Universal Laws of Karma and Reincarnation
Universal Laws of Karma and Reincarnation
Evidences for Life after Death
Is there life after death? And, if it is, what is the evidence for that?
These questions have been asked by many persons very often. This can be answered
only when we know what someone means by the term "evidence". If he or she is
looking for "scientific" evidence, then perhaps nobody can satisfy him or her.
But if he/she is ready to realize that life after death (reincarnation) is a
metaphysical reality (meta means "beyond" and physical means "material"), then
many convincing evidences can be cited in its favour. The subject of
reincarnation has been examined by many persons from different countries from
different angles and has been accepted today beyond any doubt (Stevenson, 1974;
Khoo, 1995; Chadwick, 1988; Knapp, 2005; Sivananda, 2001; Abhedananda, 2007;
Yogananda, 2007). Therefore, we should look for those evidences first to
understand the existence of reincarnation. We should not forget that the modern
psychology has the dual roots of philosophy and science and its scope has
broadened considerably in recent years to include non-material things like mind,
experience, soul, love, and spirituality in it. There was a time when Watson
wanted to make psychology a 'natural' science and was not in favour of accepting
anything of subjective nature in it. But today, we have realized those mistakes
committed by Watson and his followers and have gone for correcting it by
allowing psychology to gain consciousness by accepting metaphysical realities.
It was rightly remarked by someone that, in order to become 'natural' science,
"psychology lost first its soul and then its mind, and it was left only with the
body and behaviour in the hands of behaviourists." This, however, does not mean
that we can accept anything in psychology blindly without sufficient evidences.
If the concept of reincarnation has been accepted, it is because of the
following six convincing evidences researchers have noted (Khoo, 1995).
Near Death Experience
Mediumship and Channelling
Hypnosis and other Forms of Regression
Spontaneous Past-life Recalls
Induction by Techniques other than Hypnosis
Volumes of reputed research have been conducted in various fields to
support the above mentioned categories of evidences. University professors,
scientists, and thinkers like Dr. Ian Stevenson, Dr. T.K. Khoo, Edgar Cayce,
Carol Bowman, Gloria Chadwick, Stephen Knapp, Swami Abhedananda, Swami Sivananda
and many others have all researched thoroughly into these topics and have
accepted reincarnation as a reality. We, therefore, should try to understand the
issue on the basis of what they have noted and suggested.
One of the most powerful arguments for upholding the existence of
reincarnation is how people are born with different capacities, talents,
interests, body defects and birthmarks. How are some children born with inherent
talents to be creative, exceptional, and artistic than others? There are many
such instances of wonderful powers exhibited by artists and painters when they
were quite young. Sankaracharya, the great commentator of the Vedanta
philosophy, finished his commentary when he was twelve years old. How could the
shepherd Mangiamelo calculate like an arithmetical machine at the age of five?
The same is true with another child, Zerah Colburn. When he was under eight
years of age, he could solve the most tremendous mathematical problems instantly
without using any figures. In one instance, he took the number 8 and raised it
up progressively to sixteenth power and instantly mentioned the correct result
which contained fifteen figures -- 281,474,976,710,656. When asked the square
root of numbers consisting of six figures, he would state the result instantly
with perfect accuracy. He used to give the cube root of numbers in the hundreds
of millions the very moment when it was asked. Somebody asked him once how many
minutes were there in 48 years, he answered, 25,288,800 (Abhedananda, 2007). The
same is true with Shakuntala Devi in India today. All these can be explained
only through the doctrine of reincarnation and not by learning.
Some persons may try to explain these instances through heredity. But is it
not a fact that the children of the same parents show marked dissimilarities to
their parents and to each other? For example, if a man has five children, one is
honest and saintly, another is an idiot, the third one is a murderer, the fourth
one is a versatile genius, and the fifth one is a crippled and diseased one.
Then, how can we say that it is due to heredity? Even the identical twins have
dissimilar characters and possess opposite qualities, although they are born of
the same parents and brought up under similar conditions and environments. These
dissimilarities and body defects, therefore, cannot be explained through
heredity. They can be explained only through past-life karmas (reincarnation).
