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According to Advaita Vedanta, the true Self is the immortal soul, which is never born and never dies.

Then how does the law of Karma apply to this philosphy? What will happen to a person who has lived his/her life by ill means and oppressed the downtrodden? Abrahamic religions believe in an all powerful entity called Allah or God, who takes care of the sins committed by man and they are sent to heaven/ hell accordingly. We do have a similar (not same) concept in some philosophical schools of Hinduism as well such as that of reincarnation. But what does Advaita Vedanta say?

If the Self is the ever-blissful consciousness, then does that mean it has never ever committed any sin and not even experienced the sadistic pleasure he thought he was experiencing ? And does that mean he will not get the results of his bad deeds ? If we consider the Upanishadic concept of the Brahman being the ocean and the Atman being a wave/drop, then where does the concept of Swarg/Narak fit in?

I am really confused. Any help shall be highly appreciated.

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  • HI!! Welcome to HSE!! Kindly visit FAQ Index for HSE. Further, you may wanna have a look at How does a New User get started on HSE. Have an enriching journey ahead!
    – peace
    Apr 6 at 5:53
  • Karma theory apply to a person with ego. Atman is immortal and subjected to Narak-Swarg until it realizes Self. Abrahamic religions were created at peak of Kaliyuga when humans devolved to level of animals and reject rebirth and at same time Puranas were created, where manlike Purusha Brahma(personification of formless Brahman) created a world.Why does Brahma hold apaurashya Vedas based on Dharma,Artha,Karma,Moksha? What is crux of Vedanta?"Ekam Brahm, dvitiya naste" ,There is only Brahman, nothing else, that is there is no creation, its just an eternal temporary Maya matrix for ignorants.
    – user22687
    Apr 6 at 6:24
  • I understand. But what I can't get is how does the philosophy of Advaita say about the wrongdoers ? For example, if someone spends his whole life enjoying luxury by robbing a poor man while the poor man starves to death, is there some kind of punishment given to the oppressor after he dies ? Apr 7 at 0:25
  • @PrassannaNandJha Dvaita, Vishishtadvaita, Advaita are stages in which a Sadhak evolves towards truth, all three are truth as God cant be understood through intellect or books. The Supreme Omnipresent consciousness is pure intellect, it has count of even the hair of every person, so what to say about Karmas. This existence is test for if God shows itself, than everyone will pass and behave good. Just like every human is concerned about his own family, wife and children so also every human should mind his own karmas, only Self-realized devote life towards well being of society.
    – user22687
    Apr 7 at 5:02
  • Everyone's atman is immortal and has to pay for all Karmas at the end. Thats why consciousness wipes out memories of all past lives for all at their birth, for if you remember your past lives and its sufferings at young age, wouldn't you renounce home than and the test becomes futile.
    – user22687
    Apr 7 at 5:06
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A human being is not just the Atman or the Self. He also has a physical body, a subtle body and a causal body. Karma applies to the subtle body. Your confusion is because you have forgotten the 3 bodies of a Jiva.

Nothing happens to the atman which is merely a witness. It is the subtle body that is affected by death. Check Gita 2.17-2.22 for the answer to your question. For example, Gita 2.22 says,

'Just as a man gives up old garments and puts on new ones, so the embodied self abandons decrepit bodies and assumes new ones.'

Gita 2.22

What happens immediately after death? The answer is given in Gita 15.8 which says,

‘When he gets a new body or abandons an old one, the Jiva, the lord of the body, moves, carrying them (the mind and the senses) with him, as the wind carries smells from their seats (in flowers and the like).’

Gita 15.8

What this means is that the physical body dies but the mind and the senses leave the physical body. Persons who have not attained moksha are part of the life-death-life.... cycle. They may also have to stay in heaven or hell for some time if they have done a particularly good thing or a heinous crime, respectively. After the merit of their particular good karma or the demerit of their particular bad karma is exhausted, they will again be born into the Earth plane. The process is linked to the concept of residual karma. This residual karma idea and what happens to evil-doers is explained in Brahma Sutra.

But of others (i.e. those who have not performed sacrifices etc.) the ascent is to the abode of Yama, and after having experienced (the results of their evil works) the descent (to the earth again takes place). On account of such a passage (for the evil-doer) being declared by the Sruti.

Brahma Sutra Sankara Bhasya 3.1.13

The Sruti passage referred to in the above shloka is:

The Hereafter never reveals itself to a person devoid of discrimination, heedless, and perplexed by the delusion of wealth. "This world alone exists," he thinks," and there is no other." Again and again he comes under my sway.

(Yama speaks in Katha Upanishad I.2.6)

It is clear that if you do bad deeds that you end up in Yama Loka. However, there are two perplexing questions here. Does the person who descends to earth from Yama loka return with any Karma (i.e. is the Karma of the evil-doer after serving his term in Yama loka zero?)? What decides that a person will after death be immediately reborn in earth or return to earth after serving a time in Yama loka? These two questions are actually linked. The answer to this question is given in Brahma Sutra:

On the exhaustion of (good) work (the soul) with residual Karma (descends to this earth), as is known from the Sruti amd Smriti, along the path (it) went by (from here) and differently too.

