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What Is Reincarnation?
Don: Greetings, Sundari.
Thank you for your response to my last email in November. There is nothing in it that I cannot understand and agree with. How about that?
Don: However, the nitpicky jiva that sits in the morning welcoming the intrusions (vasanas) of the causal body, which I interpret as Isvara, plays with ideas that have troubled the story jiva and obviously other story jivas for a long time. In this case, it is reincarnation again.
Would you be so kind as to comment on this, please? Much thanks.
The questions that people, including me, have asked are: What is reincarnation? Is there such a process, and what exactly would reincarnate?
There are two perspectives from which to view reincarnation, one from the Self, which is whole, complete, limitless, non-dual being, and one from the story-jiva (I like that terminology), the body-mind, limited, small, dualist self.
The “I am Self” does not reincarnate, because there is no movement, no space, no time, nothing to be done, nothing to be achieved, as you and I have spoken about numerous times. However, being limitless, the Self can “permit limitation” within its Self (an explanation I first heard from Shams a year or so back), which gives rise to Maya, or ignorance. In this or due to this ignorance of the Self, Isvara apparently is understood to arise resulting in Creation as we know it, although according to the Mandukya Upanishad, there is no Creation, but there certainly is the appearance of it. I can appreciate the non-Creation explanation and think it is the only “logical” one, believe it or not.
Sundari: The Self has the power to apparently limit itself or it could not be unlimited.
Don: This apparent Creation, dependent upon Isvara (the physical, psychological and moral order of matter), is the Self – in association with Maya, or the three gunas. Isvara gives rise to the idea of the one universal, eternal Jiva (living being). This one universal Jiva is subject to the laws of Isvara, one being the law of cause and effect. The Jiva responds to Isvara either totally programmed, as in the case of plants, insects and most animals, including at times Homo sapiens, or responds mechanically, deliberately or spontaneously to the situation presented by Isvara, depending on the predominance of the three gunas functioning in the subtle body at any moment. Depending on the guna balance in any given situation, responses may be appropriate (fitting with dharma) or inappropriate (adharmic).
The Jiva that has “evolved” to the point of self-reflection (as in the case of the human being versus an insect), mistakes that reflection for its identity and sees itself as a doer and enjoyer of its actions (understood as the ego). This action arises from ignorance and is a mistaken attempt to seek what it believes it lacks. The Jiva creates its own world (apparent reality) due to its personal (avidya) ignorance which may not be in keeping with dharma. This leads to the story-jiva suffering. Aspects of this ignorance are ideas of birth and death, heaven and earth, and reincarnation.
The Jiva with its three bodies: the gross, subtle and causal, forever goes through the eternal cycle of wakefulness, dream and deep sleep. From the identification with jiva, the small self, I may believe that something I identify with will reincarnate with all the “benefits” of that belief. The fact that the Jiva is eternal, the reincarnation idea could appear to be correct, but the understanding is wrong because ignorance causes the jiva to mistake its reflection to be the Self.
Sundari: This is an easy one, and I think you already have the answer, as your grasp of the teachings is very good, but here it is:
What Is Reincarnation?
Firstly, let’s do an inquiry into what time is. If reality is non-dual awareness, which we know it is, then there is nothing other than awareness “in it.” Time is a construct, an uphadi, or limiting adjunct. It is created by fear and desire, and if you are identified with it, you are looking at the changeless through a changing instrument, the mind. This is ignorance. Nothing is experienced in the past or the future, only the present. How long is the present? A lifetime, a year, month, minute, millisecond? The moment you try to categorize time, time has already passed. Time therefore isn’t any specific measurement. What is it then?
If you think about it, time is the space between events. The essence of the experience of events is stored in and by the mind. Memory is simply catalogued and categorized events. Could you actually say an event took place previously if your mind didn’t record that event? You could not. Time is the distance between a memory of an event and another memory or current experience. It is an illusion. If time is the space between memories formed by the mind, what or who sees the presence of the memories and “time”? Awareness is the witness to time. Is awareness affected by any function of the mind? Does awareness actually have anything to do with the mental illusion called time? Would time exist if awareness weren’t there to see it? “No” to all these questions.
This is precisely what we mean when we say that awareness is “out of time” or “timeless.” Vedanta says that awareness isn’t a factor in the production of time; only experience and memory are. Yet awareness must be there for time to exist. That is why time depends on you, but you don’t depend on time. You see time, it doesn’t see you. You are the seer unaffected by time. You are free of time. Nothing ever happened. So what difference does it make if the vasanas are experienced in this life or an apparent “past” life? Without Self-knowledge, the vasanas cannot be dissolved and remain binding.
