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Transmigration of Soul
by Hemamalini Raghunathan

In Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2, Lord Krishna begins His teachings to Arjuna, by explaining the fundamental distinction between the temporary material body and the eternal spiritual soul.

Garuda Purana

Garuda Purana

As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth and then to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A wise person is not bewildered by such a change.

Transmigration of the Soul is a spiritual belief, referring to Reincarnation after biological death, when the soul begins a new life in a new body. This doctrine is a central tenet of many Indian religions. Contemporary films, books, stories etc frequently mention reincarnation. Of late, many Westerners have also developed an interest in knowing about reincarnation. A few reports have been published about Children’s memories of earlier lives.

The term ‘reincarnation’ is derived from Latin, literally meaning ‘entering the flesh again’. Hindu gods are believed to have reincarnated; for example the ten Avatars of Lord Vishnu.
In Rig Veda, numerous references are made to transmigration, rebirth etc.,

‘…O Agni, to the Fathers send him who, offered in thee, goes with our oblations. Wearing new life, let him increase his offspring; let him rejoin a body, Jatavedas...’ (10:16 1-4)

Rebirth is a derivative concept from the Vedic principle of Karma. The Sum total of past moral conduct (i.e. Karma) determines the condition of the soul and the quality of its rebirth into another body (form), either human, animal or inanimate. In each life, we are re-born in accordance with our Karma, which is simply the cumulative effect of our actions. Our life is a series of actions, which have consequences; our life is about living out the effects of these reactions and we are re-born having to continually live out the debts that come with negative actions. The cycle of birth, death or rebirth is believed to be eternal, till the soul realizes the Self (Moksha, Salvation). Many Upanishads (Aiteraya, Taittiriya, Swetaswatara, Mundaka etc.) speak of Reincarnation of soul.

Bhagavad Gita : In the second chapter on ‘Sankhya Yoga’, there are many verses, referring to immortality of the soul and the concept of Reincarnation. (B.G. 2.22)

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(B.G. 2.22) Just as a man giving up old worn-out garments and accepts other new apparel, in the same way, the embodied soul giving up old and worn-out bodies verily accepts new bodies.
Verse 27 puts forth the point quite blatantly.

Garuda Purana

For one who has taken birth, death is certain; for one who is dead, birth is certain. Therefore, you ought not to lament for an inevitable situation.

Swami Krishnananda explains the Trasmigration of the Soul thus:

"The energies, which are elemental, contribute to the formation of a new body in the case of an individual with unfulfilled desires…… because rebirth is caused by the magnetic pull exerted by the desiring centre of consciousness upon the physical elements and the forces of nature outside.
…The legacy which acts as the link between the here and the hereafter is desire, which causes reincarnation… It is not true that in death the apparatus through which thinking and feeling act is destroyed; it continues in spite of the body being destroyed. The screen of the Television, which projects the picture of individuality is the point of consciousness-desire, and it is not destroyed, when the body is destroyed. In a way, our waking life is also a reflection of some anterior existence, which we do not remember now, since we are now in this world in a different space-time continuum, totally different from the space-time complex of the previous life. It has to be reiterated that death does not destroy the link between this life and the other life, because death is only of the physical body, and everyone knows well that a person is not exhausted by the physical frame only. There is something more in man than what appears to the eyes or to any sense-organ.

…The point that man is to be restrained from undesirable behaviour and action, can have meaning, only if there is something more than the meaning seen in earthly life. Else, what is the point of being good or exhibiting good behaviour?”

In the Commentary on Kathopanishad, Swami Krishnananda elaborates thus:

“…Yama tells Nachiketas that when the body is shed, one takes rebirth. One can become anything, according to the thoughts and the feelings entertained by the person, during the tenure of this life. Your thoughts and feelings will congeal into a solid substance, as it were, of the personality which you will assume in the next incarnation. The process of incarnation is actually the process of the evolution of things. The evolutionary process is the process of the cessation of one condition to bring about the birth of the subsequent condition. Something has to die, in order that something may be born.”

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

In the context of the transmigration of the soul, Sage Yajnavalkya explains to King Janaka (4.4.2-3), what happens when a man is about to die. “When the individual self departs, the vital force follows; when the vital force departs, all the (functioning of ) organs, such as that of speech, follow. Then the self has particular consciousness and goes to the new body, which is related to that consciousness. It is followed by knowledge, work and past experience”

Sankaracharya in his commentary writes,

“…the impressions called past experience, under the control of the person’s knowledge and work, stretch out, like a Leech, from the body, retaining their seat in the heart, as in the Dream State, and build another body in accordance with his past work; they leave their seat, the old body, when a new body is made”

The concept of transmigration of the soul appeals not only to adherents of Eastern religions or New Age spirituality, but also to many a layman also. The very thought of rebirth is a source of great comfort, especially for those seeking Liberation to improve their chances atleast in the ensuing births. More than anything else, the thought of rebirth gives enormous consolation and assurance, when one’s loved one is lost; people willingly believe that his / her loved one will born again and live. Theory of rebirth also explains the differences that exits among people, especially at birth…such as some babies are born healthy, some are handicapped…some are rich….some are very poor…etc. Theory of reincarnation can alone provide apt answers to the above disparity

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