Brahma Knowledge, by L. D. Barnett, , at sacred-texts.com
§ 25. The After Life.—I. Upanishads.—Good deeds are requited, according to the Veda, in another world, the heaven of the gods and the fathers. The Brāhmaṇas regard the heaven of the gods as a place of recompense for the good, and the abode of the fathers as a hell in which men are reborn to lives of suffering proportioned to their sins in this world. Finally we meet the
doctrine of transmigration definitively set forth in the Upanishads, by which retribution is effected, in part at any rate, by rebirth in this world.
The fullest eschatological scheme in the Upanishads is given in the parallel passages Ch. V. iii.-x., B.A. VI. ii. The first half of these sections (Ch. V. iii.-ix., B.A. VI. ii. 1-14) sets forth the theory that on death the soul goes to heaven in a sublimated form, here allegorically styled "waters" and "faith" (a conception in which are united the two ideas of "subtle body" and "works"), and from heaven returns at once to earthly birth, being sacrificed by the gods successively in the fires of heaven, the atmosphere, earth, man, and woman. Here there is no idea of requital in any world but this. The further paragraphs expound a more complicated theory of requital both in the other world and here. The souls of the sages who "worship Faith as their mortification in the woods" (they who have the saving knowledge) ascend by a series of stages which lead to the sun, thence to the moon, thence to the lightning, and thence to Brahma, the "supreme light," from which they never return. This is the "Way of the Gods," deva-yāna. The souls of those who do pious works in the village (but have not won full enlightenment and withdrawn from the world) rise by the "Way of the Fathers," pitri-yāna, which leads finally to the moon, where in the company of the gods they enjoy the full recompense
of their good deeds; after this they pass down to honourable rebirth on earth through successive stages (ether, wind, smoke, mist, cloud, rain, vegetation, food, and seed). The sinful, according to Ch. V. x. 7, have also a proportionate share in the joys of the moon, and are afterwards reborn in the forms of base animals or equally degraded races of men; according to B.A. this rebirth is immediate. On the other hand the famous passage B.A. IV. iv. 2-6 knows only of rebirth in recompense.
II. Later Vedānta.—Śankara's system in the main follows these doctrines. He holds that the truly enlightened become immediately one with Brahma (§ 24). But those souls which are bound in the empirical world must accordingly pass through empirical spheres of recompense. They who have the lower or exoteric knowledge and worship the "qualified Brahma" (§ 12) pass through the "Way of the Gods" to the paradise called the "world of Brahma"; here according to their merits they either gain by degrees the saving knowledge which transports them for ever to the Absolute Brahma (krama-mukti), or else they have due enjoyment of heavenly bliss until their "works" have shrunk to a residue (anuśaya), whereupon they descend to honourable earthly incarnations. They who have done pious works travel by the "Way of the Fathers" to the moon, where they share the pleasures of paradise
with the gods, and thence in due time return to earth. Those who have neither knowledge nor good works pass to hell, there to expiate their sins in part before rebirth in lower forms; and besides hell Śankara, following the obscure words of the Ch., admits a "third place" of punishment, viz. rebirth as the lowest and most ephemeral animals (on Brahma-sūtra, III. i. 8 f.).
When men of inferior knowledge or good works die, their sense-functions are merged into the manas, manas into "breaths," "breaths" into the individual soul, which together with the "subtle body" passes into the heart, of which the peak is now lit up (B.A. IV. iv. 2); thence the soul of the man of lower knowledge travels out by the sushumnā (an imaginary vein leading to the top of the head) by the road of the sun's rays (Ch. VIII. vi. 5), to the "Way of the Gods," but that of the man of good works issues by way of the other 100 chief veins of the body into the "Way of the Fathers" (on Brahma-sūtra IV. ii. 17 f.). On IV. iii. 1 f. Śankara endeavours to reconcile the discrepant lists of the stations in the "Way of the Gods" given in Ch. IV. xv. 5, V. x. 1, B.A. VI. ii. 15, and Kau. I. iii., and points out that by their names are to be understood their presiding deities. As regards the road of return to rebirth, he follows Ch. V. x. 5 f. and B.A. VI. ii. 16 (on III. i. 22 f.).