The Secret of Past Lives: Previous Birth: Recall and Result

Published: 13.08.2017
Updated: 15.08.2017

Previous birth means a previous existence. To recall it and know more about it is called jaati smaran. According to Jainism there are five categories of living beings:

  1. One sensed
  2. Two sensed
  3. Three sensed
  4. Four sensed
  5. Five sensed

To remember one's previous birth is called jaati smaran because one is able to recall one's jaati or category of the previous birth. Previous birth, previous life, the present life, rebirth and the life after are all the links between past and present, present and future. There is one common element amongst these, and that is the soul. Whose past? Whose present? Whose future? Unless the past, present and future, that is if life, death and rebirth are not linked by soul then there is nothing to the concept of rebirth.

It is clear, the present becomes past and future takes place in present. Let us take the example of curd as of this moment. Its past was in the form of milk. Its future will be in the form of butter or ghee. Every matter has capacity to change. This body is made up of cells. Number of cells die and then many are regenerated. Within the body itself the cells itself are born, die and are reborn. If you put prefix and suffix to the word birth you get the idea of pre birth, birth and rebirth. Actually these activities are taking place all the time, every second, in our body.

Rebirth means to take birth after death. In Jainism rebirth is also categorized as gati. All beings in this world travel between four states in the process of living, rebirth etc.: they are as beings in hell, in the animal and plant kingdom, as humans and as celestials. Those who are born in hell they undergo misery. There are seven types of hell that have been mentioned in the Agamas and subsequent texts of Jainism. There is much detail found: How long do they live? How are they punished? How are they treated by the celestials?

In the category of animal and plant kingdom, that is the tiryanch yoni, all beings except those born in hell or as humans or as celestials are included. Organisms with single sense, water, air, fire and wind bodies, two sensed organisms, three, four and five sensed organisms are included in this category. The vast universe of all kinds of living beings falls within this category. Even the micro life in human wastes (14 such forms) are included in this category. The category of humans is self explanatory.

The next stage is where devas, ghosts, celestials who can fly etc. This category has also been dealt with in much detail in the Jain agamas. Acharya Mahapragya's book "Soul and Matter" which has been published by Jain Vishwa Bharti Ladnun publication explains the essence of Jainism as made of two components: jiva and ajiva or the animate and the inanimate. The world is but a play of jiva and ajiva.

The most important link between the previous birth and rebirth is the soul or the jiva. Unless one believes in the existence of soul the very idea of previous birth and rebirth has no meaning. So the first step is to accept the existence of the soul. Jainism believes in dualism whereas one important strain of Vedic tradition believes in one creator, one Brahma. From Brahma arise the living and the nonliving. God manifests in man. The pure form of consciousness is the soul. The soul takes on different births in this world and thus the world is created. The dormant form of consciousness is the unawakened soul. The unawakened soul has filled the world by taking many forms. The one who awakens the consciousness is Brahma. He has created maya or delusion. Ekaki Brahma na reme and so Ekoahambahusyam...or I am one who has taken different forms. This soul takes birth under the guidance of the creator.

Jain tradition believes in dualism. Matter is concrete. If there is matter then there must be anti matter, which means there is life. The word non living means there is something which is living. Once it is believed that there is matter, life and soul, then the question arises whether soul is independent or dependent on the Almighty. If it is dependent on the Almighty then there are a number of questions. If the Almighty is the creator of this universe then who created God or Almighty? If Almighty was created by God then who created God? If God is self evolved then why not believe that the universe also evolved by itself? This is a critical question that cannot be answered so easily. Previous birth and rebirth will definitely question this. Who will be reborn?

Then one has to accept the theory of body or soul. If it is accepted that there is the soul then one has to answer the question that whether the soul is under the creator or it is self- evolved. If life, death and rebirth are according to the directions of God then there can be no good or no evil. If everything is under the control of God then one cannot label anyone as bad.

The need for the line of continuity makes one ask, without a soul that functions independently, who will do the bad deeds, who will experience its effects and how? Thus are interlinked the soul, actions and karma.

Vedas have explicitly accepted the existence of soul. The Upanishads also discuss the concept of soul exhaustively. In the Chandogya Upanishad, it is said that when one emerges from the clutches of the senses then one becomes extraordinary. It is said that each of the senses came to Prajapati one by one and held forth on their greatness: even when there was no speech, eyesight, feeling or thought, the body still existed. However once pran or life energy left, none of them were functional. Therefore in the Prasnopanishad, the soul is said to be food, life and fire energy. The Upanishad says the soul is different from the body and superior to the senses, mind and intellect. Elsewhere it is called the charioteer who drives the chariot which is the body (Katopanishad 1.33) In this very Upanishad, Swetaketu presented himself to his father Aruni eager to know the would and many ways of doing so were given:

Aruni says to him:

Aruni: Get the fruit of banyan tree

Swetaketu: Here it is

A: Break it

S: I have broken

A: Do you see the tree in it?

S: O no! there are small seeds

A: Break one seed

S: I have done it

A: What do you see?

S: Nothing

A: O, my dear you have not seen the greatness in the seed. The tree is its bigger form.

