Reincarnation of the Soul: How rational?

Swami-Vivekananda

Neither you nor I nor anyone present has come out of zero, nor will go back to zero. We have been existing eternally, and will exist, and there is no power under the sun, or above the sun, which can undo your or my existence or send us back to zero. Now, this idea of reincarnation is not only not a frightening idea, but most essential for the moral well-being of the human race. It is the only logical conclusion that thoughtful men can arrive at. If you are going to exist in eternity hereafter, it must be that you have existed through eternity in the past; it cannot be otherwise.

I will try to answer a few objections that are generally brought against the theory.

The first objection is: Why do we not remember our past? But do we remember all our past in this life? How many of you remember what you did when you were babies? None of you remember your babyhood; and it upon memory depends your existence, then this argument proves that you did not exist as babies, because you do not remember your babyhood. It is simply unmitigated nonsense to say that our existence depends on our remembering it. How can we remember our past life? That brain is gone, broken into pieces, and a new brain has been manufactured. What has come to this brain is the resultant, the sum total, of the impressions acquired in our past, with which the mind has come to inhabit the new body. I, as I stand here, am the effect, the result, of all the infinite past which is tacked on to me. Such is the power of superstition that many of those who deny the doctrine of reincarnation believe that we are descended from monkeys. But they do not have the courage to ask why we do not remember our monkey life! When a great ancient sage, a seer or a prophet of old who came face to face with Truth, says something, these modern men stand up and say, “Oh, he was a fool!” But just use another name – Huxley or Tyndall – then it must be true, and they take it for granted. In place of ancient superstitions they have erected modern superstitions; in place of the old popes of religion they have installed modern popes of science. So we see that this objection as to memory is not valid; and that is about the only serious objection raised against this theory.

Although we have seen that it is not necessary for the acceptance of this theory that there should be the memory of past lives, yet at the same time we are in a position to assert that there are instances which show that this memory does come, and that each one of us will get back this memory at the time of liberation, when we shall find that this world is but a dream. Then alone will you realize in the soul of your soul that you are but actors and the world is a stage; then alone will the idea of non-attachment come to you with the power of thunder; then all this thirst for enjoyment, this clinging to life and this world, will vanish forever; then the mind will see as clear as daylight how many times all these existed for you-how many millions of times you had fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, relatives and friends, wealth and power. They came and went. How many times you were on the very crest of the wave, and how many times you were down at the bottom of despair! When memory brings all these to you, then alone will you stand as a hero and smile when the world frowns upon you. Then alone will you stand up and say: “I care not even for thee, 0 Death! What terrors hast thou for me?” This will come to all.

Are there any arguments, any rational proofs, for the reincarnation of the soul? So far we have been giving the negative side, showing that the opposite arguments to disprove it are invalid. Are there any positive proofs? There are-and most valid ones, too. No other theory except that of reincarnation accounts for the wide divergence that we find between man and man in their power to acquire knowledge. First let us consider the process by means of which knowledge is acquired. Suppose I go into the street and see a dog. How do I know it is a dog? I refer it to my mind, and in my mind are groups of all my past experiences, arranged and pigeon-holed, as it were. As soon as a new impression comes, I take it up and refer it to some of the old pigeon-holes, and as soon as I find a group of the same impressions already existing, I place it in that group and I am satisfied. I know it is a dog because it coincides with impressions already there. And when I do not find the cognates of a new experience inside, I become dissatisfied. When, not finding the cognates of an impression, we become dissatisfied, this state of mind is called ignorance; but when, finding the cognates of an impression already existing, we become satisfied, this is called knowledge. When one apple fell, men became dissatisfied Then gradually they found out a series of the same impressions, forming, as it were, a chain. What was the chain they found? That all apples fell. They called this gravitation.

Now, we see that without a fund of already existing experiences any new experience would be impossible, for there would be nothing to which to refer the new impression. So if, as some of the European philosophers think, a child came into the world with what they call a tabula rasa, such a child would never attain to any degree of intellectual power, because he would have nothing to which to refer his new experiences. We see that the power of acquiring knowledge varies in each individual, and this shows that each one of us has come with his own fund of knowledge. Knowledge can only be got in one way, the way of experience; there is no other way to know. If we have not had the experience in this life, we must have had it in other lives.

How is it that the fear of death is everywhere? A little chicken is just out of the egg and an eagle comes, and the chicken dies in fear to its mother. There is an old explanation (I should hardly dignify it by such a name) it is called instinct. What makes that little chicken just out of the egg afraid to die? How is it that as soon as a duckling hatched by a hen comes near water it jumps into it and swims? It never swam before nor saw anything swim. People call it instinct. It is a big word, but it leaves us where we were before.

Let as study this phenomenon of instinct. A child begins to play on the piano. At first she must pay attention to every key she is fingering, and as she goes on and on for months and years, the playing becomes almost involuntary, instinctive. What was first done with conscious will does not require later on an effort of the will. This is not yet a complete proof. One half remains, and that is that almost all the actions which are now instinctive can be brought under the control of the will. Each muscle of the body can be brought under control. This is perfectly well known. So the proof is complete, by this double method, that what we now call instinct is the degeneration of voluntary actions. Therefore if the analogy applies to the whole of creation, if all nature is uniform, then what is instinct in lower animals, as well as in men, must be the degeneration of will.

