Death and reincarnation

Part I: The realm of death

Question: Why is death necessary? Why can’t the soul keep on progressing and evolving in the same body?

Sri Chinmoy: Right now death is required; death is necessary for us. We cannot do anything for a long time at a stretch. We play for forty-five minutes or an hour and then become tired and have to take rest. It is the same with our aspiration. Suppose we live on the earth for sixty or seventy years. Out of sixty or seventy years we may meditate for twenty days or thirty days and, even then, for only a few hours. An ordinary human being cannot aspire in his meditation for four hours, two hours, or even one hour at a stretch. How can he have the aspiration or reality or consciousness that will take him to the eternal Truth or undying Consciousness all at once?

Right now death helps us in a sense; it allows us to take some rest. Then when we come back, we come back with new hope, new light, new aspiration. But if we had a conscious aspiration, a mounting flame burning within us all the time, then we would see that physical death could easily be conquered. A day will dawn when there will be no necessity for death. But right now we do not have that capacity; we are weak. Spiritual Masters, liberated souls, however, do have mastery over death, but they leave the body when the Divine wants them to.

An ordinary man who has shouldered the burden of a whole family for twenty, thirty or forty years will say, “I am tired. Now I need a rest.” For him death really has meaning; the soul goes into the soul’s region and enjoys a short rest. But for a divine warrior, a seeker of the Ultimate Truth, death has no meaning. He wants to make his progress continuous, without halt. So he will try to live in constant aspiration, eternal aspiration. And with that eternal aspiration, he will try to conquer death so he can be an eternal outer manifestation of the Divine within him.

Question: Is it possible for a man to learn what death is while still living, by actually entering into death?

Sri Chinmoy: What death actually is one can easily know when one is in the very highest stage of meditation. Hundreds of times I have experienced what death is. I have also passed beyond death in my meditation many times when I have had to help my disciples. In trance one goes to many worlds, many planes, many regions beyond the domains and boundaries of death.

Sometimes we can actually follow a soul when the soul leaves the body, and then we can get the full experience of death while remaining in the body. I had my first experience of this with one of my sisters, who died when I was eighteen. I had this power, so I followed my sister’s soul for about three hours in the world of death. What happens is that you feel that you are actually dead. Your body does not exist for you; only with your consciousness you are flying, flying like a kite. When you have this power, you can have the real experience of death in this world. During your meditation you can easily go. You can keep your body in the world of life and your consciousness-light in the world of death.

Question: Guru, would you explain the spiritual significance of this practice or the need for it?

Sri Chinmoy: There is no need for it, but if one wants to learn it in this world, one can easily do so. These things will not help us even an iota in our God-realisation, but if we have time, if we have patience, if we have eagerness, then there is no harm. It is like travelling on a road. We can go directly to the Goal or, if we want, we can walk around and look at the scenery or have some fruit from the trees, and while eating the fruit, continue on towards the Goal. Everybody in the spiritual life will have the experience of death at least once before Self-realisation.

Question: Is death painful?

Sri Chinmoy: It depends on the individual. If the individual has not prayed and meditated and has not followed the spiritual life, then it is really painful to part with this life because he does not want to surrender to God’s Will. First of all, it is not in him to know or feel what God’s Will is. Also, he does not feel God’s conscious Protection, Guidance and Concern, so he feels that he is totally lost. In this world he cannot do anything; in the other world all is uncertainty. If there is no aspiration, there is tremendous fear, for ordinary people feel that death is something totally unknown. They do not know where they are going. But seekers know that they are going to the Supreme, to the Lord’s abode. It is temporarily unknown to them, but that consciousness, that plane, is a realm of peace and rest. It belongs to the Supreme, their Eternal Father. So they have no fear.

Then, of course, there is physical pain. At the time of death, even right up to the last moment, if somebody is suffering from a disease and if he cannot throw this disease into something higher or deeper, naturally his last days will be extremely painful. Even the last moment will be very painful because the death-being will come to him in a very destructive form. The death-force, death-being, appears before each individual in a different form according to his soul’s achievement and realisation on earth.

Ordinary people who are not aspiring, people who are absolutely wallowing in the pleasures of ignorance, will feel death as a terrible, ruthless being, a dark and awful figure. Sometimes the death-force has many subordinates which come before the dying person, and people very often see tigers or unimaginably huge beings, and become frightened. But sincere seekers see their spiritual Master or a luminous being, like an angel, taking them in a chariot. These seekers have worked hard on earth for many years and now Mother Earth consciously wants to offer them her blessingful and divine gratitude. Their Inner Pilot or their Guru takes them, but they see the benign Hand of God right in front of them, carrying them in His Golden Boat to the other Shore. Some people see their long-departed relatives at the actual time of death. Their dearest ones come, and it is just like somebody who knows the way taking them to a new world.

When we are caught by the fetters of ignorance there will be pain both within us and without us at the time of our physical death. This pain is due to the ignorance in the human mind and human body which prevents us from entering into the realm of death and then going beyond the realm of death consciously and deliberately. But if the veil of ignorance is removed, then there can be no pain, either in death or in the world-atmosphere. If we can enter into the root of our suffering and pain — which is ignorance — and if we can transform ignorance with our soul’s Light, then death will be just like a passage leading us to another shore. This other shore is the Light Eternal which guides, protects, shapes and moulds us through eternity.

Question: Why is it that so many linger in pain for a long time before dying?

Sri Chinmoy: Many sick people want to die because their pain is unbearable. They want to be free from their suffering. But why do they still linger and suffer? It is because purification of the nature has not been completed. Through purification we enter into a higher life and a more fulfilling divinity. This is where the law of karma operates. In our past series of lives, we have done many things wrong. It is through this physical torture that we are purified. This experience is necessary, because through it a new wisdom dawns in the person’s consciousness. But when someone suffers bitterly we should not think of his past actions — that he led a bad life and had a bad character, and for this he is suffering. No, let us become one with the experience that he is going through. When we are one with the experience, we get true satisfaction in our human existence.

Again, I have to say that the law of karma is not simple; it is very, very complicated. Some souls are very pure and spiritual, but still they suffer when they die. Is it because of their past wrong karma? No, it is because they identify with humanity and want to experience for themselves the bitterest kind of suffering. Most of the great spiritual Masters have had very painful deaths. Why? At their own sweet will they could have left their body, but they did not do it. Instead they contracted cancer and other serious diseases, and only after much suffering did they die. In their case, what they were doing was entering into humanity’s suffering and trying to feel how humanity suffers. Unless we enter into the suffering of humanity, everything is theoretical; nothing is practical. But if ordinary people suffer, we see that it is the law of karma, the wheel of karma, that is operating.

Nevertheless, if someone dies of sudden heart failure, that does not necessarily mean that he was very spiritual or religious. No, God wanted to have this particular experience through him, and perhaps through his loved ones, at that particular time. Here there is no question of good or bad, divine or undivine, but of what kind of experience God wanted to have in that particular person. Ultimately everything is an experience of God that we are seeing or having.

Question: Is it possible for a spiritual person who is dying a painful death to transform his pain into joy through meditation?

Sri Chinmoy: If one is a sincere seeker, then even while he is dying, great joy will come. Although the physical may suffer, the delight of the soul will come forward enabling one to meditate consciously. Sometimes, when one consciously enters into the pain, then one’s own inner courage in the pain itself is transformed into joy.

One can consciously enter into pain even while undergoing a serious operation. When I was a young boy, eighteen or nineteen years old, I did this during a serious operation. While the doctor was operating on me I consciously entered into the pain and felt real joy. I was smiling at the doctor, and he simply could not understand it. This anybody can experience.

Question: In one of your meditations from your diary you mentioned that death was an obstruction. I always thought you considered death to be a transition that just enables us to be reborn and make continuous progress.

Sri Chinmoy: Wonderful. I have said that death is a transition. I have said that life and death are like two rooms: life is my living room, and death is my bedroom. When I say that death is an obstruction, here I am speaking of death from a different point of view. What is an obstruction? An obstruction is something that prevents us from going farther. It is a limit which we cannot go beyond.

This life is a golden opportunity given to us by the Supreme. Now opportunity is one thing but achievement is another. Our spiritual evolution, our inner progress is very steady, very slow and at the same time, most significant. Naturally there are people who for hundreds or thousands of incarnations will follow a normal, natural cycle of birth and death. Then one day, in God’s Eternity, they will realise God. But some real, sincere, genuine aspirants make a soulful promise that in this incarnation, here and now, they shall realise God. They say this in spite of knowing that this is not their first life or their last life. But they know that there are people who have realised God and they do not want to wait for some distant future incarnation. They feel that it is useless to live without God-realisation and they want to have it as soon as possible. In such cases, if death comes and they are still unrealised, then death is an obstruction. If somebody who is destined to die at the age of fifty is aspiring soulfully, if he can push his death back, with the kindest approval of the Supreme, for another twenty or thirty years, then during this period what will he be doing? He will be continuing his sincere aspiration, his deepest meditation, his highest contemplation. He will be like a racer running towards his Goal with no obstruction. During these extra twenty or thirty years he may reach the farthest end, where his Goal lies.

But if death interferes, then he does not realise God in this life. In the following incarnation very few souls can immediately take up the thread of their past aspiration. As soon as one enters into the world, the undivine cosmic forces come and attack, and the ignorance, limitations and imperfections of the world try to cover the soul. In the formative years of childhood, one does not remember anything. A child is innocent, ignorant and helpless. Then, after a few years, the mind starts functioning. When one is between eight and twelve years old, the mind complicates everything. So for the first eleven, twelve or thirteen years of the next incarnation almost all souls, despite being very great and spiritual, forget their past achievements and deepest inner cry. Now there are spiritual Masters or great seekers who get a few high experiences in their childhood or who start thinking and singing about God at a very early age, but usually there is no strong connecting link between the soul’s achievement on earth in its previous incarnation and these childhood years in the present incarnation. There is a link, a very subtle link, but this link does not function significantly for the first twelve or thirteen years.

Some souls do not regain the aspiration of their past incarnation until the age of fifty or sixty. From the spiritual point of view, these fifty or sixty years in their following incarnation are absolutely wasted time. So in this incarnation if one loses fifty years, and if in the past incarnation one has lost twenty or thirty years, then it is eighty years wasted. In this case I say that death is a real obstruction. We have to remove that obstruction with our aspiration, our unbroken aspiration. Aspiration should be like a bullet. It should pass through the death wall.

But even though it may take some time, eventually the inner being will come consciously to the fore and the person in his new incarnation will start praying and meditating on God most powerfully and sincerely. At that time he will see that nothing from his past has really been lost. Everything has been saved up in the Mother Earth-consciousness, which is the common bank for everyone. The soul will know how much it has achieved on earth; and all this is kept very safely inside the Earth-consciousness, the earth bank. You deposit money here in the bank. Then you can go to England and after six years or more you can come back and take out your money. The soul does the same thing after having left the earth for ten or twenty years. All the soul’s achievements are kept here intact in Mother Earth. Then Mother Earth gives them back again when the soul returns to work for God on earth.

Nothing is lost except time, in most cases, during those few years of childhood. But it is better to realise God in one incarnation so that we do not lose our conscious aspiration again in this transitory period. If we can continue on earth for fifty to one hundred years with tremendous, sincere aspiration, then we can accomplish much. If we get real help from a spiritual Master, it is possible to realise God in one incarnation, or in two or three. If there is no real Master and if there is no aspiration, it takes hundreds and hundreds of incarnations.

