Can The Soul Once Human Birth Attained, Revert to Animal Rebirth?

There have been philosophers through history who have recognised the necessity of rebirth as a mechanism for the development of the soul. Some of those believed that the soul could jump back and forth between human and animal births and they devised elaborate frameworks of how actions in a human incarnation could push the soul back into an animal birth in a future lifetime. There was a rough correspondence to be seen between moral and ethical ideals and the “punishment” endured by a soul who transgressed any of these rules, by a subsequent animal birth to live out basically the effect that the soul had created with its immoral or unethical actions in a particular lifetime.

Sri Aurobindo takes up this question, first by validating the evolution of the soul across successive births, but then examining more closely the issues involved in the leap from animal to human incarnations to determine the validity of the idea that the soul can go backwards into animal forms once human birth has been attained.

“…human birth is a term at which the soul must arrive in a long succession of rebirths and that it has had for its previous and preparatory terms in the succession the lower forms of life upon earth; it has passed through the whole chain that life has strung in the physical universe on the basis of the body, the physical principle. Then the farther question arises whether, humanity once attained, this succession of rebirths still continues and, if so, how, by what series or by what alternations. And, first, we have to ask whether the soul, having once arrived at humanity, can go back to the animal life and body, a retrogression which the old popular theories of transmigration have supposed to be an ordinary movement. It seems impossible that it should so go back with any entirety, and for this reason that the transit from animal to human life means a decisive conversion of consciousness, quite as decisive as the conversion of the vital consciousness of the plant into the mental consciousness of the animal. It is surely impossible that a conversion so decisive made by Nature should be reversed by the soul and the decision of the spirit within her come, as it were, to naught.”

Sri Aurobindo, looking at the occult thread that ties together the entirely evolutionary process, determines that the development of consciousness, and the complexity of organisation that goes with it, makes it unlikely in the extreme that such a reversion could take place.

We shall continue to explore this theme and its other aspects in the next post.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 20, The Philosophy of Rebirth

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The Soul Exists in Matter, Life and Mind

Some philosophies or religions create a dichotomy between the soul and matter to the extent of making it seem that the soul is something created and existing only at the time of the human birth. Sri Aurobindo does not however accept this premise, given the eternal nature of the soul, and the evolutionary process of the expression of the involved Consciousness of the Eternal from Nescience, through various increasing levels of conscious awareness, to complete consciousness of Oneness.

“What we see of Nature and of human nature justifies this view of a birth of the individual soul from form to form until it reaches the human level of manifested consciousness which is its instrument for rising to yet higher levels. We see that Nature develops from stage to stage and in each stage takes up its past and transforms it into stuff of its new development. We see too that human nature is of the same make; all the earth-paste is there in it. It has an element of matter taken up by life, an element of life taken up by mind, an element of mind which is being taken up by spirit: the animal is still present in its humanity; the very nature of the human being presupposes a material and a vital stage which prepared his emergence into mind an an animal past which moulded a first element of his complex humanity. And let us not say that this is because material Nature developed by evolution his life and his body and his animal mind, and only afterwards did a soul descend into the form so created: there is a certain truth behind this idea, but not the truth which that formula would suggest. For that supposes a gulf between soul and body, between soul and life, between soul and mind, which does not exist; there is no body without soul, no body that is not itself a form of soul: Matter itself is substance and power of spirit and could not exist if it were anything else, for nothing can exist which is not substance and power of Brahman; and if Matter, then still more clearly and certainly Life and Mind must be that and ensouled by the presence of the Spirit. If Matter and Life had not already been ensouled, man could not have appeared or only as an intervention or an accident, not as a part of the evolutionary order.”

Even Western science provides us some tantalizing clues. We see in the development of the embryonic human form, stages that show the earlier fish, frog and higher animal evolution before we see an actual human form begin to emerge. Consider the process that would build upon these former stages even in a highly evolved form of humanity, as evidenced in the embryo.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 20, The Philosophy of Rebirth