Ideas about rebirth, heaven, hell and moksa

In document Death, dying and bereavement in a British Hindu community. (Page 111-115)

Originally I had intended to explore the relationship between religious belief and adjustment, but the amount of ethnographic material I needed to

3.3 Life after death: contemporary views in India

3.3.2 Ideas about rebirth, heaven, hell and moksa

As w e have seen, according to the texts, the deceased m a y be reborn immediately, after a period in heaven or hell, or attain moksa, conceived either in Advaitin terms of absorption into B r a hman (cf. 3.2.3 above) or dwelling in heaven with G o d (cf. 3.2.4 above). Rebirth m a y take place immediately, at the end of the sraddha rituals, one year after death, or after a spell in one of the m a n y layers of svarga or naraka. Several informants believed the atman would be reborn immediately if the person had been good, or would go "directly to God", especially if the person was really detached and/or had died in Kashi. Madan points out that there is considerable ambiguity about the fate of the n e w pitr:

It would seem that in some symbolic sense, as an 'image' (afcara), the pitr remains in the 'land' of the manes but is at the same time reincarnated here on earth. Thus in the relationship between the living and the dead, the notions of pitr (ancestor) and punarjanma (rebirth) negate the notion of death as a terminal event. (Madan 1987:137)

A m o n g the Kashmiri Pandits, of w h o m he is writing, the hope is to escape the chain of rebirth by means of a good life and good death in order to be worthy of grace which will enable a person to attain mukti (ibid.).

W h e n asked about their o w n relatives whose deaths they had described, very few of m y informants indicated a belief that they had been reborn.

Most said that they had gone "directly to God" in svarga, or had attained moksa, liberation. Outside the sraddha rituals (Chapter 10), pitr-loka does

not seem to have m u c h importance, but is simply used as a convenient term to describe "wherever the pitrs are" (HPBrM45).

Several informants described relatives w h o "knew intuitively" that death was imminent and died a "good death" (see 3.5.1-3; 4.2.1; 4.3.1 below).

They were said to have gone straight to Vaikunthadham or svarga. A merged into Brahman but retains some difference. <GjB70)

For m a n y of these informants Vaikunthadham or Aksardham was equivalent to moksa, and meant no rebirth. However, according to another Brahmin,

informant described this as the thirteenth Joke, whereas Vaikunthadham was the fourteenth, "special, deluxe. W h e n w e do good works for moksa that is like battery charging and the soul will go up" (GjBMBO).

A Swaminarayan lecturer said that w h e n her mother was dying her father had written to P r s m u k h Swami appealing for help and courage.

P r a m u k h S w a m i had replied that she would be with Sahajanand S w a m i in Aksardham, "the final place, something like moksa, the ultimate pleasure and happiness that you get, there is nothing more than that." She not only believed that her mother was with SwamTjT, but that her parents were together:

N o w he is also with m y mother, maybe there is no relationship between those souls which are there as husband and wife and father or mother, or anything like that, but all of them are in the same place and very happy, and that is the ultimate thing, so w h e n you think like that you get a little peace of mind. (PkF40)

T h e idea that relatives might meet in heaven does not seem to be very common; no other informants in India referred to the possibility, although two Westmouth informants did, and one very elderly Gujarati in Baroda, as he was dying asked his relatives whether they wanted him to pass on any messages (GjV70; cf. 7.1.4 below).

H o w the term moksa is used varies according to whether the speaker is, for example, a Vaisnava bhakta (devotee), in which case it seems to be more in line with Visistadvaita; or a Saivite follower of the w a y of knowledge, gyan (Ski- jftanaJ, as in Advaita. The lecturer referred to above used the term moksa in the sense of being in Aksardham, which was available to,

T he very good grhasthT and a good follower of religion w h o is not only going to enter moksa but for 7 i generations the m e m bers of the family would too. M y father and m y father-in-law were very good grhasthT as well as very religious in Swaminarayan, so they were very m u c h loved and liked by our guru. They were real

satsangTs, so not only are they going to achieve moksa but their families in generations to come will definitely follow the religion.

She went on to say that she had told her father jokingly that she was definitely going to take a n e w birth in order to have her wishes fulfilled.

Because she had been crippled by polio she couldn't dance and she was going to pray that in her next birth she would be able to do so.

A Pushtimargi bhakta said that according to Vallabhacarya's teaching:

At death the devotee is the servant of God. Whatever Go d wishes to perform he does so. If you surrender completely there is no fear of anything. All is a creation of God, you are part of the same creation.

In the philosophy of Advaita, ultimately you merge with God but you don't have moksa. You are not separate in the long run. If the atman wants to realise the love of God it will remain separate, but it can merge if it wants to. The highest goal is to be with God and to play his game. (GjPM75)

Other informants used the wor d moksa more in line with the Advaita view, as being absorbed into God or the absolute. A Vanya w o m a n w h o described the virtuous soul as being dissolved into the pahca-mahabhuta may have been thinking on these monistic lines, although she explained bbakti was quite different:

In bhakti you are not a part of God. G od is an element which is apart from you until you die, though you m ay go in his lap. You rest in God rather than take part of the universal energy. So you have to worship God. Bhakti ma y be even more difficult because of wishes, wills and ambitions. (GjVF55)

Professor Sudhir Kakar, the well-known psychiatrist, suggests that theories about where the soul goes - Pitr-loka, heaven or rebirth - provide the Hindu with a choice. Rebirth is a wa y of getting rid of a person, because it deals with anger; the person gets his just deserts if he becomes a vulture or something like that. Sraddha deals with guilt; it is very orthodox and allows a person to make restitution (Kakar, personal interview, 1986). It was significant that w h e n talking about their o w n parents most of m y informants assumed they were in heaven, either as a temporary sojourn

or permanently, and only one informant, a young Darji woman, whose father had died a bad death, believed that he had been reborn at once (see 3.5 below). It would not be acceptable to think of a parent in hell, but one family in India and another in Britain described an unpleasant aunt being hauled off by Yama's servants, the Yamduts.

In document Death, dying and bereavement in a British Hindu community. (Page 111-115)