Dr. V.K.Maheshwari, M.A(Sociology, Philosophy) B.Sc. M. Ed, Ph. D
Former Principal, K.L.D.A.V.(P.G) College, Roorkee, India
“For the spiritual seeker death is only a passage from one form of life to another, and none is dead but only departed. Look at it like that and shaking from you all reactions of vital grief, – that cannot help him in his journey, – pursue steadfastly the path to the Divine.
Of course, that is the real fact – death is only a shedding of the body, not a cessation of the personal existence. A man is not dead because he goes into another country and changes his clothes to suit that climate”. Sri Aurobindo
The fundamental basis of Sri Aurobindo doctrine of Rebirth is based on his philosophical belief in psychic evolution. According to this evolution, the first stage is PRANA (unicellular organisms) leads to MANA (lower animals) which leads to BUDDHI (human beings) which ultimately leads to CONSCIOUSNESS (stage to come, so-called gods) and the final stage of SUPERMIND.
As you progress further in the evolution stages, the last stages are indebted into that stage. For example, MANA includes PRANA. BUDDHI includes MANA and PRANA. CONSCIOUSNESS includes BUDDHI, MANA, and PRANA, and SUPERMIND includes CONSCIOUSNESS, BUDDHI, MANA, and PRANA. Rebirth is an effort/ tool to go from one stage of evolution of living beings to the next stage in the evolution.
” Human birth is a term at which the soul must arrive in a long succession of rebirths and that it has had for its previous and preparatory terms in the succession the lower forms of life upon earth; it has passed through the whole chain that life has strung in the physical universe on the basis of the body, the physical principle.” (The Life Divine, p. 761).
One is bound to the necessity of reincarnation as much by one’s affections, by one’s feelings, as by one’s desires. However, in the matter of reincarnation as in all things, each case has its own solution, and it is certain that a constant aspiration for liberation from rebirth, together with a sustained effort towards the elevation and sublimation of the consciousness, should have the result of severing the chain of earthly existences, although it does not for all that put an end to individual existence, which is prolonged in another world. But why think that this existence in another, more ethereal world, should be the ‘following state’ which, relative to man, would be what man is to the animal?… a deeper knowledge confirms this certitude that the following state too will be a physical one, (CWM, Vol. 15, pp. 263-64)
If we go a little way within ourselves, we shall discover that there is in each of us a consciousness that has been living throughout the ages and manifesting in a multitude of forms.” (CWM, Vol. 15, p. 134)
“What we see of Nature and of human nature justifies this view of a birth of the individual soul from form to form until it reaches the human level of manifested consciousness which is its instrument for rising to yet higher levels. We see that Nature develops from stage to stage and in each stage takes up its past and transforms it into the stuff of its new development. We see too that human nature is of the same make; all the earth-past is there in it. It has an element of matter taken up by life, an element of life taken up my mind, an element of mind which is being taken up by the spirit: the animal is still present in its humanity; the very nature of the human
The process of successive rebirths of an individual human soul in different physical bodies upon earth is not a simple affair. It is an issue bristling with many problems of understanding; man’s rational mind becomes inquisitive to know more about many of the tricky factors involved in this mysterious phenomenon.
The Psychic Being
At the time of death, the being goes out of the body through the head; it goes out in the subtle body and goes to different planes of existence for a short time until it has gone through certain experiences which are the result of its earthly existence.
Before we discuss the philosophy of Rebirth “It is necessary to understand clearly the difference between the evolving soul (psychic being) and the pure Atman, self or spirit. The pure self is unborn, does not pass through death or birth, is independent of birth or body, mind or life or this manifested Nature. It is not bound by these things, not limited, not affected, even though it assumes and supports them. The soul, on the contrary, is something that comes down into birth and passes through death – although it does not itself die, for it is immortal -from one state to another, from the earth plane to other planes and back again to the earth-existence. It goes on with this progression from life to life through an evolution which leads it up to the human state and evolves through it all a being of itself which we call the psychic being that supports the evolution and develops a physical, a vital, a mental human consciousness as its instruments of world-experience and of a disguised, imperfect, but growing self-expression. All this it does from behind a veil…” (Letters on Yoga, p. 438)
The psychic being stands behind the mind, life and body, supporting them; so also, the psychic world is not one world in the scale like the mental, vital or physical worlds, but stands behind all these and it is there that the souls evolving here retire for the time between life and life. If the psychic were only one principle in the rising order of body, life, and mind on a par with the others and placed somewhere in the scale on the same footing as the others, it could not be the soul of all the rest, the divine element making the evolution of the others possible and using them as instruments for a growth through cosmic experience towards the Divine. So also, the psychic world cannot be one among the other worlds to which the evolutionary being goes for paraphysical experience; it is a plane where it retires into itself for rest, for a spiritual assimilation of what it has experienced and for a replanting into its own fundamental consciousness and psychic nature.
