Is There a Rebirth? The Vedological Approach

July 19, 2011 at 7:38 am (Rebirth Cause and Resolution) (, , )

The world was created by God. However, what was the need for Him to create this immense universe of unimaginable complexity? This is the question. Suppose one says that God was bored by loneliness and in order to get rid of this boredom He indulged in creation. This then would imply that God is also a victim of dissatisfaction and boredom like us. On the other hand if it is said that there is no specific reason for creation then this would imply an unsound mind because doing anything without a purpose is a sign of an unbalanced mind. It is only a mad person who cries or laughs or runs without any reason (Brahma Sutras 2.1.32). Obviously, none of these could possibly be accepted. What then is the way out?

We all know that no kind of any dissatisfaction or boredom is possible in God because He is the nature of bliss itself (Ananda). Further, the charge of an unsound mind also does not stick because God’s creation is unimaginably mysterious, complex and coordinated.  Therefore, His act of creation is not the result of an unsound mind, in other words, it is not without a purpose.

Query: God did not create the world for Himself; nor was this created without a reason. So, why did God create the world at all?

Reply: The Vedas answer this question by saying that the creation of the world is for the sake of the Jivas. It is similar to the father preparing a toy for his child.

Question: How can that be? According to the Vedas, creation is a process having many stages. For example, first the five elements (sky, air, fire, water and earth) are created and so on. The creation of the Jiva is only the last stage in this process. Then how do you say that this creation is for the sake of Jivas only?

Resolution: It is this way: the Jivas exist even before creation. Just as a pregnant woman knits socks and gloves for the child to be born, so does God create the material universe for the sake of the Jivas to be born.

Doubt: How can we believe this when we are actually seeing new Jivas being born?

Resolution: What we see is only the birth of the gross body. However, the Jiva is different from it. He is not visible.

Further Doubt: How can we say that the Jiva is different from the body?

Answer: When we are awake, we say that we are moving only when our body is moving. We say we are lying down when the body is lying down. This is because we mistake the body for ourselves. However in dreams, even though the body continues to lie on the bed, our experience is that we are wandering elsewhere. This experience would not be possible if we were not different from the body. Moreover, we know that today various organs of the body which are malfunctioning, are being replaced by inert replicas or just amputated and thrown out, or even being replaced by other organs. But the individual continues to feel that he is the same. In this way, the individual does not change even though the gross body is completely being changed. All these observations confirm that the Jiva – our very own self – is different from the body. But, when the Jiva acquires the gross body, one thinks he is born and when the Jiva leaves the body, one thinks he dies.

Doubt: This is a convincing proof for the separateness of the Jiva from the gross body. But still I could say that the Jiva is born with the gross body. In that case, the reason for the creation of the world remains unexplained. It could be explained only if the Jiva existed even before the birth of the gross body. How can that be proved?

Resolution: Notice that you need practice for even simple activities like cycling, singing or swimming. No one can do anything without practicing. But on the other hand, a newly born child successfully suckles from the breast of the mother. This action implies that the child is aware of its hunger and has the knowledge of the milk, which mitigates hunger. It also implies a knowledge of the location of the milk and the practice of suckling it. Clearly, the child didn’t practice the suckling now. So it must have practiced it before its birth, i.e. in its previous lives. In fact, we have a multitude of such examples, some of which are as follows:

1). During winter, birds migrate from the Polar Regions to warmer locations thousands of miles away. For example, Siberian birds fly to Bharatpur in Rajasthan, Ranganthittu in Karnataka and Vednatangal in Tamil Nadu. They fly at dizzy heights of about 30,000 feet and reach the same locations every year and return to Siberia by summer. How do they find their way? Scientists say they are guided by the stars, a perplexing knowledge of astronomy indeed for a bird!

2). There is a sea creature living in the Japan sea, when it becomes pregnant it travels along the coast, crosses Indonesia, Burma, Bengal and comes to the beaches of Orissa. It waits in the sea till night. Then it enters into the beach and digs a hole and lays its eggs, covers them with sand and goes back. When the chicks come out, they also wait till the night in their burrow. One of them then peeps out to verify that there is nobody to harm them. Then in one leap, it springs into the sea and all the other chicks follow it. These chicks go back to the Japan Sea after crossing Bengal, Burma, Indonesia and Thailand along the coat. Who has taught them the way?

3). A lizard can dexterously catch the flying flies the moment it comes out of the egg.

4). In the case of human, there are child prodigies in music, science, mathematics and so on. This would be impossible if had there been no previous life in which they would have undergone the appropriate practices.

This shows clearly that the Jiva must have existed even before the birth of the gross body and God creates the universe for the Jiva’s sake, so that the latter can reap the fruits of Karma done in his previous lives.

Rebirth and Vedic Activity

The concept of life after death has been the basis of all activities laid down in the Vedas, be it Agnihotra or Sandhya Vandanam.

