A life After Death
by: Dr. Rajnikant Lahri
There is prevalent a belief that the individual soul lives in a body on earth not once but several times in different names and forms until final emancipation. This is called the cycle of birth and death, in which one’s own destiny is determined by one’s own actions, thoughts, attitudes and aspirations. The falling off of body at time of death is considered as only entering into a newer body. Gautama, the philosopher of Nyaya Theory says that transmigration is rebirth. Having died, when the Self is born again in an animate body, this being born again constitute the rebirth of that Self which is born, --- the recurrence of this process of birth and death should be regarded as without beginning and ending only with final release. Geeta says that Soul has no beginning, no end .It is never born and it never dies The physical body with the world of matter and senses and thus perishes. The Soul being a fragment of the Absolute Self, having affinity with It, enjoys nectar of nature and remains imperishable. It survives the physical and material body after death. The Soul through its subtle body takes with it energy, vitality and impressions, which determine the choice of the new habitation. The vital force Atma (Soul) is present and operative in every Life form and binds It to the countless births though It remains identified with The Absolute Self.
The individual actions, whichever be it, leave a sort of potency which result in the grant of joy and sorrow as per merits of actions performed. This is known as fruits of action. One has to repeal all such actions in ones lifetime. Even those actions, which come as accumulated in the previous life, have also to be performed. When such actions remain unperformed, there is rebirth and more births to suffer them to the finish. Since it is not possible for the Karmic laws of responsibilities. Actions, debts and rewards to work out themselves in the span of one life time, there remains the need of successive lives till the soul is released of not collecting anymore Karmic debts and acts which lead to further births. As the soul, during its journey identifies itself with various names and forms, there is rebirth. There exists a continuity from the past through the present towards the endless future and in it the soul remains the same. Different body equipments only condition it. The body frame in successive births depends upon the qualities of actions performed in previous life. The rebirth of soul is the unity of moral and psychological tendencies as well as of elements, which compose the physical world. So the next shape of physical body is determined by whatever mental dispositions one performs and acts to qualify for a future body of similar quality and disposition The law giver Manu says that in consequences of sinful acts, man in next birth becomes something inanimate---a bird or beast .He considers every life, every action as a step forward or backward. He says that single is each being born, single he dies, and single he enjoys the rewards of his actions, virtuous or vicious.
There are some who believe that if one can realize the accumulated actions in the form of animal body, he is so born there. A man may be reborn in an animal body or in vegetable kingdom. There are others who believe that once a human life is attained, there is no going back below in any lower form of life. There is also a difference of opinion with regard to time interval between death and rebirth
The length of ones life is determined by the amount of Karmas allotted and performed. It takes into account the number of duration of experiences as preordained There are indeed some unperformed actions which can burn by noble deeds or grace through true knowledge. It is a known fact that burn seeds do not fructify. The unmatured actions get finally uprooted and the Soul marches ahead towards emancipation. The sum mum bonum of life is attained only when the impurities are removed and pure conscious established.
