The Mystery of Consciousness


Death. Man's most mysterious, relentless, and inevitable adversary. Does death mean the end of life, or does it merely open the door to another life, another dimension, or another world?

If man's consciousness survives the death experience, then what determines its transition to new realities?

In order to gain a clear understanding of these mysteries, man has traditionally turned to enlightened philosophers, accepting their teachings as representative of a higher truth.

Some criticize this method of acquiring knowledge from a higher authority, no matter how carefully the seeker may analyze it. Social philosopher E. F. Schumacher, author of Small Is Beautiful, notes that in our modern society, when people are out of touch with nature and traditional wisdom, they "consider it fashionable to ridicule ... and only believe in what they see and touch and measure." Or, as the saying goes, "Seeing is believing."

But when man endeavors to understand something beyond the scope of the material senses, beyond instruments of measurement and the faculty of mental speculation, then there is no alternative but to approach a higher source of knowledge.

No scientist has successfully explained through laboratory investigations the mystery of consciousness or its destination after the destruction of the material body. Research in this field has produced many divergent theories, but their limitations must be recognized.

The systematic principles of reincarnation, on the other hand, comprehensively explain the subtle laws governing our past, present, and future lives.

If one is to understand reincarnation at all, he must acknowledge the fundamental concept of consciousness as an energy distinct from and superior to the matter composing the physical body. This principle is supported by examination of the unique thinking, feeling, and willing capacities of the human being. Can DNA strands or other genetic components possibly induce the feelings of love and respect one person has for another? What atom or molecule is responsible for the subtle artistic nuances in Shakespeare's Hamlet or Bach's "Mass in B Minor"? Man and his infinite capabilities cannot be explained by mere atoms and molecules. Einstein, the father of modern physics, admitted that consciousness could not be adequately described in terms of physical phenomena. "I believe that the present fashion of applying the axioms of science to human life is not only entirely a mistake, but also has something reprehensible in it," the great scientist once said.

Indeed, scientists have failed to explain consciousness by means of the physical laws that govern everything else within their purview. Frustrated by this failing, Nobel laureate in physiology and medicine Albert Szent-Gyorgyi recently lamented, "In my search for the secret of life, I ended up with atoms and electrons, which have no life at all. Somewhere along the line, life has run out through my fingers. So, in my old age, I am now retracing my steps."

Accepting the notion that consciousness arises from molecular interaction requires an enormous leap of faith, much greater than that required for a metaphysical explanation. As Thomas Huxley, the well-known biologist, said, "It seems to me pretty plain that there is a third thing in the universe, to wit, consciousness which ... I cannot see to be matter or force or any con ceivable modification of either..."

Further recognition of the unique properties of consciousness was given by Nobel laureate in physic Niels Bohr, who remarked, "We can admittedly find nothing in physics or chemistry that has even a remote bearing on consciousness. Yet all of us know there is such a thing as consciousness, simply because we have it ourselves. Hence consciousness must be part of nature, or, more generally, of reality, which means that quite apart from the laws of physics and chemistry, as laid down in quantum theory, we must also consider laws of quite a different kind." Such laws might well include the laws of reincarnation, which govern the passage of consciousness from one physical body into another.

To begin understanding these laws, we may note that reincarnation is not an alien, antipodal event, but one that occurs with regularity in our own bodies during this very lifetime. In The Human Brain, Professor John Pfeiffer notes, "Your body does not contain a single one of the molecules that it contained seven years ago." Every seven years one's old body is completely rejuvenated. The self, however, our real identity, remains unchanged. Our bodies grow from infancy, to youth, to middle age, and then to old age, yet the person within the body, the "I,"always remains the same.

Reincarnation-based on the principle of a conscious self independent of its physical body-is part of a higher-order system governing the living being's transmigration from one material form to another. Since reincamation deals with our most essential selves, it is a subject of the utmost relevance to everyone.

Coming Back explains the fundamentals of reincarnation presented in the timeless Vedic text Bhagavad-gita. The Gita, thousands of years older than the Dead Sea Scrolls, provides the most complete explanation of reincarnation available anywhere. It has been studied for millennia by many of the world's greatest thinkers, and since spiritual knowledge is eternally true and does not change with each new scientific theory, it is still relevant today.

Harvard biophysicist D. P. Dupey writes, "We may lead ourselves down a blind alley by adhering dogmatically to the assumption that life can be explained entirely by what we know of the laws of nature. By remaining open to the ideas embodied in the Vedic tradition of India, modern scientists can see their own disciplines from a new perspective and further the aim of all scientific endeavor: the search for truth."

In this age of global uncertainty, it is imperative that we understand the real origin of our conscious selves, how we find ourselves in different bodies and conditions of life, and what our destinations will be at the time of death. This essential information is comprehensively explained in Coming Back.

Chapter One shows how reincarnation has profoundly influenced many of the world's greatest philosophers, poets, and artists, from Socrates to Salinger. Next, the process of reincarnation as expounded in Bhagavad-gita, the oldest and most respected sourcebook on the subject of transmigration of the soul, is presented.

Chapter Two, a lively dialogue between His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and noted religious psychologist Professor Karlfried Graf von Durckheim, clearly shows how the material body and the antimaterial particle, the spirit soul, can never be the same. In Chapter Three, a famous heart surgeon urges systematic research into the soul, and Srila Prabhupada cites the Vedic version, thousands of years older and strikingly more informative than modern medical science. Three fascinating narratives from the Vedic text Srimad-Bhagavatam constitute Chapter Four. These accounts stand as classic examples of how the soul transmigrates through different types of bodies under the control of the precise laws of nature and karma.

In Chapter Five, excerpts from the writings of Srila Prabhupada clearly demonstrate that the principles of reincarnation can be easily understood in terms of ordinary events and common observations that regularly occur in our daily lives. The next chapter describes how reincarnation embodies a universal and infallible system of justice, wherein the soul is never banished to eternal damnation but is constitutionally endowed with a permanent opportunity to escape the perpetual cycle of birth and death.

Common misconceptions and chic notions about reincarnation form the subject of Chapter Seven, and the concluding chapter, "Don't Come Back," presents the process through which the soul can transcend reincarnation and enter realms in which it is finally freed from the prison of the material body. Having once achieved this status, the soul never again returns to this endlessly mutable world of birth, disease, old age, and death.



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