Periodically pralayas (destructions) take place. A destruction comes at the end of four thousand yugas on earth. For a hundred years there are no rains and there is widespread drought. Thereafter, Vishnu uses the rays of the sun to drink and dry up all the waters that there are on earth. Seven different suns appear in the sky and they burn up the three worlds of heaven, the earth and the underworld. The earth becomes as flat as the back of a turtle. The breath of the great snake (Shesha) also serves to burn up the three worlds.
After the three worlds have been burnt up, dark clouds full of thunder and lightning appear in the sky. For a hundred years it continue to rain. The rain puts out the fires that have been raging. From Vishnu’s breath are created tremendous winds and these drive away the clouds. But there is water everywhere. And Vishnu sleeps on these waters. For an entire kalpa he sleeps. The sages then pray to Vishnu for the three worlds to be created yet again.
Yama And Hell
When human beings die, their physical bodies are given up. But they acquire new bodies that are known as ativahika bodies. In these bodies, they are brought to Yama’s abode by Yama’s servants. Living beings other than human are not brought to Yama. Yama then decides whether the dead person should go to heaven or to hell. After he has served his time in heaven or in hell, he is born again. Yama further decides what living being the person should be born as, depending on the actions in his past life. And so the cycle of birth death and rebirth goes on and on.
Since he keeps tally of all good deeds and all sins, Yama is also known as the god Dharma. Those who have done good deeds are rewaraded by Yama and those who have committed sins are punished. Chitragupta is Yama’s accountant, he keeps the account of all punya and papa.
There are twenty-eight circles of hells with many hells located in each circle. A sinner may have to go to more than one hell depending on the sins that he has committed. Some sinners are boiled in oil, others are pierced with spears and still others are whipped. Some sinners are fed heated iron balls, others are fed blood and rubbish. There are also machines for torturing sinners. Terrible birds eat up some sinners. Other sinners have their heads cut off.
When it is time to be reborn, the killer of a brahamana is born as a deer, dog, pig or camel. A drunkard is born as a donkey. A stealer of gold is born as a worm or an insect. A killer of a brahmana may also suffer from tuberculosis. a drunkard will have teeth like a dog and a stealer of gold will malformed nails. A stealer of food is born dumb. A person who has stolen the property of brahmanas is born as a rakshasa and lives alone in the forest. A stealer of fragrant scents is born as a mole. One who steals foodgrains is born as a rat. One who steals animals is born as a goat, one who steals milk as cow, one who steals fruit as monkey and one who steals meat as a vulture. A stealer of clothes is born as a crane and a stealer of salt as a cricket.
Yoga is the way to circumvent the miseries of life. True knowledge is that which informs one about the true nature of brahman or paramatman. The atman or jivatman is that which characterises an individual. Yoga means union, it is the union of the jivatman with the paramatman. Yoga concentrates one’s mind on the paramatman.
The first prerequisites of yoga is non-violence. A non-violent person is always righteous. The second requirement of yoga is truthfulness. The third prerequisite is celibacy. The fourth is controlling one’s senses and the last is the worship of god. One who practices yoga should not go around collecting material possessions. A piece of cloth, a covering against the cold, and a pair of sandals are possessions enough for him.
Before meditating on the true nature of the paramatman, one has to seat oneself in a proper asana (posture). The piece of cloth on which one is to sit should be placed in a clean place. One sits on such a seat and tries to purify one’s atman by controlling one’s mind and senses through yoga. The head and the neck should be held straight up, motionless. The point of vision should be directed towards the tip of one’s nose. One should not look in any direction. The arms should lightly rest on the folded thighs and the right hand should be placed, palm upwards, on the left palm. Padmasana (lotus position) is one such recommended posture.
The breath of life (prana vayu) has to be controlled. This process of control is known as pranayama. A finger is placed on the nose when the breath is being exhaled. The entire breath should be exhaled from the body. Since rechana means exhalation, this process of control is known as rechaka. When the breath is inhaled, the inhalation should be such that it fills the entire body. Since puraka literally means ‘that which fills’, this process of control is known as puraka. When the breath is neither being exhaled nor inhaled, one sits completely still like a kumbha (pot) and this is known as kumbhaka. Pranayama makes one healthy, swift, enthusiastic, strong and collected. Since the senses are controlled, one goes to heaven and avoids going to hell. Material pursuits are like the strong current of a river. The atman drowns in it.
Pranayama alone is not enough. It has to be supplemented with dhyana of japa (meditation and contemplation). One contemplates the true nature of the paramatman. The body is like a chariot. The senses are its horses, the mind is the charioteer and pranayama is the bridle. An individual who dies while performing dhyana is immediately assimilated with Vishnu.