.                    REINCARNATION AND
                           THE THEORY OF KARMA.

                  This is my eighth blog on my forthcoming novel. I have discussed various reasons why an author would find the theme of reincarnation as a rich source of weaving a good story. I have also discussed earlier in this series why the theme of reincarnation appeals to readers. One of reasons , mentioned in my earlier blogs , was that the idea of reincarnation also expresses our religious beliefs. In a pluralistic society like ours , it is difficult to confine oneself to any particular denomination of religious beliefs and deconstruct the theme of reincarnation. However , there is one religious belief that is almost universally accepted across the religious spectrum. Moreover , this belief is the foundation of our idea of reincarnation. I am referring to the belief that fate of each one of us is defined by  the theory of karma. Therefore , in this blog and next few blogs , I would discuss variety of facets of this theory of karma. Since the theory of karma is universally believed , I think it would be easier to understand why we believe in reincarnation as well.

            I would like to admit ,at the outset , that I do not claim to have any new insights into either reincarnation or into the theory of karma. Both these topics have been commented upon in great length in religious and psychological literature.  I am going to focus only on two aspects in my blogs. Firstly , I am going to talk about the possibility that the idea of reincarnation itself maybe a fictionalization of the theory of karma. It is my belief that sages who scripted our vedic texts were conscious of the need to reach out to laity in the simplest way. Therefore they created our mythological stories as  fictionalization of fundamental philosophy described in our holy books. Similarly , I believe , the theory of karma is difficult to understand and to explain it in simplest form to laity.Therefore it was fictionalized into an idea of reincarnation.

         The second aspect that I am going to focus is that the theory of karma , by itself  i . e. without its fictionalized form , is very intricate and detailed scheme. These details deserve to be investigated  for their own sake. I am not suggesting that the theory of karma is right or wrong. I do not think I have wherewithal to prove it either way. All I am interested in is whether these details , by themselves, are created to fulfill our subconscious needs. There is a distinct psychological perspective behind the details of the theory of karma. I would focus on these aspects in my next few blogs.

           Let me begin by looking at the relationship between the theory of karma and the idea of reincarnation. One of the central assumptions about the theory of karma is that there are always some consequences of every action that you perform. This , by itself , is a logical and intuitive assertion. In fact , it is almost scientific. It is comparable to law of physics that asserts that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. When viewed in this perspective , this basis of the theory of karma appears to be axiomatically true. The reason why this perspective is not scientific is that it doesn’t tell us how this is accomplished. While it may  be reasonable to say that there are always some consequences of every action that we perform , it is equally important that the theory of karma must explain how these consequences come about.

             The solution offered by the theory of karma is that these consequences come about through reincarnation. An individual can not be immortal. Therefore there is not enough time for all the consequences of each of hers/ his karma to come into effect. For instance , what if an individual were to perform some karma just before her/ his death ? Obviously , the consequences of such an act can not be experienced by that individual because there is not enough time. In order to accommodate this problem , the theory of karma has to postulate that it is the soul of that individual that would have to bear the consequences of the karma that that individual performs just before death. Since the soul is immortal , the problem of shortage of time does not arise. The soul would , according to the theory of karma , would bear the consequences in its next birth. One can see that reincarnation solves the basic dilemma of death intervening in the process of facing consequences of our karmas.

                 While there is no basis to support such an assumption of soul being the entity that performs and faces the consequences of karma , this assumption fulfills our emotional requirements. On one hand ,  it individualizes impersonal notion of action to personalized karma since individual soul is responsible for its karma. In Scienve we talk of impersonal notion of action whereas this theory ascribes individual authorship to it  and calls it a karma.  This transformation from impersonal action to personalized karma enables us to identify ourselves with all the karmas that we perform as our own. On the other hand , it also fulfills our natural sense of justice and redemption. This is precisely what fiction does. It gives us a chance to identify with what characters in fiction are doing and through that identification , the fiction enables us to redeem ourselves. Therefore it is correct to say that reincarnation is a fictionalization of the theory of karma. This theory appeals to us because it makes us believe that we too can redeem ourselves by patiently undergoing the consequences of our past karmas.

