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The Brahma Sutra on the Final Salvation of the Soul
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 3: The Cosmic Role of Karma in the Rebirth of Individuality

Waking experiences constitute a censored expression of the total personality of an individual. Whatever experiences one has during waking life, those experiences cannot be said to exhaust the potentialities of the individual, because there are other experiences one passes through in another state, which we call dream, and a third type of experience in the state of deep sleep.

When one state supervenes, the other states will not act. When we are fast asleep there is no dream, and there is not the conglomeration of waking experience. When we dream there is no deep sleep, and no experience whatsoever characteristic of waking life. When we are awake there is nothing of the dream life, and no inkling even of the potential that is lying buried in the state of deep sleep.

These three states never act simultaneously; they act one by one. But there are certain emergency situations when all the three will act simultaneously. Normally, when a country is in peace, we do not know what the army is doing, or what the navy or air force is doing. Suppose there is a danger, and a threat to national security. The army, navy and air force will join together and combat the situation. Normally, the three will not join together.

Now, when are these three potentialities of experience expected to join together and act simultaneously? It is only when there is an emergency. What can be a greater emergency than being born into this world or departing from this world? The whole cosmos congeals into a concentrated activity in order to produce a little baby. The cosmic substance becomes the parent of this little crawling child, the baby in the womb, which we mistakenly consider as one among the many.

Similar is the case at the time of passing away. As the cosmic substance vigorously concentrates itself to push the child into the realm of physical experience, the same cosmic substance actively operates in order to draw the subtle body of the individual away from the physical body, and to cast aside the physical sheath.

Ordinarily, in the middle, when we do not remember anything about being born and do not bother about leaving this world, we actually seem to be living in what may be called a fool's paradise. Everything seems to be going on well, but on the two sides there is a devil and a deep sea: birth and death. Who bothers about it? In the middle everything is fine.

But our study is of the Brahma Sutra portion connected with the final salvation of the soul. What is salvation? It is freedom from the limitations imposed by the restrictive activity of the five elements of the cosmos, and the compelling of everyone to be limited only to a location in some place, and permitting that individual to live only for a certain period of time. We have no option to be born anywhere we like. It is already determined that we must be born here, and we have no option about the length of our life. It is also fixed.

The birth, the tenure of life, the experiences that are the heritage of an individual, and the manner of departure – all these are centrally hidden, even in a single cell of the body. If a scientific examination of even one cell is carefully conducted, the entire history of the individual can be seen there. Just as the individual is a miniature cosmos, the cell is a miniature individual. Whatever the individual is in relation to the cosmos, that the cell is in relation to this body. It is not difficult to understand.

Salvation is the freedom ultimate, which the soul attains by not being pressurised into any particular locality of existence or compelled to live only for a certain period of time, and forced to have only certain experiences and not others, which is bondage to the core.

I mentioned last time that there is an intention operating behind the nature of the incarnation in the form of a little child. There is a desire to be born in a particular manner. It is not a haphazard, chaotic activity that is taking place under the whimsical order of a dictator. The universe is not any such thing. It is a highly intelligent, computer-like, scientific operation which never goes wrong at any time.

The intention to be born is the desire to be a particular person and not something else. The desire to be a particular individual of a specialised characteristic is for the sake of fulfilling that desire, which I called the intention, through the instrumentality of the limbs of the body into which the soul is born.

Whatever we want we can get in this world, but through a specific instrument. If we want to travel, we can use any vehicle we like, or we can walk on the road. If we want to eat, it is up to us to choose what diet we want. In a similar manner, the soul which emerges into creative activity prior to the actual birth of individuality decides for itself what it wants.

To fulfil that particular longing, a certain apparatus is necessary. The soul wants to grab certain things, so immediately hands are projected. It wants to see what it wants to grab, so eyes are projected. It wants to hear what is happening, so ears are projected. It wants to taste the delicacy of a particular thing which it wants to eat, so a tongue is projected. It wants to touch soft things, so the skin is projected. Thus, the nature of our personality, this physical individuality, together with the mind that is superintending over the body, is the result of a person's wanting to be like that. Why does a person want in a particular manner? This takes us to the cyclic nature of creative activity in the cosmos.

