REINCARNATION —By Swami Yogananda.


If one believes in the existence of a just God, then a belief in reincarnation can follow very readily, as the two beliefs are really dependent, one on the other. But what about the skeptics and the atheists? Can the truth of reincarnation be scientifically proven to their satisfaction? Can the theory of reincarnation be in any way scientifically experimented upon so as to furnish not only hope but actual proof of its reality?

Material scientists claim they have not found any actual proof of the existence of a God, and hence ...cannot offer any proof of the existence of His just law —giving equal opportunity to all life to improve through reincarnation. To such scientists, the sufferings of innocent babies and other inequalities of life, seem inexplicable and point to the absence of any just God.

On the other hand, most of those who do believe in a just God, base their faith on belief only, and have no scientific proof to offer to unbelievers. They do not dare, for the most part, to scrutinize or deeply question their faith, for fear of losing it or of starting some social inharmony. They are not aware, in other words, of the existence of a scientific spiritual law which can prove their beliefs to be truth.

But why should not the methods of experimentation used by the material scientist to discover physical truths, be applied in investigating spiritual law? This question was asked centuries ago by the Hindu savants, and they set about the task of answering it. Their experiments resulted in scientific methods which can be followed by anyone to discover the reality of spiritual law, and hence of reincarnation and many other of the great cosmic truths.

Since this method does exist, no one has the right to say reincarnation and other spiritual laws do not operate, until he has tried the method and seen the result for himself. A scientist is, of course, privileged to express his opinion, but it remains an opinion only, not a fact. In physical science, certain methods must be adopted and followed in order to prove the truth of any given theory. To the naked eye, certain germs are not visible. One must use a microscope to detect the presence of the germs. If a person refuses to look through the microscope, he cannot be said to have scientifically tested the theory that germs were present. His opinion is, therefore, valueless, since he had not followed the prescribed rules for arriving at the truth of the theory. So it is in spiritual things. The method has been discovered, the rules laid down, and the result is open to anyone who is interested enough to experiment. In the Western world, due to the lack of this scientific approach to spiritual law, the value of religion has been greatly diminished as a living factor in the life of man. Spiritual doctrines are believed in or rejected ...simply on the ground of personal bias, rather than as a result of scientific investigation.

How did the master minds of ancient India discover these unalterable cosmic laws! Through experiments on the life and thought of man, in the laboratories of their hermitages. To find the truth of physical things, we must experiment upon physical substances. So to find the truth of reincarnation, of the passage of an identical soul through many bodies, it is necessary to experiment upon the consciousness of man. These scientists of old found that the human ego outlasts all the changes of experience and thought during the state of wakefulness ...of dream ...and of deep sleep—during the life-time. The experience changed, the environment, sensations, thoughts and bodily states changed, but the sense of identity, of "I", did not change, from birth to death. Hence the Hindu experimenters argued that through concentration on the ego, through a constant, conscious, aloof, unidentified introspection ...or watching of the various changing states of life—of wakefulness, dreaming or deep sleep— that one could perceive the changeless and eternal nature of the ego. Ordinarily, one is conscious of his waking state and even sometimes of his dreaming state. Often, people are aware that they are dreaming. Even in their dream, they know they are dreaming. So, through certain methods and practices, one can come to be aware of every state—of sleep, dream, or dreamless "deep sleep."

During sleep, there is involuntary relaxation of energy from the motor and sensory nerves. Through practice, one can produce this relaxation during the waking state also, at will. In the Big Sleep of death, there is still further relaxation—the retirement of energy from the heart and cerebro-spinal axis. But by certain practices, this further relaxation may be produced consciously in the waking state. In other words, every involuntary function may be accomplished ...voluntarily and consciously by practice.

These ancient Hindus found that death was the withdrawal of the electricity of life ...from the bulb of human flesh —containing the wires of sensory and motor nerves— to the different channels of outward expression. Just as electricity does not die when it is withdrawn from a broken bulb, so life-energy is not annihilated ...when it retires from the involuntary nerves. Energy cannot die. It withdraws, upon the occasion of death, to the Cosmic Energy.

