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The Third Place

Karma and Reincarnation

How Soul Departs after Death

Process of Detachment

How the self departs

Soul's Journey after Death

The Two Paths




By HH Sri Swami Sivananda Saraswati



The Jiva or the individual soul along with Pranas, the mind and the senses leaves his former body and obtains a new body. He takes with himself Avidya, virtues and vicious actions and the impressions left by his previous births.

Just as a caterpillar takes hold of another object before it leaves its hold of an object, so also the soul has the vision of the body to come, before it leaves the present body. Hence the view of the Sankhyas that the self and the organs are both all-pervading and when obtaining a new body only begin to function in it on account of Karma; the view of the Bauddhas that the soul alone without the organs begins to function in a new body, new senses being formed like the new body; the view of the Vaiseshikas that the mind alone goes to the new body and the view of the Digambara Jains that the soul only flies away from the old body and alights on the new one just as a parrot flies from one tree to another, are not correct and are opposed to the Vedas. The soul goes from the body accompanied by the mind, Prana, the senses and the Sukshmabhutas or elements.

The soul takes with it the subtle parts of the elements that are the seeds of the new body. All the elements accompany the soul.

When he departs, the chief Prana departs after him and when the Prana thus departs, all the other Pranas depart after it. They cannot stay without the basis or substratum or support of the elements. The subtle elements or Tamaris form the base for the moving Pranas.

There can be enjoyment only when the Prana goes to another body. The essence of the elements is the vehicle of the Pranas. Where the elements are, there the organs and Pranas are. They are never separated. The soul could not enter into the new body without Prana.

The Pranas and the senses remain at the time of death quite inoperative for accompanying the departing soul.

The materials like milk, curds etc., that are offered as oblations in sacrifices assume a subtle form called Apurva and attach themselves to the sacrificer. The Jivas then go enveloped by water, which is supplied by the materials that are offered as oblations in sacrifices.

The water forming the oblation assumes the subtle form of Apurva, envelopes the souls and leads them to Heaven to receive their rewards. Those who perform sacrifices give enjoyment to the gods in heaven and rejoice with them. They become serviceable companions to the gods. They contribute to the enjoyment of the gods by their presence and service in that world. They enjoy themselves in the Chandraloka and return to the earth at the end of their store of merit.

The souls that descend from heaven have a remnant of Karma, which determines their birth. The souls return to the earth by the force of some un-enjoyed remnants of Karma. When the totality of works which helped the souls to go to the Chandraloka for enjoyment of the fruits of good deeds is exhausted, then the body made up of water which has originated there for the sake of enjoyment is dissolved by the fire of sorrow springing from the thought that the enjoyment comes to an end, just as hailstones melt by contact with the rays of the sun, just as ghee melts by contact with fire. Then the souls come down with the remainder of Karma yet to be exhausted.

We read in the Chhandogya Upanishad V. 107: "Those whose conduct during the previous life has been good presently obtain good birth, such as the birth of a Brahmin, a Kshatriya, or a Vaishya; those whose conduct has been bad presently obtain some evil birth such as that of a dog or a Pig."


The Smriti says: "The members of the different castes and of the different orders of life who are engaged in the works prescribed for them, after leaving this world and enjoying the fruits of their works in other world, are born again owing to the un-enjoyed portion of their rewards, in distinguished castes and families, with special beauty, longevity, knowledge, conduct, property, comfort and intelligence." Hence the soul is born with residual Karma.

Some capital sins like the killing of a Brahmin involve many births. The soul descends by the route by which he went to a certain stage and then by a different route.

The sinners do not go to Chandraloka. They go to Yama Loka or the world of punishment and after having experienced the results of their evil deeds come down to the earth.

Hells are places of torture for the evildoers. The temporary abodes are Raurava, Maha Raurava, Vahni, Vaitarani and Kumbhika. The two eternal hells are Tamisra (darkness) and Andhatamisra (blinding darkness). Chitragupta and others superintend the seven hells. Yama is the chief ruler in those seven hells also. Chitragupta and others are only superintendents and lieutenants employed by Yama. They are all under Yama's government and suzerainty. Yama directs Chitragupta and others.



