While a segment of humanity does not accept the idea of rebirth, choosing instead to either suggest that this one lifetime is the entire frame and limit of an individual’s existence, or else, that after death they will be resurrected to go before a seat of judgment and either be assigned to heaven, or hell, for all eternity. We then come to those that accept rebirth in some form as providing meaning and significance to life and the evolutionary development taking place in the universal manifestation. Traditional Buddhist thought does not accept the idea of a unique soul moving from birth to birth (although Tibetan Buddhism comes closest to this concept with its travel of the individual through an intermediate zone they call the ‘bardo’ and eventually taking a new birth, and in the concept of reincarnation of great lamas such as the various incarnations of the Dalai Lama). In Rebirth and Karma, as well as in specific chapters on the subject in The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo makes the case as to why the development of the universal creation and the evolution of consciousness requires some entity, which he calls the psychic being, or which may be called generally, the soul, is a necessary element in the machinery of the universe and this progression of developing consciousness.

The popular conception takes the very idea of rebirth and creates several imaginative, albeit fanciful, ideas about it. One conception is the idea that someone can be reborn as a dog, or a cat or a fish if they act in some way that is considered less than fully human in their lifetime. Another conception, more directly on point, is that what we experience as our being, our external personality, in this lifetime is what we carry through from one life to the next, and while we may forget the specifics, we carry through with the intellectual, emotional vital and physical developments of the past lifetime(s) and indeed reassemble in a new body the framework of relationships, etc. that pertained in this life. A more carefully thought-out view, however, makes it clear that just as the physical body dissolves, the vital body, the emotional body and eventually the mental body also dissolve, leaving only the central essential being, the psychic being or soul, with its essence of the experiences it has gathered, to take the new birth and experience an entirely new and different life, founded on a basis of the past experience of the soul, and focused on the next phase of that soul’s growth and development. It remains, of course, remotely possible for some specific mental, vital or physical capacity to be reintegrated in the new lifetime, and there are even rare cases whereby a reincarnated soul actually brings forward memories and talents acquired in a previous lifetime, although it must be cautioned that this is not the normal state of affairs, but one that is reserved for highly conscious souls who are in fact not attached to an individual personality or body, but who have already transcended and move their focus of consciousness outside that limited framework.

A disciple asks: “Mother, since in each new life the mind and vital as well as the body are new, how can the experiences of past lives be useful for them? Do we have to go through all the experiences once again?”

The Mother replies: “That depends on people! … It is not the mind and vital which develop and progress from life to life — except in altogether exceptional cases and at a very advanced stage of evolution — it is the psychic. So, this is what happens: the psychic has alternate periods of activity and rest; it has a life of progress resulting from experiences of the physical life, of active life in a physical body, with all the experiences of the body, the vital and the mind; then, normally, the psychic goes into a kind of rest for assimilation where the result of the progress accomplished during its active existence is worked out, and when this assimilation is finished, when it has absorbed the progress it had prepared in its active life on earth, it comes down again in a new body bringing with it the result of all its progress and, at an advanced stage, it even chooses the environment and the kind of body and the kind of life in which it will live to complete its experience concerning one point or another. In some very advanced cases the psychic can, before leaving the body, decide what kind of life it will have in its next incarnation.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter VIII The Psychic Being and Inner Growth, pp. 156-157

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at http://sriaurobindostudies.wordpress.com and podcast at https://anchor.fm/santosh-krinsky He is author of 17 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.