By Swami Harshananda
Eschatology literally means ‘System of doctrines concerning death and after-life’.
The scriptures do not consider death as the end of life. They teach that there is life after the death of this physical body and all the actions observed in a life properly lived do not go in vain. Eschatology has following four aspects:
- The first gives a prediction of the approach of death
- The second gives the rites to be performed by the dying person's near relatives
- The third deals with the obsequies to be undertaken just after death to one year
- The fourth gives an account of what happens to the jīva after death
The fourth aspect is clearly guided by the theory of karma and rebirth. In the Upaniṣads, three destinies are indicated for a dead person:
- To be reborn again and again which entails lots of sufferings
- Go to pitṛloka by the dhumādimārga or pitṛyāna
- Go to Brahmaloka by the arcirādimārga or Devayāna from which there is no return.
Signals of Death
Some of the signs that indicate the approach of death as described in the Śāntiparva of the Mahābhārata and the purāṇas like the Vāyupurāna, Mārkandeyapurāna and Liñgapurāna includes:
- Not being able to see the star Arundhati or the pole-star or the full- moon
- Not seeing one’s own reflection in the eyeball of another
- Seeing the orb of the moon with a hole in it
- Smelling hot obnoxious odor of a corpse even though fragrant substances are brought near
- Loss of bodily heat
- Sudden oozing of moisture from the left eye
- Not hearing the humming sound in the ear, when the ears are closed with the fingers
- Not seeing the light when the eyes are closed and pressed by the fingers
- Dreaming of an ass or a triśula
Merits of Life
- From the pitṛloka, which is like svarga, there is return to this world after exhausting the fruits of all merit.
- Those who have committed heinous crimes, called ‘mahāpātakas’ go to abominable hells like andhatāmisra, raurava or kumbhīpāka. The purāṇas enumerate as many as 32 such hells. They are probably different sections in the torture chambers of Yama, the lord of death and netherworld.
- Those who have led a good life and performed meritorious deeds as prescribed in the holy books, go to higher worlds such as svarga, maharloka, janaloka and tapoloka to enjoy themselves.
- In both these cases, the souls return to the bhuloka, to continue the journey towards perfection.
- Mahāpātakas are the murder of a brāhmaṇa or incest.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore