Q. 375 – Conditions affecting next life

Q: I agree that Reincarnation, the next life, isn’t real. But it’s as real as this life…and, for most of us, this life seems pretty real, even if we know better.

And, as we all know, very, very few people are going to achieve Enlightenment (Liberation, Realization, Moksha) in this lifetime.

For the above 2 reasons, I suggest that Reincarnation is a reasonable thing to be concerned about and to ask a question about. That’s what this question is about. I’ll speak of Reincarnation as if it’s as real as this life seems.

 It’s been said that one’s next incarnation depends greatly on one’s thoughts and state in their last moments of this life. I hope that isn’t true, because no one can know what condition they’ll be in when they’re dying. I mean, we aren’t always in the best of condition when we die, are we.

 A person, at death, might be delirious, or heavily sedated at a hospital. What then? How does that affect that person’s next life?

 Has there been discussion, from theory, regarding how this life—and, in particular, a person’s condition in the last moments of this life–affect that person’s next life?

Responses from , Sitara, Venkat and Dennis

 A (Sitara): I suggest that Reincarnation is a reasonable thing to be concerned about and to ask a question about.

I agree.

 I’ll speak of Reincarnation as if it’s as real as this life seems.

And I will answer the question on the same level of reality that it is asked.

 It’s been said that one’s next incarnation depends greatly on one’s thoughts in their last moments of this life. I hope that isn’t true, because no one can know what condition they’ll be in when they’re dying. I mean, we aren’t always in the best of condition when we die, are we. A person, at death, might be delirious, or heavily sedated at a hospital. What then? How does that affect that person’s next life?

 Let me reformulate it to bring out the crucial point: one’s next incarnation depends greatly on one’s thought patterns at the end of this life. These patterns form over a long period of time and most likely your mind will follow them even in exceptional situations, such as dying (a once in a lifetime event). For example if your whole life has been dominated by a stinginess-pattern, it is most likely that, in your last moments, your mind will follow along those lines too. If, on the other hand, you have been generally someone with deep gratitude in your heart, this is the attitude that is going to colour your last moments. Even one’s response to strong pain will differ from person to person because of the different thought patterns.

Delirium or strong medicines will not change your thought patterns; they just provoke a temporary physical condition, even if it affects the psychology too. Such will not have any impact on the sort of lives that will follow this life.

 A (Venkat): Reincarnation is a theory, a concept. How do you know it is true – because some books say it? Couldn’t reincarnation just have arisen as a theory, based on the more straightforward observation that all life gets recycled? I.e. when a body dies, it gets decomposed and becomes food for other life, until the molecules eventually get reconstituted into another (actually many other) human beings. And/or could it not just be a morality based argument? If you behave well in this life, you will rise higher in the next; and, if not, lower. With absolute non-duality, it is easy for beginners to (mistakenly) believe that morality can be thrown out with the bathwater; that nothing really matters. So the theory of reincarnation may have simply arisen as a counter to that.

 In any event, one can never know whether reincarnation is ‘real’ or not – it can only be a belief. And I would suggest that thoughts about reincarnation are simply a manifestation of the ‘ego’ wanting desperately to believe that it survives, in some after-life.

 Another way to look at it is this. The separate, differentiated ‘I’ that you think you are (and that you posit reincarnates) is a function of the body and the experiences the body has gone through – e.g. tall or short, black or white, rich or poor, educated or not, born to a loving family or broken home, etc etc. Remove all of these characteristics, which all impact the character of the adult that you have become, and the residual ‘I’ is essentially colourless. It is just the being – consciousness. Therefore when the body dies, (that which gives the “i” its character) then what is there left that can possibly reincarnate? Surely just characteristic-less, colour-less being-consciousness. But then that is just the same as saying being-consciousness is the ever-present substratum which watches this play of life rising and falling but is ever unaffected.

 Advaita Vedanta is telling us that there is no separate ego, distinct from the world / Brahman. If you hold on to that, examine that from every angle, and test the veracity of that, then the question of reincarnation disappears. So, rather than being distracted by investigating miscellaneous theories, why not focus on the core issue, the reality or not of ‘yourself’?

A (Dennis): Your position on this topic seems a bit ambivalent! You claim to accept that ‘the next life is not real’ yet say that ‘it is as real as this one’. Does this mean that both are real or both unreal? Whatever you decide, you are never going to have any conclusive proof that there is another life after this; it is this life about which you should be concerned!

Related to this, you think that Enlightenment is a rare event. What evidence do you have for this? Many think that, on the contrary, it is not so rare at all; just that many who achieve it do not make a fuss about it!

