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According to Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam a.k.a Bhāgavata Purāṇa, King Bharata a.k.a Jaḍa Bharata was reborn as a deer at some point because he was too attached to the deer which he adopted when it was still very young:

Although Bharata Mahārāja was very elevated, he fell down due to his attachment to a young deer. One day after Bharata Mahārāja had taken his bath as usual in the river Gaṇḍakī and was chanting his mantra, he saw a pregnant deer come to the river to drink water. Suddenly there could be heard the thundering roar of a lion, and the deer was so frightened that it immediately gave birth to its calf. It then crossed the river, but died immediately thereafter. Mahārāja Bharata took compassion upon the motherless calf, rescued it from the water, took it to his āśrama and cared for it affectionately. He gradually became attached to this young deer and always thought of it affectionately. As it grew up, it became Mahārāja Bharata’s constant companion, and he always took care of it. Gradually he became so absorbed in thinking of this deer that his mind became agitated. As he became more attached to the deer, his devotional service slackened. Although he was able to give up his opulent kingdom, he became attached to the deer. Thus he fell down from his mystic yoga practice. Once when the deer was absent, Mahārāja Bharata was so disturbed that he began to search for it. While searching and lamenting the deer’s absence, Mahārāja Bharata fell down and died. Because his mind was fully absorbed thinking of the deer, he naturally took his next birth from the womb of a deer. However, because he was considerably advanced spiritually, he did not forget his past activities, even though he was in the body of a deer. He could understand how he had fallen down from his exalted position, and remembering this, he left his mother deer and again went to Pulaha-āśrama. He finally ended his fruitive activities in the form of a deer, and when he died he was released from the deer’s body.

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There are several things that don't add up in this story. Namely:

  1. The story seems to suggest that your final thoughts play such a crucial role that nothing else matters. Then whatever happens to your past karma and karma of your most recent life?

  2. In the final moment, if you think of money and gold you have accumulated all your life, will you be born in to a wealthy family? And if you die thinking of a close relative (a human), you'll be reborn as a human being again?

  3. So according to Hindu scripture, you can be born as a deer in at least two ways: a) constantly thinking about deer -or- b) committing a sin that would cause you to be born as a deer. Correct?

Given all the above inconsistencies, is the story meant to be taken literally or was it merely written to convey a message?

P.S.
- Related but not duplicate: What happens to a person's Karma if he attains salvation at the time of his death?
- Please don't answer citing blogs or Wikipedia.

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    One's final thoughts are an accumulation of all his karma. Imagine you're going to lose your life in the next 5 seconds.. what will you think about - whatever is closest to your heart, maybe someone you love or someone you hate, or something you wanted to achieve all your life, or a big regret.. whatever be it, there is no inconsistency here. Jada Bharata did lot of punya, but he also thought about the deer a lot. When you add both of them, as you breathe your last, whichever thoughts had more attachment will surface – ram May 10 '17 at 19:29
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    @ram "One's final thoughts are an accumulation of all his karma" - so, if someone is meant to be reborn as a dog, in the due course of time, he/she will adopt a pet dog and die thinking about the dog? – sv. May 10 '17 at 20:12
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    @sv Death is time of great suffering and pain. It is very difficult to think of anything at that time, forget focusing on one particular object. Only way that is possible is if you have lived entire life completely attached to that object, done all your karma with that object in mind thus with indirect detachment to fruits of your action. Such karma are not binding as krishna teaches in Gita. Bhakti yoga is indirect karma yoga. Instead of trying to develop equanimity to fruits of action, in bhakti yoga we try to develop attachment to God while doing all action. Contd.... – Aks May 11 '17 at 3:29
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    @sv if you do all actions in your life attached to God, you think of God at death and you attain God. Krishna also says those who are devoted to me, come to me, devoted to devas go to devas, devotees of pitris to pitris. And apparently, as per this story, devotees of deer, become deer. Their karma doesn't apply in all these cases as karma done with attachment to something other than fruits of karma does not produce fruits. – Aks May 11 '17 at 3:33
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    there are many things that affect a person's last thoughts. he need not think of a dog to be born as one, it is enough to think of the things that a dog likes to do most like eat anything, or do some sin like u said. also, what do you mean by "meant to be reborn as a dog" - our actions in this birth (plus previous karma) decide what we will be born as next. If previous karma is too much to be overcome by this birth's actions then yes, we may be inclined to get a dog as pet, or do dog-like activities, or do sin. – ram May 11 '17 at 3:47
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Was it merely written to convey a message? Yes I think so and its seems “The story seems to suggest that your final thoughts play such a crucial role that nothing else matters. “ is also right. The concept is conveyed in Prashna-Upanishad .Question 3 ,Shloka 10 - Outcome of Sankalpa (Resolution) at the time of death.

