Here is the deal… This whole world is upside down – just like a tree standing on a lake shore is upside down when reflected into the lake. The material world is an upside down tree [Gita 15.1]. The reflection is kept alive by the water it reflects upon. What is that water? Selfishness [2].

The real tree is where we belong. We need to get rid of the reflection and get into the real tree. [3-4]

Yeah, fine. Easier said than done. How am I supposed to do that???

You already know the upside down tree of this world exists as a reflection upon the waters of selfishness, so get rid of selfishness and you get rid of the fake tree. You get rid of selfishness by not trying to control anything for your own interests [5]. Stop trying to control people and things to serve your own interests, and the fake tree will disappear.

When the fake tree disappears, what then?

Then you will be drawn like a bird into the branches of the real tree of existence. It is a beautiful place, self-luminating, free from doubt and full of joy. Once you sit in that real tree, you will never leave it [6] – it is that wonderful.

OK, that’s inspiring, but I can’t just drop all my selfish habits and actions on a dime. What happens to me meanwhile, when I stay within the false, reflected, upside-down tree?

You will struggle.

You will work and struggle.

You will toil and labor and work and struggle.

Why?

Because you are not a reflection! You are a real being. You do not fit in with reflections. You are part and parcel of the real tree – and the ultimate form of that real tree is the Supreme Person, Śrī Kṛṣṇa. As long as you are out of touch with your real root, you will struggle and wither, like a leaf disconnected from the branch and root.

You will struggle to enjoy a reflection.

You will struggle with your senses [7].

All the desires to enjoy the reflection are harbored by you in a thing you call “the mind” or “the heart.” This mind carries you around like the wind carries aromas [8]. It carries you into one body. You struggle with the senses of that body. You cannot fulfill your dreams. So it carries you to another body. Again you struggle. Again this repeats. And repeats [9].

Thus we come to today’s verse, the 10th verse of the 15th chapter of Gita.

उत्क्रामन्तम्́ स्थितम्́ वापि भुञ्जानम्́ वा गुन्̣आन्वितम्
विमूद्̣हा नानुपश्यन्ति पश्यन्ति ज्ञान-चक्स्̣उस्̣अह्̣

utkrāmantaḿ sthitaḿ vāpi bhuñjānaḿ vā guṇānvitam

vimūḍhā nānupaśyanti paśyanti jñāna-cakṣuṣaḥ

The synonyms for these Sanskrit words:

utkrāmantam — quitting the body; sthitam — situated in the body; vā api — either; bhuñjānam — enjoying; — or; guṇa-anvitam — under the spell of the modes of material nature; vimūḍhāḥ — foolish persons; na — never; anupaśyanti — can see; paśyanti — can see; jñāna-cakṣuṣaḥ — those who have the eyes of knowledge.

A translation (from Bhagavad Gita As It is by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swāmī  Prabhupāda)

The foolish cannot understand how a living entity can quit his body, nor can they understand what sort of body he enjoys under the spell of the modes of nature. But one whose eyes are trained in knowledge can see all this.

Prabhupāda’s Comment on this verse:

The word jñāna-cakṣuṣaḥ is very significant. Without knowledge, one cannot understand how a living entity leaves his present body, nor what form of body he is going to take in the next life, nor even why he is living in a particular type of body. This requires a great amount of knowledge understood from Bhagavad-gītā and similar literatures heard from a bona fide spiritual master. One who is trained to perceive all these things is fortunate. Every living entity is quitting his body under certain circumstances, he is living under certain circumstances, and he is enjoying under certain circumstances under the spell of material nature. As a result, he is suffering different kinds of happiness and distress, under the illusion of sense enjoyment. Persons who are everlastingly fooled by lust and desire lose all power to understand their change of body and their stay in a particular body. They cannot comprehend it. Those who have developed spiritual knowledge, however, can see that the spirit is different from the body and is changing its body and enjoying in different ways. A person in such knowledge can understand how the conditioned living entity is suffering in this material existence. Therefore those who are highly developed in Kṛṣṇa consciousness try their best to give this knowledge to the people in general, for their conditional life is very much troublesome. They should come out of it and be Kṛṣṇa conscious and liberate themselves to transfer to the spiritual world.