Rebirth has been addressed in different ways such as reincarnation, metempsychosis, transmigration, reem bodiment, metasomatism, and even as polingenesis and resurrection. The usage from time immemorial and among different creeds and thoughts have brought changes in the form of doctrine that the individual soul lives on earth by many names and forms in many births. Reincarnation means rebirth of soul in a fresh embodiment or form of life, Metempsychoses is also the passing of soul at death into another body either of man or animal. Metesomatism involves changes in chemical composition as well as in texture as in rocks. It is a Greek term for metempsychoses. Resurrection means to rise from dead to life. In all these there is evident a belief of life over death, a continuity of life to the next either of a soul or Self. Rawal, an authority on the subject told India West Dec.5, 2k that the more people understand the phenomenon of reincarnation, the more careful they will be in their behavior and will realize ‘ dust thou art to dust returneth was not spoken of the soul’ Belief in reincarnation is as old as the hills. Hindus, Buddhists, Druids, Gaul, Greeks and many Jewish groups and even early Christians believed in a life after death and preexistence of soul. In Buddhism rebirth is a process as per law of consequences, a Karmic ally controlled continuity of consciousness between lives. Gautama Buddha constantly referred to his previous births. There is a word Srotapanna that means ‘ stream comer’, born of stream. Buddha believed that one has to come like this at least seven times, each time to a higher level of instrument. It believes in six realms of birth. The three pleasant one are-1- Deva 2- Asura 3-Human. The three unpleasant one are 1-Animal 2- Hungry ghosts 3- Preta (under world) Out of these six the human body is considered the most favored one. The Japanese word ‘ Ojo’ stands for rebirth in a pure land of Amita. The Jains consider Karmas as an accumulated impediment, which makes rebirth an immediate and instantaneous one it aims at liberation of soul by freeing it from accumulated Karmas. Every soul is essentially divine and can achieve salvation through a course of discipline and purification or else rebirth is the result. Buddhism and Jainism lay importance to right mental thinking and spiritual discipline at the time of death for a good and higher type of birth. Sikhism also believes in Karma, which determines nature of rebirth, but salvation can only be achieved through the grace or Kirpa of God. The great Sufi saint Mansur Al Hallj believed in the immortality of soul. The faith in the soul finds powerful expressions in the verse of Hazarat Jallaluddin Rumi when he says ‘ I died as a mineral and became a plant, I died as a plant and rose to animal, I died as an animal and I was a man. —And yet once more I shall die as a man to sour with angels blest, but even from angelhood, I must pass on’ Rumi wrote ‘ When a man or woman unites with Thee, Thou art one, when their individuality is obliterated, Thou alone art.’
In the main Islam, the belief in resurrection can be traced. There is also a distinct word for rebirth and it is Tansukha. Bakiya and Baquar says that God gives life to the dead again and again Koran also says that God gives birth for the first time and then repeatedly.
In the west the belief in rebirth and immortality of soul appeared but only marginally. Judaism believed in the immortality of soul. Zohar says ‘ All souls are subject to transmigration, and men do not know the ways of the Holy one—both before they enter into the world and after they quit, they are ignorant of the many transmigrations and secret probations which they have to undergo.’ The Pharisees also believed the transmigration theory. The Egyptians strongly believed in the immortality of soul. They held that ‘ At death body and soul enter into some other living thing, then coming to birth and after passing through all creatures of land, sea, and air, (a cycle which it completes in 3000 years) it enters once more into human body at birth. The Rabbies of the Talmudic period believed that God breathed the soul into the life of Adam and after death the soul would leave the body till it is reunited in resurrection. Soul was the guest of the body. Rabbinic thought is that the body and soul are indivisible and both are to be resurrected. Progressive Judaism leaves away belief in resurrection and establishes belief in immortality of soul. The Jews doctrine of transmigration is called Gilgul. The Solomon’s book of Wisdom says ‘to be born in sound body with sound limbs is a reward of virtue of past lives.
The Greek spoke of immortality of soul. The belief in the preexistence of soul, in Greek thought, revolves round the belief in the survival after death, a belief caused by Jewish influence. Though majority differ yet Plato and Pythagoras left a strong stamp with a bright future The neo-Platonist, Plotlines, 204—269 A.D., a teacher in Christian Rome for 25 years speaks of repeated births of soul in ‘The descent of Soul ’Plotlines who like Socrates had attained realization of the Absolute, believed in a philosophy of unity, quite identical with the Hindu philosophy. He says ‘ one soul is the source of all souls. It is atone divided and undivided – the one soul so exists so as to include all souls.’