यच्चित्तस्तेनैष प्राणमायाति प्राणस्तेजसा युक्तः ।
सहात्मना यथासंकल्पितं लोकं नयति ॥ १० ॥

yaccittastenaiṣa prāṇamāyāti prāṇastejasā yuktaḥ |
sahātmanā yathāsaṃkalpitaṃ lokaṃ nayati || 10 ||

Whatever his thought at the dying moment with that he comes to the prana ; th prana united with the fire leads on with the Atman unto the desired world.


And this is Shankara’s Commentary on above verse -:

Of what thought he is at the time of death, by that thought, i.e., volition, he attains along with the senses, the prâna, i.e., he puts forth the activity of the chief Prâna. The meaning is that at the time of death, the activity of the senses having declined, he lives putting forth the activity of the chief Prânaalone. Then his relations around say ‘he breathes and lives’; and that prâna manifesting the activity of udâna (têjas); with the âtman ] with the owner, i.e., the enjoyer. The prâna manifesting the activity of the udâna alone, leads the enjoyer to worlds (bodies) thought of, according to the influence of virtuous and sinful karma.

So we can safely say that this story is written to convey above message.

  • Thanks for attempting to answer. So what do you think will happen if a) In the final moment, if you think of money and gold you have accumulated all your life. (will you be born in to a wealthy family?) b) And if you die thinking of a close relative (a human). (will you be reborn as a human being again?) – sv. May 11 '17 at 16:13
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    @SwiftPushkar I don't think this is a fictional story written to make point, I think this is a true story that actually happened which nevertheless does illustrate an important point. – Keshav Srinivasan May 11 '17 at 17:25
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    @KeshavSrinivasan - Yes ,I also do agree with your views fully and didn't mean that this is fictional story but wanted to highlight the meaning (which i understood) that at vanaprastha one should leave from mind all his emotions desires. – SwiftPushkar May 11 '17 at 18:08
  • @sv. Yes, you are right. But to make it happen you will have to accumulate such impression all your life. Btw, I don't have proofs other than scriptures for what I am saying. – Mr. Sigma. Aug 8 '17 at 15:55
  • @sv. Also look at this. hinduism.stackexchange.com/questions/17433/… – Mr. Sigma. Aug 8 '17 at 15:58
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You have only given part of the story. Swami Vivekananda tells the story of Jada Bharata in the following way (Complete Works, V4, pp 111-114; available here under the heading Lectures and Discourses, sub-heading The Story of Jada Bharata - http://cwsv.belurmath.org/volume_4/vol_4_frame.htm):

There was a great monarch named Bharata. The land which is called India by foreigners is known to her children as Bhârata Varsha. Now, it is enjoined on every Hindu when he becomes old, to give up all worldly pursuits — to leave the cares of the world, its wealth, happiness, and enjoyments to his son — and retire into the forest, there to meditate upon the Self which is the only reality in him, and thus break the bonds which bind him to life. King or priest, peasant or servant, man or woman, none is exempt from this duty: for all the duties of the householder — of the son, the brother, the husband, the father, the wife, the daughter, the mother, the sister — are but preparations towards that one stage, when all the bonds which bind the soul to matter are severed asunder for ever.