Question: When we die, what is the best thing to do?

Sri Chinmoy: For a spiritual person, the best thing for him to do is to remember the presence of his Master. The near and dear ones should place the picture of his spiritual guide right in front of the seeker, and let the Master be with him spiritually when the seeker breathes his last. Let the Master be inside the very breath, the very last breath of the seeker. Then it is the duty, the responsibility of the inner guide to do what is necessary. Long before you leave the body your Master will have left the body. So you can meditate on me and I will help you.

Last year your father died. If you had been physically present what you should have done at that time was to meditate most soulfully. Although your father was not consciously my disciple and had not accepted our path, who knows what he will do in his next incarnations? You know that there is somebody who can help your father while he is dying, so you should have meditated on me. One always knows who can help in any situation. When somebody is sick, one calls the doctor. When somebody is in legal trouble, one gets the help of a lawyer. If you had wanted to help your father, immediately you should have thought of me and meditated on me. If you had tremendous aspiration or spiritual power, you would have given him all your spiritual strength. But your spiritual strength right now is your aspiration, and the source of your aspiration is inside this Master, your Guru. So if you want to help your dearest ones, you have to do it in this way.

But if you are speaking of other people, then in order to know what is best to do when they are dying, you have to know who gave them the greatest joy on earth, or in whom they had their greatest faith. If somebody had all faith in Christ, even though you may not follow the path of Christ, immediately you have to consciously and most devotedly invoke the presence of Christ. You have to help your friend at that time to increase his faith in Christ. You can repeat the name of Christ out loud, and bring him a picture of Christ and read from the Bible. In this way you will be able to help his aspiration. If somebody spiritual who knows me is dying, at that time you should read my writings and speak about me. But if it is someone who is just an acquaintance, you should increase his faith in his own way.

Question: Is there any special way we should meditate on a person who is dying?

Sri Chinmoy: Suppose you have gone to see a casual acquaintance in the hospital. At that time you should concentrate on his heart. You do not have to look at the person, but put your whole concentration on his heart.

First try to imagine a circle at his heart, and try to feel that this circle is rotating there like a disc. That means that life energy is now revolving consciously in the aspiration or in the vessel of the person who is sick. Through your concentration and meditation, you are entering into the heartbeat of that person. When you enter into the heartbeat, then your consciousness and the aspiring or dying consciousness of the other person rotate together. While they are rotating, pray with your whole being to the Supreme who is your Guru and everybody’s Guru, “Let Thy Victory be achieved. Let Thy Will be done through this particular individual. I want only Your Victory.” Victory does not necessary mean that the person will be cured. No, God may have decided that this person must leave the body for a very good reason. If you pray to God in a surrendered way and if the person leaves the body, then you are fulfilling God and you are fighting for the Victory of God. If God wants to take him to Heaven to do something for Him there, then naturally it is God’s Victory when the person leaves the body. If you pray for the Supreme’s Victory, with your aspiration you are giving all the responsibility to the Supreme. And when you can consciously give the responsibility to the Supreme, you are doing the right thing.

Question: What should be the attitude of the dear ones when somebody close is dying?

Sri Chinmoy: We are all like passengers on a single train. The destination has come for one particular passenger. He has to get off at this stop, but we still have to go on and cover more distance. Now we have to know that this hour of death has been sanctioned by the Supreme. Without the approval or tolerance of the Supreme, no human being can die. So if we have faith in the Supreme, if we have love and devotion for the Supreme, we will feel that the Supreme is infinitely more compassionate than any human being, infinitely more compassionate than we who want to keep our dear ones. Even if the dying person is our son, or our mother or father, we have to know that he is infinitely dearer to the Supreme than he is to us. The Supreme is our Father and our Mother. If one member of the family goes to the father and mother, the other members of the same family will never feel sad. If we have taken to the spiritual life and want to have real joy, we must know that we can have this only by surrendering our life to the Will of the Supreme. Now we may not know what the Will of the Supreme is, but we do know what surrender is.

If the Supreme wants to take somebody away from our life, we must accept this. “Let Thy Will be done.” If this is our attitude, then we will have the greatest joy. And this joy does the greatest service to the one who is going to depart. When we totally surrender to the Supreme, this surrender becomes additional strength and power for the departing soul that is suffering here in bondage. So if we really surrender our will to the Will of the Supreme, then this surrender will verily bring peace, an abiding peace, to the soul that is about to leave the earth-scene.

Those who have started meditating and concentrating are getting glimpses of their past incarnations. If we believe we had a past and we know we have a present, then we can also feel that we will have a future. Knowing this, we have to be always conscious of this truth: that there is no death. In the Bhagavad Gita it is said, “As a man discards his old clothes and puts on new ones, so does the soul discard this physical body and take on a new body.” When we know that the person who is going to die is just leaving aside this old body before accepting a new one, and if the person who is dying also has the same knowledge, how can there be any fear?

We do not know what death actually is; that is why we want to stay here on earth as long as possible. But real death is not the dissolution of the physical body. Real death, spiritual death, is something else.

Question: Guru, I had a young friend who died just six weeks ago, and the day before he died he told his father that he would die the next day, and he did. How could he know?

Sri Chinmoy: Why not? Is he not God’s child? At the time of death, if one thinks of God all the time, one may get the message from one’s own inner being. When my own mother was passing away, I happened to be at my uncle’s house, six miles away. My mother was suffering from goitre. Early in the morning she said, “This morning I am leaving the body. Where has Madal gone? Send for him.” Then a cousin of mine brought me the message and I came. She took my hand, then gave me a smile, her last smile. She left about a minute after I arrived, as if she had waited for me. Now I must be truthful. My mother was very, very spiritual, and used to practise the inner life in the strictest sense of the term. But about your friend, I must say that hundreds and thousands of people have known in advance when they were going to die. And for spiritual people it is very easy. They often know a few months in advance.

Question: When a person is sick and, medically speaking, there is no hope of recovery, is it good to tell the person he is going to die and to start helping him get ready for departure?

Sri Chinmoy: This is a very complicated question; each case has to be considered separately. Most people want to live; they do not want to die because they do not know what death is. They think that death is a tyrant who will torture them in every way and finally destroy them. When somebody’s karma is over and the Supreme wants that particular person to leave the body, if the person has vital hunger and unsatisfied desires — even though the soul does not have these desires — then the person wants to stay on earth. He does not want to obey the Will of the Supreme. So what should you do when a person has this kind of standard? If you tell him that God does not want him to stay on earth anymore, that he has had all the necessary experiences in this body, then he will misunderstand. He will say: “God does not want me to leave the body; it is you who want this.” He will think you are cruel and merciless. So if you know that it is the Will of the Supreme that this particular person should leave the world, the best thing is to silently speak to the soul of that particular person and try to inspire him to abide by the Will of God.

But if the person is very spiritual and a sincere seeker, then he himself will say to his relatives and dear ones: “Pray to God to take me away. I have finished my play here on earth. Read me spiritual books — the Scriptures, the Bible, the Gita. Let me hear only divine things, spiritual things, which will help me start out on my journey.” There are many, many people in India who, when they feel that their days are numbered, say: “The sooner He takes me, the better.” When my mother was dying, she read the Gita constantly during her last few days with the attitude, “Now I am going to the Eternal Father. Let me prepare myself.” A patient of that type receives greater joy in knowing and obeying the Will of the Supreme.

Question: Can you postpone with your willpower the time of death?

Sri Chinmoy: Certainly.

Question: Can you postpone it indefinitely?

Sri Chinmoy: Spiritual Masters can postpone it indefinitely if it is God’s Will. A spiritual person gets this power when he has attained to spiritual Perfection, because then he is absolutely surrendered to God. A disciple comes to a Guru and surrenders entirely to him. Similarly, a Guru has to make absolute surrender to God the Infinite. In this surrender he becomes one with God. He does not break the Law of God; he only tries to fulfil it. If God says, “I want you to leave the body now,” he leaves the body. But if he sees that some hostile forces are attacking him and are untimely causing his death, then he uses his power because God wants him to live on earth to help humanity.

Having this power is of no use if you just want to stay on earth for two or three hundred years to live an ordinary animal life. A turtle lives for hundreds of years, but that does not mean that it is better than a human being. What we need is direct illumination, the knowledge of Truth, the knowledge of Light and the knowledge of God. It is not the years, but the achievements, that count.

Question: Have you ever had to actually fight the death forces to save somebody’s life?

Sri Chinmoy: Just this last Sunday I came very late to morning meditation. Now most of you thought I was sleeping and snoring, so what can I do? But I was fighting with three death forces that wanted so snatch away three of my close disciples. With two I was really successful, but with the third I was not at all certain what was going to happen. It wasn’t until the following day that I got the assurance that the third one would also survive. Otherwise, that night you would have seen someone in the New York Centre snatched away. He was going to have a heart attack. And the funniest part of the story is that this person was there at the morning meditation, meditating while I was fighting with the death forces.

Question: I work in a cancer hospital where people frequently die. Sometimes when people are dying I see a quality or a look on their face which is very similar to something that I see in your face. Can you tell me why?

Sri Chinmoy: When I am united with the Universal Consciousness, I am in everybody. There are many people on earth who are not my disciples, but they are sincere seekers. And God-realised souls who are of the first class will see it when sincere seekers pray to God at the time of their death, or when their days are numbered. I tell you, if they pray to God or Christ or anybody, if they are really sincerely knocking at God’s door, they can find shining there my face, Buddha’s face, Krishna’s face because of our Universal Consciousness.

Who these people are, I cannot tell. There are hundreds and thousands who are not my direct disciples. But they knock at the Universal Consciousness, and there receive my Light, my Compassion. That is why you see my face on their face. They see me, and get help from my compassionate inner being. At that time, an illumined part of my being, of my inner existence, goes there to give them some consolation, some little illumination, so that in the soul’s world they can have a better existence and can come back again to aspire. If you look at a dying person and if you see my face, then you will know that this person is a seeker. There is no need for him to be my disciple. But if he has extremely sincere aspiration, because of my Universal Consciousness, I can be there.

There are times when my disciples meditate most soulfully on me, and identify themselves with me to such an extent that other disciples will see on them my face. Their power of concentration on me is so sincere, so devoted, so one-pointed and soulful, that right on their face the disciples will see my face, even if the person is a woman. This has happened several times.

Question: Sometimes people burn themselves to death as a protest against war. From the spiritual point of view, what does this accomplish?

Sri Chinmoy: In a family very often the brothers will fight. Then the mother says, “If you don’t stop, I am going to commit suicide.” I know of many cases where the parents have committed suicide when they found it impossible to keep harmony in the family. Then the children immediately changed. When they saw that their parents died on account of their fighting, they turned over a new leaf. But this did not last, and soon they were fighting once again.

Now from a spiritual point of view, suicide does not serve any purpose. The mother has sacrificed herself for her children. By her own physical sacrifice she thought that she would create harmony, but in the vital world there is no escape, no forgiveness for her. To the vital world she will go for her stupidity, and there she will stay. Why did she not have the wisdom to see that the children are not her children, but God’s children? God gave her these children, so why did she not approach God to illumine their consciousness? Why did she not pray to God for their harmony and peace?

