How will the world end, and what will happen to the good people when it happens? Please explain with reference to puranas and the scriptures.
Pralaya means the de-manifestation of the universe. Final dissolution is called prakrtika pralaya. At that time all the evolutes are absorbed into prakrti.
pralaya(‘dissolution [of the world]’)
The Hindu scriptures propound the cyclic theory of creation. The cycle of sṛṣṭi (creation), sthiti (preservation) and laya (dissolution) goes on endlessly.
The dissolution, called laya or pralaya, is of four types: nitya; naimittika; prākṛtika and ātyantika.
Nityapralaya refers to the daily deaths of beings that are born. Naimittika pralaya is the dissolution that takes place at the end of a day of Brahmā, called ‘kalpa’ which is equivalent to 4.32 billion human years. The prākṛtika pralaya is the dissolution of everything into prakṛti (the basic matrix of the universe, often identified with the māyā-power of God) at the end of Brahmā’s life of (his) hundred years equivalent to 10 [to the power] 36 human years. Ātyantikapralaya actually refers to mokṣa or liberation wherein a jīva is liberated from transmigratory existence.
A concise encyclopedia of Hinduism by Swami Harshananda
We have to consider 3 cases when discussing what happens during pralaya.
- Beings who have not attained moksha
During pralaya all such beings cease to have any experience and remain in a state of potentiality.
A return of this manifold world into the quiescent state (pralaya) of prakrti takes place when the karmas of all purusas collectively require that there should be such a temporary cessation of all experience.
A history of Indian Philosophy by Surendranath Dasgupta, Chapter VII, The Kapila and Patanjala Samkhya
The universe emerges after pralaya when the karmas of all purusas require the manifestation of the universe. Then all beings resume their journey through Samsara.
- Beings who have attained moksha
People who have attained such a state do not depart anywhere and are not dependent on the state of the universe. They are unaffected by pralaya.
And the Smriti also says so.
Brahma Sutra IV.ii.14
Moreover, the absence of movement and departure is mentioned in the Mahabharata: Even gods become befooled in the course of finding out the path of one who has become one with the Self of all beings, who has understood all beings truly as the self, and who has no state to reach.
Brahma Sutra Bhasya IV.ii.14 of Sri Sankaracharya
Puranas also support the idea that moksha is not dependent on time and is thus not affected by pralaya. We must remember here that Puranas are talking of not only Advaita moksha but also the state attained by Bhaktas.
Moksha only stable value
One who aspires to overcome the thick darkness of ignorance should never seek contacts that are contrary to the fourfold end of life (Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha). Of these four ends, Moksha alone is accepted as the really stable value to be sought; for the other three are subject to the destructive force of Time.
Srimad Bhagavata Purana IV.22.34-35
- Beings who follow the path of krama mukti or the path of gradual liberation.
Their fate is discussed below.
On the final dissolution of the world of the conditioned Brahman, they attain, along with the lord of the world, what is higher than this conditioned Brahman, as is known on the strength of the Upanishadic declaration.
Brahma Sutra IV.iii.10
The idea conveyed is that when the time for the final dissolution of the world of the inferior Brahman is imminent, the aspirants who have acquired full realization there itself attain thereafter, along with Hiranyagarbha, the ruler of the world, the supreme state of Visnu which is absolutely pure. This kind of liberation by stages has to be admitted on the strength of the Upanishadic texts speaking of non-return etc. For we established earlier that it is incomprehensible that the supreme Brahman should be reached by any process of moving forward.
Brahma Sutra Bhasya IV.iii.10 of Sri Sankaracharya
Destruction means to damage or eliminates the composition of an object, resulting in remnants that usually get dispersed; hence destruction always has a byproduct or a leftover. This is very similar to the conservation of Quantum Information. Say an apple is destroyed beyond visible recognition; whatever information that consists of, the quantum properties that make up the apple are never destroyed (TedTalks). Hence, the word “destroyer” creates a vague interpretation of an attacker or an assailant. In fact, Śiva is Pralaya Karaka. In the case of Pralaya (the closest word is dissolution), so to answer your question, the object merges into the source as one (the concept of laya). This is done in 3 ways: Swalpakalika Laya, Aatyantica Laya, pra:laya / mahapra:laya. At the highest level, the throbbing within the Singularity just subsides. (Swami Venkatesananda. 1993, TED-Ed Quantum Information. 2019)
Swalpakalika (Swalpa:kalika) Laya is a phenomenon of our conscience momentarily detaches itself from the body, the reality, and the outside physical world to slide into a resting state. The Ātman still exists but dwells in a different state, commonly known as a dream. This type of laya provides our body and mind with rest so as to rejuvenate and restructure itself to perform karmā after being awake. The physical body and mind continue to function during this state but in the background.
Aatyantica (Aatyan:tica) Laya is to ignite gyana (jnana) so that the atman recognizes the paramatma or itself to be the Parabrahma. We have read earlier that its the Divine Mother who has to bring us close to Iśvara by fostering devotion that leads to gyana.
