Sunday, May 9, 2010

Arguments in Favor of the Theory of Reincarnation in Hinduism

Posted by Manju-Ganesh | Sunday, May 9, 2010 | Category: |

Metaphysical Arguments
Metaphysical arguments, as such, in favor of reincarnation do not exit, because no philosophical schools of Hinduism deny this doctrine79. It is, in fact, a question of faith that one tries to understand, without putting it to discussion or deny it. The karma-samsara is Original Sin for the Hindus and is one among the very few dogmas of faith, as we have mentioned above. Modern Hindu philosophers, however, propose a metaphysical argument, viz., that the soul (atman) is eternal, but the normal condition of the soul is that it is associated with a body. It is probable, therefore, that the soul in the past would have had and in the future will have a succession of bodies.
Empirical Arguments
From the empirical point of view, some facts that occur are considered to prove the truth of reincarnation. Thus for example, the existence of prodigious children (like Mozart or Menuhin) who with their instinctive capacity far superior and prodigious in every way goes to prove that they had a training (or knowledge) before they were born, or those, for example, Bridey Murphy, yogis and Buddhist saints, who claim to remember their previous births and lives, or again the deja vu experience of some people who have explicit knowledge of people and places without having had any previous contact with them, or, finally, the conception that since the soul is indivisible it cannot be derived from parents.
The Argument of Evolution
In the philosophical system of Sri Aurobindo, reincarnation is a necessary and indispensable mechanism for the dynamic process of evolution of the universe8°. According to him, the whole universe is a manifestation, an self-revelation of the Supreme Spirit, Saccidananda. The various grades of beings are similarly grades of involution or self-limitation of the Spirit. But then through various stages of evolution, the Spirit recovers his original nature; that is, matter evolves gradually in the Spirit. Involution is the decent of the Spirit, while evolution is ascent to the Spirit. Through the process of evolution, the human mind is still to evolve itself to become superman which will then finally culminate in SaccidCananda. Hence the soul did not begin its existence in human form, but in subhuman forms and is on the way to becoming superman8'.
Theological Arguments
In favor of reincarnation, from the theological point of view some reasonable and interesting observations are made by Hindu Theologians.
1. Faith in reincarnation is confirmed by the Vedas, which are revealed and therefore contain intuitions of rishis (sages, holy persons) that are true, precisely because they are expressions supported by authentic testimony.
2. Rebirth, associated with karma, offers a fitting solution to the great problem or mystery of evil (inequality, injustice, suffering: all results of past actions: karma). Justice demands, calls for reincarnation. So much of inequality exists among men: some are strong and healthy, others instead are weak and sick, deaf and dumb, blind, mentally and physically handicapped. Some are rich, others are poor, etc. What is the reason for all this? It cannot be from God, because He is goodness and love. It cannot be attributed to the responsibility of others (first parents, for example) which would be unjust. All these problems and diff'culties can be overcome by accepting the doctrine of karma-samsara or the transmigration of souls according to the inviolable law of retribution. Each one is responsible for his own destiny in his life.
3. The doctrine of transmigration offers the possibility of a long period of time for the process of self-purification and self-perfection. Everyone has the possibility of achieving his ultimate goal, moksha. No one is exempt from it.
4. God the Creator, good and merciful, cannot punish his creature (the soul) for all eternity in hell, but offers him always new chances so that he can arrive at his final goal, viz., to be united with Him (Atman is Brahman).
10. Conclusion
Practically all the religions speak of an intermediary existence, of a sort of purgatory, a place and a time to expiate one's sins, between the earthly existence and the final one of absolute happiness (salvation, liberation, makti, moksha, nirvana, beatific vision of God or union with God, the Absolute).
The reincarnation of the soul is one way of explaining or representing this intermediary existence.
The doctrine of reincarnation is considered to be fundamentally evil; it is like the doctrine of original sin (for Christians), which remains a mystery of faith and evades every sort of rational explanation.
At the same time all the religions propose ways and means to overcome or to escape from this intermediary state of existence so as to reach the ultimate scope of human existence, viz., eternal happiness or union with God.
The fundamental preoccupation of any religion, including Hinduism, is not so much to propose or to give solutions to the problem of this intermediary existence (including reincarnation) as such, but to bring all to final salvation (heaven, moksha, nirvana), by proposing ways and means to arrive at the final goal, which for Hinduism includes also the definitive liberation from the karma-samvara or the chain of reincarnation.


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What is the condition of the liberated soul? According to Advaita Vedanta, the individual soul (atman) looses its false individuality by realizing its identity with Brahman: "I am Brahman" (A ham Brahmasmi). It is a state of supreme beatitude, bliss, knowledge and pure existence. For the Nyaya Vaiseshika and the Mimamsa schools, the liberated soul exists deprived of any pleasurable or painful experience; it does not have neither happiness nor consciousness. According to the Samkhya Yoga, the liberated soul exists in a solitary state of tranquillity; experiences its intimate nature as pure spirit without having any relationship with matter78.
The popular theist sects (Vishnuism, Sivaism, Shaktism, etc.), hold on to the view that the liberated soul keeps its individual identity and enjoys the beatific vision and communion with a personal God.