We were always in this world. Our life in this world has no beginning, and it cannot have any end, also. That is the meaning of ‘cyclic action'. It is like a wheel moving. If a fly is sitting on the periphery of a moving wheel, sometimes it will be at the apex, sometimes at the bottom, sometimes at the right, sometimes at the left, and where it starts and where it ends, nobody can say. We consider the cause-and-effect relationship to be a linear movement; if something happens here, something else happens there, in a linear, straight-line fashion. But, the world does not operate like a straight-line action. Time does not move like a straight beaten track. It is a circular movement. So, we were always there in a potential condition prior to the creation of the universe. I am repeating now for your memory that we were existing even before the Big Bang took place. Shocking, indeed, or astounding is this information.

I will add to your surprise by saying that even now we are living in the same place where we were before the Big Bang took place. You will say, “No, how is it possible? Ages have passed, and such a long distance is there between that location and this earth.”

There is no distance at all. It is an illusion created by the banging activity of that supernal centre. There is no space, also. The idea of spatial extension and temporal movement is a total illusion created by the incapacity of the mind to think in a cosmic manner. So we are perpetually in the same place. We never move anywhere. Even at birth we are in that one place, and at death also, we are in that same place; only the consciousness changes. When we lie down on the cot we can be awake, we can be dreaming or we can be sleeping, and in dream we can move hundreds of miles, but during the hundreds of miles of travel in dream we were just lying on the cot and we have not moved one inch.

We are eternally located in a timeless existence, even now. If that had not been the case, we would never attain eternal life. A non-existent thing cannot come to us, and a thing that does not belong to us also cannot come to us. The eternal experience that we are aspiring for is not something to come afterwards, because eternity is not in time; therefore, there is no afterwards, tomorrow, next moment, and so on. Eternity has neither a beginning nor an end. It does not move either in space or in time.

Actually, eternity is a name that we give to the abolition of the concept of space and time. If that is the case, where are we? We cannot be born in a new world; we cannot die and pass into another world also, except in this phantasmagorical experience of movement in space and time. We are in a dreamland, even now, but it is a cosmic dream. But the dream is so intense that we consider it as very real. People can get frightened and cry out if a tiger in dream jumps upon them. A person can fall from a tree and break his leg, and when he wakes up, he will start massaging that leg. A person might have been an emperor in dream, and in waking life he may be a beggar, but when the experience of being an emperor is made available in dream, one rejoices like a king.

A humorous Chinese philosopher said, “If a beggar is to dream every night for twelve hours that he is a king, and if a king every night dreams for twelve hours that he is a beggar, who is the beggar and who is the king?” Here is a mystery. For twelve hours they are the king, and for twelve hours they are a beggar. Now, which of them is the real king, and which of them is the real beggar? By contrast of experience we make a difference between the experience in waking and in dream, but all the three conditions will get abolished when the mind is centralised in eternal life.

This is an arduous process, because human attachment is so inveterate that it cannot leave us, just as the skin will not depart from our body. In the context of the liberation of the soul, which is our subject, the Brahma Sutras go into great detail of the experiences that one has to pass through when the body is shed completely.

Where does a person go after the departure of the body? Nobody bothers about it, because the mind is compelled to shut its mouth and not speak of such things. Yama, the great teacher, told Nachiketas not to talk of eternity, and to keep quiet. The mystery of death tells us, “Don't talk. Speak not about what will happen to you afterwards.” It is like being dragged into a concentration camp by an administration that is pitiless, and would not even tell where we are going and what is going to happen to us. In birth, we do not know what is happening to us. In death also, we do not know what is going to happen.

But something will happen. We have been born into this world. Does anyone remember what you were in the previous life? Who was your father? Who was your mother? You were born to a father; you know it very well. That father must have been having a father, and that grandfather has got a father. So it goes on rising from father to father, father to father. Where does the first father arise? Who is the first father whose son's son's son you have become?

