Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Reincarnation and Advaita
Madathil Nair

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(The following was posted to the Advaitin Egroup Jan 2003)

In his book, "Roots of Coincidence", Arthur Koestler sums up our situation. There is a locked room. All that you can do is to peep through the keyhole and guess what is there inside. Asking questions about just reincarnation is like looking through a keyhole. Our room is infinite and your questions are a small keyhole to it. Why don't we try to open the room? When we do that, I hope your doubts will be automatically answered.

We are confronted with the universe of diversity and have reached the conclusion that trying to shape it up to our understanding by giving it an understandable form is just beyond us because even if we interpret it according to any multi-dimensional model that we have or may have in future, there will still be a ‘beyond’ to it challenging our intelligence. So, our scientific quest is an unending endeavour. We can't have the right answer looking up there at the stars, galaxies, blackholes etc. through even our best radio telescopes.

So, what do we do? There is a solution offered by the scriptures. It classifies the universe into two basic categories.

All that you see as objects fall into one category. These include all matter, your body, its functions, your mind which is nothing but a stream of thoughts. (Please remember when you think of your brother, you 'see' him on your 'mind's screen'. Hence, thoughts and, therefore, mind are objects). Similarly concepts, ideas, dreams, nightmares, your intellect and ego, as you know that you have them both, i.e. you possess them, and even the unknown like the beyond I mentioned above, as you 'know' there is an unknown.

Then what is left for the second category? Nothing but YOU and this you is not the ‘you’ you think you are or hitherto understood as the ‘you’ you were, because in your thinking and erstwhile understanding you have/had yourself unfortunately included with the rest of the lot in the first category.

Now, there can be an objection to this sort of thinking. It is that our knowing or objectification can regress back interminably. This is known as the objection of infinite regress. There is a solution to it. We have to ask who is aware of this infinite regress. We will then be convinced that we cannot go on interminably.

The issue clinches there indicating the existence of a substratum (YOU) as the ultimate answer. Let us call It Consciousness with capital "C". Please don't equate this Consciousness with our pedestrian understanding of consciousness, which is obliterated in sleep and under anaesthesia. Why? For the simple reason that after both these states we evince a continuity, i.e. the same person who went into sleep or unconsciousness returns intact.

You may now argue that this continuity is dependent on the brain and the memories embedded in it, which were intact throughout these states. But, the brain falls into the first category detailed above as we know that we have a brain. So, there is a 'knower' of the brain. Secondly, there are experiments which prove that even the brain stuff gets replaced and that cells that existed sometime back are not there now. How can something that keeps changing or replacing itself assure continuity? So, our continuity cannot be due to a mass of mortal cells called the brain, but due to something that 'knows' it.

The doubt now arises: "What happens in death?". Was I born and do I die? My birth was not my experience. I have only somebody else's report that I was born at a particular time on a particular day at a particular place. Then, there is hypnotic regression where people have reportedly narrated their birth pangs. Well, that narration is something happening at the time of the hypnotic session and, therefore, an experience occurring at that moment whatever its nature - just a lighting up of consciousness at that particular time. It is, therefore, safe and logical for us to conclude that there is only a blank before our first memory. That blank also belongs to the first category (as an unknown) as it is objectified.

Now, as regards death, we see people dying all around us and take it for granted that we also will die on a future date. The changes that our bodies undergo like the other dying bodies confirm our fear. But, the fact is that death cannot be our experience like our dozing off last night was not our experience. We don't remember the exact time we switched off because we didn't experience it. However, we spend time and money designing our coffins and burial details! Besides all this, it is not due to our choice that we were allegedly born. Neither is the time of final switch off our choice.

If it happens at all, it just happens. In conclusion, therefore, we only have a stretch of consciousness, over the contents of which we have no choice, flanked by two blanks which we call birth and death. Here, the two blanks are objects which we visualize and, therefore, fall into the first category. Where do both the blanks and the intervening strip of experiences we call life appear to be projected? In the present.

This effectively demolishes our pedestrian sense of a present flanked by a past and future because both past and future exist in the present. When you recall your childhood experiences, the recall of the so-called past is happening in a PRESENT. When those experiences 'really' occurred, they occurred in a PRESENT. When you dream of a joyful experience that you anticipate, that thought is also in a PRESENT. So, in effect, there is only the PRESENT existing and that PRESENT (capitalized) is entirely different from our notion of a present with the past and future at either end.