The great king Bharata in his old age gave over his throne to his son, and retired into the forest. He who had been ruler over millions and millions of subjects, who had lived in marble palaces, inlaid with gold and silver, who had drunk out of jewelled cups — this king built a little cottage with his own hands, made of reeds and grass, on the banks of a river in the Himalayan forests. There he lived on roots and wild herbs, collected by his own hands, and constantly meditated upon Him who is always present in the soul of man. Days, months, and years passed. One day, a deer came to drink water near by where the royal sage was meditating. At the same moment, a lion roared at a little distance off. The deer was so terrified that she, without satisfying her thirst, made a big jump to cross the river. The deer was with young, and this extreme exertion and sudden fright made her give birth to a little fawn, and immediately after she fell dead. The fawn fell into the water and was being carried rapidly away by the foaming stream, when it caught the eyes of the king. The king rose from his position of meditation and rescuing the fawn from the water, took it to his cottage, made a fire, and with care and attention fondled the little thing back to life. Then the kindly sage took the fawn under his protection, bringing it up on soft grass and fruits. The fawn thrived under the paternal care of the retired monarch, and grew into a beautiful deer. Then, he whose mind had been strong enough to break away from lifelong attachment to power, position, and family, became attached to the deer which he had saved from the stream. And as he became fonder and fonder of the deer, the less and less he could concentrate his mind upon the Lord. When the deer went out to graze in the forest, if it were late in returning, the mind of the royal sage would become anxious and worried. He would think, "Perhaps my little one has been attacked by some tiger — or perhaps some other danger has befallen it; otherwise, why is it late?"

Some years passed in this way, but one day death came, and the royal sage laid himself down to die. But his mind, instead of being intent upon the Self, was thinking about the deer; and with his eyes fixed upon the sad looks of his beloved deer, his soul left the body. As the result of this, in the next birth he was born as a deer. But no Karma is lost, and all the great and good deeds done by him as a king and sage bore their fruit. This deer was a born Jâtismara, and remembered his past birth, though he was bereft of speech and was living in an animal body. He always left his companions and was instinctively drawn to graze near hermitages where oblations were offered and the Upanishads were preached.

After the usual years of a deer's life had been spent, it died and was next born as the youngest son of a rich Brahmin. And in that life also, he remembered all his past, and even in his childhood was determined no more to get entangled in the good and evil of life. The child, as it grew up, was strong and healthy, but would not speak a word, and lived as one inert and insane, for fear of getting mixed up with worldly affairs. His thoughts were always on the Infinite, and he lived only to wear out his past Prârabdha Karma. In course of time the father died, and the sons divided the property among themselves; and thinking that the youngest was a dumb, good-for-nothing man, they seized his share. Their charity, however, extended only so far as to give him enough food to live upon. The wives of the brothers were often very harsh to him, putting him to do all the hard work; and if he was unable to do everything they wanted, they would treat him very unkindly. But he showed neither vexation nor fear, and neither did he speak a word. When they persecuted him very much, he would stroll out of the house and sit under a tree, by the hour, until their wrath was appeased, and then he would quietly go home again.