Pythagoras 445 B. C. had known India and Hindu philosophy. It is a well-known fact that he recognized the soul of a dead friend in the body of a dog that was being beaten. He believed that the human soul is sometimes reborn in animal body. Another Greek philosopher Empedocles also held similar views. Plato stands as the most important figure among believers of. Reincarnation theory .In Phaedrus, he writes ‘ the soul which has seen most of the truth shall come to the birth as a philosopher or artist or musician or lover, that which has seen truth in the second degree shall be a righteous king or warrior or lord –‘ He takes it to the ninth degree which claims a tyrants birth. He believed that during these temporary phases of birth, there are chances of improvements but one who lives unrighteous deteriorates a lot .He also says that soul of a man may take up body of animal and from the beast come again into man. In Republic, he gives expression to similar belief. He also refers an experience of a Greek warrior, the Pamphylian, who was fatally injured in battle but came back to life after cremation. The German philosophers, Goethe, Fichte, Schilling, and Lessing had a favorable opinion on the theory.
The resurrection also speaks of the restoration of the dead with their bodies and thereby expresses the continued identity of life after death. Jews therefore talked about the immortality of soul in terms of eternal life. The Christians believe that the parousia of Christ departed soul will be restored to a bodily form and the saved ones will enter in the renewed form upon the life of heaven. However it may differ, it is complementary to the immortality of soul. Some statements of the New Testament may be cited as indicative of belief in preexistence and rebirth of soul. Jesus saw a man born blind. He was asked, Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind. To this, Jesus’ reply was, It was not that this man sinned or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him’ He does not deny that the man could be a sinner in his previous life. (Gospel of John, 9th. Chap.) Jesus twice asserted in the Gospel that “ John, the Baptist was Elijah: and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.’ Genesis 9:6 say ‘ whosoever sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed’ this process requires more than one lifetime in many cases if murderer is to be killed by the man murdered. John says (8:58) that Jesus himself had said ‘ Before Abraham was I am’ The Book of Mormon describes the rebirth of a prophet who died in 421 A.D. and was born in 1823 A.D. to visit prophet Joseph Smith as a resurrected personage.
In fact early Christians were linked with India. There were trade links between India and Alexandria during the reign of Commodes. Ashoka’s pillar inscription at Girinar mentions that Buddhists had reached Syria and the people were in touch with Buddhist teachings. Roman historian Pliny (1st. cent. A.D.) Describes a sect called Essences in Palestine about a century before Christ as a Buddhist sect. Ronan in life of Jesus admits that there was a sect called Therapeuts, which was Buddhist in character. John, the Baptist was familiar with these sects. It is natural that interfaith understanding prevailed and immortality of soul was widely accepted.
Father Origen (185-254 B.C.), a Christian scholar and Theologician, taught metempsychism and believed that the ascend and descend of souls go on continued even after death, so at the end even the devil is saved’ He says ‘every man receives a body for himself according to his deserts in his former lives’. He professed ‘Everyone, therefore, of those who descend to the earth is, according to his deserts, or the position that he had there, ordained to be born in this world either in a different place or in a different nation or in a different occupation or with different infirmities----‘ In a different way John of the Cross (1542-97), the founder of Carmelites, in his poem says ‘Killing, you change life to death. He expounds the spiritual life and the idea of The Dark Night of the soul where God purifies the souls of attachments in a passive night and the soul purifies itself in an active night.
In more recent times modern thinkers have held rebirth with concern and favor. David Hume, the skeptical philosopher, dwells upon the weakness of the immortality of soul, even as he concludes that the metempsychosis is the only system of immortality concept that convinces.
James Ward, in ‘The Realm of ends’ states that Kant had been teaching both the preexistence and immortality of soul. The noted German thinker Schophenhaver deals at length in a chapter of ‘The world as Will and Idea’ on death and its relation to the indestructibility of our true nature. He introduced the word Palingenesis (new birth) instead of metempsychosis. The latter suggests that the whole psyche is reborn while the former views that only the will and not the intellectual part are born again. The French philosopher Renouvier believes in repeated births. The British thinker John Mc Taggart (1906) states that the doctrine of the plurality of lives is more possible. He treats it as a continuation of the doctrine of immortality.
