Self-knowledge to End the Birth Cycle

Self-knowledge to End the Birth Cycle

The scriptures stress that the cycle of repeated births and deaths can be put to an end by knowledge of the Self.

Punarapi jananam
punarapi maranam
punarapi janani
jathare sayanam.

Again and again, one is born; again and again, one dies; again and again, one sleeps in the mother's womb... so wrote Adi Sankaracharya in Bhaja Govindam.
Death and rebirth are attributed to one's accumulated karmas, the immutable law of cause and effect. This explains why a person is born rich or poor, healthy or disabled; or why one is a prodigy and the other, dull or a mediocrity.

Heredity and environment do not explain everything. True believers do not blame God for social inequities, the reason being that human beings are capable of impacting their present and future states. Swami Vivekananda explained reincarnation thus. “We know that we have a present and feel sure of a future. Yet how can there be a present without a   past? Modern science has proved that matter exists and continues to exist. Creation is merely a change in appearance.”

Transmigration of Soul

While negative karmas keep the soul confined to a lower state of consciousness, virtuous acts purge the soul of its karmic load, Sri Krishna  affirms in Bhagavad Gita. In chapter 14, Sri Krishna gives a clue to the nature of re-birth that people of varying mental dispositions get.

If the embodied one meets with death when sattva guna, mental calmness and full consciousness is predominant, then he goes to Brahma Loka, the highest and the purest world of the creator.

The rajasic person, the one of passion and attachment, leaving the body with excitement, desire and sorrow, is born again as the one given to excessive activities. The person with overwhelming tamas, or ignorance, delusion and lack of consciousness, is born as an animal or a sub-human being. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (IV.3.35-36) says: A s a heavily laden cart creaks as it moves along, the body groans under its burden when a person is about to die.

When the body grows weak through old age or illness, the Self separates himself as a mango or fig or banyan fruit, frees itself from the stalk, and returns the way he came to begin another life. After the final departure from the temporal world,
the soul of a person revels in the higher or the lower regions of being, depending on his karma.

Sri Krishna mentions (Gita 15-8) that as the air carries fragrance from place to place, so does the embodied soul carry the mind and
senses with it, when it leaves an old body and enters a new one. What leaves sthula sarira or the gross body, are prana, life, manas, mind, the five senses of perception, the five senses of action, and acts of merit and demerit (the
basket of punya and papa). All these form part of sukshma sarira, the subtle body, that accompanies the soul during all its transmigrations.

Jnana and Bhakti

Moksha being the foremost purushartha or pursuit of human life, the process of rebirth can be brought to an end by realising one's true nature, and becoming a jivanmukta, the one who is liberated while living.

When the stock of karmas, both good and bad, accumulated over many lifetimes, are snuffed out by spiritual practices and the right knowledge, one becomes free from the cycle of birth and death. The highest form of jnana is much the same as the highest form of bhakti. In both states, one is fully established in the divine.

Constant devotion to God can disentangle the self from its 'limited identification' with the world of name and form, and turn one into a 'witnessing consciousness.' The scriptures declare that, for spiritually-elevated persons remaining soaked in the bhakti bhava at all times, there is no more taking birth time and again. There are examples of such mature souls, like Dhruva, Prahlada, Pundarika and Andal, among others, that are mentioned in the legends.

Our scriptures thus assert that each lifetime provides an opportunity to evolve spiritually and gain perfection through right knowledge and right conduct, so that one is able to tread the path of gods (devayana) from which there is no return to the world of phenomena.

As Bhaja Govindam asserts, one may go to take a dip in Ganges, observe fasts, and give away riches in charity, yet, devoid of jnana, nothing can give mukti even at the end of a hundred births. Only self-knowledge, the realisation of the oneness of human soul with Brahman, the supreme consciousness, through constant attention to the inner awareness of "I" or "I am", is the path to end the cycle of birth and death.

Dr. Satish K Kapoor

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