It was said, perhaps by Buddha, that if you can remember five hundred parents through whose connection you have been born into this world, simultaneously you will find that there is not a single person in this world who is not your relative. You are related to everybody. In one life you are related to a hundred, in another life to a thousand, and in a third life to some other people, so that if you remember all the lives, the whole world family will look like your own relations. You will never say, “They are mine, and they are not mine.” Such is the panorama that is awaiting us.

When the body is shed, that intention which compelled us to be born into a particular body again operates. What does it do at that time? The intention is a desire to be something, to experience something, enjoy something, possess something, etc., but the desire is so vast, wanting umpteen things, that any amount of satisfaction will not put an end to the longing of a human individual. It is like a reservoir of infinite content; however much is given to you, you will find that something is left out.

So this intention, which is the desire to be born in a particular condition, temporarily gets satisfied through the instrumentality of one kind of body, by means of which alone certain sets of desires can be fulfilled. It does not mean that we are satisfied by the experiences we have in this world. When the body is cast off, another set comes in, just as there is a retail shop with a godown from which things are brought out to the retail shop, but the godown is filled always. It cannot be exhausted; and what is in the godown, nobody knows. Varieties of things are there, and whatever is necessary is brought out for sale.

In a similar manner, endless being the potentiality of human longing or desire, no particular formation of the body can be satisfying, so it has to take various forms of bodily existence in order that corresponding experiences can be made available. And nobody can know what their deep-seated desires are. One's own person just now cannot know what the desires are. They will come up to the surface of experience only when the time comes, when circumstances demand it.

What you are thinking just now is not your desire because you are censored by the conditions prevailing; therefore, only certain sets of experiences are permitted. When the censors are lifted, another ravaging set of desires will come, like a gale, like a tornado, and they will say, “Your dues are here.”

Mostly it is believed that a person who dies will be reborn into this world. It may be so, if the desires that are still remaining to be fulfilled are of such a nature that they can be had only in this world. But if we have desires of a different type, there is no compulsion to be born on this earth. There are many planes of existence. Infinite are the worlds and the realms of being in this cosmic creative activity. We can be transported to any place for the purpose of experience.

The Yoga Vasishtha, a great mystical text, tells us, “Endless are the worlds, inconceivable in number.” In some worlds, there are no human beings at all; there is only the hard surface of the Earth. In some worlds, Sage Vasishtha says, it is all copper. It is not mud. The whole Earth – we should not call it Earth, actually, because it is another global experience, which is constituted of copper. Some worlds are gold only. In some, it is only a forest of trees; in some, only animals; in some, only snakes; in some, only mosquitoes. In some, it is gods and angels. Anything can be there anywhere, in some world, and we can be transported to that place if our desire is to experience those conditions of being. Rebirth is unavoidable as long as the desire to exist as a body continues. If you are fed up with being an individual, and you want to abolish and melt down individuality in a wider experience, then you may be said to be on the spiritual path; otherwise, you are having only a mortal experience.

When the body is shed, the subtle body, which is constituted of the potentials of the five elements, releases itself from the clutch of the physical body and, rocket-like, rushes in the direction of that place, that condition, that circumstance where alone the remaining desires can be fulfilled. We will be born to those parents, in that place, and only under those conditions by which we can have all the things that we want.

In the Bhagavadgita the same question is raised and answered by Bhagavan Sri Krishna. We can be born in the family of well-to-do parents, or we may be born in a poverty-stricken family. We may be born as the son of a great sage like Vasishtha or Vyasa. It is difficult to have a birth as the son of a great sage like Vasishtha or Vyasa. It is not easy because even if we desire a thing, we must also deserve it, and these great sages are the specimens and examples of impersonal life, whereas we are all attached to personal life.

We can be born into this world or any other world, as the case may be. People who have done good deeds will be rocketed up to the realm of experience where they will be duly rewarded. Action and reaction are the law of nature. Whatever you have done and given will come back to you. Any charity, philanthropic activity, and any service honestly rendered to people will be recompensed either in this world itself if it is possible, or if not, it will be in another world.

