It is but rare that a sitting Supreme Court judge holds court on things incorporeal. On things as intangible and complex as reincarnation and karma. For this year’s Dr LM Singhvi Memorial lecture in Delhi, Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman set out to do precisely that. In his 45-minute extempore speech with not a shred of paper in his hand, Justice Nariman waded through some of the most complex tenets of philosophy conceived by human mind over two millennia and more.
From Pythagoras and Plato to Chinese philosophers Confucius and Lao Tzu, Justice Nariman sought to contextualise how various civilisations – both in the East and the West— have dealt with the issue at different times. What Jainism and Buddhism say about human existence and re-birth. And what could possibly explain the creative geniuses of child prodigies like Mozart and Adi Shankaracharya.
News18.com is re-producing the entire speech – both video and text – by Justice Nariman delivered last month in Delhi.
Here’s the full speech:
The fourth and fifth centuries BC are renowned for having produced six philosophers of the highest rank – two were from Greece, two from this country and two from China. Out of the six, four expounded upon reincarnation. The two Chinese gentleman did not. Now first, the Greeks. Pythagoras to me as a school student was taught only because of his theorem and if I remember right, the theorem said that for a 90-degree angle in geometry, if you tote up its square, would be the equivalent to the square of the hypotenuse, which is the long side. I had not the least idea that he was a philosopher of the highest sight. It is only later that I came to know that he was a vegetarian and believed strongly in reincarnation because there was a famous story told of him – stopping somebody from kicking a puppy and saying I recognise in that puppy my dead friend. Now, Pythagoras, therefore, was of the school of thought that reincarnation took place not only among humans but also among animals and plants and therefore he preached the wider doctrine of transmigration and, according to him, therefore, this wheel of transmigration being eternal was something that one could at best only get out of.
The other great Greek philosopher Plato mooted reincarnation in two of his books – one is The Republic in which he spoke of a man called Er. Now, Er went into a trance and left his body for 12 days and came back and then described the various heavens, hells and purgatory that he had been to. This of course formed the basis of Dante's divine comedy many, many centuries later: the difference being that Dante the author himself was taken down to hell and purgatory by Virgil, the poet, and taken up to Heaven by his concept of the perfect woman, Beatrice. But, there the analogy ends because according to Plato's Republic, when Er came back and said that I've visited these heavens, hells, described them that they are only temporary and transitional. Ultimately, one reincarnates after having been to heaven and hell. One has to be very careful as to the next life that one chooses because the choice is with one. You may choose wrongly in the sense of, you may be a person who may love power and therefore you may choose to be a dictator in the next life not knowing that most dictators land up at the gibbet. Now, apart from The Republic, in the Phaedo, which is another great diatribe between Glaucon and another philosopher, there again reincarnation is mooted. But, this time the doctrine of Karma enters and what does the doctrine of Karma according to Plato say – as you sow so shall you reap morally, you must go up the moral ladder and not down the moral ladder. And therefore in the Phaedo, at least, reincarnation was mooted as being policed by the law of Karma. The two great Indian philosophers we'll come to because we have to deal with them in some detail – Mahavira and the Buddha.
But, the two Chinese philosophers, that is Confucius and Lao Tzu, didn't speak of reincarnation at all. In fact, Confucius spoke of ancestor worship and what he called the superior man only because he was virtuous and not otherwise. Lao Tzu preached the Tao, which is that you must be passive in all things like nature. And his most famous simile was that look at water and look at the hardest rock; over centuries what does that water do to that rock. And therefore he said, you must accept what there is and in this acceptance you really follow, what he called, the true path: the Tao. But we don't have too much time for these digressions. We must come back onto the path that we have chosen for this evening.
The other old religions – the Egyptian religion, the Shinto religion – don’t say much about reincarnation. My old faith, the Zoroastrian religion, which is perhaps the first monotheistic religion on earth also doesn't say much except that in chapter 29 of the Yasna there is the soul of the cow exactly like chapter 10 of the Bhagvat Puran, which wails and says that look there is rapine, there is plunder, there is hell on earth, for God’s sake send us a saviour. And there is a conference which takes place in heaven between God and the archangels and, finally, they say that Zarathustra is one such person who has proved his worth and we are going to, therefore, send him. Now, if he has proved his worth it must have been in a past life, so that's about all that we get from reincarnation. Otherwise, we get nothing.
