A devotee happened to say: “Swamiji, I wish you write to me personally about what your views are on rebirth (re-incarnation of the soul). In case rebirth is not true, how do the refrences to the sookshma (subtle) and kaarana (casual) bodies become relevant? I would like to know authoritatively your word on the subject.” I said ‘yes’. It was felt that the REPLY could be equally useful and guiding to the other devotees and seekers. And so here are the relevant paragraphs reproduced. You may read them and be informed or guided accordingly.
On Transmigration of Soul and the Three Bodies of Man
Reproduced from the Montly Magazine Vicharasethu April 1972
Sri Amarnath Banerjee, an income-tax officer, was working in Calcutta a few years back. During then he once happened to write to me introducing himself as a seeker of Truth and sadhaka. He said, if I remember correctly, his mind was more inclined to the Self within and its discovery than anything else. The Sage Ramana of Arunachala and his words had very good appeal to his mind.
The book on ‘Brahma Vidya Abhyasa’ (Reality and the Method to Trace It) had been published at the time. It appears Sri Banerjee came across a copy of it and the contents gripped his heart and mind immensely. And this led to his contact with me.
Last year during the few hours Amar spent with me, he happened to say no one occasion: “Swamiji, I wish you write to me personally about what your views are on rebirth (re-incarnation of the soul). In case rebirth is not true, how do the refrences to the sookshma (subtle) and kaarana (casual) bodies become relevant? I would like to know authoritatively your word on the subject. So please write to me leisurely personally.” I said ‘yes’.
After preparing the letter, quite offhand, I felt its contents could be equally useful and guiding to the other devotees and seekers. And so here are the relevant paragraphs reproduced. You may read them and be informed or guided accordingly.
21st March 1972
Hari om Tat Sat
Now, about the issue of rebirth of the soul, on which you wanted me to write to you: There is utter confusion in the concept of the soul of man, its nature and features. This confusion is responsible for the divergent views like birth, death, rebirth and the like.
The matter medium through which energy flows is formful. But the energy in it is formless. In the same way, the soul in the body, which is more a presence and existence than any kind of energy, or even matter, cannot but be formless, form-free. In fact to be formless (shape-less) is a necessary feature of the soul for it to be permeating in the formful body. Once the form-idea of the soul is removed from the mind and the basic truth that it is (has to be) formless is grasped, the questions of birth, death, rebirth and the like will automatically vaporize.
If the soul is formless and further if it is the subtlest form of existence, then for that very reason, it should be present everywhere. Once this lesson is understood, where does the questions of its coming from one sphere to another going from one place of inhabitance to another, arise at all?
This is the real truth. But the human mind, associated as it is with things gross and shapeful and having the power only to apprehened matters and concepts on this basis finds in terms of the subtle and the sublet. This difficulty is the real delusion and nescience.
Once this ‘transcending’ is done, the seeker becomes bold and clear-minded to accept (1) the all-pervasiveness and (2) the singleness, of the soul. And on that basis he will come to feel that the theories and allusions about the birth, death and reappearance of the soul as also the idea of multipleness about it, are utterly wrong, unfactual. But there is a long way between (1) the seeker’s mind and its ability to grasp matters__when he enters into the realm of Vedantic study and actual sadhana and (2) the state of the ‘transcedning’ referred to above.
During the intermediate phase, in which most of even the staunch seekers are, they should not be left without any prop. Hence the prop becomes even more important than the ultimate truth and forcing it upon them. That is why the concept of a soul different from the body is first presented and then it is described as surviving the death of the body.
If the soul is said to survive the body’s death, then what transpires to it subsequently should be revealed. It is in this connection the tentative statement that it will hover in the skies above, in the unknown heavenly or hell regions, for a temporary period, is offered. That following this period, it may or will take birth again on the earth here, either as human or as sub-human or as sub-human. But mind you all these are possibilities, conjectures, concoctions, the truth about which cannot either be proved or disproved. Being disprovable, they are more likely to be accepted with faith and fear than refused.