Moreover, heredity believes in chance factor many times when it fails to explain
something, but reincarnation does not believe in chance factor and gives causal
explanation for every thing.
Is it also not a fact that sometimes we have experienced being here before
(Deja Vu) while watching a movie or having a dream or going on a vacation to a
new place? Hearing some children saying that they were so and so in their past
lives which came to be true to a great extent on verification? Feeling attracted
and falling in love with some persons at first sight? All these and many more
instances are there to support the existence of reincarnation. Simply saying
that such instances are just by chance or merely "divine mysteries" is just
avoiding the question or showing ignorance of the divine law.
What is Karma?
Karma is a Sanskrit word which literally means action. But for a human
being, action is not just a physical act or behaviour because it also includes
his/her intention for doing that behaviour. Intention may be expressed through
either physical or verbal actions. According to Tsering (2004), "Intention is
the most important of all mental events because it gives direction to the mind,
determining whether we engage with virtuous, non-virtuous, or neutral objects.
Just as iron is powerlessly drawn to a magnet, our minds are powerlessly drawn
to the object of our intentions." Therefore, when we take intention into
consideration, we find that the human behaviour becomes "karma" because we human
beings -- not the animals -- have the freedom and capacity to judge rightly or
wrongly about our behaviour. This freedom gives direction to our mind to choose
virtuous, non-virtuous, or neutral objects. This exercise of judgement is known
as karma for which human life is known as the karma-bhumi.
What is Reincarnation?
The word "reincarnation" takes its root from the Latin word, "in carnis"
which means "in the flesh" or incarnation. In the classic Vedic texts of India,
it is called Samsara which is a Sanskrit word, and which means being
bound to the cycle of repeated birth and death. Therefore, it has been defined
as the soul's cyclical return to the earth or other planes until we free
ourselves from our negative karmas (Sanskaras) and can be purified and
unified permanently into the "ONE" source. It postulates that there is a
pre-existing soul before birth and continues after death. According to Khoo
(1995), the soul incarnates hundreds or thousands of times to "promote spiritual
growth so that the soul can arrive finally at one with the universe".
"Soul" is a term which is rarely used with precise meaning in philosophy,
religion, or common life. It is, however, regarded as descriptive of an entity
related to but distinguishable from the body -- the spiritual part of human
beings that animates their physical existence and survives death. Since every
thought and action creates memory and comes back either to bless or haunt us, it
creates a field of information around us at the level of energy. We store this
information in our mind as we do in a computer. This data or memory is either
positive or negative which is also recorded in our soul as a hard disc (Harra,
2002). All the negative memories try to resurface in our life again and again
unless they are resolved. As a result, when one dies, his/her soul comes out
with such unresolved memories, which are known as his/her karmas, and looks for
new parents to incarnate (get another body) so that the repairing could be done
to what the person did wrong. And this practice continues life after life till
all the negative memories are erased from the soul.
How Karma and Reincarnation Work
How karma works is well expressed in the divine statement: "As you sow, so
you reap" like the third law of Newton: "Each action has an equal and opposite
reaction." We have seen how the soul travels from one body to the next due to
unresolved karmas. All these show clearly that we are all governed by the
universal "karmic law" and there are no exceptions. Whether we realize it or
not, every day we are creating karma with every thought and action. Either we
kill an insect, abuse someone, or are jealous of a friend, we are creating bad
karmas. Similarly, every single positive thing we do, like helping someone, or
showing sympathy and love towards someone, creates good karmas. In this sense,
life is a constant balancing act of offsetting the bad karmas with the good ones
(Sharan, 2005, 2007). If we don't erase our bad karmas or heal them at the end
of every day, they accumulate. Such accumulated karmas -- accumulated over time
and sometimes over many life times -- work like the "snowball" effect. They go
on multiplying and multiplying. We, therefore, need to resolve negative karmas
every day either by more and more positive acts or by regular prayer
(confession). Otherwise they will never be healed and we have to take birth
again and again to live with the consequential sufferings.
How reincarnation works is nicely elaborated in the Vedic texts of India.
The Bhagavad-Gita explains that whatever state of consciousness one
attains, when he or she quits this body, a similar state will be attained in the
next life. This means that after the person has lived his or her life, the
numerous variegated activities of the person form an aggregated consciousness.
