This is one of those topics where there is a very real danger of confusing levels. And I have to confess that the first edition material must have confused the reader in exactly that way! I will endeavor to reword what follows so as to avoid the trap!
Reincarnation is intimately tied up with karma, for which the same danger applies. Whenever these topics are discussed, we must be very clear that they apply strictly to the vyAvahArika viewpoint. They relate to the mithyA person and not to the satyam Self. Although the same applies to most of the topics in this book, those such as �creation� and �Ishvara� are less problematic. We can relate creation to the metaphor of the sun rising and setting and accept that the creation will continue to appear, regardless of the fact that there is no creation in the absolute sense. But, in the case of who-we-think-we-are, we are understandably concerned about what will happen to �us� when we �die�.
So the short summary of this topic would say something along the lines of: in reality, there never was a person who was born. Consequently, there can be no question of reincarnation. From the vantage point of the person in the world, however, the cause and effect laws of karma apply. If, as is usually the case, there is an accumulation of (saMchita) saMskAra at the time of death, then the subtle and causal bodies will undergo a further birth in order to �process� that saMskAra. You choose your viewpoint and accept the appropriate explanation.
Consequently, in a very real sense, the topic of reincarnation is irrelevant. It is a topic about which people are often curious; after all, you might say, what happens to me when I die is a very important question. But ask yourself these questions: to whom, exactly, is it important? Who is interested in previous or future lives? All of these questions are actually only of interest to the ego, which has a vested interest in bolstering its importance and feeling sure of its continued existence. The subject itself only has any meaning on the relative plane of existence. In reality, the Self was never born in the first place and can never die, so the question has no meaning in the noumenal sense.
At the empirical level then, the theory behind reincarnation is that of karma. Our past actions are the causes that must have their effects at a later time. Our vAsanA-s or latent desires must surface and be resolved. In deep sleep, where the mind, intellect, and ego are all effectively �switched off�, the Self is in its natural state of bliss, albeit this fact is covered by ignorance or avidyA. When the recuperation process is over, we inevitably return to the waking state. It could be said that the latent desires or vAsanA-s drag us back to the waking state. Similarly, the unfructified saMskAra at the time of death will drag us into another body when this one dies.
Sri Parthasarathy has a nice story about this. It is about an apparently mad hermit who lives outside of a village. Each day at sunrise he emerges from his cave and begins to push a huge boulder up the adjacent hillside. Heavy though it is, he struggles in the growing heat of the day until eventually he manages to reach the top. As soon as this has been achieved, he turns around, pushes the boulder over the edge and watches as it rolls all the way back down to the bottom. He laughs out loud at this and then returns to his cave for the day. He becomes so notorious that people come from miles around to watch this insane activity and shake their heads in bewilderment. One day, several strangers come to the village explaining that they are disciples of a famous Sage who deserted them several years ago. They are told about the hermit but that this cannot be their master since he is clearly quite mad. Nevertheless they go to watch the next day and after the exhibition, fall on their knees before him � it is their master. Asked about his strange behavior they explain that all of the hermit�s efforts are to try to illustrate to us our own ludicrous situation. We have spent probably millions of lives, working our way up from plants and insects to the pinnacle of evolution where we now stand on the brink of realizing our divine nature. And, for the sake of a few transient worldly pleasures, we throw all of this away and go back to the beginning.
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