Reincarnation—The Most Essential Spiritual Truth

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Four Positions on Reincarnation

Some religions accept a soul without reincarnation while others accept reincarnation without a soul. In this post, I will talk about why a soul without reincarnation is problematic but reincarnation without a soul is not. We will divide ideologies into four—(a) reincarnation with a soul, (b) reincarnation without a soul, (c) soul without reincarnation, and (d) no reincarnation and no soul. Reincarnation is vital to morality. Without it, people become immoral because they think that if they can escape the results of sin in this life, they have escaped them forever.

Thus, we can call the above four ideologies moral theists, moral atheists, immoral theists, and immoral atheists. I shall compare and contrast these ideologies after describing reincarnation in precise, technical, and scientific terms. We will then be able to see why moral atheists are better than immoral theists or immoral atheists. Of course, moral theists are superior to all these three. That gives us a ladder for classifying all kinds of ideologies.

The Science of Reincarnation

Life as a Constraint on Freedom

The first key statement in the Bhagavad-Gita is: “Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings, and never will there be a time when we shall cease to exist”. The soul has existed in the past, it exists in the present, and it shall exist in the future. The next key statement is: “Just as the soul goes from childhood to youth to old age in this body, similarly, at the change of body; a sober person is not confused or disturbed there (i.e., at the change of body)”. Given that the soul is eternal (based on the previous statement), the next statement talks about its continuously changing bodies. The “body” here includes the “mind”. Just as the body is changing, similarly, the mind.

A “body” is a set of states such as childhood, youth, and old age. Each of these states is also a set of states that we call years, months, weeks, and days. Each of these states is also a set of states such as hungry, thirsty, sleepy, and active. Thus, life is a hierarchical set of sets with subsets and states. This set is fixed at the time of birth and sequenced during a life. At the beginning of the next life, another set of sets of subsets and states is fixed. The superset of states across different lives is not fixed. But it is possible to think of the succession of lives as a set of sets—each of which constitutes one life—quite similar to how we think of one life as a set of subsets of states called childhood and youth.

Since the set of states called “life” is fixed at the time of birth, therefore, things outside the set are impossible. But we can still sequence these states in many ways. A limited set of states in one life can be compared to a limited dictionary. At different times, places, and situations, a subset of the dictionary—akin to one page in a dictionary—is opened for a person by nature and time. We cannot step outside that page, but we can create many sentences even with a limited vocabulary. When a person goes from one life to another, he gets a different dictionary. Its pages are turned by nature and time, constraining us to fewer words, while allowing us the freedom to construct different sentences.

Hence, reincarnation from one life to another can be talked of in the same way as reincarnation from childhood to youth. The former is a change in the dictionary while the latter is the change of the page in a dictionary. When new things happen in people’s lives, they say “life is turning a page”. Rebirth is then changing a dictionary. This is the meaning of the statement in the Bhagavad-Gita, indicated by the terms “just as” and “in the same way”. The change in the dictionary is just like the change of a page in the dictionary. Thus, the body is not an object. It is a state. The soul is the object and the body is a state and the soul moves from one state to another. If these states are sets, then the soul moves within the set in the same way that it moves from one set to another.

The Axiom of Choice in Set Theory

We can think of the “body” as a set of elements—subsets that in turn comprise individual states. These elements are not sequenced a priori. We can sequence a set as S1: {A, B, C} or S2: {C, B, A}. We can also talk about a set S whose sequenced expressions are S1 and S2. But we can never describe what S is, without sequencing it. Even if we draw a set as a circle containing elements, we have sequenced it from left to right and from top to bottom by placing elements within the circle at the top left, top right, bottom left, and bottom right. The mere act of describing or illustrating a set necessitates its sequencing.

Hence, the “body” is an unmanifest state of the set in which the elements are not sequenced. Whenever it is manifest, it must be sequenced. The sequencing of elements in a set is called the Axiom of Choice in set theory because there are many ways to sequence the element—such as S1 and S2 above. These sequences can be chosen, and to manifest the unmanifest set we need choice. This is the essence of the soul-matter interaction problem and its solution—(a) matter is an unmanifest set of elements in which the order is not defined, (b) spirit is the choosing and sequencing entity, and (c) by the interaction of the unmanifest set and the sequencing agency, a manifest sequence is created.

Note how different this idea of soul-matter interaction is from the mind-body interaction problem in Cartesian dualism where mind and body are called different kinds of “substances”. If we liken these “substances” to objects, then the interaction of two objects requires a force between them, but forces can only occur between objects of the same type. For instance, in physics, mass does not exert a force on charge; only charges exert forces on charges. So, if mind and body are interacting, then they must both be similar as charges or masses, which would also mean that they are no longer different “substances”.

The solution to the Cartesian mind-body problem necessitates the reduction of the mind to the body if the body is an object. That is not true if a momentary body is a state of the soul, a collection of possible states is “life”, and the soul moves from one state to another to create a sequence of bodily states.

Construction of Number Theory

Modern arithmetic is constructed from set theory in which the Axiom of Choice plays a key role in sequencing the elements to create order—first, second, third, etc. The set has no notion of first, second, or third. That property is added to the set by the Axiom of Choice. By the addition of choice, the unmanifest becomes manifest, which means that we can count things in an ordered sequence.

The elements being ordered are called Sāñkhya which comprises 24 basic types and subtypes, which are described hierarchically as morals, identities, beliefs, thoughts, sensations, and objects. These exist as individual types of entities in the unmanifest set. However, every experience involves some combination of each type of element. The combination is a choice, and that choice is also a sequence. Choice has three components—(a) a space component that combines some of the 24 types and subtypes, (b) a time component due to which these combinations are sequenced, and (c) a person component in which the sequence of combinations is assigned to an individual as their experience.

We cannot observe the unmanifest set, although it exists, because, at the point of observation, the unmanifest becomes our morals, identities, beliefs, thoughts, sensations, and objects. Whatever we observe is the result of combining, sequencing, and owning these elements as our experience. Sāñkhya is therefore the theory of the various types and subtypes and how they can be combined to produce an experience. Since a choice is essential to combine and sequence these types, hence, the soul is the 25th element of Sāñkhya.

There are thus two notions about numbers—(a) a manifest sequence of first, second, and third as the byproduct of choice, and (b) the hierarchically organized unmanifest set of types, which are combined to produce an experience through choice. The manifest sequence of states constitutes number theory while the unmanifest set of types is called Sāñkhya. The term Sāñkhya means “that which can be counted”. In contrast, Sañkhyā means “that which has been counted”. Thus, mathematics studies the result of combining, sequencing, and owning the 25 basic types of Sāñkhya, but it remains clueless about the underlying mechanism that produces a sequenced and countable result.