And when the living beings take birth again, they get a certain kind of body
that is most suitable for the type of consciousness they have developed.
Therefore, according to Padma Purana, there are eighty-four lacs species
of life, each offering a particular class of body for whatever kind of desires
and consciousness the living being may have in this world. In this sense, the
living entity is the son of his past and the father of his future. According to
Knapp (2005), "All of our thoughts and actions throughout our life will
collectively influence the state of being we are in at the time of death. This
consciousness will determine what that person is thinking of at the end of one's
life. This last thought and consciousness will then direct where that person
will most likely go in the next life because this state of being carries over
from this life into the next."
Thus, it is clear that every physical and verbal action is preceded by
mental activity. Goodwill motivates a kind gesture; ill will motivates nasty
words. The presence of ill will before and during this act has an impact on the
mind due to which a certain potential is left behind. This potential is a karmic
seed -- a seed planted in our mind as well as in the soul (which functions like
a hard disc) by physical, verbal or mental action. The strength or depth of this
seed is determined by a number of factors; including how strong our intention
is, whether we clearly understand what we are doing, whether we act on our
intention, and whether the physical and verbal action is completed. Seeds will
remain in the soul until they ripen or are destroyed. These seeds are
responsible for selecting parents to get an appropriate body in reincarnation.
Seeds created by negative mental events and actions, however, can be destroyed
by some opponent or antidotal powers. The most important of these powers are
regrets for the negative acts and a firm resolve not to act that way again in
the future. According to Knapp (2005), "One's state of consciousness or
conception of life exists in the subtle body, which consists of mind,
intelligence and false ego. The soul is covered by this subtle body, which
exists within the gross material form. When the physical vehicles can no longer
function, the subtle body and soul are forced out of it. Then, when the time is
right, they are placed in another physical frame which properly accommodates the
state of mind of the living entity."
This can be explained better by understanding how the seeds of different
trees select different materials from the common environment and absorb and
assimilate different quantities of elements. Is it not a fact that when two
seeds -- one of an oak and the other of a chestnut -- are planted together in a
pot, they germinate and grow differently although the environments, earth,
water, heat, etc. are the same? There is some peculiarity in absorbing different
quantities of elements and other properties for each seed so that it can
maintain its own identity. Similarly, through the law of "natural selection" the
subtle body of the dying person chooses and attracts such parts from the common
environments which can be helpful in its proper expression or manifestation.
Parents are, therefore, nothing but the principal parts of the environment of
the re-incarnating individual.
Theory of Transmigration
The theory of transmigration is one of the oldest theories accepted by the
people of the Orient to solve the problems concerning life and death as well as
to explain the continuity of existence after death. This theory presupposes the
existence of the soul as an entity which can live even when the gross material
body is dead or dissolved into its elements. The materialists of all ages have
refused to accept this theory because they do not admit the existence of the
soul. The same is true with many of the scientists because they accept the
theory of heredity and endeavour to explain everything by it. But when we
examine the arguments cited in favour of heredity, we find that the theory of
transmigration is much more satisfactory, much more rational than that of
heredity (Abhedananda, 2007). Those who believe in heredity, have to depend on
chance factors many times. But those who believe in the theory of transmigration
apply the law of karma which explains that human souls are bound by this
irresistible law and cannot get out of it. Their future birth does not depend
upon the chance factor, or upon their whimsical free choice, but upon the
thoughts and deeds or misdeeds of their previous lives. According to Swami
Abhedananda, "Parents do not create the souls; they have no power to create.
They can only give the suitable environments necessary for manufacturing a gross
physical body. The souls come with their tendencies, with their desires, and
they remain as germs of life." And these germs of life contain vital forces,
sense physical and mental powers, and ethereal particles of matter. The Vedanta
philosophers also describe these germs as subtle bodies which are subject to
evolution and growth. They arise from lower to higher stages of development --
from the mineral through the vegetable to the animal kingdom and eventually to
human beings. Professor Huxley has rightly said that "None but hasty thinkers
will reject it on the ground of inherent absurdity. Like the doctrine of
evolution itself, that of transmigration has its roots in the world of reality."