On the contrary, the doctrine preached by Zarathustra, has no place for reincarnation because it says that you come here for the first time, when you die you either go into a heaven, which is my kind of heaven, which is an abode of song music or you go into hell which is reformatory in nature. You are actually sort of played a video playback of your entire life when you die and you see where you have gone wrong and therefore attempt to choose a right in the next existence. And this goes on until finally there is a cutoff point, a judgement day, which is called an all-souls day, so to speak. After which, all souls then get resurrected, that is they become immortal, now being whole or perfect and being able to coexist perfectly with everybody else, back on earth.
So you have this model, which is the Zoroastrian model, which is largely followed in one of the Judaic sects because the Jews also had some very shadowy notion of the afterlife which they called She’ol. And it is only after King Cyrus freed them from Babylon and gave them funds to rebuild their temple of which the Wailing Wall is a part. You will notice the Wailing Wall is in two parts – the lower part was built out of Persian funds from the Persian treasury in King Darius's time. They ruled over Judea for about 250 years and obviously influenced their religious thought so that now you have Jews who are called Pharisees and Sadducees - Sadducees being persons who are the old Jews, who said we don't believe in any resurrections and Pharisees being persons who took on the Zoroastrian idea of heaven and hell and Judgement Day as well as resurrection.
You have a pretty similar picture so far and Christianity and Islam are concerned so that ultimately you have these three great faiths which permeate India, which really moot reincarnation. The first is the Jain faith. Now Jainism does not begin with Mahavir. In fact, Mahavir is only the 24th Teerthankar. A Teerthankar is a person who has crossed the fort, so to speak. What he has done is to achieve nirvana, in the sense, that he has gone back to the original state of his jeev or soul. Now pause here for a minute. According to the Jains, there are six dravyas, or substances, one being animate and five being inanimate. The animate one is jeev and there are any number of jeevs floating around in the universe, innumerable number. Incidentally, there is no god. It is very important to remember that the Jain religion is an atheistic religion. It gives you reasons why God does not exist. Now it is this atheistic faith, which first moots transmigration, reincarnation and the doctrine of Karma. Now, these six dravyas are eternal: they've always existed, will always exist. It's their permutation and combination in the form of human beings, animals, plants etc, that is spoken of in which reincarnation takes place.
Now as I told you the first dravya is jeev, which are these innumerable animate souls all of whom have consciousness and perception, two things. The others are pudgal, which is matter, then dharma and adharma, not in the sense we understand it. Dharma is that which permits motions. For example, water is dharma in which a fish can travel. Adharma is the exact opposite, which brings it back to rest. And finally space and time in which all this takes place.
So, what is interesting in Jainism is, you have no god, you have any number of disembodied souls which are floating around, which when they come into contact with pudgal within the space time-framework then produce either humans, animals or plants. Now compatible with the fact that there is no god, there is no plant, there is nothing you have this massive wheel (and time in Jainism is not linear, it is cyclical). So you have this wheel through which you transmigrate and the law which operates the wheel is the law of Karma. It takes you some 84 lakh lives, according to the Jain scriptures, because there are 84 lakh plants, animals etc, before you reach human status, and once you reach human status like a game of snakes and ladders, if you do not climb up the moral ladder, and you do something wrong, down you slip again and what is interesting is then you climb it again. And this goes on and goes on and goes on without end. So, the importance of Jainism in giving us this doctrine, not only for the first time, but giving it to us, and it is actually borrowed from Jainism and goes into Buddhism and Hinduism, is that you must remember it if first part of an atheistic faith - no plan, no God. There are these jeevs, everything has a jeev; incidentally even a watercress has a jeev. So, you have transmigration of the highest order – you might go up from a watercress to being an amoeba to being an algae to being larger forms and better forms of plant and then animal life and then human life.