And now, back to you, Vraj…

This verse comes right after Kṛṣṇa explained that when we remain in the upside-down tree we get carried around it from body to body. It’s commonly called “reincarnation.”

The question is, “Reincarnation??? If it’s true that we are carried by our minds from body to body to struggle with enjoying various types of senses… how come people don’t know about reincarnation? How come we can’t see it happening?”

Krishna’s answer is this text.

People can’t see what is going on because they are entranced.

When you are alive you are forgetful of your previous lives. When you die and go to a new body you will become completely forgetful of this life. Why? Why? Why? Because you want it that way. Or more precicely, you need it that way.

If, my friend, you or I suddenly saw the full memory of each and every life we have ever had, what the hell would become of us? What would become of our plans to excel on our new Xbox game? What would become of our plans to build a secure fortune? What would become of anything and everything that we know and cherish?

It would all shrink, reduce, and vanish to the size of a mote of dust in the enormous eye of infinity.

And guess what, neither you nor I wants that.

We are still holding on to our plans to excel at Xbox, or in college, or as a parent, or as a famous teacher, astrologer, or whatever has our attention this time around. We don’t want to give up those plans, and that reluctance is exactly what blocks the memories of our past lives.

Even in this lifetime many memories are blocked. For example someone experiencing a terrible trauma during childhood will block out that memory entirely so that he or she can continue to function as a reasonably normal person. Such persons don’t want to remember these memories because the memories would impair their ability to function the way they want to function. The mind complies and locks away those memories. This is exactly what is happening with all your past life memories. To remember them would be a mind-shattering, explosive trauma. Therefore they are completely held in stasis – in the subconscious mind, out of the way.

Blocking the painful memories is not a real solution. This is why such people need therapy. They need to gradually be guided to accept those memories and cope with them productively. The various paths of spirituality are therapies to allow us to embrace the memories of our past lives, which reveal the utter insignificance of our ego and egocentrism and thereby liberate us from the traumatic experience of living in an upside down world of reflecsions.

That is why Kṛṣṇa adds, “not everyone is bereft of knowing their past lifes and seeing transmigration first hand as an empirical fact. Those who are “jñāna-cakṣuṣaḥ” can see it all firsthand.”

When our eyes are liberated by true knowledge, they will be willing to accept the trauma of remembering the infinite string of our petty, meaningless lifetimes.

First, though, you have to let go… of everything.

14 thoughts on “Reincarnation Reincarnation Reincarnation

  1. I was wondering – how do people expect to carry memories from one life to another? Sneak them in a fanny pouch? There’s absolutely nothing that the soul takes from one life and into the next, not even the false ego, its deepest perceived identity.

    When we say “you will be born again” it’s not the same “you” as you might think. “You”, as you identify yourself under the influence of the false ego, is not going to be born again. The soul itself might have the capacity to remember all the past incarnations but we don’t have any access to these facilities while in the conditioned state – we don’t see ourselves as souls, absolutely no clue who we really are in our true spiritual forms.

    So I was wondering – instead of telling people “You can’t handle the truth!” Jack Nicholson style why not tell them that there are simply no physical connections between lives that could carry this information.

    I haven’t run this idea by anybody yet, what do you think?

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    1. It’s not correct. Just look at the previous verses in the 15th chapter. The mind carries the soul from one body to another. This is established clearly. Thus your premise that “there is absolutely nothing that the soul takes from one life and into the next, not even the false ego” is wrong, and therefore the idea that you build upon this premise is also wrong.

      The soul is wrapped in three layers – ahankar (selfcentered identity), budhi (intellect) and manas (emotion). The soul keeps these three layers for the entire duration of samsara – the cycle of birth and death. The layers change their shape constantly, yes, but they are never abandoned for new ones.