Universal Laws of Karma and Reincarnation
Every person should have a comprehensive understanding of the Nature's
laws, and their operations. Similarly, he/she should also have a good
understanding of the spiritual laws. Then only he or she can pull on well in
this world by utilizing the helping forces and neutralizing the hostile or
antagonistic currents. All these laws of the universe are governed by the master
law of cause and effect. The cause is, however, invisible in many cases but the
effect is visible. The falling of an apple from a tree, for example, is the
effect of a certain invisible force called gravitation; suffering of a person is
due to his/her past misdeeds. These examples suggest that all visible or
perceptible phenomena are but the various expressions of different forces which
act as invisible or imperceptible agents upon the subtle and imperceptible forms
of matter. These invisible agents or forces together with the imperceptible
particles of matter make up the subtle states of the phenomenal universe. The
same explanation is applicable to the law of karma and reincarnation. According
to Abhedananda (2007), the gross human body is the result of its subtle body
which is nothing but a minute germ of a living substance. It contains the
invisible particles of matter which are held together by vital force, and it
also possesses mind or thought-force in a potential state, just as the seed of a
plant contains in it the life force and the power of growth. Every action of
body and mind which we do, every thought we have becomes fine, and is stored up
in the form of a Samskara or impression in our minds. It remains latent
for some time, and then rises up in the form of a mental wave and produces new
desires known as Vasanas or consciousness. According to Vedanta, these
Vasanas or strong worldly desires are the manufacturers of new bodies. And,
if such Vasanas or longing for worldly pleasures remain in any subtle
body, even after hundreds of births, that person will be born again.
Thus, if Vasana (also known as subtle body or consciousness) is
understood as basic to everything, it becomes easy to believe in reincarnation
because it is governed by certain spiritual laws. These laws come from and are
imbued with Spirit. Therefore, they are also known as Divine Laws. These laws
dictate the results of our thoughts and actions. When we perform an action or
put our thought, we try to control the results. But we fail to do so because
there are too many laws working at too many levels for the ego to manage. This
is the reason why the Bhagavad-Gita says that we should perform our
actions consciously with good intentions and leave the results or consequences
up to Spirit or Divine Laws.
We have seen that every action or thought has an effect or consequence, and
the nature of that effect depends upon the nature of the cause. If the cause is
"good", the effect will be good. If the cause comes from negative thoughts or
evil, the results will be equally negative or evil. The law of reincarnation is
based exactly on this karmic law. We are all energy fixed in time and space
based on karmic law. We, therefore, cannot commit karma and can expect it to
finish with it in one life time. There has to be many lives to resolve one's
karmas. That means, once karma is initiated, it must continue until it is spent.
This process of karma and reincarnation is based on certain spiritual laws out
of which the following three are very important (Khoo, 1995):
Law of Continuation: We have seen that
when the karma is initiated, it continues till it is spent fully. We,
therefore, need to understand how it continues. Actually, there are three
kinds of karmas: Sanchita Karmas, Prarabdha Karmas, and
Kriyaman Karmas. Sanchita karma is the sum total and storehouse
of all our actions, good and bad, committed in the innumerable past lives and
in the present life. The whole of it is recorded and preserved. Prarabdha
karma is the ripe karma ready to give its overdue effect in the form of
gain and loss in the present life. Kriyaman karma is in the course of
making it in the future. It is this which preserves our freewill with certain
limitations and ensures our success (Sivananda, 2001). Thus, unless all these
karmas are spent fully, we shall continue to incarnate and re-incarnate.
Sometimes, we face a dilemma. How is that when a
person is doing many good things, he or she is getting bad results? The answer
is very simple: It is due to his/her past bad karmas (Prarabdha). For
example, although we are pouring good rice from the top of a grain elevator or
silo, we are getting sometimes bad rice from the door at the bottom because it
was put earlier. Therefore, once this lot of bad rice is clear, we are bound to
get good rice from the same door (Knapp, 2005). The same is true with our
karmas. Good and bad results are coming because we have good and bad karmas
stored in our soul.
