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Birth and Death
Immortal soul
What is Rebirth
Law of Action (Karm Phal)
Rebirth and past Memories

Everyone who is born has to die. It is the law of the animate (living) world that whoever is born must die. What happens to the body and the soul after death? This always remains the question.

According to Vedic Scriptures the body perishes after death, but this is not the case with the soul. The soul (Atma) in reality is beyond birth and death. The so called ‘birth’ of the soul is its entry into a body and its so-called ‘death’ is its separation from that body. After it discards a body the soul enters a new body in accordance with its actions (deeds). This cycle is known as REBIRTH I REINCARNATION or PUNARJANM which is one of the main principles of the Vedic Religion.

Birth and Death

The animate body comprises five elements: ether (space), air, fire, water and earth. When the soul enters the body it gives it life. The body becomes lively and starts performing deeds (actions). It continues doing so as long as the soul resides in it. When the body becomes aged, diseased or inactive due to certain reasons, the soul leaves it, causing it to become lifeless. This is known as DEATH. The dead body is unable to perform any action by itself. According to the Vedic scriptures, the body is cremated (burnt) as mentioned in the Yajurved (40.15) “BHASMANTAM SHARIRAM”, i.e. the body burns to ashes. “The elements of ether merges into the cosmic space, the life giving breath returns to the atmosphere, the heat of the body merge into the heat of the sun, the liquid unites with the water and the material body mixes with the earth. (Rigveda 10-16-3)

The soul is immortal (does not die)

After death the body perishes, but the soul does not perish because it is, by nature, immortal. When the soul establishes a link with a body we refer to it as birth, and when it leaves the body we call it death. This means that the soul existed before birth and will exist after death. The Gita (2-23) very well describes the immortality of the soul thus: - “Weapons cannot injure it; fire cannot burn it; it cannot be soaked in water nor can the wind dry it.”

What is Rebirth

At the time of death the soul does not die. What happens to it then? The soul follows the cycle of birth after death and vice versa. It is always discarding an old body and entering a new one. This is known as rebirth. The body undergoes three stages, i.e. childhood, youth and old age. Similarly, death can be understood as the fourth stage when the soul departs from the old body to reside in a new one. Gita (2-22) clarifies this point further: - “Just as a person discards old and dirty clothes and puts on new ones, so does the soul discard the old or weak body and enters a new one.”

Law of Action (Karm Phal)

The principle of Rebirth is tied up with the Law of Action. One reaps good or bad fruits in accordance with one’s actions. The Principle of Law of Action applies to both the present life and the life to come, i.e. the life after death. The soul carries with it the impressions of its actions into the next life.

Happiness and sorrows are associated with life from birth. Children are born under varied conditions and circumstances. Some are born cripple or lame, some healthy and some strong. Some take birth in poor homes while others in rich homes. Some are intelligent, while some are mentally retarded. Why are these differences found amongst children? Even children born in one home of the same parents have differences among them. Anyone who believes in the Justice of God will not accept that such differences are brought about by acts of God. God cannot practice such thoughtless acts. If He does, then He is unfair and unjust, which He is not.

These differences help to prove the principle of Rebirth, that is, a person takes birth according to one’s actions in the previous life. One reaps in the present life the fruits of his or her actions of the past life. It is with the justice meted out by God that one takes birth according to one’s past actions. God is omniscient. He operates with justice and thoughtfulness. He shows no favouritism and does not make mistakes.

A person has to accept God’s justice and undergo happiness or suffering according to one’s deeds in his or her previous life. Even though we realise that such persons are suffering through their own actions, it is our duty to lessen their suffering through appropriate means. The theory of Rebirth enables one to understand the cycle of life and death and realise the justice and orderliness in the creation of God. Thus the principle of Rebirth and the Laws of action (karm) are inseparable.

Rebirth and past Memories

The theory of Rebirth raises the question, “why are we unable to recall events of our past lives?” When we examine deeply, we find that we are forgetful of many events even in our present life. It is difficult to remember what we ate only a few days ago and even more difficult to remember events of childhood days. Life ends in death and changes the existing circumstances completely. Therefore it is natural to forget all events associated with previous lives.

Another significant fact about past memories is that it is to our advantage to forget the past life. If one were to remember all the associations, troubles, pains and sorrows of the past then the present life would become a miserable one. If unhappy events of the past were to remain unforgettable and fresh all the time then the present life would be unhappy. Therefore in the process of rebirth God’s act of destroying our memories of the past is a blessing to us. If one does want to know about one’s past and future then he or she has to develop such powers through Yoga and Meditation.

Adapted from ‘Dharmic Shiksha (Vedic Religious Knowledge) – Form Five’, Arya Pratinidhi Sabha of Fiji, 2001.
Copyright: Arya Pratinidhi Sabha of Fiji

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