Question: Swamiji, is it necessary to believe in reincarnation?
Swamiji: First, reincarnation is not a belief, it is an assumption of Hinduism. Religion must be supported by a philosophy which logically explains what I see and experience around me and its relationship to the Higher Reality. It is not necessary to accept the theory, but how else would you explain the differences, the injustices, you see in the world. If the explanation for one man being born as a leper’s leprous son and another as a king’s kingly son be the free will of God, then God becomes a power mad, lusty, partial Lord who blesses and curses according to His eccentric whims and fancies. This is against the observed rhythm and order that exists in all of nature.
Q: So reincarnation is a theory to explain why one man is born a king and another a beggar.
Swamiji: Yes, Man is a rational being who inevitably seeks a cause in every effect, and expects an effect from every cause. When man sees about him types, modes, kinds, and classes without number and observes that the experience of life as lived by two individual organisms is never the same, he naturally seeks a reason for the diversity. A Buddha, a Rama, a Ravana (a demon king), all had their own individual experiences of life, even though they were all sons of their respective royal fathers. Thus, to every given set of external circumstances, each entity reacts differently and each undergoes his unique experience.
When the disparities in life do not arise from any visible cause, they must be the effect of some invisible past cause or causes. Thus we arrive at the theory of reincarnation. If actions performed in the past bear fruit in the present as experiences, then we can conclude that we must have had embodiments in the past also.
Q: Why don’t we remember any of our past lives?
Swamiji: Luckily, through the infinite mercy of God, nature has put a veil on the details of the past. Now, I ask you a question: what did you have for lunch last Saturday at noon?
Q: It must have been some vegetables and rice because that is what I always eat, but I don’t remember precisely.
Swamiji: So you didn’t bother to remember? So when we eat, at that time we enjoy the food. Afterwards, we forget because we have better things to do in life than to remember what we ate last week. You are the product of all that you have eaten, but, fortunately, the details are not available. In the same way, we don’t remember all our previous births. Thank God that we cannot remember ! One wife with the present children are enough of a problem ! Can you imagine having the concern of 1,000 wives and 10,000 children ?
Although you do not remember all the thoughts and experiences you had in the last birth, the subtle impressions they left are still with you. They have, in fact, provided a motivation or a driving force for another manifestation, another birth as a human. So you are a product of all your past experiences; it cannot be otherwise. It is not by accident that you are what you are and I am what I am. We are all products of our own past. We Hindus believe in the reincarnation theory to explain these differences. But you do not have to extend the cause the effect pattern back to past lives. You can just look for the pattern in your present life, that’s enough.
Q: Is there an interval between the departure from one body and entry into another?
Swamiji: This can be explained by the following example. When an officer is transferred from one city to another, say from Bombay to Delhi, he must first give up his charge and leave Bombay and then reach Delhi in order to take up his new appointment. He has handed over his duties at Bombay and is on his way to Delhi. If he is asked on the way if he is the officer, he will certainly confirm that, but when he is asked if he is an officer of Bombay or Delhi, he cannot answer, for, at that moment, he is neither in Bombay nor in Delhi. Yet he is still the officer inasmuch as he is getting paid for the interval period also. Therefore, the interval can be called the joining time. Similarly, when the subtle body leaves a given physical body in order to assume a new one, there must be an interval between the two events. The duration of this interval depends upon the relationship that you have with the body that you are shedding and the urgency you feel for the next embodiment.
Q: Can we contact the dead?
Swamiji: In our scriptures it is said that we can contact the dead, but the rishis strongly advise against it. They say that by calling our loved ones back here, we are perhaps asking them to come down into a lower world. If, at that time, our loved ones are at higher realms of experience, we stop their pilgrimage by calling them down, and instead of sending their blessings they will curse us. Some spirits, however, refuse to come down because they are not overpowered; thus they continue their pilgrimage to a higher plane.
Q: I am unhappy with my job because I have discovered that my boss is corrupt. He is requiring that I mislead some clients.