Quantity is a Result of Quality

The elements of Sāñkhya are qualities, while the result of counting—or Sañkhyā—is quantity. We can also say that Sāñkhya is the foundation of arithmetic or counting—i.e., it explains how a personal-spatial-temporal sequence is constructed from an unordered set, or how the manifest is created from the unmanifest. Modern set theory postulates an Axiom of Choice and allows infinite sequences. It cannot explain why and how one of those infinite sequences is created. The fact is that we cannot order a set of elements that comprises identical elements. Each element has to be different from the other elements for choice to order them. There must also be criteria for ordering them—e.g., order things first by color, then by shape, then by hardness, and so on. Every possible way in which things can be ordered constitutes all the ways in which choice can act and the orderable elements in the set can exist.

The quantities that result from ordering are phenomena, not reality. The reality is qualities and choice. Even to explain these quantitatively measurable phenomena, we must use qualitative reasoning. Modern science has never done that. It assumes that quantity is reality and measurement of that quantity using some other quantities constitutes a phenomenon. The problem is that even the measurement of quantities involves sequencing via the Axiom of Choice.

For example, if you were given a plate of food, you can observe it in many sequences—e.g., the shape of the food, followed by its color, followed by its smell, followed by its temperature, and so on. This is because what we call “food” is an unmanifest reality and manifest phenomena are produced by sequencing aspects of reality by choice. There are infinite possible sequences because sequencing is the Axiom of Choice. Thereby, food is not an object. It is also a set that can be sequenced in infinite ways based on our choice.

Reincarnation in Inanimate Objects

The Problem of Indeterminism

The problem of choice is not easily understood because we think of reality in terms of inert objects. Factually, there are no objects. Even what we consider an object is a person. A person has six aspects—choice, intention, emotion, cognition, conation, and relation. An object—such as a table—dulls the choice, intention, emotion, and relation almost completely. Cognition and conation are dulled in the judgment of truth, good, and right (intellect, ego, and morality). The five senses of knowledge and action are limited to a few types of knowing and acting. And the mind—which establishes the relation between the senses of knowledge and action—is fixed into a few nearly constant connections.

And yet, there is still a person, although the capacities of personhood have been severely diminished. We can describe an inanimate person in the same way as we describe animate persons—i.e., they perceive something and react to it. For instance, if we push a table, the table senses the push through its sense of touch. The resulting “motion” is an effect of its senses of action. The table doesn’t feel pain if you hammer it; it doesn’t care if you use it or not. It has no attachment to other things in a room. It has no choice to get out of the situation. It merely perceives the world and reacts to it. Thus, even an “inert object” is a person that interacts with the world through senses and mind rather than force.

The necessity of a personal model of causation is established by the indeterminism of causality under which the result of an action is not fixed because there is still a mind that connects knowing to acting but the connection between the two is not fixed. We can illustrate this with an example. If you have been in crowded places, you find that people sometimes bump into you. On some days, you apologize even if it is not your fault. On other days, you look at the person irritably and say: “Watch out”. On yet other days, if you are pushed, you push back. This is indeterminism: The response to a push is not fixed.

The same problem exists with so-called “inanimate objects”: The response to a push is not fixed. On some days, pushing a table needs more force. On other days, the table seems to move easily with less push. This is not an illusion or instrument measurement error. In classical kinematics, colliding particle behavior is always indeterministic: (a) after a collision, they can recoil in different directions while preserving their individual identities, and (b) they can split into two or more particles which can then recoil in different directions.

The Quantum Measurement Problem

This problem of sequencing is also called the Quantum Measurement Problem. It is not just a problem of atomic theory. It is seen in every moment of life. You can focus on the taste of the food more often than its color, and the “probability” of detecting the taste would be higher than the “probability” of detecting color. That “probability” is a property of the observer-observed interaction, not just of the observed and not just of the observer. A different person can prioritize the smell of the food more than its color and observation probabilities will change. Thus, we cannot talk about probabilities of observation without including both the observer and the observed. The classical physical separation of an object from its measuring instrument is destroyed by this fact, and that takes away the false idea of objectivity in science.

The reason that this problem is now unsolvable in physics is that it was never solved in set theory. Set theory assumed the ability to sequence an unordered set of elements (by axiomatizing choice) but without explaining how choice operates. The problem of event sequencing is (a) the quantum measurement problem, (b) the problem of ordering an unordered set of elements in set theory, and (c) the designation of elements in a set as first, second, and third. The problems of mathematics, physics, and life are the same problem. The underlying mechanisms of set construction, hierarchical ordering, and time sequencing involve one theory. Current assumptions in science cannot create a solid foundation for these subjects because they have been quantifying the phenomena, thinking that those quantities are reality, failing to explain the observed sequences because they require qualities and choices, and getting stuck because the alternative needs a radically different kind of thinking.

Physical vs. Semantic Information

The fact is that we cannot rationally order a sequence of digits like 1s and 0s—unless we give them meaning—because all sequences are equally likely. Information under quantitative thinking is defined as the probability of one out of all possible sequences. For instance, ‘A’ and ‘B’ have equal information because they are 8-bit ASCII characters, 8 bits allow 256 characters, hence 256 is the “entropy” of an 8-bit sequence, and the inverse of that entropy is the probability of one of these two sequences. Information is the choice that makes the probability a reality, by selecting one out of all the possible alternatives.

This is not semantic information because ‘A’ and ‘B’ have the same amount of information although they are not the same. According to this idea of information, the equation “F = ma” has less information than a children’s storybook, because the equation has only 6 characters while a children’s storybook will have many more characters. The fact that “F = ma” can describe many scenarios is not relevant because we are not looking at the meaning of alphabets like F, =, m, and a. To talk about semantic information, we must have the capacity to say that “F = ma” has more information than a children’s storybook. We must also be able to say that “F = ma” is one thing although we don’t see that thing with our eyes. Then, we must have the ability to say that “d2x/dt2 = F/m” is precisely “F = ma” although it looks different.

The fact is that “F = ma” is semantically not identical to “Newton’s Second Law” because in the latter we have also indicated that there was a guy called Newton who invented at least two laws, under the assumption that we start counting things from one rather than zero or any other starting number. Likewise, “Newton’s Second Law” is not semantically identical to “F = ma” because the latter gives a formula for computation that the former does not. By quantifying information, we lose all the essential properties of semantics—(a) the person who created it, (b) the purposes for which he created it, (c) what it means, (d) what it does, (e) what it is a description of, and (f) why it is presently used.

The Necessity of Semantics

The quantitative measure of information is not semantics. However, that quantitative thing would not arise without semantics. If there was no person to create a formula, or he had no purpose to solve a problem, or he was incapable of thinking, or he was incapable of describing reality through a linguistic system, then the formula would not appear. When it appears, we may not see all the causes that led to its appearance and may just want to quantify it, but it won’t be an adequate explanation. Hence, we can measure reality as quantities but we cannot explain or predict the quantities completely. Conversely, if we describe the world qualitatively, we can explain and predict reality completely.