Many of you are comfortable people. Maybe you are financially almost satisfied. You have got a healthy body; you are happy. This comfort, whatever be its nature, that you are enjoying in this life is not an undeserved gift that has been given to you. You deserve it because you have done something in the previous life which demands that a proper compensation must be given to you. Whatever good you have done will be paid back by experiences of immense goodness. If you have been a very loving person, very kind-hearted, very sweet speaking, very serviceful, in the next birth you will find all people will be so kind to you everywhere. You will not know why people are loving you so much. You have done that good, so they are giving it back to you.

If you have been very greedy, miserly, having a lot of wealth and would not part with one penny, if you have hoarded things and departed without giving anything to anyone, then in the next birth, nobody will give you anything. You will be born as a poor beggar's son, and then you have to suffer the agony of poverty, which you could have avoided. Whatever you have done will be given back to you. Give, and it shall be given back to you, whatever it is.

The Brahma Sutras tell us on the basis of the Upanishadic declarations that those who are philanthropic in nature, serviceful in their life, will be carried to lunar regions, which are incomprehensible to us, where they enjoy the bliss and joy of release from every kind of tension and penury. But it is a short-lived experience. The compensation is commensurate with the work that is done to deserve it. We may be given a large gift as a reward for some great service that we have rendered, but the nature of that gift, and its quantum, will be decided by the service that we have rendered, in any capacity whatsoever.

There is no such thing as an undeserved gift; such a thing is not possible. So when the deserving potential for which the compensation of happiness in the lunar regions is over, the soul will revert back to this condition, and it will be born once again.

How will it be born? There are two types of action, sometimes mixed together, in the case of a person. People are not always a hundred percent good, nor are they a hundred percent bad. There is an admixture of some percentage of goodness and a percentage of non-goodness. The good aspect will take the person to the lunar regions of experience, but the non-good will bring him back, for which he has to repent and pay in another birth, into which he will be hurled.

Therefore, the persons who have gone to the region of the lunar kingdom of joy will not be there always, because it is like enjoying a bank balance which we have in plenty; but when it is exhausted we are once again thrown back to the old condition only, and that thing which we are not able to consider as serviceful to anybody will react upon us in a negative manner. This is some strange thing that is told to us in the Upanishads. It does not mean that a person who goes to the lunar regions stays there permanently. Nobody can have a permanent job. The job has a tenure for some years, and for that time we can rule and rejoice. When the tenure is over we retire, and we are once again the same old person that we were earlier.

This is about the persons who do a lot of good, but there also may be people who are vicious in their nature. They never do any good, due to some oppressive impulsions in their mind caused again by the previous pressures of a cyclic life, the reason for which is not easily explainable.

It appears that when Shirdi Sai Baba was walking somewhere, he found a snake catching hold of a frog. As human beings in their previous births, the snake and the frog were enemies. The frog had been a human being, the snake also had been a human being, and both were so vicious in their nature. They attacked each other and died, and one was born as a snake and another as a frog. It appears that Sai Baba told them, “Very stupid! Still you are continuing your maliciousness even now. How long will this go on?” He called the snake by its original name, and the frog also by its original name. He was a siddha-purusha, so he could see anything, what was at the back. The snake was a human being previously, and the frog also, but their viciousness converted them into this animosity, even in their next birth.

It is said that one can go to hell, also. It is specially mentioned in the Brahma Sutras. You will be wondering what kind of thing is this hell, and where it is. There are some people who think this world itself is a hell, so why do we want another hell? Is this suffering not sufficient for us? We are suffering enough.

No, it is not like that. The world's suffering is not adequate because there are joys, also. We can breathe fresh air; we can eat food. Nobody is denied that. We can have a good, healthy body. We can live comfortably in some way, though we may have some other difficulties. But hell is an unadulterated suffering, caused by unadulterated vicious actions of people.