The soul, on the contrary, is something that comes down into birth and passes through death – although it does not itself die, for it is immortal – from one state to another, from the earth plane to other planes and back again to the earth-existence. It goes on with this progression from life to life through an evolution which leads it up to the human state and evolves through it all a being of itself which we call the psychic being that supports the evolution and develops a physical, a vital, a mental human consciousness as its instruments of world-experience and of a disguised, imperfect, but growing self-expression. All this it does from behind a veil showing something of its divine self only in so far as the imperfection of the instrumental being will allow it. But a time comes when it is able to prepare to come out from behind the veil, to take command and turn all the instrumental nature towards a divine fulfillment. This is the beginning of the true spiritual life. The soul is able now to make itself ready for a higher evolution of manifested consciousness than the mental human – it can pass from the mental to the spiritual and through degrees of the spiritual to the supramental state. Till then there is no reason why it should cease from birth, it cannot, in fact, do so. If having reached the spiritual state, it wills to pass out of the terrestrial manifestation, it may indeed do so – but there is also possible a higher manifestation, in the Knowledge and not in the Ignorance.
It is not the naked spirit, but the psychic being that goes to the psychic plane to rest till it is called again to another life. There is, therefore, no need of a Force to compel it to take birth anew. It is in its nature something that is put forth from the Divine to support the evolution and it must do so till the Divine’s purpose in its evolution is accomplished. Karma is only a machinery, it is not the fundamental cause of terrestrial existence – it cannot be, for when the soul first entered this existence, it had no Karma.
The soul after it leaves the body travels through several states or planes until the psychic being has shed its temporary sheaths, then it reaches the psychic world where it rests in a kind of sleep till it is ready for reincarnation. What it keeps with it of the human experience, in the end, is only the essence of all that it has gone through, what it can use for its development. This is the general rule, but it does not apply to exceptional cases or to very developed beings who have achieved a greater consciousness than the ordinary human level.
The psychic being at the time of death chooses what it will work out in the next birth and determines the character and conditions of the new personality. Life is for the evolutionary growth by experience in the conditions of the Ignorance till one is ready for the higher Light.
Within the individual, contained in each form, there is an organization of consciousness which is closer to and more directly under the influence of the inner divine Presence,… [and] has a life independent of the physical form – this is what we generally call the ‘soul’ or the ‘psychic being’ – and since it is organized around the divine center it partakes of the divine nature which is immortal, eternal. The outer body falls away, and this remains throughout every experience that it has in each life, and there is a progress from life to life, and it is the progress of the same individual. (CWM, Vol. 9, pp. 214-15)
There is only one psychic being for each human being, but the beings of the higher planes, e.g., the Gods of the Overmined can manifest in more than one human body at a time by sending different emanations into different bodies.” (Ibid., p. 442). The psychic being cannot take up more than one body at the same time.
When the body is dissolved, the vital goes into the vital plane and remains there for a time, but after a time the vital sheath disappears. The last to dissolve is the mental sheath. Finally, the soul or psychic being retires into the psychic world to rest there till a new birth is close.
This is the general course for ordinarily developed human beings. There are variations according to the nature of the individual and his development. For example, if the mind is strongly developed, then the mental being can remain; so also, can the vital, provided they are organized by and centered around the true psychic being; they share the immortality of the psychic.
The soul gathers the essential elements of its experiences in life and makes that its basis of growth in the evolution; when it returns to birth it takes up with its mental, vital, physical sheaths so much of its Karma as is useful to it in the new life for further experience.
It is really for the vital part of the being that sraddha and rites are done – to help the being to get rid of the vital vibrations which still attach it to the earth or to the vital worlds, so that it may pass quickly to its rest in the psychic peace.
After leaving the body, the soul, after certain experiences in other worlds, throws off its mental and vital personalities and goes into rest to assimilate the essence of its past and prepare for a new life. It is this preparation that determines the circumstances of the new birth and guides it in its reconstitution of a new personality and the choice of its materials.
Worlds besides our Physical Universe
The physical universe is not the sole manifested world. “It is a fact that mankind almost from the beginning of its existence… has believed in the existence of other worlds and in the possibility of communication between their powers and beings and the human race.” (Ibid., p. 771)
“The experiences there [in the other worlds] are organized as they are in our own world, but on a different plan, with a different process and law of action and in a substance, which belongs to a paraphysical Nature. This organization includes, as on our earth, the existence of beings who have or take forms… (Ibid., p.
“Their [of the other worlds] existence and influence are a fact of primary importance for the possibility of an evolution here. (Ibid., p. 785) [Adapted]. All the souls go to the other worlds in the international period between death and the next rebirth.
“The necessity for an interregnum between birth and birth and a passage to other worlds arises from a double cause: there is an attraction of the other planes for the mental and the vital being in man’s composite nature due to their affinity with these levels, and there is the utility or even the need of an interval for assimilation of the completed life-experience, a working out of what has to be discarded, a preparation for the new embodiment and the new terrestrial experience.” (The Life Divine, Cent. Ed., p. 794)
“But this need for a period of assimilation and this attraction of other worlds for kindred parts of our being may become effective only when the mental and vital individuality has been sufficiently developed in the half-animal physical man; until then they might not exist or might not be active: the life-experiences would be too simple and elementary to need assimilation and the natural being too crude to be capable of a complex assimilative process; the higher parts would not be sufficiently developed to lift themselves to higher planes of existence.” (Ibid.)