That PRESENT is EXISTENCE or CONSCIOUSNESS and, since It is not afflicted by a past or future, is ever-existent. In summary, It is not conditioned by time. It is the YOU of the second category. What you call life with the notion of a birth and death and all experiences during a life-time are a big bunch that seem to "sprout" from IT like the snake in Shankara's rope-snake analogy. A nuclear explosion or even a universal catastrophe like a greedy blackhole devouring all matter cannot affect IT as all such 'dangerous' eventualities are 'supported' by IT. This 'bunch' includes the reincarnation issue too.

So, before we answer the question "Who reincarnates?", let us ask who asked these questions and to which of the two categories the asker and the questions belong. The obvious answer is the first category even if you ask "Who? Who?" interminably. Naturally, therefore, the one who reincarnates, as also the one who eats his evening meal or play tennis, falls in the same category. They are all in the 'deluded' list.

Why then vainly ask was it my body or reflection of consciousness or jIva or atman within the 'vase' that reincarnated? You verily know them all as objectified objects, ideas or notions. Anything can, therefore, happen to them as long as they are in the first category.

Please remember we are here dealing exclusively with your 'notion' of Atman or soul as an individual entity. If Atman is understood as CONSCIOUSNESS, then the rules of category one do not apply. This first category has no independent existence of it own. It owes its apparent existence to the second category, i.e. CONSCIOUSNESS, EXISTENCE or the ever-present PRESENT which is beyond affliction by a past or future.

To sum up, therefore, the first category is because CONSCIOUSNESS IS. It is even wrong to understand It as a continuity as the term continuity is pregnant with past and future implications. Since CONSCIOUSNESS is the only reality and can't have anything outside It (It has no outside being limitless and not conditioned by space!), it is also known as FULLNESS. It is, therefore, EXISTENCE, CONSCIOUSNESS (KNOWLEDGE) and FULLNESS. As fullness is without wants, it is happiness or absolute contentment too, popularly translated as BLISS. This is sat-chit-Ananda. Call it nirguna, if you so desire, as it is attributeless unlike the objects of the first category.

Since CONSCIOUSNESS has no outside, it cannot have any inside either as the latter has no meaning without the former. So, the 'sprout' and the objects that it encompasses cannot be within CONSCIOUSNESS. How can there be something inside when there is no inside at all? The subjects of category one, which are conditioned by space-time, cannot be parts of Consciousness as Consciousness cannot be compartmentalized within space-time limits. It cannot reflect either, as there is no 'where' aside from it where it can reflect. Lastly, since category one is because CONSCIOUSNESS IS, CONSCIOUSNESS is considered as pervading it.

Then, where are they - you, me, the hell of a lot of other beings, reincarnation, the one who reincarnates, your questions etc.? The only logical answer is in the snake on the rope. It is due to an obvious error or misconception that they seem to exist. Whose error? The asker's who is in category one. When the error is undone just like the false snake is removed from the rope, CONSCIOUSNESS remains and "shines forth" as the seeker or asker. He realizes that there has never been any creation or projection at all!

That, I hope, answers those who persistently ask questions like "Why does Consciousness project? Where is the projection occurring?" etc. I don't want to take recourse to any similes available aplenty in the advaitic armoury because they all belong to category one and have their own limitations. The truth I summed up is an intuitive quantum jump that each one of us has to take through contemplation. The lingering doubts will then be removed. It is very important that, in this interpretation, we don't have to reject category one at all, i.e. this diverse universe. We just need to avoid subjective involvement with it and perceive the fullness of it.

Anyone who looks at the glory of the night sky can feel the fullness of the universe. It should be infinite as its continuous beyondness poses unceasing challenges to our limited intellects. An infinite 'thing' (that includes the limited you) is full too. Only the feeling of separation from it makes you feel that it is outside there and apart from you. When the separation is removed, like the basic error or misconception we discussed above, you become the infinite universe of everything in category one 'projecting and withdrawing' it. There is then no diversity as fullness connotes indivisibility. The unity is seen. Advaitic truth is appreciated with the eyes open without going into samAdhi! CONSCIOUSNESS - YOU - pervade(s) everything and nothing is apart or different from you!

This is my basic advaitic vision. We have to live this truth and it is possible to do so only if we relinquish our subjective involvement with the first category and dwell constantly upon the advaitic reality. Scriptures say that this is very much possible now and here. To such a realized one, even a blackhole that stares into his face, is a matter to be smiled away. What to speak then of our mortal worries!

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