The Christian poets echo their faith in rebirth in their poems.
The poet laureate John Mansfield in ‘A creed‘ says:
"I held that when a person dies His soul again returns to earth"
He sees his rebirth thus:
"These eyes of mind have blinked and shared In Thebes, in Troy, and in Babylon"
To quote Wordsworth’s famous lines:
"The soul that rises with us, on life’s star Hath had elsewhere it’s setting and cometh from afar"
The American poet H. W. Longfellow sings of mystery thus:
"From birth to death, from death to birth From earth to heaven, from heaven to earth"
In ‘Psalm of Life’ he says:
"Life is real, life is earnest And the grave is not its goal Dust thou art to dust returneth Was not spoken of the soul"
Now let us examine what the scientists say.
Sir Francis Walshead, the neurologist, says,‘The Greek to Aquinas accepted that there exists an essential immaterial element, call it psyche or soul. Albert Einstein opined that the sensation of the mystical is the most beautiful and profound—the mystery of conscious life perpetuates itself all through eternity, that which manifests itself as higher Wisdom.
Thomas Huxley, an advocate of Darwin theory, believed that only matter and spirit exist in this world. —Kraft and Stoff, Alpha and Omega, and nothing else. Later he changed his belief and accepted a third force, call it consciousness, apart from matter and spirit or even their modifications. Astrophysicist Herbert Curtis believed in the continuity of soul, in a flame controlling its own flaming, --- in a creative spirit with continuity, it controls; call it mind, soul or spirit.
The French naturalist, Louis Fignior believes that every birth is a continuation of the past. A man’s soul preserves the impressions received during existence and brings it in the second birth. The soul of man remains always the same despite various peregrinations. Dr. Stevenson, the psychiatrist, in Harper magazine, July, 1959, writes, ‘ further investigation of apparent memories of former incarnation may well establish reincarnation as the most probable explanation of these experiences’. The famous American scientist, Alva Edison (inventor of the electric bulb) expresses his belief in the immortality of soul—taking soul for truth. His belief in metempsychosis inspired him to go for intensive research to ascertain the immortality of soul so that he might declares to the world that the soul is imperishable
Reincarnation became a taboo for Christians only after 2nd. Council of Constantinople in 533A.D. .though most accepted concepts of Karmas were removed from the Bible by the fathers in the council of Trent in 300A.D. In several discourses between Jesus and his disciples , we can figure out references of reincarnation. The physicist Raynor Johnson Is very clear . He says that some Christians feel antagonistic as they think of rebirth to be something of a strange pagan faith. The ancient belief can not be overlooked. If we study and formulate a philosophy of life , we have to see meaning in our pilgrimage without prejudice. There is no logical difficulty in accepting the idea of rebirth. What a soul has done by the process in material equipment called the body, it can also repeat it anytime.’ Sir Edward Tylor thinks that the original idea of transmigration was the straightforward and reasonable one of human souls being reborn in new human bodies.
There have been a number of cases in which impressions of previous births were reported by the new born. No scientist explanation can explain it nor prove it otherwise .Dr. RadhaKrishna has remarked ,’ it will open the eyes of many people who dismiss the rebirth theory as something oriental ‘ Pope John Paul, while paying tribute to Mahatma Gandhi, said that no culture is exclusive. There is need of interfaith understanding. The Karmic Laws are universal and so the belief in a life after death has to be accepted in a spirit of ecumenicity.
We can not ignore for long certain truths calling it mere chance or sheer accident or chaos. Time is not far off when we shall see reason and share this thought for mankind . Staggering under heavy weight of observations and thwarted at every corner by misearned irregularities, the intellectual quest remains unfulfilled and will remain so until there is acceptance of faith in immortality of soul and pilgrimage to eternity.