But for person of higher evolution, whose understanding has become pure and deep, these statements being not provable come more likely to be refused than accepted.
Thus the theory’s fate is dependent more upon the enquirer’s mind, capacity of intellect, purity and boldness of nature than anything else. And this is exactly what is wanted too. The entire religion and religious, is just one: to inculcate purity of the mind and heart and thereby to make the religionist steadfast, bold and unflinching in his devotion and application. Once this is accomplished, he soon turns into a philosophical seeker or investigator and that transformation alone consummates the religious life.
What is faith in religion has to grow into one of discovery and realization sooner or later. The God who is unknown to the religionist becomes finally fully known to the seeker and the sidhdha.
Is not the aim of all religions the discovery and direct perception of the Almighty? That means, faith may be the beginning point of religion, but the end point is the discovery of what has been believed so far, the realization of what has thus far been imagined.
So the moment you start enquiring as to whether there is really a rebirth of the soul or not, you transcend the ordinary realms and cannons. The only purpose, think clearly, of telling you that there is a soul which outlives the death of the body is to drive home to you that there is something besides the body, in the body of yours. The moment this body - different thing is posited, immediately you will want to know what happens to it at the time of death, as death is of the body alone. The only valid answer will be that the soul, in so far as it is different from the body, cannot become a party to the fate that befalls the body.
That means he will want to be told that it takes birth or appearance somewhere. By first speaking of it as hovering in the heavenly regions above, which heavenly regions themselves are more fallacious than factual, his mind is kept in a sphere of indefiniteness and delusion. Then comes the question; How long will it remain there? The answer is, as Krishna has mentioned in the 6th chapter of Geeta, that the soul, after hovering in the far off regions credit, prior to its leaving earth, punya (virtuous acts). For the other souls that had been steeped in vicious acts, the birth which they beget on the earth will be among the inferior creatures and animals.
Now think as to where does the religionist stand? He believed in the soul thinking that such a belief will make him better and pleasanter. But then he finds that if he pursues the line of belief further and further, he has to think of coming back again to the earth but with no promise of anything better or truer. Ultimately what is calculable or promising is the good or bad nature of the acts that he does during any given lifetime here. So he firmly concludes: “let me preserve the good and dismiss the bad”.
This is the definiteness of purpose, firmness of resolve (called vyavasayatmika, budhdhih), mentioned in the 2nd chapter of Geetha. This again is the purity of the mind, the one cry of all religions.. ‘definiteness of purpose’ and ‘purity’, both nurse and tend the seeker in his evolution and he starts discriminating between any two things.
It is then and then alone that he meets either a guru, the God in human form, or proceeds with his understanding all by himself up to a certain degree. And the thinking undergoes a thorough revolution - mark it is a revolution, not just an evolution in the same incline.
What is that revolution? If the soul is inside the gross, his mind begins to assert, then it should necessarily be subtle. What should be the degree of subtlety which it possesses?
The body contains the ingredients of air and even space. Both air and space are much too subtle. The latter is nay the subtlest itself. If the soul is present in the entirety of the body, constituted of these elements, then it must mean that it (the soul) is subtler than even space itself. To become so is to become all-pervasive indeed.
So the soul is found to be all-pervasive by virtue of the mere fact that it permeates our body in full. How can the all-pervasive thing either come or go? Can it ever leave one place and go or come to another?
Thus the seeker’s views and conclusions now become based upon the all-pervasiveness of the soul. It is then that he finds all the other concepts like the heavenly sojourn of the soul, further the subsequently embodiment on the earth, likewise the several other ideas and views, all turn to be mere concoctions, tentative concepts and theories, but nevertheless useful and timely. But this does not solve the problem fully.
For they were ideas which nursed his religious life and evolution so far. Which the Scriptures themselves have clearly declared. How can a partly human mind dismiss them as fallacious and then hold on to something different? Is it ever possible?