This dialogue reveals the existence of the invisible, unexpressed. In this story in the Katopanishad, it has been shown that the soul is the cause of all life and yet is by itself invisible, subtle.

Swetaketu expressed curiosity about the soul. He wanted to know how the soul is eternal, imperishable. Some people contend that the soul perishes with the body, some say it does not, May I know from you what the soul is? As my third boon I wish an answer to the question where does life originate? Why does the body perish? In answer to these questions the answers given to clarify the nature of the soul were: it is not characterized by dharma or adharma, not afflicted by illnesses, death or sorrow, free from hunger and thirst, it is the ultimate truth.

Why does soul leave a body? To this the only answer is that soul is not bound by religion, old age, death, sorrow, desire, etc. This is 'The Truth' when soul leaves, the body dies. Soul never dies. It is eternal, indestructible, birth-less, death-less. It does not die even after the body dies. Just as the seed never dies so is the soul. The tree dies but not the seed so also body dies not the soul. Oh gentle seeker, similarly when life leaves the body, the body dies, not the soul. It has also been variously referred to as eternal, indestructible, unborn, immortal and the most ancient truth, which does not perish with the body. Using the simile of the seed it was said, "O gentle seeker imagine that you too, your body and its form sprouted from that, for your origins too are in the subtle."

To learn more about the immortal, it was asked, "What remains of the body after one dies? In the absence of which there is nothing left in the body, that is the soul." (Kathoupanishad 1.120/1.1.29)

In another Upanishad soul is considered to be all powerful and master of everything around - both the created and uncreated. Soul is as small as a finger. It is located in the central point of the body. (Prashno Upanishad 3.1)

In another it has just been described as a state (Chandogya Upanishad 8.1.15).

We cannot negate the idea of the existence of soul. It exists as fire exists in wood (Chandogya 6.11.3).

As the wheel is to its spokes, as fire is to its sparks, so is God to the soul. Soul is believed to pervade the body. (Chandogya 1.12.18)

Just as a sword is kept in a scabbard and fire in the hearth, so also soul is pervading in the body, from the nails to the top of the head.

We have to accept that souls are different and each body has a different soul, therefore we have to accept multiplicity and diversity of souls. Also, if we believe in rebirth then one has to accept that there are different kinds of soul that are born differently, so there are many souls.

Upanishad affirms the idea of rebirth and says that a soul has to go through a series of rebirths to reach the Ultimate. The one who is reborn must have had a previous birth and this is clear when we from the very concept of rebirth. The reason for rebirth is our karmas, which are created due to the differing desires and aspirations of the people.

Kame kamahi kamiyam khu dukkham

Desire, disease and attachment are ailments of the same genre. They cause the accumulation of karmas and the accumulated karmas decide the nature of rebirth.

Gita has discussed at length about the existence of soul. It has asserted that the soul is different from the senses, the mind or the intellect. The soul has been understood as being eternal, without beginning or end and incapable of being destroyed. Soul cannot be killed by any implement, fire cannot burn it, water cannot drown it and wind cannot dry it. As we discard the old clothes and wear new ones similarly the soul leaves a withered body and wears a new body. The soul cannot perish, it is immortal.

A soul is known as the consumer of deeds. It is a friend and a foe according to one's own karma or deeds.

Gita says on the theory of rebirth:

  1. Sri Krishna tells Arjun - you and I have gone through many lives. I know about them whereas you are not aware of it. This clearly endorses the view on rebirth. Rebirth is said to be a cycle of sorrows in short.
  2. Those who don't revere the presence of Almighty continue to take birth again and again in this mortal world.
  3. Attachment is said to be the basic reason for rebirth.
  4. After reaping the fruits of karma or deeds, people are born here again. It is a well-known fact that people are completely attached to this world and continue to be born again and again till all their desires are fulfilled.
  5. In this context it is said that people who bear good qualities are born as wise men. And those who are completely driven by temptation are born wayward.
  6. Inimical, wicked and sinners are born repeatedly in this world.
  7. Just as the wind carries the fragrance of the flower depending on its direction, so too do good people carry their fine qualities with them through every birth. People attain that emotional state which they nurture for a long time. It can be satva, tamas or rajas. This is why great saints are believed to be men who have noble acts behind them.

(From Gita chapters 8.15, 9.3, 8.16, 9.21, 14-15, 15.8, 16.19, 6.8-9, 41.42)


Title: The Secret of Past Lives
Authors: Muni Kishan Lal
Publisher: B. Jain Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
Edition: 2017

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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Acharya
  2. Adharma
  3. Agamas
  4. Ajiva
  5. Body
  6. Brahma
  7. Concept of Soul
  8. Consciousness
  9. Devas
  10. Dharma
  11. Essence of Jainism
  12. Gati
  13. Ghee
  14. Gita
  15. Jain Vishwa Bharti
  16. Jainism
  17. Jiva
  18. Karma
  19. Karmas
  20. Krishna
  21. Ladnun
  22. Maya
  23. Pran
  24. Rajas
  25. Soul
  26. Tamas
  27. Upanishads
  28. Vedas
  29. Vedic
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