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“Weapons cannot cut it, fire cannot burn it, water cannot wet it, wind cannot dry it. It cannot be cut or burnt, pierced or dried up. It is eternal, all-pervading, changeless, unmoving, ever-new and existed before the world came into being. It is beyond thought and beyond all changes, so say the wise. How can you then grieve over it, Arjuna, knowing this is its nature?
“And even if you think of it as something that is born again and again and dies again and again you should not grieve over it. Death is sure to happen to whoever is born and birth is equally sure to happen to whoever dies. So you should not grieve over something that is inevitable. ” BG 2.23-27
alone is living.
All other living
One of the scariest stories I have ever read as an adult is Camera Obscura by Basil Copper, which I originally read it in a collection of stories edited by Alfred Hitchcock called Stories that Scared Even Me and have since come across elsewhere too. Camera Obscura tells the story of a heartless money lender called Mr Sharsted trapped for eternity in ‘lost and damned time’ in a part of his town and is condemned to wander forever its streets never reaching his home. He comes out of the house of one Mr Gingold whom he had gone to see and after walking away from his place for a long time, finds again near Mr Gingold’s premises. He walks away taking a different route this time only to find him once again near Mr Gingold’s premises. This goes on and on endlessly.
The story is scary in itself, but what made it truly scary was associating it what India says about reincarnation. We are born again and again endlessly, forever trapped in samsara, until we attain jnana or knowledge of our true nature through our personal experience – experiential knowledge, and not book knowledge as a lot of us understand.
Mrityoh sa mrityum apnoti, as the Katha Upanishad tells us: He wanders from death to death.
There are thousands of books written about reincarnation in the modern west, each one of them telling of people born again and again, each time a different person, frequently changing their gender, but essentially repeating the same life pattern, because we are prisoners to our mind, to our psychology. Just as in this lifetime we repeat our life patterns, some people always becoming victims of abuse, some bullies, some winners, some losers, some lonely, some surrounded by loving people, we repeat our life patters across lifetimes too.
At one level what we can do is create positive life pattern so that we do not end up living negative lives repeatedly. Speaking of people obsessed with negativity, with asuri sampada, Krishna says in the sixteenth chapter of the Gita that they shall be born again and again in evil wombs. This is not a punishment given to them by Krishna or by anyone else, but is the nature of things. Just as those with positive tendencies are born again and again in noble families living noble lives, those with evil tendencies are born again and again in evil circumstances. Our births, the Upanishads make it clear, are chosen by us, exactly as we chose where to stay and what to do on a vacation. So if it is jealousy and anger and hatred that rule our lives today, the same feelings will keep ruling our lives in our post-death existence too and when we decide to take birth again, they will guide us in our choices. It is something like which hotel you go to eat at during the vacation – provided we have the necessary resources, we have multiple choices, like a south Indian hotel or a north Indian one, a vegetarian hotel or a non-vegetarian one, Chinese or Continental and so on.
The Kumbhakonam edition of the Sanskrit Mahabharata tells us the story of a woman obsessed with sexuality called Nalayani. Her story is told in Chapter 212 and 213 of the Adi Parva of the epic. The epic tells us her story soon after Arjuna wins Draupadi and before all the five Pandava brothers wed her. It is sage Vyasa who tells her story, explaining it is this Nalayani that is reborn as Draupadi in her current life time. He tells this story in order to convince Drupada why his daughter should marry all the five brothers together.
Let me reproduce here my translation of the conversation of Vyasa and Drupada from the Kumbhakonam edition of the epic. The translation has been made from the original Sanskrit and to my knowledge this is the only translation of her story availabble in English.
Please remember that what I am reproducing below is an exact translation of the original Sanskrit and I have altered the text in no way – I have neither added a single word of my own to the story nor dropped a any.
“Vyasa Said: Oh king, do not grieve over your daughter becoming wife to all five Pandavas. Her mother had earlier prayed that Draupadi should become the wife of five men. Yaja and Upayaja, constantly engaged in dharma, made it possible through their tapas that she should have five husbands and that is how Draupadi was attained by the five Pandavas as their wife.
“It is now time for your whole family to celebrate. For in the whole world there is no one superior to you and you are now invincible – no one in the whole world has the power to defeat you.
“Let me explain further how she attained five husbands. Listen to me, your heart free from sorrow.
“In another lifetime, your daughter was called Nalayani, a woman of impeccable virtue. She served her husband Maudgalya, an old leper, with great devotion. The man was mere bones and skin, bitter by nature, lustful, jealous and prone to quick rages. He stank terribly – his body emitted every foul smell. Advanced in age, his skin was wrinkled, his whole body crooked. His head had grown bald and his skin and nails had begun to wear off.