In sleep, the conscious mind ceases to operate—the current is temporarily withdrawn from the nerves; and in death, the human consciousness ceases to express through the body permanently. It is as though one had a paralyzed arm—one is mentally conscious of that arm, but cannot function through it. Medical records tell of the case of a clergyman who once fell into a state of coma (suspended animation). He heard everyone around bewailing his apparent death, but could not express his awareness through his physical organs. His body motor had "stalled" and refused to respond to his mental commands. At last, when his friends were about to take him to be embalmed, he made a supreme effort, and was able to move, after 24 hours of complete apparent death. This instance illustrates the constancy of awareness of "I-ness" or personal identity, even though the body is seemingly dead.

The Hindu teachers stated, that one must learn to separate the energy and consciousness from the body, consciously. One must consciously watch the state of sleep, and must practice the voluntary withdrawal of energy consciously from the heart and spinal regions. Thus he learns to do consciously, what death will otherwise force on him unconsciously and unwillingly.

There is a case on record, in the files of French and other European doctors, of a man named Sadhu Haridas, in the court of Emperor Ranjit Singh of India, who was able to separate his energy and consciousness from his body, and then connect the two together again after several months. His body was buried underground and watch was kept over the spot, day and night, for months. At the end of this time, his body was dug up, and examined by the European doctors, who made an examination and pronounced him dead. But after a few minutes, he opened his eyes and regained all the control over all the functions of his body, and lived for many years more. He had simply learned, by practice, how to control all the involuntary functions of his body and mind. He was a spiritual scientist who experimented with prescribed methods for learning the truth of cosmic law, and as a result, he was in a position to demonstrate the truth of the theory of the changelessness of personal identity and the eternal nature of the life-principle.

Those who would know the scientific truth of the doctrine of reincarnation, must follow the rules laid down many centuries ago by Hindu savants, and must learn to

(1) be conscious during sleep,

(2) be able to produce dreams at will,

(3) to disconnect themselves consciously, not passively as during sleep, from the five senses, and

(4) to control the action of the heart, i.e., experience conscious death or suspended animation. This is the art of separating the soul from the body.

By following the practices which lead to the above results, we can follow the ego in all states of existence—follow it consciously through death, through space, to other bodies or other worlds. But those who do not learn these things, cannot retain their sense of personal identity, of awareness or consciousness, during the big sleep of death, and hence cannot remember any previous state, or even the "deep sleep" states during one life.

But by adopting the methods of the ancient Hindu scientists who experimented with such laws, and who thereby gave the world a knowledge that is priceless and demonstrable, one may come to know the scientific truth of reincarnation and all other eternal verities.


"Nay, but as when

One layeth his worn-out robes away,

And, taking new ones, sayeth,

"These will I wear today!"

So putteth by the Spirit lightly

Its garb of flesh

And passeth to inherit a residence afresh.

"Never the Spirit was born;

The Spirit shall cease to be never;

Never was time It was not;

End and Beginning are dreams!

Birthless and deathless and changeless

Remaineth the Spirit forever;

Death hath not touched It at all,

Dead though the house of It seems!"

From "The Bhagavad Gita,"

Translated by Sir Edwin Arnold.

"We wake and find ourselves on a stair. There are other stairs below us

Which we seem to have ascended; there are stairs above us, many a one,

Which go upward and out of sight."—Emerson.


(The following article is a summary of the arguments presented by various writers to show the truth of the theory of Reincarnation.)

The doctrine of Reincarnation, or Rebirth, is as old as history, and older. All nations, either wholly or in part, have believed in it some form. All the older religions firmly maintained its truth. It is part of the basic religion of the Hindus, who wove it into their philosophy and theology. Its details were systematically elaborated in the earliest Upanishads and Sanskrit literature. It continues to be the inspiration and conviction today not only of the Hindus, but also of the Buddhists of Ceylon, India, Japan and China, who accept it as the only solution to life's mysteries and the only logical road to salvation. The earliest Egyptians and Hermetic philosophers believed in it. The old Persian Magi faith, Zoroaster's followers, and the Greek mystics firmly upheld it. Aristotle and Plato, both of whom have contributed very largely to Western thought, very decidedly believed in Reincarnation, and so did Socrates. The Jewish faith thoroughly approved this belief. The early Gnostics and practically all the Christian fathers, up to the fifth century, accepted it and wrote elaborately about it. The doctrines slipped out of the European mind during the Dark Ages.