For both these reasons, then, I would argue that reincarnation is NOT a topic about which you should be particularly concerned. To reinforce this, and hopefully convince you that reincarnation is more of a teaching device than a reality, I suggest you read Karma and Reincarnation, by Swami Muni Narayana Prasad. Buy from Amazon US, Buy from Amazon UK.

I, too, have read somewhere that one’s thoughts at death influence or even determine the next life. This cannot be literally true based upon the (rest of) the teaching of advaita. The next birth is determined by the accumulated but unfructified karma from previous lives. Random thoughts at death could only be a whisper compared to these. I suggest that the purpose of any such statement could only be to impress upon the listener’s mind the need to change ones attitude and outlook, as well as any actual actions. It is, after all, the motive behind actions which affects saMskAra rather than the action itself.

This sort of teaching counts as karma yoga and its purpose is to purify the mind so that it is in a better state to hear and assimilate the teaching of Self-knowledge – j~nAna yoga.

6 thoughts on “Q. 375 – Conditions affecting next life

  1. Detailed response from the questioner follows:

    Hi all—

    First, I thank Sitara and Dennis for their specific, clear and unequivocal answers to my question.
    Let me reply to some of the comments and questions in the posts:

    Sitara–

    I said it all in the first line above: You and Dennis fully helpfully answered my question.

    In regards to life-attributes, I’m glad that you mentioned gratitude. Gratitude for all that I have to be grateful for is the only thing that has allowed me to let-go of and disregard various insults and affronts that I’ve encountered. …freeing me from mud-wrestling, because staying out of it is the least that I can do in appreciation, and in return.

    And of course it’s the life-ways that are right in this life that understandably are best for the next one as well, a continuation.
    ———————————————
    Venkat—

    (I’ll explicitly demarcate the quotes from the text I’m replying to)

    (Venkat): Reincarnation is a theory, a concept.

    [endquote]

    I (Michael Ossipoff) reply:

    Yes, as is this physical world.

    [You wrote:]
    How do you know it is true – because some books say it?
    [endquote]

    Yes.

    I mean, isn’t Reincarnation, as an appearance, a Vedanta consensus?

    But, as for knowing that it’s _true_, the usual implication is our worldly lives are just an appearance, a story.

    [You wrote:]
    In any event, one can never know whether reincarnation is ‘real’ or not
    [endquote]

    I didn’t mean to imply that it has fundamental reality.

    [You wrote:]
    it can only be a belief. And I would suggest that thoughts about reincarnation are simply a manifestation of the ‘ego’ wanting desperately to believe that it survives, in some after-life.
    [endquote]

    Well, as I said, Vedanta seems to have a broad consensus about Reincarnation as an appearance. Call it a belief if you want, but if it’s going to (seem to) happen, then the concern that I expressed was justified (until my question was answered in this thread). After all, as I said, this world and this life seem fairly real, don’t they? Would you like to watch a terrifying movie, or have a terrifying dream, believing it to be real?

    [You wrote:]
    Another way to look at it is this. The separate, differentiated ‘I’ that you think you are (and that you posit reincarnates) is a function of the body and the experiences the body has gone through – e.g. tall or short, black or white, rich or poor, educated or not, born to a loving family or broken home, etc etc. Remove all of these characteristics, which all impact the character of the adult that you have become, and the residual ‘I’ is essentially colourless. It is just the being – consciousness.
    [Endquote]

    Yes, and that removal, or the perception of that absence, is said to make things more comfortable, relaxed and peaceful for the jiva.

    It’s often said that not very many jivas reach that perception during their lifetime.

    Of course the consensus is that, as you say, Reincarnation doesn’t apply to those who have that perception.

    [You wrote:]
    Therefore when the body dies, (that which gives the “i” its character) then what is there left that can possibly reincarnate?
    [endquote]

    …any remaining habits, needs, inclinations, etc?

    Isn’t it the Vedanta teaching that the ways and habits of life carry over and continue, for those who are sufficiently involved in life?

    Not being a Physicalist (Materialist), I don’t believe that we die or end when the body dies.

    [You wrote]
    Surely just characteristic-less, colour-less being-consciousness.
    [Endquote]

    …and any vasanas?

    [You wrote:]
    But then that is just the same as saying being-consciousness is the ever-present substratum which watches this play of life rising and falling but is ever unaffected.
    [Endquote]

    That makes sense. I like metaphysics, and I agree with Vedanta’s metaphysics. But knowing the metaphysical facts doesn’t make it intuitive and experiential for me. Currently at age 70, I’m very unlikely to be one of those people whose karma completes in this lifetime, and whose life experience ends in this life.. …or one of those people who _fully feel and experientially perceive and live in_ the uncaused happiness behind appearances.

