Does some element of the personality survive the death of the body?

Question: In the background of Yoga is the idea of transmigration, the belief that some element of the personality survives the death of the body, and takes up another one. In the new body it is supposed to experience the results, good or bad, of its voluntary actions in the previous life, and to be able to make new karma, hopefully of the better kind. What evidence is there for this belief? No one comes back from the grave to confirm it.

Answer: There is a merely persuasive argument from general principles, and a strong one from experiment. The conservation principle tells us that when wood is burnt, it is not annihilated as at seems to be, but its atoms continue to exist in another form invisible to the eye. Similarly the stream of vitality and mind is not annihilated in sleep or even at death, but continues in new forms.

The argument from experiment is this: conscious awareness is carefully separated from its illusory identification with the mind-body complex. If this can be successfully carried out, there is an experience in this very life, of death; through and beyond that death, consciousness realizes itself as universal and free. Trailing strands of attachment may restrict this to a mere glimpse at first, but even a glimpse frees from the conviction of the reality of death.

© Trevor Leggett 1998

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