Surely a belief that has been —and still is the accepted doctrine of uncounted millions of both past and present time, and which has inspired and moulded the thoughts of many of the greatest thinkers and philosophers for thousands of years, —should not be rejected by present-day Western minds ...without due investigation and reason. As a matter of fact, the theory of Reincarnation is today slowly but surely gaining a foothold again in Western thought, and many of the most advanced thinkers are realizing that this doctrine holds the key to the solution of life's otherwise insoluble problems. Some of the great Western minds that believed in it were: Kant, Swendenborg, Schopenhauer, Goethe, Lessing, Boehme, Schelling, Emerson and Shelley. Many of our best progressive minds of today, including Henry Ford, accept the doctrine of Reincarnation.

The popular belief in Reincarnation in Jesus' time is shown by the passage in the Bible (John 9:2) where the disciples ask Jesus: "Master, who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" In as much as the man was born blind, the disciples could not think he became blind from sin in this life, hence they could only have been referring to a possible sin committed by the man in one of his former lives. The same thought is expressed in the passage from John 5:5-14, where Jesus healed a man of an infirmity which he had had for 38 years, and whom Jesus told, "Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee." He meant the man had sinned in a past life. Jesus speaks several times unmistakably of the reincarnation of Elias into the body of John the Baptist. He says, (Matthew 17:12-13), "But I say unto you, that Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. . . . Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist." And again Jesus says, (Matthew 11:13-15), "For all the prophets and the law .....prophesied until John. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." Again, in Revelation 3:12, the Lord reveals to John, "Him that overcometh, will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out." This passage makes it clear that he who conquers himself, shall be no longer forced to "go out"—to be reincarnated and die time and time again. Those who "overcometh" are henceforth free from this cosmic necessity.

It would be of no importance whether people believed in the doctrine of Reincarnation or not, if the theory had no practical and ethical bearing on life. But its value lies in the fact that it does have a very close and significant relation with all our actions. The doctrine of Reincarnation is only one-half of a theory. The other half is Karma. Reincarnation means rebirth, or the passage of the soul from one body to another, until salvation or freedom is finally won through merit. Karma means the chain of action committed in present or past lives that must be expiated, rewarded or burned into nothingness by the fire of meditation. The "karma" of a man are the seeds of potential action within him, awaiting only the proper environment or opportunity to become an active manifestation in the outer world. The Law of Karma, then, means that whatever we do in thought, word or deed, leaves traces or effects in our sub-conscious mind and subtle body, and that they must —in present or future time— inevitably express themselves in further thought, word or deed. These thoughts, words and deeds, being freshly reinforced by environmental influences and fresh actions, will again be the cause of still further thoughts, words and deeds, and so on. Hence we see that this Law of Karma is nothing but an application of the Law of Causation, scientifically applied to human activities, even as it is applied to every other science, whether it be Astronomy, Physics or Geometry.

Hence the doctrines of Reincarnation and Karma are an attempt to solve the riddles of life, death and final liberation. The test of a theory is whether or not it can cover all the facts. Let us apply this test to the theory of Reincarnation.

1. THE JUSTICE OF GOD. The theory of rebirth ...alone can account for the justice of God, by attributing the evils of life ...not to an Omnipotent caprice, but to our own action. Practically all atheists lose their faith in a God ...because of the terrible injustice that seems to prevail in the world. Thinking they have but one life to live on this earth, these atheists argue that they would rather believe in no God, than in a God who would thus show such favor and disfavor to innocent babes. But a belief in Karma and Reincarnation dispels these erroneous ideas of an unjust God, and gives one a basis for belief in eternal justice and impartial opportunity. Furthermore, to believe that every good action will beget another good action, and every evil act fathers another evil effect, is to watch our actions more carefully and to think more of our future state, since we alone will be responsible for it. The moral effect that a belief in Reincarnation causes, cannot help but be strengthening, uplifting and practical. It supports the theory of Free-Will by indication that our future and present life are not caused by an inscrutable fate, but by our own actions and our use of forces that are or can be within our own control. It helps us to center our attention on the "kingdom within," of which all religions speak as being the only true heaven, and relieves us of a slavish dependence on, and ignorance of, the seemingly causative external forces. It reveals us to ourself as the cause of all things, instead of the puppets of chance.