    For me, what there is, is in life.

    And that’s fine; I have no complaint. After all, we’re all in life because we wanted or need that. So there needn’t be any big hurry about being out of it. …especially since, for most of us including me, that isn’t even a perceived possibility.

    Isn’t it said that the jiva acquires that perception when that’s what’s right for him/her? No rush.

    [You wrote:]
    Advaita Vedanta is telling us that there is no separate ego, distinct from the world / Brahman. If you hold on to that, examine that from every angle, and test the veracity of that, then the question of reincarnation disappears.
    [Endquote]

    …for those who are karmically at that point. …because it is for them that that perception happens. I won’t be there just by consciously choosing to.

    [You wrote:]
    Instead of being distracted by investigating miscellaneous theories, why not focus on the core issue, the reality or not of ‘yourself’?
    [Endquote]

    I like that topic. No “reality” can be meaningfully spoken of without Experiencer, Perceiver.

    So, it’s reasonable to say that We (or “I”), Experiencer, is Fundamental.

    Dennis—

    A (Dennis): Your position on this topic seems a bit ambivalent! You claim to accept that ‘the next life is not real’ yet say that ‘it is as real as this one’. Does this mean that both are real or both unreal?
    [Endquote]

    Yes.

    I agree with those philosophers (not Western academic), and scientists (of whom there have been very few) who say that, whatever reality this world has, it derives from Us, Experiencer.

    So, if the world doesn’t share our Fundamental Real-ness, should we say it’s real? I guess it’s a matter of opinion.

    Of course it certainly matters how we conduct our life. But, to me, that doesn’t require or imply an opinion that this life and world have fundamental reality.

    [You wrote:]
    Whatever you decide, you are never going to have any conclusive proof that there is another life after this
    [Endquote]

    Metaphysicses, and some metaphysical statements, can’t be proved.

    But what would be the alternatives, for a Vedantist?

    Eternal Heaven or Hell? Complete extinction of worldly experience, for everyone at death?

    [You wrote:]
    ; it is this life about which you should be concerned!
    [Endquote]

    Most definitely.

    But that didn’t prevent a bit of concern about the next life too–a life that I believe to be as real as this one. I thank you and Sitara for re-assuring me that that concern is unnecessary.

    [You wrote:]
    Related to this, you think that Enlightenment is a rare event. What evidence do you have for this?
    [Endquote]

    None.

    I admit that I have no way of knowing it.

    I’m referring to people who, at the end of this life, will be done with life. I don’t have first-hand evidence that there’s even such a thing. It’s something that I’ve merely heard.

    But, for whatever it’s worth, lots of people say that very few achieve it. It’s often said that a spiritual teacher is very difficult to find, for example. Maybe there are just a few living spiritual teachers in the world?

    But, yes, it’s true that I have no evidence about it.

    [You wrote:]
    For both these reasons, then, I would argue that reincarnation is NOT a topic about which you should be particularly concerned.
    [Endquote]

    The answers from Sitara and you have relieved my concern.

    Of course I agree that one should just live _this_ life as well as possible.

    [You Wrote:]
    I, too, have read somewhere that one’s thoughts at death influence or even determine the next life. This cannot be literally true based upon the (rest of) the teaching of advaita. The next birth is determined by the accumulated but unfructified karma from previous lives. Random thoughts at death could only be a whisper compared to these. I suggest that the purpose of any such statement could only be to impress upon the listener’s mind the need to change ones attitude and outlook, as well as any actual actions. It is, after all, the motive behind actions which affects saMskAra rather than the action itself.
    [Endquote]

    Yes, and that answer, both from you and from Sitara, answers my question. As I said, it assures me that my concern was unwarranted..

    Michael Ossipoff

  2. Hi Michael, I am grateful to Sitara and Dennis that they addressed your question better than I could.

    I’m not sure there is a specific question in your response to me, but would say that Vedanta encompasses all sorts of conflicting theories on which it is possible to disagree – witness some of the discussions on this website! The ultimate Vedantic truth is that we are all Brahman, all one, tattwamasi. The theories arise to try explain the cause of multiplicity and maya, and to take you to the final truth.

    But the important point is to be at peace, unagitated by what comes or does not come. Or more precisely to be the peace, the stillness that you already are.

    Best wishes,
    venkat

  3. Hi Venkat—

    Superbly put.

    I agree, and I find it reassuring that that’s the Reality, whenever we’re ready for it, even if I don’t feel that worldly life is completed in my case.

