What happens when a person dies?
His gross body perishes in that form. The material of the body merges with earth. Science declares that something cannot pass into nothing. The law of indestructibility of matter, the law of conservation of energy states it. The same law would apply to the subtle body as well. The subtle body of the person comprises his thought, feeling and desire. The resultant of his mental and intellectual forces. His inner energy comprising subtle matter. Applying the same law to the subtle body, you would realise that its energy cannot vanish into nothing at the time of death. In this world there are innumerable death occurring everyday. And innumerable births. The mental energies of those persons cannot disappear to appear all of a sudden. That would be against the established law of science.
Life is a series of experiences
Life of a series of experiences. The progression of life is determined by desires. Desires drive you from one experience to another. In philosophic terms an experience is dead and another born at every moment. Thus your desires drive you through a continuous procession of birth and death. This procession will continue in perpetuity until the desires are eradicated from your personality. Desires are the cause and the experiences of life are the effect. At the moment of death a person is left with innumerable, unfulfilled desires. He may vanish from your sight but that does not mean that his desires are extinct. The desires have to be eradicated to prevent further manifestation. The cause has to be removed to erase the effect. When the desires are completely exhausted the cycle of birth and death ends. That is the state of Self-realisation, God-realisation.
Thus numerous desires of different sorts remain unfulfilled when people die. At the time of their death these desires have not been exhausted. It would be irrational to presume that all of them disappear into nothing. Now, look at the world from another angle. Different types of people are born with distinct tendencies, inclinations, desires. Every human being enters the world with his pattern of thought, feeling, desire. And people are born with a variety of desires. These variegated desires could not have emerged from nowhere. To accept that they have come out of nothing would again be as irrational as to presume that they disappear suddenly. Such presumptions would be violating the code of science.
Hence the great thinkers of the past made a careful scrutiny of this world and found hordes and hordes of desires disappearing and appearing perennially. After a thorough investigation of this phenomenon they brilliantly connected the unaccounted gain of desires of the born to the unaccounted loss of desires of the dead. A sheer audit of the accounts of life. They applied the law of causation which governs the entire universe at all times. Took the desires of the born as the effect. This observation is in accordance with the law of indestructibility of matter, the law of causation, the law of karma. This ingenious correlation of cause and effect projects the theory of reincarnation. It is only a scientific deduction from the available data. But cannot be proved experimentally. Hence presented as a theory.
Child determines Parent
Another popular belief is that the newborn inherits the tendencies of its parents. That the law of heredity establishes it. The law of karma does not oppose the concept of heredity. It corrects the general misconception that the equation between the parent and child emanates from the parent. It is not the parents that determine the nature of the child. It is vice versa. The child determines the parents. The law of karma explains how the resultant effect of one’s mental and intellectual energies would find the right body, parents and environment. With no extraneous power deciding this choice.
If desires are the cause for the continuity of life, how can one take birth in an environment or circumstance not to his liking? Take a form of life different from his desire? Why would a person be born poor when he desires to be rich? Why would anyone desire to be born physically handicapped? If desires decide your life’s pattern how is it not so in actual fact? The world that you experience does not seem to always relate to your desires. This apparent paradox arises when you do not correlate cause and effect properly, fully. Your desires no doubt decide the course of your life. But then it is not a particular desire that decides. It is the compound of all your desires. The total effect of your desires decides the course. It is called the resultant desire.
The parallelogram law of forces in physics explains this phenomenon as illustrated below in figures 1 and 2. Consider an object in position O free to move in all directions. Two equal forces act upon it. One force horizontally along OA. The other vertically along OB. The object will then move, neither in the direction of OA nor OB, but diagonally along OR. There is no force operating along OR. Yet the object moves in that direction. The force that drives the object along OR is called the resultant. The resultant force is the effect of both the forces.
Let more forces OF1, OF2, OF3, etc. be applied on the object. Several forces of varying strength and direction. Then the resultant would be the total effect of all those forces. Let it be OR’. Then the object will move along OR’. Here again the resultant force may not be in the direction of any one of the forces acting upon it. Yet the object will move in that direction. The same phenomenon takes place in your life. Your life is ordered by your resultant desire. The total effect of all your desires. Innumerable desires operate in you. Each has its own strength and direction. But you will move in the direction of your resultant desire. Which may not be in the direction of any one of your desires. That should explain why your life may not always be in line with any particular desire. That is the law of life which applies to every individual throughout the world.