The fact is that the Axiom of Choice—by which we sequence letters into a specific sentence such as “F = ma”—requires all the sophisticated apparatus of semantics, such as persons, problems, goals to solve the problem, descriptive capacity, an external reality, and a connection between description and reality. The Axiom of Choice seems very simple if we don’t try to explain how, why, when, where, what, and who makes the choice. The thing we call the Axiom of Choice is enormously complicated if we do. This problem comes to the fore if we neglect the mechanisms of choice and face the probabilities of occurrences. We cannot explain how a sequence occurs without explaining choice.

Repersonalization of Reality

Personalism vs. Impersonalism

Modern science assumed that the cause-effect relation is fixed in nature. That is not a fact. Even “inanimate objects” don’t have a fixed behavior due to the mind. Indeterminism in science points toward the existence of a mind, which connects the senses of knowing and acting, but that causal connection is not fixed for all places, times, situations, and things. To explain this indeterminism (rather than calling it instrument error), we need senses, mind, intellect, ego, and morality even while studying “inanimate things”. With that change, the difference between animate and inanimate things would cease to exist.

In Vedic philosophy, we talk about the dharma of fire and water as hot and cold. They are not always hot or cold because the cause-effect relation is not fixed. But they are mostly hot and cold because there is a duty-bound mind even in fire and water. If nature is impersonalized, then water and fire will not have any dharma because duty exists only when there is a choice. If there is no choice, then there is no duty and responsibility to perform a duty. Therefore, the fundamental problem in modern thinking is impersonalism: We impersonalize water and fire, then we impersonalize plants and animals, we then depersonalize humans, and finally, we depersonalize God. By such a process, the ultimate truth becomes a formula or equation rather than a person.

Science institutes impersonalism by claiming that the cause-effect relation is fixed. Religion institutes personalism by claiming that choices have no responsibility. Thereby, we get the determinism vs. choice paradox because the mind is free while the body is deterministic. Both are wrong because causal determinism is false even in the case of so-called inanimate objects and choice without responsibility is false in the case of so-called animate persons. Choices are not free because the body constrains them. The body is not an object because it is a potential that can be activated into reality through a choice.

Living and Non-Living Things

Religions that reject reincarnation have impersonalized nature and given freedom to humans. The fact is that a human is not free in the sense that these religions presume. Similarly, matter is not deterministic in the way that we have assumed. Both science and religion are false. People often ask: Can both science and religion be true? But there is a better question: Can both be false?

There is always a choice, there is a responsibility to use that choice in a preferred manner, and when that choice is misused then the responsibility reduces the choices. A table is a person whose choices have been reduced. A table can be bought and sold. A table can be used in whatever way the owner desires. A table is depersonalized by the dulling of most aspects of personhood. This dulling doesn’t make it impersonal. It is still a person that has been dulled. Even when a table is purchased, some tables go to people who keep the table clean and do not cause much damage to it while using it, but other tables go to people who keep the table unclean and cause much damage to it while using it. Which table goes to which buyer is not an accident. It is also a precise science that follows the same laws as humans. Just as some humans get a good life, similarly, some tables are bought by humans who give them a better life.

If you move a table, there is a succession of bodies of a soul. The body is not moving. The soul is moving from body to body. The issues of Cartesian mind-body dualism arise from thinking of the body as an object. They disappear if the body is a state instead of object. This answer to mind-body dualism replaces motion with reincarnation. It is the motion of the soul rather than of the body.

Can You Prove Reincarnation?

Hence, if someone says, “Can you prove reincarnation?”, then we could just move our hand and say: “There”. The up-and-down movement of the hand is also reincarnation because both states are potentials and by the selection of one potential and the rejection of another the hand moves. The same soul has taken a different bodily form. Hence, it is reincarnation: The soul taking a new body.

The idea that reincarnation occurs only at the time of death is a materialistic idea. The demand for proof of reincarnation arises only for someone who hasn’t yet solved the mind-body problem. When we solve the mind-body problem in the above way, there is no need to prove reincarnation. We can extend this point to make a more general one: Many things that we consider problems are merely problems created by our way of thinking. Similarly, many things that we consider not to be problems are the results of other neglected problems.

The problem of life-stage sequencing that Kṛṣṇa calls the soul moving from childhood to youth to old age, can also be elaborated as the problem of day-event sequencing from hungry to lusty to sleepy, and it can also be elaborated as going from taste to smell to color to shape, during a single meal. The problem of sequencing is hierarchical—(a) at an abstract level, we can talk about life stages like childhood, youth, and old age, (b) at the next detailed level, we can talk about the sequencing of days, (c) at the next detailed level we can talk about going from hungry to lusty to sleep every day, and (d) at an even more detailed level, we can talk about going from taste to smell to color during a meal.

Once we can talk about this generic problem of event sequencing, then we can talk about reincarnation in the same breath—”Just as the soul goes from childhood to youth to old age in this body, similarly, at the time of change of body. A sober person is not confused or bewildered there”. Transmigration of the soul is not merely occurring at the time of death. It is occurring even while consuming a meal because there is a sequence of events and the problem of event-sequencing is how every life is defined as the succession of events.

The Possibility of Alternative Science

Modern science was created by the objectification of matter, and tying a soul (in Cartesian philosophy) to matter without explaining how the two interact. This science has failed because (a) mechanisms of choice are assumed in set theory but never explained, (b) there is no foundation for numbers, (c) we cannot order a sequence of things without qualities, (d) quantifications of qualities can never explain qualitative experience, (e) quantification is an incomplete description of reality that fails to explain and predict observations that we call indeterminism, and (f) it creates arbitrary boundaries between mind and body, living and non-living, that we can neither explain nor justify rationally and empirically.

The alternative to modern science is found in Vedic texts, in which all changes occur due to soul movement. Even if we move our hands, we select a potential state which preexisted the movement in an unmanifest form. Even if we push a table, the motion involves the senses of knowledge and action along with a connection between them established through the mind. If we don’t accept personalism, then we will get indeterminism. Hence, there is no impersonal reality. There are only persons. And yet, the six traits of personhood—choice, intention, emotion, cognition, conation, and relation—can be diminished to make a person seem impersonal. This is just like we can put tape on a person’s mouth to prevent him from speaking; we can tie a person’s hands and legs to make him immovable; we can put a blindfold on a person’s eyes to prevent him from seeing. When everything is dulled, the capacity of personhood is not reduced. However, the person is unable to exhibit the traits of personhood.

Thus, Vedic science talks about bondage—akin to tying hands and legs, applying tape on the mouth, and blindfolding the eyes. Material energy is bondage because it diminishes our personhood. We lose intellectual, emotional, relational, and perceptual capacities as a result of matter covering the soul. When the soul is thus covered, it suffers, because it has been tied, gagged, and blindfolded. Both science and religion are about the science of binding and liberating a person. Bondage is converting a person into impersonal and liberation is removing the bondage to exhibit the full personhood.