In such cases, there would be an immediate rebirth for the individual. “For the soul personality, as it develops, must get sufficient power over its own nature-formation and a sufficient self-expressive mental and vital individuality to persist without the support of the material body, as well as to overcome any excessive detaining attachment to the physical plane and the physical life. (Ibid., p. 797) If the conditions are not fulfilled, there would be immediate rebirth and no sojourn in the other worlds in the antenatal period.
Afterward, it reaches the psychic world where it rests in a kind of sleep until it is time for it to start a new life on earth. That is what happens usually – but there are some beings who are more developed and do not follow this course.
The dying wish of the man is only something on the surface – it may be determined by the psychic and so help to shape the future but it does not determine the psychic’s choice. That is something behind the veil. It is not the outer consciousness’s action that determines the inner process, but the other way around. Sometimes, however, there are signs or fragments of the inner action that come up on the surface, e.g. some people have a vision or remembrance of the circumstances of their past in a panoramic flash at the time of death, that is the psychic’s review of the life before departing.
Relationship in Successive Rebirths / Memory of the Events of the Past Life
Two departed souls retain the same relationship in successive rebirths is possible, but not a law – as a rule, the same relationship would not be constantly repeated – the same people often meet again and again on earth in different lives, but the relations are different. The purpose of rebirth would not be served if the same personality with the same relations and experiences are incessantly repeated
The departed soul retains the memory of its past experiences only in their essence, not in their form of detail. It is only if the soul brings back some past personality or personalities as part of its present manifestation that it is likely to remember the details of the past life. Otherwise, it is only by Ygritte that the memory comes.
The soul remembers the experiences of life even after the death of the body. But the recollections last only for a time, not till rebirth -otherwise, the stamp would be so strong that remembrance of past births, even after taking a new body, would be the rule rather than the exception.” (Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, p. 435)
Recalling the past life events or recognizing the places and persons are due to unfulfilled strong desire which was not assimilated.
Lack of memory of the events of the past life seems to be a serious handicap to the evolutionary growth of the being. On the contrary, “if a constant development of being by a developing cosmic experience is the meaning and the building of a new personality in a new birth is the method, then any persistent or complete memory of the past life or lives might be a chain and a serious obstacle: it would be a force for prolonging the old temperament, character, preoccupations and a tremendous burden hampering the free development of the new personality and its formulation of new experience. A clear and detailed memory of past lives, hatreds, rancor’s, attachments, connections would be equally a stupendous inconvenience; for it would bind the reborn being to a useless repetition or a compulsory continuation of his surface past and stand heavily in the way of his bringing out new possibilities from the depths of the spirit…. The law that deprives us of the memory of past lives is a law of the cosmic wisdom and serves, not disserves, its evolutionary purpose.” (Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, pp. 818-19)
“If even in this life it is difficult to keep all the memories of our past, if they often fade into the background or fade out altogether, if no recollection remains of our infancy, and yet with all these hiatus of memory we can grow and be, if the mind is even capable [in some critical cases] of total loss of memory of past events and its own identity and yet it is the same being who is there and the lost memory can one day be recovered, it is evident that so radical a change as a transition to other worlds followed by new birth in a new body ought normally to obliterate altogether the surface or mental memory, and yet that would not annul the identity of the soul or the growth of the nature. This obliteration of the surface mental memory is all the more certain and quite inevitable if there is a new personality of the same being, and a new instrumentation which takes the place of the old, a new mind, a new life, a new body…, (Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, pp. 819-20)
“Knowledge of past lives is interesting for an understanding of one’s nature and a mastery of one’s imperfections. But to tell the truth, it is not of capital importance, and it is far more important to concentrate on the future, on the consciousness to be acquired and on the development of nature, which is almost unlimited for those who know how to do it.” (CWM, Vol. 16, p. 353)
The soul goes out, after death, in a subtle body. Recollections last only for a time, not till rebirth – otherwise, the stamp would be so strong that remembrance of past births, even after taking a new body, would be the rule rather than the exception.
It is puzzling that sometimes we like and favors a person we even do not know well and does no good to us and starts avoiding and feeling uncomfortable with someone who does no harm to us. The explanation after understanding Sri Aurobindo doctrine of rebirth is simple. The soul recognizes and recalls the past life experiences with that person and behave accordingly.
You say “relationships of one birth persist in successive births, the chances depending on the strength of the attachment”. This is possible, but not a law – as a rule, the same relationship would not be constantly repeated – the same people often meet again and again on earth in different lives, but the relations are different. The purpose of rebirth would not be served if the same personality with the same relations and experiences are incessantly repeated.
It is not the case that there is the complete annihilation of the ego in respect of forms of life lower than a man after death.
