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Diana: I am confused about my next life. If I do not attain moksa in this life, will I reincarnate so that I can continue my work?
Arlindo: Hi, Diana. In my earlier days, on a rare occasion I read Ramana answering this same question. He said that reincarnation exists only to the mind. At the time, I couldn’t clearly grasp what he was trying to say. But because Ramji is a great Vedanta teacher, he explains it very simply and clearly.
Ramana was trying to say that only the vasanas reincarnate, the same way our thoughts appear and disappear, only to reappear again in our conscious mind. And since vasanas are not conscious thoughts, there is nothing personal about them.
On the other hand, jiva is his conscious mind, or subtle body – he/she cannot reincarnate, because he is not conscious of his causal body material, and for that reason, he cannot own what goes on there. Only vasanas reincarnate, and there is nothing personal about them.
Reincarnation is only meaningful if it is taken to be personal: “my reincarnation.” If it is impersonal, it is not meaningful. It is not personal in the sense that vasanas are not self-conscious thoughts. Their function belongs to Isvara’s jurisdiction.
As you can see, neither the physical body, the subtle body nor the self reincarnates. Only the individual impersonal causal body (one’s vasana load) does so. When the vasanas (which are very subtle mental-emotional energies seeking expression) begin a totally new body-mind apparatus, they do so, but only to become altogether another person/jiva who does not remember its previous experience of jiva-hood. The previous jiva does not reincarnate, because jiva does not come back as the same jiva as before – and moreover he would not know how. ☺ It all happens on an unconscious, impersonal level.
All subtle phenomena of jivas accessing past life mental material are subject to the interpretation of the content of such experiences. But let’s suppose that some of these interpretations may be accurate and the jiva in a state of trance really accesses some of those past life mental materials. In retrospect, he may be able to say that WAS one of my past life experiences. Only in retrospect the past life would exist – but always in reference to the jiva/person incarnated now, the only experiencing entity there is.
All experience can only exist in reference to the incarnated jiva with its three bodies in proper function. The jiva may be able to access some memories of past lives, but he cannot reincarnate. The construct which constitutes what we call the jiva is totally finished once the physical body dies. The vasana load will survive to produce a new and fresh jiva. Isn’t it marvelous! ☺
The self, or consciousness, is not the three bodies (they are only upadhis for the self). In mithya we can also say that the causal body (the body of vasanas) is not the self-conscious jiva. Jiva is characterized mainly by its subtle body, which produces what we may call personified consciousness, or RC (consciousness reflected in a subtle body). Once we accept that only the vasanas reincarnate, we also need to accept that there is no reincarnation for self-conscious jivas.