Vedic science is simply the understanding of personhood. There is a complete person with six aspects of personhood in full. There are incomplete persons with the six aspects of personhood in part. The incomplete persons are different aspects of the complete person. The complete person is the creator, controller, and enjoyer of the parts, and the incomplete persons are created, controlled, and enjoyed by the complete person. When the incomplete person wants to become independently complete, then instead of gaining the ability to display more aspects of personhood, he starts losing the ability to display the existing aspects of personhood. A person then gradually becomes an object.

Scientific Principles of Religion

Social Order Needs Personhood

Everything we do in a social order depends on persistent personhood. While the events are changing every moment, the person who makes the choices remains persistent. If two people get married, their bodies change the very next day. But we do not dissolve the marriage because the marriage was not between the bodies; it was rather between the souls. The body changes, but the soul does not change. The persistence of the souls entails the persistence of marriage.

If we borrow money from a bank, the body changes the very next moment after the loan is disbursed. But we have to still repay the loan. We cannot say that the body that took the loan has changed after the loan was disbursed, and hence the bank must retrieve the loan from the previous body that actually took the loan. It is understood that the loan is given to the soul, rather than to the body. The loan can be used by the soul for the body. The soul could also donate the loan in charity to other souls. But he is still required to repay the loan. The lenders and borrowers are souls. They persist even if the body becomes old and sickly.

The crimes committed during youth can be punished during old age because the person is the same even as the body has changed. The criminal cannot say that the body that did the crime is now gone and the current body is a different person. We cannot evade punishments like that. Crimes are not forgiven even if a person changes their gender, gets new facial features through plastic surgery, or alters essential organs in the body through organ transplants. All these events are changes to the body and constitute event sequences. But the soul connecting these events into a trajectory is unchanged and hence it remains responsible.

If we don’t have persistent personhood, then social order cannot exist. People will get married and claim never to have been married. They will work for a company and the company would not pay them, citing the fact that the body that performed the work is now gone. People will purchase property and the government will repossess it claiming that the property bought during youth cannot be enjoyed in old age because the body has changed. Someone will commit a murder and claim that the body that committed the murder is gone.

If there is no soul separate from the changing body, society will collapse. In so far as a society exists, every single person believes in the soul. We don’t have to prove its existence. Just take away the property of the non-believers, dissolve their marriages, don’t pay them for the work they have done, and everyone will come to their senses. They cannot live a single day without the soul postulate.

Event Sequencing Needs Morality

When choices are the fundamental mechanism for event sequencing, then the law of sequencing is the relation between choice and responsibility. We can sequence elements in many ways and they are all choices. However, we should not sequence the elements in arbitrary ways. You cannot drive a car on the road in whatever way you like. There is a right and wrong way of driving a car. Hence, one event sequence—taking the car on the wrong side of the road—is wrong. Another event sequence—taking the car on the right side of the road—is right. Event sequences can therefore be judged to be right and wrong.

Similarly, while speaking, there is an event sequence of words. The event sequence “The sky is purple” is false, and should not be uttered normally. While speaking in jest is allowed, jest is also wrong while others are talking in a somber mood. Of course, you may like to joke about the sky, and it may change the mood, which may then be better for the subsequent things being said. Thus, there are three ways to judge an event sequence—(a) it can be true or false, (b) it can be good or bad, and (c) it may be right or wrong. The capacity to judge an event sequence as true, right, and good determines the event sequence. Hence, the law of event sequencing is also the law of choice and responsibility.

This law can be described as moving the soul from one collection of states to another. It is the soul moving from one life to another. Everyone gets a bag of events and sequences them by their choices. Based on the judgment of that event sequence, we get a new bag of events, which is again sequenced, and judged, to yield another bag of events to be sequenced and judged. If you don’t like the events in the bag, it is because of the prior choices and their judgments. If your bag of events contains what you like, that too is due to the prior choices and their judgments. Life would be perfect if we got everything we liked, and never got anything that we disliked. It depends on the contents of the bag. But since the contents are produced as a result of prior choices, everyone can get the perfect life they want. They just have to learn to sequence the events in the current bag in a way that will lawfully get them a better bag of events.

Thus, we elevate the conversation from set theory and number theory to event sequences, to the judgment of these sequences, to formulate a law that predicts and explains the event sequence, and to talk about going from one body to another as the result of the judgment of event sequence choice. The mechanisms behind this law apply to everything from eating a meal to the transmigration of the soul from life to life. In this process, we have converted the transmigration of the soul from a religious idea to a scientific one.

The Illusory Nature of Reality

When you hit a ball with a bat, and it flies in the air, the law of motion is still the law of choice and responsibility—you have made a choice to hit the ball, and nature bears the responsibility of moving the ball as per your choice. Even that “nature” is a pre-established mental connection between knowing and acting within the bat and the ball. The ball doesn’t move in a fixed way even if the manner of hitting the ball is fixed, just like a person doesn’t respond to a push exactly the same at all times, places, and situations. There is indeterminism even when the ball is hit by a bat. And yet, if the variation in the connection between knowing and acting is minimal, then we can think that it is deterministic. It might even work for many cases, although it is just an approximation. That model is not a universal truth. It is mostly true.

Similarly, if a ball hits someone’s head, then the hitter is liable for his choices. The ball or the bat is not liable for hitting the head because they were just acting according to a pre-established more-or-less fixed connection between knowing and acting while the person who hits the ball had the capacity to judge whether hitting is right or wrong. Finally, everyone doesn’t get a chance to hit a ball with a bat. Some people are too poor to have the option to play bat and ball.

Thus, we cannot separate natural law from moral law because (a) bat and ball hitting works due to an indeterministic knowing-acting connection, (b) the bat and ball have the capacity for judgment dulled, so they cannot distinguish between right and wrong, (c) the person who moves the bat has the capacity for judgment, (d) persons are put into different kinds of bodies based on the judgment of their prior choices, and (e) those who want to enjoy enhanced capacities of personhood are urged to use those capacities in righteous ways.

If we separate moral and natural laws, then the law by which a person gets a bat and a ball would be different from the law by which the ball moves after being hit by a bat. The purchase of a ball is as much motion of the ball as the motion after hitting the ball with a bat. We cannot say that the motion of the ball—when the ball is purchased—follows a different law than when the ball is hit by a bat.

But this is precisely the type of claim that modern science rests on. Some motions of the ball are called “physics” while other motions of the ball are called “economics”. Since these motions are described using different laws, the laws of physics are incapable of describing the observables of economics while the laws of economics are incapable of describing the observables of physics. Both kinds of laws are incomplete—because neither law explains both phenomena. These laws are also mutually contradictory because the laws of physics postulate determinism whereas the laws of economics assume choice.

