Birth and Conception in Hinduism

The Triple Births of a Soul

by Jayaram V

The Upanishads are the heart of Hinduism. I was introduced to them by chance nearly forty years ago, and ever since my interest in them only grew. It was out of my interest I translated several Upanishads twice in the past. The first attempt was several years ago, and it was meant mainly for the Internet. In my recent attempt, which took me over a year, I translated 16 major Upanishads covering over 1700 slokas. For me the exercise was more like an active meditation with an opportunity to communicate with the best of the ancient minds and making sense of their universal vision of God and existence. In this section I want to share with you the wisdom of the Upanishads, whenever I am inspired to do so. I hope to present at least a few every month until my thoughts are exhausted or my interest has waned. I hope you will find them useful. Jayaram V

Please do not look for complete answers or information in these. They are fragments of thoughts which deal with only certain aspects of the chosen subject

It is not Mother Alone Who Bears the Child.

The Second Chapter of the Aitareya Upanishad describes how souls are reborn and how the life of each being upon earth is the result of three births, instead of one. It is not just the mother who bears the soul of the child for nine months. The father also hosts the soul for sometime in his semen sac before it is transferred to the mother. The verses also hint why abortion is not just an ethical and moral problem but also where perhaps people need more compassion and understanding to avoid the practice. According to the verses, human birth happens in three phases due to the union of three souls, rather than two, and each birth is the result of past karma in which the karma of parents also play an important role.

The process of rebirth begins when the souls depart from here to the world of ancestors, where they stay until their karmas are exhausted. The bodies of the departed souls in the astral world of the ancestors are built by their past deeds and the by the offerings made to them by their descendents. They are gradually exhausted in due time by the actions of gods. When their time is complete, they fall down to the earth through the rains, and through the water in the earth they enter the plants. Some enter the animal bodies when the plants in whch they are hidden are eaten by animals. When humans consume the plants and animals, they enter the human bodies.

How a soul finds the body of its father is not explained, but we have to presume that karma plays an important role in facilitating it. There is a popular Indian saying which states that who should eat what is already predetermined, and each food grain bears the name of the individual who is expected to eat it. It is based on the belief that food plays an important role in the births and deathsof beings.

According to the Vedic beliefs it is from food the journey of each individual soul begins in the mortal world, since children find their way into the parents' bodies through the food they eat. The souls are primarily reborn through food, which is central to Vedic theology and ritual practices. The Vedas proclaim that food is verily of the form of Brahman. The bodies of the beings are formed from food only. Its gross parts become part of the gross (sthula) body and subtle parts become part of the subtle (sukshma) body. Through food alone Brahman sustains and nourishes the worlds and himself.

No ritual is complete in Hinduism in which food is not offered to someone or accepted by someone. The main purpose of a ritual is nourishment of the gods, humans, ancestors and other beings. The food is symbolic of all materiality and energy. A ritual is the means to their transformation and transference. So is the case with the ritual of life. The life of an individual upon earth begins with an offering of food to the body in a symbolic ritual and ends with an offering of the body as food to the god of fire.

When the souls that are present in the plants and animals enter the male bodies through food, they find their way into the semen sac. It happens overtime, and in stages. The food is first digested and becomes part of the strength and the vigor (tejas) of the father. As time goes by, it gathers further vigor and become semen (retas), where the soul rests awaiting its rebirth. This is considered the first birth of the soul, birth in the body of the father.

When the semen is released into the female through sexual union, the soul finds its way into her womb and becomes part of the mother's body. The mother nourishes the embryo as if it is her own limb. The soul rests in her womb until the appointed time. This is the second birth of the soul, birth in the body of the mother. Finally, when the child emerges out of the womb, it becomes its own self, with its own body. This is considered the third birth, birth in one's own body.

Thus, in the Upanishad we find a different concept of how beings are born. Behind the visible physical process of birth is hidden a transcendental process. Conception arises from the union of not two but three souls. The soul of the child first enters the body of the father, and later that of the mother, before it enters its own. Its destiny is shaped by its past deeds, since its depends upon its karma to find its parents and let the conception happen.

While the modern science suggests, conception happens when an egg is fertilized by a sperm cell, the Upanishads declare that it happens much before, when the souls return to the earth and become part of the food. In the Vedic view of procreation, the birth or rebirth of a soul is not facilitated by sexual act only. It is only the means, but conception will not happen unless a soul is willing to be part of it.

From this we can discern why the law books of Hinduism prohibit abortion and equate the destruction of an embryo (bhrunahatya) with a mortal sin. Since the souls are part of the rebirth process even before the conception, even early stage abortions are not permitted. The law books also prohibit adulterous behavior by the parents, since it can lead to the rebirth of a soul in a wrong womb and effect its destiny. The process also explains why Hinduism is particular about parental duties and obligations towards their children.

Rebirth of a soul is a perilous process. Each soul that returns to the mortal world has to first find a male body that is worthy enough to be its father. It has to stay there for a long time, before it reaches a female body that is worthy enough to be its mother and fit enough to host it and until it develops its own body. A lot of things can happen in between which may prevent the soul from taking birth. There is no guarantee that every soul that falls down from the ancestral world will immediately find a compatible father and mother. Even if they manage to find an entry into the womb of a female, there is no guarantee that the mother will keep the child and not abort it. Liberation (moksha) frees the souls from these ordeals of rebirth. Hence, the Vedas consider it to be a better alternative. << >>

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