"In Wonders We Sail, Questing for the Answers in Veil"

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Afterlife : Rebirth,The Return Of The Soul Explained By Vedas

JIVA IS THE SANSKRIT WORD for the individual soul.Caught in the endless cycle of birth and death, the jiva must play different roles in different lifetimes, and therefore requires garments of different shapes and sizes. Each of our bodies is a different garment for jiva. After completing one role, the individual soul must take off its costume and don one that suits its next role. And just as costumes are manufactured in the external world, the body that clothes the individual soul is generated by nature.

If this body is indeed a garment we put on, then why is it we don’t remember that we did this? The answer is to be found in scriptures such as the Yoga Vashishta, the Bhagavad Gita, the Yoga Sutra, the Katha Upanishad, and the Garbha Upanishad,which tell us that those who fall asleep before dying remain asleep when they are being reborn. (ln this context, “sleep” means “lack of conscious awareness.") ln other words,those who die unconsciously remain unaware of their birth. According to the scriptures, however, birth has nothing to do with conception or delivery. Birth takes place the moment we identify ourselves with a particular body, and this is why sages and yogic adepts are never born even when they inhabit a body: they never identify themselves with that body.

As we saw in the previous posts,under most circumstances death is accompanied by confusion and chaos. When prana departs, the body, brain, and conscious mind become lifeless, and the jiva is left with the unconscious mind. That is the vehicle with which it leaves the body. This kind of death can be compared to a blind man trying to get out of an unfamiliar house. Because of the confusion caused by our desires and attachments, we do not even know through which door we are leaving.In the interval after death we are in the realm of our unconscious, experiencing pain or pleasure until the strongest among the subtle impressions of our karmas gathers momentum and pushes us in the direction of rebirth. These powerful samskaras (called Vasanas) stir the unconscious, motivating us to grope around for a body. But we are in such a deep sleep that we are not even aware of this stirring, although we feel it on an unconscious level.

This unconscious stirring is so strong that we cannot resist it. Here again nature takes a hand. Making sure we find a body that meets the needs of our vasanas, nature brings us to parents who have vasanas similar to ours. The vasanas from both sides—ours, and our parents'—attract each other.Just being in the proximity of such a body offers a sense of security to our unconscious mind. The pranic forces reemerge from nature and enter the body, giving it life. And following the trail of prana, riding the vehicle of the unconscious mind, the individual soul (jiva) enters the fetus. The formation of the brain, the seat of the conscious mind,is a crucial stage in pregnancy. According to the Garbha Upanishad,when that has happened the soul has the tools to think and feel. ln a sense it has entered the world, although it is still living in the confines of the mother's womb. Even so,the unconscious mind of the fetus is quite active, even more so than the unconscious mind of children and adults. This is because the conscious mind of a fetus has no opportunity to occupy itself with sensory diversions, and so experiences the unconscious vividly and intensely.

During the period between death and conception, the soul has been encapsulated in the unconscious. Even though it had been experiencing pain and pleasure, it had no conscious experience of this. It did not even know where it was.But now with the development of the nervous system, brain, and conscious mind, memories have returned.

The jiva now knows that it is being reborn. lt remembers its previous lives and clearly knows the reason for being born into this particular species under these particular conditions.lt remembers how painful it is to die and to be born.Its tender senses and mind are bombarded by the racket in its mother's body and jolted by her emotions. The primitive instinct of hunger has also returned, and in an attempt to cope with it,the fetus begins to suck its own toes or thumbs.The jiva now realizes what a great loss it has been to die without attaining the goal of life, and it does not want to make that mistake again.Regretting the waste of its previous lives,it prays to the Divine Being, 

“O God, l have been traveling from one species to another for thousands of lifetimes.I  have suckled different breasts and eaten different kinds of food only to be born and only to die. I cannot see a way out of this ocean of pain and misery. I performed good and bad actions, telling myself that it was my duty and I was doing it for my loved ones. Today l am suffering alone from the pain of those scorching actions. O Lord, help me get out of this place. This time l promise I will embrace you alone and serve only you."
(Garbha Upanishad. 4)

Occupying itself with these thoughts, feelings, and prayers,the jiva completes the period of gestation. But when the infant emerges from the womb, it touches a pranic force known as vaishnava prana, which wipes away all memories. The amnesia is so total that the infant does not even remember its birth.The thoughts and feelings it had in the womb, its prayers—everything—vanishes, and the infant's conscious mind is like a clean slate. The baby must relearn everything by means of its environment, its parents, and its teachers, and later on,through self-study and personal experience.

This description of the soul's journey from death to birth is disheartening. We often feel as if the forces of time, nature,karma, or destiny are cruel, especially when we hear how vaishnava prana erases our memory at the time of birth, taking with it the privilege of using the knowledge and lessons we had received in our previous lives.People in ancient times also wanted to know why vaishnava prana erases our memory,rendering moot the prayers and resolutions we made during the gestation period.The story in the upcoming post 'Veda Vyasa and the Caterpillar',briefly mentioned in the several puranas and told in the elaborate detail in the Skanda Puarana,clarifies these issues.

Other Articles On Karma and Afterlife In This Blog :
Afterlife : The Divine Helps Those Who Helps Themselves

-Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, Ph.D
The Himalayan Institute


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