From the study of the macrocosm we discovered that each evolution presupposes an involution, and each involution an evolution. How is instinct explained in the light of this knowledge? What we call instinct is the result of voluntary action. Instinct in men or animals must therefore have been created by their previous voluntary actions. When we Speak of voluntary actions, We admit previous experience. This previous experience thus creates instinct. The little chicken’s fear of death, the duckling’s taking to the water, and all the involuntary actions in the human being, which are the result of past experiences, have now become instinctive.

So far we have proceeded very clearly, and so far the latest science is with Us. The latest scientific men are coming back to the ancient sages, and as far as they have done so there is no difficulty. They admit that each man and each animal is born with a fund of experience, and that all the instincts in the mind are the result of past experience. “But what,” they ask, “is the use of saying that that experience belongs to the soul? Why not say it belongs to the body, and the body alone? Why not say it is hereditary transmission?” This is the last question. Why not say that all the experience with which I am born is the resultant of all the past experience of my ancestors? The sum total of the experiences from the little protoplasm up to the highest human being is in me, but it has come from body to body in the course of hereditary transmission. Where will the difficulty be?

This question is very nice, and we admit some part of this hereditary transmission. How far? As far as furnishing the material of the body. We, by our past actions, are born in a certain body, and the suitable material for that body comes from the parents who have made themselves fit to have our soul as their offspring. But the simple hereditary theory takes for granted, without any proof, the most astonishing proposition: that mental experience can be recorded in matter, that mental experience can be involved in matter.

When I look at you, in the lake of my mind there is a wave. That wave subsides, but it remains in fine form, as an impression. We understand a physical impression’s remaining in the body. But what proof is there for assuming that the mental impression can remain in the body, since the body goes to pieces? What carries it? Even granting that it is possible for each mental impression to remain in the body-that every impression, beginning from the first man down to my father, was in my father’s body-how could it be transmitted to me? Through the bioplasmic cell? How could that happen? The father’s body does not come to the child in toto. The same parents may have a number of children. Then, from this theory of hereditary transmission, where the impression and the impressed are one, because both are material, it rigorously follows that, by the birth of every child, the parents must lose a part of their own impressions, or, if the parents should transmit the whole of their impressions, then, after the birth of the first child, their minds would be a vacuum.

Again, if in the bioplasmic cell the infinite amount of impressions from all time have entered, where and how can they exist there? This is a most impossible position, and until these physiologists can prove how and where those impressions live in that cell, and what they mean by a mental impression’s sleeping in the physical cell, their position cannot be taken for granted.

So far it is clear, then, that these impressions are in the mind, that the mind comes to take birth after birth and uses the material most proper for it, and that the mind which has made itself fit for only a particular kind of body will have to wait until it gets that material. This we understand. The theory then comes to this: There is hereditary transmission so far as furnishing the material to the soul is concerned. But the soul migrates and manufactures body after body; and each thought we think and each deed we do is stored in it in due forms, ready to spring up again and take a new shape. When I look at you a wave rises in my mind. It goes down, as it were, and becomes finer and liner, but it does not die. It is ready to start up again as a wave in the shape of memory. So all these impressions are in my mind, and when I die the resultant force of them will be upon me. A ball is here, and each one of us takes a mallet in his hands and strikes the ball from all sides; the ball goes from point to point in the room, and when it reaches the door it flies out. What carries it out? The resultant of all these blows. That will give it its direction. So what directs the soul when the body dies? The resultant, the sum total, of all the works it has done, of all the thoughts it has thought. If the resultant is such that it has to manufacture a new body for further experience, it will go to those parents who are ready to supply it with suitable material for that body.

Thus from body to body it will go, sometimes to a heaven, and back again to earth, becoming a man or some lower animal. In this way it will go on until it has finished its experience and completed the circle. It then knows its own nature, knows what it is, and its ignorance vanishes. Its powers become manifest; it becomes perfect. No more is there any necessity for the soul to work through physical bodies, nor is there any necessity for it to work through fine or mental bodies. It shines in its own light and is free-no more to be born, no more to die.

Swami Vivekananda
Excerpts from: Vivekananda Yogas and Other Works

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Sorrow does not happen; you contrive it.

imagesSorrow does not happen; you contrive it. When you hear the news of someone’s death, you are only shocked; only after the news sinks in does sorrow slowly develop. Like jealousy and “other emotions, sorrow is built up. Happiness is natural to you, sorrow is not. If sorrow were natural, you would be happily sorrowful; but you want to get rid of it, and you can get rid of it, because it does not belong to you. Though it looks as if happiness comes and goes, it does not. It is only that your confused thoughts sometimes keep you from enjoying the happiness that you are. You think that this world makes you sorrowful, and that giving it up will help you; but you cannot give up the world totally as long as you are alive. As Lord Krishna has said in Gita, no one can remain without activity even for a moment:-