The world will remain ignorant unless and until the Supreme illumines the world-consciousness. By sacrificing our individual lives in order to bring about peace, the world’s problems will never be solved. Many martyrs, aspirants and spiritual figures have killed themselves, but it did not solve the problems of the world. These problems will be solved only by aspiration, by praying to God to illumine the world while we are here on earth. Our individual death can never transform the face of the world. But if we invoke God’s Blessing, God’s Grace and God’s Concern, then the problem can be solved.

Question: Can someone who has committed suicide realise God in a future incarnation?

Sri Chinmoy: It is possible to realise God after committing suicide or after being violently killed. But God knows how many incarnations it will take. Only in the case of spiritual Masters is it permissible. Spiritual Masters sometimes commit suicide; they become so disgusted with earth that they consciously and deliberately leave the body before they would have done so in the ordinary course of events. But in their case the Supreme allows it because they have already realised Him and worked very hard for Him.

Question: Your philosophy states that the soul is always making progress, but how do you reconcile that with the fact that when someone commits suicide his soul falls?

Sri Chinmoy: When one commits suicide the soul of that person actually does not fall. But it remains at a particular place and is covered by infinitely more veils of ignorance. It is absolutely covered by ignorance — layer upon layer of ignorance. It is the consciousness of the individual that falls. It goes backwards right to the starting point, almost to the mineral consciousness where there is no evolution. The soul is eclipsed by teeming ignorance, that is to say, by infinite layers of ignorance. Before the soul had perhaps ten layers, but now it has countless layers of ignorance. The soul has to begin again removing them one by one. Of course, it becomes infinitely more difficult for the soul to carry the individual to perfect perfection, liberation or salvation.

But if the Supreme wants to operate in a particular human being who has committed suicide, on very, very rare occasions, the Supreme asks the spiritual Masters, who have the capacity, to take care of that soul and not to allow it to be enveloped by teeming ignorance. In these cases, whatever the soul already has, is enough to bring the Grace and Compassion of the Supreme, and He will not allow a veil to cover the soul more than usual. But this is done only on very rare occasions. Otherwise, if a person commits suicide, evolution stops for that individual indefinitely — for one hundred, two hundred, five hundred, six hundred years or even more. He cannot go forward, and the heaviest possible load is placed on his shoulders. The process of his evolution stops. Because he has violated the laws of the cosmic game, he has to undergo the cosmic punishment. This punishment can never be imagined by any human being on earth. The worst possible earthly torture is simply nothing in comparison to the cosmic punishment the individual gets when he commits suicide. You cannot say to the cosmic forces, “I have done something wrong and it is none of your business. I shall reach my goal when I feel like reaching it.” You have jumped out of the cosmic game intentionally, without God’s permission and against His intention. He has not allowed you to leave the game, but you have actively and openly defied Him and tried to ruin the game. For this wrong action the punishment is most severe. This punishment is so intense that with our human heart we cannot feel it, with our human mind we cannot imagine it.

Question: What is the difference between cremation and a regular burial?

Sri Chinmoy: The outer difference you know: when it is cremation the body is burned; when it is burial the body is put into a coffin and buried. Indians especially are fire worshippers. They feel that fire not only consumes everything but also purifies everything. So for fire we have a god, whose name is Agni. We pray to Agni for purification and for self-knowledge, and we also give our dead to him.

From the spiritual point of view, we know that the body has come into existence from five elements: earth, water, air, ether and energy. From five elements the physical sheath came into existence, and with the help of fire it will go back into the five elements. With cremation the physical body will dissolve with utmost purification, which here means transformation.

Again, those in the West who prefer burial also have their own spiritual interpretation. A kind of spiritual compassion comes because the body has served us so faithfully, and we say: “Oh, I utilised this body for so many years and never gave it any rest. Now the soul is not there; the bird has flown away. But the body is there. Let me give the body a chance to rest and have it put into a coffin.” Those who care for burning the body feel that the body, which has done so many silly, evil things in this life, needs purification. And those who care for burial want to give the body a comfortable rest.

Question: You have spoken about physical death. Could you say something about the kind of death and rebirth that occurs in the spiritual life?

Sri Chinmoy: When we wholeheartedly, sincerely and unreservedly accept the spiritual life, we feel that it is the real death of ignorance, of desire, of limitation. It is the death of our limited, strangling, unfulfilled and obscure consciousness in the vital. It is the vital that is craving to fulfil all kinds of desires, not the physical, so this death takes place in the vital plane. When we really launch into the spiritual life, we have an inner death. This death is the death of our past, of the way we have formed our past. We will build the edifice of Truth on aspiration, not on desires and worries or anxieties and doubts. The past wanted to show us the Truth in one way. But the past was not able to show us the Truth; that is why we are what we are in the present. Whether the present will show us the Truth or not we do not know. But we think we will see the Reality either in the immediate present or in the fast-dawning future, the future that is growing in the immediacy of today.

One of the mysteries in the spiritual life is that at every moment we are dying and renewing ourselves. Each moment we see that a new consciousness, a new thought, a new hope, a new light is dawning in us. When something new dawns, at that time we see that the old has been transformed into something higher, deeper and more profound. So in the higher spiritual life, at every moment we can see the so-called death of our limited consciousness and its transformation into a newer, brighter consciousness.

Question: I was actually thinking more in terms of rebirth. How can I become like a child again and accomplish this spiritual rebirth?

Sri Chinmoy: This rebirth must take place in the mind, in the body and in the vital. It must take place in the innermost, unconscious part of yourself, that part which was engulfed by ignorance, imperfection and limitation. When this spiritual rebirth takes place and you feel the dawn of a new consciousness in yourself, please try to become that consciousness and give it to your Master and to the Supreme, as you would offer a flower. When you are giving the flower, feel that it is not something you have plucked from a tree, but that it is your entire being which you are placing at the Feet of the Supreme. Then you will see this flower blooming petal by petal, and you will bloom inwardly with your inner fragrance, like a child. Deep within yourself a child will be growing and your outer age will disappear from you. But this will happen only when your aspiring consciousness has full mastery over your body, vital, mind and heart and has made your whole existence into a flower which you have offered at the Feet of the Supreme.

It is inevitable for each being who has entered into the spiritual life to have a spiritual rebirth in this life. Everyone must feel that he is a conscious, dynamic instrument, a child of the Divine. Everyone has to feel this Truth and become this Truth. When it is done, the child is no longer a child; he becomes Divinity itself. And then God-realisation is not only possible but inevitable. Only a child has the right to be in the lap of the Father, and the Father is eager to have the child in His lap. He is proud of having the child and the child is proud of having the Father.

Question: Can you say something about eternity and the eternal life?

Sri Chinmoy: Being a spiritual man, I can say on the strength of my own inner realisation that the soul does not die. We know that we are eternal. We have come from God, we are in God, we are growing into God and we are going to fulfil God. Life and death are like two rooms; going from life to death is like going from one room to the other. Where I am now is my living room. Here I am talking to you, meditating with you, looking at you. Here I have to show my physical body; I have to work and be active and show my life. Then there is another room, my bedroom. There I take rest; I sleep. There I do not have to show my existence to anybody; I am only for myself.

We come from the infinite Life, the Life Divine. This Infinite Life stays on earth for a short span of time, say fifty or sixty years. At that time we have within us the earth-bound life. But inside this earth-bound life is the boundless Life. After a while this Life again passes through the corridor of death for five or ten or fifteen or twenty years. When we enter this corridor, the soul leaves the body for a short or long rest and goes back to the soul’s region. Here, if the person was spiritual, the soul will regain the Eternal Life, the Life Divine which existed before birth, which exists between birth and death, which exists in death and, at the same time, goes beyond death.

Now while we are living on earth, we can place ourselves in the realm of Eternal Life through our aspiration and meditation. But just by entering into the endless Life, we do not possess that Life; we have to grow into it consciously. When we enter into the life of meditation, we must eventually become part and parcel of meditation. And when we are able to meditate twenty-four hours a day we are constantly breathing in the endless Life. In our inner consciousness we have become one with the soul. When we live in the soul, there is no such thing as death. There is just a constant evolution of our consciousness, our aspiring life. But when we live in the body, there is death all the time. As soon as fear comes into our mind, immediately we die. As soon as some negative forces come, we die. How many times each day we die! Fear, doubt and anxiety are constantly killing our inner existence.

Part II: A Tale of the beyond

A tale of the beyond

Editor’s note:

In the autumn of 1968, one of Sri Chinmoy’s disciples died. The following is an impromptu talk Sri Chinmoy gave at the New York Centre shortly after this disciple’s death.

I wish to say a few things about Buddy’s passing. The day he left the physical body, his small nephews asked me, “Where is our Uncle Buddy?” I said, “He is now in Heaven with God.” Then they asked, “Can we also go there?” I said, “Certainly you can go, but only when your Father, your eternal Father, invites you. When your physical father asks you to come to him, you go running; but when he is in some other room and he does not call, you do not go. Similarly, when God, the eternal Father, calls a particular son of His, the son goes.” Then they asked, “Why can’t we go there?” I said, “You cannot go there because that place is very, very, very far away, and you need a kind of ticket. Here when you want to go from one place to another you buy a ticket and you go there. For that place there is a special ticket and special money, so when you get these you can go to that place.” Then they asked, “Is he thinking of us?” I said, “He is thinking of you constantly. He is thinking of you and blessing you, and his soul will be helping and guiding you.”

The first day Buddy got his fatal attack, his mother, Karuna, phoned me in the small hours of the morning. I concentrated on him and the moment I did so I found that his death was just minutes away. Then immediately I went into my highest transcendental consciousness and invoked the Supreme and the Supreme’s descending Grace. Later that evening, around six o’clock, the critical period would pass and he would be saved. At that particular hour I saw his soul enter into my room while I was meditating. He said, “Save me, save me.” I said, “You are already saved. The Supreme has saved you.”

You may say, “He was saved at that time, so how is it that now, a month later, he has left the body?” My answer is this: there is a cosmic Plan, and God has the right to change this cosmic Plan according to His own Will. At first Buddy’s soul, with an adamantine will, was fighting to stay on earth, and we identified with his soul. With our prayer, with our concentration, with the force we put on the physical, with our soul’s cry, he did stay on earth. But his soul saw that after he was cured this physical body of his would not be able to fulfil the high mission that he was placing in front of himself. When his soul brought forward this high, higher, highest vision right in front of his nose, at first his body was afraid to embrace the vision and reality. But the soul convinced the body that not with this body, but with another form, another body, he would fulfil himself he would fulfil God and he would fulfil humanity. At 10:15 that morning the Supreme and his soul made the decision that he would leave the body. Immediately afterwards I entered into the occult world and garlanded him with my soul’s concern and blessing and all my love and sweetness. About an hour later his soul actually did fly away from the cage.

Now two or three days earlier his mother felt that Buddy was saying good-bye. She felt it because her body, mind, heart and soul were totally one with her child. The decision took place at exactly 10:15 in the morning, but the mother’s heart saw the truth before the truth even came into existence. Because of her psychic oneness with Buddy, her intuitive feeling made her know even before God made the decision.

