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Friday, June 10, 2005

My musings on death 1

The eternal question: What happens after death? For bulk of the population the answer is obvious and simple. For some you have to pass through the toll at the purgatory gates. For some you come back as a snake, a fish or a man, and if lucky you get the balcony seat in a place called heaven. For some apparitions roam around leading to fear of the dark. The movie Flatliners provided the pop view of death suggesting that adultery videos can be seen after death . For a sceptic few like me, death brings the end of all analysis.
In this post I would to talk about my concerns with one of the theories about death and thereafter - the reincarnation theory, popular in many oriental religions. According to this, living beings are born again into higher/lower/same life form in her next birth based on the net accumulated good deeds in the balance sheet of her series of lives. Man is typically the highest life form while insects, snakes etc. are regarded as lower forms. Also it is possible to escape this series of births if one's net good deeds exceeds a certain threshold or if she has gone to some holy place a certain number of times. And here is my problem with this theory- an implication of this theory is that the total world population of living beings can only decrease over time. As the graph below shows the global human population has increased significantly over last 50 years from 2.2 bn in 1950 to 6.1 bn in 2000.

World Population Growth, 1750–2150

World Population Distribution by Region, 1800–2050

Source: United Nations Population Division, Briefing Packet, 1998 Revision of World Population Prospects

If reincarnation theory were to be true this would be possible only if a lot more than 4bn of lower life forms died and got reborn as humans becasue of their good deeds in this period. (I say more than 4bn because after the violence of world wars, many humans would certainly have reborn as lower animals.) So what were those good deeds by the animals, can anyone say? And what explains the rise in population in the most backward continent - Africa? Were the African animals more pious OR did fewer Africans (compared to rest of the world) were reborn as animals - this is highly unlikely given the bloody recent history of Africa. Now one can argue that the extinction of several species supports the hypothesis that more animals are being reborn as humans. But then all recent extinctions have been statistically linked to human activities and not to any good deeds by these animals.
I am not proving anything but merely stating the problems I have with the re-incarnation theory. I shall talk about the other theories about death and there-after shortly.


pranav said...

Hi Shavaji,

I had exactly the same questions against this theory. Haha its funny.

Atul Tayade said...

This theory can be refuted straight away you can just say i dont believe in reincarnation. you dont have to back it with facts as you have presented. moreover if we apply the pareto principal i.e 80 20 rule then i m sure the 4 billion may not form as the 20 percent of the people those who reborn from animals and extending the same logic 80 percent of animals reincarnated from the dead human species! one species cannot fulfill the demand (in this case the demand for reincarnation) for several thousnds of lower species. i hope u r satisfied with my analysis

Shivaji said...


I have not said that all ainmal reincarnations to humans must have come from the same species. All I am asking is what are the good deeds done by those animals that allowed them birth into humans? And the lower a species was before being born into human, the higher must have been the quantum of good deed required for him. Since we are talking of billions of such cases, atleast some evidence of the good deeds should have been apparent. right? Also your analysis doesnt explain the Africa factor?

Another thing is that evolution and favorable mutations are not explainable by reincarnation theory. Why should a harmful species improve (e.g. drug resistance in malaria bacteria, all infection carrying bacteria, crop-disease spreading germs etc.) when they are actually doiing supposedly bad deeds.

Thomas said...

It's a "straw man" argument, since Hinduism does not teach that you get to be a human through good deeds commited while in another form.

This is overly simplified, but what it says is that every so often, through God's grace, you are incarnated as a human; don't screw it up.

Hinduism teaches that there many planets, many forms of life, and that creation of new life is ongoing.

Thomas said...

I should add that, as an American, most of my knowledge of Hinduism is coming through ISKCON and through a handful of Indian friends who are far from home. I realize that, as a non-centralized religion, Hinduism has many different ways of viewing things. My first post sounds a little more arrogant than I intended.

I was raised Catholic, but it never really connected with me. I was exposed to certain teachings of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, and they made sense in a way that the priests never did.

I posted what I was taught, and it's what I believe, but I realize that doesn't begin to cover all the possibilities that exist.

Minerva's priest said...

Hey why do you assume that "good" deeds translate to being reincarnated as humans. I would think being poor in an underdeveloped country at civil war destined to die as a passer by or being eaten alive by tutu/kuki is worse than being the dog of somebody like George Bush.

I am almost a firm believer in reincarnation and I am not even bothering to present my reasons. I am just pointing a potential mis-assumption.

Anonymous said...

Excerpted from article "Death", from "Forest Flower", dated 10th May, 2005.

"There was an escape route in my family- in my family home in Mysore, my dad's place. There's a balcony; if you go to the balcony, you can climb down from the house. You don't need a key to get into the house.

So, I'd just slip out and spend the whole night in the cremation ground. One or two bodies will be burning. I just watch, hoping I will see them somewhere. Whenever I trekked into Chamundi Hills, at the foothills there is a main cremation ground. There was one just a kilometer from was one just a kilometer from my place. That wouldn't get bodies on a daily basis- in a week, three, four cremations would happen. But the one at the foothills of chamundi, every day, if you go at any time at least four or five will be burning. So, whenever I trekked there I spent the nights there because the hill would be cold. Here there would be fire and....

So you sit there and watch. Usually this happens because, you know, they will make this firewood pile so small and the rest of the body burns up. Because the neck is narrow it gets burned up much faster than the head. Always the head rolls off. So somebody has to put it back on fire.
Otherwise you'll have a half burnt skull with you in your hands. Nobody's willing to do it, and I am the man around, so...put the heads back on the fire. This did an enormous job for me, just sitting there and watching. People were burning.

Gautama made this compulsory for his monks.If anybody comes, before he initiates them, three months they must go and sit in the busiest cremation ground and just watch everybody burning. You should not think about it. Simply look at it; just look at it, look at it, look at it. After sometime you will see, it's just yourself. It's not any different.
Once there is a deep acceptance of death, then life will happen to you in enormous proportions."

-Excerpt from Sadhguru's (Jaggi Vasudev.)talks.