"In Wonders We Sail, Questing for the Answers in Veil"

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Afterlife : Veda Vyasa And The Caterpillar - A Story That Illustrates The Significance Of Vaishnava Parana (A Force In Nature That Erase Our Past Life Memories)

Late one morning, after completing his practice on a bank of the Ganges, the sage Vyasa was returning to his ashram when he noticed a caterpillar on the roadside. It seemed to be disoriented and in a great hurry to cross the road. Nothing was chasing it and it did not seem to be looking for food, but the kind sage sensed an intense fear in the creature and stopped for a moment to see if there was anything he could do to help.The sage had the capacity to communicate with all species in creation, so he asked the caterpillar why he was frightened and where he was going in such a rush. While continuing to crawl as fast as he could, the caterpillar replied, 

“l have no time to waste. If l don't cross this road and reach safety on the other side, I'll be killed. And you'd better get off the road too, you giant caterpillar."

“How do you think you are going to be killed and why do you think you will be safe on the other side of the road?“ the sage inquired.
The caterpillar replied, “Don't you hear the deafening sound of drums and trumpets? Can't you hear the elephants and horses? A royal procession is on its way and we will be squashed if we stay on the road."
Hearing this,Vyasa's heart melted with compassion, and he made a firm decision to protect and guide the creature, not only in this lifetime but also in all the lives to come until it attained final liberation. 

“Don't worry,” he said. “l am not a giant caterpillar, but Vyasa. I will protect you. But first tell me,what is so pleasant about being a caterpillar that you do not want to die?"
Although the caterpillar could not understand what Vyasa meant, the sage's mere presence gave it a sense of security and safety. The creature's instinct told it that Vyasa would do it no harm. So it stopped its frantic race across the road and answered, 

“ls there anyone who is not afraid of dying? The pain that precedes and accompanies death lasts forever.And once I die l will lose everything—the lovely green grass,and my friends and loved ones."

At that,the caterpillar curled up and began to sob. Consoling the creature,Vyasa said,

 "Don't worry.I ll protect your from being crushed by the royal possession.But death is inevitable; sooner or later,everyone dies.Real safety comes from knowing the cause of birth and death and removing it once for all.With my yogic power,I will grant you the memory of your previous lives,as far back as your last human birth.Then tell me your story of your transmigration."

The caterpillar instantly gained the memories of several lifetimes and began its story.

 "Born in an brahmin family,I was a highly educated and respected teacher," the caterpillar said."I had a large following.People are enchanted by my discourses,and I was amused by their gullibility.I was quite arrogant,even as a student.I always thought my teachers slow and dull-witted.I was proud of myself and of the fact that within a matter of months I could master scriptures which my teachers had learned only after several years of intense study.My teachers knew I was arrogant ,egoistical,and even disrespectful to them,but they always treated me gently and lovingly.I interpreted their treatment as weakness and timidity.This attitude became the leading trait of my personality."

The caterpillar continued,"Later on,when I became a teacher of myself,I was convinced that everyone else in the world was dull-witted.I never practiced the philosophy I taught,and still I was considered an expert teacher.this made me feel that the system of philosophy and spirituality were nothing but intellectual theories.And because my intellectual knowledge did not transform me,I thought all other learned people were just like me.I concluded that everyone in the past and the present had been teaching for the sake of livelihood,pretending to be highly evolved spiritually.I believed that everyone in the world was hypocrite,and therefore there was nothing wrong with my being a hypocrite too.

"I taught others to be selfless and God-minded.I inspired them to practice purity,simplicity, non-possessiveness,and contentment.I pretend that I myself practiced all these virtues,but I did not.In fact,when I was by myself I used to laugh at those who believed in me and followed me with such trust.I lived a luxurious life,enjoying wine,women,and sumptuous food.

"Occasionally a voice came from within telling me I was not on the right path,but I suppressed it with the force of my reason.I was so preoccupied with pleasures that I never realized there was a constant war going on in my inner world."

To cut the story short."I eventually became old and sick.And finally,when I was on my deathbed I started seeing myself more clearly than than I had during my youth.But it was too late.At that point my crafty intellect told me to identify myself as a jnani yogi [an aspirant on the path of knowledge] so I could throw all my actions into the fire of knowledge.But a voice form within said,'You self-proclaimed wise man,the scriptures are not to be distorted for your convenience.'

"I was filled with remorse at the time of death and so I swam the river of my mind very painfully.It seemed like eons before I reached the other shore-the point of conclusion,where I clearly saw the sum of myself and the actions performed by me in that lifetime.My conscience,the bookkeeper,told me that I had been a chameleon.So I was next born as a chameleon and in that life I had to change my color to camouflage myself in order to catch my prey,or safely lift a dew drop from a blade of grass to quench my thirst. Later I was born as an elephant, but despite my strength and intelligence I was controlled by a mahout who sat on my neck and forced me to work at trident-point. I also remember being a snake, a donkey, and many other creatures.

“Each time I was between births I remembered the reason for being trapped in the body of such a species and I prayed to God to help me.I resolved not to commit the mistake of killing my conscience as I had in my human birth, but always right after being born I found myself totally occupied with the urges of hunger, sleep, procreation, and self-preservation, and this caused me to forget the prayers and the resolutions I had made. Even now as a caterpillar I have had no idea of anything other than these urges.Am I again going to lose these memories, which I have received through your grace?

