Periodically pralayas (destructions) take place. A destruction comes at the end of four thousand yugas on earth. For a hundred years there are no rains and there is widespread drought. Thereafter, Vishnu uses the rays of the sun to drink and dry up all the waters that there are on earth. Seven different suns appear in the sky and they burn up the three worlds of heaven, the earth and the underworld. The earth becomes as flat as the back of a turtle. The breath of the great snake (Shesha) also serves to burn up the three worlds.
After the three worlds have been burnt up, dark clouds full of thunder and lightning appear in the sky. For a hundred years it continue to rain. The rain puts out the fires that have been raging. From Vishnu’s breath are created tremendous winds and these drive away the clouds. But there is water everywhere. And Vishnu sleeps on these waters. For an entire kalpa he sleeps. The sages then pray to Vishnu for the three worlds to be created yet again.
Yama And Hell
When human beings die, their physical bodies are given up. But they acquire new bodies that are known as ativahika bodies. In these bodies, they are brought to Yama’s abode by Yama’s servants. Living beings other than human are not brought to Yama. Yama then decides whether the dead person should go to heaven or to hell. After he has served his time in heaven or in hell, he is born again. Yama further decides what living being the person should be born as, depending on the actions in his past life. And so the cycle of birth death and rebirth goes on and on.
Since he keeps tally of all good deeds and all sins, Yama is also known as the god Dharma. Those who have done good deeds are rewaraded by Yama and those who have committed sins are punished. Chitragupta is Yama’s accountant, he keeps the account of all punya and papa.
There are twenty-eight circles of hells with many hells located in each circle. A sinner may have to go to more than one hell depending on the sins that he has committed. Some sinners are boiled in oil, others are pierced with spears and still others are whipped. Some sinners are fed heated iron balls, others are fed blood and rubbish. There are also machines for torturing sinners. Terrible birds eat up some sinners. Other sinners have their heads cut off.
When it is time to be reborn, the killer of a brahamana is born as a deer, dog, pig or camel. A drunkard is born as a donkey. A stealer of gold is born as a worm or an insect. A killer of a brahmana may also suffer from tuberculosis. a drunkard will have teeth like a dog and a stealer of gold will malformed nails. A stealer of food is born dumb. A person who has stolen the property of brahmanas is born as a rakshasa and lives alone in the forest. A stealer of fragrant scents is born as a mole. One who steals foodgrains is born as a rat. One who steals animals is born as a goat, one who steals milk as cow, one who steals fruit as monkey and one who steals meat as a vulture. A stealer of clothes is born as a crane and a stealer of salt as a cricket.
Yoga is the way to circumvent the miseries of life. True knowledge is that which informs one about the true nature of brahman or paramatman. The atman or jivatman is that which characterises an individual. Yoga means union, it is the union of the jivatman with the paramatman. Yoga concentrates one’s mind on the paramatman.
The first prerequisites of yoga is non-violence. A non-violent person is always righteous. The second requirement of yoga is truthfulness. The third prerequisite is celibacy. The fourth is controlling one’s senses and the last is the worship of god. One who practices yoga should not go around collecting material possessions. A piece of cloth, a covering against the cold, and a pair of sandals are possessions enough for him.
Before meditating on the true nature of the paramatman, one has to seat oneself in a proper asana (posture). The piece of cloth on which one is to sit should be placed in a clean place. One sits on such a seat and tries to purify one’s atman by controlling one’s mind and senses through yoga. The head and the neck should be held straight up, motionless. The point of vision should be directed towards the tip of one’s nose. One should not look in any direction. The arms should lightly rest on the folded thighs and the right hand should be placed, palm upwards, on the left palm. Padmasana (lotus position) is one such recommended posture.
The breath of life (prana vayu) has to be controlled. This process of control is known as pranayama. A finger is placed on the nose when the breath is being exhaled. The entire breath should be exhaled from the body. Since rechana means exhalation, this process of control is known as rechaka. When the breath is inhaled, the inhalation should be such that it fills the entire body. Since puraka literally means ‘that which fills’, this process of control is known as puraka. When the breath is neither being exhaled nor inhaled, one sits completely still like a kumbha (pot) and this is known as kumbhaka. Pranayama makes one healthy, swift, enthusiastic, strong and collected. Since the senses are controlled, one goes to heaven and avoids going to hell. Material pursuits are like the strong current of a river. The atman drowns in it.