So, the ultimate in Jainism is to follow what they call their five-fold path and that you can follow only when you are human and that path is that you first follow the doctrine of ahimsa, most important, which is non-violence to every single thing on earth not merely living or animate Second aparigraha, which is equally important, which is you give up attachment, desire because desire produces the problems that we all have. The third, asthaya – no stealing. The fourth: brahmacharya, which is celibacy. And the fifth and the most important – living by satya, which is truth. Now, it is only when you follow each one of these things strictly that ultimately you can become like Rishabh Dev, the very first Teerthankar who was really a king and it was his son Bharat who has given the name Bhaarat to this country. God alone knows when he lived: lived in hoary antiquity. But, he is the very first who has apparently broken through and broken through in the sense that, he has stopped so far as his soul is concerned this transmigration, up and down, in snakes and ladders if I might put it that way. And finally seen to it that his jeev, which is own soul, gets back to its pristine, eternal and all blissful form.
Jainism again, has no intermediate between a person dying and the next life or the next incarnation, so to speak. So, there's an immediate entry into either the womb of a human being or as a seed for a plant or as water in a watercress etc. and this is dictated by the inexorable law called karma. It is inexorable, there is no way out as you sow, so shall you reap in your human status.
When you come to Buddhism, you have a completely different view of reincarnation. The first important things about Buddhism is that the Buddha refused to believe in a soul. He gave what is called a very famous speech on the doctrine of anatta. Now, anatta means there is no soul, unlike Jainism where you have these six dravyas, which are eternal, and which keep changing when they manifest themselves in human beings, plants and animals. According to the Buddha, there is nothing eternal. Everything is in a state of flux, so that you have five skandas, which all come together at a random, one of them being consciousness, which comes very close to a soul because according to the Jains, consciousness is an attribute of a soul. So, you have these five skandas, produce human beings, animals and plants at a random and disperse at random. Now, what is interesting is again it is the law of law of karma, which is now spoken of but in a slightly different form. Karma here, is spoken of as being past and present and they make a distinction between the two. They say, so far as your past karma is concerned, you have worked it out, that part is over. What you are doing just now is producing karma, which will see where you will fit in the afterlife. Another important thing is that karma is now broken down into intent, because the effect of karma now depends on not merely the action but first on the intent, second whether the act is, in fact, carried out and third and very, very importantly also, whether at any point having carried out that act you have later repented it.
Now all these things go into the till, so far as karma is concerned in Buddhism. And therefore it is only when you ultimately disperse at random, at death that your karma accounts are taken, so to speak, your balance sheet is drawn up and you have good vs bad including the effect of whether you have actually intended the act:
1) You have performed an act without intending it.
2) You may have intended an act without performing it.
3) And above all ultimately you may be a person who may be genuinely sorry for what he has done in which you can reverse it.
All these little minor details are interesting because, ultimately when you speak of reincarnation and anatta, the two don’t seem to go together, because if you have no soul then what reincarnates; therefore, you have a distinction in Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism.
Mahayana says what reincarnates is the consciousness, which is one skanda. In Theravada, what reincarnates is another type of skanda which is heredity, interestingly enough, because heredity you will find missing in both the Hindu schools of karma as well as the Jain schools. Heredity comes in only in the Theravada school. So what migrates therefore or transmigrates is heredity and character, which are two other, so to speak, skandas.
When you come to Hinduism, you begin with the Rigveda. Rigveda had no concept whatsoever of reincarnation. Rigveda was some speculative hymns which were from over thousands of years by 414 seers and you have 10 mandalas or books, which make very interesting reading. And the basic emphasis in the Rigveda is on life, not on what happens after. And, therefore, there is no developed concept of hell at all. But, there is some concept of heaven. And the Rigveda speaks of three heavens – the heaven of Yama who is the first man who ever went to the Underworld so to speak, which is the heaven of the moon, the lowest of three heavens. Then you go to the heaven of the Sun where you go to Savitr, Pushan, the other solar deities all of whom are produced by Aditi, who is a daughter of Daksha, who in turn is a son of Brahma the creator. And what is interesting is Aditi and Daksha produce each other, so the child can really be in this case, the father of the man.