 The Sruti says that those who do not go by means of Vidya along the path of Devayana to Brahmaloka or by means of Karma along the path of Pitriyana to Chandraloka are born often in low bodies and die often. The evildoers go to the third place (Tritiyam Sthaanam). The Sruti passage says: "Now those who go along neither of these paths become those small creatures like flies, worms, etc., continually returning, of whom it may be said: 'Live and Die'. Theirs is the third place. The sinners are called small creatures because they assume the bodies of insects, gnats, etc. Their place is called the third place because it is neither Brahmaloka, nor the Chandraloka.

"The souls return the way they went, to the ether, from ether to air. Then the sacrifices having become air becomes smoke; having become smoke he becomes mist; having become mist, he becomes cloud; having become cloud he rains down. The souls do not attain identity with ether, air, etc. They become only like ether, air, etc. They assume a subtle form like ether, come under the influence or power of air and get mixed or connected with smoke etc. The soul passes through them quickly.

"Having become cloud he rains down. Then he is born as rice, corn, herbs, tree, sesame and beans. From them the escape is beset with most difficulties. For, whoever the person may he who eats the food and begets offspring, he henceforth becomes like unto them." (Chhandogya Upanishad. 10.5.)

The soul's journey through the stages of   the ether, air, vapor or smoke, mist, cloud and rain takes shorter time than its passing through the stages of corn, semen, fetus, which takes a much longer time of hard suffering.

Narada Purana says: "He who has begun to descend will enter the mother's womb before a year passes since starting, though wandering through different places."

The souls are merely connected with rice and plants which are already animated by other souls and do not enjoy their pleasures and pains. They become connected with those plants.

The souls use the rice and plants as their halting station without being identified with them. They do not lose their identity.

Chhandogya Upanishad declares: "Whoever eats the food and performs the act of generation, that again the soul becomes" (V. 10. 6). The soul gets connected with one who performs the act of generation. The descending soul becomes again that food and that semen. The soul remains in him in copulation only till he enters into the mother's womb with the semen injected. He has a touch with the seminal fluid created by eating such grain and ultimately attains a body in the womb.

He attains a fully developed human body in the womb of the mother that is fit for experiencing the fruits of the remainder of works. The family in which he is to be born is regulated by the nature of the remainder as mentioned in Chhandogya Up. V. 10-7: "Of these, those whose conduct here has been good will quickly attain good birth, the birth of a Brahmin, or a Kshatriya or a Vaishya. But those, whose, conduct here has been bad will quickly attain an evil birth, of a dog, or a hog, or a Chandala."

The whole object of teaching this law of incarnation is that you should realize that the Atman or the Absolute alone is the highest bliss. The Atman alone must be your sole object of quest. You should get disgusted with this world of pain and sorrow and develop dispassion, discrimination and try earnestly to attain the eternal bliss of the Absolute.

O ignorant man! O foolish man! O miserable man! O deluded soul! Wake up from your long slumber of ignorance. Open your eyes. Develop the four means of salvation and attain the goal of life, the summum bonum, right now, in this very birth. Come out of this cage of flesh. You have been long imprisoned in this prison-house of body from time immemorial. You have been dwelling in the womb again and again. Cut the knot of Avidya and soar high in the realms of eternal Bliss.


 Death is the separation of the soul from the body. All the sorrow of man comes from the body. The sage has no fear of death, because he identifies himself with the All-pervading, Immortal Soul.

Karma and rebirth are the two great pillars of Hinduism as well as Buddhism. He who does not believe in these two great truths cannot grasp the essence of these two religions.


You can overcome pain and sorrow, if you know the meaning of sorrow, pain, suffering and death. The phenomenon of death sets the human mind to think deeply. All philosophy springs from the phenomenon of death. Philosophy is really study of death. The highest philosophy in India starts with the subject of death. Study the Bhagavad-Gita Gita, Kathopanishad and Chhandogya Upanishad, which treat this subject. Death is a call to reflect and to seek the goal of Truth, the Eternal Brahman.