Pranayama alone is not enough. It has to be supplemented with dhyana of japa (meditation and contemplation). One contemplates the true nature of the paramatman. The body is like a chariot. The senses are its horses, the mind is the charioteer and pranayama is the bridle. An individual who dies while performing dhyana is immediately assimilated with Vishnu.
Dhyana involve four different things, all of which must be in complete harmony. The first is the meditator, the second is the act of meditating, the third is the object that one is meditating upon and the fourth is the reason why one is performing the mediation. One does not have to; sit in a rigid posture for dhyana to be possible. It can be done while one is walking, sitting or even sleeping. The important aspect is to establish the object of one’s meditation in one’s heart.
There are different ways of establishing one’s concentration. As an object of meditation, one can meditate on three concentric circles which are black, red and white. In the centre of the circles is a divine lotus. The lotus has eight petals. One thinks that detachment is the stem of the lotus and praying to Vishnu its stamen. Right in the centre of the lotus is a pure spark of fire and that is the paramatman. Alternatively, one can visualise the paramatman in a blaze of light, in the centre of the lotus. Dhyana is far far superior to any yajna that one might perform.
One particular form of deep and intense meditation is known as samadhi. The meditator is then completely still, as calm as the ocean. He loses all track of the outside world. He does not hear, smell, see or touch. His mind has no wishes and feels nothing. He is completely united with god. Such a meditator automatically gets to know all the knowledge that can be gleaned from the Vedas or the shastras. He can obtain all the material possessions that he wants, but he regards them all as no more important than a blade of grass.
Such a meditator attains supreme knowledge. If you look at various pots full of water, you will find that the same sky is reflected in them all. Supreme knowledge tells one that, exactly similarly, it is the same atman that is everywhere. It is the atman which is the same as the paramatman, it is this atman that is in the water, in energy, in water, in the earth and in metals. The atman is everywhere.
The Knowledge of The Brahman
Brahma jnana is the knowledge of brahman. This knowledge, which gives the ultimate bliss, is nothing but the sense that the individual atman is identical with the universal brahman or paramtman. The physical body is not the atman. Nor are the senses the atman. The mind or intelligence is not the atman. Life itself is not the atman.
The atman is different from all the objects that have been mentioned above. The atman is in an individual’s heart. It sees everything and senses everything, but is different from the physical body. It is this that sages contemplate when they meditate. The sky was created from the brahman, from the sky came wind, from wind fire, from fire water, from water the earth and from the earth the five elements. One has to meditate on the physical body gradually disappearing and merging into the brahman.
The brahman is neither true nor untrue. It has neither form nor is it without form. The brahman has several parts, but at the same time it is an integral whole. The brahman cannot be described. It cannot be achieved through the power of action. The brahman is always pure. It has no ties and it is the true form of happiness. What is required is the sense that it is I, the individual, who am the brahman. I am nothing but the atman and the atman is nothing but the brahman. This sense is true knowledge. The brahman is the Lord who is the origin of everything and the individual is part of the brahman. It is this knowledge that frees one from the ties of the world and this is what brahman jnana is all about.
The brahman is not the earth; it is beyond the earth. The brahman is not the wind, nor is it the sky. The brahman has no beginning; it is independent of all action. The brahman is huge; it is everywhere. The brahman not only has no form, it is beyond all form. The brahman cannot be heard. It cannot be touched. The brahman has neither intelligence nor mind. It has no sense of ego or vanity. It does not have life, birth, old age or death.
The brahman is neither happy nor unhappy. It does not feel hungry or thirsty. It cannot be measured. At the same time, it is both nothing and everything.
Life has five possible ends. By performing yajnas one can attain heaven. By performing tapasya one can become an ascetic. By performing actions one can attain brahmaloka. By detachment from material pursuits (vairagya) one can merge oneself into nature. And by true knowledge the individual gets absorbed into the divine essence. This is known as kaivalya. Detachment means to withdraw oneself from the effects of all actions. And knowledge means the knowledge that the atman is no different from the brahman. This is known as jnana yoga (the yoga of knowledge).
There are few people who attain this knowledge. One of those was Bharata. Bharata had done a lot he became very attached to a deer and when he died, he died thinking of the deer. The result was that in his next life, Bharata was born as a deer. But the deer happened to be a jatismara, that is, it remembered its earlier life. The deer eventually died and Bharata was again born as jatismara human.
