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Discourse Podcast Dr. Nikhil asked: Padanamaskarams Swamiji! Given below is a discussion regarding the systematic observations recorded by researchers working in the field of rebirth, near-death experiences, and some supernatural phenomena. These researchers are trying to convince the rest of the scientific community that such phenomena are genuine and that there is a need to revise our world-view in order to accommodate these phenomena. However, the scientists are not yet able to correlate their observations and come up with an overall theory that brings meaning to life and shows direction to humanity. Also, some of the tentative conclusions made by these researchers appear to be in contradiction with the karma theory. I request You to kindly correlate these observations in a meaning way. Your servant, Nikhil. Correlating Rebirth and Near Death Experience Cases with the Karma Theory A number of children worldwide have reported memories of their past births. Similarly, there are several reports of near-death experiences reported by people. These and other cases are found all over the world irrespective of race, religion, beliefs, and geographical location. A massive volume of scientifically verified and published cases exists and this field is the subject matter of active research at the Division of Perceptual Studies (DOPS) at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. There are only a handful of researchers worldwide who do research in this field. This small but motivated group of researchers is striving to convince the rest of the scientific community and the entire world, that the present scientific view of the world is very limited and that it must be changed. The present worldview is a materialistic or physicalist worldview, according to which nothing beyond the physical can exist. Consciousness is the product of brain activity and it ends with the death of the physical body. There is, of course, no question of the afterlife, the supernatural, or God, in the physicalistic worldview. The researchers at DOPS and a few other places are saying that the evidence and scientific investigations conducted by them, contradict the physicalistic worldview. A drastically different worldview is necessary to explain these supernatural phenomena. As a first step to developing a new worldview, the scientists at DOPS are trying to come up with possible explanations for their observations from thousands of cases. They have also consulted some spiritual masters and practitioners to help them formulate these explanations and theories. Their understanding at present is only in the early stages and they are nowhere close to developing a comprehensive theory. However, I feel that some of the tentative conclusions made by them are not in the right direction. If they do their research in better alignment with the karma theory as explained by You, not only will they see better progress in their research but it will also be beneficial for humanity. Hence, I request You to kindly enlighten us and the world in this regard. Let us first have a look at some of the important observations made by these researchers based on their investigation of thousands of cases. Then let us review some of the inferences made by them. Observations regarding remembered past lives The majority of people, who report that they remember their past births, are children. They usually start speaking about their past-life memories as soon as they are able to talk at ages of 2-3 yrs. Their past life memories usually fade as they grow between 5-7 years of age. Very few of them retain those memories into adulthood. Most of the people who remember their past births have died in a tragic manner. Some of them have birthmarks or deformities at the same place on their body where they had been hurt fatally in the past birth. e.g. a person who was shot dead with a bullet in his head was reborn with a deformity near the ear and face where he was shot in the past birth. Sometimes, they also have ailments in the new birth which are related to the cause of their death in the past birth. e.g. a person who died due to tuberculosis at a young age in the past birth can be reborn with asthma. When they are counseled by psychic healers, and once they are able to overcome the shock and pain of their death in the past life, their current ailments get cured, almost miraculously. Observations regarding near-death experiences Near-death experiences and out-of-body experiences occur with a small number of people. Thousands of such cases have been investigated by DOPS. In general, in near-death experiences, some patients who were thought to be dead by the doctors for sometime later claim that they were still conscious outside of their body during that time. The patients often claim to have floated up from their body and seeing everything accurately in the hospital room and even outside. The patients say that they were able to think much more clearly than usual and observe all minute details. At times they claim to have visited some other heavenly worlds and met their dead relatives, who told them to go back. Later, the patients shared these experiences with others after being revived by the doctors. Pleasant near-death experiences are far more common than unpleasant and terrifying experiences. There does not seem to be a correlation between the nature of the person and the type of near-death experience of the person. Good-natured people can have unpleasant near-death experiences, and bad-natured persons can have pleasant near-death experiences and vice versa. Tentative conclusions based on the above observations Following are some of the tentative conclusions drawn by the DOPS-researchers based on the observations listed above: The current scientific concept that consciousness or 'mind' is the product of brain activity alone is probably not true. There is a relation between the neurological activity in the brain and consciousness. But near-death experiences quite clearly support the claim that personal consciousness can certainly exist beyond the physical body. In other words, the death of the physical body is not the end. It is quite possible that consciousness might be the cause of the material world. At present, science says that the neurological activity in the brain (matter and energy) produces