Featured Post


Oct 2018

The trouble with rebirth:
1. The a priori support for the theory is weak. If karma decides our fate, how did it begin? An exponent said with a laugh that it is a disallowed question.
2. We think that anything that happens to us is the result of some past birth. We do not realise that often it is the result of our doing in this birth itself.
3. If one is born as a lesser being, it is next to impossible that any realization that the birth was due to some sin would dawn. The lesser being will go through life in apparent bliss of the carnal pleasures. The purpose of the punishment would be defeated. It is not clear what punya of the lesser being will entitle it to a higher birth.
4. We would never know what it was in the previous birth which has caused a particular condition in this birth. Thus, the causality is loose and assumed, not defined and established.
5. We think that someone’s great ability is the result of some good in the past births and god’s grace, and their laudable achievements are because of some divinity in them. We fail to appreciate that it is, in genuine cases, the result of their untiring efforts and adherence to truth.
6. The division of people seems to hinge on rebirth. A man is born in a higher social strata because of past births according to this theory and is apparently unjust.
7. We deify and place on pedestal great people and worship them rather than emulate them and follow their advice.
8. If we have 8.4 million births, does this one matter?
9. It undermines human dignity. We all do different jobs and have varying degrees of understanding in the natural scheme of things. Any gradation is a human idea and supporting it with theory of karma and rebirth is contrived.
It is superior as a theory to belief in a whimsical god and eternal reward or -punishment. There is no harm in believing in it, but as Somerset Maugham said about belief in god, we must understand that there is no proof for such belief.
Rebirth - Further thoughts
If one believes in rebirth, there is no scope for argument. Faith transcends reason and proof, but not reasonableness. It may come from tradition or inner conviction. It is weak in the former case, and is on firmer ground in the latter case. We cannot transmit inner conviction verbally. Sri Ramana used to do it by silence or provoking one to think. Answers that come from within do not care for validation from outside.
One devotee lost his son and was understandably in inconsolable grief. He wanted Sri Ramana to confirm that the son would be restored to him in some way, another birth in the same family or some such thing. Sri Ramana was not forthcoming on this. Not that he believed or did not believe in it. We should take whatever lesson we want to or leave it.
Where some evidence is adduced, it triggers discussion.
The overwhelming evidence that is cited is disparities at birth even if born in a similar milieu or to same parents.
We must pause here to discuss the nature of proof.
When Einstein proposed theory of relativity, it was based on mathematics and intuition. There was no proof. Proof came much later, but came. When Big Bang theory was proposed, it was based on working backwards on the theory of expanding universe. It was pure theory to start with, but scientists have been working on proof in the form of cosmic radiations. Much evidence has gathered in, but still there are unanswered questions and puzzles. A mere theoretical explanation without some tangible correlation is not proof.
Look at the proof for god. It keeps changing as the old premises are demolished. There is some feeling that god explains what remains unexplained. That is totally unsatisfactory. The unknown cannot define god.
Take the explanation for why people are different and have different destinies even for similar efforts. Sometimes, there is an explanation. A student failing in an exam with no mistake in evaluation must look at his preparedness, not the stars. Often, people think that the stars are so placed that he is doomed to failure. In a Vedanta discussion, I heard that stars do not decide the destiny but indicate it. Karma decides destiny. Whatever its validity, it is unhelpful to extend it to action where better effort will be more rewarding. That was a digression, but with the point that karma theory may be overworked.
There is a genetic continuity and an observed recycling of everything in the universe. For example, it is said that the iron in our haemoglobin dates back to Big Bang days. There is a crutch for rebirth here, but not any proof. When things are recycled, the individual identity of an entity made of infinite atoms in mind-boggling combinations is lost irretrievably. Nature does not produce a duplicate. The difference between two individuals is contained in the genetic code which nature shuffles around as a mechanism to preserve and further life overall rather than any individual life. There is no clue in nature itself that human species has been its target or that it may not one day be supplanted. To say that nature is guided by karma in this complex mechanism is a hypothesis, not proof. We need proof for discussion.