      These three layers are wrapped in 7 other layers of the physical body – blood bone, marrow, all that stuff. These transform constantly too, AND are completely discarded from one birth to the next.

      Therefore there are real constant connections between lives.

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  2. Could you point out where exactly it is clearly established the the mind literally carries the soul from one body to another?

    The mind influences the consciousness at death, in the next body *new* mind develops from the scratch, under the material conditions – dna, parenting, education etc. etc. and the soul is put into these conditions according to the previous state of consciousness. It grows *new* mind, *new* intelligence, and gets *new* identity, and these things keep developing all life long.

    Where does it say that this new mind is carried over after death? Where does it say that they entire subtle body consisting of three layers is carried over from birth to birth? Why? What for?

    Even if some material elements travel together with the soul through the entire process of reincarnation it doesn’t mean that memories are included, too. No one is born with a mind, skills and memories of a grown man, and even as the new body grows and develops no one recovers these facilities ever but build new ones instead.

    What is the purpose of storing the memories of thousands and millions of births in our material minds anyway if a) reincarnation can work perfectly well without them, b) we don’t see any evidence of it being so and c) we are not allowed to access them, too?

    The soul who lives through these births surely has its own, spiritual memory storage, but that remembrance depends on the Supersoul, sometimes some people remember bits and pieces and even then they can’t explain where they came from as these recollections do not fit with their present material memories and frame of reference.

    I’m more than willing to reconsider but I need some scriptural evidence.

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  3. Yes, that’s exactly the verse I was thinking about, it doesn’t say much, though, does it? Prabhupada translates it as “carries different conceptions of life” but even that is not found in word for word translation to clarify.

    Krishna probably refers to “six senses including mind” He mentioned earlier. That is also what Prabhupada probably meant in the purport when he said “that the subtle body, which carries the conception of the next body, develops another body in the next life”

    In my evolution of this subject I admit that initially I didn’t account for the subtle body that always follows the soul through every step of the way, but that is because I don’t think it’s relevant here.

    I believe that subtle body is bare minimum required for the maintenance and it changes according to the circumstances – usually keeping the shape of the last gross body. It doesn’t have the form of its own and Krishna didn’t mention it when he said that souls give up bodies like they change clothes and that the soul is the only unchangeable element.

    The subtle body of a recently diseased man might have the same mind, intelligence, and, the point of discussion – same memories, but only from the last incarnation. At no point it demonstrates the capacity to remember each and every incarnation before.

    Or what about the part where the soul drops to the Earth with rain and enters grains and then semen and then enters the womb of a female? It doesn’t wake up, the subtle body doesn’t wake up until a few weeks later and at that moment it sees itself as being squashed into a fetus shape rather than the demigod’s body it had “just” before.

    My point is that the subtle body – mind, intelligence and false ego we have now, with all the memories and experiences and skills, is not quite the same thing that travels with our souls through all our reincarnations.

    Specifically, subtle bodies lose all our memories in between the incarnations – that is just obvious. Maybe that is also why the last living memory is so important – all the thoughts before that are going to be wiped.

    When I say it’s obvious I mean it’s obvious to any casual observer. If the shastras state that we keep all our memories with our subtle bodies forever – fine, I’ll accept it. It’s possible but not very likely – something happens to our subtle bodies during reincarnation.

    What we understand by our mind now might still be called mind after death and in the next birth but it’s not the same thing anymore. Actually we see changes in the mind all throughout our lives, the mind never stays the same.

    I find it hard to believe that some part of it actually keeps records of all the happenings during millions of years but never shows or uses them.

    I would be very grateful if you could dispel my ignorance.

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  4. “I believe that subtle body is bare minimum ” refers to the subtle body that travels with the soul, not our current ones – there’s no edit button, sorry.

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    1. In the material energy EVERYTHING constantly changes. That is a given.

      The sooksma shariir (subtle body) is composed of Ahankar, Buddhi and Manas. This includes the english idea of “mind.” The sthoola shariir (gross body) is composed of Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether.