This critical state of the seeker’s mind, which challenges and pains him, is the real precarious condition that marks the Arunodaya before the brilliant sun-rise of Atmajnaana. The surrender to and acceptance of a Mahatma, the Human God, will becomes inevitable at least at this time if not until then.
Doubt is the last hurdle to be overcome, for a genuine seeker. And doubt is the most confusing and intolerable to bear too. When the seeker aches under doubts and feels utterly helpless, the Teacher somehow presents himself with all amiability, scholarliness and spiritual begnignness. His presence is never a thing doubtable. The heavens may be doubted, the soul too, but the Truth-teller and the Truth-revealer, namely the Guru, can never be. So what becomes impossible to belief, turns to be easily possible in the presence of your Teacher, thus the real confidence and thereupon proper evolution, begins to unfurl. They naturally find their fulfillment, may be in years or decades, depending upon the seeker’s blessedness and the Teacher’s efficiency and spiritual attainment.
Has, dear Amar, the matter become clear to you now? If it has not, don’t worry. I shall clarify further when we meet.
To complete the narration, let me state the following too:
Vedantic thought and finding are based fully upon facts experiential, not imaginary. So experientialness is the basis and end of Vedanta. Are the heavens a fact? If a fact, then are you able to see it? Did the recent moon. Landers pass through the heavens during their journey in space? Dismiss them then once and for all.
About the soul: put the question the other way around. As the soul is different from the body, you say that the body’s fate, namely death, should not befall it. Agreed it is true. But should not this truth, this principle, be extended to the first fate, namely birth itself? As the soul is held to be different from the body, when the body gets born can it get involved in the process? It cannot. Thus is to say, body’s birth is body’s birth alone, not that of the body-different soul! So, when the body is born, the soul does not get born.
Say then that the soul is not born at all. First of all dispose of the birth issue and then alone go to the issue of death. Otherwise, will you not be putting the cart before the horse? Why show preferences to death, while both death and birth are equally true of the body, and birth is the first event and death the last.
Before saying that the soul does not die, then say that it did not get, it has not got, born at all. If this is understood, whose death are you considering? About whose leaving the body do you want to think and understanding?
Can an all-pervasive thing, whatever it may be, come or go? Leave or hold? Thus the tentative theories of birth, death, rebirth, soul, etc. All turn to be mutually contradictory and ultimately fallacious. And the problem arises as to how you are to get away from them all and remain founded on the supreme uncontradictable truth.
About the three bodies which Vedanta speaks of: This point too remains utterly confused? It is wrong to base the theory of rebirth on the basis of these Vedantic concepts.
What is the concept about the three bodies and how is it to be understood?
A body does not mean a thing with hands, feet, etc., and with a certain figuration or shape alone. The bacterium has a body. The tree and plant have their respective bodies. The question of the body arises in respect of that thing alone which lives and experiences. That is to say, for any living or experiencing thing alone we ascribe a body, because in the absence of the body, that thing would not make itself felt. And further it would not be able to do the living or experiencing. That is why you do not consider anyone to be alive except when he is associated with a body and through that he lives and experiences. When in the body that thing is not found to be alive and experiencing, then we consider the thing concerned as not living at all.
Thus it is clear that life or experience is always related to a body, the medium through which the living and experiencing are made possible. Viewed in this way, how many bodies, seats and media of experiencing, does a human have? This becomes a Valid question, because we are found to experience three distinct states of living.
What are these three?
This state, wherein we are wakeful and active, is one. It is called jaagrat. Throughout this state we are active and alert, and our activity and alertness concurrently become a subject of universal perception and realization. When I talk, you right then hear and see me do so. All those around are agreed upon the fact of my talking. This sort of a common, universal and uniform activity and experiencing (during this waking state) are possible only because of this gross body of ours. We call the body gross because of its grossness, physicality, solidity and shapefulness.
But are this gross body and the experiences born of it the only state and experiencing for us? No, there is a quite similar state called dream, wherein too we do all that we are doing in the wakeful state. But there is a basic and thorough difference between the dream state and jaagrat.
