Recently I’ve written about death and rebirth in Coming Back to Past Lives and What’s After and Before. Meanwhile, over on Tom Stine’s blog, he wrote a third post around this subject, this one quoting I Am That by Nisargadatta Maharaj.
Nisargadatta goes into the raw simplicity of it, describing how memory and unfulfilled desires move one forward into rebirth. But he observes that the person is not reborn but rather dies for good.
This raises a couple of interesting points, some of which were explored in comments there. As Robert observed, many terms like soul and jiva have baggage or various interpretations. A quick look-up of definitions of jiva found ‘ego’, the person, and the ‘particle’ that carries forward through lives. Soul may be a building, film, music style, feeling, embodiment, essence, and so on.
Also, there is differences in how various respected teachers will describe such things. This is very simply because how we perceive the world varies by person, even by the enlightened. While the One stays the same, the perspective varies. All of this happens in the dream, the interactive field of action. How that ‘dream’ is seen depends on where we are ‘standing’. What a given teacher offers is their own perspective of the journey. This is why some teachers may suit us better than others, they may speak more to our path.
Some teachers, like Ramana stay focused on the source alone and stay as general as possible. They don’t go into ideas much, simply because such exploration creates concepts and concepts can be a barrier to progress if we hold to them. It’s all mind.
So while they speak the truth, they do so without detail. But that does not mean the detail will not be there for some on the path. Another way of understanding this is seeing a vehicle in the illusion as a means of experience, a way to perceive and relate to the process. It remains the dream but it is the dream of self-knowledge, of the Self’s drive to know Itself through experiences. You will find the same truths in all teachers, masked in a unique language and framework.
As Don Miguel Ruiz says in The Four Agreements, “Don’t believe me. But learn to listen…what I’m telling you is just a story… it is true just for me. But if you learn to listen you will understand what I am trying to communicate.“
For myself, there is a clear continuity between lives. What I would call “soul” is that increment of wholeness that ‘remembers’, that holds those memories as described by Nisargadatta. That point of life force that drives our existence. Vasishta put it thus, on the subject of death: “That… particle which is possessed of these memories and tendencies is known as the jiva…” We could describe it as the container that “holds” the desires together.
When born, the drop in clarity of awareness causes a kind of grasping or holding. this leads to identity and ego, the sense of being separate. It is a natural process in the journey self unfolding.
I agree that the sense of person dies. We are no longer “Peter” or “Nancy” after we move on, much as we cease being the person in deep sleep. We take on a new persona to go with the new package of impulses, just as we might shift persona’s as we go from “parent” to “boss” to “lover”.
But there is that particle or node of continuity, a thread of connection. This point becomes a single point later on, as time collapses into the moment and all past and future become concurrent. I spoke of this more here.
Does it matter if we experience this or know this? No. What matters is Source. That which we are. The rest is the window dressing, the way for Self to know Itself more deeply. It’s also pure bliss.