      All of them are changing constantly. I would like to think of a good analogy to clarify. Perhaps it is something like a tree. It is constantly growing and changing. The gross body, however, is a forest of trees which are burned down completely at death. The subtle body is not burned down until mukti, liberation. Of course change is constant in both the forests.

      The subconscious mind is not at all useless. It is what shapes everything about our current life – it is just that we are not directly aware of it.

      There are several versions of reincarnation. They are addressed by Krsna in the second chapter of Gita. The one I am explaining here is the one I have learned as a disciple of Srila Prabhupada in the Brahma Gaudiya Vaishnav Sampradaya. When I am able to research direct shastric quotes on this topic I will return to post here. I think perhaps I would find them in the Bhagavatam’s third canto, Kapiladeva’s instructions to Devahuti, his mother.

      Also I believe you have missed the direct relevance of 15.8. The direct point is that the living entities desires carry him from one body to the next. Manas is the element which holds desire. Therefore if Manas is dissolved the desires would be discontinuous – and there would be no way for desires cultivated in one lifetime to carry us into a specific situation in the next lifetime.

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  5. There are many many versions of what a subtle body is exactly. There’s five kosha model, five sheaths covering the soul, there’s mind and five senses from 15.7, there’s mind, intelligence and false ego, there’s mind, intelligence and fifteen things related to the senses model, and the mind itself has a further divisions into conscious and subconscious and probably some more. Let’s not forget prana that everyone knows about but it only appears in a five kosha model.

    What is obvious is that we lose our memories between the incarnations. I think, I don’t know and I’ve never seen a definitive answer, it’s because our subtle bodies get stripped to the bare minimum, just enough to keep the soul in the material world. Explains the loss of memory, as I said, and explains why only the last snapshot is important – no room to carry anything else.

    The soul itself is not a spec of dumb matter either, it has its own consciousness and desires. In the material world these desires are impressed on it by the mind but I’m not sure that they need to be stored in the mind between the incarnations – once the soul has got an impression of what it wants it stays there, I presume, and so once a new body is granted the rebuilding process can probably start without relying on any external, material containers. It’s the least it could do, being the only active ingredient in the whole body – remember what it wants. Want is all we do, right?

    These are just mental speculations, btw, the more I read the clearer it becomes but the final answer is still nowhere in sight.

    Is “you don’t remember your last births because you can’t handle this much information” an authoritative answer? Personally, I wouldn’t consider it seriously, I guess many other people also feel like it’s a cop out. By authoritative I mean does it rely on any scriptural evidence or was it just a clever answer to pacify a particular person on a particular occasion and now it got popular?

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  6. There are many many versions of what a subtle body is exactly.

    In all cases it includes the mind.

    What is obvious is that we lose our memories between the incarnations.

    The memories are not lost, they are hidden. I myself have accessed memories of previous lifetimes. My friends have had them as well. Many many persons have them and actually scientific research has been performed on a number of notable cases to rather rigorously confirm at least a handful.

    The soul itself is not a spec of dumb matter either, it has its own consciousness and desires. In the material world these desires are impressed on it by the mind but I’m not sure that they need to be stored in the mind between the incarnations.

    The soul is consciousness only. Consciousness requires instruments to express itself. These instruments are the “senses” and their controlling “organs” in the subtle body. In contact with the bahiranga-shakti these ego, intelligence, mind and senses are “material”. In contant with the antaranga-shakti these are “spiritual.” In contact with neither, in the brahmajyoti tatastha-shakti there are no instruments for consciouns expression and therefore consciounness becomes homogenous like atoms in a nebulous broth.

    In all conditions the mind is required to hold memory/desire/intention.

    Is “you don’t remember your last births because you can’t handle this much information” an authoritative answer?

    Yes, right here in the Gita!

