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?
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.