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Who Reincarnates When the Dream Ends?
Rick: Sundari, hello again. ☺
I have a question about the Advaita view of reincarnation. If you have the time, I’d love to get your response!
Is this true per Advaita?:
If I am NOT enlightened (do not know with certainty that atman is brahman), shortly after my current “dream” ends (at physical death), my next dream will begin: a higher or lower rebirth, a sojourn in heaven or hell, whatever. And my new dream, just like my previous one (life in human form), will be totally convincing, i.e. I will mistake it for reality (unless I get enlightened in the new dream).
I’m using “dream” to mean unreal (apparent) reality = mithya/vyavaharika.
Sundari: The teaching on reincarnation is an important teaching, not for the reasons most think it is, as some way to prolong the life of the ego. The subtle body is also referred to as “the traveller” because it is only the psychology (vasana load) of the jiva that “transmigrates,” not the personality (ego). The personality ends with the death of the body. All vasanas are universal and not personal either. This teaching is important to negate the personal jiva and to discriminate satya from mithya.
As all vasanas are eternal and not personal, they are not rendered back to the field as such because they were always part of the field and did not belong to the jiva. When Self-knowledge removes the “personal” ignorance (avidya) of that particular subtle body, it is no longer bound by ignorance.
If ignorance has not been fully removed but your current life has been dedicated to Self-inquiry, Isvara will give the next “you” (jiva), i.e. that vasana load, corresponding karma to facilitate where the last incarnation of that particular karma/vasana load “left off.” Thus you will still have work to do to before Self-knowledge removes all ignorance.
As free jiva, the jnani, or jivanmukta, knows they are Self, it does not matter if the subtle body of a jnani returns or not “after” death. There is no death for the Self, and there is nothing to gain by being here or not being. There is no karma for a jnani, incarnated or not. If the subtle body of a jivanmukta should return, it would be born to circumstances that correspond to its lack of karma, perhaps just to contribute to the whole.
It is impossible to know any of this for sure, because only Isvara is karma phala datta, the deliverer of karma, and only Isvara knows. One thing you can know for sure, in whichever dream you find yourself, if you have Vedanta in your life and you stick to it, the dream will end because you are the knower of the dream, the Self.
Rick: Yes! Exactly. I’m going to ask a few more questions so that I ensure I understand you correctly. If you have the time to respond, great! If you don’t, no worries – I’ll eventually find the answers, I’m sure.
I’m not familiar with the term “field” in an Advaita context. What is the Sanskrit word for it, kshetra? What exactly do *you* mean by “the field”?
Sundari: The “field” is Isvara, your own personal microcosmic environment, and the Totality, or macrocosm, the Field of Existence run by the three energies: sattva, rajas and tamas. Ksetra means “place of worship or pilgrimage.”
Rick: Three follow-ups:
1. What relationship does I-1 (the I before death in the current incarnation) have to I-2 (the I after death in the next incarnation)? Can one truly call both (apparent) subjects the same I?
Sundari: Who does the I refer to? If there is only one principle operating, which we know is true, then both “I”s refer to the one subject, consciousness. There cannot be two “I”s. It depends who you associate the “I” with, the body or the Self? While the jiva is reflected consciousness, its essence is consciousness. If it is associated with the body, that “I” (ego) dies and may or may not reincarnate as another jiva. If you associate the “I” with the Self, consciousness, you were never born and you never die.
Rick: 2. Is it 100% karma that determines the content of the next incarnation? What about intention?
Sundari: Whose intention? The ego/doer? The ego cannot intend its way to freedom from ignorance, which is the only way to step out of samsara (the belief in duality) and end the cycle of incarnation for that particular vasana load. Only Self-knowledge sets you free, nothing else. And when Self-knowledge has obtained, who needs intention when you know you are not the doer?
Rick: 3. Does reincarnation adhere to the forward arrow of time? In other words, is it possible for an unenlightened human being to die and to be reincarnated in an entity (human, bird, whatever) that exists *before* the first incarnation?
Sundari: This is a weird question. What is the point of it? There is no time, because reality is non-dual. In the apparent reality, things appear to happen sequentially “in space-time” and move from A to B because the mind can only experience one thing at a time – but the apparent reality is not real, meaning not always present and always changing. The only “thing” that fits the definition of real is the Self, the knower of time and the apparent reality, always present and unchanging. Isvara set up the Field of Existence to seemingly function in time and space or we would all go mad. Time has no objective reality. It is the distance between a memory of an event and another memory or current experience. Time is an illusion. It “begins” when Maya manifests and the Creation appears, therefore your question makes no sense.
There really is only one subtle body appearing as the many. When inquiring into rebirth or reincarnation, one must ask: Who is it that is reborn? Vedanta says that rebirth is simply identification with vasanas, which also come and go. You are reborn with every thought you identify with. Identification with objects can only take place when consciousness has a subtle body. No thought happens without the subtle and gross body being present. Outside of the dharma field/field, there is no causality and no influence of the gunas, as all is in seed form waiting for the right moment to sprout. And the right moment is determined by the dharma field and all the forces and laws that run it – which create “your” karma.
As the jiva, we cannot step “out of time,” because we do not stop experiencing as long as the body is alive. The essence of the experience of events (time) is stored in the causal body by Isvara, the vasanas, enlightened or not. How we relate to experience is determined by the level of Self-knowledge or lack of it, in the mind.
As for the evolution of the jiva up or down, it matters little, as all of it takes place in the apparent reality. However, as unreal as it is, there is an order to this world because it is intelligently run. Animals are on the so-called “lower” level of the pecking order. The upside for them is that they do not feel incomplete or separate, so do not chase objects to complete them. Animals don’t worry, because they accept reality as it is. Animals don’t need scripture or enlightenment, because they are not bound by the gunas.
But the downside is, to achieve moksa, a jiva (any sentient being) must develop the ability to assimilate the meaning of experience. First-level jivas do not have much merit, because they cannot assimilate the meaning of experience, so are not able to achieve moksa. However, they have the ability, given by Isvara of course, to evolve upwards.
The middle level of Creation contains human viswas (waking-state entities) who have some merit (punya) and some demerit (papa). Humans are in the twilight zone with half knowledge (spirit) and half ignorance (matter). Only humans are bound by the gunas, as having free will and an intellect capable of doubt, we can make choices not conducive to peace of mind, creating “bad” (papa) karma.
Karma itself is value-neutral. It is just action and its results. It only becomes meaningful when we evaluate it. We either like it or don’t like it or are indifferent to it. Only in the minds of human beings does action become “karma.” Karma is either meritorious or deleterious based on how pure or impure it renders the subtle body because a pure subtle body is the instrument for attaining moksa.
Humans can evolve upwards or downwards, depending on the predominance of merit and demerit that their actions produce. The upside of having a human subtle body is that it can analyze and do inquiry, and because of this, ignorance can be removed from the mind by Self-knowledge. Therefore a human subtle body is better than an animal body because it is capable of moksa, whereas an animal subtle body is not.
The “higher” levels of Creation contain celestials. Celestials are totally sattvic and do not suffer worry or dissatisfaction. Like animals, they are happy because they are not bound by the gunas. But there is a downside here too. Celestials must become human jivas again when the momentum of their good karma is exhausted, bringing them back to earth, samsara – the wheel of karma, where they must work on another round of human karma before final liberation, moksa, is actualized through Self-knowledge.
As I said above, moksa can only be achieved in a human subtle body, through Self-knowledge, and all three levels of existence are mithya – only apparently real. So, although it can be interesting to contemplate these levels, knowing about them has no real impact on moksa.
~ Much love, Sundari