Death is nothing but the change of body. The soul throws it off like a used garment. Human life is getting purged and perfected in order to attain the final bliss. This takes place through myriads of births.

According to Hinduism, life is one continuous never-ending process. All change is only change of environment and embodiment. The soul is Immortal. It takes one form after another on account of its own actions. Hinduism is based on two fundamental doctrines, viz., the law of Karma and the law of transmigration. Death is only a necessary and passing phenomenon. Just as you move from one house to another, the soul passes from one body to another to gain experiences.

The soul that passes out of the body after death is termed 'Preta', one that is bound on its onward march to the Beyond. The soul in its disembodied form hovers about its original and familiar places for ten days. It is in the form of a ghost during these ten days. The astral body takes shape from day to day with the formation of the head, eyes, and other limbs of the Linga Sarira, fed and nourished by the sesame and water poured out in libation over the stones which represent the ancestors.

The soul is fully embodied on the eleventh day. It starts on its journey to the judgment seat of Lord Yama, the God of death. It takes one full year from the time of death to reach Lord Yama's place. The path is beset with obstacles, distress and difficulties. The man who has done the wickedest deeds suffers more. But the difficulties can be removed and the journey be rendered easy and comfortable by the oblations and offerings given by the son of the deceased during the first year of the soul's journey and by feeding pure and learned Brahmins. The son should offer rice-balls to the father, without weeping. Death is certain for those who are born, and birth is certain for the dead. This is inevitable. Therefore, you should not grieve over it. The ten days' rites should not be neglected. The son should perform the Sapinda ceremony on the twelfth day and the sixteen monthly offerings. The soul is sustained on its onward march to the judgment seat by the libations offered to it by the son.

The soul is scorched on the way by intense heat, but the gift of an umbrella by his son on the eleventh day gives pleasant shade above his head. The path is full of great thorns, but the gift of shoes helps him to go riding on horses. The miseries of cold, heat and wind are dreadful there, but he goes happily along the way by the power of gift of clothes. There is great heat and there is no water, but drinks water when thirsty, through the gift of a water-pot by his son. The son should make a gift of a cow.

Chitragupta, the recorder of facts, the Accountant General in the Kingdom of Lord Yama, informs the soul of his good and bad actions in his earthly life after the end of one full year. The soul leaves off its Pretatva or the garb of a traveler on this day. He is raised to the status of a Pitru or Ancestor.

Ancestor-worship is one of the fundamental doctrines of Hinduism. There are three stages in the ancestral life viz., father, grandfather and great grandfather, and mother, grandmother and great grandmother. These are the ancestors to any one living here. He who has done meritorious actions on this earth-life becomes united with his ancestors in the Pitru Loka and lives with them.

Those who have given up the performance of Shraddha, Tarpana and other religious rites on account of wrong influence, ignorance and egoism have done great harm to their ancestors and themselves. They should wake up now. They should start doing these ceremonies, from now. It is not too late.

May you all obtain the blessings of your ancestors through performance of anniversaries and other rites, and regular ancestor-worship!

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At the time of death when the breathing becomes difficult the Jiva or the individual self that is in the body goes out making noises. Just as a cart heavily loaded goes on creaking, so does the Jiva creaks while the Prana departs.

The Jiva or the individual self has the subtle body as its limiting adjunct. It moves between this and the next world as between the waking and the dream states. It moves from birth to death. While in birth it associates itself with the physical body and the organs, in death it disassociates with them. The departure of the soul is immediately followed by the departure of the vital force. It is presided over by the Supreme self-luminous Atman. It is through the light of the self that the man sits, moves and does his daily duties.

