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We lost Atal Ji, Madan Ji, Sheila Ji, Sushma Ji, Arun Ji within a short span of time. And, many have been questioning as to what happens after death.
There is a Vedic story that once a Sant stating celebrating his son’s death with a flute. When asked, he explained to his wife that I am celebrating the next birth of my son.
Bhagavad Gita also says the soul does not die. It only changes the body like we change clothes and takes a rebirth.
Modern medicine does not discuss these issues as a science but when we face any death, we do ask ourselves such questions.
But, there are some unanswered questions in modern medicine. Why do the excretory, circulatory and the GI functions continue to work in the event of brain death? How is CPR successful in the first 10 minutes? How are we able to revive a person even after hours if he is in hypothermia? And, there are several more such questions.
The Vedic answer lies in understanding the five different types of Vayus. In brain stem death, Prana vayu and Udana vayu leave the body but other three Vayus remain and control the GI, circulatory and excretory functions. The Udana Vayu does not leave the body in a state of hypothermia.
The Vedic description comes in Bhagavad Gita, Chandogya Upanishad, Prashna Upanishad and Katha Upanishad.
The best near scientific answers come in the Prashna Upanishad and Chandogya Upanishad.
It’s a difficult subject and can only be understood if we have some basic Vedic Knowledge.
Here we will only discuss the Prashna Upanishad question 3 which has twelve sections. I have tried to link it to modern medicine wherever possible.
I will be writing a series of columns based on the various references in the Vedas. In the first reading it will sound confusing but over a period of time, it will be well understood. Please do communicate the queries.
- अथ हैनं कौशल्यष्चाश्वलायनः पप्रच्छ । भगवन्कुत एष प्राणो जायते कथमायात्यस्मिञ्शरीर आत्मानं वा प्रविभज्यकथं प्रतिष्ठते केनोत्क्रमतेकथं बह्यमभिधते कथमध्यात्ममिति ॥ १ ॥
atha hainaṃ kauśalyaṣcāśvalāyanaḥ papraccha | bhagavankuta eṣa prāṇo jāyatekathamāyātyasmiñśarīra ātmānaṃ vā pravibhajya kathaṃ pratiṣṭhate kenotkramate kathaṃ bahyamabhidhate kathamadhyātmamiti || 1 ||
Meaning: Then, Kausalya, son of Âsvala questioned him (Sage Piplada). ‘O Bhagavan! whence is this Prâna born? How does he come into this body? How does he stay dividing himself? By what does he ascend from the body? How does he support all external and how all within the body?
Commentary: The student asks his Guru all about the Prana. In layman terms, it is generally said that the prana has gone at the time of death and at birth, we say that the first prana has come. In modern medicine, we have no such term as prana, we only link it to respiration. In Ayurveda, Prana is the mainstay of its physiology.
- तस्मै स होवाचातिप्रष्चान्पृच्छसि ब्रह्मिष्ठोऽसीति तस्मात्तेऽहं ब्रवीमि ॥ २ ॥
tasmai sa hovācātipraṣcānpṛcchasi brahmiṣṭhosīti tasmāttehaṃ bravīmi || 2 ||
Meaning: To him he replied, ‘you ask questions about transcending things. I will answer thee, because you are a greater knower of Brahman.’
Commentary: Brahman in Vedic terminology means the one who is knowledgeable; it does not refer to the caste of a person. To understand life after death is not easy even for most knowledgeable people. Therefore, unless you know the basics of Atman and Prana, you will not be able to understand.
- आत्मन एष प्राणो जायते । यथैषा पुरुषे छायैतस्मिन्नेतदाततं मनोकृतेनायात्यस्मिञ्शरीरे ॥
ātmana eṣa prāṇo jāyate | yathaiṣā puruṣe chāyaitasminnetadātataṃ manokṛtenāyātyasmiñśarīre || 3 ||
Meaning: This Prâna is born of the âtman. As this shadow in the man, so is this in the âtman. By the act of the mind, this comes into this body.