    First of all about the persistence of mind:

    15.7 – mamaivāḿśo jīva-loke jīva-bhūtaḥ sanātanaḥ| manaḥ-ṣaṣṭhānīndriyāṇi prakṛti-sthāni karṣati ||

    15.8 – śarīraḿ yad avāpnoti yac cāpy utkrāmatīśvaraḥ | gṛhītvaitāni saḿyāti vāyur gandhān ivāśayāt ||

    15.9 – śrotraḿ cakṣuḥ sparśanaḿ ca rasanaḿ ghrāṇam eva ca | adhiṣṭhāya manaś cāyaḿ viṣayān upasevate ||

    This establishes that the soul, which is the eternal fragment of Krsna, aquires six senses FROM the mind, and struggles this them. Due to this struggle, the soul is carried from one body to the next. The soul situated within the mind tries to enjoy the sense objects via the senses which accumulate around the mind.

    Next about the reason for not being aware of this:

    15.10 – utkrāmantaḿ sthitaḿ vāpi bhuñjānaḿ vā guṇānvitam | vimūḍhā nānupaśyanti paśyanti jñāna-cakṣuṣaḥ ||

    Why can’t the soul see the repeated births and deaths? Not because the memories are gone, but because he is a special fool (vimūḍhā) completely captivated by the smoke and mirrors of the three modes in which nature entices us (guṇānvitam). That is why a fool cannot see correctly (nānupaśyanti). But the wise person [who is not enticed with enjoying material transformations – jñāna-cakṣuṣaḥ] CAN see how his repeated births and deaths. (this would be impossible if memories were destroyed).

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  7. Well, scientific research in the memories of past lives is also used to dismiss reincarnation as gobbledygook, it all depends on what you want to prove.

    I can’t argue with your ability to see your past lives. I do not have this ability myself and I don’t know anyone who does. I’m also under the impression that jnana caksusah mentioned by Krishna here refers to significantly more than the ability to recall previous births at will but I can’t argue with your personal experiences, again.

    The crux of the matter is whether the soul is capable of remembering all his experiences without the need of an external, material container to carry the memories about.

    Memory is said to be the function of intelligence, btw, and intelligence wasn’t mentioned by Krishna anywhere in these verses, only mind and five senses.

    I think we should give it a rest until some clear shastric evidence is found that all our memories are always in our minds at every point of our billions and billions of years of material existence, and they keep piling up at least until the end of the universe.

    Our current way of arguing is not going to produce any acceptable results – we see what we want to see in the same three or four slokas and it’s all a matter of interpretation and conjecture.

    I’ll sign up for e-mail notification so I won’t miss it if you find something more definitive.

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  8. I have given you clear shastric evidence. You are being stubborn wishing to interpret it in your own way. I am interpreting it in the same way as the acaryas. Mahajana yena gatah sah pantah. Therefore it would behove you to give up your speculation and accept my interpretation.

    If you can present any hard evidence that my interpretation is wrong I am open to hear it.

    The fact that some people remember past lives suggests that memories are not destroyed from one birth to another. The fact that memories are carried in the mind, and the mind is a part of the subtle body, which is superior to the senses ontologically confirms that the mind need not be destroyed when the body is destroyed. Sri Krishna has said so in these verses and the acaryas have explained it also in this way.

    Yet you still think there is no definitive answer.

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  9. Here’s one verse, about condition of a child in mother’s womb <a href="http://vedabase.net/sb/3/31/9/en"SB 3.31.9

    It says if one is “fortunate” he can remember past hundred births. No indication of the source of the fortune and whether the fortune is in having special, one hundred birth memory, or a leak in the generic, allegedly all-remembering mind.

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  10. Umm, sorry for causing you so much grief, but nowhere Krishna states that souls carry all their memories from all their births at all times in their minds but they can’t access them because they can’t handle the shock.

    It’s this reason for not remembering that sounds dodgy to me. It doesn’t have any shastric backing so far and its source is unknown.

    But you have personal experience and I am, as you rightly said, stubborn. It’s a no win situation for me.

    Sorry for the inconvenience again.

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  11. you lack the ability to hear the fullness of what Krsna and the devotees are teaching. I am not your teacher. Inquire from your teacher submissively and may he or she fill you with divine knowledge.

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