न हि कश्चित्क्षणमपि जातु तिष्ठत्यकर्मकृत् (3.5)
na hi kaśhchit kṣhaṇam api jātu tiṣhṭhatyakarma-kṛit

Swami Dayananda Saraswati
Excerpts from The Teachings of the Bhagavad Gita

How is it that what is infinite, ever perfect, Absolute, has come under delusions? How did sin come into this world?

swamiji

If a man reasons, there is no place for him to stand until he comes to this: that there is but one Existence, that everything else is nothing. There is no other way left for rational mankind but to take this view. But how is it that what is infinite, ever perfect, ever blessed, Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute, Sat-Chita-Ananda सत्-चित्-आनन्द, has come under these delusions – that I am imperfect, I am a man or woman, or a sinner or a I am the mind, or I have thought? It is the same question that has been asked all the world over. In the vulgar form the question becomes, “How did sin come into this world?” This is the most vulgar and sensuous form of the question, and the other is the more philosophic form; but the answer is the same. The same question has been asked in various grades and fashions, but in its lower form it finds no solution, because the stories of apples and serpents and women do not give the explanation. In that state the question is childish and so is the answer. But the question has assumed very high proportions now: “How did this illusion come?” The answer is that we cannot expect any answer to an impossible question. The very question is impossible the way it is asked. You have no right to ask that question. Why so? What is perfection? That which is beyond time, Space, and causation. That is the perfect. Then you ask how the perfect became imperfect. In logical language the question may be put in this form: “How did that which is beyond causation become caused?” You contradict yourself. You first admit that it is beyond causation and then ask what causes it. This question can only be asked within the limits of causation. As far as time and space and causation extend, so far can this question he asked. But beyond that it will be nonsense to ask it, because the question is illogical. Within time, space, and causation it can never be answered, and what answer may lie beyond these limits can only be known when we have transcended them; therefore the wise will let this question rest. When a man is ill, he devotes himself to curing his disease, without insisting that he must first learn how he came to have it.

There is another answer to the question as to what caused this delusion: maybe more practical and understandable. Can any reality produce delusion? Certainly not. We see that one delusion produces another, and so on. It is delusion always that produces delusion. It is disease that produces disease, and not health that produces disease. The wave is the same thing as the water; the effect is the cause in another form. The effect is delusion, and therefore the cause must be delusion. What produced this delusion? Another delusion. And so on without beginning. The only question that remains for you to ask is: Does this not destroy your monism, because you get two existences in the univ verse-one the Self, and the other the delusion? The answer is: Delusion cannot be called existence. Thousands of dreams come into your life but do not form any part of your life. Dreams come and go; they have no existence. To call delusion existence will be sophistry. Therefore there is only one indivisible Existence in the universe, ever free and ever blessed, and that is what you are. This is the last conclusion reached by the Advaitists.

Swami Vivekananda
Excerpts from Vivekananda The Yoga and Other Works

As humanity travels from lower truth to higher truth..it perceives God in three different ways!

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There are three ways in which man perceives God.

First, the undeveloped intellect of the uneducated man sees God as being far away, up in the heavens somewhere, sitting on a throne as a great Judge. He looks upon Him with fear, as a terror. Now, that is good; there is nothing bad in it. You must remember that humanity travels not from error to truth, but from truth to truth-it may be, if you like it better, from lower truth to higher truth; but never from error to truth. Suppose you start from here and travel towards the sun in a straight line. From here the sun looks small. Suppose you go forward a million miles; it will surely seem much larger. At every stage it will become bigger and bigger. Suppose that twenty thousand photographs are taken of the same sun, all from different standpoints; these twenty thousand photographs will all certainly differ from one another. But can you deny that each is a photograph of the same sun? So all forms of religion, high or low, are just different stages in the upward journey towards that eternal Light, which is God Himself. Some embody a lower view, some a higher, and that is all the difference. Therefore the religions of the unthinking masses all over the world teach, and have always taught, of a God who is outside the universe, who lives in heaven, who governs from that place, who is the punisher of the bad and the rewarder of the good, and so on.

As man advances spiritually, he begins to feel that God is omnipresent, that He must be in him, that He must be everywhere, that He is not a distant God, but clearly the Soul of all souls. As my soul moves my body, even so is God the mover of my soul-the Soul within the soul. And a few individuals of pure heart and highly developed mind go still farther, and at last find God. As the New Testament says: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” And they find at last that they and the Father are one.

You will find that these three stages are taught by the great Teacher in the New Testament. Note the common prayer He taught: “Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name,” and so on; a simple prayer, mark you, a child’s prayer. It is indeed the “common prayer” because it is intended for the uneducated masses. To a higher circle, to those who had advanced a little more, He gave a more elevated teaching: “I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.” Do you remember that? And then, when the Jews asked Him who He was, he declared that He and His Father were one; and the Jews thought that that was blasphemy. What did He mean by that? But the same thing had been taught by the Jewish Prophets: “Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the Most High.” Mark the same three stages. You will find that it is easier for you to begin with the first and end with the last.

Swami Vivekananda

Excerpts from Vivekananda Yoga and Other Works