The king of Soubira was once travelling on a palanquin and he wanted someone who would bear his palanquin free of charge. The king’s servants caught hold of Bharata to bear the palanquin. But Bharata moved slowly and could not keep up with the other bearers. The palanquin did not progress and the king asked Bharata. “Why are you so tired? You have not been bearing my palanquin for long. Can’t you some toil? You look fairly strong to me.”
Bharata replied, “I am not strong. Nor am I bearing your palanquin. I am not tired. nor am I lazy. I am my atman and feet are and my body is balanced on my thighs. My shoulders are on my body and your palanquin rests on my shoulders. But I am not my feet, thighs, body or shoulders. I am the atman. The atman is not carrying you. So why do you say that I am beating you?” Bharata then instructed the king on the mysteries of true knowledge. The atman was pure, ever-lasting, calm, without traits and beyond natural characteristics. Since the atman had no traits and since an individual was the atman and not the body, it was meaningless to say that an individual was strong or weak. The physical body was made of the elements and so was the palanquin. What was the point therefore in saying that the physical body was bearing the palanquin?
Heating these words of wisdom, the king fell at Bharata’s feet. “Forgive me,” he said, “and let go of the palanquin, Who are you?”
“Who am I?”, asked Bharata. “That is not a question that can easily be answered.”
The king answered, “I fail to understand. Surely the form in which you are now existing is who you are.”
“No,” said Bharata. “I am the atman and the atman is the same as the paramatman. The paramatman is everywhere and therefore, the atman is also everywhere. I am everywhere. I am in all physical bodies. It is meaningless to ask who you are and who I am. We are all one and the same. Wood has come from the trees and this palanquin is made of wood. But is the palanquin wood or tree? When you ride on the palanquin, does anyone say that you are riding on a tree? Men, women, cows, horses, elephants, birds and trees, these are all meaningless names. They are all illusions. Everything is one and the same. I am everywhere. If there had been a place or an object where I do not exist, I could have everywhere, I do not know how to answer your question. Tell me king, are you your head or your stomach? Or is all of it, you? But then, what will you call that which is distinct from your physical body? Think about what I have said.”
Bharata’s words were so profound that the king immediately accepted Bharata as a teacher. And Bharata told the king the story of Ribhu and Nidagha.
The sage Ribhu was Brahma’s son. He was also extremely learned. Nidagha was Ribu’s disciple. After Ribhu had taught Nidagha what there was to be taught, Nidagha went to the city to see how Nidagha was getting on. Nidagha worshiped his teacher and gave him all sorts of things to eat. After Ribhu had eaten, Nidagha asked him, “Are you satisfied?”
“What do you mean?”, asked Ribhu. “The question of satisfaction would have arisen had I been hungry or thirsty. I am my atman and the atman is always satisfied. So what is the brahman that is omnipresent and so are you. You are not distinct from me, we are both part of the same whole. I came to teach you this knowledge. Now that you have learnt that the brahman is everywhere, let me leave.”
After another thousand years had passed, Ribhu came to the city again and discovered that Nidagha no longer lived in the city. He had begun to live on the outskirts of the city.
“Why have you given up living in the city?”, Ribhu asked Nidagha.
“Because I do not like to live in the city, where there is a king, “ replied Nidagha.
“Who is the king ?”. asked Ribhu. “Point him out to me in this procession that is passing. And point out to me the subjects.”
Nidagha said, “The king is the one who is as tall as a mountain peak. He is the one who is riding the elephant. The ones who are walking are the subjects.”
“What do you mean?”, asked Ribhu. “The brahman is in the king and the brahman is in the elephant. How do you distinguish one from the other, how do you say that one is riding the other? Is the king the physical body or the atman and is the elephant the physical body or the atman? Who is riding on whom? I do not understand.”
This knowledge, that the atman is the same as the brahman, is known as advaita (unified) brahma-jnana. Ribhu taught this to the king of Soubira. This is the knowledge that all elements are one and the same. It is only those who suffer from illusions who think that different elements and different beings have different identities.
Krishna had taught Arjuna the lessons of the Gita on the plains of Kurukshetra. The Agni Purana now relates the essence of the Gita.
If physical body is alive, that is no reason for rejoicing. Just as, if the physical body is dead, that is no reason for mourning. The atman does not die. It does not decay, it cannot be destroyed and it is immortal. The atman does not warrant any tears that might be shed over it. people who are addicted to sensual pleasures cannot realise this. The person who is addicted to the atman alone has no desire for anything else. He had no action to perform. He had neither gains nor losses. The knowledge of this is like a raft that rescues one from the flood of illusions.