Once ignorance has been removed and the knowledge that your true identity is awareness is firm, then you understand that the person is no more than a conglomeration of tendencies, likes and dislikes, or vasanas, that create a certain personality and a life story. As stated previously, both Isvara and the jiva, or the apparent person, are objects known to you, awareness. “Your” conditioning belongs to Isvara; therefore, as awareness, you do not claim it. Nor do you set out to perfect the apparent person. What for, if the person is not real? All you need to be free is to understand the jiva’s conditioning in the light of Self-knowledge so that you can free of the limitation of identification with objects. The apparent person will always be limited, as they will never leave the apparent reality, meaning that the jiva is always subject to Isvara, even though as awareness they are free of Isvara and the jiva.
The subject of reincarnation is not such a big topic in Vedanta, because Self-inquiry is about negating the notion that you are the body-mind, or the doer. We say you die and reincarnate with each thought. The whole idea of reincarnation depends on who you think you are. If you are religiously inclined and identified with being a person, then the ego will be attached to the idea of a future life “beyond this life” wherever “heaven” may be. If you are spiritually inclined, the ego may or may not be invested in the idea of a past life and reincarnation. You care about not being a jerk in the “next life” because you wrongly believe that who you are as a personality in this life has a continuation. It does not. As Vedantins we know that no life is real, nor is time, as explained, so the idea of reincarnation is moot.
Once you understand that you are not the person and why, it is not terribly important to know whether the person reincarnates or not, because you know that you, awareness, are eternal. The person is just an idea that appears in you, awareness. This does not mean that the person does not exist; it just means that he/she is not real: real being defined by “that which is not always present and always changing.” Only awareness is always present and never changes. Why bother with who you were in a so-called “past” life or who you will be in the next when neither are any more real than this one? Awareness has no past and no future.
The person called Don is just a name for the Self under the spell of ignorance. The person (personality) will never reincarnate, because he/she is not real. The subtle body (eternal Jiva) is not real either, but it is relatively real with reference to the short-lived individual. It is called the “traveller.” It is the subtle body, or the vasana-bundle, that may or may not reincarnate. The “next” person, or subtle body, will be a completely different person with a different set of life karma. Don will not be Don anymore and will have no memory of ever having been Don. So, what difference does it make? Whether reincarnation happens or not has no bearing on your present life. The belief is nothing more than a false sense of security for the ego.
The spiritual arena has built up a very elaborate fantasy around the belief in reincarnation because the ego is afraid of death. Some people do have “past” life memories, it’s true – but what difference do they make in the here and now? Knowledge of past lives will not help the mind render the binding vasanas non-binding. Only Self-knowledge has the power to do that in the present.
As awareness, you never die, because you were never born. The body-mind-ego will die. Each apparent incarnation is just a playing out of the gunas, which creates a story with a name and an address. It is no more than a movie playing out on the movie screen is real. Metaphorically speaking, awareness is the screen, not the movie. Although the story of the jiva may seem personal and to originate from “past” lives, as there is really only one Self/ awareness, there is really only one mind, or subtle body, seemingly appearing as the many – so there is only one story with no past. It is the story of ignorance and knowledge. If you understand the difference between non-duality and duality is, you will not be concerned with so-called past lives.
Don: I have not read this, but the thought occurred that this jiva can be viewed as the consequence of the blind spot in the Self (that “borrowed” aspect of Being spoken of as Maya), which gives rise to the illusion of duality and is the means by which the apparent limitation in/of the Self is resolved. At this understanding, the paramatma and the jivatma are one and the same.
Sundari: Awareness does not have a blind spot of course, because Maya does not cover it. It is an apparent covering, and even so, it only covers a very small portion of awareness, so to speak, as awareness does not have parts. I suppose you could call a “blind” spot as long as you know it is an apparent one.
Don: This understanding seems to clear up the confusion I was having with the young man that has been in a coma for 27 years. Now, the words that I would use to describe what is apparently presenting is seeing the reflection of the Self in the jiva that has an excessively tamasic subtle body – and a mother loving her child.
Don: To have the awareness of Vedanta and the qualifications to hear the teaching is the grace of Isvara. Om shanti shanti comes unexpectedly to my lips.
Sundari: Yes, indeed it is the greatest of blessings!
~ Much love, Sundari