The cycle of birth and death
Yet the spiritual teachings of all cultures East and West, as well as the personal experience of millions of people, indicate that life is neither limited to matter nor a product of matter.
This is also the basic information we receive from the Vedic scriptures. Essential to this context is the idea that life existed before this present lifetime and continues after death. Conception does not produce life and individual consciousness; rather, conception initiates the development of a body, which can only happen if a higher energy connects with the body to animate it. This understanding leads to reincarnation.
Reincarnation is a good point to start discussing the Vedic teachings of reality beyond matter. Neither life, mind, and consciousness nor the material world are limited to matter. We must keep this perspective in mind to comprehend the Vedic teachings.
The propounders of materialism have difficulty with reality beyond matter, life after death, and reincarnation because they cannot imagine existence beyond the body. Therefore recent investigations into the topic of life beyond matter will show how different modern insights correspond to the Vedic teachings. By understanding that we are not the body but dwell within it, we can understand reincarnation.
People returning to consciousness after accidents or clinical death report that they were not unconscious although the body was, and they describe what happened while they were unconscious. They felt that they were outside their mortal (gross) body, in a body that was subtle and had abilities alien to the mortal body they had left. They could see people and things around them, but they remained invisible. People sometimes just walked through them, and they could float through walls. They experienced a parallel world where they could talk with other beings telepathically. Their entire lives became visible, including forgotten details. The most famous researchers in this field are the physicians and authors Dr. Raymond Moody and Dr. Sabom.
What many people experienced in a unique, sudden way can be repeated in laboratory experiments. For example, in different schools of Tibetan Buddhism, monks practice leaving their gross body as part of their meditational practice. Now other people also are discovering this adventure, and several astral travellers have accepted scientific testing. Prof. Hornell Hart (Duke University) and Prof. Charles Tart (University of California) have done remarkable experiments. They had people claiming to be able to go on astral journeys visit different places in their subtle body while remaining in a state of physical trance. When they awoke they described details of places they had never been to, mentioning many details that could be verified.
The most impressive results have been obtained by those who have tried to find out whether human beings have previous lives. For this purpose, hypnosis and spontaneous memories have proven to be most useful. Through hypnosis, people regressed to times before their birth. They didn't end up in nonexistence or a dark vacuum. Instead they related events from a previous lifetime, spoke in languages they had never learned in their present life, knew amazing details that they couldn't possibly know, and so on. In sessions monitored by different hypnotists, who didn't know of the results of previous sessions, people remembered exactly the same lives with even more details. Important work in this field was done by the German pioneer of reincarnation therapy, Thorwald Dethlefsen, and by the American psychologist Dr. Helen Wambach (and many others).
Other impressive indications of reincarnation are cases of people who spontaneously remember a previous life. The evidence becomes "hard" when children four or five years old tell their parents of a previous life. These children mention the name they had, where they lived, when and how they died, and they also recognize their former children and relatives when brought to the place they mentioned. Outstanding research work in this field was done by Prof. Ian Stevenson (Virginia University).
No religious or materialistic dogma of "only one life" can explain these phenomena, and they illustrate what the Vedic scriptures (and many other sources) have said long ago: Life is eternal, and all living entities (souls, in Sanskrit atma or jiva) are parts of God. Since God is eternal, His parts are also eternal.
Reincarnation means the transmigration of the immaterial, immortal soul from one body to another. The Vedic scriptures conclusively state that reincarnation of the soul doesn't need to be an eternal cycle of birth and death. It can be stopped by the elevation of one's consciousness to the spiritual platform beyond the material duality, which includes the duality of birth and death.
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