Swamiji: Walk out !
Q: But I have to think of my family. Jobs are difficult to find these days.
Swamiji: If you have to work in this environment for the sake of your family, surrender all to the Lord. You follow the boss’s exact instructions only. Carry out the tasks assigned to you exactly as he instructed, then mentally drop it. Don’t worry about it or talk about it.
If you were really an honest person, you would not have been the one asked to do something dishonest. Corrupt, dishonest people quake in the presence of honesty. If you had been totally honest, the boss would not have had the guts to ask you to do something dishonest. Goodness has a positive beauty about it. Remember, it was your own past impressions that brought you to this situation. Now you have an opportunity to improve your attitude. All is for Him alone, good or bad.
Question: How can one impart values?
Swamiji: Values impartation must be started from the very beginning. Values are so subtle that even an elderly person will not be able to conceive the idea unless it is concretized in an individual acting those values in a given set of specific conditions. Thus when you relate Harishchandra’s story to the children, they understand the compelling situations. Harishchandra’s own son died, then the mother brought the body for cremation to that fellow who happened to be her husband who said, “Sorry, ten paise is the tax, you pay it.”
She said “I haven’t got a pie. “”Then get out of here. My master has fixed me here to collect the tax. Wait here. When the master comes in the morning you discuss it with him. If the master says he has no objection, the matter could be settled.” So the truthfulness, the honesty of words, you know all these from the story alone. You may forget the story but the idea goes in. This is the method. In our modern education we don’t give the children any ideal. Data is given but no ideal to pursue. Ideals must be given. The story is not for history, it is for imparting an ideal. Give it to them and they will always check whether their action was morally good or not, beautiful or not. These children will grow up and in their togetherness will constitute the society.
The social behaviour in any part of the world, in any period of time, will be the sum total work of the team of people that constitute the society. Each individual functions in the world outside ordered by and governed by his thoughts. The quality and the nature of the thoughts are determined by what values the individual respects. If the values respected by the individuals are wrong, the individual’s activities can never be good.
Similarly, if the values entertained by the community or the society are wrong, their total behaviour will be only bringing more and more sorrow to them. Hence, in modern times we are insisting upon value based education. The healthy values, psychologically healthy for the individual and, therefore, healthy for the community have been experimented upon and given out as moral and ethical principles.
First, we have to conceive and understand and appreciate these values. Thereafter, a mere possession is not sufficient. Each individual should learn to live upto them. In order to impart them to our growing children there is no way other than concretizing these values through the heroic stories of people who have lived these values… Hence the need for stories. The mythological stories of India are perfect and artistic examples on how to impart these values to children. Never can children’s education be complete unless we impart to them a true appreciation of the eternal values of life and also help them to open up their sense of beauty and rhythm, their aestheticism and ethicism. That is the reason why we not only try to mould them with our stories of heroism and excellence in character but also give them a free choice to discover and develop their inner secret talents for music, dance, painting, etc. if has been found very rewarding in all our centers.
Question: Although each action in itself is relative, yet there are certain commandments, what we call values in life, that are recommended by all religions. For instance, truthfulness. What makes speaking the truth valuable? Why is it advised as a general principle?
Swamiji: Truthfulness consists mainly in uttering a thought as it is actually perceived. Ordinarily, a liar is one who does not have the moral courage to express what he sincerely feels. This disparity between thought and words creates in his mind a habit to entertain a sort of “self – cancellation” of thoughts. This impoverishes the individual’s mental strength, will power, and dynamism. Such an exhausted mental character is too weak thereafter to make any progress in life’s pilgrimage.
Truthfulness in its essential meaning is not merely giving a verbal expression to one’s honest feelings, but in its deeper import it is the attunement of one’s mental thoughts to his or her intellectual convictions. Unless we are ready to discipline and marshal our thought – forces to the unquestioning authority of our own reason, chastened with knowledge, in the ensuing chaos within, we could not grow to realize the fuller unfoldment of our true and divine nature.