What was spoken of as being in a static condition of complete rest is not the ego, but the psychic being after it has shed its vital and other sheaths and is resting in the psychic world. Before that, it passes through vital and other worlds on its way to the psychic plane.
Contacting the Departed Soul
It is possible to come into direct touch with the departed so long as they are near enough to the earth (it is usually supposed by those who have occult experience that it is for three years only) or if they are earthbound or if they are of those who do not proceed to the psychic plane but linger near the earth and are soon reborn.
Why and how haunting by departed souls. Actually, departed souls have no physical body so they need some medium for fulfillment and communication.
Contacting the departed souls through planchet and auto writing. Similar things happen with Sri Aurobindo and he writes that Swami Vivekananda soul communicated with him in Alipore Jail.
But Sri Aurobindo holds that automatic writings and spiritualistic seances are a very mixed affair. Part comes from the subconscious mind of the medium and part from that of the sitters. But it is not true that all can be accounted for by a dramatizing imagination and memory. Sometimes there are things none present could know or remember; sometimes even, though that is rare, glimpses of the future. But usually these seances etc. put one into rapport with a very low world of vital beings and forces, themselves obscure, incoherent or tricky and it is dangerous to associate with them or to undergo any influence. Rusenski and others must have gone through these experiments with too “mathematical” a mind, which was no doubt their safeguard but prevented them from coming to anything more than a surface intellectual view of their significance.
The word “ghost” as used in popular parlance covers an enormous number of distinct phenomena which have no necessary connection with each other.
A being of the lower vital plane who by the medium of a living human being or by some other means or agency is able to materialize itself sufficiently so as to appear and act in a visible form or speak with an audible voice or, without so appearing, to move about material things, e.g., furniture or to materialize objects or to shift them from place to place. This accounts for what is called poltergeists, phenomena of stone-throwing, tree-inhabiting Bhutan, and other well-known phenomena.
A being of the lower vital planes who has assumed the discarded vital sheath of a departed human being or a fragment of his vital personality and appears and acts in the form and perhaps with the surface thoughts and memories of that person.
A mental formation stamped by the thoughts and feelings of a departed human being on the atmosphere of a place or locality, wandering about there or repeating itself, till that formation either exhausts itself or is dissolved by one means or another. This is the explanation of such phenomena as the haunted house in which the scenes attending or surrounding or preceding a murder are repeated over and over again and many other similar phenomena.
- An actual contact with the soul of a human being in its subtle body and transcribed to our mind by the appearance of an image or the hearing of a voice.
- Apparitions which are the formations of one’s own mind and take to the senses an objective appearance.
- Temporary possession of people by vital beings who sometimes pretend to be departed relatives etc.
- Thought-images of themselves projected, often by people at the moment of death, which appear at that time or a few hours afterward to their friends or relatives.
You will see that in only one of these cases, the first, can a soul be posited and there no difficulty arises.
But Sri Aurobindo holds” These things [seeing Buddha, Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Shankar frequently in vision] are the result of past thoughts and influences. They are of various kinds – sometimes merely thought-forms created by one’s own thought-force to act as a vehicle for some mental realization – sometimes Powers of different planes that take these forms as a support for their work through the individual, – but sometimes one is actually in communion with that which had the name and form and personality of Buddha or Ramakrishna or Vivekananda or Shankar.
It is not necessary to have an element akin to these personalities – a thought, an aspiration, a formation of the mind or vital is enough to create the connection – it is sufficient for a vibration of response anywhere to what these Powers represent.
During this period in the Jail, his view of life was radically changed due to spiritual experiences and realizations. Consequently, his aim went far beyond the service and liberation of the country. 
Aurobindo said he was “visited” by Vivekananda in the Alipore Jail: “It is a fact that I was hearing constantly the voice of Vivekananda speaking to me for a fortnight in the jail in my solitary meditation and felt his presence.”
Universal statements cannot be easily made about these things – there is a general line, but individual cases vary to an almost indefinite extent.
Rebirth- How and When
[It is the] psychic being that goes to the psychic plane to rest till it is called again to another life. There is, therefore, no need of a Force to compel it to take birth anew. It [the psychic being] is in its nature something that is put forth from the Divine to support the evolution and it must do so till the Divine’s purpose in its evolution is accomplished.” (Ibid., p. 439)
Rebirth does not immediately follow the death of the preceding body. The psychic being’s choice at the time of death does not work out the next formation of personality, it fixes it. When it enters the psychic world, it begins to assimilate the essence of its experience and by that assimilation is formed the future psychic personality in accordance with the fixation already made. When this assimilation is over, it is ready for a new birth; but the less developed beings do not work out the whole thing for themselves, there are beings and forces of the higher world who have that work. Also, when it comes to birth, it is not sure that the forces of the physical world will not come across the working out of what it wanted – its own new instrumentation may not be strong enough for that purpose; for, there is the interaction of its own energies and the cosmic forces here. There may be frustration, diversion, a partial working out – many things may happen. All that is not a rigid machinery, it is a working out of complex forces. It may be added, however, that a developed psychic being is much more conscious in this transition and works out much of it itself. The time depends also on the development and on a certain rhythm of the being – for some there is practically immediate rebirth, for others it takes longer, for some it may take centuries; but here, again, once the psychic being is sufficiently developed, it is free to choose its own rhythm and its own intervals. The ordinary theories are too mechanical-and that is the case also with the idea of punya and papa and their results in the next life. There are certainly results of the energies put forth in a past life, but not on that rather infantile principle. A good man’s suffering in this life would be proof according to the orthodox theory that he had been a very great villain in his past life, a bad man’s prospering would be a proof that he had been quite angelic in his last visit to earth and sown a large crop of virtues and meritorious actions to reap this bumper crop of good fortune. Too symmetrical to be true. The object of birth being growth by experience, whatever reactions come to past deeds must be for the being to learn and grow, not as lollipops for good boys of the class (in the past) and canings for the bad ones. The real sanction for good and ill is not a good fortune for the one and bad fortune for the other, but this that good leads us towards a higher nature which is eventually lifted above suffering, and ill pulls us towards the lower nature which remains always in the circle of suffering and evil.
