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Question: “When the physical body dies, the conscious mind separates.” Shouldn’t that read “…the UNconscious mind separates…”? Isn’t it the subtle body that reincarnates? You have said that memory is wiped out at death. What is the conscious mind but memory and imagination? If the main reason for reincarnation is to provide a means whereby the vasanas and samskaras continue to work themselves out, and the causal body is the medium that carries them, then surely it must be the unconscious mind that reincarnates.
James: The subtle body is ejected from the physical body by a power called udana. Propelled by the vasanas, it “transmigrates.” In fact it doesn’t move. It just seems to move because of the fact that a specific collection of vasanas appear at a different place at a different time. The three bodies are just projections of Isvara; every human being has all three and they are the same in everybody. The movement is just the individual tendencies going unmanifest and sitting in the causal body until there are suitable conditions for them to project again. The “conscious” mind is the subtle body. In fact it is not conscious. It is only reflected awareness, but it seems to be conscious. It is not wiped out at death. Memory is a function in the intellect that is wiped clean when the subtle body merges back into the causal body after the udana has ejected it from the physical. The causal body, the unconscious mind, seems to reincarnate, but it doesn’t. The vasanas in it reincarnate. In reality there is no individual to reincarnate. The individual is just a collection of Isvara’s vasanas (macrocosmic causal body, or karana sarira). They seem to belong to an individual when they reincarnate because ignorance causes the self to believe it is the body, which does seem to be separate from other bodies and the environment.
Question: You then say reincarnation plays a modest spiritual role. If it is responsible for one arriving at the qualifications that enable self-inquiry, how can that be so? It would seem that it is an essential part of the whole process of self-realization to me. When I look at humanity, it is abundantly clear that only a tiny percentage are at a place where they are capable of self-inquiry (I say that with few illusions about my own qualifications!). It is also obvious that people are born with so many samskaras already in place, it looks like the work of untold lifetimes to evolve to that point. It seems of central importance to me.
James: This is a good point, but whether or not you have one lifetime or many it is of little use to refer your problems to the past. It may explain why a particular configuration of vasanas is pesky, but it does not purify them. If the idea that you want moksa occurs to you – and it only really does when your vasana load is reasonably light – to get qualified you have to work through what you have to work through. It is terribly common for people to use their astrological “chart” or past lives to justify doing nothing.
Question: There is a Hindu teaching called “the akashic record,” correct? It’s a kind of memory existing in macro-consiousness wherein all of history is preserved, including every event and thought of each individual. Is this a part of the teachings of Vedanta? If so, can one say that memory is wiped out with regard to the individual ego, but continues to exist with regard to the Self? (Forgive the capital “S” but it helps me to keep things clear.) Is that record conceived as inherent to Isvara, or the larger Self, brahman? As the latter is said to be without attributes, I don’t see how it could be pictured as, well… one of its attributes!
James: This is a popularized idea of the macrocosmic causal body, or Isvara. The answer to your question is yes. It does not exist for the self, but it exists for the self functioning as Isvara, the creator, sustainer and destroyer of the apparent reality. This is why there is no actual individual, only an apparent individual. The three bodies are Isvara, and the vasanas all belong to Isvara. Ignorance makes it seem as if there is an individual. There is just consciousness functioning through three bodies acting out the same stuff eternally.