And you have, after they produce each other, the eight Adityas. Now, of these eight Adityas, seven are solar deities. The eighth is the dead egg – Martanda, which is mankind. Now, why is it the dead egg? Because it is the egg that was born and slated to die for the reason that Aditi did not offer a pinda ball to the gods before creating Martanda. She created the other seven after the requisite offering to gods, as a result of which seven Adityas were immortal but the eighth was slated to come here and die like us. Now, in the various chapters of Mandala 10, which is the most interesting, you have many speculative ideas of creation. Because the Rigveda, I told you, is more concerned about the creation of the universe, life in the universe, rather than what happens after death. So, you have hymn number 72 – the concept of Brahmanaspati, who is someone who stands as a god who blows life into mankind. You have the concept of Vishwakarma in hymns 81 and 82 and Vishwakarma is nothing other than a great architect who actually fashions the universe with his hammer, something like Thor in Greek mythology. Then you have the famous Purushukta in hymns number 90, where you have cosmic man i.e. one of us as the embodiment of the entire universe - three-fourths of which is outside the world, one-fourth of which is here. And you have the four varnas emanating from his head, from his shoulders, his thighs and his feet. And so on and so forth. You have the concept of Hiranyagarbha, which is the great cosmic egg out of which each one of us has come, in hymn 121. And finally, in hymn 129, you have the concept of a Swayambhoo.
Now, Swayambhoo is very interesting because it says that at that time there was neither existence nor non-existence and this thing breathed on its own. The first thing that happened was with warmth came desire and with desire came the desire to create. And Swayambhoo, therefore, breathed on its own and ultimately created all of us and then it ends on a very enigmatic note which says perhaps the gods in heaven know from where Swayambhoo came, perhaps they know not. And that's where it ends. So, the Rigveda, as you can see is more interested in theories of creation, theories of life and why we are here rather than, how we come back or whether we come back at all. It belongs to the Vedant, which is the end of the Ved, which are called the Upanishads to now have a full-blown theory of reincarnation. And for this, one needs to read three – the Chandogya, the Brihadaranyaka, which is the oldest and the Kaushitaki. Now, each one of these basically tell us that there are five stations within which each one of us goes at death and they are called the stations of pitriyan where our forefathers have gone. There are the earth station, there are the Sun station etc. etc. atmosphere station and finally, you come back. But, if you are fortunate enough to go by what the call, the two ways which is not the pitriyan way but the devayan way the way that the Gods went then you have an upward movement and you continuously keep getting into realms of light and finally lightning and beyond lightning you reach perfect bliss and you are out, you have achieved moksh, so to speak.
Now, this is a very, very crude summary of what they tell you. They tell you more else but there's no time to go into it in further detail. This is now fleshed out by the Purans. Now the Purans come much later, the Purans are roughly about 1500 years old and in the Purans you have the Garud Puran at the forefront and one or two others – Agni, Brahma, etc, – and they tell you the Brahmanical importance of ritual. So what they tell you is very, very important when somebody dies to have his death ceremony performed. Why? Because what you do here on earth in the form of a pinda, which is a ball, which is made of rice ghee, milk, etc, is really the food that this soul will be eating in its next 10 days in the next world and in the next world it is like a rocket with three stages with each stage falling off. So what is interesting is, the first stage is the vaayu stage, where it’s called an aerial body, which is there for about 10 or 12 days. The aerial body then gets hogged up and dissipated. After that comes the preta body, which is what is called the temporary body where you move around here like a ghost or a spirit. And the story is told of somebody called Sudev, the vaishya, who did not have the pinda rituals performed, which is why he continues to travel around earth as a ghost even today. So it is enjoined upon you that you must have the pinda ritual done, otherwise this is what is going to happen to you.