           Once we accept this interpretation of the theory of karma, the questions that  arise are of two types. Firstly , how our belief in the theory of karma changes our behavior? Secondly , does the theory of karma stand up to logical analysis ? In my next blog , I would discuss how our emotional acceptance of the theory of karma has shaped our behavior. In later blogs I would discuss how does the theory of karma stand up to rigorous analysis of logic.




            This is second part of my blog on the theme of continuity. In the first part , I had discussed the problem of maintaining emotional continuity while writing a novel based on the theme of reincarnation. Since such a novel essentially uses reincarnation as a metaphor , the emotional continuity of main characters serves the purpose of creating a narrative. The emotional interactions between the main characters provide the narrative with necessary literary tensions. It is this internal emotional conflicts and synergies that provide a platform for readers to identify themselves with such a narrative. Thus , as mentioned in part one , it is this process of identification which allows the metaphor of reincarnation to work on reader’s subconscious mind.

                   In this second part I would focus on the problem of continuity of time while writing a novel based on reincarnation. When a novelist places her/ his characters in a particular period of time and in particular geographical location , the writer is , in effect , creating characters of time and place as well.  Let us see how it happens. When a protagonist is placed in a time frame which is say twenty years earlier than the year of publication of that novel, the writer needs to incorporate social beliefs and collective psyche of that time. Most intuitive way of doing it is incorporating these beliefs in the character of the protagonist. In addition , the protagonist must also have beliefs that are consistent with her/ his intended character. Thus the protagonist has to be created with two sets of beliefs. One representing the ethos of the time she/ he is shown to be living and a second set of beliefs representing her/ his own character as intended by the writer. One can judge the quality of a novel by assessing how these two sets of beliefs have been integrated into an internally consistent characterization of the protagonist.

                 This process of characterization of main characters of the novel also works for geographical location . Each town , each region and each country has certain traits. These get reflected in the characterizations of main characters shown to be living in that location. Sometimes , a writer might choose to present the geographical location as a character itself.

                       This is normally a routine protocol for writing a novel. In case of writing a novel based on the theme of reincarnation , the problem of characterization of main characters becomes more complicated. In case of reincarnation of the protagonist , the next birth would be in a different geographical location and in different eras. Therefore continuity  in the sense of time lapse would have to be in the form of changes in collective psyche.  For instance , if a character is born earlier in pre independent India , then it’s collective psyche would  be dominated by a sense of patriotism and freedom struggle on the principles of Gandhi’s non violence. If that character is born in its next birth in contemporary India , then the collective psyche of modern India would be dominated by internet and information technology. The problem for the novelist in that case is how to create a character which blends both these dominant themes into an internally consistent characterization. A novelist may then create a character , who was a freedom fighter in an earlier birth ,  is now reincarnated as a character of a whistleblower who uses internet to expose corrupt politicians. I must admit  that there is no such character in my novel that shares this type of characterization. I am simply giving an example to explain the detailing that goes into creating a believable character with whom the readers can relate emotionally.

         Similar detailing is required for geographical location.  For instance a character born in Mumbai in one birth may have born in some remote town in Bihar in previous birth say in the time of Ashoka the great . In that case the collective psyche of both the locations would be so different that the novelist would have to strive to create continuity of characterization.

       Of course , readers  might wonder why such detailing is required. There are two reasons for this. Firstly , such a continuity is what makes narrative believable. The human mind is built on narrative intelligence. Therefore only some types of narratives emotionally connect with the readers. Therefore a novelist must create such intuitive narratives. At a deeper level , one can see that continuity of time in the social context refers to transformation of collective psyche. The key insight is that  though our collective psyche changes with time , the fundamental nature of this psyche remains unchanged. It is as if the contours of our collective psyche changes with time but it’s contents do not change. It is this constancy of our collective psyche that is at the heart of the metaphor for reincarnation. Just as souls remain the same while their bodies change in different incarnations , the collective psyche remains same over millennia , it’s expressions change with time. It this relationship between changes and constancy of our collective psyche that finds its literary expression in the theme of reincarnation. The second reason for such detailing is that this detailing represents our intricate theory of Karma.

                    In my next blog , I would discuss how the theme of reincarnation represents the theory of Karma and how intricate this theory is supposed to be.