There is after death a period in which one passes through the vital world and lives there for a time. It is only the first part of this transit that can be dangerous or painful; in the rest one works out, under certain surroundings, the remnant of the vital desires and instincts which one had in the body. As soon as one is tired of these and able to go beyond, the vital sheath is dropped and the soul after a time needed to get rid of some mental survivals passes into a state of rest in the psychic world and remains there till the next life on earth.
One can help the departed souls by one’s goodwill or by occult means if one has the knowledge. The one thing that one should not do is to hold them back by sorrow for them or longings or by anything else that would pull them nearer to earth or delay their journey to their place of rest.
It may happen to some not to realize for a little time that they are dead, especially if the death has been unforeseen and sudden, but it cannot be said that it happens to all or to most. Some may enter into a state of semi-unconsciousness or obsession by a dark inner condition created by their state of mind at death, in which they realize nothing of where they are, etc., others are quite conscious of the passage.
It is true that the departing being in the vital body lingers for some time near the body or the scene of life very often for as many as eight days and, in the ancient religions, mantras and other means were used for the severance. Even after the severance from the body a very earthbound nature or one full of strong physical desires may linger long in the earth-atmosphere up to a maximum period extended to three years. Afterward, it passes to the vital worlds, proceeding on its journey which must sooner or later bring it to the psychic rest till the next life. It is true also that sorrow and mourning for the dead impede their progress by keeping them tied to the earth-atmosphere and pulling them back from their passage.
The movement of the psychic being dropping the outer sheaths on its way to the psychic plane is the normal movement. But there can be any number of variations; one can return from the vital plane and there are many cases of an almost immediate birth, sometimes even attended with a complete memory of the events of the past life.
Hell, and heaven are often imaginary states of the soul or rather of the vital which it constructs about it after its passing. What is meant by hell is a painful passage through the vital or lingering there, as for instance, in many cases of suicide where one remains surrounded by the forces of suffering and turmoil created by this unnatural and violent exit. There are, of course, also worlds of mind and vital worlds which are penetrated with joyful or dark experiences. One may pass through these as the result of things formed in nature which create the necessary affinities, but the idea of reward or retribution is a crude and vulgar conception which is a mere popular error.
Death is nothing but the wish of the soul. When the soul feels that the body which is an instrument of gathering experiences. He rejects it as we reject the old clothes, but some it attached even with the body which is totally nonfunctional, it is similar to our emotional attachment with some old clothes which are no use at present.
A new birth is a new start: there is an inter-natal reshuffling. “Part of this rearrangement, the discarding especially of past strong vibrations of the personality, can only be effected by an exhaustion of the push of previous mental, vital, physical motives after death, and this internal liberation or lightening of impediments must be put through on the planes proper to the motives that are to be discarded or otherwise manipulated, those planes which are themselves of that nature; for it is only there that the soul can still continue the activities which have to be exhausted and rejected from the consciousness so that it can pass on to a new formation. It is probably also that the integrating positive preparation would be carried out and the character of the new life would be decided by the soul itself in a resort to its native habitat, a plane of psychic repose, where it would draw all back into itself and await its new stage in the evolution.” (The Life Divine, p. 803)
“This would mean a passage of the soul progressively through subtle-physical, vital and mental worlds to the psychic dwelling-place from which it would return to its terrestrial pilgrimage.” (Ibid., pp. 802-03)
A new birth, a new life is not a taking up of the development exactly where it stopped in the last, it does not merely repeat and continue our past surface personality and formation of nature. There is an assimilation, a discarding and strengthening and rearrangement of the old characters and motives, a new ordering of the developments of the past and a selection for the purposes of the future without which the new start cannot be fruitful or carry forward the evolution. For each birth is a new start; it develops indeed from the past, but is not its mechanical continuation: rebirth is not a constant reiteration but a progression, it is the machinery of an evolutionary process.” (Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Cent. Ed., p. 802)
Assimilation depends on the weakening of unfulfilled desire is based on time and fulfillment.
