The Futility of a Purely Mechanical Process of Rebirth

If the entire meaning of rebirth is a physical reincarnation, with no other significance, goal or purpose, we eventually come to the point of asking “what for?”. Why go through the struggle, the suffering, the repeated births, lives and deaths, only to be reborn again into a similar circumstance, like a hamster running in a never-ending wheel. Many who achieve the recognition of the reality of rebirth, but who do not see any higher purpose, conclude eventually that the entire round of births and deaths and the chain of karma are futile, and they reach an existential crisis. This crisis in fact was the underlying force behind the rise of existentialism in the West, with its air of the unreality of our world, the meaninglessness of it, and the overwhelming physical revulsion expressed by them as “nausea”.

In the East, Buddhism focused on this repetitive round of births and deaths and the suffering that accompanied it, and determined that a solution was to free oneself from it entirely. Sri Aurobindo describes the view of the physical rebirth mechanism: “What we see in the material universe is a stupendous system of mechanical recurrences. A huge mechanical recurrence rules that which is long-enduring and vast; a similar but frailer mechanical recurrence sways all that is ephemeral and small. The suns leap up into being, flame wheeling in space, squander force by motion and fade and are extinct, again perhaps to blaze into being and repeat their course, or else other suns take their place and fulfil their round. The seasons of Time repeat their unending and unchanging cycle. Always the tree of life puts forth its various flowers and sheds them and breaks into the same flowers in their recurring season. The body of man is born and grows and decays and perishes, but it gives birth to other bodies which maintain the one same futile cycle. What baffles the intelligence in all this intent and persistent process is that it seems to have in it no soul of meaning, no significance except the simple fact of causeless and pruposeless existence dogged or relieved by the annulling or the compensating fact of individual cessation. And this is because we perceive the mechanism, but do not see the Power that uses the mechanism and the intention in its use. But the moment we know that there is a conscious Spirit self-wise and infinite brooding upon the universe and a secret slowly self-finding soul in things, we get to the necessity of an idea in its consciousness, a thing conceived, willed, set in motion and securely to be done, progressively to be fulfilled by these great deliberate workings.”

Sri Aurobindo,