One day; when the wives of the brothers had treated him with more than usual unkindness, Bharata went out of the house, seated himself under the shadow of a tree and rested. Now it happened that the king of the country was passing by, carried in a palanquin on the shoulders of bearers. One of the bearers had unexpectedly fallen ill, and so his attendants were looking about for a man to replace him. They came upon Bharata seated under a tree; and seeing he was a strong young man, they asked him if he would take the place of the sick man in bearing the king's palanquin. But Bharata did not reply. Seeing that he was so able-bodied, the king's servants caught hold of him and placed the pole on his shoulders. Without speaking a word, Bharata went on. Very soon after this, the king remarked that the palanquin was not being evenly carried, and looking out of the palanquin addressed the new bearer, saying "Fool, rest a while; if thy shoulders pain thee, rest a while." Then Bharata laying the pole of the palanquin down, opened his lips for the first time in his life, and spoke, "Whom dost thou, O King, call a fool? Whom dost thou ask to lay down the palanquin? Who dost thou say is weary? Whom dost thou address as 'thou'? If thou meanest, O King, by the word 'thee' this mass of flesh, it is composed of the same matter as thine; it is unconscious, and it knoweth no weariness, it knoweth no pain. If it is the mind, the mind is the same as thine; it is universal. But if the word 'thee' is applied to something beyond that, then it is the Self, the Reality in me, which is the same as in thee, and it is the One in the universe. Dost thou mean, O King, that the Self can ever be weary, that It can ever be tired, that It can ever be hurt? I did not want, O King — this body did not want — to trample upon the poor worms crawling on the road, and therefore, in trying to avoid them, the palanquin moved unevenly. But the Self was never tired; It was never weak; It never bore the pole of the palanquin: for It is omnipotent and omnipresent." And so he dwelt eloquently on the nature of the soul, and on the highest knowledge, etc. The king, who was proud of his learning, knowledge, and philosophy, alighted from the palanquin, and fell at the feet of Bharata, saying, "I ask thy pardon, O mighty one, I did not know that thou wast a sage, when I asked thee to carry me." Bharata blessed him and departed. He then resumed the even tenor of his previous life. When Bharata left the body, he was freed for ever from the bondage of birth.

The story is meant to convey the message of the scripture (in SwiftPuskar's answer from the Prashna Upanishad and Keshav Srinivasan's answer that quotes the Gita.) What you think of in your final moments determines the push of your soul at death.

2

The Jada Bharata story is true. It's completely consistent with Hinduism. It is indeed true that your final thought at the moment of death is what you will attain. Here is what Krishna says in chapter 8 of the Bhagavad Gita:

And whoever, at the end of his life, quits his body remembering Me alone at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt. Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, O son of Kuntī, that state he will attain without fail. Therefore, Arjuna, you should always think of Me in the form of Kṛṣṇa and at the same time carry out your prescribed duty of fighting. With your activities dedicated to Me and your mind and intelligence fixed on Me, you will attain Me without doubt.

But this does not mean that the rest of your life doesn't matter. On the contrary, it is only if you have been devoted to Sriman Narayana all your life that you will deserve to have that rarest of blessings of getting to think of him at the moment you leave your body; here is what Ramana Maharshi says:

You must achieve liberation during your life time. Even if you fail to do it during your lifetime, you must think of god at least at the time of death, since one becomes what he thinks of at the time of death. But unless all your life you have been thinking of God, unless you have accustomed yourself to dhyana of 'God always during life, it would not at all be possible for you think of God at the time of death.

But there is one escape route if you don't want to worry about what your final thought is going to be. Here is one of the six statements that the Vishnu deity of the Kanchipuram Varadaraja Perumal temple communicated to Ramanujacharya:

anthima smrthi varjanam

This means that Antima Smriti or remembrance of Sriman Narayana at the moment of death is not required for one who has performed Sharanagati. That's because for the Prapanna or performer of Sharanagati, Vishnu remembers the person at the moment of death, as described in the Varaha Charama Shloka quoted in my answer here.

1

This story and similar stories are not about a pet or just desires, but about the strongest collective impressions when the body ends.

Those could be a mix of one or more infinite impressions from infinite lives around some worldly attributes; money, sex, love or your child - If its putra eshna, then you'll likely meet that child soul again in another life.

Now to explain this further let's think about the following:

  • There are no guarantees of if, when & how. This is not a Samsung fridge with 5 yr warranty. Even that warranty has tons of Fine Print & Disclaimers.

  • (Unfathomable is the depth of accounting of Karma (gahanā karmaṇo gatiḥ- BG 4.17). It's implications are beyond comprehension. "Unfathomable is the depth of karma".

Does the karma from the previous life affects the current life? https://hinduism.stackexchange.com/a/2251/3172
When does Sanchitha Karma becomes Praarabdha Karma? What decides its transformation?