Besides the above analysis and conclusion, it would be interesting to observe what exactly happens to a person at death. To his gross, subtle and causal bodies and Atman, the Self within. It is obvious that the physical body has not gone. It lies there. And the Atman, of course, cannot go anywhere since It is all-pervading. It exists everywhere. Being so. It should exist in the dead body as well. Besides, movement of an object is possible from a place where it exists to a place where it is not. As the Atman pervades everywhere there is no place where It does not exist. Hence It cannot move. Thus, the physical body of the person and the Atman are very much there at the time of death. It is only the other two components of the individual viz., the causal and the subtle bodies that move out. Therefore, the transference of the causal and subtle bodies from one gross body to another is designated as the death of the former body and the birth of the latter.
Example of the sun and its reflections
The concept of birth and death becomes clearer with the example of the sun and its reflections. The sun’s rays are all-pervading. Wherever there is a reflecting medium there will be a reflection of the sun. Hold a mirror in a frame in broad sunlight. You will find a reflected sun in it. Remove the mirror from the frame and fix it in another frame. Instantly, the reflected sun in the first frame vanishes and appears in the second. The image is dead in the first and born in the second. The reflected sun moves from the one to the other. Brought about by the transference of the mirror.
Equate the example to the phenomenon of birth and death. The sun above represents the Atman. Its all-pervading rays would then be the pure Consciousness everywhere. The frame would be the gross body. The glass and the reflecting material composing the mirror would represent the subtle and causal bodies respectively. The Atman functioning through these bodies projects the individual. Thus, the transference of the subtle and causal bodies from one gross body to another determines the death and birth of the individual. The vasanas, desires are eradicated the individuality is dissolved. His cycle of birth and death ends. He attains spiritual Enlightenment.
Without the cognition of the law of causation and a clear understanding of the consequent theory of reincarnation, you could run into trouble. Here is a true story. A lady in her advanced age developed cataract in her eyes. She was losing her eyesight. At that time of her life a misfortune befell her. Her only daughter expired. She was terribly upset. She lost all her interest in the world. She would not meet anybody or go anywhere. Meanwhile her cataract ripened. She was practically blind. Her family and well-wishers appealed to her to undergo surgery. She refused to do so. She chose to deny herself eyesight for the rest of her life. She would say, “Am I to restore my eyesight to gaze at emptiness? The beauty in my home is gone. I have nothing more to see.” They were all confused. And did not know how to persuade her to go through the surgery. They approached a swami, a sage for help. The swami met her personally. The wise man explained to her how the resultant desire works. “Remember, you are entertaining a powerful desire not to see the world.” the sage said to her. “You are old. Death may overtake you any day. If you continue to deny yourself eyesight, there is a fair chance you will be born blind.” The lady sprang to her feet. And went through the surgery the same day.
The significant part of the episode is that a person could be born blind even though he does not desire it. The resultant of all his desires becomes the cause leading to that effect. Therefore, it would be in your interest to scrutinise at all times the type of desires you entertain. Avoid negative thoughts and desires. Try to turn them positive. If you practice that, you would not be a victim of self-inflicted complications in life. Your life would then become more meaningful, purposeful.
Imagine a person who is brutal, bloodthirsty. He develops a passion for destroying, killing. He becomes a dangerous killer. The society does not allow him manifest his destructive nature. The law prohibits it as well. His desires are frustrated. The frustrated desires must find their way out. This is not possible in his present embodiment, environment. Hence his resultant desire will forge itself into an appropriate embodiment for fulfilment. Thus his own desires could possibly cast his next incarnation as a tiger or a lion. Wherein the embodiment and environment becomes befitting, conducive for fulfilling those desires. No doubt, a human being cannot easily fall into an animal incarnation. A human possesses fine emotions and subtle thoughts which animals lack. Those thoughts and desires in him would strongly influence the resultant desire towards human incarnation. Notwithstanding it all, he could still force himself into a lower species by persistently indulging in such destructive passion.
There is also conjecture in spiritual lobbies that a person may not be reincarnated immediately after death. That his casual-subtle body may take a while before it finds the appropriate gross body and environment. The interim period after death and before the next birth would resemble sleep or dream. This observation again has certain validity since it is seen happening to other living species. The seed fallen from a tree is not always subject to immediate germination. An egg laid by a bird takes time to hatch. So too a human may experience a period of sleep or dream before his next incarnation.
People the world over are unaware of the relentless law of Karma. They entertain all sorts of desires indiscriminately. Plunge into action in pursuit of their passions. Thoughtless of the dire consequences. And end up with calamities in their life. Unaware of their responsibility for the misfortune, they bewail the stars and planets. Blame everything, everybody in the world except themselves. In desperation some go to astrologers, palmists and spiritualists for help. Others pray to the gods to mend their fortune. Not realising they have brought the misery upon themselves. And that they have to redeem themselves.
Source: Vedanta Treatise by Swamy Parthasarathy