If I act like any ordinary human being who does not identify himself with the Supreme’s Will, then from the very depth of my heart I am prepared to say that it was a terrible defeat that Buddy passed away. We lost in the battlefield of life, where each second is an opportunity for the soul to achieve, to materialise, to manifest here on earth. Because I identified with him, I cried and cried from the very depth of my heart. Believe me, I personally can be in my highest and again I can be in my lowest. When I am in the physical, I suffer. The first thing I said was, “It is my defeat, my defeat, because I put so much concentration, so much force on him.” But from the spiritual point of view, this loss, this defeat, was no defeat. When we are identified with the Will of the Supreme, we feel that His Will is All-compassion and All-fulfilment. The moment we all surrendered to the Will of the Supreme, Buddy left the physical. His mother, sister, he and I all entered into the Will of the Supreme and said “Let Thy Will be done.”

Now why is it that in the beginning we do not surrender to the Will of the Supreme? First of all, in this world we are identified with the physical. We try to possess our dearest one as long as we can. And secondly, we feel that it may be God’s Will that he live in order that his soul may get more inner experiences in the field of manifestation. But our highest Self is always one with the Supreme, and from there we see the eternal Vision and the eternal Reality. When we are one with the Supreme, we feel eternity as our very own. Buddy was on earth for forty-two years, but his spiritual name, Asim, means eternal, boundless, infinite life. It is the infinite life that the soul possesses and cherishes.

When I saw Buddy in the hospital before he died, he said, “Help me get out of the hospital alive.” I told him certainly he would be all right. It was not my false compassion, but my genuine feeling, and that feeling was my vision. God is all love; God is all wisdom. And although God’s decision is ultimate, God can change His Will and make another decision. Later, about three hours after he left the body, he said to me, “I am more alive than ever.”

What is the meaning of “alive” here? To ordinary people, to those who do not believe in God, it is absurd. They will mock me. But those who have entered into the inner life will feel that Buddy is now living in eternal Life. Formerly he was in earth-bound life for forty-two years. In these forty-two years he had many, many experiences. But in comparison to the experiences he is having now in one fleeting second, these earthly experiences are nothing. In one fleeting second he is having thousands and millions of experiences in the inner world, and these experiences are the kind that fulfil us within and without. When Buddy died, the soul of my physical mother came down from the soul’s world and took his soul into the vital world. Then my closest friend, my best admirer, my spiritual brother Jyotish, who passed away three years ago, came and took Buddy into a very high world to rest. I went there to see him. He is very happy. I sat beside him and what did he say? He said his physical body was junk. “Did you want me to stay with that body?” And what was I to tell him? “Junk!” he said. That was his word. He wanted me to stay with him for a while and he made me sit. Then we had all kinds of divine jokes, and he told me quite a few secrets, which I have told to the members of his family. I can say a few things about his concern for his dear ones, but the deepest secrets I cannot tell. He said the children must eat more for the next three months. Then last night he came to me and said, “Oh, tell my mother and sister that from now on I shall not only be inside them, but also for them, for them, for them.”

Yesterday his niece, Holly, asked me, “In Heaven, do they eat food?” I told her, “Certainly they do.” Now I am sure all of you know that here on earth we eat. Also in Heaven, in the vital world, we eat. The food is different from ours. It is like tiny particles of sugar, which have a very grey colour. About seventeen years ago, one of my sisters, who was very fond of me, died. The first time I entered into that vital world she gave me that food. I said, “I cannot eat it. It is all bone; I don’t want to eat bone.” She laughed and laughed, and made me eat. Just last night I was given this food by Buddy, and beside him were my mother and my friend and a few friends of his. We were all sitting, dining. So those who believe in the inner life, the spiritual life, will immediately believe that this inner world is also a world of reality. There we talk, we eat, we do everything.

Later the children asked, “How can we talk to him?” I answered, “Here on earth, no matter how far away we are from someone, we can talk to him on the telephone. Similarly, there is another kind of telephone to speak to people in Heaven. This other telephone is the capacity of the soul’s oneness. All of us — not only in the land of dreams or the world of spirit, but also in this world of reality — can enter into our departed ones while meditating. But unfortunately we do not do this. We live in the physical and do not go beyond the boundaries of the physical. That is why we do not feel our dearest ones after they depart. But if we go deep into our meditation, we will be able to see them concretely, right in front of our eyes.

Right now Buddy’s soul is in the world of the moon, considered to be one of the highest realms in the spiritual world. There are many, many worlds, but this world of the moon is full of purest joy, delight and tranquility. Soon Buddy will be with us again. In a few years we will see him in a different body, and I will be able to tell you that Buddy’s soul has reincarnated in a different form. I told him that his mother, sister, brother, father and all of his dear ones want to see him. He said, “See me? They will get me.” So they will get him in a different form, in a different body.

Part III: Life after death: the higher and lower worlds

Question: Do the circumstances under which a person dies determine where he goes after he leaves the body?

Sri Chinmoy: That depends mainly on the consciousness of the individual, and this consciousness is the gradually accumulated achievement of his entire life. My good disciples will go to a very high plane immediately if they can think of me at the time of death. If a mother is killed while protecting her child, her soul will go to a high world. When a soldier dies defending his country if his country is attacked, he will go to a high world. In India there was a time when the wives threw themselves into the funeral pyre of their husbands. People may say that this is suicide, and granted it is. But in these cases the wives do not go to the lower inconscient worlds where people who commit suicide usually go. These wives had tremendous love and devotion for and oneness with their husbands, and God blessed their divine qualities and granted them the grace to go to the worlds where they would otherwise have gone according to the development of their souls. Again, there were other wives who were forced to do this by law. They did it out of fear, out of necessity, but not out of a feeling of love or oneness. For them, too, the treatment was not the same in the inner world as for those who willfully committed suicide. They, too, went to their respective places according to their soul’s standard. But those who gave their lives out of joy and oneness naturally created a strong connection with their husbands which will be maintained in future lives.

Question: I have heard that seeing the relatives’ and friends’ tears gives great joy to the soul when parting from this life. Is this true?

Sri Chinmoy: In general there are three types of human souls: First what we call most ordinary, unenlightened; then good but ordinary souls; then great, extraordinary souls. When an ordinary man dies, he looks all around to see whether his dear and near ones are crying for him. If he sees that nobody is crying, then he gets terribly disheartened and says to himself: “All my life I have helped them in various ways. Now look at this ingratitude!” These ordinary souls are so attached to their dear ones and so attached to earth that they become disheartened if at this last moment their dear ones do not acknowledge their previous love and sacrifice. There are even some unenlightened souls that take a malicious attitude if their relatives do not mourn for them and come back in a disembodied form to frighten their dear ones after they have left the body. If there are children in the family, the deceased may assume the ugliest form and come in front of the children to frighten them.

The second type of person has been nice, sweet and extremely helpful to the members of his family, and when he is about to die he feels that there should be a bond of affection and attachment which lasts forever. This kind of person does not want to leave the earth-scene. He feels that it is attachment alone that can maintain the connection between this world and the other world, so he tries to draw the utmost affection and sympathy and concern from his dear and near ones. If he sees that his dear and near ones are not showing any sympathy or sorrow for his loss, or are not crying bitterly, then he gets a tremendous pang in his inner existence. He feels: “Here I want to establish something permanently, and I am not getting any help or cooperation from the members of my family.” But it is not the so-called human love, it is not human attachment, that can create an eternal divine bond between the departed soul and the souls that are in the land of the living. The love that binds human beings can never last; it is just like a rope of sand. It is only the divine love that can transcend all barriers.

Then we come to great souls, that is to say, spiritual Masters. When a Master leaves the body and sees that his disciples are crying bitterly over their loss, the Master feels sorry because the disciples do not recognise him fully as a spiritual Master. A spiritual person, one who has realised God, lives on all planes; his consciousness pervades all the worlds. So if his disciples cry bitterly for him, feeling that they will see him no more, then they are putting their Master in the same category as an ordinary person. It is like an insult. The Master knows that he will appear before the disciples who are sincerely praying to him or who are meditating and aspiring sincerely. He knows that he will be all the time guiding, shaping and moulding them. He knows that he will be able to enter into them, and they will be able to enter into him. So naturally he feels sad if his disciples take the attitude: “Now the Master is gone and we will never hear him again. Our prayers to him will be in vain, so it is useless to pray. Let us go to some other Master or let us try to find another means to make spiritual progress.” So spiritual Masters feel sorry when their dearest ones cry or shed bitter tears for them, whereas ordinary people get joy from this.

Yes, for a while the disciples can feel sad that they have lost their Master, that they will not see him in the physical frame. But that sadness must not last because the soul’s joy, the soul’s intense love and all-pervading concern, have to enter into the disciples who had sincerely accepted the Master as the sole Pilot of their lives.

Question: Why do people keep the body for a few hours or even for a few days after the soul has departed?

Sri Chinmoy: You can say it is because the relatives want to see the remains. They feel sorry because this body, this person, helped them or loved them during life. The father does not see the mother’s soul during her lifetime, but he sees her body, so he is attached to the physical. That is why, when she dies, he wants to keep the physical as long as he can. When the soul has left, the body is useless. It is just like the old, dirty dress you put in the wastebasket. If it is an ordinary soul, after it leaves the body, it hovers nearby — in the house or in the yard or somewhere nearby. God gives the soul a chance to see whether the family really cared for it, and the soul gives the family a chance to show whether they actually cared about its death. Then after a few hours, usually about eleven hours although it may be longer, the soul departs and does not come back again.

Question: Even if a seeker hasn’t realised God while on earth, will his soul see God or realise God after it leaves the body?

Sri Chinmoy: Every soul is bound to see God, because the soul must come directly from God. When the soul leaves the body, it goes to the vital world, the mental world, the psychic world and finally to the soul’s own world. Here it rests for a while. Then, before it comes down for its next incarnation, the soul will have an interview with God. The soul has to stand in front of the Supreme and say how much it has achieved in its past incarnation. It will see the possibilities of its coming incarnation, and make promises to the Supreme. The aims and ideals that the soul expresses for its role in the world of revelation and manifestation have to be approved by the Supreme. Sometimes the Supreme Himself says: “I expect this from you. Try to accomplish it for My sake there on earth.”

The soul that sees God and has a conversation with Him is like a stranger to us, for most of us have not seen the soul on earth. Unless we have free access to the soul, unless we hear the voice of the soul and try to listen to its inner dictates, it is simply impossible for us to realise God. After it leaves the body, every soul will see God in the sense that I see you because I am standing in front of you. But the thing is that when one realises God in the physical, here on earth, it is a totally different matter. Here the whole consciousness — the physical consciousness, the individual consciousness — merges into the infinite Light and Bliss. When we read spiritual books or listen to others, we may feel that God is ours. But our conscious oneness is something else. When we consciously feel God as our very own, then at every moment in our inner life, our inner existence, we feel boundless Peace. Outwardly we may be excited or talking, but in our inner life we are a sea of Peace, Light and Delight. When this sea of Peace, Light and Delight comes into our physical being, our physical consciousness, then our inner divinity can be manifested on earth. In Heaven we cannot manifest anything, and also we cannot realise anything. If the soul does not realise God while it is here on earth in the shackles of the finite, it will not realise God when it is in its own world. Realisation can only be achieved through the physical.

Question: Guru, will we see you at the time when we leave the body?

Sri Chinmoy: If you are my true disciple, you are bound to see me when you leave the body. That much I assure you. If you are my real disciple, you will not be able to die without my knowledge and consent. At that time I will stand right in front of you and take you in my chariot. I will carry you in a golden or silver or bronze chariot; you will see. This is the promise that great spiritual Masters give: they will come and take the souls of their disciples.