Men retain their identities after the dissolution of their bodies. The ordinary mass of men is so closely identified with their bodies that nothing of them survives when the physical disintegrates… What [little] survives has not the clear impress of the exterior personality because the latter was content to remain a jumble of impulses and desires, a temporary organic unity constituted by the cohesion and coordination of bodily functions, and when these functions cease, their pseudo-unity also naturally comes to an end.
“The outer form only dissolves; unless that too is made conscious and is organized around the divine center. But the true mental, the truly vital and even the true subtle physical persist: it is that which keeps all the impressions received in earthly life.
“The psychic being at the time of death chooses what it will work out in the next birth and determines the character and the conditions of the new personality.” (Ibid., p. 443). When and where is determined the personality, of the soul for the next birth
“The psychic being’s choice at the time of death does not work out the next formations of personality, it fixes it. When it enters the psychic world, it begins to assimilate the essence of its experiences and by that assimilation is formed the future psychic personality in accordance with the fixation already made.” (Ibid., p. 444)
“It should be noted that the conditions of the future birth are determined fundamentally not during the stay in the psychic world but at the time of death – the psychic being then chooses what it should work out in the next terrestrial appearance and the conditions arrange themselves accordingly.” (Ibid., p. 441)
“As regards the stage at which the soul returning for rebirth enters the new body no rule can be laid down, for the circumstances vary with the individual. Some psychic beings get into relation with the birth-environment and the parents from the time of conception and determine the preparation of the personality and future in the embryo, others join only at the time of delivery, others even later on in the life and in these cases, it is some emanation of the psychic being which upholds the life.” (Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, pp. 440-41)
“The psychic being coming down into the human consciousness and body ready for it; that descent might be at the time of birth or before or it may come down later and occupy the personality it has prepared for itself.” (Ibid., p. 442)
Formations and Retention of Personality
Our old person cannot be retained at rebirth. There is no earthly use of repeating the same personality or character a million times from the beginning of time until its end? The soul comes into birth for experience, for growth, for evolution till it can bring the Divine into Matter. It is the central being that incarnates, not the outer personality – the personality is simply a mold that it creates for its figures of experience in that one life. In another birth it will create for itself a different personality, different capacities, a different life, and career…. the central being develops a new character, a new personality grows, develops, passes through all kinds of terrestrial experience.” (Letters on Yoga, p. 451)
As far as the old personality survival in rebirth. “Personality is only a temporary mental, vital, physical formation which the being, the real Person, the psychic entity, puts forward on the surface, – it is not the self in its abiding reality. In each return to earth the Person, the Purusha makes a new formation, builds a new personal quantum suitable for a new experience, for a new growth of its being. When it passes from its body, it keeps still the same vital and mental form for a time, but the forms or sheaths dissolve and what is kept is only the essential elements of the past quantum, of which some will but some may not be used in the next incarnation.” (The Life Divine, Cent. Ed., pp.816-17)
“The condition of your being after death depends very much on whether the vital has been converted here or not. If only a medley of unorganized impulses exists, then at death, when the consciousness withdraws into the background, the different personalities in you fall apart, rush in hither and thither to seek their own suitable environments. One part may enter into another person who has an affinity for it, another may even enter an animal, while that which has been alive to the divine Presence, may remain attached to the central psychic being. But if you are fully organized and converted into a single individual, bent on reaching the goal of evolution, then you will be conscious after death and preserve a continuity. (CWM, Vol. 3, pp. 144-45)
People believe that it is they who are reincarnated, yet this is a palpable error, though it is true that parts of their being are amalgamated with others and so act through new bodies. Their whole being is not reborn, because of the simple fact that what they evidently mean by their ‘self is not a real individualized entity but their exterior personality, the personality composed of the outward name and form…. what does remain constant is the psychic being which is not the outward personality at all, but something deep within, something which is not the exterior name and form.” (CWM, Vol. 3, p. 145)
Rebirth is an indispensable condition for any long duration and evolution of the individual being in the earth-existence.” By it alone the ascent of the individual soul-consciousness in the body… can… take place… within the ascending order…” but is an indispensable machinery for the working out of the spiritual evolution…”
The next rebirth occurs, after much time after death, “…no rule holds good for all cases. Some people are reborn almost immediately… Some people, however, take centuries and even thousands of years to be reincarnated. They wait for the necessary conditions to mature which will provide them with a suitable milieu.” (CWM, Vol. 3, p. 145)
“If one is logically conscious, he can actually prepare the body of his next birth. Before the body is born, he shapes and molds it, so that it is he who is the true maker of it while the parents of the new child are only the adventitious, purely physical agents.” (CWM, Vol. 3, p. 145)
Every fully conscious and developed psychic being is free to choose what its next life will be and when that life will take place.” When one is reborn, is it always in a more advanced and in a more favorable state? Animals incarnation in a human body may not take place, as there is a great difference in the development. But a very tiny part of the consciousness may enter a human body. This happens when the particular animal possesses a great aspiration.
