Thursday, January 6, 2011

Life Beyond Death

In the Mahabharata, the most ancient epic of the world, we read a prize question that was asked to difference great men of ancient times. “What is the most wonderful thing in the world?” Various people came up with answers but only Yudhishthira’s answer was finally accepted. His answer was this: “Everyday and day after day, animals and human beings are passing out of life, but we do not think of death. What can be more wonderful than this?” The answer still holds true after thirty five centuries have passed since it was given. We do not think of death, although we see every day the dead bodies carried to the grave.

I have always been fascinated by the arcane and the unknown. Hence this winter when I had nothing significant to do, I tried to find a logical explanation to what lay beyond the grave through Swami Abhedananda’s book Life beyond Death: A critical study of Spiritualism. For the uninitiated, Swami Abhedananda was a colleague of Swami Vivekananda and the founder of the Vedanta Society and former president of the American Psychical Research Society.

The book begins its treatment after promptly presenting before us the following difficult question translated from the Katha Upanishad:

“There is this doubt; when a man dies some say that he is gone forever, that he does not exist, while others hold that he still lives; which of those is true?”

I could not stop. I had to read on. The author first analyses the belief of the materialists who firmly deny the existence of the soul after the death of the body. They believe that the body is the soul and the soul does not exist outside of the body, and when the body dies, the soul is also dead and gone. The author raises the question that if we assume that the soul or the mass of intelligence is caused by the body then what is the cause of that body? The materialists would probably answer this question by saying that the body was caused due to the body of its parents. However, this answer is rejected by the author as instead of explaining the cause of the matter, we are shown another combination of matter which is like explaining the cause by the effect as the body of the parents is the effect of their parents.

Furthermore, the author analyses the argument of the materialists that thought, intelligence, consciousness is nothing but a function of brain. He counters and I quote: “after dissecting a human brain when one does not find there any trace of the soul or mind, and denies its existence, or asserts that mind or soul is the function of the brain, he forgets that such knowledge necessarily implies the existence of his mind or soul. Hence, it will be absurd to deny the priority of that which is basis of consciousness and intelligence.” He also adds that if it be a scientific truth that motion produces motion, how can we maintain that the molecular motion of the brain-cells produces consciousness or intelligence, which is not the same as motion, but is a knower of motion? Hence the author concludes that the source of consciousness cannot be found in matter, but stands independent of it as the soul of the body.

Matter thus is the confiner of consciousness and not its generator. In the words of the author: “Matter is not that which produces consciousness, but that which limits it and confines its intensity within certain limits; material organisation does not construct consciousness out of arrangement of atoms, but contracts its manifestation within the sphere which it permits.”

I am yet to find counter of his argument. The above description is summarised from the first chapter of the book titled: Does the soul exist after death? The author goes on to say that each soul is eternal and after death it retains its individuality and takes with it all the experiences, impressions and ideas which it gained on earth. The arguments for these are covered in successive chapters of the book which deal with rebirth of the soul, reincarnation and immortality.

The beauty of the book lies in the fact that its pages do not narrate ghost or supernatural stories to prove its views which is usually expected from such books. Instead, the book agrees that 99% of such recounted incidents are fake and for the purpose of making money. The author logically tries to justify his views with brilliance.

For those interested, the book is published by Ramkrishna Vedanta Math, Kolkata and is priced at Rs. 80.