Question: Will we see you after you leave the body?

Sri Chinmoy: You may see me in a dream for a minute or two. Spiritual Masters, when they leave the body, often open the third eye of their disciples for a few minutes.

Question: Will everyone see you in the inner world after death?

Sri Chinmoy: The soul’s region is a big place, a vast place. The earth is also a vast place. If you had not come to my Centre, I would not have seen you. In the inner world I move from one place to another. Now if my real headquarters is on the plane that a person is on, then certainly that person will see me. We will have a group of people there who truly love me and are sincerely devoted to me. We will dwell together in the same plane. But those who do not care for me, those who know nothing about me and have no connection with me will not see me, unless it is the express Will of the Supreme. Those people will see others at their own level of development. They will dwell with the ones whom they loved.

Question: A friend of mine, a lady who was very spiritual, passed away recently. Will her friends come to meet her in a beautiful Heaven?

Sri Chinmoy: If her friends were also spiritual and highly developed, naturally they will come to receive her if they, themselves, are still in Heaven. But if her friends left the body long before she did, who knows where they are now? They may be in the region of Heaven, or they may be still loitering in the vital plane, or they may have taken human incarnation already. But if they have passed through the vital world, the mental world and a few other worlds, and are now enjoying the blissful rest of Heaven, and if the souls still maintain their same sweet feeling for your friend, then naturally they will come to receive her and help her enjoy a life of bliss in Heaven.

I would like to tell you about my own mother, who happened to be a very, very spiritual woman. When my mother was leaving the body, a very close relative of mine saw in a dream that my mother’s friends were coming in a golden chariot to receive her. When my father died, one of my uncles, who was away in the city, saw another uncle of mine and a few other people coming to take my father in a golden boat. There were many to receive my father and mother because both they, and many of their friends and relatives, were very spiritual.

In the case of almost all religious and spiritual people, the relatives do come. It is easier for spiritual people to come, because they have almost a free access to this world. When ordinary people, who are not spiritual and aspiring, leave the body, they do not go immediately to God. They stay in the vital world and suffer a great deal. When one disciple’s father died, he went to the vital world where he was not treated well. He was having quite a few problems there until one of the vital beings asked him if he had known any religious or spiritual people in his life. He said, “Yes, I know my daughter’s friend,” — who happened to be me. When my name was said, immediately the vital beings knew whom he was connected with, so he was released immediately. He was then able to leave the vital world, the world of torture, and go to a very good higher world.

When another disciple’s father died he went to a very high place, but he was not satisfied there. Her father had seen me only once, in Canada, but when he had, his whole body had been thrilled from head to foot with ineffable joy. So when he left the body and was not satisfied with the plane he was in, his soul came to me and said, “I want to go to a higher world.” So I called on one of my friends, Jyotish, to take him to the plane where he was living. Now he is extremely happy there, in this very high world. He sometimes comes to me and expresses his deepest joy. When he takes his next incarnation I will know about it. Most probably he will take incarnation in an Italian family, but it depends absolutely on the Will of the Supreme. And of course there will be a little bit of my interference if he wants to go somewhere which I do not approve of. Sometimes souls make mistakes when they decide upon their next incarnation. If the souls are very close to my heart, I do not allow them to do this. Right now as I am talking to you, believe me, I am now getting an inner vibration from her father that he wants to come into the family of one of our disciples. For the first time now, he sees an inner link. Before this he wanted to come into an Italian family, but now, as I am speaking, in the inner world he is sending me the message that he wants to come into one of our disciples’ families. Nothing will give us greater joy than to have him with us. And let us see what the other father does after taking a little rest.

Question: Will the soul be able to have some kinds of experiences in the worlds it goes to after it leaves the body?

Sri Chinmoy: As soon as the soul leaves this physical body, the physical body will be dissolved in matter. The body enters into the physical sheath, the vital enters into the vital sheath and the mind enters into the mental plane proper. The soul will go through the subtle physical, the vital, the mental, the psychic and then finally to the soul’s own region. As it passes through each of these planes, the soul takes up with it the essence of all the experiences it had on earth.

The soul gets various kinds of subtle experiences in these other sheaths, but these experiences are not going to manifest in these worlds. If the soul gets some experience here on earth, the experience is bound to be manifested either today or tomorrow. The soul can aspire in any world. In the higher worlds it will have only aspiration, and this aspiration will eventually take the form of experience. Aspiration itself is an experience. But on earth, when the soul observes suffering or joy or the activities of the world, the experiences that the soul gets here are constantly leading it towards the fuller manifestation of Divinity.

Question: When the soul leaves the body after death, you said it enters into the vital sphere. What is the vital sphere?

Sri Chinmoy: The vital sphere or region is simply a world, and that world is also within us. As we have the physical world, so also we have the vital world, the mental world, the psychic world, the soul’s world and other worlds. When we go within, immediately after the physical is the vital world. This vital is operating every day in us. Sometimes our physical consciousness will enter into the vital; other times the vital world enters into the physical. Very often we enter into the vital world in our dreams. When the soul passes from one plane of consciousness to another in our dreams, the first plane it enters into when it leaves the physical is the vital. And when the soul leaves the body and the person dies, the first step on the soul’s journey towards its own resting place, its destination, is the vital world. Some souls suffer there, while others do not. It is like visiting a strange, new country. Some are fortunate enough to mix freely with the people of the new country and understand its culture in almost no time, while others are not so fortunate.

The vital that we have embodied here in this physical is something solid. With our physical eyes we cannot see the vital, but in our feelings, in our inner perception, we can feel it. Again, with our human eyes we can actually see the vital movement and activity here on earth. This vital can take and has taken the real form of a subtle body. When the soul leaves the body and the body stops functioning, this form becomes formless; the vital form that we had during our lifetime enters into the vital sheath. The vital which had form enters into the formless vital. There it takes rest or disintegrates, while the soul travels back to its own region.

Question: What is it like in the vital world?

Sri Chinmoy: In the vital world immediately after the physical world, there is tremendous chaos and restlessness, insecurity, obscurity, dissatisfaction and a sense of incompleteness. Nevertheless, a tremendous power is operating in and through all these forces. This world is a portion of the passage through which the souls come into the physical world before birth and return to the higher worlds after death. This vital world is very chaotic. If you go there, you will see many broken and deformed things, as though a cyclone has hit the area. In this particular vital world the migrating beings are not usually happy. They become happy only when they have passed through it and entered into a higher vital world where a conscious aim and an upward urge are palpable.

Question: Is hell really a place in the vital worlds, or is it just a state of consciousness?

Sri Chinmoy: On the physical-mental level, hell is a place. It is for the soul’s experience. If you lead a bad life you have to go there. There it is real torture, unimaginable torture. Especially for those who commit suicide, the torture is infinitely worse than being fried alive in oil. The suffering that suicides go through in the subtle physical and subtle vital is unthinkable, unbearable. They will not get another incarnation for a long time. Then after suffering in the vital world for many years, when they finally do get an incarnation, they will be defective: blind, paralysed, mongoloid and all kinds of things. And this is not just for one incarnation, either. If they are not forgiven by a spiritual Master or by God’s Grace, this will go on for quite a few incarnations. Not only that, but right from the beginning they create a disturbance for the entire family that they are born into. For instance, if a suicide takes incarnation and is insane, he will cause serious problems for his whole family. Also, these souls often increase their own bad karma because they go on in the same way and they do not change. But if there is Grace from God, or if a spiritual Master intervenes, the soul is helped.

So when we live in the gross physical consciousness or in the body consciousness, hell is really a place. But on the highest spiritual level, we have to know that hell, as well as Heaven, is a plane of consciousness. Both Heaven and hell begin in the mind. The moment we think something good, the moment we pray and meditate and try to offer the inner light that we have gained from our meditation and prayers, we begin to live in Heaven. The moment we think evil of someone, criticise someone and cherish wrong thoughts about someone, then we enter into hell. Heaven we create; hell we create. With our divine thoughts we create Heaven. With our wrong, silly, undivine thoughts, we create hell within us. Heaven and hell are both states of consciousness deep inside us. When we go deep within, we see that the entire universe is inside us. Inside this physical body is the subtle body, and inside the subtle body, in the heart, we find the existence of the soul. Then, from there, if we go deep within, we see the entire universe.

Part IV: Reincarnation: the great pilgrimage

Question: What is the purpose of reincarnation?

Sri Chinmoy: In one lifetime on earth we cannot do everything. If we remain in the world of desire, we will never be able to fulfil ourselves. As a child we have millions of desires, and even when we reach the age of seventy we see that a particular desire has not been fulfilled and we feel miserable. The more desires we fulfil, the more desires we get. We want one house, then two houses; one car, then two cars, and so forth. There is no limit to it. When our desires are fulfilled, we find that we are still dissatisfied. Then we become the victims of other desires or larger desires.

Now our dearest is God. Do you think that God will allow us to remain unfulfilled? No! God’s very purpose is to fulfil each individual and Himself through us. He will have us come back again and again to fulfil our desires. If someone is eager to become a millionaire in this incarnation, and at the end of his journey he sees that he has not become a millionaire, then if his desire is really intense, he will have to keep coming back until he really becomes a millionaire. But by becoming a millionaire, he will see that he still remains a beggar in one sense, for he will have no peace of mind. But if he enters into the world of aspiration, he may have no money, but he will have peace of mind, and this is the real wealth.

If we go through desire, we see that there is an endless procession of desires. But if we go through aspiration, we see the whole, we enter into the whole and eventually we become the whole. We know that if we can realise God, inside God we will find everything, for everything exists inside God. So eventually we leave the world of desire and enter into the world of aspiration. There we diminish our desires and think more of Peace, Bliss, divine Love. In order to get a little Peace, a drop of nectar, it may take years and years. But a spiritual person is ready to wait indefinitely for God’s Hour to fulfil his aspiration. And his aspiration to achieve this Peace, Light and Bliss will not go in vain.

Now if our aim is to enter into the Highest, the Infinite, the Eternal, the Immortal, then naturally one short span of life is not enough. But again, God will not allow us to remain unfulfilled. In our next incarnation we will continue our journey. We are eternal travellers. We have to continue, continue until we reach our Goal. Perfection is the aim of each aspirant. We are trying to perfect ourselves in an imperfect world. And this perfect perfection we can never have in one life.

It is through aspiration and evolution that the soul develops the full possibility of realising the Highest and fulfilling the Divine. First the physical, the human in us, has to aspire to become one with the Divine in us — the soul. Right now the body does not listen to the dictates of the soul; that is to say, the physical mind revolts. The workings of the physical mind cover up the soul’s divine purpose, and the soul cannot come to the fore. At the present stage of evolution, most people are unconscious and do not know what the soul wants or needs. They have desires, anxiety over success, intensity and excitement. All these stem from the vital or ego, whereas anything done with the soul’s consciousness is always all joy. At times we may hear the dictates of the soul, or the message of our conscience, but still we do not do or say the right thing. No, the physical mind is weak; we are weak. If we start aspiring, however, with the mind, and then go beyond the mind to the soul, we can easily hear and also obey the dictates of the soul.