Except for very rare cases, animals are not individualized and when they die, they return to the spirit of the species.” (CWM, Vol. 15, p. 137)
The Mother cites the case of a cat she knew, which had the aspiration to become a human being. When it left its body, it entered a human body: this cat leaped over many births, so to say, to enter into contact with a human body. (CWM, Vol. 17, p. 100) [Adapted]
The soul, having once arrived at humanity, go back to the animal life and body, as it will be a retrogression.
“It seems impossible that it should so go back with any entirety, and for this reason that the transit from animal to human life means a decisive conversion of consciousness, … It is surely impossible that a conversion so decisive made by Nature should be reversed by the soul…” (The Life Divine, p. 762)
“But the soul, the psychic being, once having reached the human consciousness cannot go back to the inferior animal consciousness any more than it can go back into a tree or an ephemeral insect. What is true is that some part of the vital energy or the formed instrumental consciousness or nature can and very frequently does so, if it is strongly attached to anything in the earth life.
“The soul does not go back to the animal condition, but a part of the vital personality may disjoin itself and join an animal birth to work out its animal propensities there.” (Ibid., p. 434)
“It is not the soul (the psychic being) that takes a lesser form, it is some part of the manifested being, usually some part of the vital that does it, owing to some desire, affinity, need of particular experience. This happens fairly often to the ordinary man.” (Ibid., pp. 434-35)
The line of Sex in Successive Lives
Soul follows the same line of sex in successive lives. Sex is not altered in rebirth. There are certain lines the reincarnation follows and so far as my experience goes and general experience goes, one follows usually a single line. But the alteration of sex cannot be declared impossible. There may be some who do alternate. The presence of feminine traits in a male does not necessarily indicate a past feminine birth – they may come in the general play of forces and their formations. There are qualities common to both sexes. Also, a fragment of the psychological personality may have been associated with a birth not one’s own. One can say of a certain person of the past, “that was not myself, but a fragment of my psychological personality was present in him.” Rebirth is a complex affair and not so simple in its mechanism as in the popular idea. The popular accounts of rebirth are of man becoming man and woman becoming a woman in the next life.
Births follow usually one line or the other and do not alternate…. Not sex exactly, but what might be called the masculine and feminine principles.” “Usually, a soul follows continuously the same line of sex. If there are shifting of sex, it is, as a rule, a matter of parts of the personality which are not central.” (Ibid., p. 440). But the alternative to sex cannot be declared impossible. There may be some who do alternate.” (Ibid.)
If there is a change of sex, it is only part of the being that associates itself with the change, not the central being.
The births follow usually one line or the other and do not alternate – that, I think, is the Indian tradition also, there are only stray cases quoted like Shamkhani’s in the Mahabharata for variations of sex. If there is a change of sex, it is only part of the being that associates itself with the change, not the central being.
Remembering Former lives:
“This is a dangerous subject because the human mind is too fond of romance. As soon as it comes to know something of this truth of rebirth, it wants to build up beautiful stories around it… All this has nothing to do with spiritual life. The true remembrance of past births… cannot be got by that way of imaginative fancies…. here there is much chance of invention, distortion and or false building.” (CWM, Vol. 3, pp. 40-41)
“The departed soul retains the memory of its past experiences only in their essence, not in their form of detail. It is only if the soul brings back some past personality or personalities as part of its present manifestation that it is likely to remember the details of the past life. Otherwise, it is only by Ygritte that the memory comes.” (Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, p. 434)
“To reach the truth of these things, your experiencing consciousness must be pure and limpid, free from any mental interference or any vital interference, liberated from your personal notions and feelings and from your mind’s habit of interpreting or explaining in its own way.” (Ibid., p. 41)
“A certain state of inner organization is necessary for this [the] psychic being to be able to have memories in the way the mental being has them…” (CWM, Vol.9, p. 216)”…neither the mental nor the vital being can remember past lives…” because it is not, they which are born again.” (CWM, Vol. 15, p. 135)
“But this memory is not a thing of the mental kind… What remains is the memory of those instants when the psychic being emerged from the depths of your being and revealed itself to you – that is to say, the memory of those instants when you were wholly conscious. That growth of consciousness is progressively effectuated in the course of evolution, and the memory of past lives is generally limited to the critical moments of evolution, to the decisive turns that marked the progress of your consciousness…. it is not the memory of your civic status that remains. On the contrary, you lose all consciousness of these petty external things, accessories, and perishables, so that you may be wholly in the flare of the soul revelation or of the divine contact.” (Ibid., pp. 361-62)
“And this will explain to you why the so-called memories of past animal lives are the most fantastic: the divine spark in them is buried much too deep down to be able to come up consciously to the surface and be associated with the outer life. One must become a wholly conscious being, conscious in all its parts, totally united with one’s divine origin before one can truly say that one remembers his past lives.” (Ibid., p. 364)
“The psychic decants – that is exactly what happens. The psychic does not retain things in their totality – it decants, it gradually decants the vibrations. The psychic memory is a decanted memory of events. For example, in past lives, there have been moments when, for some reason or other, the psychic was present and participated; in that case, it retains the memory of the circumstance. But the memory it retains is that of the psychic life of that moment; so even if it retains the memory of the image, it is a simplified image such as it is translated in the psychic consciousness and according to the psychic vibration of all the people present.” (CWM, Vol. 16, p. 350)