consciousness and the mind. This seems to be violated in near-death experiences. This seems to be supported by the cases of children with birth defects related to fatal injuries or ailments related to the cause of death in the previous birth. The mental shock and pain experienced by the person during the previous birth could have manifested the deformity or ailment in the current birth. In other words, consciousness (pain of past birth) is the cause of the material reality (present ailment). It is further supported by the observation that the ailment of the present birth gets cured when the person is able to overcome the pain caused by the ailment, in the previous birth. Many modern-day Advaitins enthusiastically agree with this idea that consciousness creates material reality. The ability of some people who can move, control or physically change objects by their mind is another phenomenon that supports the claim that consciousness causes material reality. From the evidence of near-death experiences and rebirth, it seems quite clear that an afterlife exists. It is not very clear yet what all experiences are present in the afterlife for a soul. But some common trends are known. The karma theory might not be valid based on the analysis of the near-death experiences. Pleasant and unpleasant near-death experiences can happen to good-natured or bad-natured people. It is not as if good near-death experiences happen only to good-natured people and vice versa. If their near-death experience is an indication of their experience upon their actual death, then their afterlife could be similarly pleasant or unpleasant, irrespective of their nature. Rebirth of a person on earth certainly seems possible. Whether rebirth on earth happens for everyone or it happens only for people who died tragically is unclear. It might be possible, that people who died tragically 'before their stipulated time' might be given a 'second chance' to live out their life completely. In that case, rebirth might only be in these exceptional cases. For the majority, they might be going to some other destination or different destinations based on unknown criteria. Necessity of correlation Given above are only some proposed tentative explanations. Clarity is still lacking. The DOPS-researchers are not claiming to have a complete theory. Perhaps they are being extra-cautious to not make any conclusion that will appear ‘too spiritual’, since that would make them completely unacceptable to the mainstream scientific community. Mainstream scientists do not openly accept spiritual concepts like the afterlife, theory of karma and rebirth. Hence, the main focus of DOPS-researchers is on diligently-recording the available evidence and analyzing it using well-accepted scientific and statistical methods. They are taking this effort so as to maximize the chances that their research gets accepted by mainstream scientists. The DOPS-researchers are not openly stating whether or not they accept the karma theory. They say that they are consulting spiritual masters and practitioners, but they are coming up with their own theories. Unfortunately, some of their tentative conclusions seem to be in contradiction with the karma theory. For instance, the aspect of reward and punishment for one's deeds is not at all accounted for by their explanations. Their understanding is far from comprehensive as of now. They have not been able to relate all these observations and define the meaning and purpose of life. These scientists do not have clarity on how this ‘new’ knowledge about the afterlife and rebirth can be used for the benefit of an individual as well as society. I request you to kindly correlate the scientific observations made by the DOPS-scientists with the karma theory. I believe that a proper correlation would bring out the true meaning and purpose of life and would show the path to individual and societal progress. Rebirth Cases as Concrete Evidence Discourse Podcast Swami replied: A number of cases of rebirth have been reported are still being reported all over the world. I have even seen two to three page long reports of such incidents published in English newspapers. The instances clearly establish the concept of rebirth. Human beings born in faraway places speak of intricate details of their previous birth, which on verification, are found to be exactly correct. It would be better for you to find that report because reading the detailed report makes things crystal clear. A few years ago, the news of a case of rebirth was published on the front-page of the Eenadu Telugu newspaper. A small girl of four to five years, born in the city of Khammam, started talking about her previous birth. She even described details about her house in the previous birth, which was located about 150 km in the city of Tenali. Finally, she was taken to the house described by her in Tenali, and all the details were found to be accurate. The child gave exact details of all the jewelry worn by her in the previous birth. She even described all her properties and children in the previous birth. A photograph was published on the front page in the newspaper in which the adult daughter of the past birth, was seen holding her reborn mother in her arms. The headline read “Daughter holding her mother in her arms!” These examples are very very concrete. The verified details are clearly related to the physical world and there is no obscure point anywhere. Some people try to reject such examples as mere personal experiences of certain individuals. They try to explain away such cases as the mental imaginations or psychological disorders of those individuals. But these cases cannot be mere imaginations since they involve facts from the practical world, which are fully verified. We can draw clear philosophical conclusions from such genuine cases of rebirth just as we can draw clear scientific conclusions from experiments conducted in a laboratory. Near-Death Experiences Yield Uncertain Conclusions The concept of the individual soul leaving the physical body during death is a prerequisite for the rebirth of the soul. So, when clear-cut evidence of rebirth exists in the form of practically-verified cases of rebirth, the concept of the soul leaving the physical body during death is automatically established. Yet, in the context of near-death experiences, researchers make certain