Mysteries of Death, Fate, Karma, Rebirth
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by Mukherjee, Jugal Kishore
Shortly after his masterly exposition on the practice of the integral yoga, Shri Jugal Kishore Mukherjee has come out with a slim but packed volume on the rather grim and esoteric subject of death, rebirth and karma. The subject itself is shrouded in mystery as noted in the Mahabharata with the question asked by the yaksha of the lake to Yudhishthira: "What is the most amazing thing in human life?" Yudhishthira's answer relates to a fundamental and universal human incapacity to deal adequately with death: "The most amazing thing is this, that all human beings die but each person conducts himself as if there is no death." Though the yaksha approves of this answer, we can ask ourselves the question as to why this is so. I may hazard two guesses for an answer: (1) to the inmost being death has no reality, so it cannot give any finality to it in its life-experience; (2) to the outer being, death represents the fear either of the unknowable or of the extinction of consciousness, and it readily suppresses this fear through a wholesale socially sanctioned denial. Perhaps there is a little of both of these in all of us, but whatever be the truth, it goes to highlight the enigma that death presents to all human beings, an unanswered mystery and anxiety we either ignore or can at best speculate about. Acknowledging this hidden enigma at the center of human existence, Jugal Kishore starts his exposition by fore-fronting the fear of death and analyzing its causes.
In today's materialistic age, which sees consciousness as an accidental epiphenomenon of matter, the popular widespread belief denies any persistence to consciousness after death. But in other times and in cultures not invested in the materialistic standpoint, there are a variety of alternate ideas regarding the "other side." All these admit of an afterlife beyond death, but differ often radically about its character and purpose. Jugal Kishore explores all these varieties of approaches and brings them into comparative focus against what Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have to say about this subject. For example, the Judeo-Christian tradition holds that there is only one life and a soul which persists beyond the death of the body, but goes to sleep until a Day of Judgement when God decrees eternal heaven or eternal hell based on its one life on earth. Pythagorean Greece, on the other hand, believed in a soul which is immortal inhabiting the body and a form of earthly rebirth of this soul or "transmigration" after death, by which they meant the assumption of a continuous succession of physical bodies from life to life without any respite. Indic thought, such as Buddhism and the various Hindu schools also believe in rebirth but unlike the Greeks, the consciousness after death passes through a succession of invisible worlds before being reborn in a new body on earth. However, here too there are a variety of differences, from the belief in a soul inhabiting the body for Hindus to a soulless non-substantial persistence of consciousness driven by the momentum of desire for the Buddhists. Indic thought also includes a rationale for the nature of life-experiences based on the accumulation of "karma," a ledger of good or bad deeds which leave inexorable and universal consequences outlasting one's lifetime. Jugal Kishore, following Sri Aurobindo points out that these theories combine two disparate motives, not always integrated into a consistent scheme – on the one hand, a moral system of reward and punishment and on the other, a metaphysical explanation for the purpose of human life on earth. Most modern day Hindu or Buddhist understandings of human life and rebirth, for example, are pessimistic in nature, life on earth seen as an entrapment in a wheel of karma (karma-chakra) over which we have little or no control and from which the best we can aspire for is eventual escape, the cessation of rebirth.
To these notions of life, death, psychic persistence of consciousness, rebirth and karma, Jugal Kishore brings the light of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother's explanations. The sources he draws on for these include Sri Aurobindo's The Problem of Rebirth, The Life Divine and his Letters on Yoga and the Mother's Questions and Answers. In this regard, the question may be asked as to whether this is merely a believers' lesson book in yet another relative and speculative theory on these mysteries of the invisible or whether there is anything more objective about this presentation. The answer, implicit in this work as in most other works by this author, lies in the overwhelming sense of the integral perfection of the view presented in the writings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. One of the principal intuitions of the ancient Western world, carried over into modern times through the assumptions of Science, is that the universe is ultimately simple and that its apparent complexity can be explained by a single or at most a very few rational principles. Modern Enlightenment philosophy assumes this cosmic rationality to be identical with the human faculty of reason and seeks to find the one law systemically uniting all other laws through rational enquiry. But as Sri Aurobindo points out, human reason works by piecing together fragments and arrives thereby only at larger fragments masquerading as wholes. The intuition of a cosmic rationality, on the other hand, proceeds from an overmental or supramental source of unity and proportional harmony which is compact even in its infinite extension and seamlessly one. Its integrality is evidenced in the overmastering presence of the whole in itself and in every part. It is this of which the Upanishad says purnam adah purnam idam purnat purnam udachyate, purnasya purnam adaya purnam evavashishyate. And it is this which impresses itself in its undeniable reality in the ideas and writings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother – which, in their absolute consistency and miraculous integrality, make them different from other relative attempts at explanation.
As in all his other works, Jugal Kishore marshalls a most impressive set of quotes from the Master and the Mother to make his points. He clarifies the closely knit ideas relating to death as part of the perpetual process of life and to the evolution of consciousness through the progressive growth of the psychic being in its mastery over mental, vital and physical nature and the further infinite expression of higher powers of consciousness that form the bases of Sri Aurobindo's description of life, death and rebirth. He indicates the inner necessity and meaning of karma as a temporary automatism of universal nature aiding such an evolution and the possibility and means of overcoming it through growth of consciousness, divine Grace or yogic intervention. He describes the occult process of the inner being's journey through the non-physical worlds and the soul's part in this journey and its long or short sleep of assimilation in the psychic world before rebirth. And finally, as a most edifying last chapter, he addresses "some knotty problems of rebirth" in question form with relevant quotes from Sri Aurobindo and the Mother as the answers. As a final conclusion to this last chapter, he raises the question which forms the distant fringe of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother's vision of a supramental life – "Is death necessary?" Sri Aurobindo's philosophical view on this, stated briefly is that if indeed, as he maintains, humankind is here to fully realize its divinity in time and space, it must translate the eternity which is an essential attribute of this divinity into temporal terms as perpetuity – in other words, a mastery of the physical consciousness which amounts to a physical immortality. The author draws attention to his earlier work The Destiny of the Body which addresses this question centrally before closing the present work.
Overall, I would recommend this book as an impressive work which sheds light on all the innumerable complexities of death, the purpose of life, the afterlife, karma and rebirth, as taught by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother in an integral view of human existence and its destiny.
— Debashish Banerji
Debashish Banerji is the president of the Sri Aurobindo Center of Los Angeles, USA.
SABDA catalog listing for Mysteries of Death, Fate, Karma and Rebirth.