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Consider the concept of rebirth in Hinduism.

Is there any established definition for rebirth in Hinduism?

Hinduism supports the idea of rebirth.

As per my understanding, in general, the following will not transfer during rebirth

  1. Body of the organism

  2. Thoughts of the organism

Then what is the actual entity that transfer during rebirth?

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Subtle Body (Sukṣma Śarira) transfers during rebirth.

Quoting from Śata Ślokī of Ādi Śṇkarācārya:

28. The indwelling self, being non-different from the Supreme Self (Brahman), is infinite and so all-pervading. It cannot therefore be said that the indwelling self enters the womb when a child is conceived. Nor can it be said that it leaves the body when a person dies. It is the subtle body, constituted of the mind and the sense organs, that enters the physical body when a child is conceived and leaves the physical body when a person dies. Birth is the entry of the subtle body into the physical or gross body and death is the departure of the subtle body from the gross body. On death the subtle body goes to the higher or lower worlds according to the karma of the person. The self does not take on the characteristics of the gross body such as leanness, stoutness, etc. The subtle body, along with the sense organs (which form part of it) and the samskaras, departs from the gross body on death. After sojourn in higher or lower worlds, it comes back to this world to take on another gross body.

The subtle body consists of the five organs of perception (jnanendriyas), the five organs of action (karmendriyas), the five vital airs (prana, apana, vyana, samana and udana), the mind (manas) and the intellect (buddhi). It is the subtle body which transmigrates from one physical body to another. The physical body perishes on death, but the subtle body continues until ignorance is destroyed by the realization of Brahman (Brahma-sakshatkara). When the subtle body leaves the physical body it carries with it the knowledge acquired by the person, the effects of his karma (punya and papa) and the impressions of past actions (samskaras) (See Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, IV.iv.2 ). The pure Atma, being eternal and all-pervading, has neither birth nor death, nor can there be any question of its going from one place to another. See also Bhagavad gita, 15.8.

I think above passage appropriately answers your question. There are three Śarira (bodies) which are Sthula (gross), Sukṣma (subtle) and Kārana (causal) and there are five Koṣa (sheaths) which are Annamaya, Pranamaya, Manomaya, Vijnanamaya and Anandamaya. The mentioned thoughts in the question do belong to subtle body which consist of 10 Indriyas (senses), 5 Pranas, mind and intellect. So, they do transfers during rebirth.

  • I have read that the jiva atma enters the body after several months after conception. So what is then the difference between subtle body and the jiva atma? – Wikash_ Sep 29 at 14:06
  • 15.8 verse as Utkaramatishvarah translated as embodied soul. Isvarah is supreme Brahman. so something is clashing! – Parabrahman Jyoti Sep 30 at 11:18
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Nothing happens after death to the atma which is merely a witness. It is the subtle body that is affected by death. Check Gita 2.17-2.22 for the answer to your question. For example, Gita 2.22 says,

'Just as a man gives up old garments and puts on new ones, so the embodied self abandons decrepit bodies and assumes new ones.'

Gita 2.22

What happens immediately after death? The answer is given in Gita 15.8 which says,

When he gets a new body or abandons an old one, the Jiva, the lord of the body, moves, carrying them (the mind and the senses) with him, as the wind carries smells from their seats (in flowers and the like).

Gita 15.8

What this means is that the physical body dies but the mind and the senses leave the physical body.Persons who have not attained moksha are part of the life-death-life.... cycle. They may also have to stay in heaven or hell for some time if they have done a particularly good thing or a heinous crime, respectively, which cannot be adequately rewarded or punished in the Earth plane. After the merit of their particular good karma or the demerit of their particular bad karma is exhausted, they will again be born into the Earth plane. The process is linked to the concept of residual karma. This residual karma idea and what happens to evil-doers is explained in Brahma Sutra.

But of others (i.e. those who have not performed sacrifices etc.) the ascent is to the abode of Yama, and after having experienced (the results of their evil works) the descent (to the earth again takes place). On account of such a passage (for the evil-doer) being declared by the Sruti.

(Brahma Sutra Sankara Bhasya 3.1.13)

The Sruti passage referred to in the above shloka is:

The Hereafter never reveals itself to a person devoid of discrimination, heedless, and perplexed by the delusion of wealth. "This world alone exists," he thinks," and there is no other." Again and again he comes under my sway.

(Yama speaks in Katha Upanishad I.2.6)

It is clear that if you do bad deeds that you end up in Yama Loka. However, there are two perplexing questions here. Does the person who descends to earth from Yama loka return with any Karma (i.e. is the Karma of the evil-doer after serving his term in Yama loka zero?)? What decides that a person will after death be immediately reborn in earth or return to earth after serving a time in Yama loka? These two questions are actually linked. The answer to this question is given in Brahma Sutra:

On the exhaustion of (good) work (the soul) with residual Karma (descends to this earth), as is known from the Sruti amd Smriti, along the path (it) went by (from here) and differently too.

(Brahma Sutra Sankara Bhasya 3.1.8)

The above Sutra says that what is exhausted in heaven is only that specific Karma which gave the soul a birth in lower heaven, but on the exhaustion of this Karma the remaining Karma, good and bad, brings it back to earth. While this Sutra talks of heaven and good deed, it also applies to Yama Loka and bad deeds. Let me explain the idea by a concrete example. Let us suppose that a dead person has a list of 10 karmas with goodness values (1, -3, 4, 5, -100, 4, 3, 2, 5, 8) where the minus sign stands for evil deeds. What Brahma Sutra Sankara Bhasya 3.1.8 is saying is that this person will go to Yama Loka only for that extremely evil deed of goodness value -100. After he has exhausted the bad effect due to the -100 Karma, he can then go back to earth with the residual karma (1, -3, 4,5,4,3,2,5,8). The idea is that only extremely evil or good deeds, that cannot be adequately punished or rewarded in the Earth plane, lead a man to Yama loka or to lower heavens. All minor good and bad karmas are served on the earth plane.The person who has attained moksha is free forever from the endless cycle of Samsara. The cycle of birth and death will only end after the attainment of moksha or liberation. The length of the process will depend on how quickly or slowly the person will attain moksha.

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