Q: Is there a way, apart from occultism, to know intellectually about the soul and its rebirth?
In other words, can the existence of the soul and the fact of rebirth be proved philosophically without the help of a practical discipline? How is it that a bodiless spirit knows all about its previous life? Is it that only a soul that leaves its body with awareness comes to remember its past life?
Ordinarily when a person dies, it is only his physical body that dies, he and his mind do not die with the body. Ordinarily the mind of the dying person goes with him, and for a little while after death he retains all his memory of his previous life. It is like what happens with our dreams. After you wake up from sleep you remember your dreams for a little while. Slowly the memory of dreams begins to fade and by noontime it fades away completely. And by the evening you cannot say even a word about them.
Although you dream in your sleep, in your unconscious state, yet on waking you can clearly recall a few fragments of your dreams, particularly the latter part of your last dream. It happens because in the latter part of your sleep you begin to wake up and you are only half asleep. You can remember the dreams fully or partly that visit you in your half-asleep and half-waking state. But even this memory does not last long; as hours pass it disappears. In the same way a man’s bodiless soul remembers its previous life, its friends and relatives for a little while after his death. And this memory is rather painful, because he cannot relate with them anymore.
It is for this reason that we do a few things soon after someone close to us meets his death, so that he is relieved of the memories of his past associations and attachments. Now it is not good to carry them, because they are very painful. Hindus cremate the dead bodies of their relatives soon after their death; they try not to delay if it is avoidable. And it is significant. Cremation destroys all identity and attachment of the dead with their bodies, because they remember their past only through the medium of their dead bodies. The dead body serves as a bridge between the released soul and his past life. So cremation is in the interest of the departed souls.
When somebody dies suddenly or in an accident, he doesn’t know he is dead. For a little while he feels stunned and bewildered to see that he is separated from his body, maybe, something has gone wrong somewhere. It happens because inside the body nothing really dies except that the soul leaves the body. Not a few, but the majority of souls feel utterly confused and confounded soon after their death. No one can figure out why his family members are weeping and crying, why there is so much grief all around, because he feels as much alive as before, except that his body is a little separate from him. It is the body that gives him a sense of continuity, because it is the medium of all his associations with the past. Only meditative people, those who have experienced deep meditation can escape being pulled and bewildered, because they know that they are separate from their bodies.
Soon after cremation or burial of a dead body the soul is gradually freed from its past memories and associations. It is like we gradually forget our dreams. It is on the reckoning of time taken by different kinds of souls that we have different death rites for our dead. Some people, particularly children take only three days to forget their past associations. Most others take thirteen days; so some communities in the East have thirteen-day long death rites. There are a few souls — souls with very powerful memories — who take a year’s time for this purpose. Because of them, some of our death rites are spread over a full year. Three to thirteen days are the general rule, and very few souls survive without bodies for a full year; most of them are reborn with new bodies within a short time.
A person who dies with awareness, who remains fully conscious and aware at the time of his death, does not die really; he knows he is deathless. He is not dying, he is leaving his old body like we discard old clothes. And a person who attains to such a state of deep awareness is rare; he is free of all attachments and psychological memories. He has neither friends nor foes; he is free of all cravings and desires. He is a class by himself; dying with awareness he will be born with awareness, unencumbered by his past.
Just as one remembers his past for a while after death, so he does after his new birth too. A newborn child carries with him for a brief time the memories of his previous life as a spirit. But by and by this memory fades away and by the time he learns speaking it is completely lost. It is rare that a child remembers his past life even after he is articulate and able to communicate with others. He is called a freak of nature. He must have been a man of rare memory in his past existence.
In this context you also want to know if apart from going into it by way of mystical experiences there is any philosophical support for reincarnation. It is only through logic that philosophical evidence in support of reincarnation can be built. But logic suffers from an inherent weakness: it can be used as powerfully both for and against a proposition. If one wants to describe logic rightly, and those who know it well have said so, logic is like a lawyer or a prostitute who goes with anyone who pays the fee.
