Shri Datta Swami

Posted on: 13 Jul 2019

     

Real Purpose Behind Death Rituals

Shri Suryanarayana’s father passed away on July 6th and Shri Suryanarayana did all the rituals for his father as per tradition. In this context, he sought the following clarifications from Shri Swami.

Shri Surya asked: I am presently doing the death rituals for my father who recently passed away. Could You please give me some more clarity regarding the actual purpose of the death rituals and whether it is necessary to perform them in the traditional way?

Swami replied: Even though I have preached the true background of these death rituals to you several times, you have to do these rituals. The reason is that you have to go along with the forceful flow of ignorant people when you cannot change them. You have to follow the majority even if it is wrong. In the Parliament, the Lok Sabha passes a bill when the Rajya Sabha approves it. The former often contains members elected by the public irrespective of the intelligence of the members while the latter contains members having some intelligence and education. The former is like the king while latter is like the wise minister. Similarly, the majority should always take the opinion of the intellectual preacher (Satguru) before adopting any tradition.

The wrong concept in these rituals is that the food eaten by the priest will reach the departed soul. The soul is basically awareness or nervous energy. At the time of death, the soul departs from the material body and enters into a body made of inert energy. Food is matter and the eater of the food is also present here on Earth in a material body. Material food is suitable for a human being having a material body whereas energy is the suitable ‘food’ for energetic beings. The ‘food’ of angels is the rays of the sun. Departed souls get their ‘food’ from the rays of the moon as told in the scriptures. So, it is clear that the departed souls neither need any material food nor can the food eaten by the priest somehow reach the departed souls. Sage Charvaaka mocked at this false concept. He said that if food fed to the priest could reach the dead, then by feeding a person on the ground floor, the food should also reach one’s father who is upstairs! Even though the sage was an atheist, he should be appreciated for his systematic and scientific logic on this point.

If this concept is not true, then why did the ancient sages establish this tradition of feeding the priest? Actually, when you give food, clothes and a money offering (dakshina) to a deserving priest, Apuurvam is said to be generated. Apuurvam means merit, which brings good fruit not only to the the departed soul existing in an energetic body after death but also to the performer of the ritual. The most essential condition for that to happen is that the priest must be deserving of your donation. If the priest is undeserving, instead of earning merit, both will incur sin. The fruitfulness of the entire ritual depends on the deservingness of the priest alone and not on the place of donation or on the time of donation. In other words, there is no necessity to do the rituals only on a certain date, such as the date of the death of one’s parents. If the receiver of your donation is undeserving, instead of the ritual helping the soul, it will bring trouble for the departed soul as well as the performer.

The Veda states two requisites in the receiver which indicate his deservingness. They are: (1) the receiver must be well-versed in spiritual knowledge (Shrotriya) and (2) the receiver must not aspire for anything in return from anybody for his propagation of the Vedic knowledge in the ritual (Akaamahatasya). This means that the priest reciting the Veda during the ritual without knowing its meaning and without preaching the Vedic spiritual knowledge to the public is undeserving. Moreover, the present-day priest demands money for his wrong performance of the ritual! Neither does he know the knowledge of the recited Veda in order to propagate it nor does he perform the ritual without aspiring for anything in return. In both ways, the priest is undeserving. The non-performance of the ritual is better than such wrong performance because inaction is better than sinful action.

In the ancient times of the sages, almost everybody was deserving and hence, this problem never arose. At present, almost everybody is undeserving and hence, this problem is at its climax. The food offered even to a deserving priest never reaches the departed soul. Then why is this lie propagated that if you offer food to a deserving human being present in a material body here, it will reach the departed energetic being there? The performer of the ritual is totally fooled by this lie. He performs the ritual out of worry for his departed parents, thinking that they would starve if the ritual is not performed. This lie was not created by priests for fooling the public and earning money from them. The lie was created by the sages so that greedy people would be forced to perform the ritual and donate to a deserving receiver, at least on the occasion of the death of his elders. This correct performance of the ritual does not harm anybody because the donation is given to a deserving receiver which will help not only the departed soul but also the performer. Any lie that leads to good action is not wrong. It is called Arthavaada, which means a lie told for a good purpose. Artha means for the sake of a good purpose and vaada means a lie told.

The mother tells a lie to her child that if the child finishes eating everything in the plate, the moon will come down to the child! The mother does not incur any sin in telling such a lie. On the other hand, speaking the truth can also be a sin on some occasions. A saint carrying some money was being chased by robbers. He quickly hid himself in a bush. A sage saw the hiding saint. When robbers asked the sage where the saint was, the sage, believing that it is always a sin to lie, told them where the saint was hiding. The robbers killed the saint, took his money and left. The sage went to hell because he told the truth when he should have told a lie! Even Shankara told a lie that every ordinary soul is God. But that lie helped atheists believe in the existence of God since the atheists were sure about their own existence. Here, telling that lie helped the atheist become a theist and progress further. Helping good people is a higher justice whereas telling the truth is a lower justice.

This lie that the food fed to a priest reaches the departed hungry soul is not a sin since it is beneficial as long as the priest is deserving. People want to avoid the sin of not feeding a deserving priest. But due to their lack of proper analysis, they end up donating to undeserving priests. In their effort to avoid one sin, they end up committing another sin. Donating to the undeserving and not donating to the deserving are both sins as told by Vidura in the Mahaabhaarata. The present-day priests who are undeserving must be transformed to make them deserving. This can be done only by the performer of the ritual. The performer of the ritual is the customer of the priest’s services and it is said that the customer is God. So, the customer-god must insist that the priest preaches the knowledge of the Veda contained in the verses recited by him. This is the only way to forcibly bring a change in the priest. The priest must be convinced that there is no need of the blind recitation of the Veda since the Veda is already well-preserved by printing. The priest must be advised not to waste time in the blind recitation of the Veda and must instead use the same time for studying the knowledge preached by the Veda. The Gita says that the rituals must be performed only after full analysis and correct knowledge (Jnaatvaa kurviita karmaani).

