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Reincarnation: A Hypothesis

In October 1893 Swami Vivekananda spoke on "Reincarnation", the report of which was published in 'Evanston Index' on 7th October, "...Reincarnation was the subject treated by the Hindu monk. This was very interesting, the views being those that are not often heard in this part of the world (USA)"

Vedanta maintains primacy of thought over grosser matter - mind over body. It is the mind with all its desires, to be more exact, mind with all its modifications as desires, reincarnates in (or as) a suitable body. Thought is subtle matter that assumes grosser visible form. The tendencies, desires, and thoughts choose suitable environment, parenthood, and circumstances to express or manifest themselves as 'bodies'. Hence, reincarnation actually means rebirth of tendencies. As desires are varying and unlimited, the creation of forms as bodies will also be innumerable and eternal. (In general, desires are unending but in specific cases -as in a liberated soul- they have an end. The teachings of Buddhism also offer means of escape from the sufferings of life and the endless reincarnations caused by human desires to an indescribable state of no desires known as Nirvana.)

Hatred (or a baser thought), for instance, may manifest in many individuals, but typically one may quote the name of some representative as an 'embodiment' of such a thought. Here the thought of many people, so to say, has reincarnated in its strongest form. A pure thought -e.g. desire of God realization in many people, likewise, finds its expression in the form of, say, Sri Ramakrishna. Similarly, base or pure thoughts determine birth of a smuggler (greed), a murderer (jealousy and revenge); or a Buddha or a Christ (compassion and love).

These desires, tendencies, and thoughts compel the individual to get engaged in particular actions -Karma- even against his wishes. De facto he is the personification of those desires; he and the desires are not two separate entities. The desires may make a person a saint or a robber, selfish or selfless, happy or miserable. The unending permutations and combinations of overt or covert desires produce variety of characters and personalities; nay, even animals, plants, and insentient matter! That is why Holy Mother Ma Saradadevi once said that every trace of desire must be eliminated first before one might think of becoming free and attain Liberation.

When we accept the mind as subtle matter or energy, like light and radiation, we can understand that the mind as 'subatomic particle and wave' phenomenon would exist even after death of an individual. As Swami Vivekananda said,

"Modern science has proved that matter exists and continues to exist. Creation is merely a change in appearance. We are not sprung from nothing..."

And after death we will not disappear in 'nothing'. The mental tendencies would continue to live even after the body is cremated or buried. We continue to exist as thought-waves even after death.

"We all existed eternally as thought and will go on existing as thought", says Swami Vivekananda.

Even though a thought, a desire, or a tendency remains suppressed for many years, it will not get destroyed, and sooner or later it will find its expression in some body form. Depending upon the nature of desire, the objectified form could be a sub-human species or a human being. It may take the form of a virus or a saint. This objectified form will work out (carry out) that desire and thus the 'law of karma' would be enacted. Similarly one may be placed in a favorable or miserable circumstances depending upon the 'thoughts' one had in previous births. Sometimes only one desire may reincarnate in one birth. One base thought may incarnate as a 'lower animal' one time, for instance, and later other pure thoughts may incarnate as a saint; who knows? Thus, it is not certain whether one will get a human birth in every reincarnation.

In such perplexing predicaments, the solution may be:

1) Not to have any desires, thoughts, or modifying tendencies of the mind, or one can make conscious attempt to minimize the same (practice of Yoga), or
2) To have only pure thoughts so that one may get the human body every time and thereby a chance to liberate oneself from this 'cycle' (by leading good moral life and associating with holy persons, etc.),

To find out a method of 'undoing this Karma', Swami Vivekananda says:

"We learn that, in the first place, we have been existing eternally; in the second place that we are the makers of our own lives. There is no such thing as fate. Our lives are the result of our previous actions, our Karma. And it naturally follows that having been ourselves the makers of our Karma, we must also be able to unmake it. The whole gist of Jnana-Yoga is to show humanity the method of undoing this Karma."

Reincarnation is evolutionary process characterized by resolution and dissolution of matter till 'the desire to become many' is once again overcome. The process is hastened by conscious spiritual practice (sadhana). The resultant nondual experience -transcendental realization of oneness of reality- saves the soul from reincarnation, till then, as Hindu scriptures say, 'we have to pass through the cycle of 'birth and death' in this samsara (illusory world).'

The spiritual aspirant (sadhaka) may have only one desire -that of realizing his Chosen Ideal- at the exclusion of all other desires. After intense perseverance and great austerities the sadhaka is graciously bestowed with the fulfillment of that desire in the form of spiritual vision. His mind, so to say, temporarily reincarnates as his Chosen Ideal. Later, still further, the aspirant may transcend the limitation of this form also to become Free forever. For such a person there is no more reincarnation.

Person not engaged in spiritual sadhana (non-concentrated mind) through many thousands of years of painful experiences ("blows" as Swami Vivekananda says) reaches the same stage where freedom from all worldly desires is sought. This is the beginning of renunciation. The mind of such a person now merges in spiritual practice. In due course of time and with efforts, freed from all modifications, it does not reincarnate and that soul is said to have become free; never to be born again -gets mukti (liberation) as Indian scriptures say.

Before everything there exists Reality as Absolute Consciousness. What makes the Unchangeable Reality (without desires) to change into many? The Will to become many is the beginning of manifest universe. This concept of 'One consciousness desiring to become many' may also be taken as the beginning of Maya. But as we are discussing relative truths of this changing world, which we have taken for granted to be real, we have to elaborate the hypothetical rationality of reincarnation and related topics of Indian belief system. Indeed, much the same way we experiment and theorize the rationality of truths of external nature in other physical sciences. If we say that the theory of reincarnation is a farce, then there is no greater farce than chemistry and physics, mathematics and astronomy.

The structural arrangement of "matter combined with energy", for instance our brain-mind complex, determines particular manifestation of consciousness. The structure goes on evolving through eternity and various forms are created which manifest incomplete and a distorted version of the one and the same transcendental consciousness. The structure is determined by the quality and nature of desires one has, or by the impressions of the desires one had in the past. However one need not panic if one finds oneself born with worldly tendencies with little hope to escape from the 'law of karma' and reincarnation. Our body-brain-mind structure can be modified by doing regular sadhana, assisted by various Yogas under the guidance of an able Teacher who has liberated himself from this cycle.
c s shah
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