It is said in Hindu sacred texts that ‘the uninterrupted cycle of death and rebirth without choice is called cyclic existence or samsara in Sanskrit. Samsara is like a Ferris Wheel, sometimes taking us up into the three fortunate realms; sometimes down into the three lower realms. The driving force of the wheel of Samsara is our contaminated actions motivated by delusions, and the hub of the wheel is self-grasping ignorance. For as long as we remain on this wheel, we shall experience an unceasing cycle of suffering and dissatisfaction, and we shall have no opportunity to experience pure, lasting happiness’. The only way to be liberated from the wheel of Samsara is to practice meditation and go on a path of liberation and enlightenment. By attaining self-realisation through various methods described earlier, we can liberate ourselves from the cycle of uncontrolled rebirth and attain a state of perfect peace and freedom.
The concept of rebirth has fascinated humankind from time immemorial. There have been an innumerable number of movies and television series on rebirth. The concept has taken a bizarre connotation where people are reborn to take revenge on those who were responsible for their death or to complete any other uncompleted task of previous birth. Rebirth is essentially an Eastern or Oriental concept, though many Western experts support the belief. Rebirth has taken a new dimension with all the research that is going towards it; one area is especially interesting, which is the concept of past life regression. I have researched and have addressed a few common questions on past life regression or past life reading.
Broadly speaking, past life regression is the ability of a professional hypnotist or reader to see the past lives of his client. Through the process of hypnosis, the person is able to show images of the person’s past life. Carl Jung, a famous psychoanalyst, called it archetypes that we carry along with us at the time of birth, and our brain contains images of both birth and pre-birth. Past life regression can be both a pleasant and unpleasant experience. It depends on what you see and how much you like your past life and relate to your present life, and how many unfinished tasks remain. Depending on that, you may either like the experience or wish it away as mere hallucination.
Textbooks define past life reading as when a person gifted with the ability to see the past looks into your past lives for you and relates that information to you. Past life regression is unmediated revelation through hypnosis, usually assisted by a regression therapist. However, past life regression is not always accessible to those who cannot be hypnotised because the interpretive reality of the ego is too strong. The revelation of past life readings depends only on the reader’s gifts. The amount of details seen vary among readers. When the therapist sees a past life, he sees it rather like a video. He is able to fast forward through the years and decades, pausing at certain time frames and focussing on important events. The key, however, is the ability to perceive the emotional content of the people involved. This is important, because unresolved emotional issues that are carried from one life to another can be either impediments or guideposts on our individual paths.
Rebirth as a concept has fascinated mankind from time immemorial. There are primarily two views on it one is the view taken by Vedas and many Western philosophers about transmigration of soul and endless repetition of the cycle of birth and death, and the other view is a materialistic view that does not consider rebirth possible and assumes life ends at death when the body disintegrates. According to the materialistic view, there is nothing like karma and karma is a mere illusion. It believes that consciousness (which has received much attention in the Vedas) is a mere product of matter. Materialists believe in the theory of inaction and argue that, however bad or good a deed one might do, one does not commit sin. One of their popular saying to illustrate their view is ‘to him who acts or causes another to act, to him who mutilates or causes to mutilate, to him who causes grief or torment, to him who trembles or causes to tremble, to him who commits robbery, or adultery or speaks lies to him, thus acting, there is no guilt. If, with a sharp discus, he would make all living creatures a heap of flesh, there would be no guilt or no increase in guilt’.
The other and more popular view on rebirth advocated in Vedas and by many Western philosophers is the endless cycle of birth and death till one attains self-realisation and is free from the cycle. Upanishad, one of the sacred Hindu texts, says, ‘if here (in this life) one is able to comprehend him (Brahman or supreme consciousness) before the death of the body, he will be liberated from the bondage of the world, If one is not able to comprehend him, he has to take a body again in the world of creation’.
Western philosophers have varied views on the concept of transmigration of soul. Some views are materialistic and others profess the concept of rebirth. Pythagoras, a famous Greek philosopher (credited to invent the theorem on right-angled triangles), was an avid proponent of transmigration of soul. He believed that the soul is immortal and is transformed into other kind of living thing, and further that whatever comes into existence is born again and, as such, nothing is absolutely new. Aristotle considered soul as bounded with the body and ridiculed the Pythagoras doctrine of transmigration. He considered the soul to perish along with the body once the body dies and did not believe in the concept of rebirth and karmic consequences. Reincarnation and its variant doctrines has swayed the minds of innumerable millions of our race and has moulded the thoughts of a vast majority of people, however it had dropped out of European and Western minds; however, for the last hundred years, it has, from time to time, flashed through the mind of some great Westerners as a possible explanation of life’s most puzzling problems and, during recent years, it has been constantly debated and slowly the concept is gaining ground. It is interesting to note that the mere idea of reincarnation is now no longer regarded in the West as stupid and has a place, at least, among the intellectual class and is slowly getting regarded among others.
