Despite all the progress that Humans have collectively made, many fundamental problems of life continue to be a mystery or remain unresolved. On the foundation of such unresolved problems and mysteries stands the structure of human life. The construct seems concrete enough and largely works, till the fundamental questions/problems are revisited. The moment even one such unresolved problem is raised it creates a severe disturbance; opinion and counter-opinion fly from all over. Yet, when hours would have passed one would have realized that they have progressed no further than where they started!
Something did break loose when a friend of mine, during a discussion, brought up the topic of Rebirth/Reincarnation. It is a topic that is old unresolved and unconcluded yet something that we have brushed aside as life continues irrespective of whether we humans understand it or whether we have managed to find an explanation for the confusion or not. As happens in moments of such sudden disruption, my mind started racing and I was breathing heavy, trying to grapple with the matter at hand and think about all the points and counter-points related to it. Needless to say that, the argument was inconclusive and refused to reach anywhere. Especially in times when the line between scientific assumptions and religious beliefs has significantly blurred, finding a consistent and unified explanation proved elusive.
All the major religions of the world, with varying degree and in somewhat ambiguous tone have spoken about re-birth. Most of them tend to speak about rebirth as retribution to the volitional activities that one might have undertaken in previous or the current birth. They also speak about rebirth as multiple attempts by the human soul gets to reach perfection required to put an end to the cycle of birth and rebirth. Ofcourse matters of religion are about belief and often may have nothing do with rational thinking. Though, attempts have been made to rationalize certain beliefs either to convince the fence sitters or to reach out to atheists. Though, I would say, reincarnation is a matter that could baffle and question the rational theories of the staunchest of atheists.
Personally, I think, the question of re-incarnation presents a dilemma. Accepting that there is such a thing appears inconsistent with many of the other beliefs that I hold. Let me present some of the points for which I feel that it is completely inconsistent and incoherent with other beliefs and human endeavor:
- Past life decides the quality of next birth
- Assumes presence of an omniscient and omnipotent force that is monitoring all human activities – automatically takes atheists out of the equation
- Assumes superiority of human birth over and above all other species
- Suggests that the geography, religion, family one is born in is not a matter of chance but a result of previous life
- Sort of indicates graded quality of living where one form of living has got to be superior to the other as a reciprocation of the good behavior of past life or current life
- Completely turns the argument of equality among humans on its head and sort of sides with Hitler
- Completely changes the meaning and context of ‘Free Will’
- Mocks the entire effort to fight poverty and injustice
- Appears escapist
Having said that, facts that have come up in recent times makes it tough to refute rebirth. Dr Ian Stevenson, did a study involving about 20 kids who started talking about events of past life pretty much immediately after learning to speak. It is baffling and begs for an acceptable explanation. The only recourse between the two extreme positions could possibly lie in accepting a non-causal reincarnation. However we might still be very far from the possible last word.
Thanks to all the respondents who took the survey and gave us a chance to see what the widespread belief was. Based on the survey I present the summary of the findings that emerged.
- An overwhelming majority of the respondents were Religious
- Though their belief in reincarnation of Religious people was only marginally higher than the non-Religious respondents:
- Over all only 36% of the respondents believed in Reincarnation
- Off the people who believed in Reincarnation – 75% believed our past birth has a strong bearing on our current birth