Rebirth According to the Bhagavad-gita; Epistemology, Ontology and Ethics
By Ishvara Krishna Das (Dr Ithamar Theodor)
Department of Religion and Spirituality, Zefat Academic College, Safed 1320610, Israel
Abstract: This paper is engaged with the topic of reincarnation in the Bhagavad gītā, better termed “rebirth”. It first looks into the epistemological aspects of rebirth, and highlights the type of knowledge or terminology underlying the vision of rebirth, as opposed to a different type of knowledge that is not suitable for this purpose, and which leads to a different vision of reality. It then looks into the ontological aspects of rebirth, and having highlighted some Upaniṣadic sources, it highlights major Bhagavad gītā sections describing the soul and rebirth. Finally, it looks into the ethics derived from the concept of rebirth; it first characterizes these as “ethics of equanimity”, and then expands these into the “ethics of enlightened action”, which refer to action grounded in the idea of rebirth.
18. 19 Knowledge, action and the agent are indeed of three kinds, divided according to the guṇas; hear now how is this division depicted through the guṇa doctrine. 20 Know that knowledge to be of the nature of goodness, through which one sees a single imperishable reality in all beings, unified in the diversified. 21 Know that knowledge to be of the nature of passion, through which one sees through division a variegated reality of many sorts in all beings. 22 Knowledge that attaches one to one kind of activity, as if it were all, which is not based on a reasonable cause, which does not aim at the truth, and which is minute and meagre, is said to be of the nature of darkness
5. 7 He who is absorbed in yoga, who is a pure soul, who is self-controlled and has subdued his senses, and who is deeply related to all living beings, is never defiled even though he acts. 8–9 ‘I am not really doing anything’, reflects the knower of the truth absorbed in yoga. While seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, eating, walking, sleeping, breathing, evacuating, receiving, opening or closing his eyes, he meditates and considers all these as nothing but the senses acting among their sense objects
3. 27 Although actions in every respect are performed by the guṇas of material nature, the spirit soul, confused by the ego thinks: “It is actually me who is the doer”
3. 36 Arjuna said: What is it that impels one to commit evil, even against his will, as if driven by force, O descendent of Vṛṣṇi? 37 The blessed Lord said: It is lust, it is anger, originating from the passion-guṇa, and it is the great evil and the great devourer; know that to be the enemy. 38 As fire is obscured by smoke, as a mirror is covered by dust, and as the embryo is enveloped in the womb, so the living being is obscured by lust. 39 This eternal enemy covers even the wise one’s knowledge, O Kaunteya, having taken the form of this insatiable fire—lust. 40 It is said to abide in the senses, the mind and the intelligence; through these it deludes the embodied soul and clouds its knowledge.
8. 16 All the worlds, up to Brahmā’s world, are subject to repeated births
13. 1 The blessed Lord said: This body is known as the field, O Kaunteya, and one who knows it, is declared by the wise to be the knower of the field. 2 You should know me as the knower of the field as well, situated in all fields, O Bhārata. I deem knowledge of the field and of the knower of the field to be knowledge indeed. 3 Hear from me in summary what this field and its nature is, how it transforms and comes into being, who the knower of the field is, and what his powers are. 4 Seers have chanted this in many Vedic hymns in varied ways, as well as in the Brahmasūtra aphorisms, all of them authoritative and well-substantiated. 5–6 The great elements, the concept of ego, the intelligence and the unmanifest, the ten senses and the additional sense, the five sense objects, attraction and repulsion, happiness and distress, the aggregate, consciousness and inner conviction—all serve to sum up the nature of the field and its transformations
7 Now, people here whose behavior is pleasant can expect to enter a pleasant womb, like that of a woman of the Brahmin, the Kṣatriya, or the Vaiśya class. But people of foul behavior can expect to enter a foul womb, like that of a dog, a pig or an outcast woman. Chāndogya Upaniṣad 5.10.7
When the tip of a hair is split into a hundred parts, and one of those parts further into a hundred parts, the individual soul (jīva), on the one hand, is the size of one such part, and, on the other, it partakes of infinity
2. 18 The wise one—he is not born, he does not die; he has not come from anywhere; he has not become anyone. He is unborn and eternal, primeval and everlasting. And he is not killed, when the body is killed. 19 If the killer thinks that he kills; If the killed thinks that he is killed; Both of them fail to understand. He neither kills, nor is he killed. 20 Finer than the finest, larger than the largest, is the self (ātman) that lies here hidden in the heart of the living being. Without desires and free from sorrow, a man perceives by the creator’s grace the grandeur of the self. Sitting down, he roams afar. Lying down, he goes everywhere. The god ceaselessly exulting—Who, besides me, is able to know? 22 When he perceives this immense, all pervading self, as bodiless within bodies, as stable within unstable beings—A wise man ceases to grieve. 23 This self cannot be grasped, by teachings or by intelligence, or even by great learning. Only the man he chooses can grasp him, whose body this self chooses as his own. 24 Not a man who has not quit his evil ways; Nor a man who is not calm or composed; Nor even a man who is without a tranquil mind; could ever secure it by his mere wit. 25 For who the Brahmin and the Kṣatriya are both like a dish of boiled rice; and death is like the sprinkled sauce; Who truly knows where he is?
4. 7 Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intellect and ego—these eight comprise my separated lower nature. 5 But you should know that beside this lower nature, O mighty-armed one, there is another higher nature of mine, comprised of spirit souls, by which this world is sustained
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