Towards the Ultimate Liberation reincarnation and hinduism

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The fundamental teaching of the four Vedus, the Bhagavat Gim, the Puranas and other religious texts of Hinduism, is not reincarnation, rebirth, but the ultimate liberation or salvation. In fact the necessity of transmigration is a nightmare for the Hindus77. The ultimate scope is moksha or multi, and in order to arrive at moksha, Hinduism proposes different ways (yoga or marga), by which one can reach spiritual perfection and finally eternal salvation of the soul: the way of action (karma-marga), the way of loving devotion towards God and abnegation (bhaktimarga), the way of concentration (raja yoga) and the way of spiritual knowledge (jnana-marga), of the non duality of Atmar' (the 'self' or the individual 'I') and Brahman (the Absolute).
According to the Advaiia Vedanta (the absolute non-dualism of Sankara) the only absolute reality is Brahman and the most intimate reality of man (the self or Atman) is the same Brahman. All the rest is maya, an illusion, a veil placed over by the same Brahman. Salvation or liberation consists precisely in the realization of A`man is Brahman through the jnana-yoga (marga). Only the one who is liberated knows the One (Absolute) and for the one who knows reincarnation is an illusion. Instead, the one who does not know, does not realize Atman is Brahman, continues to live in illusion and considers vam.sara as real.

Popular Theory on reincarnation

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Three elements of popular faith merge together in the doctrine of karma: the spirits of the dead exist as preta, in a quasi-material state; the concept of a tribunal in the kingdom of god Yama (the king of the dead, also Dharmaraja, the king of justice); the ascent of the soul to heaven.
The soul as preta lives in an intermediary state (pretyabhava) in which it can die again (punarmyrtyu), which can be averted through performing religious rites. Other conceptions make the preta as "poor souls" which wander about in the houses of the living, if they are not assisted properly, viz., if their family members on earth fail to offer the religious rituals (sraddha). Then, once the soul (preta) is completely purified of its sins, becomes devoyana and enters brahmaloka (heaven, paradise), or enjoys first the fruits of his good acts in chandraloka (the sphere of the moon) on the "way of the fathers" (pitryana), to be reborn after enjoying the fruits of his good actions76. The bad karma has to be completely wiped off in hell. The time spent in the intermediates states are phases of purification. The sraddha ceremonies, performed after the death of a deceased, help him in his journey through the intermediary kingdom (prevent him from dying a new death) and influence on the karmic order.

Reincarnation in Dharmashastra (The Laws of Manu)

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The Dharmashastra dedicates an entire chapter on the theme of karma-samsara, where the mechanism of the transmigration of soul is explained7'. The Book of Manu introduces a threefold origin of karma: manas (mind), vac (speech) and deha (body) (12.3). Sinful actions which spring from the mind will lead to rebirth in a low caste, evil actions from speech will cause rebirth as a bird of a beast and bodily sinful actions will lead one to be reborn as something inanimate. The book of Law classifies men into three categories according to the predominance of one or the other of the
three constitutive principles (guna) which determine the character of an individual, viz., the sattva (principle of clarity and tranquillity), the rajas (principle of activity and movement), and the tamas (principle of obscurity and inertia)72. Those in whom sattva prevails are characterized by goodness and purity, are enlightened by spiritual knowledge and do good works; those in whom rajas prevail are characterized by greediness for fame, power and material goods, and occupy themselves with activities of love and hatred; and those, instead, in whom tamas prevail are characterized by lethargy, impiety, cruelty, ignorance and desires of sensual pleasures. The prevailing of one or other principle derives from the merits or demerits of the past lives73.
Then the Book of Law then deals in details with the types of future re-births corresponding to the acts done by each one, acts which arise from the above-mentioned principles. At the moment of death, those in whom tamas predominate will be reborn as grass, trees, insects of every type, fishes, snakes, reptiles, birds, lions, boars, evil men, etc., depending on the amount of tamas each one has gathered during his present life and the non-expiated ones of his previous life (12. 42-45); those in whom rajas prevail will be reborn as kings, kshatriyas, servants, drunkards, etc., depending on the amount of rajas each one has collected (12. 46); and those in whom sattva prevails will be reborn as Brahmins, hermits, apsaras (servants of god), sages, etc. (12. 47-50), again depending on the amount of sattva one has gathered.
The Book of Manu deals in a particular way with mahapataka (mortal sins), viz., killing of a Brahman, drinking, stealing and adultery (11. 55), which will lead the offenders to spend large numbers of years in dreadful hells and after that enter into the wheel of samsara. It also deals, in great detail, with the rebirths of all kinds of thieves (12. 61-69) and finally with the rebirths of those who are not faithful to the specific duties of their varnas (four castes): "will migrate into despicable bodies" and "will become the servants of the Dasyus"74.
In the Dharmasastras the description of various types of rebirth for different types of evil actions outweigh by far the attention given to theoretical considerations and analyzing the technique of karma and rebirth.
Need You Now

