Can We Prove or Disprove Rebirth?

Sri Aurobindo discusses the question of rebirth, starting from the question of whether it can be proven or not; and by what methodology we need to evaluate it. “Rebirth is for the modern mind no more than a speculation and a theory; it has never been proved by the methods of modern science or to the satisfaction of the new critical mind formed by a scientific culture. Neither has it been disproved; for modern science knows nothing about a before-life or an after-life for the human soul, knows nothing indeed about a soul at all, nor can know; its province stops with the flesh and brain and nerve the embryo and its formation and development. Neither has modern criticism any apparatus by which the truth or untruth of rebirth can be established.”

Sri Aurobindo points out that even questions such as the historicity of Christ remain an open-ended debate for the modern intellect. How then can subtle questions that go beyond the capacities of the physical senses and outside the framework of the physical world be evaluated?

The question of rebirth then becomes for most of us, simply a matter of argument or belief without any factual basis or support to underpin it. We argue one side or the other of the matter, but without any final certainty. “One argument, for instance, often put forward triumphantly in disproof is this that we have no memory of our past lives and therefore there were no past lives!” Sri Aurobindo describes the fallacy of this argument, in that most of us cannot remember our infancy or much of our childhood, but that does not make them any less real! “How much do we remember of our actual lives which we are undoubtedly living at the present moment? Our memory is normally good for what is near, becomes vaguer or less comprehensive as its objects recede into the distance, farther off seizes only some salient points and, finally, for the beginning of our lives falls into a mere blankness.” Sri Aurobindo continues: “Yet we demand that this physical memory, this memory of the brute brain of man which cannot remember our infancy and has lost so much of our later years, shall recall that which was before infancy, before birth, before itself was formed. And if it cannot, we are to cry, “Disproved your reincarnation theory!”

Clearly we require instruments and capabilities beyond those of the physical mind and senses to experience and understand experiences that are not able to be perceived by the physical mind and senses. Similarly, the question of rebirth must then be researched and understood using different criteria and tools of understanding. Sri Aurobindo calls this a “psychical memory”.

Sri Aurobindo,

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