2. REVEALS EXISTENCE OF SCIENTIFIC LAW. The first law of Science is, that nothing happens by chance; that everything in nature has some cause, and that only ignorance of the cause makes us think of accidental occurrences. A is the cause of B, which is its effect, B is the cause of C which is its effect, C of D, and so on. The universe is a network of events interrelated as cause and effect. The whole equilibrium of the world is changed every moment at the occurrence of the minutest phenomena. So Science tells us, basing its judgment not on belief, but on demonstrated fact. The body and mind of man are subject to this universal Law of Causation. Science knows this, and attributes every detail of man's body and mind to heredity and environment. But a belief in eternal justice would account for it by reincarnation and environment, since the latter theory visits, not the father's sin upon the child (at least not as a cause) but the sins of the child upon himself. Hence, a belief in Reincarnation is supported by scientific law, proving the body and mind to be the outcome, not of a whimsical Creator, but of our own deeds and thoughts in past and present lives. Furthermore, matter being indestructible, the mortal energy cannot be destroyed. It must express itself through reincarnation. "And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail"—Luke 16:17. St. Paul says, "Work out thy own salvation. Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."

3. IMMORTALITY. If the Soul is immortal and eternal, it must have exited before living in this body. If it is changeless, why should it suddenly occupy a human body for one life and then never again? Hence a belief in the immortality of the Soul leads to a belief in reincarnation. If one says, with the materialists, that the Soul rises with the birth of the body, and dies with the death of the body, then no further argument is possible. But we possess an instinctive belief in immortality, and reason also supports it. The orthodox idea of the creation of a Soul at birth, must inevitably mean the annihilation of such a Soul at death. For what begins in time must end in time. Something cannot come out of nothing, nor can something be reduced to nothing. If immortality of the Soul, and its eternal nature, is granted, then the pre-existence, the present existence, and the future existence of the Soul are settled beyond doubt.

4. SENSUOUS INSTINCTS OF MAN. All desire leaves seeds in the mind, which cannot die until fulfillment is reached. After death, the soul of the man cannot rest indefinitely in the spirit world, because it has brought with it the unexpressed and unsatisfied longings of the ego, which boil and bubble, so to speak, until they return again to become manifest. Souls having no material desires attached to them, may live in the spirit world its different spheres, for evolution, and work out their redemption there. But the scientific law of causation requires the working out of the sensuous tendencies of man in the sensuous world, and not anywhere else.

5. DIFFERENCES OF HUMAN NATURE AND CAPACITY. The vast differences in disposition, ability, morality and achievement that sometimes occur between two members of the same family, cannot possibly be accounted for on any reasonable ground ...except reincarnation. The difference in twins, having the same birth, training and environment, must ever remain a total mystery ...unless the karma from past lives is accepted as the cause. To say that God meant them to be different, is to refuse to see the immediate and personal cause.

6. INEQUALITIES OF FORTUNE. The sufferings of the virtuous man, and the pleasures of the vicious, make us believe in reincarnation, since it explains that the past good actions of a man will bring him joy in this life, even though by his present evil actions he is storing up future suffering for himself. Similarly, the good man is laying away future treasures for himself, even though he may at present be suffering from the effects of evil deeds done in lives gone by.

7. EVOLUTION. Everything in this world changes, and Science proves that physically, the change has been for the better, by evolution. Man's physical body, the Biologist proves, is the outcome of a long series of changes and gradual improvement. We know we improve morally and spiritually by slow degrees after passing through distinct stages. We do not improve all at once or without opportunities being given us. Many births give us such opportunities to grow perfect. Evolution holds good in all spheres.

8. THE CONSTANT UNIVERSE. The scientific principle of causation, and expenditure of energy, requires constancy in the universe. The force or energy of the world is constant—no decrease, no increase. There is only passing from one form to another. So the force or energy brought by the soul into human life, can neither be created or destroyed. It is neither born nor does it die, but it does pass from one form to another. The conservation of energy is as true in the subtle immaterial world in the physical world.

