By Swami Harshananda
Concept of Janma and Maraṇa
Birth and death have been an inscrutable mystery to man right from the ancient days. While solving this mystery, several theories have been put forward. If death or maraṇa is considered by some as total annihilation of the human personality, others accept the survival of soul after death which goes to either heaven or hell, depending upon the deeds done here.
Both the views don't have much to say on the causes of birth. The third view, as held by the sages, is that the soul is eternally existing, having neither birth nor death. It is the body takes birth and dies again and again. The soul is made to incarnate in the body by an eternal law of God, the kind of body, the duration of life and the various experiences in life being determined by the karma or the moral deserts of that soul carried over from the previous lives. Every being that is born has to die one day. The manner of death depends upon the soul’s karma.
Signs of Maraṇa
Maraṇa or death can come to a person due to natural causes like old age or diseases, or it can be caused by unnatural causes like accident, suicide, murder or capital punishment. It is interesting to note that the scriptures describe certain signs as indicative of approaching death. Some of them are:
- Not seeing the star Arundhati or the polestar or the full-moon even though there is perfect visibility
- Seeing the orb of the moon or the sun with a hole in it
- Smelling the odor of a corpse even though fragrant substances are near
- Not hearing the humming or the internal noise when the ears are closed
- Not seeing one’s reflection in another’s eyes standing in front
- Dreaming of an ass
- Dreaming of an old maid or a trident
All the above mentioned peculiarities prognosticates imminent death.
Relation With Next Birth
The scriptures also stress the point that the last thought at the time of death can determine the next birth. For instance if the death is caused while fighting for dharma or to protect a righteous person in danger, it has been considered glorious.
Scriptures have permitted religious suicide in certain cases such as jīvanmukti, decrepitude due to extreme old-age, incurable diseases causing unbearable suffering or as a prāyaścitta for heinous crimes.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore