Doesn’t population growth disprove reincarnation?
Transcribed by: Nikhil Fernandes
Doesn’t population growth disprove reincarnation? If the soul is eternal and the population is increasing, then where are these new souls coming from? If souls are eternal and never created, then if the population is increasing that would mean that there is no such thing as reincarnation happening and new living beings are being created – is that what is happening?
Not necessarily. We need to understand the argument here – population explosion disproves reincarnation. There are two assumptions here, the first is that souls exist only in human bodies and the second is that souls exist only on the earthly realm. When we use the term ‘population explosion’ it is a very anthropocentric term based on the human centred view of reality where we consider only the human population on earth. Have we counted the populations of microbes, germs, grass and the many other forms of life?
The concept of the soul is talked about in various traditions but it is more systematically explained in the Vedic tradition. Similarly, reincarnation is talked about in many traditions but it like the soul is more systematically explained in the Vedic tradition. We need to see reincarnation in its broadest context as explained in the Vedic tradition in order to be able to understand the answer to this question.
In the Vedic tradition, it is explained that souls exist not only in human bodies, but also in lower non-human bodies. They exist not only on the earth but elsewhere as well. The Vedic universe is abuzz with soul traffic. Souls come up from lower realms to higher realms and souls come up from lower species to higher species. There is a natural progression from the lower species to the human species. At the human species, there can be further progression upwards, there can be stagnation or regression – this is determined by the karma performed by the soul. The souls that do good karma, they rise upwards. The souls that do mediocre karma, they stay wherever they are. The souls that do poor karma, they regress downwards.
In today’s times, most people do mediocre karma. Most people are living in passion and so they stagnate over here on the earthly realm. As very few people are doing very good karma, there are very few souls that progress upwards. Of course, some people are regressing downwards also. But there are souls, which due to natural progression are moving upwards also. Because of this soul traffic we should not consider population explosion in very limited terms. We have only a very small view of reality. If we look the totality of history as modern science has understood it, we don’t know the population of the earth for very long period nor do we know it very accurately. As compared to the vastness of the timespan of the earth’s existence, from even a scientific perspective, the time for which we have reliable observations of the earth are not that long. For example, the time of Buddha is estimated to be about 5000 years ago, historians are not able to pinpoint the precise date of Buddha’s existence – what to speak of millennia before that? From the perspective of the vastness of terrestrial time, what to speak of cosmic time, the observations that we have are for a very finite time period.
Think of it this way, imagine an extra-terrestrial being came to earth and observed a college canteen in isolation from its surroundings. The being found that from 10am to 1pm there wasn’t much crowd in the canteen. From 1pm to 2pm there is a huge crowd in the canteen. Then the extra-terrestrial might think that there is a population explosion in the canteen. In reality, it is not so. Students were present in the school and just moved to the canteen at that time. Similarly, to label something as a population explosion and to say that this disproves reincarnation is to pile assumption on assumption on assumption. The first being that souls exist only in human bodies. Then is the assumption that souls exist only on the earthly realm. Then is the assumption that the trends we observed for the short period when we do have reliable historical knowledge of is a reliable parameter for judging the trends across all of history. Rather than doing this, we need be more objective and try to understand from the broader perspective of the Vedic wisdom tradition at large.
If we want to be sceptical and adopt a materialistic or atheistic world view, then people may question of the concept of reincarnation or the very existence of the soul itself. Then we go into other evidences for reincarnation. But once we accept the concept of reincarnation, then there no point in dragging materialistic assumptions on interpreting reincarnation. If we want to understand reincarnation, understand it from the world view that given in the Vedic scriptures. And the scriptures describe that souls can come from various realms to this realm. From the point of view of the vastness of the puranic timescales, the present timescale that we have observed is very small. There is no need to make a hue and cry about population explosion, all it means is that souls form non-human bodies or non-earthly realms have come to the earth. According to the Srimad Bhagavatam, the present age is Kali yuga – the age when people who have done poor karma get their karmic reactions. One way the karmic reaction can come to fruition, is by scarcity of resources and this scarcity can happen either my nature itself providing less, which is happening nowadays, but it can also happen by excessive number of souls coming to a particular place. When too many souls are present in the same place then natural resources fall short and there is suffering because of that.
Once we remove the assumptions which are brought into this argument, we see that there is no objection nor contradiction to the principles of reincarnation by the theory of population explosion. Rather we simply understand that souls existing at different places and in different bodies that are not understandable nor accessible to us right now have come to the human form at this particular time. This creates the observable population explosion. It is not that new souls are being created, it is simply that souls from other places and other species are coming here.