    I realize that, for some, it is. But when that isn’t the case, my feeling is: We’re here because we wanted and needed to be here. There was something that we still wanted or needed to experience or accomplish here. Some are already done, during this life. Some aren’t.

    I’d guess that continued non-detached emotional involvement and attachment in life precludes, temporarily, the jiva’s complete direct perception, feeling and experience of the fact that you describe at the end of your post.

    I do still have questions, but I also know that you-all have other things to do, and that y’all don’t have unlimited time for questions about something (Reincarnation) that, we all agree, is no more fundamentally real, primary and basic than is our current life.

    Not being experienced with this (because the matter only comes up once per life) the things that I stated above haven’t always been completely obvious to me.

    Some spiritual teachers seem to say that the only goal is getting out of emotional attachment in life, and finding ourselves to be as and where we really are. For example, Nisargadatta, if I remember correctly, said that that’s the goal, and that our background, whatever it is, however incomplete our life has been, in no way affects our ability to achieve that goal in this lifetime.

    At first I took his word for that, but I have to say that I disagree: We didn’t come to this life so that we could acquire detachment to it and unemotional disinterest in it…before such time as we’ve completed whatever as-yet uncompleted needs or wishes brought us here. Until then, disinterest and detachment just aren’t available to us. Isn’t that right?

    So that has been a source of confusion for me. I feel that I’m being realistic now, accepting that the Vedanta goal of life-detachment just isn’t for me right now. Does that make sense? Can that be a reasonable assessment?

    But, as I said, I like metaphysics, and I agree with Vedanta metaphysics, and find reassurance in it, as something that, ultimately, is there for everyone.

    Having said as much as I have, I should clarify a bit about my background: It’s been pointed out that we live in an authoritarian world, and that we’re enculturated, at an early age, to give away authority. At the start of our life, we immediately encounter an adults-owned world where parents, school, and the larger culture define the way things are and must be. …a boring and empty routine having nothing to do with life or spontaneity or anything really of interest to us. Pretty much right away, I took that to heart to a really unusual degree.

    So my background is quite unusual, and so of course I know that others aren’t on the same page as I.

    Michael Ossipoff

  4. Michael

    I was having lunch with a friend the other day, who is into Zen Buddhism – I was too at one stage. I asked, given that we both knew and were convinced that the ego was illusory and the cause of suffering, why we hadn’t progressed much further. We concluded that we didn’t really want to let go of the ego – that life was ok and treating us pretty well, so there wasn’t really a ‘burning platform’ (an awful phrase from work) – however much we could see that egos were the cause of unnecessary suffering throughout the world.

    As you say, you can’t force dispassion. I think it arises with a disinterest / distaste for the fleeting pleasures and fears of life. Perhaps suffering – your own or seeing others’ – also drives one to dispassion. And with dispassion comes investigation, which then mutually reinforce each other. The more you investigate into the nature of life, the world and yourself, the more distance you put between your awareness and your ego, and the more dispassionate you become, which then makes you better able to be aware to investigate.

    As Nisargadatta said:
    “What matters supremely is sincerity, earnestness; you must really have had a surfeit of being the person you are; and see the urgent need of being free of this unnecessary self-identification with a bundle of memories and habits.”

    Best,
    venkat

  5. Venkat,

    Allow me to comment on your first paragraph, just above, regarding not progressing much further even though you’ve seen that the ego was illusory and the cause of suffering.

    Perhaps you might ask yourself if your understanding about the ego is just intellectual, philosophical. The Buddhists talk a lot about ‘Entering The Stream’ as the first glimpse or experience of there being no ego, no self attached to any phenomenon. Depending on the depth of this experience, Stream Enterers usually will not resolve their habitual identification with ego, fully. Ramana is a case of exceptional depth of his experience, where all concepts of ego and self dissolved. With most people, the tendencies can come back, but someone who has ‘entered the stream’, instinctively knows that by abiding in that stream, tendencies drown. It is more than an intellectual knowing. Your body is radiating it. It is not a mental state, but affects your thoughts, feelings, and every experience that you have. It’s alive. Dispassion is its nature, not a result. All concern for ego is only taking place in your thinking. When you are thinking, you are not in the stream. This is why Murugunar echoes Ramana reminding one to refrain from conceptual thinking. After all, where is self identification happening if not in your thinking, your memory and habits? What happens after that is not your concern.

  6. Thanks Anonymous. I’d agree with that.

    “Dispassion is its nature, not a result” – and not a cause either. As you note it is its nature.

    “What happens after that is not your concern”.

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