I have repeatedly emphasised that everything is a cycle and life also follows a cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Depending on what karmic balance we carry from our previous birth, the next birth will be determined. The next birth could be superior if we carry forward a positive karma or inferior if carry forward negative karma. This cycle repeats an innumerable number of times till the person attains self-realisation or complete peace. According to some Hindu beliefs, the cycle repeats only seven times and, according to other school of thoughts, the cycle repeats an innumerable number of times. Rebirth is extremely complex to analyse; there are infinite worlds in this universe and infinite life forms, and only nature and infinity can determine what form fits best as the next birth. There are very deep calculations involved and only nature can do those calculations; every action and every second counts; the best we can attempt is to be good and attempt spiritualism and break free from this cycle, as many have done in the ancient past and many will do from 2012, is my firm belief.
Positivity, Negativity and Rebirth
The world is full of opposites. For every tit, there is a tat. For every action, there is a reaction. Every sweet has its sour; every evil its good. Atoms that form the universe have a positive nucleus, which mainly consists of protons and neutrons and negative charges (electrons), which orbit around the positive nucleus, perfectly balancing the positive centre. The Buddha said that the world is not perfect; there are and will be both positive and negative people. William Blake, a British poet, says, ‘without contraries is no progression. Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate, are necessary to human existence’.
One approach to understand the positivity and negativity that permeates everywhere is to study the sex ratio in both animals and humans. If there is perfect balance on the planet, there should be perfect balance between the male population and female population, and every species, according to Charles Darwin, should keep the ratio such that they survive on the planet. Right from the first single-celled Luca, we have seen evolution and extinction of a number of species, even though every species makes the best effort to continue its progeny. Life science research has taken interesting steps in understanding how species try their best to prevent themselves from extinction. For instance, research has found that female birds of many species deliberately increase their progesterone levels so that more females are born who can carry the species forward. In mammals, the sperm from the male determines the sex of the offspring, but, in birds, the female, with great expertise, manipulates its progesterone levels so that the offspring is more female. Birds such as the Seychelles warbler, the zebra finch and tree swallow adaptively manipulate the sex of their offspring before an egg is laid.
The same behaviour is found in the complex society of fire ants (a variety of ants). It is a known fact that, in the fire ant society, the female ants often kill their brother ants to maintain an appropriate male-female ratio. However, research has found that the queen ant manipulates the ratio by altering its sex hormone levels and sometimes decides to produce more females and sometimes more males, thus delicately balancing the sex ratio. This kind of behaviour is found in many insect societies also. Life science research says that there is an optimum sex ratio, which would result in keeping the species alive and growing, and various animal species adopt different methods to keep this ratio. Research also says, if the total population falls below a threshold level, the species will ultimately become extinct.
Coming back to metaphysics, there are primarily many theories on whether a male soul will reincarnate as only a male soul and a female soul will only reincarnate as a female soul. One school of Hinduism believes that, to keep the male-female balance constant in everything, including animals, insect, birds, mammals or bacteria, the male soul can reincarnate as only another male body and a female soul could reincarnate only as a female body to keep the male-female ratio adequate to take the species forward. Hinduism believes that everything has a soul, whether animal, insect, mammals or any other living thing. But we saw from the discussion in preceding paragraph that the male-female ratio need not be one to one and, in many species, there are more females than males and vice versa, and how many species vary this ratio to adapt and survive. But probably the overall number of male population of all living things, including mammals, birds, reptiles, insects and so on, have an one to one ratio with the overall number of female population. In such a case, the theory of a male reincarnating only as a female could hold good.
The other theory is that incarnation or rebirth is irrespective of the sex and a male form could reincarnate as a female form; however, this theory has not found wide acceptance. If one sees the various avatars or reincarnation of Vishnu (one of the trinity, considered the protector and preserver of the universe), he has always incarnated in a male form, be it as Rama or Krishna or as a tortoise or as a fish, whereas Sakthi (the consort of Shiva), has always incarnated as a female form in the form of various goddesses with varying personality traits.
The subject of reincarnation has always been debated both in the east and west and, to a rational mind, the idea looks crazy. The concept of a male reincarnating only as another male would look crazier. Nevertheless, this concept is gaining acceptance, at least, among spiritual folk in India. Hinduism says a living being can incarnate or be reborn as any type of species and taking a human form takes thousands of lifetimes, as it is considered the highest form of existence where, if effort is made, one could get blended with God Himself and become self-realised.
The question of what determines rebirth could be debated for years together. Karmic balances could determine next birth, but there are an infinite variety of species that exist and could exist on this planet, so what form anyone will take is a matter of imagination. I think the question is so complex that no easy answers are available. Nevertheless, to a believer of rebirth, sex ratio among animals and adaptability games played by many species offer an interesting direction of enquiry and research.
Conclusion – We have seen many methods to progress towards self-actualisation. The connection to Brahman is very difficult and would mean immortality and is not given so easily. A lot of testing is done and ultimately, whatever you do, it is nature’s decision. It is very difficult to become like Shiva; it is one of the rarest creations in this entire universe; it really requires nature’s will rather than our efforts; not to say we should not put in effort. Nature is the ultimate god and creation of someone like Shiva, and how it happens and why someone should or should not become Shiva depends on karmic balance, purity of heart, testing and so many other factors, but, in future, we will have sages and saints, probably in more numbers than what we have today; we might have another Valmiki or Vishwamitra or Ramkrishna Paramhansa by practice of meditation, but aiming to become Shiva is not a feasible option and is best left to nature and her will. I wish we had another Shiva on this planet.