“The memory of myself as a human forces me to ask you some questions: Who or what caused me to be born as a chameleon, elephant, or caterpillar: my own conscience, God, nature, destiny? Why did I remember about myself, my actions, and their consequences while I was between births,and why did I forget afterwards? Is this the ease with everybody, or only with me?"

Vyasa replied, “In truth it is your own conscience that has directed you to go through the cycle of birth and death, assuming diffcrent bodies.Conscience has its source in the Atman,the universal self.Atman abides in you.It is the supreme truth,and conscience is its light.The light of conscience sees no distinction between you and those whom you love or hate,because conscience is a thread that runs throughout nature,God, and destiny. In every circumstance you are accompanied by your conscience, and all actions-physical, verbal,or mental-are witnessed by it. Therefore conscience is called ‘the eye of God,‘ and it is through your conscience that you reward or punish yourself. Just as a patch of cloud is smaller than the sun and yet can veil it to human sight, the forces of mind, intellect, reason, and logic veil this inner light. But sooner or later it shines forth.

“The light of conscience clearly told you that you had been a chameleon,so you became a chameleon.And by becoming a chameleon you discharged the karmas you gathered through your hypocritical deeds as a human. But had you not forgotten that you had been human, you would not have been happy as a chameleon, an elephant, a snake, a donkey, or any of the other bodies you assumed; you would have been miserable in those forms.The feelings of shame, regret, guilt, and self-condemnation would have been intense when you met and recognized the people you misled during that lifetime and they recognized you! By forgetting everything, you completed the normal course of life with relative ease. Had you remembered,you would have brooded about your past. But because you were ignorant, you had to deal only with your current circumstances."

“Those who are not fully established in the principle of Vairagya [nonattachment] are always victims of their thoughts,memories, and emotions. Realizing this, nature throws a blanket of forgetfulness over our mind, thus granting us freedom from memories and their attendant anxieties. Nature does this with the help of vaishnava prana."

“But by doing so, vaishnava prana also deleted the lesson I had learned," the caterpillar argued.

The sage replied, "You did not learn any lesson.You simply became the victim of the consequences of your actions. What you think of as a lesson was nothing more than a momentary emotional outburst.And even that came very late.Learning a lesson requires a properly organized mind,a sharpened intellect,and a strong power of determination-conditions available only in human life.When you lived in the body of a chameleon,snake or caterpillar you had no tools with which to correct your actions or to clean up the mess you created as a human. 

"Vaishnava Prana,which erases all memories before birth,is an act of grace; it erases not only your memory but the memories of all those affected by your actions.Because they too lack memory,they do not hold you responsible for your actions,nor do they feel animosity towards you.In this manner Vaishnava Prana cleans up the mess and grants you the freedom from the animosity,revenge,and remorse wich would otherwise follow you from life to life.

"Through my yogic powers you remembered only your past,not the past of those who were associated with you when you were human.Furthermore,you remembered yourself and consequences for your actions only up to this moment,not beyond.Now let me reveal a further portion of your story to you.

"One day,when you were a famous teacher,you led a procession riding on the back of an elephant.Your followers joined you,putting on an impressive show.Today as a caterpillar you are afraid of being crushed by those whose honor and dignity you yourself crushed.By the grace of Vaishnava Prana,they do not remember you,nor do you remember them.And yet nature has granted you the opportunity to pay off your karma."

"It makes sense that while living in the body of a less evolved species we forget about our human life and its events," the caterpillar humbly replied."But these memories can act as a beacon when we are reborn as a human. So why is it necessary for vaishnava prana, which is an active manifestation of grace, to wipe out memories?”

Vyasa replied, “Humans have a greater sense of self-identity and possessiveness than other species. The attachment, desire, hatred, jealousy, greed, animosity, friendship,love, cruelty, sympathy, and insensitivity they harbor in their present lives make their lives complicated enough. If memories of past lives brought more of these same thoughts, feelings,and sentiments forward, how would humans conduct their lives? How, for example, could a man raise his child lovingly if he knew that this same child had murdered him in a past lifetime?
"Now that you know your own personal story, which unveils just a fraction of the complex dynamics of karma and its effect on your deaths and rebirths, tell me, do you want me to put you on the other side of the road?”
The caterpillar replied, “Sir, although I am still afraid of death, I am more concerned about permanent safety. I surrender myself to you. Please, you decide."
“I will leave you on the road,” Vyasa replied. “By using your instincts as a caterpillar and your physical ability, try to crawl in the direction which seems safest to you as fast as you can. If destiny dictates that you remain alive, you will reach safety.

“Don't be afraid of dying. With my blessings, from now on you will have no pain either during the time of death or at birth. You will retain the memory of the lifetimes you have recalled today, and you will also have knowledge of all your lifetimes yet to come until you attain final liberation.However, after death you will lose your memory for a moment, and then regain it after destiny has placed you in the body in which you are to he born next.

“Your next human birth will be your last. In this birth you will enlighten an ardent seeker, Nanda Bhadra, and soon after that you will attain freedom from the cycle of birth and death.”

The caterpillar's story gives us some idea of why we die and are reborn.The opportunity for self-transformation and for climbing the ladder of spiritual evolution is found only in human life. That is why the Upanishads say, “If we can attain self-realization before the destruction of the body, the purpose of life is fulfilled. If not, we remain caught in the cycle of transmigration and continue going from one body to another.That is the greatest loss."

Other Articles On Karma and Afterlife In This Blog :
Afterlife : The Divine Helps Those Who Helps Themselves
Afterlife : Rebirth,The Return Of The Soul Explained By Vedas

Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, Ph.D
The Himalayan Institute

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