A day will come when the soul is in a position to exercise its divine qualities and make the body, mind and heart feel that they need their self-discovery. The physical and the vital will consciously want to listen to the soul and be instructed and guided by the soul. Then, here in the physical, we will have an immortalised nature, an immortal life, for our soul will have become totally and inseparably one with the Divine on earth. At that time we will have to offer our inner wealth to the world at large and manifest our soul’s potentialities.

It very often happens that realisation can take place in one incarnation, but for manifestation the soul has to come down again and again to earth. Unless and until we reveal and manifest the highest Divinity within us, our game is not over. We have not finished our role in the cosmic Drama, so we have to come back into the world again and again. But in the march of evolution, in one of its incarnations, the soul will fully realise and fully manifest the Divine in the physical and through the physical.

Question: Will the whole world eventually become a better place as a result of the evolution that takes place through reincarnation?

Sri Chinmoy: The world is constantly evolving, progressing, consciously or unconsciously. It is like a tiny seed which is sprouting into a plant, and then growing into a tree. Like this the world is evolving. There was a time when we were in the mineral world, then in the vegetable world, then in the animal kingdom. Now we are humans; but if we are sincere enough, we will see that although we have a conscious, developed mind, we still have not cast off our animal propensities and qualities. We are still half animals, quarrelling, fighting, struggling. But a day will come when there will be divine people on earth. We will see them just as we are now seeing human beings in front of us.

Question: How can a spiritual Master like yourself convince others who do not believe in reincarnation that it is really true?

Sri Chinmoy: If someone asked me to convince him that he had previous lives, even if that individual did not believe in reincarnation, I would be able to prove it to him. I would ask that individual to meditate with me for a few minutes and I would enter into him and bring to the fore his immediate past incarnation. I would bring the image of one or two of his past activities to the fore to such an extent that what he was in his past incarnation would become vivid to the person. I have done it quite a few times in New York. But sometimes it is not right for the person to know his past incarnations, and then I do not tell him.

One of my most devoted disciples one day asked me about his past incarnation. I told him that in his past incarnation he was a boatman in Japan. I told him he could go deep within to see it. I had not even completed my sentence when he himself saw that he was a boatman. But for those who are arrogant, for those who will not believe, and there are people who will not believe when you speak about reincarnation, we have to see if it is worthwhile to convince them about the past. For if they are satisfied with their own notion that there is no reincarnation, then let them be satisfied. After all, who is the loser?

A young boy, who was not a disciple of mine, once asked me about his past incarnation. I told him that in his past incarnation he had lived in Germany and had died in an aeroplane crash. Immediately he said that from the age of three he had been a great admirer of Hitler. He could read German books and German poetry from the age of three. But this information did not help the boy spiritually at all. He was curious and I fed his curiosity, not his spirituality. So in most cases I will not tell a person about his past incarnations.

Question: If somebody lives a good life and reaches Nirvana, does this mean he will not reincarnate again?

Sri Chinmoy: Reincarnation does not mean that if somebody does good things, divine things, he will not come back, and if somebody does bad things, wrong things, he will come back. No, everyone will come back into the world, but one who does good things will naturally have a better life in his next incarnation than the one who does bad things.

Nirvana is the path of negation. Those who follow the path of Nirvana want to remain in ultimate Bliss, or you can call it extinction. But we should not use the term “extinction”; it is the ultimate Bliss. These people do not want to reincarnate. When they enter into Nirvana, there the journey ends for them. The soul feels that it will not walk or run further. It does not want to involve itself with earthly activities. Nobody can compel the soul to reincarnate except the Supreme. But although the Supreme has the power to compel the soul, He does not do it. The Supreme does not compel anybody to do anything.

But there are some souls that want to take a conscious part in God’s Lila or divine Play. They know that reincarnation is absolutely necessary for those who want to serve God here on earth. One has to realise God on earth; on no other planet or plane can there be any realisation. Then after realisation, one makes the promise that one shall come back, like Swami Vivekananda and Sri Ramakrishna who both said that if a single unrealised person remained on earth, then they would be ready to come back. In my case also, I will come and go if I can be of any service to the Supreme in humanity.

Question: Can the soul reincarnate in other worlds after death?

Sri Chinmoy: The soul that has taken or entered into a human body cannot and does not reincarnate in other worlds. The soul can go through other planes: the physical, vital, mental and psychic sheaths. As soon as the soul leaves the body, it goes through these planes to its own proper region. But there the soul does not reincarnate. The soul is only passing through these places, which are part of its journey of discovery. It is visiting these places, but it does not reincarnate there. The soul reincarnates only in the physical world on earth. Here alone the soul has to manifest its divinity.

There are seven higher worlds and seven lower worlds, and during sleep or meditation everybody’s soul travels to these other regions. It may cross through one world after the other going to the highest world; or again, it can go through the lower regions. An ordinary person is not able to see the soul or feel the soul’s movements, but a great spiritual aspirant or a spiritual Master can know what the soul is doing and in which plane the soul is. But reincarnation takes place only here on earth, in this world.

Question: Does the soul always need physical parents to reincarnate?

Sri Chinmoy: Right now the physical body must come from physical parents. But a day will come, most of the spiritual authorities say, when parents will not be required to bring a soul to earth in a physical body. In the occult plane it will be done. And the soul will come into existence with a luminous body. The world is evolving gradually to this point.

Question: I have read that when the soul takes incarnation in the world it is like entering a battlefield. Is this true?

Sri Chinmoy: Each time we come back into the field of manifestation and enter into the world, it is like going into a battle. Here the spiritual seeker, the divine soldier, must fight against fear, doubt, anxiety, worry, limitation, bondage and his worst enemy, death. He is constantly fighting against ignorance, and death is the child of ignorance. He fights and then he either loses the battle and dies, or he conquers all these imperfections and negative forces and goes back to God victorious.

Question: When the soul reincarnates in a new body, what happens to the spiritual heart? Does it also go from one lifetime to another like the soul does?

Sri Chinmoy: When the soul leaves the body, it takes with it the quintessence of the experiences that the body, mind, vital and heart had in this present life. But when it goes to the soul’s region, it does not take the heart or vital or mind with it. Now when it reincarnates in a new body, the soul — or you can say, the psychic being or Purusha — is the same. It still carries the realisations and experiences from its past lives. But it accepts a new heart, new mind, new vital and new body.

Question: When a child incarnates into a family, is it possible that the child’s soul is less highly evolved than the parents’ souls?

Sri Chinmoy: Sometimes the parents are inferior, far inferior to the children, and at other times the parents are superior. But just as in the outer world parents try to make their children wise and well-educated, in the inner world, if parents pray and meditate on their children, the children will make progress and grow.

Question: Does the soul have any choice as to the environment that it will come back to when it reincarnates, and the body that it will take?

Sri Chinmoy: Nobody imposes on the soul. The soul itself makes the choice, but it has to be approved by the Supreme. The soul, while sitting at the top of the tree, feels that if it comes down to earth, it will be able to fulfil itself. But, as you know, the world is full of imperfections and limitations. And when the soul touches the foot of the tree, it feels that there are all unlit forces, evil forces, trying to capture and devour it. So after making the choice, sometimes the soul feels that the environment it has chosen is unhealthy, and it may leave the body.

Question: Can you help me to leave the body as soon as possible, and help me to reincarnate in a place that is high and very cold, with plenty of fog and snow?

Sri Chinmoy: I have the power to do what you are asking me. But if I go to the Supreme with your petition, immediately He will laugh at me and say, “What kind of disciple do you have who, when he is just starting to open his eyes, wants to close them again?” Climate has nothing to do with God-realisation. Sri Ramana Maharshi and Sri Aurobindo were from South India, which has a very hot climate, but this did not prevent them from realising God. There are many aspirants living in caves far up in the Himalayas, in the eternal snows, who have not been able to realise God. The climate has nothing to do with it. It is the inner heat of aspiration that can bring God-realisation, not outer climatic conditions.

Tagore, our greatest poet, used to write six or eight poems daily. He once thought that if he could retire to a solitary place he could write much better poetry. So he left his house and confined himself to a solitary place in the mountains. While there, he was not able to write a single piece of poetry. He discovered that it is not the environment that is most important, but the inner inspiration.

God has chosen the conditions under which you are living your present life. It is like a play. The stage is set and the curtain has been raised for you to perform your part and advance in the spiritual path. Your present conditions are the best possible ones for your advancement. Now you want to leave the body and enter into a new body in a future incarnation so you can have an environment that you think will suit you best. But this kind of life would be worse than your present one because it is chosen by you, whereas your present life was chosen by God.

If your past actions of this incarnation are bothering you, I wish to tell you that my philosophy is “Past is dust.” Whatever you did a few years ago or even yesterday should not concern you. The past is not important. It is what you do from now on that can expedite your progress. Now you have a spiritual Master in a physical body to help you. And it is the present, and the future flowing into the present, that can give you liberation.

Question: Is all suffering the result of bad karma, either from this life or from a past life?

Sri Chinmoy: Not necessarily. Sometimes what happens is that even though we have not done anything wrong, our soul wants to have some experience of suffering. Our soul wants to enter into the depth of pain just to know what pain is. Suppose a very spiritual person finds it necessary to thrash another person. What does he do? Immediately he enters into the person whom he is beating and identifies with him. And the intensity with which he feels this experience is much more than that of the person who is actually being beaten.

Many times we do wrong things and we get the results sooner or later. But again, there are times when we suffer because of the cosmic forces. Sometimes sincere, very devoted parents have children who are absolutely unspiritual, undivine and worthless. Now you will say that perhaps in their past incarnation the parents were also unspiritual and did many wrong things. In some cases the parents were bad in their previous lives, but in other cases this may not be true. Sometimes sincere seekers are affected by hostile, animal-like forces that are operating in the world. When these undivine, hostile forces that are hovering around behave like mad elephants or enter into a person, then the person suffers. It is like this: around us are animals fighting, quarrelling and destroying each other. A mad elephant, no matter how nice and sincere you are, will simply destroy you. You never know when these animals are moving around. So when a sincere seeker suffers, we cannot immediately come to the conclusion that in his past incarnation he did something wrong.

If we follow the spiritual life all the time, then we stay in the field of divine Power, which is like a fort. We are inside the fort being protected by God. When wrong forces, undivine forces, try to attack us, the divine Grace stands in their way. Spiritual people try always to be conscious of God’s Compassion, God’s Blessing, God’s Light, because they know that even if they do not do wrong things they may be attacked by undivine forces. And when they do wrong things, immediately they know that there is someone who can forgive them, who can protect them, who can elevate their consciousness, and this someone is their Inner Pilot, or God.

Question: Could you please explain how the law of karma affects us in this life and our next life?

Sri Chinmoy: We are carrying the past inside us. It is a continuous flow; “As you sow, so you reap.” If we do something wrong, we have to know that either today or tomorrow, either in the physical world or in the inner world, we will get the result. If I constantly steal, one day I will be caught and put into jail. I may not get caught today, but one day I will be caught. And if I do something good, if I pray, if I meditate and do divine things, I will get the result of this also. Sometimes we see someone who has done something wrong enjoying the world. But perhaps he did something extraordinary, something wonderful in his immediate past incarnation, and now he is having the result of his good action, while the results of his bad deeds have not yet started to bear fruit. In the evening of his life, or in a future life, he will definitely be punished.

