The purpose of tradition is to pass on useful knowledge
The uniqueness of the vedic tradition is that the subject of its scrutiny was not matter but spirit. Even when matter was analyzed it was seen as an evolute of spirit and not as an independent entity in itself. Realizing the impermanence of matter, they turned their attention to that which survives after matter decays. Thus right from the beginning vedic traditions evolved with the purpose of influencing not just life but after life as well.
The meditative experiences of the rishis and munis revealed that after the body dies and decays there is something in each one of us that lives on. Throughout life it remains a witness, inspiring us and at times giving us a glimpse of itself. But this glimpse is fragmented, and does not appear as the constant unbroken and effulgent awareness that it is. This means within us is a doer and a witness of what the doer does. That witness is called chetana, consciousness or awareness, or one might say conscious awareness.
To have a safe flight after this awareness has left the body, we will have to build a deep and abiding link with it when alive. We should be able to identify with our awareness just as much as we identify with our body and mind. When the body dies and the mind is extinguished, this awareness continues to experience itself in different dimensions of existence. What makes human life more special than other forms of life is that as a human one can know and experience this awareness in this body itself, without dying.
To know awareness is the ultimate existence.
This means that after death the awareness that we carry with us throughout life becomes disembodied and moves around as pure awareness, pulsating with energy. But it has no form. As it is not restricted by the physical attributes, it can move into different realms that exist in a different time and space and beyond time and space as well. These spheres of existence are known as lokas. They are seven in number: bhu-loka (earthly plane), bhuvar-loka (intermediate plane), suvar-loka (divine plane), maha-loka (plane of saints and siddhas), jana-loka(plane of rishis and munis), tapo-loka (plane of liberated souls) and satya-loka(plane of ultimate truth). This it does only if it has acquired gati, or momentum, through deeds performed during the course of life. Naturally, certain deeds accelerate the momentum of awareness while others retard it. These deeds can be loosely classified into virtuous and sinful, but in order to understand virtue and sin we will have to redefine our understanding of these two concepts. There is one concept that society imposes on us, and we all know what society has classified as virtue and sin. But, strangely, when it comes to the momentum of awareness there is a completely different set of rules that define it. This definition is a more scientific classification as opposed to the moral and religious overtones of society's concepts. This set of rules is known as dharma.
Dharma is eternal. It never changes; therefore it is known as sanatan. It is one of nature's best traditions. It teaches us the principles that hold the world together. The dictionary defines it as right conduct. Instead it should be defined as the values that complement the laws of nature. The entire creation is made up of three gunas or qualities known as sattwa, rajas and tamas. The interplay of these three qualities gives birth to the manifest world. They are present in each and every speck of life in varying proportions. Sattwa is luminosity, rajas is turbulent activity and tamas is inertia.
Acts of dharma generate a sattwic vibration that creates soothing, stable and life-promoting energy circuits. Anything that obstructs the smooth flow of this sattwic energy is thus termed a sin. Acts that promote sattwic energy are acts of virtue. You may well say that when the tenets of sanatan dharma decay and vanish from our lives then pralaya, or the end of the world, is near. It is dharma that sustains the world. Without it the world would degenerate. Any thought word or deed that is sattwic in nature aids dharma in upholding the world.
This universe and all that is born in it
lives and breathes only on account of sattwa.
Rajasic vibrations dissipate the homogeneity of the universe and tamas induces darkness. Meditation is a sattwic deed. So too is prayer. In fact any creativity is sattwic in nature.
This sattwic energy that comes into prominence through dharmic deeds helps the individual by making his life harmonious and thus more creative and prosperous. And it prepares him for after life as well. The state of embodied awareness after death can be compared to a football lying idle on the field until a player comes along and with a good kick gives it gati or momentum. The awareness too remains in a state of inertia and hovers in different planes according to the momentum it has gained due to past deeds. It is the sattwic deeds alone that generate the required momentum to propel the awareness to higher planes.
Although death eradicates the physical body, it cannot destroy this awareness. It is therefore correct to surmise that for us awareness is more important than the body and mind. It outlives both. When the body and mind cease to be, then it is this disembodied awareness alone that carries the jiva forward. If you have not cared to awaken this awareness while living, then the momentum that it needs to propel itself forward is not there and it will remain dull and inert in lower planes of existence. The force that propels the jiva forward, backward or keeps it lying idle is known as karma. Karma is action. Some karmas are conducive to the awakening of awareness and some are a hindrance. Yet others do not influence it in any way. The karmas we perform are in turn influenced by samskaras.
Through science we know that there are inferior and superior forms of life, such as plants, birds, minerals, vegetables, animals, and so on. But within the human race itself there are inferior and superior forms of birth. These categories are delineated not by external paraphernalia such as beauty, wealth, name and fame, but by the inner samskaras which guide the behaviour, thought patterns, responses and reactions to the varied situations and circumstances of life.
The word samskara has no real equivalent in English. It has often been described as a religious rite, ritual or ceremony. That is a superficial explanation. Of course it is a rite, but to merely say that is not enough. It would be more accurate to say samskara is a rite which, through a process of purification, makes a certain thing or person fit for a certain purpose. This it accomplishes in two ways. First, by removing obstacles and blemishes and then by generating fresh qualities within the person. Suffice it to say that it educates, trains, refines, perfects, polishes, moulds and decorates the entire personality of man so that he may develop human qualities and not remain at the level of instinct, as animals do.
Until and unless this happens man is no better than an animal, although he may have inherited a human body. The four basic instincts of sleep, hunger, fear and procreation that govern animals govern man too. But if he wishes to be called a fully-fledged man in the true sense of the word then he has to rise above the instinctive level. Nature has been generous to man. It has given him the priceless power to do so. But how is he to do this?
It is for this purpose and solely for this aim that the vedic seers revealed the most precious tradition of initiating him into samskaras at specific moments of his life, from conception to death. This knowledge has been handed down through the guru parampara or tradition. It is important to realize that the tradition of samskaras was not a religious concept, nor was it social or cultural. It was a metaphysical concept that was so deftly woven into the social, cultural and religious fabric of man's life that he was compelled to implement it, just as he is compelled to receive secular knowledge today in order to earn a living.
Our ancient rishis and munis realized
that life was primarily a mystical journey
rather than a material one.
Despite all his material achievements, at the end of the day man has to come to terms with himself. He has to face himself squarely. His material gains will not come to his rescue there. For that he has to build a different sort of bank balance. They knew too that in the mad race for material comforts man is bound to ignore the necessity of building this reserve. So they introduced these rites in such a way that they became essential for his coexistence in society. In that way he was bound to incorporate them into his life. Moreover, they linked these rites with the most basic stages of life such as conception, birth, adolescence, marriage and subsequently death – all those events that forever remain a mystery to man and over which he has no control.
Nice to hear Swami Satyasangananda Saraswati saying in above inspired and highly inspiring article about tradition she's an ordinary being - i can assure if she is something she is not ordinary but a highly evolved, tantric, vedic and yogic master, of which even in India there are only a few. http://www.yogamag.net/archives/2000s/2002/0201/0201trd1.html