This simple problem of choice and determinism is found everywhere in the fragmentation of motion into different theories and laws. The laws of history differ from the laws of economics. The laws of economics differ from the laws of physics. The laws of physics differ from the laws of psychology. The laws of psychology are not those of ecology. Every subject is thereby incomplete. Every subject is contradictory to other subjects because none of these laws are real. They are all models of reality that approximate reality in some areas and deviate from reality in other areas. Complete modeling of reality requires infinite models, along with the knowledge of which model applies to which cases. As we go down the rabbit hole of contradictory models, we find a situation in which contradictions between theories become contradictions within a theory.

For example, the description of reality using quantum theory requires contradictory ideas like wave and particle, determinism and collapse, particles that are in more than one place simultaneously, separate things that cannot be truly separated, and so on. They are all “hot ice” and “square circles”. Nobody knows what any of it means. By using contradictory words alternately, scientists create the illusion of knowledge—that which can be spoken of in words has been “comprehended” although it always employs conflicting words.

The world can now be called an “illusion”—not because it doesn’t exist, but because it is not what we think it is. It is exactly like looking at a rope and perceiving a snake. If there was no rope and we saw a snake, it would be called a hallucination rather than an illusion. The world is not a hallucination. There is a real world. But that reality is like a rope, which we perceive as a snake. Therefore, the world is an illusion—for most people—who don’t understand reality. Of course, even the illusion often works—e.g., you can pick up a snake like you pick up a rope. If we consider the success in picking up a rope to be proof that it is a snake, then the illusion is perpetuated because we are picking up a rope but we think we are picking up a snake. The illusion is shattered when we find that the “snake” doesn’t bite. It proves that it is not a snake.

However, we can rationalize it—it is a type of snake that doesn’t bite. Then we find a snake that actually bites. Since we modeled a rope as a snake, we can extend the model to say: “Reality is only snakes. However, 50% of snakes bite and the other 50% of snakes do not”. We can also say: “The snakes that bite are positively charged and those that do not bite are negatively charged”.

One who knows the truth might say: Hey, it is not positively- and negatively-charged snakes. It is snakes and ropes. But you can object: Postulating snakes and ropes contradicts Occam’s Razor—I’m multiplying entities beyond necessity. When I can explain something using just one concept—snakes—then why do I need to add another concept? Thus, we can reject the truth. And yet, we still cannot tell which snake will be positively- or negatively-charged. Our snake-theory necessitates the use of probabilities. But we are too attached to the false theory to see its problems and reject the attempts to rectify it.

Bondage and Liberation Theory

Attachment to falsehoods is called māyā. It is not merely a falsehood—which could be corrected by observing its problems. It is a falsehood that we are attached to because it serves our current purpose. Thus, māyā has three aspects—(a) falsehood, (b) attachment, and (c) enjoyment. As long as I can go on enjoying a professional scientist’s job, getting paid fat salaries for spreading falsehoods, I remain attached to falsehood and perpetuate it despite its problems. Changing the theory would jeopardize my career, and invite retribution from other scientists who don’t want to change. I might be thrown out by my employer. To keep my job, I must perpetuate the falsehood.

One of the effects of māyā is group-think in which a group of people thinks in the same way, and those who think in the same way group together. To think differently, one has to leave the group because we cannot think differently within the snake-theory group. Those who want to think differently leave the group and form another group. Although if not many want to think differently, then such an alternative thinking group would not be formed. Thus, those who have found the truth may try to form a group of truth-seeking people, but if others are too attached to the snake-theory groups, such a group would not be formed. The truth thus remains unpopular due to our attachment to falsity.

This is why māyā is called bondage and the truth is called liberation. People don’t want to take the trouble to leave the illusion because it is serving them in some way right now. They are afraid of change. By staying attached to snake-theory groups, they survive the day and ruin their future. It takes courage to leave a group loaded with falsehoods because the majority leans toward it. Everyone likes the safety afforded by a herd. To leave the herd, one needs an extraordinary amount of courage, which most people are simply incapable of.

Attachment to falsehood is destroyed only when enjoyment becomes suffering. Pain forces everyone to rethink. Austerity is the method by which attachment to falsehood is destroyed. Thus, liberation is also called truth, and the truth is also called happiness, because once you find the truth, then you never have to perpetuate lies, never be attached to it, and never suffer due to it. Attachment and enjoyment are not self-refuted in the case of truth. Only the attachment and enjoyment of falsehood are self-refuted through pain and suffering.

Morality to Spirituality Journey

Identity of Religion and Science

We can see how every subject has been integrated seamlessly above:

  • Logical Sciences – set theory and number theory
  • Natural Sciences – quantum event sequences
  • Life Sciences – stages of life and changes in the body
  • Social Sciences – personhood, property, and economics
  • Mind Sciences – creation and perpetuation of the illusion
  • Moral Philosophy – moral law, bondage, and liberation

There aren’t many contradictory subjects, theories, or claims. There is just one theory. We can dwell on each of these topics in greater detail, but that would elongate this article far beyond current needs. The point I wish to make is this—Everything begins in the concept of reincarnation. Consciousness is moving from one state to another by its choice. When bad choices are made, a person is bound. When good choices are made, a person is liberated. There is no blind faith. Everything can be built from simple ideas about states and collections, ordering states in a collection through choices, the judgment of choices as true, right, and good sequences, which then lead us to a new state collection.

This is how religion is science and science is religion. The words “science” and “religion” are separate in modernity but not in Vedic thinking. There is one reality, so there must be one theory of reality. Whatever cannot be unified into one theory is a falsehood. We don’t talk about “pragmatic utility” because we can lift a rope, think that we are lifting a snake, and claim that the ability to lift the “snake” proves that it is indeed the snake when it equally well proves that it is a rope. The pragmatic utility only proves that the “snake” is not a mountain or a car—those that we could not lift easily. It doesn’t tell us what it is. If we get attached to snake-theory, then we can spend centuries or lifetimes in falsities, updating our snake-theory with positive and negative charge assumptions to explain the behavior of ropes and snakes probabilistically because we don’t have the willpower to detach ourselves from the falsehood.

The Four Principles of Morality

The law of choice and responsibility, which then sequences events, is called the moral law. In Vedic texts, it is called dharma-karma. It is a natural law for this world. It is also the natural law of judgment of choices. Since the principles of morality are not easy, hence, I try to briefly discuss them here. While discussing the principles of moral judgment, we should not forget that we are talking about the law of judging choices. Nor should we detach this moral discussion of judgment from the natural law based on which events are sequenced.

