Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Garuda Purana

This is a translation of an abridged version of the Garuda
Purana. The Garuda Purana is one of the Vishnu Puranas.
It is in the form of a dialog between Vishnu and Garuda, the
King of Birds. The second section of this Purana (given here)
deals with issues connected with death, particularly funeral
rites and the metaphysics of reincarnation. Portions of the
Garuda Purana are used by some Hindus as funeral liturgy.
Indeed, some consider it unlucky to read this text except
during funerals.

Of interest are the intermediate states
between birth and rebirth, which roughly correspond to
the western concepts of Hell and Heaven. Since this was
written during the medieval era, it is possible that the writer
of this text had contact with Christianity. Earlier Hindu texts
do not elaborate about 'hell' and 'heaven,' at least not to this
extent, and the subject is completely absent in the oldest texts

. Here, the torments of Hell are described in terms that would
not be out of place in a Baptist revival tent (or Dante, for that
matter). In addition, the four-square city of Yama, the God of
Death, is reminiscent of the heavenly city in Revelation. However,
these are way stations between incarnations (or, as termed in the
Tibetan Book of the Dead, Bardos), not a permanent destination.

The Garuda Purana starts with the details of the afterlife. Following
this is an account of funeral procedures, including rituals, the
astrological timing of the post-death observances, and ritual gifts.
Balancing the extended vision of Hell in the earlier part of the
document is a shorter account of the City of Yama. After that
is an enumeration of correspondences between the macrocosmos
and the human body.

The final part of this text is an appeal to self-knowledge as
the key to liberation, going beyond austerities and study of
the texts. "The fool, not knowing that the truth is seated in
himself, is bewildered by the Shastras,--a foolish goatherd,
with the young goat under his arm, peers into the well."

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