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Yoga Vasishta on Death & Afterlife

Goddess Saraswati

In Book 3, Chapter 54 of Yoga Vasishta, Goddess Saraswati, the deity of Wisdom, in her discussion with Lila talks about Death and after life.

Saraswati Said: There are three types of human beings my dear (Lila)-

  1. The Fool
  2. One who is practicing Meditation & Concentration
  3. The Yogi (The intelligent one)

The latter two types of people abandon the body by the practice of the Yoga of concentration and meditation, and depart the body at their sweet will and pleasure. But the fool who has not practiced Yoga, being at the mercy of forces outside himself, experiences great anguish at the approach of death.

This fool: 

  • Experiences a terrible burning sensation within himself.
  • His breathing becomes hard and laboured.
  • His body becomes discoloured and he gets dizzy.
  • He is confused in his vision and sees the earth as space and the sky as solid earth.
  • He experiences all sorts of delirious sensations, such as
    • Falling into a well
    • Riding a fast vehicle
    • Melting away like snow
    • Being dragged with rope
    • Floating away like a blade of grass, etc.
  • He is unable to express his suffering.
  • Gradually his sense lose their power; and he is unable to think

Therefore he sinks in unwisdom and ignorance.

When life breath does not flow freely, the person ceases to live. but all this is imaginary. How can infinite consciousness cease to be? The person is nothing but infinite consciousness.

Who does and when, to whom does this infinite consciousness belong and how? Even when millions of bodies die, this consciousness exists undiminished.

When there is cessation of the flow of the life-breath, the consciousness of the individual becomes utterly passive. Please remember, O Lila, that consciousness is pure, eternal and infinite: it does not arise nor cease to be. It is ever there in the moving and unmoving creatures, in the sky, on the mountain and in fire and air. When life-breath ceases the body is said to be dead or inert. The life-breath returns to its source- air- and consciousness, free from memory and tendencies remains as the self. That atomic ethereal practice which is possessed of these memories and tendencies is known as the Jiva: and it remains there itself, in the space where the dead body is. And they refer to it as 'preta' (departed soul). That jiva now abandons its ideas and what it had been seeing till then, and perceives other things like one dreaming or day dreaming.

After a momentary lapse of consciousness the jiva begins to fancy that it sees another body, another world and another life span.

O Lila, there are six categories of such 'departed souls':

  1. Bad
  2. Worse
  3. Worst among sinners/ ignorant
  4. Good
  5. better
  6. Best among virtuous

Of course, there are sub-divisions among these too.

The worst among the sinners undergo terrible sufferings in hell, and then are born in countless living species before they see the end of their agony. They might even exist as trees for a long time, the momentary lapse of consciousness may last a considerable time.

The middling among sinners also suffer lapse of consciousness for a considerable time; and then are born as worms and animals.

The light sinners are soon reborn as human beings.

The best among the righteous ascend to heaven and enjoy life there. Later they are born in good and affluent families on earth.

The middling among the righteous go to the region of the celestials, and return to the earth as children of Brahmanas, etc.

Even the righteous among the departed ones, after enjoying such heavenly pleasures, have to pass through the realms of the demi-gods to suffer the consequences of the iniquities they might have committed.

All these departed souls experience within themselves the fruition of their own past actions. At first there is the notion 'I am dead', and the 'I am being carried away by the messengers of the god of death'. The righteous among them fancy that they are taken to heaven; and the ordinary sinners fancy that they are standing in the court of God of death, where they are being tried and judged for their past life.

Whatever the jiva sees, that the jiva experiences; for an infinite consciousness there is nothing known as time, action, etc. There the jiva fancies, 'The god of death has sent me to heaven (or hell) and I have enjoyed (or suffered) the pleasures (or pains) of heaven (or hell) and I am born as animal as ordained by the god of death'.

At the moment, the jiva enters into the body of male through the food eaten, it is then transferred to the female and delivered into this world, where it undergoes life again in accordance with the fruition of past actions. there it grows and wanes like the moon. It undergoes senility and death. This is repeated till the jiva is enlightened by self-knowledge.

Source: The text is from the translation of Yoga Vasishta by Swami Venakatesananda, disciple of Swami Sivanananda (of Rishikesh)


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