इमाः सोम्य नद्यः पुरस्तात्प्राच्यः स्यन्दन्ते पश्चात्प्रतीच्यस्ताः समुद्रात्समुद्रमेवापियन्ति स समुद्र एव भवति ता यथा तत्र न विदुरियमहमस्मीयमहमस्मीति ॥ ६.१०.१ ॥
imāḥ somya nadyaḥ purastātprācyaḥ syandante paścātpratīcyastāḥ samudrātsamudramevāpiyanti sa samudra eva bhavati tā yathā tatra na viduriyamahamasmīyamahamasmīti || 6.10.1 ||
1. O Somya, those rivers belonging to the east run to the east, and those belonging to the west run to the west. Rising from the sea, they go back to it and become one with it. Just as, when they reach the sea, they do not know their separate identities—‘I am this river,’ or ‘I am that river’—
Imāḥ, these; somya, O Somya; nadyaḥ, rivers; purastāt, of the east; prācyaḥ syandante, flow to the east; pratīcyaḥ, of the west; paścāt, to the west; tāḥ, they; samudrāt, [rising] from the sea; samudram eva apiyanti, go to the sea; saḥ samudraḥ eva bhavati, become one with that sea; yathā, as; tatra, there; tāḥ, they; na viduḥ, do not know; iyam aham asmi iyam aham asmi iti, I am this [river], I am this [river].
Uddālaka gives another illustration. There are so many rivers in this country, and each originates from a different area. Ultimately, however, they all flow into the sea. They then lose their separate identities and become one with the sea. When the Ganga flows into the sea, you can no longer identify it as such. Can a drop of water in the sea say, ‘I am the Ganga,’ or ‘I am the Sindhu’? No. So also, when we die our sense of identity disappears temporarily.
Then again, where did these rivers come from? They came from the sea. Sea water becomes vapour, rises, and forms into clouds. The clouds then go over the land and pour down rain, which eventually goes into the rivers and at last into the sea. The rivers come from the sea and go back to the sea. The sea is the source, but the rivers do not know this. This cycle is going on all the time.
So also we come from pure Spirit and go back to pure Spirit, but we are not aware of it. We are only conscious of our separate identities. In dreamless sleep, our separate identities are wiped out for the time being. We sleep so soundly we do not even know we exist. We are then part of the Cosmic Self. Then when we wake up, we resume our separate identities again.
Similarly, when we die, it is the body that dies. The individual self continues and is one with Existence. This does not mean liberation, however. We do not know that we have become one with Existence. It is as if we are in deep sleep. As the water rises from the sea and again falls down to become the Ganga or the Sindhu, so also, we again become some individual with a new body.
Why are we not liberated? Because ignorance is there. When we die our ignorance is suspended for some time, and we are temporarily not conscious of our separate existence. But when we are reborn we resume our life from the point where we left off. We then have a new body but we retain all the impressions that we had in our previous life.
These impressions manifest themselves again in our new birth because they have become part of our being. This is why we often find so much difference between one brother and another. Two brothers may be close in age but poles apart in temperament. One may be very studious, with scholarly inclinations, and the other may be very outgoing, more interested in sports and other activities. Even in terms of physical appearance they may be quite different. They are two separate identities.
So, unless we attain Self-knowledge and become free, death is like going into deep sleep. It is a temporary pause in our life’s struggle. But the struggle must go on because of our ignorance.