IMMORTALITY AND SELF-KNOWLEDGE
INQUIRY INTO DEATH
O Vidura, if anything is still left unspoken by you, say it now, as I am ready to listen. The discourse is truly delightful.
O Dhritarashtra, O thou of the Bharata race, Rishi Sanatsujata, immortal and ageless, living a life of perpetual continence, has said that there is no
death. He, foremost among the intelligent, will dissolve all the doubts in your mind, whether spoken or silent.
Do you not know what that immortal Rishi will say to me? O Vidura, say so, if indeed you have that degree of wisdom.
Born in the Sudra order, I cannot consequently say more than I already have. However, the comprehension of that Rishi, living a life of perpetual
continence, is considered by me to be infinite. He who is a Brahmana by birth never incurs the censure of the gods even when expounding the profoundest
mysteries. For this alone I do not discourse upon this theme.
Tell me, O Vidura, how can I in this body meet that immortal and ageless being?
Vidura then began to meditate upon that Rishi of inviolable vows. Knowing that he was meditated upon, O Bharata, the Rishi appeared. Thereupon Vidura
received him with the ordained rites. When the Rishi, having rested awhile, was seated at ease, Vidura addressed him thus: "O Illustrious One, there is
a doubt lingering in Dhritarashtra's mind which I cannot dissolve. It is fitting that you should discourse upon it, so that listening to your words,
this chief among men may surmount all his sorrows, and so that loss and gain, the unpleasant and the pleasant, decrepitude and death, fear and envy,
hunger and thirst, pride and prosperity, aversion, sleep, lust and anger, decrease and increase may all be borne by him! "
DEATH AND IMMORTALITY
Having applauded the words spoken by Vidura, the wise and illustrious King Dhritarashtra, desirous of gaining the highest wisdom, questioned
Sanatsujata in secret. And he thus addressed the Rishi: "O Sanatsujata, I hear that you hold that there is no death. Again it is said that the gods and
the asuras perform ascetic austerities to avoid death. Which, then, of these two views is correct?"
Some say that death may be averted by specific deeds; others hold that there is no death; you have asked me which of these is true. Listen, O King, as
I discourse on this so that your doubts may be dispelled. Know, O Kshatriya, that both views are correct. The learned think that death results from
nescience. I say that nescience is death and its absence is immortality. It is through ignorance that the asuras became subject to defeat and
death, and it is from the absence of ignorance that the gods attained the state of brahman. Death does not devour creatures like a tiger; its
form itself is inscrutable. Besides, some imagine Yama to be death. This, however, is due to feebleness of mind. The pursuit of brahman, or
self-knowledge, is indeed immortality.
Yama holds sway in the region of the pitris, being the source of bliss to the virtuous and of woe to the
sinful. It is at his behest that death, in the form of wrath, ignorance and greed, occurs among men. Stirred by pride, men ever tread the path of
unrighteousness. None of them succeeds in knowing his true nature. With clouded understanding, and propelled by passions, they cast off their bodies
and repeatedly fall into hell. They are constantly pursued by their senses. Hence nescience receives the name of death.
Those who desire the fruits of action, when the time comes to enjoy these fruits, proceed to heaven, casting off their
bodies. Hence they cannot avoid death. Through the inability to gain the knowledge of brahman, and owing to their attachment to earthly
enjoyments, embodied creatures are obliged to traverse the cycle of rebirths, up and down and around. It is solely man's natural inclination to unreal
pursuits that causes the senses to gravitate towards error.
The soul that is constantly agitated by the craving for unreal objects, remembering only that which ever preoccupies
it, solely adores the earthly enjoyments that surround it. Desire for enjoyments first destroys men. Lust and wrath soon follow. These three lead the
foolish to death. Those, however, who have subdued their souls succeed by self-conquest in eluding death.
He who has subdued his soul without suffering himself to be agitated by ambitious desire conquers the three tendencies,
viewing them as valueless, through self-knowledge. Ignorance, assuming the form of Yama, devours not that wise man who controls his desires in this
The man who indulges his desires is destroyed along with his desires. He, however, who can renounce desire can
certainly expel all sorts of sorrow. Desire is indeed ignorance, darkness and hell for all creatures; swayed by it, they lose their senses. Just as
intoxicated persons, walking along a street, reel towards ruts and holes, so too those under the sway of desire, misled by delusive pleasures, run
towards their destruction. What can death do to a person whose soul has neither been confounded nor misled by desire? For him death has no terrors, any
more than a tiger made of straws.
Therefore, O Kshatriya, if the state of desire, which is nescience, is to be destroyed, no wish whatsoever, not even
the slightest, must be pondered or pursued. That embodied soul which is associated with wrath and greed, which is replete with ignorance, is death
itself. Knowing that death arises in this way, he who relies on knowledge does not entertain any fear of death. Truly, just as the body is destroyed
when brought under the spell of death, so too death itself is destroyed when it comes under the sway of wisdom.
The Vedas affirm the salvific potency of those highly sacred and eternal regions which are said to be attainable by the enlightened classes through
prayers and sacrifices. Knowing this, why should not a learned person resort to such practices?