“Nalayani served her husband who practiced severe penances; she lived by eating his left over food. Then one day while he was eating, his thumb fell off into the food. Without the least hesitation, Nalayani removed it from the food and ate the leftover food. The man, who had the power to do as he wished, was pleased with this. He asked her to ask for a boon.
““I am not old or evil-tempered, nor jealous or hot tempered,” he told her. “My body does not smell, nor am I short in height or lust-filled. My blessings on you, beloved one!. Now tell me how I can delight you and where you wish to live and enjoy. I shall do all that you wish, tell me whatever is in your mind.”
“When he repeatedly asked her to ask for a boon, she asked for one.
“Maudgalya was a man of pure actions and he was now pleased with her. He had the power to give boons and he gave all one wished. So Nalayani of blameless beauty told her husband: “O lord, unthinkable are your powers. May you attain great fame in the world by dividing yourself into five and pleasuring me in all those five forms! And after that I want you to become one again and continue to pleasure me.”
““Let it be so!” the great seer Maudgalya of surpassing spiritual power told Nalayani of beautiful hair and alluring smile. He then turned himself into five and pleasured her in those five forms in every imaginable way.
“He spent time in the ashrams of sages worshipped by them, moving from one ashram to another, assuming any form he desired. He went to the world of the gods and there moved among the celestial sages taking her with him. He lived as a guest in the palace of Indra, worshipped by Shachi, his food the ambrosia of the gods.
“Desiring to enjoy pleasures with Nalayani, also known as Mahendrasena, he, the great lord, boarded the divine chariot of the sun god and moved around with her. He then went to Mt Meru and started living on the mountain. He dived into the celestial Ganga with her. He lived in the rays of the moon as the never-ceasing wind does.
“When the great sage took on the shape of a mountain range, because of his ascetic powers she became a great river in the middle of the mountains. When the sage transformed himself into a saal tree full of flowers, she attained the form of a creeper and wound herself around him. Every time he assumed a body, she traveled with her husband assuming a similar body. And so living, her love for him and his love for her increased in equal measures. The great sage continuously reveled with her using his yogic powers and she, as divine will would have it, gave him pleasures in turn.
“All this time, she remained the sage’s single wife, like Arundhati to Vasishtha and Sita to Rama, and like them entirely devoted to her husband. In this respect, she became nobler than Damayanti’s mother. Her mind became totally engrossed in the great brahmana Maudgalya, as though her soul itself had merged with him, and it never wavered from him.
“This, oh great king, is the truth and for that reason, never think of it in other ways. It is this Nalayani who is born as your daughter Krishnaa from the sacrificial pit, as some divine plan would have it.
“Drupada said: Great brahmana, best knower of all scriptures, tell me the reason why the auspicious Nalayani took birth in my sacrifice.
“Vyasa said: Listen to me, King, of how Lord Rudra gave her a boon and why the glorious one was born in your house. Let me tell you more of Krishnaa’s former life story.
“Famous by the name Indrasena, the noble Nalayani travelled around with her husband Maudgalya, no worries in her mind. For Maudgalya, those years of reveling with her passed like moments. And then one day, after years of enjoying them, the sage lost interest in pleasures. Desiring the highest dharma, his mind was now turned towards brahma-yoga. The great sage, now keen on austerities, abandoned her.
“Abandoned by him, oh great king, Nalayani fell to the earth. As she fell, addressing Maudgalya, she said: “Do not abandon me, great sage. I have been enjoying pleasures as my heart desired, and I am still not satisfied with the enjoyment.”
“And Maudgalya told her: “You speak to me without any compunctions about things that should not be spoken of. And you are causing obstacles on my path of tapas. So listen to what I say. You shall be born on the earth as a princess and will attain great repute. You shall be the daughter of the noble-hearted king of Panchala. You shall then have five renowned men for your husbands. With those handsome men, you shall long enjoy the pleasures of sex.
“Vaishampayana said: Cursed thus, the glorious Nalayani became miserable and went to a forest. Still discontented with the enjoyment of pleasures, she worshipped the Lord of the Gods through tapas. She gave up hopes and expectations, fasted with only the air as her food, and following the diurnal course of the sun, began practicing the tapas of the five fires – with the burning sun above her and four burning fires surrounding her. Rudra, the Lord of Beasts, Pashupati, the Great Monarch of all the worlds, the Great God, was pleased with her severe penance and gave her a boon. “You will be reborn again and in that birth you shall be a lustrous woman; and you shall have five renowned men for your husbands. They will all have bodies like that of Indra and in valour too they shall be like Indra. And there you shall achieve for the gods their great work.”
“Hearing this, the woman said: “I requested you for one husband. Why have you given me these five husbands? A woman shall have one man. How can a woman belong to many men?”