Finally, you have what is the experienced body, the third rocket stage. Rocket stage 1 has gone, 2 has gone and this experienced body then makes you experience the joys of heaven and the woes of hell depending again on what you have done here. And after you exhaust what you have done in terms of the merit or demerit that you have done on earth, you then come back and are reincarnated, somewhat like Plato’s Er, if you remember. So that you have exhausted your merit, demerit in heaven-hell and now you come back as a reincarnated being. And here again, like Jainism and Buddhism you can be reincarnated as a plant, as an animal, not as a watercress, but transmigration is the order of the day.
Incidentally, none of these models have humans reincarnating only as humans; it is very interesting. In all of them, you have transmigration. Now, given these models, what is interesting is how karma goes hand-in-hand with pre-destination. Another very interesting subject on which many books are written. Karma again can be divided into active and passive. And if you divide it into active and passive, passive karma is that which you have done in your past life and which is done to you as a result. For eg, you may be born a leper that's because of what you did in your past life. But, active karma is how you behave right now and if you are a thief just now it is because of your bad karma in your last life and now you continue being a thief and are therefore carrying out your punishment and in fact, carrying out your bad karma for which you will be punished in the future. So, you have what is called active and passive karma, therefore, which accounts for everything that is happening to you. What people are doing to you and what you are doing to yourself, where does predestination fit? Nowhere. That is why, you have an intermediate model which is the Adeshwar or Aderbat Maraspan model in Zoroastrianism, which says there are a few things which are pre-ordained like life, wife, children, property, death. Whether you will attain moksh or salvation is all in your hands. So there is a neat decision made between something with which you come and something which is putty in your hands. As opposed, you of course have the ghosala of the Aajivika sect which says everything is pre-destined. So, you have various models again but the karma model by and large tends to explain everything by saying it is what you have done basically in terms of your bad deeds which leads to what people do to you now and what you do to yourself and where you will go later.
So, given karma and predestination also, ultimately one comes to what are the plus points and what are the alternative models, if any. Obvious plus point of reincarnation is that it tends to explain suffering on earth and if you remember the Buddha begins with suffering because the four noble truths in Buddhism are first there is suffering, second why is there suffering because of desire, third what do we do to get out of this wheel of suffering, we curb and try and get rid of desire altogether and four how do we do it – we follow the eightfold path, the moral path which is laid down by so many other faiths. In essence, good thoughts, good words, good deeds of course here it is right action, right meditation, etc, etc.
So again, what is interesting is that ultimately, not only does it explain suffering, it also gives us a moral ladder to climb, because you are told whatever you do as you sow so you reap. So the other great plus point of reincarnation is that you better stay on the straight and narrow because the moment you do something wrong, the wrong is going to come back and hit you like Newton's third law of motion. So, you better be on the straight and narrow. Third, because of transmigration and because of the fact you may well be a plant or an animal in your next life you must be compassionate to every living being. This is the third great, if I may say so, plus point of this reincarnation theory. And fourth, it tends to explain geniuses like Mozart, Shankaracharya, etc, because it is only if you have achieved so much in your past lives that you can come as a five-year-old and compose a full piano concerto or at the age of 10 write some fantastic treatises on things which sadhus, etc, have not been able to do in hundreds of years. So given these, let us see the alternative models now. One model you will find on the wooden darwaza in Fatehpur Sikri, and is written in Persian. It says, and Akbar liked it so much he had it put up there, and by the way is something Jesus said which is not in the Bible. He says Jesus, peace upon him, said “do not build houses on this Earth but build bridges to the next world for this Earth is but a moment, spend it in prayer, the rest in unseen". This takes you back to the resurrection model which I spoke about earlier, which is there in Zoroastrianism, one part of Judaism, and then Christianity and Islam. The emphasis then is not like the Buddha on suffering here. The emphasis is, that this Earth is but a moment, it is a test period and it will pass like a flash. What is really going to happen is what is important. So it is the next world you focus upon. So the ultimate good news that at the end of time when Judgement Day kicks in, all souls will finally be in a state of perfection, immortality, be completely happy, and will peacefully coexist with each other.