9. SOLVES THE ORTHODOX ENIGMAS. If our present-day deeds are responsible for our rewards and punishments, why does a mere child ...die, who, has done no wrong? Further, if Heaven or Hell —for eternity— is the result of actions done in this short span of one earth-life not the scale unbalanced? Seventy years, say, on the one side, and eternity on the other! Such a supposition is entirely at variance with both reason and our experience of Just Cosmic Law. Further, if such a view be true, what will be the reward or punishment of a man who has been partly good and partly bad in this life, so that they are equal? Will he go to Heaven or to Hell?

10. TESTIMONY OF SAINTS. Great spiritual seers and saints have affirmed the truth of reincarnation and have had glimpses ...of their own earlier incarnations. Ordinary men, too, sometimes experience flashes of pre-natal memory.

Some of the objections offered to the truth of the theory of Reincarnation are

(1) we do not remember past lives,

(2) we should not be held responsible for forgotten deeds,

(3) the theory of Reincarnation conflicts with the evidence of heredity, and

(4) Orientals, and people who believe in Reincarnation, are not progressive.

The answer to the first two objections is, that ...memory is not the test of existence. You do not remember your birth and early babyhood, but you experience them just the same. There is a merciful provision in nature. If we remembered all the past events of countless lives, with their sorrows, sins, sufferings and ignorance, the mind would be overburdened and miserable. Further, if we remembered all these past lives, there would be no point in reincarnation at all, since the object of reincarnation is to give the ego a new chance, a new body and brain, a new start, a new environment. No matter how black our past may have been, we are wisely spared that memory and can begin life anew ...every century or so. For most of us, each life is an advance, an improvement over the past. We are growing toward perfection. It is not necessary or desirable that we should remember all the details of ancient ages. The experiences of past lives, however, are not lost, but remain with us in the form of tendencies, abilities and moral perception.

Even in one life, a man may completely forget his identity and imagine himself to be someone else. Many such cases, well-authenticated, are on record, especially since the war.

People wrongly imagine that reincarnation and heredity are conflicting theories. Due to the presence of unchanging cosmic law for everything in nature, heredity is the law through which the reincarnating soul works. A son is not like his father ...simply because he was born of him, but because the soul of the son ...had chosen to reincarnate in that family ...because the material and mental qualities of the ego ...would find it most convenient and harmonious manifest through just such a family. The "path of least resistance," or "like attracts like," accounts for the possible entrance of an ego into an undesirable body. Cosmic law compels the ego to become incarnate through a body and mind which most suitably express the karma and experience of the evolving ego.

It is true that many Orientals have misunderstood the doctrine of Karma and Reincarnation, and have suffered for it. Their mistake lay in stressing one angle of the theory and forgetting other angles. The masses degenerated the theory into a doctrine of Fatalism, feeling that the present life was inevitably the outcome of past deeds and hence there could be no hope to change it. But such a view is not true. Some of our present fate, such as our birth and family ties, are indeed changeless so far as this life is concerned, but besides past karma, there are also present actions, or karma the making, to be considered, which in turn determines our future. We must work out the effects of past actions, it is true, but not only our future, but even some of our present, is wholly dependent on present action. The future is ours to make or mar, according to present action. This is the view of karma and reincarnation that has escaped the attention of many Orientals, but it is the true view. Furthermore, even if and when the Western nations accept the truth of reincarnation, they will never fall into the same lethargic habits that afflict many Oriental nations. The West has a different karma, a different outlook and temperament, not to mention differences of climate and of natural environment. Japan is Buddhist and believes in reincarnation, yet she is as energetic as any Western nation. No nation of today will fall into the same mistakes as to Fatalism that older and more easy-going nations have done. The conditions of the age and the civilization forbid it. But the truth of reincarnation, hidden now from Western eyes as a whole, for many centuries, is again claiming the attention and adherence of larger and larger numbers in the West, and satisfying the soul-hunger for knowledge of life's problems and mysteries.

One more point—even though we are tied to this wheel of cosmic birth and death, even though no end is in sight ...yet there is a way of escape for us. All religions point the path. Through knowledge, through non-attachment, through selflessness, through the fire of meditation on spiritual reality ...the seeds of all karma may be roasted, may be reduced to ashes, and thus the soul may be liberated from the otherwise eternal Wheel of Necessity.

Return to Index