Vedic texts recognize four universal moral principles—truthfulness, kindness, austerity, and cleanliness. Kindness and austerity go hand-in-hand: We take austerity on ourselves and show kindness to others. Showing kindness to oneself while giving austerity to others is not morality. Likewise, truthfulness and cleanliness go hand-in-hand: (a) mental cleanliness is conceptual clarity about the relation between the self and the world, and (b) bodily cleanliness is relational clarity about our duty where we must do what is our duty and not do what is not our duty; it may be someone else’s duty, or contrary to duty.

These principles are almost never consistent. Every situation demands a different type of compromise. For example, a Zen master may say: “Never argue with a fool; people will not know the difference”. He has sacrificed the truth. He has shown kindness to the fool by not fighting with him. But he has renounced the austerity needed to engage in a difficult conversation. He has also sacrificed the principle of cleanliness because he hasn’t demarcated the difference between himself and his opponent, not outlined the dutiful relationships, and has failed to guide him on his duty. However, he is better than one who launches violent attacks on others because they disagree with him.

Mahatma Gandhi prioritized austerity and kindness over truth and cleanliness. His philosophy of non-violence was about taking austerity on oneself and showing kindness to others. But he neglected the truthful clarity in which the people to whom he was showing kindness were factually immoral.

The Pāndavas accepted the austerity of going into exile. They were truthful—as they had to accept the austerity after they had lost the dice game. They showed kindness when they tried to avert war—first by asking for only five villages and then by proposing unilateral withdrawal from the war to become beggars. But Kṛṣṇa reminded them that this would sacrifice the truth—that they had been promised their kingdom after the exile. It was contrary to cleanliness in which one person starts doing the duty of another, neglecting his duty, and he is neither able to properly execute his natural duty nor the duty he embraces in lieu of the natural duty. While war broke the principle of kindness, it was upheld because austerity had been accepted during exile, truth and cleanliness had to be defended, and all attempts to show kindness by minimizing the ask to mere five villages (instead of returning the full kingdom that was rightfully theirs and had been promised) had failed. Every other option required a greater compromise to more principles of dharma than fighting the war.

We can analyze everything using the lens of dharma and organize a person’s actions on the ladder of the dharma hierarchy as more and less moral, even as we are unable to uphold all four moral principles simultaneously. Dharma is that which does the least violence to the four principles collectively. Violence is accepted to defend dharma—if the option that does the least violence to dharma is violence. That is not an endorsement of reckless violence. One has to consider kindness, truthfulness, and austerity as well. If the only way three principles would be upheld is by sacrificing the fourth, and three is the maximum number of principles that can be upheld in a given time, place, and situation by a person with limited abilities to do other things, then the path that minimizes the least compromise on the fourth principle is accepted.

There are universal principles, but no universal rules and regulations or do’s and don’ts. The principles are universal, the capacity of a person to do something based on his ability is individual, and the sacrifice of one or more of the principles to the least bit necessary to uphold the others to the fullest bit possible is contextual. Universality, individuality, and contextuality are thus reconciled by the practice of dharma. This is not always easy. But accepting austerity to do the best possible thing is also dharma. Ease is not a principle of dharma. Doing the easy thing while sacrificing the right thing is contrary to the principle of austerity and hence contrary to the principles of dharma.

We can reduce dharma to a rule of optimization—maximize the good and minimize the bad, across times, places, situations, and persons. That which maximizes the good for more time, places, situations, and persons is better. Maximizing the good for a ruler while minimizing it for others is not maximization. But if that ruler is moral, and he will in turn maximize the goodness for more times, places, persons, and situations, then based on the principle of maximization, we can also serve the ruler. Similarly, maximizing goodness for a short time, while minimizing it for a long time is not maximization. Likewise, maximizing the good for a specific place while worsening it for other places is not the maximization of goodness.

Since this rule gets complicated, therefore, dharma is transformed into sanātana-dharma—just do what will please the Supreme Lord, because that is the equivalent of maximizing the good for all times, places, situations, and persons. Dharma and sanātana-dharma are factually not incompatible. They are also not fundamentally different. They just seem different because we are not able to look into the future, we don’t know everything about other places, we are not able to imagine what is good in all situations, and we don’t understand all the people. The Lord is not constrained by our limitations. He knows how to deliver the greatest good. So if we just follow His instruction, we can become the instruments of the greatest good. Of course, as our knowledge grows, our rationality comes closer to God’s, and we can also understand why God is instructing us in a specific way. Those who do not understand, are urged to approach a guru who does. There is no permission for blind faith.

By this equivalence between dharma and sanātana-dharma, we can say that anything that is obviously not the maximization of goodness for all times, places, situations, and persons cannot be the will of the Lord. Any ethical system that maximizes goodness for a narrow sect, for a short time, in a limited place, or for a few situations, while minimizing goodness for other times, places, situations, and persons is not the will of the Lord. This is an objective measure of dharma or religion and rejection of blind faith.

Two Notions of Dharma Morality

The above concept of morality is complex, so we can simplify it to tit-for-tat, with two aspects. First, a person should not do those things that he would not like to be done to himself. Second, if someone doesn’t follow the above, then a person must reciprocate what he has received. These two are the rules for prevention and cure. Under prevention, we don’t do what we don’t want to be done to us. Under cure, we do what others are doing. The preventive rule always precedes the curing rule. But the curing rule is opposite to the preventive rule.

This substitution of dharma is not perfect. For instance, someone can endure more austerity and show more kindness than others. But by the tit-for-tat principle, he would bring himself down to the level of the person who endures less austerity and shows less kindness. In that process, he might elevate the less austere and kind person to a level of greater austerity and kindness. But he has lowered himself in the process. Tit-for-tat brings everyone to the level of the current majority—those above the majority are demoted and those below the majority are promoted. Tit-for-tat is thus restricted to a few people in a society—e.g., a nation’s government. Everyone is encouraged to raise their moral standard. But those who lower their moral standard are punished by a ruler.

Immanuel Kant called the first principle a “Categorical Imperative”, which means that we should only do those things to others that we can accept on ourselves in the same time, place, and situation. He did not note the second aspect of the principle where one has to reciprocate a person’s crimes on them because there is no way to reform them other than by giving them the taste of their medicine. Kantian ethics remained focused on prevention and was not extended to the cure, because the process of curing involves doing those things that one would not like to do to oneself. Logically, the prevention aspect is opposite to the curing aspect. However, both are necessary.

But there is a difference between dharma and tit-for-tat—dharma is encouraging the uplift of morality while tit-for-tat is discouraging the decline of moral standards. The tit-for-tat law is implemented by nature, emulated by a government, and called the law of karma. But karma is different from dharma. This difference is explained by Kṛṣṇa in Bhagavad-Gita: “Whenever there is a decline in dharma and rise in adharma I appear to protect the saintly and sagely people, destroy the miscreants, and establish dharma”. We can ask: If nature or the government is doing tit-for-tat, then why does God have to appear?