Many years back the newspapers reported that two children were going to school, and two vicious dacoit murderers gave them a lift and butchered them. It is an unadulterated evil tendency which cannot be explained. Without reason, they cause harm to people. There are some people who cause harm with some reason; they get annoyed at something that has happened, and they retaliate. Here, it is an unadulterated, unprovoked evil action. What will be the experience of these people in the next birth?

In the Brahmana portion of the Vedas, there is a story. A sage went to another world. There he found vultures pecking the flesh of somebody, and jackals were tearing his body, and hens and cocks with steel-like beaks were striking that man. Then, the sage asked them why they were doing this. They said, “Because he did this to us. He ate us; now, we shall eat him.” They pecked at him with steel beaks; they tore him apart. This story comes in the Brahmana portion of the Vedas. Nobody can escape the reaction of a deed, whatever be the nature of that deed. It is a perfectly scientific operation, like the gravitational force of the Earth.

But if you are fortunate enough not to be merely satisfied by charitable activity and a good life – of course, you never expect to be evil – and you are a contemplator of the Creator of the universe, then you are blessed. If the great Supreme Being is the object of your devotion, and you leave this world with that deep devotion to the Supreme Creator, what happens to you at that time? This is a long story that we have in the Upanishads, and it is enunciated in further detail in the Brahma Sutras.

The realms of being will receive you as if they are your hosts. All things in the world will wake up into consciousness and tell you, “Come! We shall receive you.” The very earth will summon you, “Please come! Tell me what you want.” The very trees and the leaves will start smiling, “Here we are to serve you.” All the denizens of the various realms of being will come.

In the Kaushitaki Upanishad the details go into dramatic beauty. Celestials rush to receive this person, with golden plates of offerings, singing celestial music and saying, “Brahma the Creator is wanting you; please come.” And there are many hurdles on the way – rivers that cannot be crossed easily, and many other things. But by the very thought of it being possible to cross them, the person crosses. There is no dead matter anywhere. Everyone is conscious. The electromagnetic forces are a sea of awareness. They will receive you. “You are a blessed one, and we are here to receive you to the abode of the blessed one. Come on!” At one stage the individual – or the individual consciousness of this noble person who is received in such a manner – sheds the individual consciousness, and then impersonality supervenes, and one cannot know where one is. The idea of ‘my being somewhere' is dropped completely, because I am no more ‘me'. At that time, a divine angel from the Creator Himself comes and takes him by the hand. Automatically, he is taken up. There is one stage where help comes automatically, without your asking for it. The whole world lifts you up. This wonderful thing we are told in the Kaushitaki Upanishad. You will be flabbergasted at this experience.

Then, as a further explanation of this ascent, it is told that the solar orb itself receives you. You depart from this world and reach the abode of the sun through the rays of the sun. The rays are not dead, electromagnetic waves. There is no dead thing in the universe. The rays start speaking in a celestial voice, and they become vehicles for you to ascend to the higher regions. The pure soul, which is without a body, without the weight of individual components, rises up through the vehicle of these rays of the sun and reaches the abode of the sun.

To be able to enter the abode of the sun, which is so resplendent, the one who goes there should also be equally resplendent. Light enters light. The soul becomes pure light at that time, pure radiance, ready to expand itself into the vast sea of cosmic experience. And further on, from the realm of the sun, the soul is taken up through the realm of space and time. Space and time do not exist at that time; they merge into a sea of experience. At that time, it will not be space; it will not be time. It will be an ocean of joy, an ocean of consciousness, omniscience, inexplicable in its nature. To that realm, he is taken; and finally he reaches, in a manner which the human mind cannot understand and words cannot explain, the abode of the Supreme Creator.

This kind of ascent of the soul gradually, step by step, is called krama mukti, or gradual progressive salvation – as an official may get promoted, stage by stage, and finally becomes the apex of his office. This is krama mukti, gradual liberation. There are others who are more blessed than this. They need not have to pass through these stages. They merge into God in one instant. How this is attained, we shall see another time.