terrible effects that flow from attachment and affection. Weapons never pierce him; death does not exist for him. Nowhere in the world can be seen any one that is happier than he. Having adequately concentrated his soul, he lives steadily on himself. Turning off decrepitude and pain and pleasure, he sleeps in comfort. Casting off this human body he attains to (other) forms according to his pleasure. While one is enjoying the sovereignty that Yoga bestows, one should never fall away from devotion to Yoga

[Note: One should not fall away from the practice of Yoga, tempted by the puissance that Yoga brings.]

When one, after adequate devotion to Yoga, beholds the Soul in oneself, one then ceases to have any regard for even him of a hundred sacrifices (Indra).

[Note: The scholar and commentator Nilakantha notes that this indicates that only that Yogi who has not advanced much may be tempted by the desire of enjoyment. He, however, who has adequately devoted himself to Yoga feels no regard for Indra (the king of gods) himself.]

Hear now how one, habituating oneself to exclusive meditation, succeeds in attaining to Yoga. Thinking of that point of the compass that has the sun behind it, the mind should be fixed, not outside, but in the interior of that mansion in which one may happen to live. Residing within that mansion, the mind should then, with all its outward and inward (operations), behold in that particular room in which one may stay. At that time, when, having deeply meditated, one beholds the All (viz., Brahman, the Soul of the universe), there is then nothing external to Brahman where the mind may dwell. Restraining all the senses in a forest that is free from noise and that is uninhabited, with mind fixed thereon, one should meditate on the All (or universal Brahman) both outside and inside one’s body. One should meditate on the teeth, the palate, the tongue, the neck likewise; one should also meditate on the heart and the ligatures of the heart.

{Note: ‘That point of the compass which has the Sun behind it’ means the instructions laid down in the Vedanta as based upon Srutis. Sanskrit words such as Pura implies a city, a citadel, or a mansion. Here it refers to the body. The Avastha within the pura refers to the Chakra or nervous centres beginning with what is called Muladhara. At the time when Brahman is realised, the whole universe appears as Brahman and so nothing exists, besides Brahman, upon which the mind can then dwell.]

The Brahmana continued: thus addressed by me, that intelligent disciple once more asked me about this religion of Emancipation that is so difficult to explain. How does this food that is eaten from time to time become digested in the stomach? How does it become transformed into juice? How, again, into blood? How does it nourish the flesh, the marrow, the sinews, the bones? How do all these limbs of embodied creatures grow? How does the strength grow of the growing man? How occurs the escape of all such elements as are not nutritive, and of all impurities separately? How does this one inhale and again, exhale? Staying upon what particular part does the Soul dwell in the body? How does Jiva, exerting himself, bear the body? Of what colour and of what kind is the body in which he dwells again (leaving a particular body)? O holy one, it behoveth thee to tell me all this accurately. O sinless one, - even thus was I interrogated by that learned Brahmana. I replied unto him after the manner I myself had heard.

As one placing some precious object in one’s store-room should keep one’s mind on it, so, placing the mind within one’s own body, one should then, restraining all the senses, seek after the Soul, avoiding all heedlessness. One would, becoming always assiduous in this way and gratified with one’s own self, within a very short time attain to that Brahman by beholding which one would become conversant with Pradhana (that from which the entire universe has been created.)

He is not capable of being seized by the eye; nor even by all the senses. It is only with the lamp of the mind that great Soul can be seen. He has hands and feet on all sides; he has ears on all sides; he dwells, pervading all things in the world.

{Note: This answers the question respecting the form of the soul.]

Jiva (embodied soul) beholds the Soul as extracted from the body (like the stalk from a blade of Saccharum Munja, when knowledge comes). Then casting off Brahman invested with form, by holding the mind in the body, he beholds Brahman as freed from all attributes.

[Note: The ascension of the Yogi from Brahman vested with attributes to Brahman divested of all attributes. The Tam refers Brahma as endued with hands and feet on all sides, etc.]

He sees the Soul with his mind, smiling as it were at the time. Depending upon that Brahman, he then attains to Emancipation in Supreme Brahman.

Addressing Arjuna, Vasudeva (Krishna) said:

That best of Brahmana, O son of Pritha, having said these words unto me, on that occasion, properly relating to the religion of Emancipation, disappeared then and there.

Has this discourse been heard by thee, O son of Pritha, with mind directed solely towards it? Even this was what thou didst hear on that occasion while thou wert on the chariot (in the middle of the two armies in the battle-field of Kurukshetra). It is my opinion, O son of Pritha (Arjuna), that this is difficult of being comprehended by one whose understanding is confused, or who has acquired no wisdom by study, or who eats food incompatible with his body, or whose soul is not purified.

O chief of Bharata’s race, this is a great mystery among the deities that has been declared (to thee). At no time or place, O son of Pritha, has this been heard by man in this world. O sinless one, no other man than thyself is deserving of hearing it. It is not, at this time, capable of being easily understood by one whose inner soul is confused. The world of the deities is filled, O son of Kunti, with those who follow the religion of actions. The cessation of the mortal form (by practising the religion of inaction) is not agreeable to the deities.

[Note: Heaven is the reward for those who follow the religion of Pravritti or acts, such as sacrifices, religious observances, etc. The followers, however, of the religion of Nivritti or inaction, i.e., they who betake themselves to the path of knowledge, become emancipated. The deities derive their sustenance from the former and become even jealous of the latter, for the emancipate state is higher than that of the deities themselves. For more details on ‘Pravritti-Nivritti’ see the column on the left]

That goal, O son of Pritha, is the highest which is constituted by eternal Brahman where, one, casting off the body, attains to immortality and becomes always happy. By adhering to this religion, even they who are of sinful birth, such as women and Vaisyas and Sudras, attain to the highest goal. What need be said then, O son of Pritha, of Brahmanas and Kshatriyas possessed of great learning, always devoted to the duties of their own orders and who are intent on (the acquisition of) the religion of Brahman? This has been laid down with the reasons (on which it rests); and also the means for its acquisition; and its complete attainment and fruit, viz., Emancipation and ascertainment of the truth regarding pain.

O chief of Bharata’s race, there is nothing else that is fraught with happiness greater than this. That mortal, O son of Pandu, who, endued with intelligence, and faith, and prowess, renounces as unsubstantial what is regarded as substantial by the world, succeeds within a short time in obtaining the Supreme by these means. This is all that is to be said,- there is nothing else that is higher than this. Yoga takes place in his case, O son of Pritha, who devotes himself to its constant practice for a period of six months.


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