Indeed, he who is without knowledge proceeds hither by the path indicated by you, and the Vedas also declare that thither are found both bliss and
emancipation. But he who views the body as the self, if he also succeeds in renouncing desire, at once attains emancipation. If, however, one seeks
emancipation without renouncing desire, one must perforce proceed along the path of action, taking care to eschew the tendency to retrace the routes
Who is it that proclaims the One to be Unborn and Primeval? If, again, it is He who encloses this entire cosmos in consequence of His being
all-pervading, what indeed can be His activity or His enjoyment? O learned Sage, elucidate all this properly.
There is a strong objection to wholly confounding the two that are distinct. Creatures ever emerge through the union of conditions. This view does not
detract from the supremacy of the Unborn and Primeval. As for human beings, they too arise through the union of conditions. All this that is emergent
is truly nothing but the everlasting Supreme Soul. Verily, the entire cosmos is created by the Supreme Soul itself, undergoing transformations. The
Vedas ascribe this potency to the Supreme Soul. The Vedas and others are authoritative concerning the essential identity of this potency and its
In this world some practise virtue and some renounce action. I wish to know if virtue can eliminate vice, or is it itself destroyed by vice?
The consequences of virtue and of inaction are both pertinent; both are indeed assured means of attaining emancipation. The man who is wise, however,
achieves success through knowledge. The materialist, on the other hand, acquires merit and consequently liberation. He must also incur sin. Having
found again the fruits of both virtue and vice, which are transient, the man of action becomes once more addicted to action in consequence of his own
former virtues and vices. But the man of action who possesses intelligence destroys his sins through his virtuous acts. Virtue, then, is efficacious;
hence the success of the man of action.
Tell me, according to their gradation, of those eternal regions that are attainable, as the fruits of virtuous acts, by those vigorous persons who are
engaged in the practice of virtue. Tell me also about other regions of a similar sort.
O learned Sire, I do not wish to hear of actions alone.
Those vigorous persons who take pride in their yoga practices, like those who are strong in their vigour, departing hence, shine in the region of
brahman. Those regenerate persons who proudly exert themselves in performing sacrifices and other Vedic rites, as the fruit of the knowledge
which is theirs and in consequence of their acts, freed from this world, proceed to that region which is the abode of the gods. Others again, who are
conversant with the Vedas, think that the performance of sacrifices and rites is obligatory. Wedded to externals, though seeking to develop the inner
self, these persons should not be highly esteemed.
The yogin should seek for his livelihood wherever food and drink worthy of a Brahmana are abundant, like grass
and reeds in a spot during the rainy season. By no means should he inflict hunger and thirst upon himself. Wherever there may be both danger and
inconvenience to one's distaste, the person who desists from asserting his superiority is far better than one who extols himself. Food offered by one
who is not pained at the sight of a person extolling himself, who never eats without offering the prescribed portion to Brahmanas and guests, is
esteemed by the righteous. As a dog often devours its own excreta to its own detriment, so too yogins devour their own vomit if they procure
their livelihood by proclaiming their pre-eminence.
The wise know him as a Brahmana who, living in the midst of his kindred, wishes to keep unknown his own spiritual
practices. Which other Brahmana deserves to know the Supreme Soul that is unconditioned, attributeless, unalterable, singular and solitary, without
duality of any kind? Through such practices a Kshatriya can know the Supreme Soul and behold it in his own soul. What sins are not committed by that
thief who robs the soul of its powers, who deems his soul to be the actor and the sentient Self?
A Brahmana should abstain from strenuous activity, should never accept gifts, should win the respect of the righteous,
should be calm, and though conversant with the Vedas should seem otherwise, for only then can he attain to wisdom and know brahman. Those who
are rich in celestial wealth and sacrifices, though poor in earthly possessions, become invulnerable and fearless, and should be seen as embodiments of
brahman. Even he who in this world succeeds in encountering the gods, who bestow all sorts of desired objects, is not equal to him who has to
exert himself but knows brahman to be the performer of sacrifices. He is said to be truly honoured who, though destitute of deeds, is honoured
by the gods. He should never consider himself as honoured when esteemed by others. One should not, therefore, grieve when one is not honoured by
Individuals act according to their natures, just as they open and close their eyelids; it is only the learned who show
respect to others. The man who is esteemed should recognize this. In this world, those who are foolish, who are prone to sin, who are adepts in deceit,
never pay homage to those who are worthy of respect. On the contrary, they always show disrespect to such persons. The world's esteem and asceticism
can never coexist. Here in this world, O Kshatriya, happiness consists in earthly prosperity. But this is truly an impediment. Heavenly riches, on the
other hand, are unattainable by one without real wisdom. The righteous say that there are various sorts of gates, all difficult to guard, which give
access to the last kind of prosperity. These are truth, uprightness, modesty, self-control, purity of mind and conduct, and spiritual knowledge. These
six are destructive of vanity and ignorance.
Rendition by PUNARVASU
Sanat Sujata Parva
Udyoga Parva XLI, XLII.
Thou hast to saturate thy self with pure Alaya, become as one with Nature's Soul-Thought. At one with it thou art
invincible; in separation, thou becomest the playground of Samvritti, origin of all the world's delusions.
All is impermanent in man except the pure bright essence of Alaya. Man is its crystal ray; a beam of light immaculate within, a form of clay
material upon the lower surface. That beam is thy life-guide and thy true Self, the Watcher and the silent Thinker, the victim of thy lower Self. Thy
Soul cannot be hurt but through thy erring body; control and master both, and thou art safe when crossing to the nearing "Gate of Balance"
The Voice of the Silence
Hermes, July 1989
by Raghavan Iyer