“And the Great Lord said: “You told me five times, repeatedly, to give you a husband. Noble woman, you shall have five husbands and you shall find happiness with all of them.”
“The woman replied: “It has been decided long ago that it is the dharma of a woman to have only one husband, whereas it is the dharma of a man, as practiced by many, to have several wives. This is the dharma for women that the sages decided in the past. And it has also been said that a single woman would be the partner of man in religious rituals. And we also see in the world that a woman has a single husband, just as she has a single virginity – once ended, it never comes back. The smritis allow a second husband to a woman for the purpose of conceiving through niyoga in an exigency. If she goes to a third woman, that is considered a sin and when she has a fourth man, she falls and becomes a prostitute. This is the path of dharma and for that reason I cannot accept many husbands. That is something not seen practiced in the world and how could I be absolved from the sin of corruption if that happens?”
“The Great Lord said: “In the past women lived a free life sexually and were considered pure after their monthly periods. It was not just once that you asked me [for a husband]. But having many husbands shall not be against dharma for you.”
“The woman replied: “If I am to have many husbands, and if I desire sex [rati] with them all, I request you to grant me that I shall remain a virgin after my unions with each of my husbands. In the past I attained spiritual merit [siddhi] through service to my husband. I also attained desire for sexual pleasures through that service. Grant me that I attain both in my coming birth too.”
“The Great Lord said: “Listen to me, auspicious woman. Rati [sexual pleasure/the goddess of sexual pleasure] and Siddhi [spiritual progress/the goddess of spiritual progress] do not enjoy each other’s company. In your next birth too, endowed with great beauty and good fortune, enjoying with your five husbands after regaining your virginity repeatedly, you shall attain great glory. Go now!”
So we see here Nalayani’s unsatiated longing for sex leads to her birth as Draupadi, wife of the five Pandavas, a woman of such a powerful aura of sexuality around her that at least two men attempt to molest her – Kichaka’s death in Virata happened because he desired her sexually and Jayadratha, Dusshala’s husband and hence her brother-in-law one step removed, carried her away to make her his own while she was living in the forest with the Pandavas. There are high sexual overtones to what was done to her in the Kuru Sabha at the end of the dice game, including Duryodhana’s bearing his left thigh and asking her to come and sit there and Karna’s order to Dusshasana to remove even the single clothe she was wearing.
In the real life story of Gail Bartley in Rosemary Ellen Guiley’s Tales of Reincarnation [already mentioned briefly earlier in an article of this series] too we find how the same obsessions and compulsions leads her and her partner lifetime after life time for two thousand years and numerous rebirths, including their latest one in contemporary New York.
In her current life time in New York, soon after her marriage ended in divorce, Gail fell in love with a man called Roger. As an advertising executive she had ample opportunities for meeting other attractive young men, she did not really like Roger, her mother took an instant dislike for him and a voice in Gail’s head kept screaming all the time, “Get away. He hates you. He is trying to destroy you!” In spite of all this, Gail felt irresistibly drawn toward Roger. And he abused her constantly, hurt her emotionally and did not hesitate to beat her up occasionally; once he even tried to choke her to death during one of the fairly frequent violent outbursts between them. The relationship had wrecked her personal life, drained her emotionally and destroyed her self-esteem. However, in spite of all this, Gail found herself unable to get away from the man – and she completely failed to understand her love-hate relationship with this man, as did others around her.
It was this riddle of her relationship with Roger that eventually sent her to a past life regressionist. Upon regression and reaching her first past life experience, Gail found herself standing in a bedroom with high ceilings. She was now a twenty-three year old woman called Joyce in the 1920s. The experience, completely new to Joyce, was strange and eerie: she was at once the woman Joyce and Gail, who was watching her. Gail experienced that Joyce was shaking with fear, fear caused by a man who was with her in the room, lying on their bed – and that man was none other than Joyce’ s husband and the man Gail knew as Roger.
And then Gail experienced the man getting up from their bed and walking towards her. Joyce was now shaking in terror and Gail’s breath changed as she watched it, and she began to hyperventilate. The regressionist asked Gail what was happening and she told her the man was strangling her. Joyce fell on her knees at the violence of the attack and then collapsed on the ground as the man continued to throttle her. However, Joyce did not die. Before that could happen, the man released her throat and walked away, leaving her on the ground, struggling to breathe.
In a later part of the regression, Gail once again felt Joyce’s terror. Joyce was in their room again, that same night, and she hears him approaching her, climbing the stairs leading to their room. As he comes near, she sees he has something in his hand, which he is hiding behind him. His eyes are cold and she breathes in the hatred that emanates from him.