  • The impressions that are strongest are what your 'mana-chitta' are larger vectors that carry forward. One may not even know or realize what kind of karmic impressions are being carried. Not remembering your past life is "how things are" E.g. Ram shot Bali with an arrow and 5000 yrs later left Krishna body with an arrow shot on him. Jamwant (warrior) wanted to fight/ wrestle (strong one sided intention/ desire) with Ram, for that to dissolve Krishna fights with him for days & nights until Jamwant realizes how that karmic impression was manifesting. My guess is at that time those impressions tended to dissolve. These stories are to point out how even "Purna Avatar" Krishna has to "deal with karma" and also to indicate, that the when of timeline, can be way way far apart to be set in motion in the world.

  • Now, since one may not have memories of past lives, we do carry some data along in the sub-conscious/ super-conscious and some vectors are evident in current life karma as well. There are sciences around Jyotish that can at times help one shed light on current/ past karmic "indicators". There are past-life regression and related mechanisms, but I am not sure about where they stand and how they work.

  • The Karmic impressions are very very subtle. Its not just about good or bad deeds. For example, if you read about Golden Palace chapter of AutoBiography of a Yogi - Even though Saint Lahari Mahasaya had no desire left as a saint, his Param Guru Mahavatar Babaji manifests a golden palace in a forest for one night & tells him to spend 1 night in it. Why? It was a "Latent" desire from one his past lives (he was not aware of in current saintly life), that had to be 'dissolved' as observed by his Param Guru. This story points out how even a close to enlightened master/ saint may have some impressions left to clear out.

  • Does it mean everyone will get their latent desires fulfilled? Not a guarantee. The depth & laws of karma & its operation are not "fathomable" as too many vectors of variety of impressions from various lifetimes could become active or remain inactive until some such time that the universe deems it.

  • What is the purpose of meeting someone or repeat a past impression? Your impressions & intentions set in motion karmic butterfly effect. Exact outcome is not some simple scientific chemical reaction - Hence, its recommended to "tyag" worldly desires in old age and focus on divine.

  • Why do you think people meet after life times again & again (enough such stories around it).. Karmic impressions & accounting is left over? You have a girl friend you could not be with in this life, if that impression does not dissolve from your consciousness, the game will "likely" play out again somewhere/ somehow. But it's not a discrete 1 MB file that is clearly there or clearly deleted.. Impressions are subtle, so they may or may not carry forward and may or may not become incident in a specific life.

  • So, if you had a desire or impressions around a "vyakti, vasthu or paristhiti" that if not dissolved will tend to manifest itself moving forward. That's why renunciation is not about physical ascetism, but internal dissolving and dropping of such impressions

  • Let me quote OPs answer here: hinduism.stackexchange.com/a/15780/3172 - The impressions of the female / attraction as applicable to the different individuals mentioned in OPs answer - can very subtly affect one, or if the person is "hollow" it can just pass away dissolve with the moment passing away. It was not so much the act of touching the woman to carry her across, but the "impression" or lack there of on their minds in the said story.


- "Ram shot Bali with an arrow and 5000 yrs later left Krishna body with an arrow shot on him...until Jamwant realizes how that karmic impression was manifesting" - I no longer consider such stories from scripture as empirical evidence of karma or rebirth hypothesis. Before you treat anything written in Ramayana and Mahabharata as 'proof' you need to be sure they are not corrupted, interpolated and are not merely literary works of the then Hindu generation. 'Karmic impressions are very very subtle' - you mean karma is undetectable? if so, Jaḍa Bharata should not have been born as a deer. – sv. Aug 4 at 16:53

  • Please find me one person of any faith that can empirically detect the presence of LOVE, a SOUL or God or Divinity?
  • It is not something me or you or a human can measure 'empirically'. We do not have access to the Karmic Super Computer in the Cosmos
  • And there are not facts you have or anyone can provide empirical evidence for him being born or not being born as a deer

  • Right now, it seems that you are not interested in Hinduism/ Sanatana Dharma knowledge but your intent indicates to discredit them in the way communists or other religion nay-sayers wishing to attack.