If a deserving priest is not available, you can postpone the ritual to some later date on which the deserving priest will be available. You cannot find fault with such a valid postponement. Do you not postpone these rituals for the sake of even a mechanical astronomical phenomenon like an eclipse? People are hasty in making donations. They only give importance to the place and time of donation. They think “Today is the auspicious occasion of Shivaraatri and we are in the holy city of Varanasi. So, we must donate today”. Thus, they make some hasty donation to somebody without checking whether the person is deserving or undeserving.

Lord Krishna made only one donation in His entire life, which is giving infinite wealth to Sudaama. The day He made the donation was not an auspicious day and the place where He made the donation was not a holy city like Varanasi. All He saw was that Sudaama was the most deserving person who had true Vedic knowledge. He had clearly understood the essence of the Vedic knowledge, which is seen from His devotion to Krishna, his contemporary Human Incarnation of God. Even though Krishna was his childhood classmate, he was not negligent towards Krishna. Moreover, Sudāmā never aspired for anything from Krishna in spite of his severe poverty. Instead, he offered to Krishna, a little parched rice which he had borrowed from a neighbor. That rice was his sacrifice of wealth or karmaphala tyaaga to Krishna, the contemporary Human Incarnation of God.

First Ten Days of the Departed Soul

[Shri Surya asked: Is it true that a departed soul will be around on earth for ten days after death, as people say?]

Swami replied: As soon as death occurs, the soul leaves this earth in an energetic body. The physical Earth that we live on is called Martya Loka, which is the first sub-world of the first world, called Bhuu Loka. Martya Loka is called Karma Loka, which means the world of deeds, since souls are meant to perform deeds here. They are supposed to enjoy the fruits of their deeds in the other worlds, which are called Bhoga Lokas or worlds of enjoyment. After death in the Martya Loka, the soul enters into the second sub-world of the Bhuu Loka, called the Preta Loka. Preta Loka means the world of the dead. In that world, the soul faces the inquiry of its qualities and deeds for ten days. After those ten days, the soul leaves Preta Loka as said in the scripture “Itah param preta shabdo naasti”. To indicate this, the priest throws away the stone representing the soul during the ritual on the tenth day. The soul then enters Naraka Loka or Pitru Loka. These two worlds are the third and fourth sub-worlds of Bhuu Loka. Naraka Loka is hell where the soul enjoys the fruits of its sins. Pitru Loka, which is located on the moon, is a place meant for enjoying the fruits of the soul’s neutral deeds. Most people live and perform deeds in the Martya Loka (earth) only for the sake of themselves and their family. They work expecting some benefit in return. Such self-centered people can only reach Pitru Loka. Pitru Loka means the world of ancestors since most of our dead ancestors reach this world. But some souls, if they serve the public without aspiring for any fruit in return, can even enter the second world called Bhuvar Loka. Souls that have performed even higher meritorious deeds enter the third world called heaven or Suvar Loka. Preta Loka is right above Martya Loka. So, even though the soul has just completed its life in Martya Loka and is in Preta Loka, it has not gone far from the Martya Loka. Due to the extreme closeness of Preta Loka with Martya Loka, the soul in Preta Loka can almost be considered to be still present in Martya Loka. This is the reason why people say that the soul is close to earth for ten days after the death of its body. The reality is that as soon as the person dies in Martya Loka, its soul in an energetic body enters the second sub-world, Preta Loka to face the inquiry for ten days.

Prayers to Reduce the Departed Soul’s Pain

[Shri Surya asked: In the present day, when a dead person’s son performs the death rituals, a certain verse is read. It is a prayer to reduce the pain of the soul as its body is being burnt. The verse is as follows “Dahana janita tapopaśamanārtham…”. Do the death rituals or the prayers reduce the dead soul’s pain as its body is being burnt?]

Swami replied: The soul had identified (Adhyaasa) with the physical body for a long time in the Martya Loka. The same superimposition (Adhyaasa) of the soul’s self-identity upon the physical body continues even in the Preta Loka, just after death. When the body is destroyed, the soul is deeply hurt and pained due to this continuing superimposition. The superimposition continuing in the Preta Loka has a purpose in that it enables the soul to recognize the deeds done by its body as the deeds done by itself.

In any case, the soul certainly suffers from the pain of burning its body or of any other means of destruction of the body. The prayer done by the priest also certainly pacifies the soul provided the priest and the performer of the ritual know the meaning and purpose of the prayer. Mere blind recitation of the prayer, without knowing its meaning, does not create any feeling in the mind of the praying person. When there is no feeling associated with the prayer, God will not respond to the blind recitation of those verses and there will be no pacification of the pain of the soul. Even if the ritual is done, it becomes useless when the meaning of the prayer is not understood. It is the meaning that generates the feeling of devotion in the heart of the praying person. Hence, blind recitation is ineffective. That is why the reformation of the priest is very very essential. It is the need of the hour. The priest should give up blind recitation. He should first understand the meaning of the prayers being recited. Then he should explain the meaning to the performer so that the performer will develop a feeling of sincere devotion in his heart. Pleased with the performer’s devotion, God will then help the departed soul.