Commentary: It is born out of atman by the act of the mind. It is well described in Vedas that the whole universe is born out of the act of mind. Without intention, nothing can be born. Born out of atman or soul means it is linked to the soul. The respiration comes from atman and leaves with atman. In meditation also we say to quieten the mind, you must quieten the respiration. It is well described as the shadow of Atman.
- यथा सम्रादेवाधिकृतान्विनियुङ्क्ते । एतन्ग्रामानोतान्प्रामानधितिष्टस्वेत्येवमेवैष प्राण इतरान्प्राणान्पृथक्पृथगेव सन्निधत्ते ॥ ४ ॥
yathā samrādevādhikṛtānviniyuṅkte | etangrāmānotānprāmānadhitiṣṭasvetyevamevaiṣa prāṇa itarānprāṇānpṛthakpṛthageva sannidhatte || 4 ||
Meaning: As the sovereign alone commands the officers, (under him) ‘stay in these villages and those,’ so this Prâna posts other prânas separately (at their respective posts).
Commentary: Prana is the master and controls other four pranas. In Vedas five Prana Vayus are described.
- पायूपस्थेऽपानं चक्शुःश्रोत्रे मुखनासिकाभ्यां प्राणः स्वयं प्रातिष्टते मध्ये तु समानः । एष ह्येतद्धुतमन्नं समं नयति तस्मादेताः सप्तार्चिषोभवन्ति ॥ ५ ॥
pāyūpasthepānaṃ cakśuḥśrotre mukhanāsikābhyāṃ prāṇaḥ svayaṃ prātiṣṭate madhye tu samānaḥ । eṣa hyetaddhutamannaṃ samaṃ nayati tasmādetāḥ saptārciṣo bhavanti || 5 ||
Meaning: The apâna stays in the two lower apertures. Prâna stays in the eye, ear, speech and nose. In the middle is samâna. He distributes the food supplied equally; so, these seven flames arise.
Commentary: This describes 3 out of 5 Pranas. The Prana Vayu controls the brain stem reflexes (eye, speech, nose and the breath out). The Apana Vayu controls the expulsive movements of urination and passing stools. The Samana Vayu controls the middle part of the body and all GI movements. Seven flames mean the seven dhatus Agni or the digestive fires (Rasa, Rakta, Mamsa, Medha, Asthi, Majja and Shukra)
- हृदि ह्येष आत्मा । अत्रैतदेकशतं नाडीनं तासां शतं शतमेकैकस्या द्वासप्ततिर्द्वासप्ततिःप्रतिशाखानाडीसहस्राणि भवन्त्यासु व्यानश्चरति ॥६ ॥
hṛdi hyeṣa ātmā | atraitadekaśataṃ nāḍīnaṃ tāsāṃ śataṃ śatamekaikasyā dvāsaptatirdvāsaptatiḥpratiśākhānāḍīsahasrāṇi bhavantyāsu vyānaścarati || 6 ||
Meaning: This âtman is in the heart. Here, there are a hundred and one nerves. Every one of these has a hundred branches; again, every one of these has seventy-two thousand sub-branches. In these, vyâna moves.
Commentary: All Vedic literature mentions that the house of Atman is in the heart. It’s not the physical heart but probably the cardiac plexus. It describes the Vayana vayu, which controls the circulation in the heart and the cardiovascular system. As per Vedic science, the Vayana Vayu circulates in the nadis arising out of the heart, which are subtle channels. Modern medicine has no comparable entity as the nadis.
- अथैकयोर्ध्व उदानः पुण्येन पुण्यं लोकं नयति पापेन पापमुभाभ्यामेव मनुष्यलोकम् ॥ ७ ॥
athaikayordhva udānaḥ puṇyena puṇyaṃ lokaṃ nayati pāpena pāpamubhābhyāmeva manuṣyalokam || 7 ||
Meaning: Now by one nerve, udâna ascending conducts to virtuous worlds by virtue, to sinful worlds by sin and to the world of men by virtue and sin combined.
Commentary: The last Vayu, the Udana vayu ascends out of one of these nadis. Shankara links it to Sushumana Nadi present in the spinal cord and ascending up to the crown area. As per Vedas, the life enters the crown area and leaves from the same area. Both Chandogya and Prashna Upanishad describe that at the time of death the motor senses merge with the sensory organs and the mind (mind, intellect, ego and the memory), which in turn merges with the Prana (Prana Vayu and the Udana Vayu), which merges with Tejas and leaves the body to merge with the sat.
