Culled from Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi and The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi in His Own Words.
Just as rivers lose their individuality when they discharge their waters into the ocean, and yet the waters evaporate and return as rain on the hills and back again through the rivers to the ocean, so also individuals lose their individuality when they go to sleep but return again according to their previous innate tendencies. Similarly in death also, being is not lost.
See how a tree grows again when its branches are cut off. So long as the life source is not destroyed, it will grow. Similarly, latent potentialities withdraw into the heart at death but do not perish. That is how beings are reborn.
In truth, however, there is neither seed nor tree, there is only Being.
Question: How long is the interval between death and rebirth?
Bhagavan: It may be long or short, but a realized person undergoes no such change; he merges into the Infinite Being, as is said in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Some say that those who, after death, take the path of light are not reborn, whereas those who take the path of darkness are reborn after they have reaped their karma in their subtle bodies.
If a man’s merits and demerits are equal he is reborn immediately on earth; if the merits outweigh the demerits his subtle body goes first to heaven, while if the demerits outweigh the merits he goes first to hell. But in either case he is later reborn on earth. All this is described in the scriptures, but in fact there is neither birth nor death: one simply remains what one really is. That is the only truth.
Question: Is the Buddhist view that there is no continuous entity answering to the idea of the individual soul right or not? Is this consistent with the Hindu doctrine of a reincarnating ego? Is the soul a continuous entity which reincarnates again and again according to the Hindu doctrine or a mere conglomeration of mental tendencies according to the Buddhists?
Bhagavan: The real Self is continuous and unaffected. The reincarnating ego belongs to a lower plane, that of thought. It is transcended by Self-realization. Reincarnations are due to a spurious offshoot of Being and are therefore denied by the Buddhists. The human state is due to the mingling of the sentient with the insentient.
The birth of the I-thought is a person’s birth and its death is his death. After the ‘I-thought’ has arisen the false identification with the body arises. But if you cease to identify yourself with the body and realize the true Self this confusion will vanish.
Devotee: Even if I cannot realize in my lifetime, let me at least not forget on my deathbed. Let me have a glimpse of Reality at the moment of death so that I may stand in good stead in the future.
Bhagavan: It is said in the Bhagavad Gita, Ch. VIII, that whatever is a person’s last thought at death determines his next birth. But it is necessary to experience Reality now in this lifetime in order to experience it at death. Consider whether the present moment is any different from the last one of death and try to be in the desired state now.
Question: Is the Hindu doctrine of reincarnation right?
Bhagavan: No definite answer is possible. Even the present incarnation is denied, for instance in the Bhagavad Gita.
Question: Isn’t our personality beginningless?
Bhagavan: Find out first whether it exists at all and after you have solved that problem ask the question. Nammalwar says: “In ignorance I took the ego to be the Self, but with right knowledge the ego is not and only You remain as the Self.” Both the non-dualists and the dualists agree on the necessity for Self-realization. Attain that first and then raise other questions. Non-dualism or dualism cannot be decided on theoretical grounds alone. If the Self is realized the question will not arise.
Whatever is born must die; whatever is acquired must be lost; but were you born? You are eternally existent. The Self can never be lost.