 

 

Whether it is Puja, Bhakti, charity or good conduct (Sadaachar), everything stands only on this basis. Wise people have said that a comfortable living results from charity, intelligence from serving elder people, and longevity in life results from Ahimsa (non-violence).

Judged solely on the basis of the mere action only, charity leads to a loss of money, serving our elders results only in exhaustion and perhaps even a rebuke from the served, and Ahimsa leads to discomfort. Even then, people indulge in these actions in the hope that sometime later they would yield promise beneficial results. Since it may not be possible to enjoy the fruits of these actions in this present life itself, it would presuppose another life after this. Otherwise this Karma would be meaningless.

The Question of Heaven and Hell

Some people who believe in life after death say that heaven (Swarga) is the reward for all these good actions and Naraka (hell) is the punishment for all our bad actions. After death, those have performed meritorious deeds (Punya-Karma) go to Swarga and those who have indulged in sinful activities (Paapa) go to Naraka. In the view of such people, accepting heaven and hell is sufficient enough to explain our present Karma, and there is no need for rebirth in this world.

There may be room for this doubt if this question is viewed only superficially. But even a little reflection will demonstrate that this cannot be right. Any fruit should only be in proportion to the Karma. Therefore, for a permanent stay either in Swarga or Naraka, one should have obviously done limitless Punya or Paapa. How is possible to limitless Punya or Paapa in a limited life span? There are many people who do neither Punya nor Paapa. They just live and die. Where should they go after death? Some babies die immediately after birth. Where do they go, to Swarga or Naraka? Someone may say: “If he is born in our religion he will go to Swarga. If born in another religion he would go to Naraka.” This is obviously not correct since nobody is born in a given religion by his choice. If they were, nobody would take birth in other religions at all. If you say God is responsible for one’s birth in a given religion, then it would invite the charge of prejudice and bias on the part of God. What about people who were born before the birth of these religions? Can any sensible person say that all invariably went to hell? If the routes to heaven and hell are only one-ways, then would they not become overcrowded in due course? In fact, more basic questions are: why should God give even the present birth? Why has he kept different people at different levels of pleasure and pain? Why are some Jivas born as human beings, while some others are born as animals and birds and some even as worms in filth? Therefore, any theory not accepting rebirth is palpably absurd.

Finally, to solve this issue, it is the scriptures again which invariably come to our rescue. According to the Vedas, the Jivas experience only the ‘special’ Punya and special Paapa in Swarga and Naraka. For the remaining ordinary good or bad deeds, they have to come back to the earth, after having completed their tenure in Swarga or Naraka. If this is correct, then obviously the Jiva who has to go these two worlds has to be different from the gross body. He must be going there with some other subtle body (see Exotic India, Article of the Month, June 2011). This is because the gross body is reduced to ashes here in this world itself.

The Question of Instinct

An Objection: You have said that the spontaneous actions of newborn animals like suckling or swimming or flying are evidences of the existence of the Jiva prior to the birth of the body. Can we not say that these activities are just instinctive and thus do not prove the pre-existence of the Jiva?

Reply: Of course there is no objection to giving the name ‘instinct’ to these actions. But on the other hand, when you are asked for the reason for doing something without having practiced it before, you call it as instinct, and when you are further asked what ‘instinct’ is, you will say that it is the ability to do something without practice. This is not scientific logic. You may call it as instinct, but you still have to explain the reason for this instinct. The reason, as has been stated by the Vedas, is the practice done in previous lives.

Doubt: On this basis, a Jiva born for the first time as a monkey cannot have the monkey’s instinct. How can this be explained?

Resolution: The scriptures say that there is nothing like the birth as a monkey for the first time. Since infinite past, Jiva has been taking innumerable birth in all species – not only as a monkey. Therefore, every Jiva is already having the instincts of every species.

Objection: In that case, how is that one sees a monkey’s instinct only in a monkey, and man’s instinct only in man?

Answer: Oh no. You can certainly notice a monkey’s instinct in man also! However, it is true that man may not be able to jump from branch to branch and a monkey cannot talk. This is because an appropriate body is required for a particular instinct to express itself. For example, even though one may be an expert cook, he cannot cook without implements like vessels, hearth and so on. Though one may have the instinct to see, one cannot see if there are no eyes. Men will have women’s instincts and women men’s. In fact, we notice that many times during old age, men develop breasts and women beards. Nevertheless, in order to deliver babies the Jiva should certainly have the female body. Don’t we see that in old age one cannot indulge in sensual pleasures, though the desire could still be there? We see animals being trained to play like humans in a circus. How is this possible if they don’t have these instincts? Therefore, the scriptures clearly state that the Jiva has already taken infinite number of births in every species, thus conclusively establishing rebirth as the most significant part in the cosmic scheme of things.


This article is based almost entirely on the teachings of Param Pujya Swami Paramanand Bharati Ji.

However, any error is entirely the author’s own.

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