In these essays Sri Aurobindo looks at the significance of rebirth in the light of its role in the spiritual evolution of humanity and as a way to help answer man’s questions about the purpose and aim of his existence. He also explains the deeper levels of truth behind the theory of karma (the consequences of one’s past moral conduct) and discusses the concepts of freedom, justice, and will and consequence as part of a wider understanding of karma.
“The theory of rebirth is almost as ancient as thought itself and its origin is unknown. We may according to our prepossessions accept it as the fruit of ancient psychological experience always renewable and verifiable and therefore true or dismiss it as a philosophical dogma and ingenious speculation; but in either case the doctrine, even as it is in all appearance well-nigh as old as human thought itself, is likely also to endure as long as human beings continue to think.
In former times the doctrine used to pass in Europe under the grotesque name of transmigration which brought with it to the Western mind the humorous image of the soul of Pythagoras migrating, a haphazard bird of passage, from the human form divine into the body of a guinea-pig or an ass. The philosophical appreciation of the theory expressed itself in the admirable but rather unmanageable Greek word, metempsychosis, which means the insouling of a new body by the same psychic individual. The Greek tongue is always happy in its marriage of thought and word and a better expression could not be found; but forced into English speech the word becomes merely long and pedantic without any memory of its subtle Greek sense and has to be abandoned. Reincarnation is the now popular term, but the idea in the word leans to the gross or external view of the fact and begs many questions. I prefer “rebirth”, for it renders the sense of the wide, colourless, but sufficient Sanskrit term, punarjanma, “again-birth”, and commits us to nothing but the fundamental idea which is the essence and life of the doctrine.”
– Sri Aurobindo, The Problem of Rebirth
Download a PDF of Essays in Philosophy and Yoga (contains The Problem of Rebirth)
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