doubtful conclusions based on the near-death experiences alone. When clear practical examples of rebirth are available, why should the doubtful observations and conclusions related to near-death experiences be considered? Since the brain of the person is not in a good and stable condition during these near-death experiences, the experiences of the person can always be doubted. If we limit ourselves only to these near-death experiences, it may not be possible to disprove the doubts using mere logic since concrete facts might not be available. The researchers discussing the near-death experiences and drawing doubtful conclusions appears quite odd to Me. They are like the person who has physically seen an elephant clearly with his own eyes in this very physical world but who still doubts whether the animal that just walked away was an elephant or not. Later, upon seeing the footprints of the elephant on the path, he finally decides that the animal was indeed an elephant (yathaa gajo neti samaksharupe …—Kaalidaasa)! At least this person finally concluded that he had seen an elephant. But these researchers are still not able to reach a conclusion! They are limiting themselves only to these imaginary ideas based on the near-death experiences. As long as a person limits himself to his mental doubt or debate of whether or not the animal is an elephant, without considering concrete evidence, he can never reach a definite conclusion. He must accept the concrete evidence of physically seeing the elephant. Experience based on correct perception alone can be the authority. The experience of a person with a defect in his perception cannot be taken as the authority. Shankara has stated that a person having a defective eyesight which causes him to see two moons in the sky, cannot be taken as the authority even though experience is treated as the final authority (Netrataimirikadoshasya dvichandradarshanavat ). I am not saying that the reported experiences of those patients at the time of death are wrong. Their experiences are certainly in agreement with the independently-established concept of rebirth. What I am saying is that there is no need to draw conclusions only based on the doubtful near-death experiences, when concrete examples that are verified through practical experience are available separately. It would be better for these researchers to shift to the study of the concrete incidents of rebirth and draw clear conclusions. Miracles by Human Incarnations as Evidence Apart from these supernatural phenomena, we can also consider the miracles performed by Human Incarnations. Audio-visual recordings of miracles performed by the recent Human Incarnation of God Datta called Shri Satya Sai Baba, exist today as a practical reference. They too can be taken as the concrete basis for drawing conclusions related to unverified hypotheses and doubts. The conclusions drawn by the researchers can be clearly verified by analyzing the clear concrete examples of rebirth along with supporting concrete evidence in the form of the miracles performed by Human Incarnations. About Consciousness Outside the Body The conclusions such as consciousness extends outside the human being or that consciousness causes materialization, must be carefully examined. At the death time, the consciousness (awareness), which so far was confined to the body, leaves the body and goes outside. Hence, some people report these out-of-body experiences. It means that the awareness was not already existing outside the body. It certainly does not mean that the whole world is pervaded by awareness. If the awareness that leaves the body had an independent isolated existence, we would have found awareness in space just as we find electromagnetic radiation moving independently in space. Even though inert energy has an independent existence and pervades all over the world, its specific work-form called awareness is not all-pervading. The mud out of which a mud-pot is made, also exists spread-out everywhere on earth. But it does not mean that the mud-pot extends all over the earth! The Advaitins say that this entire world is made of awareness alone. This is not correct because you have already made a basic distinction between an inert item and a non-inert item. The non-inert item or awareness, which is only observed in living animals, is a specific work-form of inert energy generated in a special functioning device called as the nervous system. Let us call this awareness as relative-awareness since it is a part of this world, which is relatively true. Since awareness does not have an independent existence, it requires a container like the physical body. The positive proof (anvaya) for this is that awareness exists only in a physical body. The negative way of proving the same (vyatireka) is that awareness does not exist in empty space; or in other words, awareness does not exist in the absence of the physical body. Hence, the awareness that leaves the physical body must be leaving in an invisible energetic body, which acts as its container. The Existence of Heaven and Hell In rebirth cases, a time-gap is observed between the date that a person dies and the date when the same soul takes a new birth. It means that the soul, along with its energetic body, must be spending that time somewhere in space. There are also several near-death experiences in which the person after being revived, reports that two energetic forms had dragged his or her soul out of the body and had taken the soul to the upper energetic world called hell. These experiences are also true even though near-death experiences generally remain doubtful as explained earlier. The only reliable authority for the existence of hell and heaven is the preaching of the Human Incarnation of God. Miraculous materializations Human Incarnations perform miracles like the materialization of objects at will out of empty space. Such materialization-miracles cannot be explained scientifically by saying that the human will or awareness, being inert energy essentially, gets converted into matter based on the principle of conversion of energy into matter. Although the conversion of energy into matter is generally agreeable, it cannot explain this miracle. We find that only a specific human being, who is known to be an Incarnation of God can do this miracle. Ordinary human beings are unable to perform it. It