In the case of an ordinary, unaspiring person, karmic dispensation is unavoidable, inevitable. The law of karma is always binding; like a snake it will coil around him. He has to pay the toll, the tax; the law of karma is merciless. But again, there is something called Divine Grace. I was ignorant and I did a few things wrong. But if I shed bitter tears and cry for forgiveness, then naturally God’s Compassion will dawn on me. When a person enters into the spiritual life, his karma can easily be nullified if it is the Will of God operating through a spiritual Master. Slowly God’s infinite Grace can nullify the results of his bad karma and expedite the results of his good karma. If a seeker not only wants the spiritual life but also sincerely practises the spiritual life every day, then he can stand above the law of karma, for God is bound to shower His boundless Grace on the devoted head and heart of the aspirant. Of course, I cannot go on doing some undivine thing and feel that God will always forgive me. No. But if God sees a soulful cry looming large from within, if He sees that I am sincere and aspiring and want to be free from the meshes of ignorance, He will not only forgive me but He will also give me the necessary strength not to make the same mistake again.

When we come back in our next incarnation, naturally we have to start our journey according to the result of our past karma. If we have done many things wrong, we cannot expect to realise the highest Truth in our next incarnation. But if God’s Grace is there, we can easily nullify the wrong things we have already done during this life.

Question: If a disciple does not realise God while his Guru is in the body, how would the Guru be able to help the disciple in that person’s next incarnation if there were no other living Guru through whom he could work?

Sri Chinmoy: The Guru does not need another Guru to work through. Four thousand years ago Lord Krishna had disciples when he was actually on earth, and even now there are still many of his disciples who have not accepted another Master. They reincarnate, for instance, into a family which is following the path of Krishna, so that Krishna will be able to give them liberation h his own way. It is similar with the other great Masters. There are many of Ramakrishna’s disciples who have come back to earth. They have not gone to any other Guru, yet they are being fulfilled. But if they wanted another Master, Ramakrishna would naturally tell them to go to another one. Some disciples of great Masters have accepted other Gurus. Some of my own disciples, in fact, were with Lord Krishna.

How can a spiritual Master help his disciples if they do not go to some other Guru? He can do it through his conscious will, his soul’s will. I am here on earth, and although I am not in England or Puerto Rico, through my conscious will, early in the morning after 2 a.m. I concentrate on all those who are my disciples there. To concentrate for a fleeting second is enough, but I use more than that to know what the soul is doing, and how far the soul has gone. So even while remaining in the physical, which is real bondage, a spiritual Master can help his disciples in different parts of the world. Then when he leaves the body, he is totally free. From the other shore the spiritual Master works through the soul’s Light or Willpower. The soul’s Light can be offered from any plane of consciousness, from the highest plane right down to the earth plane. So from the higher worlds the Master can easily connect with the disciple’s aspiring soul, and the disciple can respond to the Master’s Light. It is in this way that the Master can and does and must help the disciple.

When a Master accepts someone as a real disciple, a true disciple, he makes a promise to God, the Supreme, and to the soul of the individual seeker that he will be eternally responsible for that soul. But there are many, many who will come to our path — hundreds of thousands. They may stay with us for ten, twenty, thirty or even forty years, but never really accept us. When a Master leaves the body, he is not responsible for these so-called disciples. The Master will leave them to their own fate.

Now some may say, “How is it that we have been coming to the Centre and you have not accepted us as true disciples?” The simple reason is that they have not accepted me wholeheartedly. Only someone who has really accepted our path can be considered a real disciple. Acceptance has to be mutual; nobody can force it. Human parents force, but spiritual parents cannot.

Outwardly I have not personally told all those who are my real disciples, but inwardly I have told them, and they can rest assured that when I leave the body they will not be lost. They will never be lost, neither in this incarnation nor in their future incarnations. The real disciples — those who have taken me as their own and whom I have taken as my very own — are going to be fulfilled and realised in this incarnation or in their next incarnation or in a very few incarnations. Some disciples may take twenty incarnations or more because of their very poor start. Some who have come to me in their first or second human incarnation may take hundreds of incarnations. The first or second human incarnation is a half-animal incarnation. The animal is still there as the predominating factor, so how can they achieve God-realisation? Even in the New York Centre there are many disciples who have had only six or seven human incarnations.

When great Masters come to earth they greatly expedite the progress of their disciples. But how far can they expedite it when the disciples themselves have made so little headway? Still, the Masters try to make a very brave fight; they challenge ignorance. They say: “Let us see how far we can go.” Again, some disciples who have been on earth for only a few incarnations may still run the fastest because of their sincerity, humility and eagerness to run. They do not use their previous obscure qualities, and their mind has not been covered by millions of thoughts and ideas. From the very beginning of their spiritual life they start marching. They come into a spiritual family, or if they are fortunate enough, something pushes them forward from within to come to the Light. There is something called Divine Fortune. Some people have that fortune, and if they utilise it in a proper way, then everything is possible in one incarnation. Otherwise, it takes hundreds of years.

Question: How will you keep contact with us after you leave the body?

Sri Chinmoy: I will have a special telephone with telephone operators. There is one. Let me tell you a very charming incident. In India in 1951 or so, I was sitting beside my friend Jyotish outside the house. Jyotish was very dear to me, so it was only for him that I did this. He wanted to get some messages from his mother who had died seven or eight years previously.

I said, “Look here, I am using my telephone. Now I am going to bring a message from you to your mother. Then I will get a message from her and it will come to you directly as the answer. I will ask your mother a question on your behalf, but the answer you will get.” I asked three questions. The answers came and he received them, and he was deeply moved. First I sent his soul and then my soul to his mother’s soul. Then they had a conversation and from there he got the messages.

Now when Jyotish was about twenty-five years old, five ladies fell in love with him, but he never married any of them.

Because of their previous karma, they all died together in a boat accident. He was in Burma at the time of the accident. So these five ladies were also in the soul’s world with his mother.

When I told him that I would bring a message from his girlfriends too, he said, “How will you know who they are if I don’t tell you their names?” I said to him, “I will enter through your soul and I will bring you their names. Now in silence you repeat the names of the girls. From each I will ask a question and you will get the answer.” He was so clever; he thought he would trick me. For three he thought of the real names, but for the other two he thought of totally false names. I was about to say these false names when immediately his soul stood in front of me and told me the truth. His soul protected me. I said, “Oh, you are trying to deceive me with these last two names!” and he fell flat at my feet.

Then the ashram gossip started. From where to where we descended on that day! The next day Jyotish told a close mutual friend about this experience and asked, “Do you believe it?” The friend said, “Perhaps you were drunk. He is always drunk. Only drunkards can do this kind of thing! By knowing about your friends, what benefit do you get?” Inwardly the friend believed it, but outwardly he pretended not to.

When one disciple of mine died, I told his small nephews that we could talk to their uncle in the soul’s world, just like on a telephone. I thought of doing a little of this for them, but my inner being warned me that they would be frightened, terribly frightened, and it would create problems, so I did not do it.

Question: If one is a spiritual person, will his next incarnation be different from that of an ordinary person?

Sri Chinmoy: Certainly. If a soul is very spiritually advanced, it will not take an ordinary life, because it will have already gone through the ordinary life. Each incarnation is a steppingstone towards our ultimate God-realisation. When one has consciously aspired in his last incarnation, his future birth will hold more opportunities for his spiritual progress. Now if a seeker actually started his spiritual life in his past incarnation, if he was really sincere in his spiritual practices in his previous life, then naturally in this life he will start aspiring at a very young age. He will be born into a spiritual family where he will be encouraged to lead the spiritual life from his very birth, and he will start aspiring when he is ten or twelve or fourteen or sixteen. It may happen, however, that his circumstances are bad. Then even if he had started his spiritual life in his past incarnation, in this incarnation he will go slowly because he will not get help from his parents or from his environment. But it is not a risk; it is a journey. In the process of evolution the soul covers thousands of inner miles gaining different experiences, and it is these experiences that eventually give the soul its fullest realisation.

But if the person was a very great aspirant who was about to realise God, then he will almost definitely come into a very highly developed spiritual family and, from the very beginning, will be able to enter into the true spiritual life. Most of the real spiritual Masters enter into very highly developed spiritual families. God may send a spiritual Master into an unaspiring family, since He is not bound by any plan, but in most cases spiritual Masters come into spiritual families.

Question: You said before that each incarnation is a steppingstone towards our God-realisation. Does that mean that we can’t reach God in this life?

Sri Chinmoy: No, not at all. It is a matter of previous background and aspiration. If one has been aspiring and meditating in previous lifetimes, then there is no reason why he cannot attain realisation in his present incarnation on the strength of his aspiration. Since we are all progressing towards realisation, in one incarnation or another this realisation is bound to take place. As I said, it is a matter of the aspirant’s spiritual development.

Question: If a seeker dies, do all his responsibilities and work cease in the period between his death and his rebirth? Or is he able to work consciously, or in some way continue the work that he started, before he comes back to earth?

Sri Chinmoy: It depends on the achievement of the individual seeker. Suppose an advanced seeker has left the body, and suppose there were many things he had wanted to accomplish on earth when he was there, but he could not. What will he do? When he leaves the body, he has to go through the physical sheath, vital sheath, mental sheath and other sheaths, and then he will enter into the soul’s region. If it is not his own will to come back to the earth for ten or twenty years, and if it is also not God’s Will for him to come back, then in the meantime he can get his work done on earth through someone still on earth who is dearest to him. Because he is an advanced soul, he can apply his soul’s will from where he is to his dearest one on earth. But ordinary human beings cannot do this when they leave the body.

Say, for example, someone wants his children to get their Master’s degree. Then after leaving the body, as long as the soul is in the vital world, in the subtle sheath, it can send these desires and ordinary wishes to the children. Through the vital, the soul still keeps some physical contact with earth. Ordinary earthly desires can be fulfilled or enhanced by the will of the deceased person who has left the body a year or two earlier. But when the soul goes back to the higher planes, at that time it will not desire, it will not operate in this way on sons or daughters who are still on earth. The soul will not care for the children’s earthly satisfaction, for the fulfilment of their teeming earthly desires. But if the soul has heavenly aspiration for its dear ones, from the higher worlds it will try to increase their aspiration and help them in every possible way. The soul will go to mighty souls who are still on earth, and beg them to help the dear ones in the spiritual world. But if the soul is very highly evolved and it sees that somebody is really sincere and aspiring, then the soul itself can help that person.

Question: Is the length of time the soul remains in the soul’s world between incarnations determined by the aspiration of the previous incarnation? If it is an elevated soul, will it incarnate sooner?

Sri Chinmoy: It is according to the aspiration and according to the necessity. You may have the aspiration to do something, but at the same time God may not feel the necessity for you to do it. From your side aspiration is necessary. You are aspiring to come back again and to start the game again immediately. It is as if you have played for half an hour and now you are taking a short rest. Then, if you do not want to rest any longer, you say: “Give me the opportunity to finish the game and go back.” But God may say, “No, I want you to take rest for a while longer.” At that time you cannot return. But if your aspiration and God’s necessity become one, then certainly you can come back.

Some souls reincarnate almost immediately, without even going to the soul’s region. Suppose somebody dies prematurely in an accident. At that time his soul may go only up to the vital sheath and from there, if a spiritual figure or the Divine Grace intervenes, in seven or eight months it will take incarnation in a new family.