Law of continuation also has another meaning. It
says that some of our good tendencies, traits, habits, talents, and abilities
are carried over to the next life. Such characteristics we are strongly
associated with tend to be carried over to the next. We find among ourselves
persons who are born with some wonderful powers. For example, Shri Ramakrishna
was born with God-consciousness, and he went into the highest state of
Samadhi when he was four years old. Similarly, one person may be born with
such a developed power of self-control that others cannot acquire it even after
years of hard struggle. Therefore, we have to admit that a few characteristics
or qualities are inborn in every person. This, however, does not mean that our
all characteristics will be carried over to the next life. Perhaps, it is only
those characteristics which are very good and we are strongly associated with
them particularly at the time of death.
Law of Consequence: The law of
consequence, which is also known as the law of rebirth, is the most
fundamental law in human destiny. This is, however, not a static law. We
constantly use it to create new destiny to improve the old destiny brought
from the past. We all have lived many lives on this earth in the past and
shall be living many more in the future. In each of these past lives, we have
gone for good and bad karmas which have attracted good and bad reactions
affecting our consciousness. This consciousness, consisting of thinking,
feeling, and willing, has covered the soul with a subtle body made up of mind,
intelligence and false ego. The shape of the subtle body is said to change
according to the type of consciousness we develop. This subtle body travels
with the soul from one material body to another, or even in between material
bodies, as we go through the rounds of repeated birth and death. It is thus
the consciousness, which we develop during our life time, is responsible for
our rebirths and new bodies. This is the reason why the law of consequence is
known as companion to the law of rebirth.
It has been rightly described in the "Western
Wisdom Teachings" that there is an invisible institution in every person which
is functioning like a Universal Bank where we make a deposit of every good
thought, feeling, and action. "All our constructive work, our self-discipline,
our service to others, and all our other actions which are in harmony with the
Divine Will make deposits in the Universal Bank. These deposits are the source
from which we draw our destiny, our good fortune, and our opportunities. The
unseen Director of this Bank, together with the Agents of Destiny, keeps an
unerring record of all deposits." And, from time to time, the Director declares
a dividend in the form of some opportunity, success, good luck, or "wind-fall".
Since the Universal Bank is backed by the Universe, it cannot fail. We can never
lose nor can we get more than what we deserve. If our destiny and success are
not what we would like them to be, then it is because our credit in the
Universal Bank has been temporarily depleted. In such a case, there is nothing
to do but get busy to make new deposits. If we wish to change our environment
and fortune, we should change our thought patterns by developing 'creative
power of thought'. Since two thoughts cannot occupy the mind at the same
time, we simply need to replace destructive thoughts by constructive thoughts.
The negative desires like anger, hate, revenge, resentment, etc. disrupt and
disarrange creative power of thought. We, therefore, need to substitute them by
positive desires like love, respect, trust, and kind attitude.
3. Law of Compensation: As we
progress in our life, we are bound to experience innumerable facets of
life. In some lives we have to be physically strong and in some week; in some we
have to be intellectually active and in others mentally subdued. Not only that,
we also need to change our sex, race and religion to round up our education. All
these are due to law of compensation which operates everywhere in Nature's
According to Swami Sivananda, the law of
compensation also refers to the perfect balance between the cause and effect.
The seed breaks and then only a big tree comes out of it. Water becomes steam
and the steam moves the engine. Similarly, when the sulphuric acid of a jar of a
battery is consumed, electricity is produced in a bulb to give light. We find
that this law of compensation is operating everywhere in the Nature. It is for
this reason the Bhagavad-Gita says that "Birth must be followed by death and
death must be followed by birth." Vedanta also maintains that "Nothing is
destroyed in the universe." Today scientists are also supporting this view that
"non-existence can never become existence and existence can never become
non-existence." Based on this principle, we can say that the impressions or
consciousness which we have now will never be destroyed and will remain with us
in one form or the other. Therefore, even if our bodies die, the karmas or
Sanskaras remain in our souls in the form of a subtle body. And that subtle
body of the soul gets another body sooner or later.