indicates that there must be a difference between the awareness of an ordinary human being and that of a Human Incarnation of God. The relative-awareness of a human being requires basic inert energy along with a material nervous system. The Human Incarnation also possesses that relative-awareness but His awareness must have some additional unimaginable factor, which allows Him to perform the miracle of materialization at will. Due to the presence of that additional unimaginable factor, we can say that the relative-awareness of the Human Incarnation becomes unimaginable. The Incarnation’s awareness is, therefore, an unimaginable awareness. It is acceptable to call that additional unimaginable factor as unimaginable awareness since no matter how many unimaginable items we define, they all ultimately become one. When an item is basically said to be unimaginable, it is meaningless to say whether it is one or two. If you can count two different unimaginable items, i.e. they are countable; then they are not unimaginable at all! Thus, the conclusion is that the unimaginable awareness alone can be the cause of the miracle; not the relative-awareness existing in every human being. The Human Incarnation, who possesses that unimaginable factor, performs miracles which are beyond the capacity of human beings. The mechanism or power behind the miracles is also beyond our imagination. The same Human Incarnation possessing that unimaginable factor also reveals hidden concepts such as heaven and hell, which are beyond the capacity of our senses and intellect to know independently. Hence, the revelation by the Human Incarnation inevitably has to be treated as the final authority for knowing the existence of the invisible heaven and hell, which exist somewhere in space. Where does the soul go first? Heaven or hell? Every soul does good deeds as well as sins. After death, the soul has to enjoy the fruits of both in heaven and hell respectively. Between the soul’s merit and sin, the soul is first sent to enjoy the lesser of the two. In the Mahabharata, Dharma Raja found that the evil Kauravas, who had earned very little merit in their lives on earth, had gone to heaven. They were enjoying that little merit in heaven for a short while before being sent to hell for a very long time. On the other hand, the righteous Paandavas, who were the brothers of Dharma Raja, were first sent to hell since their sins were few. After suffering in hell for a short while, they would be sent to heaven to enjoy for a long time. Revelation is the authority for the unimaginable domain The concept of the existence of the unimaginable domain is established through unimaginable miracles, which are practically experienced. The Human Incarnation possessing that unimaginable power must then be taken as the final authority for knowing at least those concepts that are related to the unimaginable domain. His revelation must be kept above science, which is the study of the imaginable domain (creation) alone. Science can be considered as the true authority in the imaginable domain due to its perfect analysis that follows imaginable logic and experience. But just because it has this merit, there is no way it can enter unimaginable domain by any way. Soul and individual soul Actually, the basic soul or Atman is the essential inert energy that gets converted into awareness in the functioning nervous system. The generated awareness is called the individual soul or Jiiva. The basic soul is like mud and the individual soul is like the pot made out of the mud. The soul exists in the individual soul in a basic sense and hence, the individual soul can loosely be called as the soul. But there is a clear distinction between the two. You can fetch water in a mud pot, but you cannot fetch water with just a lump of mud. Mud can be said to pervade all over the earth qualitatively. But the pot having a limited round shape does not extend all over the earth. When we call the mud-pot as mud or a golden ornament as gold, it is said only in an approximate sense. God controls the unimaginable and imaginable domains In fact, the unimaginable God created the even imaginable domain and He completely controls it at all times. Both the imaginable domain and the unimaginable domain are His properties. He has given the imaginable domain to the souls, keeping the unimaginable domain with Himself. Even science was developed by souls in creation by the blessing of God. Science only studies the imaginable domain and the credit for developing the field is given to the souls. Science is perfect as far as the imaginable domain or creation is concerned. But it can never enter the unimaginable domain. It is the unimaginable domain or the unimaginable power of God which basically controls all the principles of science. God proves this by miracles, which are the violations of the principles of established science. Hence, we should take God as the authority on the unimaginable concepts at least. The Human Incarnation is also an item of the imaginable domain, but He exhibits unimaginable miracles since the unimaginable God has merged with that selected imaginable human being. If the unimaginable God were to enter into an unimaginable medium It would not be visible to human beings even to exhibit unimaginable miracles. The unimaginable power or unimaginable God is the Controller whereas the imaginable power and the principles, which are known as science, are controlled by God. They are subordinate to God. Subordinate does not mean that they are wrong. It only means that these scientific principles are under the control of some superpower. Hence, science is correct but it is subordinate to God since it is the study of the subordinate domain which is the imaginable domain. The propagation of spiritual knowledge, which is often done by God through Human Incarnations, is not done because God desires fame in the world. The purpose is to bring devotion along with fear in the minds of human beings so that sins are controlled as far as possible and society remains balanced. The unimaginable miracles exhibited by God are also for the same purpose, which is to establish control in society. Since miracles are practically seen and experienced, they form the most concrete evidence for the existence of the unimaginable God. Science too ultimately relies on the same authority of perception.