Thursday, November 09, 2006

Rebirth and the Population growth puzzle

I am sure many got this doubt in their minds that we say a jiva is taking birth after birth until he gets Moksha… but then if the same number of souls are reborn, how then is the population of humans on earth increasing. Shouldn’t it be constant?

[Note: though this is not the exact word, for the ease of understanding here, we will use Soul interchangeably with jiva]

The following are my 2 cents on this question. We know a very very little portion of the reality, hence I don’t claim it to be “THE” answer… I am just putting forward my understanding of various possible solutions after discussion with various wise people on this subject.


1. First and foremost- this “many” or the concept of separate jivas is just a reflection of the one. Like the one sun is reflected in various water surfaces and appears many, similarly, the jiva is such reflection of Brahman. Jiva is a like an instrument. From the Paramarthika level, there was never any individual soul, nor any re-birth. So there is no case of “increase” or “decrease” of number of souls, for there is no plurality in the number of souls.

2. Now coming to the Vyavaharika level, unlike the Semitic religions, Hinduism believes that plants and animals too have souls. Hence, one should not only concentrate on the human population. The animal and plant life also is to included in any discussion about rebirth. However, this aspect alone still does not fully answer the puzzle as atleast at the beginning of the Earth there was arguably no life and hence no plants+animals+humans.

3. But then there is one more aspect to be considered. Our scriptures talk of 14 planes of existence, of which humans are on the 8th; the higher planes include gandharva loka, deva loka etc etc. Their details may be symbolic in nature, but one thing we can be sure is that there does exist different planes of existence.

Hence when we talk of number of souls, we have to take into consideration the other planes of existence into consideration. Add to this the possibility of not just different planes, but different world itself. Yoga Vasistha talks of various parallel worlds at the same time. Since we don’t know much about them, we can only say possibly the number of souls in all these planes and worlds put together is constant.

4. There is also a different way to look at the whole phenomenon: why should we think that all the jivas are created at a single moment in the beginning of this cycle? Srusthi need not be a momentary process for all the souls to be created at a single point in time; it can as well be continuous process for jivas to be created at different point of time in a cycle. We can observe that even within a cycle, before the pralaya, individual souls are getting liberated, and hence putting a stop to their cycle of rebirth. Thus when a jiva can cease to exist within a cycle, it is also quite possible that a jiva can as well be start to exist within a cycle, without any need for it to get started only at the beginning of a cycle. Also, what can you call as the “beginning” of “cycle”? [I don’t know of any references either supporting or opposing my third possibility. It’s just *my* opinion.]

5. Actually what is life? what is the exact demarcation between life and life-less? If it is the consciousness which has manifested itself into various forms, that isn't it then true that the only difference that exists is not of type but of degree? A stone may be a very very low manifestation of consciousness and the human a very very high manifestation. But the difference is not of the type, but of the degree. Hence, are we not narrowing down our understanding by considering only more evolved forms and drawing an artificial demarcation line which actually does not exist? I can safely say that this whole process of counting only certain types as having soul and terming the others as "soul-less" is a basic flaw.

6. Finally there is the famous “poornamadah…” (part of a complete is complete in itself)… isn’t part of the infinite still an infinite? If Brahman is infinite, then isn’t its projection too not infinite?

If in that manner, the number of jivas is infinite, then what is “increase” or “decrease” in the number of jivas? It is like asking whether the number of drops in ocean increase or decrease.

3 Comments:

Blogger rahul_25iitdelhi said...

Just Beautiful!!!!

1:15 AM  
Blogger Deepak said...

Dear Surya,
we know that every cell, the basic unit of life, has life. We see that old cells die and new cell are born. So does these cells also have soul?

10:07 PM  
Blogger Surya S said...

@Deepak
I think the cells have as much soul as a drop of sea water has sea-ness in it. When we refer to a soul, usually we refer to an idea, not necessarily a physical entity.

You can also visualize it something like a storm- a storm takes up new dust every second and also drops old dust every second.

8:46 PM  

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