“It is through contact with the psychic that one gets fragmentary memories of past lives – the memory of events in which the psychic took part. This happens spontaneously when these same elements of the psychic become active again. Any deliberate mental effort is liable to produce misleading imaginations.” (CWM, Vol. 17, p. 371)
Only when one is consciously identified with one’s divine origin, can one in truth speak of a memory of past lives. Sri Aurobindo speaks of the progressive manifestation of the Spirit in the forms in which it dwells. When one reaches the summit of this manifestation, one has a vision that plunges down upon the way traversed and one remembers.” (Ibid., p. 361)
The process of Selected Recalling of Past Life
There is no set rule of complete forgetfulness in the return of the soul to rebirth. There are, especially in childhood, many impressions of the past life which can be strong and vivid enough, but the materializing education and influence of the environments prevent their true nature from being recognized. There are even a great number of people who have definite recollections of a past life. Process and selected recalling are based on laws of Similarity, and Contrast, Recency, and Proximity. But these things are discouraged by education and the atmosphere and cannot remain or develop; in most cases, they are stifled out of existence. At the same time, it must be noted that what the psychic being carries away with it and brings back is ordinarily the essence of the experiences it had in former lives, and not the details so that you cannot expect the same memory as one has of the present existence.
“Those who have had the memory of past lives have declared the reality of rebirth. There have been – and there still are – beings whose inner consciousness is sufficiently developed for them to know for certain that this consciousness has manifested in bodies other than their present one and that it will survive the disappearance of this body.” (CWM, Vol. 16, p. 398)
Return of the soul, in its next rebirth, to the same place, in the same circumstances, or with the same relationship is not at all certain.” (CWM, Vol. 17, p. 370) “The number of beings who consciously return to a place of their choice is very small. Those who have returned are mainly the beings who, before leaving their body, asked to return in a new one.” (Ibid., pp. 370-71)
As regards the stage at which the soul returning for rebirth enters the new body no rule can be laid down, for the circumstances vary with the individual. Some psychic beings get into relation with the birth-environment and the parents from the time of conception and determine the preparation of the personality and future in the embryo, others join only at the time of delivery, others even later on in the life and in these cases, it is some emanation of the psychic being which upholds the life. It should be noted that the conditions of the future birth are determined fundamentally not during the stay in the psychic world but at the time of death – the psychic being then chooses what it should work out in the next terrestrial appearance and the conditions arrange themselves accordingly.
A soul can go straight to the psychic world but it depends on the state of consciousness at the time of departure. If the psychic is in front at the time, the immediate transition is quite possible. It does not depend on the acquisition of a mental and vital as well as a psychic immortality – those who have acquired that would rather have the power to move about in the different worlds and even act on the physical world without being bound to it. On the whole, it may be said that there is no one rigid rule for these things, manifold variations are possible depending upon the consciousness, its energies, tendencies, and formations, although there are a general framework and design into which all fit and take their place.
To conclude it can be said that in a general way, a life is only one brief episode in a long history of spiritual evolution in which the soul follows the curve of the line set for the earth, passing through many lives to complete it. It is an evolution out of material in conscience to consciousness and towards the Divine Consciousness, from ignorance to Divine Knowledge, from darkness through half-light to Light, from death to Immortality, from suffering to the Divine Bliss. Suffering is due first to the Ignorance, secondly to the separation of the individual consciousness from the Divine Consciousness and Being, a separation created by the Ignorance – when that ceases, when one lives in the Divine and no more in one’s separated smaller self, then only suffering can altogether cease. Each soul follows its own line and these lines meet, journey together for space, then part to meet again perhaps hereafter – they meet once more to help each other on the journey in one way or another. As for the after-death period, the soul passes into other planes of existence, staying there for a while till it reaches its place of rest where it remains until it is ready for another terrestrial existence. This is a general law, but for the connections of embodied souls, that is a matter of personal evolution of the two on which nothing general can be said, as it is intimate to the soul stories of the two and needs a personal knowledge. That is all I can say, but I don’t know that it will be of much help to her as these things are helpful usually only when one enters into the consciousness in which they become not mere ideas but realities. Then one grieves no longer because one has entered into the Truth and the Truth brings calm and peace.
• Sri Aurobindo Primary Works Set 12 vol. US Edition, Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin ISBN 0-941524-93-0
• Sri Aurobindo Selected Writings Software CD ROM, Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin ISBN 0-914955-88-8
• The Life Divine, Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin ISBN 0-941524-61-2
• Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol, Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin ISBN 0-941524-80-9
• The Synthesis of Yoga, Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin ISBN 0-941524-65-5
• Essays on the Gita, Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin ISBN 0-914955-18-7
Krish Maheshwari for being the scribe for this article.