There are those who have proved logically and philosophically that reincarnation is a fact, and there are also those who have disproved and blasted this theory with the help or the same weapons of logic and philosophy. Logic is a kind of sophistry; it is like a lawyer who supports the case of anyone who pays his price. He has no viewpoint of his own, but he brings forth his whole reasoning skill to support his client’s case. That is why logic is never able to establish anything — although it seems to be convincing at face value — because the contrary point can be made as skillfully with the help of logic. There is no difficulty about it. Logic is a double-edged sword which cuts with ways — for and against a proposition.
For this reason philosophy can never prove or disprove the theory of reincarnation. Although philosophy can say a lot it can go on saying for thousands of years, it will never succeed in its endeavors. It is like a barren woman who looks to be complete, but cannot give birth to a child.
Logic has another side to it which is interesting. You use logic to establish something that you already believe to be true and right. Logic is just a means used to support your assumptions, your pre-suppositions.
There is a well-known professor in an Indian university who is conducting research on rebirth. Only recently he came with a friend of mine to see me. At the very start of his conversation he asserted that he was going to prove the theory of rebirth scientifically. I said to him it seemed his mind was already made up in favor of rebirth and that he was looking for scientific evidence to support it. But it was utterly unscientific to accept something before one had fully investigated it from all sides. If someone wants to be scientific, he should say that he wants to enquire whether the theory of reincarnation is true or not. If he is going to prove rebirth, it means that he already believes it to be a fact and not a fiction.
As far as this person is concerned, the matter is already a proven fact for him and he has only to produce some cogent arguments in its support. And arguments can easily be collected and produced; it is not that difficult. If you want to prove the theory of rebirth you can find any number of arguments in its favor. This world is so vast and complex and paradoxical that you can gather all kinds of arguments and evidence for or against anything that you choose to support or demolish.
Philosophy will never be able to prove or disprove rebirth. So if you make a slight shift in your question, you should ask whether science can shed some light on this very ancient debate. Philosophy has failed, and failed utterly. It has been debating this question for five thousand years and nothing has been solved. There are people who believe in rebirth and there are equal numbers who don’t believe in it. And no side has been able to convince the other side of the validity of its standpoint.
It is ironical that you can convince only one who is already convinced; you cannot convince the unconvinced. This is logic’s impotence, which it fails to see. You can easily convince a Hindu of the truth of rebirth, because it is part of his belief system. But you will know how impotent logic is when you try to convince a Mohammedan of the truth of this theory. You can easily convince a Christian that there is no rebirth, but you cannot convince a Hindu that it is a fiction. Logic is a skill which works well for those who use it to prove something which they believe to be true. Therefore it is not a right question to ask if rebirth can be proved philosophically. The right question is, ‘Is there a way to approach the question of rebirth scientifically?’
Science is pure enquiry; it is objective and impartial. While philosophy and logic have their standpoints for or against a belief, a proposition, science has none. A scientific mind means that it is open and impartial; it wants to find the truth, it is open to both the alternatives, both sides of a thing; it is not closed. Science does not depend on belief. It wants to investigate into the truth or otherwise of a hypothesis. Science is the only discipline prepared to re-examine its own findings and conclusions. Science is prepared for any possibility that an objective enquiry and investigation can lead to.
Science has only recently begun to take interest in matters like reincarnation. It is only fifty years since psychic societies came into being in America and Europe, and they have done some good work in this direction. A handful of intelligent people with a scientific bent have interested themselves is psychic research. They are not mystics, who have said for a long time that things like life-after-death and rebirth are facts which they have known from experience but cannot prove with arguments. The mystics say anyone can know these things if he goes through a certain meditative discipline, but they cannot make you know what it is. It is like I have a headache and I know what it is, but I cannot make you know it. You will know it only when your own head starts aching. I can do nothing to communicate my headache experience to you.
