Meaning of Life and Mystery of Death- An Exposition by Sage Sanatsujata in Mahabharata

1.Enquiry into the nature of Death and Immortality            
Sanatsujata replied:  Some say that immortality is attained through the performance of Vedic rituals. Others hold that there is no death at all. Some people, being absolutely unenlightened, think that death is real and that it can be conquered by the performance of Vedic rituals and therefore perform such rituals for attaining immortality. Yet others, who do not see a second entity different from Paramatma, say that immortality is attained through a combination of rituals and knowledge.  Still others, who hold that other than the non-dual Atma there is nothing, say that there is no death at all, because the Atma has neither birth nor death.

These apparently contradictory views can be reconciled. Both the views, namely that there is death and there is no death, are true and there is no contradiction between them. Some seers are of the view that delusion, which means looking upon the not-Self as the Self, is death. But I do not say so. I say that Pramada, which means ajnana, ignorance of one’s real and natural state of being Brahman is death. This Pramada is the cause of false knowledge i.e. the ignorance of the Self is the seed of all calamities such as birth, death etc. So I say that being ever vigilant, and remaining established in one’s natural state as Brahman i.e. in the state of absence of ignorance i.e. apramada or jnana (which is the state of  knowledge) is immortality.

Brahman, being the Self of all, is ever present and does not need to be attained. Brahman is changeless and so it cannot be the result of modification or purification of any other object. The Sruti says that being established in one’s real nature, Brahman, is Liberation. Liberation is eternal and is not something produced by any action.
The question how Pramada (Ignorance) is death and Apramada (Knowledge) is immortality is now answered: The Asuras failed (to realize the Self) because of Pramada, while the Devas realized their identity with Brahman by Apramada. Because of fall from their real nature as Brahman and consequently looking upon the body as the Self, the Asuras failed to know Brahman while the Devas, led by Indra, attained realization of their identity with Brahman, by remaining established in the knowledge that they were the non-dual Self which is Existence, Consciousness and Bliss. This is Immortality.

Death in the form of ajnana which has been called Pramada manifests at first as the ego (ahankara). Then it becomes desire (kama) which always runs after something other than oneself. When desire is thwarted it turns into anger (krodha) and delusion (moha). Because of this ego man entangles himself in duality and identifies himself as a Brahmana, Kshatriya, stout, lean, son of so and so, etc. As a result he becomes affected by attachment and aversion and goes into wrong paths (amarga). He then loses all chances of realizing his identity with Brahman. This is how Pramada can be equated with death. Ignorance and desire are the causes of bondage. The person who performs an action becomes attached to its result. This leads to another birth to enjoy the left-over results. Thus he can never get released from the chain of births and deaths. Because of not realizing his identity with Brahman he continues to pursue sense-pleasures.
Attachment to sense-objects which are all unreal (mithya) is what causes the greatest delusion to the sense-organs. One who is overcome by attachment to sense objects always thinks of them only (and never of the means to liberation).   Constant thinking of sense-objects first makes him a slave to them and he falls from his real state. Then desire and anger overtake him and bring about his downfall. These three pitfalls make him unwise lacking in discrimination and dumps him into the deep chasm of repeated births and deaths. On the contrary he who summarily rejects sense-objects which constantly invade him, realizing that they are ephemeral, impure, possessing seeds of sorrow only, becomes free of desire and attains the state of “death of death” itself. Thus actions lead to bondage and transmigration while Self-knowledge alone is the means to liberation.

When Sanatsujata applauded knowledge and its efficacy, the King reacted by asking him what then is the value of Karma or actions i.e. prayers and acts of sacrifices as ordained in the scriptures. Sanatsujata replied: The Vedas prescribe Karma only for ignorant persons and the person who realizes that his Self is identical with the Supreme Self does not take to the path of Karma but takes to the path of knowledge alone. The higher worlds attained by the performance of Vedic Karma all fall within the sphere of transmigratory existence. The happiness attained there is transient. Such persons will be born again on this earth on the exhaustion of the merit acquired by those actions. Only the realization of one’s identity with Brahman leads to the infinite and eternal happiness.
Dhrtarashtra said:
If it is the Supreme Being Himself who creates the entire universe constituted of the five elements who or what is it that makes him to do so and for what purpose does He take birth in various wombs? What adverse result can befall to Him by not doing so? 
Sanatsujata said:
If multiplicity is accepted in Brahman it will be a great defect, because non-duality will be contradicted. Moreover, if Brahman is considered as having taken different forms, then Brahman will be impermanent. If difference between the jiva and Brahman is accepted, then also there are serious adverse consequences. But from the empirical standpoint Brahman and the jiva appear different because of beginning less association with Maya. Brahman appears as the innumerable jivas because of Maya. The jivas, being in reality identical with Brahman, are eternal. But in spite of appearing as jivas Brahman’s immutability and infinitude are not affected at all. The jivas appear only because of Maya which has no beginning (anadi).

Dhrtarashtra said:
In this world people perform righteous deeds as well as unrighteous deeds. Is the merit acquired by righteous deeds destroyed by the sin resulting from unrighteous deeds, or do the sins get destroyed by merit? The idea is, do merit (punya) and sin (papa) set off each other or are their fruits to be experienced separately?

Sanatsujata said:
The enlightened person destroys both merit and sin by virtue of having realized the Self. The unenlightened person who identifies himself with his body experiences the fruits of both merit and sin separately. They do not cancel each other. The unenlightened person goes through several cycles of birth and death carrying the fruits of his good and bad Karma with him to experience them.. The wise man who dedicates all his actions to God destroys his sins with his merits. His merits are stronger than his sins. His desire less actions led him to knowledge by purifying his mind.

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