(Brahma Sutra Sankara Bhasya 3.1.8)

The above Sutra says that what is exhausted in heaven is only that specific Karma which gave the soul a birth in lower heaven, but on the exhaustion of this Karma the remaining Karma, good and bad, brings it back to earth. While this Sutra talks of heaven and good deed, it also applies to Yama Loka and bad deeds. Let me explain the idea by a concrete example. Let us suppose that a dead person has a list of 10 karmas with goodness values (1, -3, 4, 5, -100, 4, 3, 2, 5, 8) where the minus sign stands for evil deeds. What Brahma Sutra Sankara Bhasya 3.1.8 is saying is that this person will go to Yama Loka only for that extremely evil deed of goodness value -100. After he has exhausted the bad effect due to the -100 Karma, he can then go back to earth with the residual karma (1, -3, 4,5,4,3,2,5,8). The idea is that only extremely evil or good deeds (that can not be punished or rewarded in the Earth plane) lead a man to Yama loka or to lower heavens. All minor good and bad karmas are served on the earth plane.

Only the person who has attained moksha is free forever from the endless cycle of Samsara. The cycle of birth and death will only end after the attainment of moksha or liberation. The length of the process will depend on how quickly or slowly the person will attain moksha.

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  • Beautifully explained. Thanks a lot ! May 7 at 13:08
  • Why would that soul go to a "lower heaven" and not a "higher heaven"?
    – Rahul
    Jul 10 at 1:34
  • 1
    Lower heaven is ruled by Lord Indra. If you want to go beyond that then you will have to do spiritual practices and attain chittasuddhi (purification of heart). Jul 10 at 3:45
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There is a small two word saying in Tamil called ‘குட்டை கிளறல்’ ( translate with Google) There is a small puddle of water - The குட்டை, when you look at it it at first it is clear water, you can see your reflection. And, then your thought expands and you use a stick to mix and play around. Soon the mud beneath rises up and you no longer see your face it’s all muddy. The water is muddied. Doesn’t mean it’s not water - neither does it mean that it is not mud. Independently every philosophy is correct in its own right. When you mix stuff up clarity reduces. When the mud settles and you can the clear water, you see yourself. Or the water evaporates, and you are left with mud. In Hinduism again, the true nature of the philosophy becomes apparent when you soak in for enough time. Either you will cling on to Mud or Water. Each is correct in its own terms. In a world of Para Brahman or Nirguna Brahman everything is correct and everything is incorrect. Everything is bad and good. Then there are no opposites. There is no distinction. Sat- chit—Ekam Brahman. A-Dvaitha ( no two-ness) means that. In a world of Saguna Brahman the second conscious entity,the sound om, the ‘second ness’ the distinction arises. Depending on where your self awareness set in, in a dumpster or a palace, as an ant or a horse, and where you are, appropriately you see good or bad, Heaven or hell. This Yin Yang, this push-pull, is a major requirement for sustenance. The Saguna Brahman is space and sound endowed. The Nirguna Brahman which just IS everything is indescribable and no amount of teaching, or instructions will help. So the best word that describes that is Silence !

Brahma Sutras III.ii.17, Sankara tells us that Bhadhva, questioned about Brahman by Bashkalin asked him to learn Brahman and became silent; on second and third questioning by Bashkalin he replied – " I am teaching you indeed, but you do not understand. Silence is that Self." The soundless Ardhamatra, that lingers after the three differentiated sounds of Pranava (Om) die away, is Turiya or Pure Consciousness, the attributeless Brahman (Mandukya Upanishad 12).[11] The causal and the resultant conditions, the non-apprehension and misapprehension of Reality, do not exist in Turiya. [12] Silence is Awareness, it is the Atman, the Self (Mundaka Upanishad II.ii.6) .[13] The absolutistic interpretation is that silence is the genuine teaching about the ultimate Reality, because the Absolute is beyond the scope of speech and thought.[14]

The soundless ardhamatra that lingers after three differentiated sounds of Pranava (OM) - The Turiya That Silence is considered to be the Great AWARENESS that provides awareness to All , That Silence is considered to be the Great INTELLIGENCE that provides Intelligence to All. That Silence is the Truth of the Truth that resides itself in your conclusions as the MEANING That Silence is the True Atman, The False Atman, Your soul, Supreme soul. True Transcendence is not the silence of death benumbing the creative flow of life but the silence of which both death and immortality are equal shadows - Yasya Chaya Amruth Yasya Mrithyuhu : Rig Veda X.121.2

In an ancient Tantric saying( or could be Hatha Yoga Pradipika ) it is very explicit: From the book, The Serpent Power, Arthur Avalon, pg 100. Secrets of Tantric and Shakthi yoga, which again from Bengali Pundits, 'Tavad Akasamkalpo Yavacchabdah Pravartate, Nishabdham tat parambrahma Paramatmeti giyate' : So long as there is the notion of Ether, so long is sound heard. The soundless is called Parambrahma or Paramatma! Please refer to very beautiful Wikipedia on Mauna. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mauna_(silence)

I’m not silent when I’m trying to tell you this. Hence whatever means we use to describe ‘Neti, Neti’ we will end up with a muddiest pond! So my friend, in order for you to see things clearly. Soak in. Let the mud settle in or let the water evoporate...

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