- आदित्यो ह वै बाह्यः प्राण उदयत्येष ह्येनं चाक्शुषं प्राणमनुगृह्णानः । पृथिव्यां या देवता सैषा पुरुषस्यअपानमवष्टभ्यान्तरा यदाकाशः ससमानो वायुर्व्यानः ॥ ८ ॥
ādityo ha vai bāhyaḥ prāṇa udayatyeṣa hyenaṃ cākśuṣaṃ prāṇamanugṛhṇānaḥ | pṛthivyāṃ yā devatā saiṣā puruṣasyaapānamavaṣṭabhyāntarā yadākāśaḥ sa samāno vāyurvyānaḥ || 8 ||
Meaning: The sun, indeed, is the external prâna. He rises favouring the prâna in the eye. So, the goddess of the earth attracts the apâna downwards. The âkâsa between is samâna. The wind is vyâna.
Commentary: Here he talks about the macrocosm. In Vedas we talk about yatha pinde thatha Brahmande. As is the macrocosm so is the microcosm. He links the internal prana to the pranas of the nature.
- तेजो ह वा उदानस्तस्मादुपशान्ततेजाः । पुनर्भवमिन्द्रियैर्मनसि सम्पध्यमानैः ॥ ९ ॥
tejo ha vā udānastasmādupaśāntatejāḥ | punarbhavamindriyairmanasi sampadhyamānaiḥ || 9 ||
Meaning: The external fire têjas verily is udâna. Therefore, the fire being extinguished, one again enters another body with the senses clinging to the mind.
Commentary: The Chandogya Upanishad further clarifies that the Prana merges with the Tejas and then leaves the body. Prashna Upanishad describes Udana with the Tejas (metabolism in the body)
- यच्चित्तस्तेनैष प्राणमायाति प्राणस्तेजसा युक्तः । सहात्मना यथासंकल्पितं लोकं नयति ॥ १० ॥
yaccittastenaiṣa prāṇamāyāti prāṇastejasā yuktaḥ | sahātmanā yathāsaṃkalpitaṃ lokaṃ nayati || 10 ||
Meaning: Of what thought, by that he attains prâna, the prâna combined with udâna along with the âtman, conducts to the world thought of.
Commentary: This is a philosophy well described in Chapter 8 of the Bhagavad Gita. For those who believe in rebirth, their last thought at the time of death decides his next birth. That is the reason why Vedic description says one should die in a parasympathetic state of mind at the time of last breath.
- य एवं विद्वान्प्राणं वेद । न हास्य प्रजा हीयतेऽमृतो भवति तदेष श्लोकः ॥ ११ ॥
ya evaṃ vidvānprāṇaṃ veda | na hāsya prajā hīyatemṛto bhavati tadeṣa ślokaḥ || 11 ||
Meaning: The learned man who knows Prâna thus—of his offspring there is break and he becomes immortal; there is the following verse.
Commentary: Only the learned mind can understand the Prana at micro level. Even till today, science in modern medicine has not been able to fully understand it.
- उत्पत्तिमायतिं स्थानं विभुत्वं चैव पञ्चधा । अध्यात्मं चैव प्राणस्य विज्ञायामृतमश्नुते विज्ञायामृतमश्नुत इति ॥ १२ ॥
utpattimāyatiṃ sthānaṃ vibhutvaṃ caiva pañcadhā | adhyātmaṃ caiva prāṇasya vijñāyāmṛtamaśnute vijñāyāmṛtamaśnuta iti || 12 ||
Meaning: Knowing the birth, the coming, the staying, and the five-fold sovereignty of Prâna and its stay in the body, one attains immortality.
Commentary: The person who has this knowledge attains inner happiness.
Dr KK Aggarwal
Padma Shri Awardee
President Elect Confederation of Medical Associations in Asia and Oceania (CMAAO)
Group Editor-in-Chief IJCP Publications
President Heart Care Foundation of India
Past National President IMA