Q.535 Transmigrating Soul

A: Glad you find the site useful. I presume you know that I hardly ever change the advaita.org.uk site these days. All of the new material goes to https://www.advaita-vision.org/ and has done for the past 10+ (?) years.

The ‘truth’ of Advaita is that there is only Brahman. ‘Everything’ is Brahman. ‘You’ are Brahman. And, pedantically, that is all you can really say. But of course simply telling someone that is unlikely to enlighten them! Accordingly, there are lots of ‘prakriyā-s’ (ways of explaining things, stories, techniques etc.) to help seekers move their understanding in the right direction. Traditional Advaita has many of these, proven over several thousand years to be helpful in explaining things. For example, karma and reincarnation are fundamental to these. The jīva is ‘trapped’ in saṃsāra – the eternal round of birth and death – until Self-knowledge dawns and saṃsāra is ended. But this is only a prakriyā. In reality, there is only Brahman. There has never been any creation and no one has ever been born, let alone re-born.

Most modern teachers try to bypass all of the gradual traditional methods and endeavor to leap to such final pronouncements as the one above. But, to my mind at least, they are not very successful. The ‘bottom line’ of Advaita is so radical that very few can accept it without lots of preparation. If you want to get there, you are far safer, and more likely to ‘reach the destination’, if you follow the proven techniques. They may be slow and ponderous… but they work!

A: The traditional teaching is not quite like that. Karma is taught as the lawful manifestation of cause and effect in our lives. For example, doing ‘bad’ things will reap bad karma, which will generate suffering in a future life. If you are suffering in this life, it is the result of actions that you, the jīva who moves from body to body, carried out in a previous life.

I suggest that you read an ‘introductory’ book on Advaita that covers all of the essential teaching without presupposing any prior knowledge. There are several which are quite good but (hopefully without any prejudice!) the best that I am aware of is ‘Book of One’ second edition. You can read extracts from this at https://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/thebook/thebook.htm.

As regards navigating the Advaita Vision site, probably the aspect that you will find most useful is the question and answer section. The questions are listed at https://www.advaita-vision.org/questions-and-answers/ and there are currently over 530 of them. These formed the essence of the book ‘Answers… to the Difficult Questions’. If you have specific questions, this is the best place to look first. Several other bloggers sometimes provide answers but I always do.

As I said in my last response, the teaching of Advaita addresses the seeker at the level of experience in this world. From that vantage point, within the context of the teaching, a ‘soul’ moving from one body to another is perfectly valid. So do not condemn the swamis who teach this – practically ALL Advaita teachers will do so. A few will temper this with the admission that no one is ever born ‘in reality’. I do this because I know that many seekers will have heard it and I want to make sure that confusion is not introduced from the start.

A: Questions are asked by individuals and answers are intended to satisfy that individual’s present level of understanding. Hence the answers may not ‘suit’ others! This is why you really need a progressive teaching covering all of the topics. Once you have a general understanding of the complete teaching, then you can ask specific questions which can be answered within that context. If you want those answers at the website with extra clarification, you will have to read the book ‘Answers…’, since I added introductions and summaries etc., and grouped all the questions into topics.

In empirical reality (experience in the world), there are lots of jīva-s. Each jīva is born to resolve accumulated karma from past lives. After gaining Self-knowledge (enlightenment), a particular jīva carries on with that life, in order to resolve the karma that was relevant to that life. On death of the body-mind, there is then no further rebirth for the enlightened jīva. That is an extremely abbreviated account of the teaching of reincarnation in Advaita.

From the perspective of absolute reality, there is only Brahman (no jīva-s at all), as I explained earlier. You should only listen to, or read, material from a traditional teacher if you want a consistent story (and even then there are likely to be discrepancies, as my present books on ‘Confusions in Advaita Vedanta’ make clear). If you dip into the likes of Balsekar, Nisargadatta, Ramana, you will only end up being more confused!