In theology and philosophy, life and death have been expressed and clarified in many ways, but in most of the cases, those are very difficult to realise for common men. Grossly speaking, the time between birth and death is life i.e. life is a collection of moments and death is the biological end of life. Question arises, does life really and completely end with death? Science says so but theology holds a different view that includes heaven, hell, reincarnation etc.
The question of rebirth or life after death is always an enigma throughout ages. Human knowledge is hardly capable of answering to this question. Gautam Buddha said, “In this world of forms and illusions created by our senses, a man either lives or dies. If you ask, does a man live beyond death, my answer is no. If you ask, does a man altogether die at death, same is the answer., for what dies is what belongs to this world of form and illusion.”What is Death? Great scientists, inventors, mighty emperors, artists, writers, sages have come and gone. Many people are extremely anxious to know what has happened to them. Do they still exist? What is there at the other side of death? Death is separation of soul from body. It is the starting point of a new and better life. It merely opens the door to a higher form of life. Death is just the gateway to a fuller life, but not sermons, there is demand for concrete evidence which is still unavailable. Migration of soul is a profound mystery. Every animal has life but human form is the highest one in life cycle in the universe. The process of evolution on mother earth is a slow and long ranging. Human beings have evolved gradually. Along the passage of time it is matured. A student of class I can not jump to class X overnight. Similarly, in cosmic system there is no room for vaulting.
Bhagawadgita, considered as the most sacred book of the Hindus, has clarified the concept of reincarnation. Death is the end of the body, not of the soul. Death of human being is just like changing garments or change of guards at Buckingham palace. Only human beings have soul. Death puts an end to the body (residence of soul). When a cloth grows old we change it and take a new one. Similarly, when body grows old soul leaves the body and takes another physical form. In this way life goes on till the soul reaches the end of its cosmic life i.e. liberation from the chain of manifestations for ever. A balance sheet maintained by an accountant is closed at the end of the income year but the process does not end there. It begins again in the next year taking closing balance of earlier year as opening balance for the next year. Similarly, death simply marks the beginning of another life i.e. reincarnation. It is just like a station, not the destination.
As per Bhagawadgita, theory of reincarnation is the real essence of life of a living being. As we perform so shall our future be. It is the concept of karma (performance) that clarifies this matter. Migration of soul from one life to another i.e. reincarnation is possible with balance of karma in present life getting transferred to next life. It is just like cultivation. As we sow so shall we reap, nothing less or more. Reincarnation and the doctrine of karma are intimately related. We perform karma and the balance of our karma in present life decides the manifestation of our soul in next life. Whether the soul would reincarnate in the body of a worker or a prince is solely dependent on the balance of karma during life time. Briefly speaking, anyone desirous of being manifested in the form of a prince in next life must perform karma accordingly. Only then his soul would be able to manifest itself in next life as desired.
Whatever is said about reincarnation in theology, everybody tries his best to avoid old age, disease and death. In his poem Pran (Life) Rabindranath Tagore has written that he does not want to die in this beautiful world. However, in a song he says that death is just like Shyam (Krishna) to him. Nobody wants to die, look aged or get old. Billions of dollars are invested by cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries attempting to preserve youth and vigour. People do everything to hold eternal youth – therapy, exercise, use of medicine and cream (chemical and herbal), stretching, rubbing and so on. In this connection a beautiful poem Tithonus by Lord Tennyson may be remembered. As per Greek mythology Tithonus was the son of Laomedon, a Trojan King. As prayed by him. Zeus, king of Gods, granted immortality for Tithonus but he forgot to pray for not eternal youth. As a result he continues to grow old but never reached the threshold of death. He observed death, decay and fall around him, but himself gradually became like a shadow and lamented for cruel immortality.
Human beings can not attain physical immortality (Bhisma in Mahabharat is an exception, he was granted the boon of self-death) but get another life. The soul has neither birth nor death. It has only transformation of the body. Without soul body is meaningless. Body and soul are inseparable from each other. They are always one. This is, probably the viewpoint of Ramanuj – the theologian who believed that the universe is organically related to the Supreme Being who may be called as Brahma, Vishnu, Narayan, Shiv or by any name. It is a very difficult theme. Much has been said and written about it, but the answer is still unknown. Even today we are unable to arrive at a definite conclusion because philosophy and theology naturally vary from each other. We are still at loggerheads as far as finals are concerned.
Almost every religion says that after death a person goes to hell or heaven but in Bhagawadgita Sri Krishna says that heaven or hell is not permanent. Soul resides there temporarily and comes back to earth to take another body in order to exhaust all karma, debt and attain salvation. Theological expressions are always complex and unintelligible to common people. We can remember the lines from HamletBut that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveler returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
(Act III, scene I)
Probably this is the best answer to that age old question, It refers to death as an undiscovered country that lies on the other side of life. Puzzling and those who have gone there are travellers who have never returned to inform us of the nature and extent of that place.
The writer is a former Commissioner of Taxes