In order to understand reincarnation, first we have to realize that
we are not only the bodies, but we also have minds and souls within us. Mind is
an internal instrument functioning like a mirror on which the soul is throwing
lights constantly. Thereby, the mind is getting the power of consciousness only
from the soul (Sharan, 2007). According to the Srimad-Bhagavatam, the
soul is self-luminous, beyond birth and death, and unlimited by time and space
and, therefore, beyond all change. As one witnesses the birth and death of a
tree, similarly, the soul experiences the birth, death, and various activities
of the body like a separate entity in it. In this process, under the influence
of karma (Vasana), the soul is covered by a subtle body which becomes
capable of manufacturing another material body according to its desires and
tendencies. Just as a germ of life develops a grosser form by cellular
subdivision by growth and by assimilation of the environmental conditions, so
the germ of the human soul manufactures the body by obeying the laws which
govern the physical plane. Parents are thus nothing but the channels through
which the migrating souls receive their material forms. Parents do not create
the souls because they do not have powers to create. However, they provide
suitable environments necessary for manufacturing a gross physical body. It is
not possible for anyone to see what type of subtle body or consciousness is
being carried over by the soul at the time of death. But every soul, covered by
the subtle body, has to look for another materialistic body to take up where it
left off in the previous existence. Knapp (2005) has rightly said that "... the
next life may be in another physical body or in a subtle body in between births,
or even in heavenly or hellish states of being."
The phenomena of the universe, as reported by science, are subject to
evolution -- a gradual change and progressive development from a relatively
uniform condition to relative complexity. From the greatest solar system down
to the smallest blade of grass, every thing in the universe has taken its
present shape and form through this cosmic process of evolution. The sun, moon,
stars, satellites and other planets have come into existence by going through
innumerable changes produced by the evolutionary process of the cosmos. The same
is true with reincarnation. Embryology -- a branch of life science -- has also
proved that "man is the epitome of the whole creation." It tells that the human
body before its birth passes through all the different stages of the animal
kingdom -- such as the polyp, fish, reptile, dog, ape, and at last, man (Abhedananda,
The process of evolution, as science says, is governed by three laws:
Tendency to vary, natural selection, and struggle for existence. With the same
laws, science also tries to explain the physical, mental, and spiritual
evolution of mankind. So far the first two (physical and mental) evolutions are
concerned, yes; the science seems to be correct. But what about the spiritual
evolution? It is a fact that every human being has animal nature. Therefore,
Darwin seems to be right when he says that human beings are just the developed
form of lower animals. But his evolution theory fails to explain how every human
being is also spiritual in nature. Since no animal has morality or spirituality
as such, it cannot be expected that this kind of nature has evolved from animals
in human beings. This is, therefore, not a case of evolution but of a creation
or sudden development.
Actually, as Vedanta says, each germ of life possesses infinite
potentialities and infinite possibilities. It contains vital forces, sense
powers, psychic powers, and ethereal particles of matter. At the time of death,
the soul contracts and withdraws all its powers from the sense organs to its
innermost centre, and in that contracted state it leaves the body like a seed.
By the law of persistence of force and conservation of energy, these powers
remain latent in that centre until environmental conditions become favourable
for their manifestations. Rebirth gives a chance for their manifestations.
However, their manifestations are controlled by limitations of each material
body the soul chooses.
We have seen above that the process of reincarnation starts from the
mineral through the vegetable to the animal kingdom and finally to the human
beings. The reason is that the soul wants to have all sorts of experiences so
that finally it gets a human body and thereby it gets a chance to liberate
itself. In human body, all powers of the contracted soul get a chance to
manifest themselves fully which was not possible in any other body. This is the
reason why the human body is said to be a perfect body for the incarnating soul.
There is another advantage of the human body. The spiritual power of the
soul also gets manifested in this body which was not possible in any other body.
With the help of this spiritual power, a person can be completely free from all
the worldly desires. He/she can be engaged only in good karmas as a selfless
person without being 'involved' in them. Not only that, even if something wrong
is committed, it will be resolved by him or her at the earliest either through
confession or through regular prayer. As a result of that, when he or she will
die, there will not be any debt for the soul to pay back. And, once the soul is
free from any such debt, it will not be covered by any subtle body (Vasana).
This way, it will get liberated and will merge with God.
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