Advaita Philosophy, Yoga Philosophy

Reincarnation and Advaita Vedanta – Page 3


Chandogya Upanishad:


O good looking one, as bees make honey by collecting the essences of trees sanding in different quarters, and reduce the juice into a homogenous whole;


And as they do not have such distinctive ideas there as ‘I am the juice of this tree’. ‘I am the juice of this tree’. So also O good looking one, all these creatures, after merging in Existence, do not understand this: ‘We have merged in Existence’.


‘Whichever creatures they might have been here in this world, whether tiger, lion, wolf, pig, insect, grass hopper, gadfly or mosquito, they become That’.

In these three sutras also, we see that a merger into the supreme being is described more evocatively. There is no mention or reincarnation here. In this sutra in fact, a merger into the supreme being is promised not just for all human beings but for all conscious beings, even insects, etc. Thus here we see the very important idea that all beings which have an individual consciousness merge into the Absolute consciousness on death. There is no mention of anything like Karma, etc. since obviously insects or pigs cannot be considered to have good or bad karma. This is a strong assertion of the idea that all consciousness which rises from Brahman merges back into it on death. The same idea is seen in this sutra:


O good looking one, as these eastward rivers flow to the east, and westward rivers flow to the west, they rise from the sea, and merge in the sea itself. They become one with the sea. As they do not realize there , I am this river, in this very way indeed, o good looking one, all these creatures having come from Existence, do not realize, we have come from Existence. Whichever creatures they were here in this world – whether tiger, lion, wolf pig insect, grass hopper, gad fly, or mosquito, they become That.

However, in other sutras, there is mention of reincarnation:


As to that, as in this world the result acquired through action gets exhausted, in the very same way the result acquired through virtue gets exhausted in the other world. Therefore, in this world those who depart without realizing the self and these unfailing desires, for them there is no freedom of movement in all the worlds. On the other hand, in this world those who depart after having realized the Self and these unfailing desires, for them there is freedom of movement in all the worlds.

That is, those who realize the Self have freedom of movement, they are not reborn, while those who have not realized the Self are reborn.


In this very way, this tranquil one becomes established in his own nature after rising up from this body and reaching the supreme Light. He is the supreme Person. There he moves about laughing, sporting, and enjoying with women, vehicles, or kinsmen, but not remembering this body born from contact of man and woman. That is, just as a horse is harnessed to a vehicle, in this very way this individual soul is joined with this body.

Here, an individual soul is defined and also there seems to be a description of some type of heaven. This is not true reincarnation.This also shows that the Upanishads are not consistent in their descriptions of death.

Katha Upanishad


But he, that master of the chariot, does not attain that goal through that intellect, who, being associated with a non–discriminating intellect and an uncontrollable mind, is ever impure, and he attains worldly existence.


That master of the chariot, however, who is associated with a discriminating intellect, and being endowed with a controlled mind, is ever pure, attains that goal from which he is not born again.

These two sutras of the Katha Upanishad, associated with the description of the soul as the master of a chariot, gives a typical view of reincarnation.

These three parts of the ten major Upanishads are the main parts which deal with reincarnation. As can be seen, the number of sutras are comparatively quite less and there is not much discussion in detail. The Upanishads themselves do not concern themselves much with reincarnation. In fact, compared to the overall volume of the Upanishads, reincarnation is discussed in very few sutras. Even among these sutras, while some parts are emphatic about defining reincarnation in the traditional way, some others are not so definitive and give us the leeway to interpret them in our own way.

Thus we can see that the Upanishads are not so emphatic about reincarnation. It is hardly dealt with except for a few sutras. Contrary views are also present which do not mention reincarnation when discussing death. The five sutras of the Brihadaranyaka in fact are the main ones which deal with reincarnation, in all the others there is hardly any talk about this.

Reincarnation is not so much a part of the Upanishads as such though it is very much a part of overall Hindu lore. It is from this Hindu culture in general that Reincarnation theory entered Advaita and not through the Upanishads.

Hence, if we rely only on the Upanishads to derive a modern view of Advaita, we can derive some support from the Upanishads also for the view that there is merger into the Brahman for all upon death and reincarnation need not be believed to believe in Advaita philosophy.

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