A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 4

Indian Pluralism

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1949 | 186,278 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of eschatology: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the fifth part in the series called the “the bhagavata-purana”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

In the Bhāgavata-purāṇa, ill. 32, it is held that those who perform sacrifices and make offerings to gods and forefathers pass after death to the lunar world, from which they return to earth again. Those, however, who follow their own duties and surrender all their actions to gods, pure in mind and heart and unattached to worldly things, pass after death to the solar sphere and thence to the Universal Being Who is the cause of the world. Those, however, who are obsessed with the notion of duality pass into the nature of qualified Brahman, and are then born again in the world in accordance with their past deeds. Those again who lead an ordinary life of desires and make offerings to their forefathers have first to go by the southern way of smoky path to the land of the forefathers, and are again born in the line of their own progenies.

In XI. 22. 37, however, we find a more rational view. It is said there that the manas of men is permeated by their deeds and their causes, and it is this manas that passes from one body to another. The ātman, the soul, follows this manas. Śrīdhara, the well-known commentator on the Bhāgavata-purāṇa, regards manas here as the liṅga-śarīra, and holds that the self follows the manas infested by egoism. The Bhāgavata-purāṇa further holds that through the destiny of karma the manas meditates over the things seen and heard and gradually loses its memory with regard to them. This manas entering into another body thus ceases to remember all the experiences of the previous bodies and thus death may be defined as absolute forgetfulness (mṛtyuratyanta-vismṛtiḥ, XI. 22. 39). Birth is regarded as the acceptance of new experiences. Śrīdhara points out that this takes place with the cessation of the functioning of egoism with reference to the experiences of past bodies and the extension of the function of egoism with reference to the experiences of the new body. Just as one does not remember one’s dreams, so one ceases to remember one’s past experiences, and this is conditioned by death. At birth the self that was always existent appears to be born anew. By identifying the self with the body one divides one’s experiences as internal and external. As a matter of fact the body is being continually destroyed and generated, but such changes, being of a subtle nature, are overlooked. Just as there cannot be the same flame in two moments, or one flowing river in two different moments, so the body also is different in two different moments, though on account of our ignorance we suppose that the same body is passing through various stages and conditions. But in reality no one is born and no one dies through the agency of karma. It is all a panorama of illusions, just as the fire, as heat, exists eternally and yet appears to be burning in association with logs of wood. All the phenomena of birth, infancy, youth, old age and death as different stages of the body are but mere fancies. They are but stages of primal matter, the prakṛti, which are regarded through illusion as different stages of our life. One notices the death of one’s father and the birth of a son and so may speak of the destruction and generation of bodies, but no one experiences that the experiencer himself undergoes birth and death. The self thus is entirely different from the body. It is only through inability to distinguish properly between the two that one becomes attached to sense-objects and seems to pass through the cycle of birth and death. Just as a man seeing another man dance or sing imitates his action, so does the puruṣa, which has no movement of itself, seetn to imitate the qualities of buddhi in the operation of these movements. Again, just as when one looks at the images of trees in flowing water, the trees themselves seem to be many, so does the self regard itself as implicated in the movement of the prakṛti. This gives us the world-experience and the experience of the cycles of birth and death, though none of them really exists. Thus we see that the Bhāgavata-purāṇa agrees with the general Sāṃkhya and the Vedānta view regarding birth and death. It no doubt accepts the ordinary view of the Upaniṣads that a man, like a caterpillar, does not leave one body without accepting another at the same time (Bhāgavata-purāṇa, x. i. 38-44); but at the same time it holds that such birth and re-birth are due to one’s own illusion or māyā.

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