For the last fifty years men like Oliver Lodge, Broad, and Rhine have explored some new frontiers of the human mind. They are all men of scientific persuasions they don’t have any beliefs and prejudices of their own. They have done some real work on life-after-death and incarnation. Their findings are authentic. and they go a long way in support of reincarnation. Now there are scientific techniques to contact bodiless souls, and they have been contacted, and every care has been taken to eliminate the chances of deception and fraud in the use of these techniques. In the past there have been any number of cases of fraudulent seances to communicate with the dead. But if even a single case of authentic necromancy succeeds, it is enough. And many such experiments to contact bodiless spirits have been successful in establishing that souls change their bodies, that they are born again and again.
A number of people who had devoted their lives to necromancy before leaving their bodies, had promised to their psychic societies that they would communicate with them after death, in a specific manner. And some of them did succeed in their efforts. They communicated some very valuable information regarding the life-after-death phenomenon to their societies, and this information goes a long way in the support of rebirth.
A great deal of research has been conducted in the fields of telepathy and clairvoyance, and they have yielded good results. Without the help of any technical aids, I can communicate with a person who is thousands of miles away from here, which means that astral communication, communication without the help of any physical instruments is possible.
Q: It may be a communication on the mental level, not on the level of the soul.
I am just now going to explain it. Even if it is a mental communication, it is certainly different from the physical one. And once science gets to know something different from the physical body, it will not be long before it comes to know of the soul. The whole quarrel is centered on the question of whether there is something in man which is different from his body. And if it is settled that there is something different from the body, half the journey is over. This is how science works. Let science begin with the mind, and gradually it will come to the super-mind, the soul. Science never accepts that mind is something higher than the physical body.
There is a man known as Ted, whose mind has taken the scientific world by surprise. And the psychic societies have learned a great deal from his experiences, which are simply extraordinary. For instance, I am now here and Ted is in New York. He does not know me, nor has he heard about me, nor seen a photograph of me. But he can create my image in his eyes just by concentrating his thought on me. If someone asks him to work on me, he will close his eyes and meditate on me for a full thirty minutes. And in thirty minutes’ time he will create my image in his eyes and this image can be captured by a camera. And it will be my photograph, although a little fainter than the one taken directly here. Ted has produced thousands of such photographs and they have all been verified and found to be true.
What does it mean?
It means that Ted’s eyes are capable of seeing me from such a long distance. They can not only see me but also capture my likeness exactly as your eyes do when you are looking at me here face to face. Scientists put Ted to all kinds of tests and he always proved authentic.
Now that we have entered the space age, and space travel is coming into vogue, scientists are getting interested in telepathy in a big way. We have already reached the moon, and are attempting to go to Mars. Incursions into distant points in space are underway, and some of these incursions will take years to be completed. Traveling to Mars alone is going to take a full year, and it is full of incomprehensible hazards. In case there is any mechanical failure, we will never know what happened to our astronauts. They, with their knowledge of space, will be lost to us forever. That is why both Russia and America, the most advanced countries engaged in space explorations, have become deeply interested in telepathy. This is to provide an alternative channel of communication to the astronauts in the event of failure of the normal channels they have at their disposal. They cannot wholly depend on their mechanical instruments; some cases of their failure have already occurred. It is believed that an astronaut skilled in telepathy can communicate with us in case his mechanical instruments fail him. We can afford such failures on the earth, but when it is a matter of space travel, we must have some alternative arrangements so that we keep track of our valuable astronauts and their great work. So now telepathy has a place in the scientific laboratories of America and Russia.
There is now a unique man in Russia, whose name is Fiodev. He has succeeded in sending telepathic messages to people who are at a distance of a thousand miles from his laboratory in Moscow. If someone is sitting in a park of a town a thousand miles away from Moscow, and Fiodev directs a message to him telepathically, the person will get the message intact.
Science is now searching for something which is more than just physical. It is coming closer to the mystics who say that man is not only his body, he is something incorporeal, spiritual too. And once it is settled that there is something spiritual, there will be no difficulty in coming to the truth of reincarnation. So science is going to accomplish what philosophy has failed to do. The mystic, of course, has known it, but he has no way to explain it. Science can do the explaining too.
Scientific enquiry into rebirth is quite possible.
Osho, Krishna: The Man and His Philosophy, Ch 15, Q 4 and 5
Translated from Hindi