Another argument which the Vedantists advance in support of the theory of Reincarnation is that “Nothing is destroyed in the universe.” Destruction in the sense of the annihilation of a thing is unknown to the Vedantic philosophers, just as it is unknown to the modern scientists. They say “non-existence can never become existence and existence can never become non-existence;” or, in other words, that which did not exist can never exist, and conversely that which exists in any form can never become non-existent.
This is the law of nature. As such, the impressions or ideas which we now have, together with the powers which we possess, will not be destroyed but will remain with us in some form or other. Our bodies may change, but the powers, Karma, Samskaras or impressions and the materials which manufactured our bodies must remain in us in an unmanifested form. They will never be destroyed. Again science tells us that that which remains in an unmanifested or potential state must at some time or other be manifested in a kinetic or actual form. Therefore we shall get other bodies, sooner or later. It is for this reason said in the “Bhagavad GÃ®tÃ¢”: “Birth must be followed by death and death must be followed by birth.”
Such a continuously recurring series of births and deaths each germ of life must go through. Another consideration is that the beginning, ending and continuing are conceptions of the human mind; their significance depends entirely upon our conception of time. But we all know that time has no absolute existence. It is merely a form of our knowledge of our own existence in relation to that of nature.
The conception of time vanishes at the sleep of death, just as it does every night when we are in sound sleep. Death resembles the state of our sound sleep. The soul wakes up from the sleep of death just in the same manner as the insects awake in spring after sleeping the long and rigid winter-sleep, as a chrysalis in the bed of a cocoon spun by itself in autumn. Nature teaches us the great lesson of rebirth and the similarity between sleep and death by the rejuvenation of the chrysalis in the spring. After death the soul wakes up and puts on or manufactures the garment of a new body, just in the same manner as we put on new clothes after throwing away the old and worn-out ones. Thus the soul continues to manifest itself over and over again either on the human or any other plane of existence, being bound by the Law of Karma or of Cause and Sequence.
“Death, so called, is but older matter dressed
In some new form. And in a varied vest,
From tenement to tenement though tossed,
The soul is still the same, the figure only lost.”
Poem on Pythagoras, Dryden’s Ovid.
Here it may be asked, if we existed before our birth why do we not remember? This is one of the strongest objections often raised against the belief in pre-existence. Some people deny the existence of the soul in the past simply because they cannot remember the events of their past. Others, again, who hold memory as the standard of existence, say, if our memory of the present ceases to exist at the time of death, with it we shall also cease to be; we cannot be immortal; because they hold that memory is the standard of life, and if we do not remember then we are not the same beings.
Vedanta answers these questions by saying that it is possible for us to remember our previous existences. Those who have read “Raja Yoga” will recall that in the 18th aphorism of the third chapter it is said: “By perceiving the SamskÃ¢ras one acquires the knowledge of past lives.” Here the SamskÃ¢ras mean the impressions of the past experience which lie dormant in our subliminal self, and are never lost. Memory is nothing but the awakening and rising of latent impressions above the threshold of consciousness. A Raja Yogi, through powerful concentration upon these dormant impressions of the subconscious mind, can remember all the events of his past lives. There have been many instances in India of Yogis who could know not only their own past lives but correctly tell those of others. It is said that Buddha remembered five hundred of his previous births.