100 Years Ago… – Rebirth: A lecture at the Tower Hall, Colombo

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The Review of Religions [English], November 1921

Resume of a public lecture delivered at the Tower Hall, Colombo, on 5 September 1921, by Mr Abdur Rehman BA. The lecture was addressed to a special audience. (Editor, The Review of Religions)

Introduction

The doctrine of the transmigration of soul into successive bodily forms, either human or animal, has been owned by various people from early times. It seems to have been recognised by the Egyptians and by Pythagoras in Greece. 

Islam recognises three forms of rebirths. All prophets of God and religious teachers taught the same. The world forgot the true spiritual aspect and development of human nature. In fact, he who does not realise the three sorts of rebirth are certainly without true sight. The three forms of rebirth are:

(1) The return of a person in the power and spirit of another 

(2) New births gained in this life, and 

(3) Life after death

Rebirth from Hindu point of view

The Hindus believe that the soul is rewarded and punished in this very world according and in proportion to its merits or demerits. But this is all a delusion. The blind and the cripple are suffering from unknown deeds they did in their supposed previous births. They are unable to reform themselves inasmuch as they are unable to know the sins that have been the cause of their being miserable in this life. The unfortunate people are unable to abstain from the deeds which have subjected them to this miserable plight. Most probably they may be doing or committing the same sort of things which have been ruining them throughout their whole human life. Their propensity or habit of stealing or cutting the throats of their neighbours will naturally lead them to repeat the same line of thoughts and consequently of actions. They say, if one kills an ant, he is guilty of murdering a man, as the soul in an ant is of the same rank and feelings as that of a man. The punishment of killing an ant or taking a man’s life will equally compel the culprit to pass thousands of years in various garbs of lower animals, say a dog, a lion, or a bear. But these animals will kill other animals and will consequently be continuing to add to their already unexpired term of punishment. They cannot, therefore, possibly assume human form but will go on multiplying their sins and crimes in innumerable rebirths of lower animals like worms and germs. That is the goal of the transmigration of the soul from the Hindu point of view. They maintain that God is rigidly just and therefore He does not pardon sins. His kingdom is rather based on the multiplicity of sins, hence calling for sins and crimes. 

The greatest injustice on the part of God is this that as soon as a soul enters another body it is bereft of all good knowledge and the vast experience and that it is told to repeat the same tiresome process over again. 

The doctrine of the so-called rebirth does in no way contribute to the moral uplift of human society. A man’s daughter or a sister after death may become his or his son’s wife. This doctrine moreover reduces the Almighty God to a mere non-entity from another point of view, for they say that matter and soul are co-existent with God who loves to see us committing sins, as His whole kingdom rests on committing sins, otherwise His Godhead is at stake. A liberal-minded man’s conscience revolts at such a foolish conception of God. A wicked life is productive of every good that men enjoy, while a good life will lessen these blessings. You cannot have a horse or a beast of burden until some wicked man manages to supply you with them by committing horrible deeds, nay, you cannot get a wife until a sinner passes into the form of a woman.

Taking all these points into consideration, the doctrine may safely be condemned, otherwise it will condemn morals, falsify God, and will demoralise human society by inducing its members to outdo Satan in their diabolical actions. 

Rebirth from Buddhist point of view

There is no doubt that the supporters of the transmigration of soul differ in many respects, viz., from Pythagoras down to the Tibetan Lamas and Northern and Southern schools of philosophy in India. Buddha it seems believed in three sorts of rebirths. Firstly, that a man’s actions and steady resolve in this life needs new-birth in another’s body. Secondly, that a Buddha’s soul enters the bodies of the Lamas, that is, Buddha’s power and spirit and character affect the soul of the existing Lamas. Thirdly, a man has to pass through several successive stages of spiritual development until with the perfection and purification of his soul he becomes a perfect man who has passed spiritually through the symbolical garbs of a dog, a cow, a wolf, etc, in this very life, though physically he keeps on wearing the same human form. 

As to the third stage Buddha is very explicit. He says that he lived symbolically as a monkey for some time, that he became a lion ten times, a cock four times, and as a hare he used to preach to monkeys, jackals, &c. He became a woman once and a dancing satan on another occasion. He speaks of his womanish weakness and of indulging in the satisfaction of his wild passions and becoming a slave of his lower nature. He enjoyed this state symbolically when he was under the influence of the Vedas. But when he got enlightened and condemned the Vedas, he never spoke of passing through the above stages of spiritual growth. 

It will be remembered that soul can do nothing without body and that body is a useless lump of clay without soul. When a soul departs from a body, it is still in an invisible spiritual body possessing a certain sort of consciousness. If not, it is nothing and therefore incapable of finding its way to its future habitation. The karma being lifeless is unable to be its proper guide in its future career. Since man began to think of something which goes out of man when he dies, it appears, that he has met with the problem of an after-death existence. Many theories have been advanced to explain this state after death. 

Hindu philosophers have varied in their explanations. Of these philosophers the Vedantists have tried to solve it in a somewhat modified form. They hold that the seeds of the world lie dormant in Brahma during the interval between one age (kalpa) and another, between one creation and the next, and that the effects which our past deeds will produce depend after all on the Creator and Ruler of the world, a more or less the personal Iswara or Lord. The seeds of good and evil deeds are of our own sowing, their growth in the next world depends on the Lord, just as the growth of natural seeds depend on the rain and sunshine from heaven. This explanation they call as Karma, that is, act or deed. 

Rebirth from the Christian point of view

It will be remembered that the Jews were expecting the second coming of Elias (Elijah) before the appearance of Jesus. But they were corrected by Jesus who said that John the Baptist was the one who was to come and he positively denied the so-called rebirth of a person who had died long before. The Jews were mistaken like our Moslem friends in Ceylon and elsewhere. 

The time of the second coming of Jesus

Jesus said that he would come like a thief when watchers would be asleep. At the same time, he said that his second advent would be marked by four principal events of universal interest, viz., the world will be visited by plague, famines, earthquakes, and tremendous wars. Every fair-minded person will not fail to admit that the time of his second advent has already come and the Promised Messiah appeared in the person of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, peace be with him. 

(Transcribed by Al Hakam from the original in The Review of Religions [English], November 1921)

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