Finally, pralaya(m) is a temporary reset of Bhumi (Earth) either through a calamity or by the beginning of a new era. Pralaya has an extended version known as mahapralaya (Mahā:pralayam), which is the complete dissolution of creation and all its realities to unify with its source, which is Parabrahma unified with śakti becoming a singularity. Hence, Parameshwari (Pārameśvari) (the śakti also Devi Pārvatī) is the only one to witness this dissolution, hence known by the title ‘Mahā Parlaya Shakshini’. Paramatma (the supreme singular conscience) using its śakti stores the information required to restart a new creation. His śakti eventually oozes out of Him to form both the physical matter and also pure energy with which He (Iśvara) as Brahmā structures and builds a reality, as Śrī Vishnu (Viṣṇu) He strives towards its preservation and as Śiva, He gives us rest, gyana (jnana) and eventually takes back this śakti within Him. Many such realities exist in His creation, and so, many respective Brahmā and Śrī Viṣṇu and Śiva exists for these realities, who are but one Iśvara (this topic can be explored in the Puranas of Śrī Devi Bhagavatam and Srimad Bhagavatam). Through the process of pralaya and mahapralaya(m), Iśvara Himself seeks to unify the Jīva who were unable to realize the Parabrahma. A good analogy is a ball of moist clay when falls on beads making them stick to itself, hence Iśvara reaches those who couldn’t reach Him (Iśvara).
Above are the three major forms of pralaya performed by the concept known as Śiva and Śivaa (Pārvatī). Based on this we should carefully contemplate that there is no anger involved in the phenomenon of mahapralaya. In fact, it is done out of Karunyam (affection from kindness and empathy), because a Jīva hops through millions of lives and dwelling in the never ending loop of samsara. Jīva unable to realize Ātman eventually gets exhausted, at which point Iśvara Himself reaches them and assimilates them with Himself, hence, this concept is not something to be feared, rather one must contemplate upon the tatva(m), and when understood, life and its unanswered questions automatically fall in place.
In creation, everything from the largest to the tiniest aspect is cyclic (perpetual) in nature and each cycle has both manifestation and dissolution. Hence, in Nirvana Shatakam, Śrī Śankaracharya addresses Śiva as “Cidanandata Rupa” (Cit:Anandat:Rūpa) – meaning, the essence of Ananda (Supreme bliss) in Cit (Supreme Infinite Consciousness). Similarly, the Kśhetra/temple in South India “Chitambaram”, where “Cit” means Supreme Consciousness and “Ambaram” to wear as a garment. On the other hand, Viṣṇu is Jagannatha (Jagat+Natha), meaning He is the only destiny (Natha) to be reached in Jagat. As Jagadguru Shri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvatī said “Sarvam Viṣṇu:mayam jagat”, meaning when one realizes that Jagat itself is Viṣṇu, then the one realizing this ceases to exist as a Jīva and becomes Ekam (Singularity); this state of ekam is Śivam (Supreme state of Bliss), hence “Sarvam Viṣṇu:mayam jagath: Śivam”. That is why the hymn from Nārāyaṇa Sukta (Mahanarayana Upaniṣhad) of Yajur Veda says one should meditate upon Viṣṇu (the all-pervasiveness) as the means of realizing the self, which is Nārāyaṇa. Since Viṣṇu is the only thing to achieve, a Ḍharma:patni (wife) addresses her husband as Pati or Natha or Swami. In the ceremony of Vivaha (weddings) the groom is treated as Viṣṇu and the bride is treated as Lakṣmī. This very Viśvām is nothing but Viṣṇu. To depict this, we have the story of Kṣīrāsagara manthana – in which the cosmic ocean was churned and both prosperity (Lakṣmī) and anti-creation (Halāhala) emerged. Whereas Lakṣmī went to the all-pervasive preserver Viṣṇu as his consort, the Halāhala was devoured by PāramaŚiva. Hence the profound quote, “we grow as we dissolve” (no reference found for this quote).
As explained by Rishi Vaśiṣṭha to Śrī Rama during the narration of Prahalada’s events:
“Lord Viṣṇu is the self of all and whatever notion arises in him materializes immediately. His manifestation is uncaused, but it has the sole purpose of creating the infinite creatures in this universe. By the attainment of self-knowledge, lord Visnu is realized; and by the adoration of lord Viṣṇu, self-realization is attained”
(Swami Venkatesananda. 1993) Since Śiva is Cit:Ananda, His consort is Cit:Śakti. Through Cit:Śakti, creation unfolds or propagates as Prakriti. Śiva is not a being with a specific existence or basis, as Śiva is all-inherent auspiciousness. Śiva is not a name with an origin; hence, Svayambho (self-evident auspiciousness of Cit:ananda), and “Nirguṇa Pārabrahmā Swarūpa” (meaning an abstract representation of the formless or un-manifested aspect of Pārabrahmā). Hence, the mantra from Niralamb Upaniṣhad widely recited during Yogic Kriyas as Guru Smarana:
oṃ namaḥ śivāya gurave| satccidānanda mūrtaye niṣprapañcāya śantāya| nirālambāya tejase