So, this model, therefore, as opposed to the karma or reincarnation model is, don’t count anything on earth as being permanent, it is just a small transitory stage for you to move further. The second model is the model of yanga Zoroastrianism, which is that you have an all-good God and an all-bad Devil. So anything that is bad you attribute to Devil. God has not done anything bad, it is the Devil that is evil and you must therefore actively fight on the side of God against the Devil. Now suffering, therefore, gets explained in this model by saying, suffering is not God's handiwork, suffering is the Devil's handiwork and you get rid of the Devil, which is ultimately going to happen in the end of time because God is omniscient but the Devil is not and finally when you are able to get rid of the Devil we will all be able to live peacefully and happily.
That's one other alternative model. The third alternative model you find in the Book of Job, which is a fascinating book, which is book no. 18 in the Old Testament. Now Job is a person who is not a Jew; he comes from some other place. But, he is a man who has a large number of wives, children, property in the form of cattle, etc, and is extremely happy and is living happily. Satan enters incidentally in the Bible for the first time in this book and Satan here is under the control of God because he is a fallen angel. So, Satan now takes the permission of God and says look this man appears to be extremely happy, so smug, let's try him a little. So God says, alright, I give you permission to try him. So how does he try him? He destroys all his livestock, he takes away most of his wives, destroys his children. But Job is steadfast, and Job says, the Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away. Finally, when three friends of his come, Eliphaz and two others, they speak to him and they give him this alternate theory. All this is probably happening to you because of your sins in the past life, the reincarnation kind of theory. And finally, Job says, after he is afflicted by boils now by Satan that, alright, I still say that God is great, that God is good, but I question his justice and therefore you have this conundrum, "why is a good person like me, suffering like this”. And what's the answer. So I want an answer from God. Finally, a young man called Elijah comes and tells him don't you realise God is great, God is far above all of us and this suffering, take it positively. If you take it positively, what does it mean? God is trying you, you must past the test, pass the trial and in any case he is purging you of evil. Ultimately, God answers and God's answer is to deflect Job from his misery and show him the wonders of nature. Now, when he shows him the wonders of nature, finally Job says, oh, fabulous and forgets his suffering and ultimately comes to the theory, look all that we stress is suffering, why don't we remember the good that is done to us. So this alternative model again is interesting wherein it says, everything is not suffering, we forget very easily the good that is done to us and if ultimately you balance life out, life is very good, nothing wrong with it.
So given these alternative models now, let's go to some of the pitfalls of the doctrine. The first pitfall is that you are punished and as a punishment, you come back as an animal, plant, etc, or maybe as a deformed hunchback etc. You don't know why you're being punished. On the other hand, in the resurrection model, you remain exactly you in your onward journey ultimately, onto Judgement Day and finally resurrection; you remember everything you’ve done wrong here. But in reincarnation you remember nothing, that's why you have in the Purans the very interesting concept of an embryo inside a womb remembering all its past lives. But the moment it comes out, the Maya or Vishnu envelops it as a result of which it forgets everything. So, this is one major pitfall you don't know why you are being judged and why you are suffering at the moment. Another very interesting pitfall is, it is totally Earth-centric. There are billions of planets in the universe, there may be billions of other life forms. In fact, I remember years and years ago we used to get Newsweek magazine and you would have something called Lurie’s Opinion and Lurie’s Opinion was a cartoon strip and you had a Viking spacecraft land on Mars with two rocks facing each other, one rock telling the other “Shh, don't sneeze, they might take us for rocks”. So, again, therefore, this doctrine is Ostrich-like, Earth-centric, nothing else other than the Earth exists which is why you keep coming back here, why can't you go elsewhere. The third and very major pitfall again, logically speaking, is that there is no law of karma which attaches to an animal or a plant. If the law of karma is what fuels or propels persons in this round of transmigration, why does it ultimately convert a human into a plant and then a plant into another form of plant and maybe then another form of animal? Why? What is the law then and what has that plant done and what has the animal done to then move on to being the next animal or plant? Another very interesting thing, Father Tertullian, one of the great church fathers, had said that suppose you have reincarnation only among human beings, there's no transmigration. The moment you have it only among human beings again you hit a blank wall, because every generation there are so many more souls which come into being. Now if there are billions of souls which come into being, where have all these souls come from? Everything is not transferred from an earlier life to this life. If in the last generation, you had 10,000 as an example and today you have a lakh, how can you account for the other 90,000? So, this is a problem so far as humans are concerned, but then the larger problem is when you have transmigration because you don't know the law by which plants and animals move upwards or downwards.
