Q.518 Reincarnation and Enlightenment

Q: I have been trying to wrap my mind around the question posed here: https://www.advaita-vision.org/q-489-creation-and-reincarnation.

Specifically: if reincarnation is not actually true and is just a part of adhyaropa-apavada — then why study Advaita at all when the probability of enlightenment is so low! Seems like life efforts would be better spent then trying to maximize ephemeral happiness.

The only way I can rationalize the practical utility of advaita is to accept that reincarnation is true in vyavaharika — that its a natural law, like gravity. Is that a fair understanding or is reincarnation truly just a teaching tool?

A: Where did you get the view that the probability of enlightenment is low? I know that this is implied in a few places in the scriptures but I rather think the point there is to ensure that only those who genuinely have mumukShutva pursue these ideas. If you are merely ‘interested’, you are going to lose that interest sooner or later and return to seeking the usual gratifications of empirical life. One of the seekers in the Upanishads is ecstatic when he is told that he ‘only’ has to live another few thousand lives before gaining enlightenment!

I believe that one of the main reasons that people today think that it is extremely ‘rare’ is their notion that there is ‘intellectual’ understanding that comes relatively easily and then there is experiential understanding that is extremely difficult to acquire. This is wrong! It is the erroneous understanding in the mind that keeps us in saMsAra and the correct understanding in the mind that frees us. It is perfectly possible to gain Self-knowledge in a single lifetime if you have the determination to do so. Obviously the best way is to find a qualified teacher. Then maybe years would be enough. If you have to read books and discuss with other seekers, it could take decades – especially if you read the wrong books!

As regards reincarnation, I wouldn’t worry about that too much. Whilst you really believe that the empirical world is real, then karma and reincarnation make sense. Without them, the ‘lawful’ nature of the universe appears to break down. The ‘good’ apparently suffer while the ‘evil’ triumph. Just look upon it as a mechanism that science is unable to explain or even believe. As I said in that other question, read the book by Muni Narayana Prasad if you want to understand more.

One thought on “Q.518 Reincarnation and Enlightenment

  1. The questioner writes of rationalizing the practical utility of Advaita, but those who follow traditional Advaita say you cannot “practice” Advaita. It’s a teaching/philosophy whose aim is to bring you to the understanding that reality is non-dual; that there is only Brahman or Consciousness, and that is what you really are. Only the body-mind can “practice” or “live a life” and you are not that. The body-mind and the world are mithya, which means they are not real in themselves; their real substratum is Brahman. As Dennis notes, “The ‘good’ apparently suffer while the ‘evil’ triumph”, which denies the reality of the good and their suffering as well as the evil and their victory.

    On the other hand, there are modern-day Advaitins, Vivekananda and Radhakrishnan among them, who not satisfied with seeing their doctrine as irrelevant to practical matters give it an immense practical significance in solving the individual and collective problems of day-to-day life. They insist that its unifying vision can serve as the basis of morality, as the basis of inner strength and courage, social justice and equality as well. In the words of Mata Amritanandamayi, “Merely talking about non-duality is, perhaps, the greatest calamity that can occur in spirituality. Unfortunately, such people are a majority today. When that is the case, one is merely like a tape-recorder or a parrot that has been trained to repeat words. One can buy Vedantic texts in shops. There are those who read them, and then go around proclaiming, “I am Brahman,” although there has been no weakening of negative tendencies such as lust and anger in them. Practical Vedanta is performing action with equanimity and compassion while living in the world. When our left hand hurts, our right hand caresses it because both are ‘mine’. In the same manner, we should love and serve others, feeling their pain as our own. “

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