  • If you wish to perform scientific experiments to prove "empirically" then that is beyond the scope of this question and SE. You might wish to go to a Quantum physics lab or a person who is able to communicate with a soul of someone dead and known to you and test out "empirically"

  • A soul or karma is not an object or physical phenomenon with physical attributes in the 3rd dimension with height, width, weight and color - Not that I know of for you to detect or measure using a lab created instrument. Maybe Ghost busters or Kirilian photography type of instruments can help you with your 'empirical' experiments.


@AlexS "Param Guru Mahavatar Babaji manifests a golden palace in forest for one night & tells him to spend 1 night in it." - I don't believe such stories. Anyway, I read the whole chapter here. At one place it says: "In the dim past, you once expressed a desire to enjoy the beauties of a palace. Our master is now satisfying your wish, thus freeing you from the bonds of karma." -- does this mean if I once expressed a desire to rob a bank and not be caught by police, it will come true? ... – sv. Aug 4 at 17:17

  • You wish to apply straight uni-dimensional logic to something that has already been discussed as non-deterministic and unfathomable. Since, I (and pretty much no one I can image) don't have a looking glass or dashboard into karmic vectors in motion, I can neither confirm nor deny the possibilities of such an intention of yours.

  • Even if you had Lord Shiva or Krishna or an Enlightened Master who are "tri kaal" darshi, in front of you and you asked them such a question, you will not get a "direct uni lateral answer" to your ku-tark logic/ question. Your karma will be more complex than just "this one vector".

  • You are applying ku-tark. The objective of such a story is again to share that every subtle impression collected over time can be a barrier to Mukti.


@AlexS If I want to become the richest person in the world, I will become rich one day by winning several lotteries in a row? If your answer is yes, then how do you solve the contradiction of several people making the same wish ('richest person') - which among them will become the richest person? – sv. Aug 4 at 17:19

  • You're trying to apply Linear 'deterministic' Logic to laws of Karma. How the universe takes your "remaining" collective karmic impressions and moves it forward after a life is an "unknown" "unfathomable" aspect - non-deterministic.

  • What these examples simply point out is that "strong & weak impressions" are vectors that do not let you become "free" until they are dissolved (how they tend to dissolve are another set of 'non-deterministic' essay in itself) i.e. Mukti - Freedom - Nirvana - Liberation - from what? All impressions on the manna-chitta, eventually dissolved.

  • At no point is there any warranty from me or any scripture of how & when X desire/ impression will cause impact going forward. These are indicators to make you aware, that these are pitfalls.. of Moh-Maya. There is a whole list/ type of Eshnas you can look up if you want. I have conveyed the message, but you seem to not want to receive it.

  • End goal is despite impressions to focus on the Divine and you could be released/ freed via your Devotion/ Bhakti:
    What happens to a person's Karma if he attains salvation at the time of his death?

  • "a life is an 'unknown', 'unfathomable' aspect - non-deterministic" - this sounds awfully like the Parable of the Invisible Gardener. – sv. Aug 8 '17 at 15:29
  • "The objective of such a story is again to share that every subtle impression collected over time can be a barrier to Mukti." - so you agree the story is only meant to convey a message and not to be taken literally? E.g., simply thinking about deer in your last moments will not cause you to be reborn as a deer? – sv. Aug 8 '17 at 15:31
  • @sv. - For us all without karmic viewing stations, thats the only thing we can do. Whether it occurred or not and what karmic factors played into him becoming a deer is beyond our current abilities so taking it literally is a matter of personal belief & faith and the lessons as well. There is no way to PROVE or DISPROVE that the above Man to Deer birth happened or did not happen or CANNOT happen again - Too many factors can play into it – Alex S Aug 8 '17 at 15:35
  • @sv. - You are misquoting and misusing my words to mean what you want it to mean. Do so, I will not agreeing with your disingenuous word play – Alex S Aug 8 '17 at 15:37
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    Very nice arguments, Alex S. You put so much effort in answering that I could stop myself from appreciating via comment. – spkakkar Apr 22 at 20:51

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