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Page from an illustrated manuscript of the Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana

 

Before they can be investigated—before they can even be seen to exist—some things must be dredged up from the depths where they sleep; but aren’t those precisely the things nobody wishes to dredge up?—precisely the ones we would rather let sleep?

Three of our most fundamental and most harrowing experiences as conscious beings, inhering within three of the most essential stages of our existence, are lost to us—totally lost. It is as if they had been obliterated, blotted from our minds.

But these blank areas where our life should be don’t trouble us, and nor do we trouble ourselves about them. Content to declare irrecoverably lost what we fear to find, we forge ahead with our daily projects, rendered insensible to reality’s depths by the deadening force of routine, and the suffering we endured during the initial phases of our embodiment in a material form remains buried in darkness and silence.

Indeed, a man can live and die without ever once becoming aware certain essential parts of his experience have vanished and without ever once reflecting on the significance of this disappearance.

The remarkable passages from the Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana which follow could be interpreted as a valiant attempt to recover that lost knowledge we would all like to remain lost, to remember what eludes memory and what memory is glad eludes it.

Read them if you dare!

C.S.

 

Passages from the Srimad Bahgavata Mahapurana Describing Life in the Womb, at Birth, and in Early Infancy

 

I.

Deriving its nutrition from the food and drink taken by the mother, the fetus grows and remains in that abominable receptacle of feces and urine, the breeding-place of worms. Bitten again and again all over the body by the hungry worms in the abdomen itself, the creature suffers terrible agony on account of its tenderness and swoons away moment after moment. Nay, adversely affected by the bitter, pungent, hot, salt, dry, acid and other such irritating substances consumed by its mother, the fetus experiences a painful sensation in every part of its body. Enclosed by the amnion and covered outside by the intestines, it remains lying in one side of the abdomen with its head turned towards the belly and with its back and neck arched like a bow. Unable to move its own limbs like a bird which cannot freely move in a cage, the creature in the womb finds its memory awakened by the will of Providence and recollects its doings committed during hundreds of previous lives and feels suffocated for a long time. What peace of mind can it have under such circumstances?

II.

The fetus, though endowed with consciousness from the seventh month of its conception, is tossed by the winds that press the embryo downwards during the weeks preceding delivery, and cannot remain at one place like the worm born of feces in the same abdominal cavity. Tied to the physical body, made up of the seven ingredients, which are like so many cords to bind it, the human soul, which regards the body as his own self, is much afraid of the process of gestation being repeated in other such births, and with joined palms he entreats and extols Him by whom he was cast into the womb, in a tone full of agony.

III.

Pushed downwards all of a sudden by the wind, the child issues out of the womb with great trouble, head downward, breathless and deprived of memory out of agony. Fallen on earth in a pool of blood and urine, discharged by the mother, the new born babe tosses like a worm sprung from ordure, and having lost its wisdom acquired in the womb and reduced to a state of self-identification with the body which is just the reverse of wisdom, cries loudly.

IV.

Being nourished by people who do not know the mind of another, it is given something which was not intended; and the pity of it is that the child is unable to refuse it. Laid on a foul bed infested by sweat-born creatures the poor creature is incapable even of scratching its limbs to relieve itching, much less of sitting up, standing or moving itself. Just as smaller worms bite a big worm, even so gnats, mosquitoes, bugs and other creatures sting or bite the babe, who is most tender of skin and, deprived of its wisdom acquired in the womb, cries bitterly.

Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana
(3.31)