The Conquest of Karma and Reincarnation

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If one can reverse fate, one can certainly reverse karma and its consequences. In fact in severe! chapters of the oldest Puranic writings one can read how a sinner can save himself from going to hell. A sinner can save himself by giving gifts (various types) to Brahmins. By giving gifts one can acquire merit and thus abolish even rebirth 64.
Yoga became another means of overcoming karma. Thus for example, in the Markandeya Purana, after setting up an inexorable karma process, it proceeds to undermine it completely with a long chapter on the way that the practice of Yoga releases people from karma 65. Meditation and renunciation are equally effective as karmic antidotes 66. The glorification of shrines (tirthamahatmya), pilgrimage and bathing at the holy shrines can wipe away one's past bad karma. Thus when Parvati asks Siva how evil that has been accumulated in a thousand former births can be worn away, Siva replies that this evil is worn away when one enters the Avimukta shrine at Banares 67.
Though the functions of karma and the mechanisms of rebirth are discussed at great length, the major thrust of the texts is to exhort the worshipper to undertake remedial actions in order to swim like a salmon upstream against the current of karma68. Almost every chapter on Karma-vipaka (ripening of karma), which explains how people get to hell by committing sins 69, is followed by a chapter on expiation.
By Bhakti (loving devotion) worship of a personal God (Vishnu or Krishna) is a sure means of overcoming one's bad karma and its consequences. The Puranas abound in stories in which the unrepentant sinner, about to be dragged away by the minions of Yama, is saved at the last minute by the arrival of the chariot of the servants of the sectarian god. By worshipping Vishnu, one can be "dispensed', with karma and karma can be conquered by those whom Krishna loves70.
A Promise to Remember

The Role of Fate in Rebirth - hinuism and reincarnation

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A child's birth is affected not only by the karma of the jiva and of the parents, but also by other factors, among which fate plays an important role. "By karma impelled by fate a creature is born in the body; taking refuge in a drop of the seed of a man he enters the belly of a woman". Yet karma and fate are often said to work together, or even to be the same55. [In a myth found in the Lingua Purana, a sage tries to dissuade Parasara from killing all the demons in order to avenge his father's murder by them: "The demons did not hurt your father; it was fated to happen to him in this way. Who is killed by whom? A man experiences (the fruits of) his own deeds"56.]
Or again, in the Bhagavata Purana we find a similar myth, where a sage tries to dissuade Dhruva from killing all the Yaksas in order to avenge his brother's murder by them. The Yaksas did not actually kill his brother, but it was fate that he should have got killed. The cause of man's birth or death or fate.
[''The Lord ordains the increase or decrease in the life span of a miserable creature. Some say this is karma; others that it is one's own nature; others that it is time; others that it is fate; and others that it is desire. The servants of Kubera, the Yaksas, were not the slayers of your brother; the cause of a man's birth and death is fate [daiva: Sridhara glosses it as Isvaral. He creates this universe, and keeps it, and kills it; but because he has no egoism, he is not affected by karmas or qualities [gunas]''57.l
Although gods, on the whole, are free of k;arma58, they come under the sway of fate. Krishna performed all his great manly deeds Epaurusa] by the power of predestination [bhavivasat]59. But very often fate and karma are taken to mean the same thing, especially when referred to the gods, either when evoked as an excuse for weakness or failure on their part60 or to escape punishment6~. These apparently conflicting attitudes to the fate and karma of the gods may be somewhat clarified when one realizes that Sridhara is talking about God, the absolute, who is regarded as being either above fate or identical with it, and that the others are merely lower-case gods, who are helpless against fate and karma.
If God controls fate and the gods are controlled by it, then nothing can be done against fate, it would seem. It is not so, because in the Puranas we have many examples of those who challenge fate and also overcome fate.
Thus, for example, when the wicked Kamsa learns that he is "fated" to be killed by a child of Devaki, he boasts, "This is a matter that concerns mere mortals, and so it can be accomplished by us though we are mortal. It is known that people like me can overcome fate and turn it to advantage by the right combination of spells, and herbal medicines, and constant effort"62. Of course Kamsa had no luck, because the child fated to kill him was none other than Krishna, no "mere mortal" and so accepted the fact that he could not overcome his fate by mere human effort. Or we have the case of Devaki and Vasudeva, who make an effort to save their last son, Krishna and their effort is crowned with success, which goes to prove the efficacy of human effort over fate.
l"Men must experience the karma that was formerly made, but can that not be worn away by pilgrimages, asceticism, and gifts? For the rites of expiation has been set forth in the Dharmasastras composed by the noble (sages) in order to destroy the evils amassed in former (lives).... If everything is brought about by fate...then all undertakings are without purpose, even the sacrifices that are supposed to achieve heaven. If this is so. then the authority (of the Vedas) is falsely proclaimed, and if the authority is false, why isn't
dharma cut down? But in fact, when an effort is made, success is achieved, night before your eyes. Therefore you should investigate and determine what is to be done to protect this little boy, my little son" 63.]