The unconscious mind is the storehouse of the subtle impressions of all of our past deeds. It is the treasury of our convictions and beliefs. Normally, the memories pertaining to the recent past disappear, giving room to long-cherished memories and habit patterns. At the threshold of death, as the nervous system, brain, and conscious mind collapse, our consciousness begins to sink into the vast abyss of our unconscious mind and its numberless impressions of the past. This is where the scriptures add the flavor of myth to the process of the journey beyond death.

No one outside us assigns us to heaven or hell, not even God.

At the time of death the devil of loneliness hovers over our head. In desperation, we seek someone to hold our hand. If we are lucky, we have our loved ones around to give their hands. At some point, even that comfort is taken away when we sink into unconsciousness. This is when our beliefs and convictions assume their distinct forms. Our vices and virtues come to life. Our unresolved conflicts begin to tear us apart. Guilt attempts to put our soul on fire. We are terrified to face our own conscience. This is when, as mythology explains, the Messenger of Death comes. Despite our unwillingness, he pulls our soul out of the body. He makes us follow him to the world beyond. If we resist, he ties us with his rope and drags us along the road. Before reaching the destination we have to cross a river known as Vaitarani.

Vaitarani is an amazing river. This river flows between two worlds—the world made of man-made concepts and precepts, and the world that transcends all. To virtuous people, its current is calm and its water crystal-clear. To sinners, however, it is tumultuous, muddy, and filled with crocodiles. This river is simultaneously a living goddess of mercy and a demon of horror. It is miraculous in the sense that it presents specific forms and unveils unique attributes in response to the deceased soul’s vices and virtues. Everyone must cross this river. Truly fortunate are those who wake up to the reality that this inescapable river is nothing other than our own mind and who befriend it long before the Messenger of Death knocks at the door.

On the other shore of this river lies the world of disembodied souls, a world that does not conform to the rules and laws of our time and space. This world is made of the likes and dislikes that propelled our actions while we lived on earth. It mirrors the perceived values we held so dear while we were alive. Its size and shape are exactly the same as the size and shape of our mind. For those who embraced the principle of forgiveness while they lived on earth, this world is ruled by the unfettered laws of mercy and kindness. For them, this world is heaven. It is filled with all the pleasures and comforts. However, this world is completely empty for those who busied themselves meeting the needs of their senses and running hungrily after power, fame, and worldly possessions. In this barren land they go hungry. For them it is hell.

The unconscious mind is the storehouse of the subtle impressions of all of our past deeds.

No one outside us assigns us to heaven or hell, not even God. Our conscience is the judge who decides that we get what we deserve. In this respect, neither is heaven a reward nor is hell a punishment, but rather, going to heaven or hell is a choice that we make while we are alive. Those who mindfully attend to their human qualities and attributes and make a sincere effort to refine those characteristics create a heavenly condition for themselves here and now. In the attempt to become fully developed, they put themselves on the path of self-transformation. They examine their strengths and weaknesses, make an effort to overcome their shortcomings, and infuse their mind and heart with higher virtues.

As a result, they transcend their trivial self and rid themselves of their petty behaviors. This leads them to cultivate a taste for higher values. They are no longer attracted to the short-lived charms and temptations of the world. This is called cultivating the taste for heaven here and now. This is the process of self-transformation. Without this transformation, we remain victims of the lower tendencies of our mind and senses. Unless we upgrade our tastes to the higher values of life, we cannot comprehend the true purpose and meaning of life. Failure to know the purpose and meaning of life makes us run in this world blindfolded. This purposeless living and dying with regret is called hell. Thus, choices made carelessly assign us to hell, whereas actions performed mindfully entitle us to heaven.

Further Reading

Pursuit of Power and Freedom

by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

This is a new translation, with an extensive commentary, of the Katha Upanishad. It is a dialogue between an accomplished master, Yamaraja, and an ardent seeker, Nachiketa. Their burning desire for unveiling the mysteries of life enabled them to invest all their resources – physical, mental, and spiritual – in the pursuit to live and not to die.

Source: Pursuit of Power and Freedom (Pandit Rajmani Tigunait)
More in this Series

Paradise of a Yogi