Most ordinary souls come back again after staying in the soul’s world for six or seven or, at most, twenty years. The time in the soul’s world is used by the soul to assimilate its experiences on earth. Great people, such as great scientists or spiritual figures, do not take birth again as rapidly as ordinary people. Very rarely will you see a great figure in any field who will take incarnation again very soon. Some stay in the soul’s world for seventy years or more. In certain cases, spiritual Masters wait a hundred or two hundred years before reincarnating. But there is no hard and fast rule. If the Supreme wants them to come back to earth, they have to come back even if they do not want to. It is the souls own decision, plus the approval of the Supreme, that determines how long it takes for a person to reincarnate.

Question: If someone is gifted in one area, does this mean that his soul was originally given this potentiality, or did he try to achieve this for many lives and then finally achieve it?

Sri Chinmoy: Potentiality everybody has, like a lump of clay. When one potter shapes it, the pot becomes most beautiful, and another potter makes a pot that is not so beautiful. The essence of both pots is the same — clay. Likewise, in spirit we are all one. But while the one potter is moulding, you may ask, “Why has he moulded that particular pot so attractively?” There is something in that particular potter that is called conscious aspiration. In every other respect my essence, your essence, everybody’s essence remains the same. But while that particular potter is moulding, there is something inside him which gives him the opportunity to make something unique.

So it is not that right from the beginning a particular potentiality was given. No, it was destined for each person to receive very limited freedom, which started right from the beginning of creation. Now this freedom means potential. Some use this potential for the spiritual life, some use it for music, some for poetry and so on. Some do not use it at all. But potentiality will not develop into reality unless and until it is brought to the fore and developed by its possessor.

Question: Sometimes my cousin and I meditate by looking into each other’s eyes, and when we do sometimes we see one another’s faces change and even the hair turns a different colour. I was wondering what this means.

Sri Chinmoy: You are seeing his past incarnation and he is seeing yours. But this is not at all advisable. Suppose you see that three or four incarnations ago you were an animal, even though you had a human body. There are many people like this. If we do not pray or meditate, then here on earth we are little better than animals. In Jamaica, in Puerto Rico, in Canada, in New York, when I walk along the street I see people who have incarnated as human beings for the first time. What can you expect from them? They have just come fresh from the animal kingdom.

For two disciples to look at each other and consciously concentrate on the eyes and bring forward the past is very risky, for you may be unconsciously bringing forward your animal consciousness. In India I know people who have done this with their brothers and sisters, and then the undivine forces from the past incarnation of one have entered into the other, and vice versa. Even in this incarnation, as long as we have not realised God, there are many undivine elements in our nature which we have to contend with. So let us not bring forward the past. This past, I always say, is dust. Has the past given you realisation? No! If it had, then you would not have come to me. So it is not necessary or advisable to go to the past.

Question: Does it help you to know what kind of animal you were in your past incarnations, or what kind of person you were?

Sri Chinmoy: When we enter into the inner life and develop our inner consciousness, our inner capacity, we get reminiscences of our past incarnations. Deep in our meditation we can easily feel that we had previous lives. And if we know that we had a past, and if we know that the present is not yet complete and that we ourselves can never remain incomplete, then the urge of the present will take us to the future where we will achieve our completeness. At the same time, we can expedite our progress if we have a Master. If we are most dedicated to the inner life and if we have a Guru, then we can make twenty incarnations’ progress in one lifetime.

Now suppose we know that we were a deer in our last animal incarnation. The only advantage is that we can think of our speed and say: “In the animal incarnation I ran so fast, and at that time I did not have the advanced soul which I now have. In this incarnation let me run even faster!” As soon as we remember that we ran fast in a previous incarnation, we feel inspired to run fast in this incarnation. If we know our past incarnation, then we can utilise it positively; at that time inspiration comes forward very quickly. If somebody knows that he was a seeker, then he gets a little joy and confidence. “I started my journey in my past incarnation, but it was a very long and arduous road. In this incarnation I am still walking along the same path, but I don’t have as far to go this time. Also, it is easier because I have a little help. I have the capacity. I have the willingness. I have the experience. With a spiritual Master guiding me, I shall easily reach my goal.”

But only on very rare occasions do we utilise the knowledge of our past incarnations properly. Most of the time it does not give us any encouragement at all. If we know that in our past incarnation we were a thief or something undivine, will this give us any inspiration or aspiration? No! Immediately we will think: “Oh, I was a thief and in this incarnation I am trying to become a saint. Impossible! It is hopeless to try to become spiritual in this life.” Even in this incarnation if we do a few things wrong it takes us a long time to come out of despair. We think: “I was so bad. I did this. I did that. Now how am I going to become pure? How am I going to realise God?” Even if we did something wrong four years ago it may still bother us.

On the other hand, suppose we know that in our past incarnation we were someone very great and in this incarnation we see that we are nothing. Then we will feel miserable. We will curse God and we will curse ourselves. We will say: “If I was so great, how is it that in this incarnation I am so useless? What unthinkable thing have I done to deserve this fate? God is harsh; He does not care for me.” But we misunderstand God. God wants to have a different experience through us in this incarnation, and we think that God is just being unkind.

An aspirant wants inner joy, the joy that fulfils him and fulfils God. This he will never get from his past incarnations. If he enters into some past incarnation and sees that he was the President of the United States, still he will get no satisfaction. He will see that as President his life was full of misery, frustration and all kinds of suffering. For real joy, an aspirant has to go forward in the spiritual life with his own aspiration and inner cry, with his own concentration and meditation.

The best thing for us is not to think of the past. Our Goal is not behind us; it is ahead of us. Our direction is forward, not backward. For a spiritual person I always say: “Past is dust.” I say this because the past has not given us what we want. What we want is God-realisation. Knowing our previous incarnations does not help our God-realisation. God-realisation depends entirely on our inner cry. The important thing is not the past, but the present. We must say: “I have no past. I am beginning here and now with God’s Grace and my own aspiration. Now let me start to run. How far I have run in the past is immaterial. Let me think only of how far I am going to run in this life.”

Right now we have to see the past as something totally different from the present, and the present as something totally different from the future. Once we realise God, at that time the past, present and future become all one. They form a circle, which is our own inner being, our entire life. At that time we can easily see back to our previous incarnations and know what we were.

If you want to know about your past incarnations, certainly God will give you the capacity. But the most important thing is not past incarnations or future incarnations, but what you want here and now. You want God, and if you meditate soulfully, God is bound to grant you that boon. You will possess Him and you will claim Him as your very own.

I wish to say one more thing to my disciples. Now let me brag a little, and you also can boast. In your past incarnations you did lead spiritual lives. If you had not had any preparation, do you think that God would have brought you to me? No! He would have taken you to some Master who is an inch lower than me. Spiritual Masters of my calibre get disciples who have tried or done something in the past. Some have done more, some have done less. But everybody has done something; otherwise you would have gone to some other spiritual Master and not to me. God is kind to me and He is kind to you. To the high school teacher God will not give kindergarten students. He will save kindergarten students for those who cannot reach higher classes. On rare occasions, one or two have come to me after only a few human incarnations, but these few souls have an intense desire to transcend their present consciousness.

Question: If a person is a very advanced seeker and develops the ability to see his past incarnations, will this actually hinder his progress? In other words, is it always harmful if you discover you were a thief or something in the past?

Sri Chinmoy: If you are meditating most sincerely in this life, your inner strength will automatically develop and you will reach the point where you will not be disturbed even if you see that you were the worst possible criminal in a previous incarnation. You know that you have come here to transform yourself, to go towards the Divine. The Lord Buddha disclosed his previous incarnations: he was a goat and many other things. But because he had realised God and had entered into the highest Truth, it was easy for him to say what he was in his previous births. To him it was immaterial if he was most ordinary in his previous incarnations.

Question: If a man dies and he is very fond of a dog or other animal, and if he has compassion for that animal, will this cause him to reincarnate as an animal? I understand that in India while a great sage was meditating in the woods something happened to a small lamb. He took care of it and became very fond of it and, as a result, in his next incarnation he was a lamb.

Sri Chinmoy: The greatest scripture in India and the largest in the world is called the Mahabharata. In the Mahabharata there are quite a few stories in which a man later reincarnates as an animal. There is a famous story about a king name Bharata, who was very fond of deer and who supposedly became a deer in his next incarnation. Now Ramakrishna, the great spiritual Master, was very fond of Swami Vivekananda, his dearest disciple. He used to seek out the disciple and talk to him, and people thought that Ramakrishna was mad. So one day Vivekananda said to him: “What are you doing? Don’t you know the story of King Bharata who was so attached to a deer that he became a deer in his next incarnation? So your fate is also going to be like that, if you constantly think of an ordinary human being like me.” Ramakrishna took Vivekananda seriously, and asked Mother Kali: “Is this true that my fate will be also like that of King Bharata?” She said: “That is stupid! You are fond of Naren [Vivekananda] because you are seeing God in him. It is not because he is beautiful or something else. No! You are fond of him because the manifestation of God is expressed in him. That is why you are so delighted when you see him.”

So if you show compassion to someone, that does not mean that you are going to become that person. If a beggar comes to you for alms and you show your utmost compassion to the beggar and give him some money or food, it doesn’t mean that you are going to become a beggar yourself. Similarly, if you have a dog, you can show your love for the dog because it is extremely faithful to you and so on. But this does not mean that you will become a dog because you admire the qualities of the dog that you love. The good qualities that the dog has, the faithfulness the dog has, you can have in your human existence without taking an animal life. Just by showing attachment to an animal you are not going to become an animal. You have already passed through that stage. What you get is the good qualities of the animal.

Question: Can the soul of a person take an animal form in its next incarnation after it has been a human being in this incarnation?

Sri Chinmoy: The world is evolving, progressing; we are going towards our goal. In the march of evolution, once we have accepted the human life, we do not go back to the animal kingdom. Now every rule has exceptions, but these exceptions are very, very rare. If an individual wants to re-enter into the animal life, we have to know that that particular individual is not at all progressive.

If a person has just entered into the human life, if it is his first or second incarnation as a human being, and if his propensity towards the animal life is still very strong, that is to say, if his impure desires were not fulfilled in his past incarnations in the animal life itself, then that human being may go back to the animal life. What happens is that the time comes when a part of his animal life becomes fully awakened and wants to enter into the human life. But there is some part of him which is not fully prepared for the human life. Still, the soul comes to the human life in spite of being imperfect, in spite of not being fully prepared for it, and then is later compelled to return to the animal life because the unillumined part in him has not been transformed and has most powerful animal tendencies and desires.

Another reason is that when the lower vital — the unsatisfied, unfulfilled vital — of an ordinary human being is causing him unbearable suffering and pain, if he feels that in the animal kingdom there is more opportunity to enjoy the lowest vital, the gross physical enjoyment, then that particular soul enters into the animal kingdom for a few months so that it can have the grossest enjoyment very freely. It is not for a year or two, but only for a very short period. When the enjoyment is over, when the necessary experience is over, the soul enters into the human world again.

Man has transcended the animal, but not totally. Inside us there is an animal. With our conscious prayer and meditation we are trying to transcend the animal fully. Among those who are gathered here, nobody is going to be an animal in later lives because we are much more developed. By the time aspiration begins, the soul is far too highly developed ever to return to the animal kingdom. Not a single soul present here tonight will have any more animal incarnations.

From: Sri Chinmoy, Death and reincarnation - , Agni Press, 1972
Sourced from http://www.srichinmoylibrary.com/dr