He rips open her gown with the knife he was hiding behind him, and brutally stabs her with it. Gail feels choked, her breath escapes her and she realizes she is experiencing the last moments of her life as Joyce. Coming out her body and hovering in a corner of the room, Joyce watches what is happening. One of the things she witnesses is her husband’s utter shock at what he has done, his complete disbelief and intense remorse.
Further regressions reveal a sad tale of revenge and guilt spanning across life times, centuries and continents. It all started in ancient Rome where Roger and Gail in a long ago lifetime lived as brothers. The two of them loved each other deeply and thoroughly enjoyed their life as Roman citizens. In her regression, Gail sees herself as the younger brother, a blond young man filled with raw energy and impatience to win a chariot race that is about to begin. The race begins and his chariot takes off like a storm, another chariot keeping abreast with him. And then the tragedy takes place. His chariot swerves violently, hits the other chariot, the man driving that chariot is thrown off his balance and falls, his head hitting his own chariot wheel, causing an instant death. In the middle of his shock he realizes the saddest truth: the man killed by his mistake is none other than his beloved brother.
This life follows a series of lifetimes revealed by the regression, in each the elder brother is violent and vengeful, and the younger brother, Gail of this lifetime, is his victim. In one of these, Gail is a boy of seventeen, George, who lived in the Old West of America with his ill tempered, hateful, domineering father and his mother who was terrified of him. On one occasion his father catches George with his girlfriend, a girl who had grown up with him as his playmate. The two were together in the barn and they were kissing and feeling each other. The father orders George back into the house and then he rapes George’s girlfriend. One night the boy is asleep in his tent while camping out with his father in the wilderness. He wakes up hearing repeated dull thuds and realizes his father is digging something in the night. His father has been furious with him that evening about some small thing, maybe he hadn’t tied up the horses properly. Sudden realization comes: his father is digging a grave for him! And then the father hits him on the head with a shovel and he is dead and out of his body. He sees his father dragging his body to the pit he had dug and burying him in it.
The guilt that the younger brother who is now Gail felt and the need for vengeance that the older brother who is now Roger felt have lived within them life after life making both of them suffer for two thousand years, such is the power of our feelings and emotions which Krishna groups as asuri sampada and daivi sampada. While both positive feelings and negative feelings stay with us across lifetimes, it is the negative sampada that punishes us like furies that avenge. It is for this reason that Krishna tells us that those who nourish asuri sampada within them suffer hell life after life and asks us to cultivate daivi sampada, positive emotions and feelings, positive ambitions and passions and not to be slaves to negativity.
Keep away from cruelty, anger, vengeance and other dark powers. Live by daivi sampada like kindness, compassion, love for all, forgiveness and so on. That is the only wise thing to do, which is the reason why Krishna teaches us about these two types of sampadas. The Gita is meant for living by – not for memorizing, not to become scholars of, not for winning debates and arguments. We must remember that while our soul is deathless and immortal, leaving the body behind, the rest of us travel from birth to birth and as we make this journey, it is these sampada that guide us, fuel our journey. Just as everyone born must die, everyone who dies must also be born again. So long as this wheel continues, the only wise thing to do is to live by daivi sampada.
And of course, the final solution to end it all is, as India alone has pointed out, to end this cycle, to end our slavery to this cycle, a process India calls mukti or moksha, which is the other choice we have. And to achieve that, there is only way: awakening to out true nature, as eternal beings, as immortals, whom weapons cannot cut, fire cannot burn, water cannot wet, wind cannot dry; as the eternal being who cannot be cut or burnt, pierced or dried up, as the all-pervading, changeless, unmoving, ever-new reality behind the world that existed before the world came into being, as sat-chid-ananda. This awakening is what India calls jnana, direct experience beyond the senses where the knower, the process of knowing and the known all become one, what the rishis called the aparoksha anubhooti, for want of a better name.
The negative passions in our heart block all possibilities to this awakening. He who bears no ill will to anyone, who is friendly to all and full of compassion, who does not cling to things, people or possessions, who is not a slave to his ego, who remains even-minded in pain and pleasure and thus keeps his mind still, who forgives even great acts of anger and violence committed against him, who is ever content, who has great self-mastery, practices regular meditation and has for his aim this ultimate freedom, he alone attains it, as Krishna tells us in Chapter 12 of the Gita.
He by whom the world is not agitated and who cannot be agitated by the world, who is free from joy, anger, envy, fear and anxiety – it is only he who is qualified for this awakening, others live as prisoners to their negativity, obedient to it, blindly taking orders from them and executing them, as the SS commanders obeyed the evil orders of Hitler, as zombies obey the zombie master, sleep walking through life, considering themselves men of great power while they are mere slaves to powers of darkness.
And living for awakening is the only life worth living – na anyah panthaa ayanaya vidyate, as the Shwetashwaratara Upanishad tells us.
Awakened living alone is living. All other living is death.
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