We can broadly agree that results depend on our ability, effort and several unknown factors. Ability itself has a basic stock and capacity for improvement. What is decided by previous birth or births? Some credibility may be there in thinking that the innate, raw ability is what one owes to unknown past (no proof). For all practical purposes, we must take it as given and concentrate on improving our ability and intensifying our effort. The unknowns are unmanageable and are fate (not preordained, but beyond our control). But, the belief in karma and carryover has worked harder than tax authorities. Everything is taken as predetermined and that thinking has done too much harm. To believe in one life that is known and work for the best in it taking in one’s stride the fait accompli can give us a healthier attitude to life and greater effort to improve as a society.
Our karma is strong for belief in karma. I have no illusion either that I have found something momentous or that belief in karma and rebirth will taper off. My effort is to present my heretical thought with as much cogency as my capacity will allow.
In lighter vein, I have received so much in this life from persons and situations that I will have to take many births to repay them. Overruling rebirths solves the problem!
Rebirth revisited
All my life contrary things occur in my mind with equal force, and evidence or testimony for the zigzagging views also presents by some coincidence.
I often get connected to what my heart is after.
That is perhaps a grandiose way of identifying my fickleness with some mysticism.
As I was almost done with my thoughts on rebirth, my wife got a present for her birthday: “Only Love is Real: The Story of Soulmates Reunited.” It is a story, the preface says, based on real incidents in the clinical experience of Dr. Brian Weiss, a psychiatrist, who has made a fortune as a writer. How people who connect heart to heart continue an unfinished relationship of an earlier birth is the theme of this book. I fervently wish that, even if it is real, we should not recall our relationship in previous births. As it happens there are enough complications with relationships known for certain in this birth. There is no case to add to the confusion and claims!
I do not doubt the claim of Dr. Weiss, nor feel compelled to review my rejection of rebirth, as the idea of a surviving soul seems more wistful than indicated in unbiased experience.
Weiss quotes in the opening of each chapter various celebrities. Some I reproduce.
“The soul of man is like to water;
From Heaven it comet
To Heaven it riseth
And then returneth to earth,
Forever alternating.”
“I am certain that I have been here as I am now a tousnd times before, and I hope to return a thousand times.”
“Know, therefore that from the greater silence I shall return …. Forget not that I shall come back to you … A little while, a moment of rest upon the wind, and another woman shall bear me.”
My life as I lived it had often seemed to me like a story that has no beginning and no end. I had the feeling that I was a historical fragment, an excerpt for which the preceding and succeeding text was missing. I could well imagine that I might have lived in former centuries and there encountered questions I ws not yet able to answer; that I had to be born again because I had not fulfilled the task that was given to me.
(Reading this my mind went in its own track:
1.Mark Tully‘s book: There are no fullstops in India
2.When I was in SBI, London, one Britisher Personnel Manager observed, ‘You do not want to close any case.’)
“So the idea of reincarnation contains a most comforting explanation of reality by means of which I dian thought surmounts difficulties that baffle the thinkers f Europe.”
“I hold that when a person dies
His soul returns again to earth;
Arrayed in some new flesh-disguise,
Another mother gives him birth.
With sturdier limbs and brighter brain
The old soul takes the road again.”

“It is the secret of the world that all things subsist and do not die, but only retire a little from sight and afterwards return again. Nothing is dead; men feign themselves dead, and endure mock funeraals and mourbful obituaries, and there they stand looking out of the window, sound and well, in some new strange disguise.
“I have been here before,
But when or how I cannot tell;
I know the grass beyond the door,
The sweet keen smell,
The sighing sound, the lights around the shore.
You have been mine before –
How long ago I may not know;
But just when at what swallow’s soar
Your neck turned so,
Some veil did fall, - I knew it all of yore.”
“My doctrine is: Live so that thou mayest desire to live again – that is thy duty – for in any casethou wilt again.”
“It is again a strong proof of men knowing most things before birth, that whenmere children they grasp innumerable facts with such speed as to show that they are not then taking them in for the first time, but remembering and recalling them.”
“The deeds of the preceding life give direction to the present life.”
“O youth or young man, who fancy that you are neglected by the Gods, know that if you become worse you shall go to the worse souls, or if better to the better, and in every succession of life and death you will do and suffer what like may fitly suffer at the hands of like. This is the justice of heaven.”
All romantic! Romance seizes hold of our hearts and chaperons in our life more than bitter reason does.
Belief in rebirth has spanned across all ages and peoples.