By Rajeev Dalvi

Many Westerners, in order to gain a deeper understanding about reincarnation, are turning to the original sources of knowledge about past and future lives. Among all available literatures, the Sanskrit Vedas of India are the oldest on earth and present the most comprehensive and logical explanations of the science of reincarnation, teachings that have maintained their viability and universal appeal for more than five thousand years.

The most fundamental information about reincarnation appears in Bhagavad Gita, the essence of the Upanishads and of all Vedic knowledge. The Gitawas spoken fifty centuries ago by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, to His friend and disciple Arjuna on a battlefield in northern India. A battlefield is the perfect place for a discussion about reincarnation, for in combat, men directly confront the fateful questions of life, death, and the afterlife. As Krishna begins to speak on the immortality of the soul, He tellsArjuna, “Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.” The Gita further instructs, “That which pervades the entire body you should know to be indestructible. No one is able to destroy that imperishable soul.” The soul — here we speak of something so subtle that it is not immediately verifiable by the limited human mind and senses. Therefore, not everyone will be able to accept the existence of the soul. Krishna informs Arjuna, “Some look on the soul as amazing, some describe him as amazing, and some hear of him as amazing, while others, even after hearing about him, cannot understand him at all.”

Accepting the existence of the soul is, however, not merely a matter of faith.Bhagvad Gita appeals to the evidence of our senses and logic, so that we may accept its teachings with some degree of rational conviction and not blindly, as dogma.

It is impossible to understand reincarnation unless one knows the difference between the actual self (the soul) and the body. The Gita helps us see the nature of the soul by the following example. “As the sun alone illuminates all this universe, so does the living entity, one within the body, illuminate the entire body by consciousness.”

Consciousness is concrete evidence of the presence of the soul within the body. On a cloudy day, the sun may not be visible, but we know it is there in the sky by the presence of sunlight. Similarly, we may not be able to directly perceive the soul, but we may conclude it is there by the presence of consciousness. In the absence of consciousness, the body is simply a lump of dead matter. Only the presence of consciousness makes this lump of dead matter breathe, speak, love, and fear. In essence, the body is a vehicle for the soul, through which it may fulfill its myriad material desires. The Gitaexplains that the living entity within the body is “seated as on a machine made of the material energy.” The soul falsely identifies with the body, carrying its different conceptions of life from one body to another as the air carries aromas. Just as an automobile cannot function without the presence of a driver, similarly, the material body cannot function without the presence of the soul.

Here we try to understand the basic difference between the body and the soul. For most of us, this may seem a completely new topic. It may seem alien to us, but a little introspection is just what is required and you strikegold. This basic difference between body and soul will automatically solve most of our questions related to reincarnation. We will read further to understand this concept of our real identity in a greater detail.

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