One other very important thing: there is an internal contradiction also. The contradiction is this – to be born as human is the best form. Now, I would much rather, speaking for myself, be born as a dog in a dog lover’s household than be born as a human who is to suffer for the rest of his life. So, therefore, what again the theories don't seem to account for is the level of suffering in humanity or the animal creation or the plant creation. Equally, they don’t distinguish being born as a dog in a dog lover's home and a dog as a police or a guard dog who may be beaten all the time and may not be given enough food and maybe chained most of the time. So, we have a lot of these problems which also creep in apart from which law propels one up and down. Then of course, we have the voice of experience which speaks. Now an interesting lady called Rosemary Brown who was a pianist and she was a medium so that she said the great composers could visit her when called. They continue on another plane of existence and they continue composing so that, she played some tune which Beethoven composed in the next plane of existence. Similarly, something that Schubert composed in the next plane and she was no genius to be able to compose in Beethoven's style in Schubert's style in ‘List's’ style and that record is available for everybody to hear today. Now, if that is true and if all these people who have died hundreds of years ago are continuing doing things on other planes of existence they've not come back and this is as opposed to various persons who say that look we will go back to a particular village, we recognise this particular home, I remember in that incarnation I did X and Y and so on.
Now, there’s a very interesting book by Paul Edwards who attempts to debunk each one of these experiences, which a man called Yearn Stevenson has meticulously set down. So, reading these two books will give you an interesting picture of whether reincarnation actually takes place in terms of real-life experience or it doesn’t. One other major pitfall, the theory of evolution for example, again tells you you’re moving forward, you are never moving either sideways or backward. So when Darwin preached evolution, it was apes which became men, men never became apes. Now this again is fully incompatible with a snakes and ladders kind of thing where if you are bad in this one life, you may slip down and have to work yourself up again through which law, nobody knows. One other important pitfall, you have a law, who's the lawgiver? It's very difficult to conceive of a law without a lawmaker, In Jainism there's no maker, there's no God, in Buddhism equally there is no God. It's only in Hinduism now that in the six schools of philosophy it's in Vedant that you have Brahman that perhaps is the maker but in the older schools such as Sakhya, you don't have God again. In the Yoga school, you have a full-blown concept of Ishwar and therefore a God controlling. Now, if there is a God controlling and if there is a God who is actually operating this law of karma, who is actually operating it extremely arbitrarily because if you are going to reach human life after so many million lives and then slip down again, there is no plan, there is no nothing, there is only a circle out of which you have to go, which is why you have various concepts of nirvana. You've seen Jainism as the concept where you get back to your eternal state, Buddhism as a concept where you basically snuff out, just get out of this, Hinduism has this concept of moksh and other concepts where in Vedant, you ultimately merge with the ultimate, your atman becomes brahman. But finally the bottom line really is this, that if one were to draw up some unified kind of theory and we take these divergent strands of all the great religions together and put them together, what do we get, we get, one, as you sow so shall you reap, that law is inexorable climbing up and down the moral ladder is therefore the means by which you attain the end, the end maybe as I pointed out just now, merger, nirvana, resurrection in the form of a human being on Earth again, and the end is again the same because the end ensures that death goes, you are now in an immoral state and you are in a happy state. So to end this lecture we can end it with or on a note of hope, by one other delightful quote from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, which is the most famous quote from that Upanishad: "That ultimately, oh lord, lead us from falsehood to truth, lead us from darkness to light and lead us from death to immortality.”
(Published with permission from Dr Abhishek Manu Singhvi, member, Rajya Sabha)