Dream comes up quite unawares. Secondly, even if two or more people sleep at the same time in the same place or room, even on the same bedspread, not all of them dream. Even if they do, not alike and uniformly. The experiences will be different for each of them. Thus the dream state becomes un-common, non-universal. It is in short individualistic in nature.
And how do they compare with the wakeful experiences? While you are lying asleep in a place, you happen to dream as going to a distant city, etc. While experiencing thus, it is not a dream, but hundred percent factual for you. How could this ‘going to a distant city’ be possible when the gross body with which you generally do such acts as traveling, etc. lies intact there?
We have to accept a thing or event on the basis of its experientialness. If this test is applied, the dream state cannot be refused. So the need to ascribe the dream experience to a body meaning a medium or instrument for the purposed becomes imperative. What is that dream body?
Certainly it is not grown. It can not be. For the ground body is there lying. Not with that evidently do you travel in dream. That means the dream body is different from the wakeful body. It exists obviously within the gross waking body. For only a subtle thing can exist within a gross thing. It is on this ground that we call the dream-experiencing body as the subtle body of man.
As the dream experience are fully similar to those of wakefulness, we infer that the subtle body, the factor responsible for producing the dream phenomena, has hands, feet, eyes, etc. This is a compiling inference on the basis of experience ability and pragmatism.
But I must stress a thousand times that this fact cannot be any ground for arriving at any transmigration of the soul.
Now let us search for the sleep body. Sleep, I mean deep sleep without dreaming, is a prolonged state, during which you feel unbroken loneliness and ananda. Unlike the other two states, sleep state is noted for uniformity, sameness and a prolonged duration.
In studying the sleep state as well, apply the same principle that an experience will not be possible for you without the instrumentality of a body, body meaning just a mass or medium. Naturally you have to conclude that there is another body which enables you to be get the experience called sleep. Inasmuch as no going, no coming, no seeing, no hearing nor any other sensing is taking place during sleep, the sleep body is considered as having no shape or parts. The only description you can give about it is that it is the kaarana or causal factor. Why is it taken as the ‘cause’ factor, kaarana sareera?
The reasons are:
(1) you can not go into dream without first having slept-that is to say without having entered into the sleep state.
(2) neither is the wakeful state possible in the total absence of the sleep state.
(3) the nothing-knowledge which have during sleep is the foundation upon which the all knowledge of the waking state is built.
Even Sankara and the other have described the sleep body as indescribable. The kaarana sareera (casual body), they say, is anirvachya (indescribable). We are unable to understand its nature at any time for the simple reason that we lose our awareness, normal awareness, whereby we understand everything just when it is taking place (for instance seeing, hearing, etc.) during that state.
Thus the three bodies - the gross, the subtle and the causal - are conclusions based upon our experiences. They are the bases for the three states of the mind or awareness of the living man.
The point is that from these bodies or the allusions to them found in our Sriptures or subsidiary texts, you should not seek any proof or sanction for the rebirth or transmigration of the soul.
The soul is just one. It is the subtlest thing. And hence it is all-pervasive by nature. Therefore, even birth, which is of the body, does not involve it, the soul. As such neither growth, nor change nor again decay nor death can involve it the least. Therefore, the need for going into heavens or hells does not arises. It is baseless. Being so, rebirth too is utterly fallacious.
The right conception and the only truth is that there is only one soul, which itself is spoken of as God. By virtue of its very nature, this remains transcending birth, death and rebirth. If is devoid and beyond all these.
A thing by virtue of its very nature is existing. Even so is this soul existing. As it is devoid of any and all transformations, it exists, exists and exists, continues to exist devoid of all changes. Exists and that alone does it do ever and ever. Existence, constant and unalloyed existence, this alone is true of the soul.
My body has become quite fatigued by now. I am just running this letter on the typewriter, straight from the mind. There is no thought-process forerunning the actual typing. It is the soul that does the job through this body’s fingers. All obeisance to IT.
More when we meet. Please let me know when you receive this letter. My love and Sivasis to all of you,
Your own Self, SWAMIJI.