Question: I had a question on your view on reincarnation. I have brain damage and wonder if this carries over into future lives or if I can have normal intelligence for the next life if there is one. I was born normal but I had an accident and lost intelligence and wonder if I can be normal for the next incarnation if you believe in that.
Thank you for writing with your question. According to the teachings of the ancient scripture Bhagavad Gita, the brain (and the body in general) is only a mechanical device used by the spirit soul (the actual self). It is described that just as a passenger rides in a chariot, in the same way the spirit soul is riding in this vehichle of the body. The spirit soul is constitutionally full of knowledge, but due to the material covering of the body, we are subjected to ignorance. At the time of death, the eternal spirit soul transmigrates to another body according to its state of consciousness. In the Gita Krishna says:
yam yam vapi smaran bhavam
tyajaty ante kalevaram
tam tam evaiti kaunteya
“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.”
The body has no permanent connection with our self. The connection is temporary, just as our connection with our clothese are temporary. When our shirt is old and broken, we throw it away and buy a new shirt. In a similar manner, when the body is old and no longer fit for functioning, the nature discards it and provides us with a new youthful body.
Due to reactions to our activities in previous lives (karma), we either enjoy or suffer in various circumstances in the present life, while our present activities create reactions for the next lives. As one experiences these results (suffering and enjoying) we burn up our good and bad reactions. As such, in the next life, we will no longer have to suffer these same difficulties. But if one were to artificially end one’s life, the reactions would carry on, as they would not have been fully exhausted in the present life.
Every activity we do creates a reaction which binds us to either good or bad results. We must learn to rise above the dualities of happiness and distress and be situated beyond the bodily identification:
matra-sparshas tu kaunteya
tams titikshasva bharata
“The nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, and one must learn to tolerate them without being
Factually we are not this body, we are an eternal spirit soul within the body. Due to false identification with this body, we take the sufferings of the body to be our own. The happiness and distress of the body come in cycles just as the seasons pass us by in cycles. They are not permanent.
When someone identifies something as his, he develops attachment, and from that attachment he begins to experience through that object. If I own a car, I feel bad when the car gets a dent. In reality there is no connection between me and the car; I am not the car. But when the car is hit, I will say “I” was hit. I have expanded my consciousness out one level and taken on the identity of the car. If some other car is dented, I have no feeling of it and practically do not care at all. This is false identification, and the same false identification is going on with this body. We are not the body, but because we possess this body, we have identified with the external covering and have become attached to it. Now when we look in the mirror we think we are the object reflecting in the glass. It is no more us than the car we drive or the clothes we wear – they are all coverings on different layers.
In the Gita Krishna raises our consciousness beyond the body to our true identity:
indriyani parany ahur
indriyebhyah param manah
manasas tu para buddhir
yo buddheh paratas tu sah
evam buddheh param buddhva
“The senses are superior to dull matter; mind is higher than the senses; intelligence is still higher than the mind; and the soul is even higher than the intelligence.”
“Thus knowing oneself to be transcendental to the material senses, mind and intelligence, one must steady the mind by deliberate spiritual intelligence.”
There are many levels of covering for the soul, the lowest being that of physical matter – what we refer to as the body. The body is basically made up of various senses, which transmit information through the brain to the mind situated within the heart. The mind is higher than the physical body, yet it is also an external covering of the soul. This body is unique to this life, whereas our mind is carried through every body we have inhabited over a countless span of reincarnations. Higher than the mind is the discriminating factor of the intelligence, which is a reflection of our original consciousness. Higher than the intelligence is the self – an eternal spiritual entity constitutionally situated beyond matter. Our true identity is as an eternal spirit soul, but due to our associatoin with matter from time immemorial, we have become illusioned and identify our self as either the body, mind or intelligence.
The Upanishads give the following analogy:
The body is like a chariot. The senses are like five horses which pull the chariot. The reigns which control the horses are like the mind. The driver who holds the reigns is like the intelligence. And the passenger who instructs the driver is the spirit soul (the actual self). If the driver (the intelligence) holds the reigns (the mind) tightly and controls the five horses (the senses), then it is possible to attain one’s proper destination. But if the driver (the intelligence) lets go of the reigns (the mind) then each of the five horses (the senses) will run off in a different direction pulling the reigns (the mind) with them, causing the chariot to be broken into many pieces.
If one’s identification is only on the level of the body, then the imperfections of the body will limit one. If one’s identification is on the level of the mind, then the body’s limitations will not affect one, but the mental limitations will limit one. If one’s identification is on the level of intelligence, then the mental limitations will not affect one. But if one’s identification is on the level of the pure spirit soul situated beyond matter, there are no limitations. Such a state is known technically as jivan-mukta – or liberated from material existence while still living within the body. This is the goal of human life.
As far as intelligence is concerned, one must learn to rely not on the mechanisms of the body (brain, etc.) but on the inherent knowledge of the soul. And even if one has difficulty in doing this, Krishnas says in the Bhagavad Gita:
dadami buddhi-yogam tam
yena mam upayanti te
“To those who are constantly devoted to serving Me with love, I give the intelligence by which they can come to Me.”
If a person sincerely worships the Lord with love and devotion, then Krishna from within his heart gives him instructions so that he may ultimately come to Him without difficulty. This is spiritual intelligence. Material intelligence may depend on many external factors, but spiritual intelligence is inherent in the soul. It is simply covered like a mirror covered by dust. As we clean the mirror of the mind, the shining reflection gradually becomes visible to us. On the other hand, Krishna says:
nasti buddhir ayuktasya
na cayuktasya bhavana
na cabhavayatah shantir
ashantasya kutah sukham
“One who is not connected with the Supreme can have neither transcendental intelligence nor a steady mind, without which there is no possibility of peace. And how can there be any happiness without peace?”
One who has linked himself with the Supreme through meditation is situated beyond the body and mind. Such a person relies on transcendental or spiritual intelligence, not on the external functioning of matter.