The subtle, body has the vital force or Prana as its chief constituent. It is revealed by the self-luminous Atman. When the subtle body rises up, the Atman also seems to go with it. Otherwise how can the self, being unified with the Supreme Self, go on making noises like a cart? It goes on making noises because the pain afflicts it as the vital parts are being slashed. Loss of memory is caused as a result of this vital and excruciating pain. He is then put in a helpless state of mind on account of the pangs felt. Therefore, he is unable to adopt the requisite means for his well being, before that crisis comes. He must be alert in practicing the means conducive to that end. He is not able to think of God.


In old age, the body becomes thin and emaciated on account of fever and other diseases. When the body is extremely emaciated by fever and other causes, dyspnea sets in and at this stage the man goes making noises like the overloaded cart.

The causes of death are many and indefinite. Man is ever in the jaws of death. Death overtakes him suddenly when he is least prepared for it. He ever thinks that he will escape death or even if he believes in death to be certain he expects it only at a very distant date. Just as the mango, fig or the fruit of the Peepal tree is detached from its stalk, so does this Infinite being completely detached himself from the parts of the body, again go in the same way that he came to particular bodies, for the enfoldment of his vital force. The self that is identified with the subtle body completely detaches itself from the parts of the body such as the eye, etc. He is not able to preserve the body through the vital force at the time of his departure. Just as he detaches himself from the body and the organs, and enters deep sleep, even so, he detaches himself from this body during death and attaches himself to another. As frequently a man moves from the dream to the waking, from the waking to the dream and thence to deep sleep, so often he transmigrates from one body to another. He has transmigrated from many such bodies in the past and will continue to do so in the future as well. He gets his future birth according to his past work, knowledge and so forth. He goes from one body to another, only for the enfoldment of the vital force. It is by this vital force, that he fulfils his objective viz., the enjoyment of the fruits of his work. The vital force is only auxiliary to the enjoyment of the fruits of his work and hence the specification: "For the enfoldment of his vital force."

The Jiva has adopted the whole universe as his means to the realization of the fruits of his work and he is going from one body to another to fulfill this objective. Therefore the whole universe implied by his work waits for him with the requisite means for the realization of the fruits of his work made ready. The Satapatha Brahmana says, "A man is born into the body that has been made for him" (VI-ii. 2-27). It is analogous to the case of a man about to return from the dream to the waking state.


When the king of a country pays a visit to some place within his kingdom, the leaders of the particular village anticipating the king's arrival wait on him with varieties of food, drink, beautiful mansions for his stay, etc. They say, "Here he comes, here he comes". So do the elements and the presiding deities. Indra and the rest, who help the organs to function, wait upon the departing soul with the means of enjoying the fruits of his work. They secure for him a suitable body to enjoy the fruits of his actions.

When the king wishes to depart, the particular leaders of the village approach him unbidden simply by knowing that he wishes to go, so do all the organs approach the departing man, the experiencer of the fruits of his work, at the time of death. The organs approach him when the breathing becomes difficult knowing that he wishes to depart. They do not go at the command of the departing self. They go of their own accord knowing the wish of their commander.



It has already been stated that the self completely detaches itself from the body and the organs at the time of death. When the self becomes weak and senseless the organs come to it. It is not the self that becomes weak; it is the body. But the weakness of self is figuratively spoken of. The self, being formless can never by itself become weak. So is the case with senselessness. People attribute to the self, the state of helplessness noticeable at the time of death, which is caused by the withdrawal of the organs. So they say, "Oh, he has become senseless!"

When the man is about to die, the various organs withdraw themselves into their original sources and help no more the function of the organs. In death there is a complete withdrawal of the organs into the heart or the heart-lotus or Akasha of the heart. But in the state of dream the organs are not absolutely withdrawn. Here lies the difference between sleep and death.

In the case of the organ, eye, the being associated with the eye, which is a part of the Sun, goes on helping the functions of the eye, while alive. In death, he ceases to help the eye and is merged in his own self, the Sun. In like manner, all the organs merge themselves in their respective presiding deities e.g., speech in Fire, the vital force in Vayu etc. The respective organs together with their presiding deities occupy their respective places when the man takes another body. This merging and reappearing take place every day during sleep. When the presiding deity of the eye withdraws from all sides, the dying man fails to notice color. At this time the self completely withdraws the particles of light, as in the dream state.

