The Problem of Rebirth

Sri Aurobindo The Problem of Rebirth

The Problem of Rebirth

In The Problem of Rebirth, Sri Aurobindo assesses the central arguments surrounding the concept of rebirth. He suggests that rebirth is a vehicle conveying the soul forward in its aeonic evolution towards self-knowledge and self-mastery. Evolution through the process of rebirth enables the soul’s indomitable effort through Time; karma engineers its spiritual education. Once seen, the process of karma, the law of consequence, takes a central place among the issues of life: “This evolution is not possible if there is not a connected sequence from life to life, a result of action and experience, an evolutionary consequence to the soul, a law of Karma. ” We have all had occasion to question providence; to ask “why do the good suffer, why do the evil prosper”. Such fundamental questions of life take on a new significance when viewed with an understanding of The Problem of Rebirth.

The true foundation of the theory of rebirth is the evolution of the soul, or rather its efflorescence out of the veil of Matter and its gradual self-finding. Buddhism contained this truth involved in its theory of Karma and emergence out of Karma but failed to bring it to light; Hinduism knew it of old, but afterwards missed the right balance of its expression. Now we are again able to restate the ancient truth in a new language and this is already being done by certain schools of thought, though still the old incrustations tend to tack themselves on to the deeper wisdom. And if this gradual efflorescence be true, then the theory of rebirth is an intellectual necessity, a logically unavoidable corollary. But what is the aim of that evolution? Not conventional or interested virtue and the faultless counting out of the small coin of good in the hope of an apportioned material reward, but the continual growth towards a divine knowledge, strength, love and purity.


Book Details

Author: Sri Aurobindo

Print Length: 190 pages

Publisher: Sri Aurobindo Ashram

Contributor: Krishna

Book format: PDFePubKindle

Language: English

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Section I. Rebirth and Karma

  • Rebirth
  • The Reincarnating Soul
  • Rebirth, Evolution, Heredity
  • Rebirth and Soul Evolution
  • The Significance of Rebirth
  • The Ascending Unity
  • Involution and Evolution
  • Karma
  • Karma and Freedom
  • Karma, Will and Consequence
  • Rebirth and Karma
  • Karma and Justice

Section II. The Lines of Karma

  • The Foundation
  • The Terrestrial Law
  • Mind Nature and Law of Karma
  • The Higher Lines of Karma
  • The Tangle of Karma
  • A Clarification

Note on the Texts


Book Sample

The Problem of Rebirth

The theory of rebirth is almost as ancient as thought itself and its origin is unknown. We may according to our prepossessions accept it as the fruit of ancient psychological experience always renewable and verifiable and therefore true or dismiss it as a philosophical dogma and ingenious speculation; but in either case the doctrine, even as it is in all appearance well-nigh as old as human thought itself, is likely also to endure as long as human beings continue to think.

In former times the doctrine used to pass in Europe under the grotesque name of transmigration which brought with it to the Western mind the humorous image of the soul of Pythagoras migrating, a haphazard bird of passage, from the human form divine into the body of a guinea-pig or an ass. The philosophical appreciation of the theory expressed itself in the admirable but rather unmanageable Greek word, metempsychosis, which means the insouling of a new body by the same psychic individual. The Greek tongue is always happy in its marriage of thought and word and a better expression could not be found; but forced into English speech the word becomes merely long and pedantic without any memory of its subtle Greek sense and has to be abandoned. Reincarnation is the now popular term, but the idea in the word leans to the gross or external view of the fact and begs many questions. I prefer “rebirth”, for it renders the sense of the wide, colourless, but sufficient Sanskrit term, punarjanma, “again-birth”, and commits us to nothing but the fundamental idea which is the essence and life of the doctrine.

Rebirth is for the modern mind no more than a speculation and a theory; it has never been proved by the methods of modern science or to the satisfaction of the new critical mind formed by a scientific culture. Neither has it been disproved; for modern science knows nothing about a before-life or an after-life for the human soul, knows nothing indeed about a soul at all, nor can know; its province stops with the flesh and brain and nerve, the embryo and its formation and development. Neither has modern criticism any apparatus by which the truth or untruth of rebirth can be established. In fact, modern criticism, with all its pretensions to searching investigation and scrupulous certainty, is no very efficient truth-finder. Outside the sphere of the immediate physical it is almost helpless. It is good at discovering data, but except where the data themselves bear on the surface their own conclusion, it has no means of being rightly sure of the generalisations it announces from them so confidently in one generation and destroys in the next. It has no means of finding out with surety the truth or untruth of a doubtful historical assertion; after a century of dispute it has not even been able to tell us yes or no, whether Jesus Christ ever existed.

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  1. […] excerpt from one of Sri Aurobindo’s works. It’s just a small brochure format, a small book, The Problem of Rebirth by Sri Aurobindo. And there is a fitting paragraph I thought to read here which I think elaborates […]

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