The answer is that tit-for-tat is not enough. A society of cheaters and cheated will keep cheating each other and will never become truthful. Hence, someone is required to teach dharma, not just punish people. Hence, God appears to promote saints, destroy miscreants, and establish dharma. Destruction is God’s karma function, which can also be done by nature. But the promotion of saints and reestablishing the principles of dharma is a unique function that is only done by God. When God appears, He does both. In all other situations, nature keeps rendering tit-for-tat results while dharma may be rising or falling. A society must have Brahmanas who teach dharma and Kshatriyas who implement karma. A Brahmana encourages elevation and a Kshatriya prevents degradation. The former enacts prevention and the latter enacts cure.

From Morality to Spirituality

Based on the sat-chit-ānanda triad of the soul, there is a three-step process toward spiritual perfection—morality, knowledge, and bliss. I also sometimes call them relation, cognition, and emotion. The first step is that we behave perfectly in a relationship; we call this morality. The second step is that we acquire perfect cognition; we call this knowledge. The third step is that we attain perfect emotions; we call this bliss. These are not sectarian considerations. These are applicable to all souls.

In another post, I discussed the three aspects of God—controller, creator, and enjoyer. The sat aspect is the controller, the chit aspect is the creator, and the ānanda aspect is the enjoyer. The controller aspect of God appears as a judge. The judge evaluates our choices—i.e., whether they are true, right, and good—and based on that evaluation, He assigns a result. So, the law of dharma-karma is God’s judging. Even if we don’t know that there is a judge, if we follow the moral path, we will get rewarded. Then, when we become moral, we get a few basic insights into life—nature is not purposeless and amoral. If it is not amoral and purposeless, then whose purpose and morality are being used to judge my actions? That is the beginning of knowledge. If we don’t believe that nature is purposeful and moral, then everything we create as “knowledge” will be a falsity. If one thinks that nature is cruel, evil, immoral, or agnostic and amoral, then the journey toward knowledge hasn’t yet begun. That journey doesn’t begin because we are immoral. It only begins when we have become moral.

The three traits of morality, knowledge, and bliss are the traits of both soul and God. Nobody wants to be treated unjustly, so everyone wants the right. Nobody wants to be cheated, so everyone wants the truth. Nobody wants to be unhappy, so everyone is seeking bliss. But we might think that we can mistreat others, cheat others, and displease others. That is an inconsistency between self and others. When that inconsistency arises, then a person must be subjected to the same injustice, cheating, and displeasure to bring them back to the situation where they are treating others just as they would like to be treated.

The Essence of Moral Religions

Vedic Emphasis on Reincarnation

The Vaishnava tradition accepts Bhagavad-Gita as the most basic text. It then talks about the Bhāgavata Purāṇa as a more advanced text. The Gaudīya Vaishnavas talk about Caitanya-caritāmṛta as an even more advanced text. This ladder is not whimsical because all Vaishnava traditions accept the Bhagavad-Gita and Bhagavata Purāṇa to prescribe Bhakti as the method for the goal of Mukti. The Gaudīya Vaishnava tradition says that Bhakti is both the method and the complete goal, and it describes advanced stages of love of God under which Mukti is rejected. That advanced stage is Caitanya-caritāmṛta. The ladder, therefore, conforms to the other schools of Vaishnavism in the first two steps and deviates in the third step by rejecting Mukti and preferring Bhakti.

Within Bhagavad-Gita, there are 18 chapters, of which the 2nd chapter is the beginning of philosophical topics. In it, Kṛṣṇa talks about the eternity and immortality of the soul. Within the 2nd chapter, the first statement is “Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings”. Every soul, along with God, existed prior to this life. This is not my first life. And hence, it will also not be the last life. Thus, we start with the most basic book in the pantheon of Vedic scriptures. Within this book, we begin with the most basic chapter. Within this chapter, we begin with the first philosophical sentence about prior lives. If someone rejects the first statement in the most basic book, then there can be no further conversation. Without reincarnation, there is no concept of “bondage” (the cycle of birth and death) and hence there is no concept of “liberation” (freedom from the life-death cycle). Without bondage and liberation, there is no concept of Mukti. Without that, there is no Bhakti.

Without reincarnation, there can be no karma-yoga, jñāna-yoga, dhyāna-yoga, or bhakti-yoga. We see this in the religions that reject reincarnation. They replace duty with rights. They replace knowledge with blind faith. They reject the inward meditative journey and expound outward measures of progress. They substitute devotional love with selfish contracts. Every single form of yoga practice is thus rejected precisely as a result of rejecting reincarnation.

The Sukriti vs. Duṣkṛti Distinction

Those who accept reincarnation become moral. They know that they cannot escape the outcomes of their deeds. Even if they escape the results of deeds temporarily, those will come back to them in the next life. The simple idea of reincarnation instills responsibility in society and makes people moral. We don’t need a big government to enforce laws, because most people are moral. They are moral because they know that what they are doing will come back to reward or punish them in the future. Inner drive replaces external coercion.

Moral people perform good deeds and are called Sukriti. They turn toward God in one of four ways, as stated in Bhagavad-Gita 7.16. Similarly, those who are immoral, and have performed many bad deeds, are called Duṣkṛti. They turn away from God in one of four ways, as stated in Bhagavad-Gita 7.15.

Dharma is generally done with some material desire. For example, people go to work in a job to get paid at the end of the month. In Vedic texts, we call this karma-kānda or “fruitive activity”. It leads to materially good results, and the person is therefore called Sukriti. Such a person turns toward God and progresses through the paths of karma-yoga, jñāna-yoga, dhyāna-yoga, and bhakti-yoga. Those who have not done their duties properly, and have not led moral lives, are called Duṣkṛti. They can never progress toward any yoga.

When the principles of morality are followed, then a person gets a better life by the natural law of choice and responsibility. If he stays moral, he gets an even better life. In this way, one progresses to better lives, until he completely transcends an unhappy world. Thus, morality is a precondition to spirituality because unless one becomes a moral person, he will not turn to God. If he progresses into immorality, he will become atheistic. However, every atheistic person is not necessarily immoral. Just as theism is a progression of morality similarly atheism is the progression of immorality. Morality or immorality are preconditions whereas theism or atheism are their inescapable results.

The debate between theism and atheism is far less important than that between morality and immorality. Morality is the first step. Moral atheists are better than immoral theists. Kṛṣṇa calls the moral people Sukriti and the immoral people Duṣkṛti. The Sukriti turn to God while the Duṣkṛti don’t. The criterion for evaluating theism and atheism is morality—Sukriti vs. Duṣkṛti.

Moral and Atheistic Religions

Every religion that grew in India, traveled to other parts of the world and was modified in some ways, was rooted in the Vedic concept of reincarnation, the power of choice to change our lives, and the judgment of choices to get a new life, completely based on natural and lawful principles. God was not essential to this scientific theory if we say that responsibility for choice is a natural law.