Every organ becomes united with the subtle body of the dying man. It is then, people at his side say of him, "He does not see now." Thus when one by one all the presiding deities of organs withdraw and merge into the cause, the respective organ stops functioning. Then the dying man hears not, sees not, smells not, speaks not and becomes senseless. He loses his consciousness forever. He never remembers he is Mr. so-and-so and that he belongs to such-and-such a caste, etc. He loses his understanding, memory and waking consciousness. The external world becomes void for him. The organs are then united in the heart.

In the subtle body the self-effulgent intelligence of the Atman is always particularly manifest. It is because of this limiting adjunct that the self comes under relative existence involving all such changes as birth and death and going and coming.


The passage of the self from the body varies according to the number of good actions done by the Jiva and the knowledge gained by him. If he has a good store of virtuous deeds and relative knowledge that would take him to the Sun, the self leaves the body through the eye. It leaves through the head if he is entitled to the world of Hiranyagarbha. It leaves through other passages according to its past work and knowledge.

When the individual self departs for the next world the vital force or Prana also departs. When Prana departs all the other organs too depart. The self has particular consciousness as in dreams in consequence of its past work. It does not have independent consciousness. If it had independent consciousness everybody would achieve the end of his life. A man attains whatever he thinks of at the moment of death if he has always been imbued with that idea. Everybody has, at the moment, a consciousness that consists of impressions in the form of particular modification of the mind. He goes to the body, which is related to that consciousness. Therefore, in order to have freedom of action at the time of death, those aspirants who desire emancipation should be very alert in the practice of Yoga and right knowledge and the acquisition of merits during their lifetime.

The self, journeying to the next world is followed by knowledge of all sorts. It has the full knowledge of both the works enjoined and prohibited. It carries the impressions of experiences regarding every action that it performed in the past incarnations. These impressions play an active part in molding the character of the Jiva in the next birth. His fresh actions in the next birth are motivated by the impressions of actions of past life. The senses attain skill in performing certain works even without much practice in this life. It is observed generally that some are very skilful in painting. They can excel the best painter even without any practice. There are others who cannot do the same work even after much practice. All this is due to the revival or non-revival of the past impressions.

Knowledge, work and past experience are the three factors in deciding the future of an individual. One should, therefore, cultivate virtues; perform good actions so that he may attain a desirable and agreeable body with desirable enjoyments.

The organs are all pervading and all comprising. Their limitation in the sphere of the body and the elements is due to the work, knowledge and past experiences of men. Therefore, although the organs are naturally all pervading and infinite, since the new body is made in accordance with the person's work, knowledge and past impressions, the functions of the organs also contract or expand accordingly.

Just as a leech supported on a straw goes to the end of it, takes hold of another support and contracts itself, so does the self throw its body aside, make it senseless, take hold of another support and contract itself.

Just as a goldsmith takes apart a little quantity of gold and fashions another, a newer and better form, so does the self throws this body away, or make it senseless and makes another, a newer and better form, suited for the enjoyments in the world of the manes, celestials, gods or Hiranyagarbha.

Desire is the root-cause of transmigration. Being attached to the desires the individual soul attains that result to which his subtle body or mind is attached. Exhausting the results, of whatever work he did in this life, he returns from that world to this for fresh work. Thus, this is the man who desires to transmigrate. But the man, who does not desire, never transmigrates. He who is free from desires, the objects of whose desires have been attained and for who all objects of desire are but the Self____ he is merged in Brahman. To a knower of Brahman who has routed out his desires, work will produce no baneful result; for the Sruti says: "For the one who has completely attained the objects of his desires and realized the Self, all his desires dissolve in this very life" ____ Mundaka Upanishad.


The soul accompanied by the chief vital air (Mukhya Prana), the sense-organs and the mind and taking with itself Avidya, good and evil actions and the impressions left by his previous existence, leaves its former body and obtains a new body.

