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Rebirth and Evolution of Man

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The question of rebirth, of life after death, has remained an enigma through the ages. Human knowledge is hardly capable of answering all the problems that life foreshadows, and as Gautama Buddha would say, “In this world of forms and illusions created by our senses according to our illusions, a man either is or is not, either lives or dies, but in the true and formless world this is not so, for all is otherwise than according to our knowledge, and if you ask, does a man live beyond death, I answer No, not in any sense comprehensible to the mind of man which itself dies at death, and if you ask, does a man altogether die at death, I answer No, for what dies is what belongs to this world of form and illusion.”

Yet, human mind would not allow itself to be puzzled by a mystic answer without a definite conclusion, and the age of implicit belief in what the wise had said once upon a time is long past. Today we have a perpetual demand for concrete evidence en masse, not of solitary prodigies. But if such be the attitude on a profound mystery like the soul’s transmigration, the obvious answer has to be, “Better wait until you die, and then you can conclusively know.” There arises, therefore, the necessity of a cool, rational, dispassionate and impersonal consideration.

The doctrine of cause and effect and the consequent inevitability of reincarnation has been the very bedrock of the Hindu philosophy. But we cannot ignore the obvious fact that out of 2000 millions of the earth’s population over 800 millions have no religious tradition to believe in rebirth, while nearly 540 millions are quite agnostic about its possibility.

Naturally, then, it will be a sheer rodomontade of the Hindu’s thought that they were the wisest of men, as though the rest were a massive bunch of ignorant persons, to whom ignorance was bliss. Then the question will arise, if one is to believe that his present life is resultant of the actions done in his previous birth, what was it that caused that previous birth? Well, another previous birth. But what was the cause of that birth, again?

Now, to answer this, we have to fall back upon the law of evolution and say that in the long, distant past we had been once animals and from that strata of life we became human beings. But the question would again arise that in order to justify the theory of cause and effect there must have been some cause as well to be born as human beings, and since animals have no intellect to judge between virtue and vice, how could we be held responsible for our birth into the family of Man? It does not matter; let us tentatively accept this illogical hypothesis to be true, and lead ourselves back into the family of worms and then into the vegetable and the mineral kingdoms, and finally arrive at the conclusion that God must have been the original cause responsible. But, believing in the theory of cause and effect, how indeed, for all the world of reason, could God be so unjust and undeniably become the original cause for all the suffering, conflict and unhappiness that we must undergo, born as we are as human beings?

There is no answer for the original cause. The best course is: Be good and do good, believe in a good conscience and respect the worthiness of the individual and the ethics of life, leaving the rest to God. There are many things beyond the orbit of the human mind, and knowledge of the Self, however imposing the term might be, is the only answer to them. Nevertheless the concept of rebirth cannot be so easily brushed aside, since there are substantial logical inferences, which yield a strong influence on reason to sustain faith.

In the early phases of Vedic literature there is practically no reference to rebirth and no stigma of sins, or dread of the hell-fire and no heavenly lure for the mortals. But with the beginning of the Aranyaka period, as the Vedic mind progressed from a polytheistic concept of the elemental godhead towards a monistic ideals of the one, absolute Reality, the doctrine of cause and effect and the transmigration of soul was evolved as a logical necessity in order to safeguard an unsullied existence of God in human thought.

Now, it is quite well-known that three of the leading religions of the world, though much younger to Hinduism in origin, found it necessary to present a dreadful prospect of an eternal devilment in the hell so that men might desist from flying at each other’s throat and respect social harmony, the value of culture and the usefulness of peace. A colourful lure of a joyous immortality in the heaven was offered at the same time, directed only to serve the same purpose. But here the principle of evolution was at once discredited and man was either abruptly condemned to hell without a slight afterchance of redemption, or he was over-graciously suspended in the heaven for eternity, with an individualised existence. Nor was there any answer as to why one man should be flourishing and happy in spite of being wicked and another should be drudging on a life of want, full of wretchedness, in spite of being virtuous.

The Indian sages on the contrary offered a better solution and made reincarnation responsible for the evolution of man who alone was the master of his destiny. They frankly admitted their incapability of answering why the world should have been created at all, and from that basis asserted that God was not responsible for good and evil, happiness and suffering, but it was man who was responsible for the decree of his fate, capable at the same time of its betterment through his own self-effort. So, God could not be accused for all the baffling inequalities and injustices of life, and His position in human thought was kept unscathed. The theory of reincarnation is, therefore, a far more convincing doctrine than any belief that justifies an arbitrary irredemption after death.

Furthermore, we have many examples as to how a child easily becomes an adept artist or a gifted musician with a very little training, whereas in some aristocratic families we find that in spite of tremendous efforts of highly qualified teachers and arduous toil on the part of the youngster himself he is able to make very little progress in learning. There are also the examples of child-prodigies with no background of training. Take another case. There are two children born of the same parents and brought up under the same environments: one of them turns out to be a brilliant scholar with fine manners, and the other becomes a dull-headed ragamuffin for no apparent reason at all. The theory of rebirth alone might answer for the difference.

Rebirth is life’s sustaining force, even from the worldly point of view. So many dreams and so many eagerly-sought-after ambitions remain unfulfilled; youth gradually decays into old age and infirmity, and the ember of elusive hope gets dimmer and weaker; but its flame is kept up flickering by a remote expectation that perhaps in another birth those dreams might be fulfilled. So, even from this point of view, rebirth is indeed a gentle consolation and a solace of life.

There is another school of thought which believes that the sledge-hammer of death puts a final end to life, the body and the soul having passed out into the five elements in ultimate oblivion. This convenient belief is very appealing to some intellectual sophists. But, if such be the case, then what is to account for the apparitions and the undeniable experiences at a seance? Hence, life after death cannot be ruled out? Now, let us take into consideration as to what should be the attitude of a spiritual aspirant. Man has a tremendous potentiality within himself. He is not the slave of fate. Once Buddha asked Sariputta, one of his most brilliant disciples, to whom the world owes an immense debt for the establishment of Buddhism, “Well, monk, does not life burden you and don’t you like to be released by death? Or, does living fascinate you, because there is a noble mission to fulfil?” Sariputta replied, “Venerable Teacher, I desire not life. I desire not death. I wait until my hour shall come, like a servant that waits for his wages.”

Even so should be the attitude of an aspirant. He has nothing to fulfil of his own, since his life is a fulfilment of the will of God. Even the desire to be born again in order to foster a worthy spiritual mission should find no place in him. For, does not God know better as to whom to send as His messenger to this world? And, is it not man’s highest ideal to rejoice in the dissolution of his body and the mind and his individuality in the great cosmic oneness of the Absolute, and thus once for all cease to be an individualised consciousness, either astrally existent or physically imprisoned.

Most assuredly does every aspirant reserve the right to disclaim rebirth for himself, because liberation is his birthright and he is the master of his destiny. No obsession is ever good, be it spiritual or temporal. It is better to cleanse the mind of any unhealthy fear-complex than be harrowed by an obsession at the time of death. Having known the evanescent nature of the material values of life, one has to deny the prospect of being crucified again inside his prison-house of flesh and blood, and claim one’s legitimate due with all the vigour and intensity of will and thought that he can command.

Thought decides action and action decides destiny. There is a vast reservoir of power within every individual and one can surely pulverise any possibility of a future life by the sheer force of his will, together with the inevitable grace of God, and so modelling his present life as to leave no trace of earthly ambition and no tell-tale of an unwipable mark of stigmatic actions. Did not Dattatreya, the sage of unparalleled wisdom and renunciation say, “For the initiated there is no rebirth?”

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