Of course, we cannot justify why such a law exists because the justification for the law necessitates God. Those who wanted such justification became moral and theistic. Those who did not want that justification—as they were satisfied with the natural law of choice and responsibility—became moral and atheistic. Theism is not tied to morality if we can accept the law of responsibility and its enforcement as a natural principle. It is necessary only if we start asking: How is this moral law enforced? Why is such a law an absolute necessity?

Buddhism, Jainism, Taoism/Daoism, Zen, and Animism are examples of moral but atheistic religions. They don’t believe in a Supreme Spirit or God. But they believe that we have to live morally, in harmony with other humans, animals, plants, forests, rivers, mountains, seas, and so on. They do good deeds by helping other humans, protecting natural resources, and minimizing their consumption and exploitation. Iśopaniśad says: “Everything is pervaded by God, therefore, enjoy with renunciation, don’t be greedy, because this wealth doesn’t belong to you”. The moral but atheistic religions don’t accept God, or that He pervades everything. However, they accept the principle of “enjoyment with renunciation”. Even as morality can be practiced without accepting God, it cannot be justified without it. “Enjoyment with renunciation” is incomplete without “everything is pervaded by God”. When we don’t have a justification for morality, then the chances of becoming immoral are high. That possibility is completely eliminated when someone has the justification for morality.

In moral but atheistic religions, unless one attains inner and outer harmony—inner harmony is the end of fear, greed, and lust, and outer harmony is the end of conflict, competition, and coercion—one is not liberated from the cycle of birth and death. Their conception of harmony is not yoga—i.e., harmony with God. It is harmony with the universe. When this harmony is attained, the miserable cycle of birth and death ends although it is not spiritual bliss. Once that cycle ends, the “self”—by which they mean the ego—is destroyed. They don’t have a conception of the spirit beyond the ego. But they accept all material elements found in Sāñkhya philosophy from the gross body to senses to mind, intellect, ego, and moral sense. They also accept that an unconscious realm of desires, abilities, and karma causes transmigration. Their words may be slightly different. Their theories may sometimes differ from those of the Vedic system. But there is considerable overlap and agreement. Even when there are differences, there is enough agreement to bring consensus due to morality.

Therefore, the Vedic tradition exists in harmony with moral but atheistic religions. It understands that those who have morality, are not troublesome to anyone, and if they become fixed in morality, they might someday seek its justification. That search will bring them to the soul and God. There is no need to fight with them to convince them of theism because (a) they are not troubling others, and (b) they are accumulating good deeds. They may be impersonalists and voidists, but they are moral. They are on a journey that leads to theism. We may disagree with their atheism, but we agree with their morality. The person who is moving in the right direction is never decried. He is accepted although his current state is not considered the final destination. This is the basic principle of harmony between religions: They must be moral. Harmonizing with immorality in the name of harmony results in self-destruction.

Cārvāka Definition of Materialism

Classical Indian ideologies are divided into three broad categories—theistic, atheistic but moral, and immoral. The Vedic tradition is theistic; Buddhist and Jain philosophies are atheistic but moral; and materialism is immoral. Both theistic and atheistic but moral religions accept reincarnation. However, the materialistic ideology rejects reincarnation. The best-known ideologue of classical materialism in India was Cārvāka. His cardinal claim goes as follows: “As long as you live, you shall live happily. Take loans and drink ghee. After all, when the body has been burnt, where is the question of coming back?”

We can contrast Cārvāka materialism to atheistic but moral religions. The former talks about taking loans, enjoying life, and never repaying the debt. The latter talks about minimizing consumption, enjoying with renunciation, and paying back debts if not in this life, then in the next. For Cārvāka, there is no coming back after death. So, if you have taken a loan, and not returned it, then there is nothing to worry about because once you die, nobody can take the loan back from you. This is an encouragement to immorality and a discouragement of morality. In contrast, in atheistic but moral religion, you have to repay all debts. If you minimize the debts in this life, your next life will be much better.

Thus, materialism can be contrasted with other ideologies by the fact that it rejects reincarnation and endorses immorality. There is a very tight link between dharma, karma, reincarnation, and morality. We cannot create a moral society unless we accept reincarnation. Those who reject reincarnation become immoral. We can see the harmony between atheistic but moral religions and the Vedic tradition—because they are Sukriti. We can see the rejection of Cārvāka materialism as praise for immorality—because they are Duṣkṛti.

A moral atheist says—I’m not going to rely on God; I’m going to rely on myself. By such reliance, I will do what needs to be done morally and thus I will succeed. The reins of my destiny, including my salvation, are in my hands. I’m going to keep them in my hands and not rely on anyone. A moral theist says—I exist to serve God. Serving God is my moral duty. I don’t expect reciprocation; service is enough. So, I’m just doing my moral duty and not expecting rewards—or salvation—in return. Finally, an immoral person wants to go on sinning. If he is theistic, then he rationalizes sins using theology. If he is atheistic, he rejects the idea of sin. Cārvāka rejects the idea of sin by saying that the universe is not a moral, just, or purposeful place. There is no punishment for sin. We can keep sinning as it has no consequences. Many immoral theists say that we cannot stop sinning but God forgives all our sins. The result in these two cases is the same—the number of sins increases, although rationalized in different ways.

The rejection of reincarnation is materialism. The distinction between sinful theism and sinful atheism is academic because the actions in both are sinful, their consequences are bad, and the reasons a person gives to themselves to rationalize sin are irrelevant. All these academic and irrelevant rationalizations of sin have been constructed after rejecting reincarnation. They are akin to Cārvāka’s materialism, with minor academic and irrelevant doctrinal differences that make no difference. Religions that talk of soul and God without reincarnation are therefore materialism. They can never lead a person to morality let alone salvation. Sciences that reject reincarnation are also immoral materialism. In contrast to moral atheists, we can call them sinful atheists. Without reincarnation, there is no truth in neither science nor religion.

The Vedic tradition accepts a moral atheist (i.e., one who accepts reincarnation while rejecting soul and God) and rejects an immoral theist (i.e., one who accepts soul and God while rejecting reincarnation). Reincarnation is the foundation for both science and religion. If we take out that foundation, then the superstructure of science or religion doesn’t exist. Those who claim to have a superstructure without a foundation are delusional. Therefore, an immoral science and an immoral religion are oxymorons and the debates between two different rationalizations of immorality are a complete waste of time.

Present science-religion debates wander around “Is religion false?” and “Is science true?” Some people talk about “Can both science and religion be true?” But the correct question is: “Can both science and religion be false?” We come to this question if we study Vedic texts because they begin with reincarnation. Since both science and religion reject reincarnation, therefore, they are both false. Only that which begins with reincarnation can discover the truth.

Cite this article as:

Ashish Dalela, "Reincarnation—The Most Essential Spiritual Truth," in Shabda Journal, January 26, 2023,