When the soul passes from one body to another he is enveloped by the subtle parts of the elements, which are the seeds of the new body.

He rises on the road leading through the smoke and so on, to the sphere of the moon. After enjoying the fruits of his good actions he again descends to the earth with a remainder of the works, by the way he went or differently. 

When the Karma, which gave the soul a birth as a god in heaven, is exhausted, the remaining Karma, good or bad, brings him back to the earth. Otherwise it is difficult to explain the happiness or misery of a newborn child.

It is not possible that in one life the entire Karma of the previous life is worked out. Because a man might have done both good and bad deeds, as a result of which he is born as a god, or an animal. The working out of both kinds of Karmas simultaneously in one birth is not possible. Hence although the result of virtuous actions is exhausted by the enjoyment of heaven, there are other Karmas in store according to which a man is born again in good or bad environments.

The soul has a vision of the body to come. Just as a leech or caterpillar takes hold of another object before it leaves its hold of an object, the soul visualizes the body to come, before he leaves the present body.

The view that after death the entire store of Karmas about to bear fruit, fructifies and hence, those who return from Chandraloka do so without any remainder of work, is wrong. Supposing that some of those Karmas can be enjoyed only in one kind of birth and some in another, how could they combine in one birth? We cannot say that one portion ceases to bear fruit. There is no such cessation except by Prayaschitta or expiation. If the entire Karmas bear fruit, there will be no cause for rebirth after life in heaven or hell or in animal-bodies because in these there is no means of Dharma or Adharma. Moreover, some sins like the killing of a Brahmin involve many births. Sri Madhvacharya writes in his Bhashya of Brahma Sutras that from the fourteenth year of age onwards the Jiva, of necessity, does works. Such works would be the cause of at least ten births. How then can the entirety of Karmas lead to one birth alone?



The Uttara Marga or Devayana path or Northern path or the path of light is the path by which the Yogins go to Brahma. This path leads to salvation. This path takes the devotee to Brahmaloka. Having reached the world of the gods he comes to the world of Agni, to the world of Vayu, to the world of Varuna, to the world of Indra, to the world of Prajapati, and finally to the world of Brahma.

They go to light, from light to day, from day to the waxing half of the moon, from the waxing half of the moon to the six months when the Sun goes to the North, from those six months to the year, from the year to the Aditya.

When the person goes away from this world he comes to Vayu. Then Vayu makes room for him like the hole of a wheel and through it he mounts higher till he comes to Aditya.

From the moon to the lightning, there is a person, not a man (Amanava Purusha), who leads him to Brahma.

The bright path is the path, to the Devas, Devayana of the devotees; the bright path is open to the devotees.


The Pitriyana path or the path of darkness or the path of ancestors leads to rebirth. Those who do sacrifices to gods and other charitable works with expectation of fruits go to the Chandraloka through this path and come back to this world when their fruits of Karmas are exhausted.

There are smoke and dark-colored objects throughout the course. There is no illumination when one passes along this path. It is reached through Avidya or ignorance. Hence it is called the path of darkness or smoke. The dark path leads to the Pitrus or forefathers. Pitriyana or the Karmins who do sacrifices or charitable acts with expectation of fruits take to this path.

These two paths are not open to every one. The bright path is open to the devotees and the dark path to the Karmins. Samsara is eternal and so are the paths eternal too.

The Pranas of Jivanmuktas who have attained knowledge of the Self do not depart. They are absorbed in Brahman. The Jivanmuktas who attain Kaivalya-Moksha or immediate salvation have no place to go to or return from. They become one with the All-pervading Brahman.

Knowing the nature of the two paths and their consequences, the Yogi never loses his discrimination. The Yogi who knows that the path of Devayana or the path of light leads to Moksha (Krama Mukti) and the path of darkness to Samsara or the world of births and deaths is no longer deluded. Knowledge of these two paths serves as a compass or beacon-light to guide the Yogi's steps at every moment.