The following news item appeared in many Indian newspapers:-
"Vasanth Babu Rao, 48, of
Poonawas a consumptive and a diabetic. On January 6th 1965 he had a severe chest pain, and was rushed to a nursing home in the city, but died shortly after admission. The doctor at the nursing home certified that the death was due to cardiac failure. Later in the evening, the brothers of Rao removed the body in a taxicab.About one mile outside the city the taxi experienced severe jolts due to numerous pot-holes on the road. One severe jolt caused the head of the corpse hit against the door of the taxi. The occupants of the taxi were alarmed to see the right hand of the corpse move towards the side of the head which knocked against the door. The panic-stricken brothers turned the car, and drove back at pall-mall speed to the nursing home.Two days later the late Mr. Vasanth Babu Rao was discharged from the nursing home hail and hearty."
Life or vital energy in all living organisms, including this Vasanth Rao, is sustained by a chemical action which goes on in the protoplasm-containing cells of their bodies. This chemical action is the slow oxidation (respiration) of nutrient substances such as glucose, fats and proteins found in the living cells. The products of this oxidizing reaction are carbon dioxide, water and vital energy (life). Of these, the first two byproducts are discarded as gaseous waste during exhalation, and the third - vital energy - is utilized for all the biological activities of the organism. Respiration is conducted by all cells containing active protoplasm, a complex proteinic substance.
Modem researches have revealed that the mitochondria - the filamentous bodies present in the cytoplasm of living cells - are the power-plants of all life on earth. These mitochondria, with the numerous enzymes they possess, extract a very special form of energy - life or vital energy - from the chemical bonds in glucose, fats and proteins during respiration. The end product of this chemical action is adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the universal supplier of life (energy) needed for the contraction of muscles, the transmission of nerve impulses, metabolic activity etc., in short, all life-activities of the entire organism or its component organs.
An organism like Mr. Vasanth Rao remains alive only as long as it respires. Respiration comes to a stand - still when (1) the protoplasm-containing cells do not get oxygen, (2) there are no fuel bodies such as glucose,fats and proteins in the cells, or (3) the protoplasm undergoes decomposition.
Thus, respiration is not in any way different from the burning of a candle. The difference between the two lies in the speed of oxidation. The fast oxidation (combustion) of the candle, like the slow respiration of an organism, produces carbon dioxide, water vapour and energy in the form of heat and light. Respiring organisms produce vital energy in place of the heat and light of the burning candle.
As long as the substance (hydrocarbon) of the candle does not undergo decomposition, it is possible to rekindle a put-out candle. Similarly, it is possible to revitalize a dead organism by re-establishing its respiration before decomposition of the protoplasm sets in.
A rekindled candle gives out fresh heat and light. It is not correct to say that the heat and light 'depart' from the candle when the flame is put out, and return to it when it is rekindled. Similarly, a re-vitalized or resuscitated organism produces fresh life (energy). It is wrong to say that vital energy (life) "departs" from an organism when it ceases to repair (dies), and returns to it when it is revived by restoring its respiration. The organism simply ceases to live or to produce vital energy, as a put -out candle ceases to produce heat and light.
Though universally believed from primitive times, there is absolutely no evidence to think there is a soul or spirit for an organism (including man) to escape from it when it dies, and to come back to it if by chance it is revived.
Organisms breathe in various ways. Plants breathe through the thousands of stomata on the leaves, lenticels on the stems and pneumatothodes on the roots. Because of the facility for breathing in carbon dioxide by any part of the bodies, plants can be fragmented, and each fragment made to live and grow under favourable conditions. It is absurd to think that such offspring of a plant share the fragmented soul (if any) of the parent plant, or that fresh souls get into the offsprings sprouting from the cuttings. We should not forget the fact that the life in a plant is not in any way different from the life in an animal. Biologically, both are living organisms, having common origin.
Higher up in the ladder of evolution, numerous animals like coelenterates, worms etc., conduct respiration by absorbing oxygen by their skins (cutaneous respiration). Such creatures also can be fragmented like plants, and each fragment will continue to grow into a new organism under favourable conditions. Here too, it will be absurd to think that such offsprings share the fragmented soul of the original organism if it had one.
Still higher up in the animal kingdom, insects breathe through numerous spiracles (pores) along their bodies. The body of a cockroach or dragon fly will continue to live for a couple or more days even if its head is cut off, because that headless body can continue to breathe through the spiracles. It will die eventually when the fuel in its body gets exhausted. If the supply of the fuel is maintained in the headless body by some sort of artificial feeding, it can be made to live longer. In such a case, is it correct to say that the headless body, still alive, has a part of the original soul of the insect, the other part being lost in the severed head?
Pulmonary respiration carried on by still higher types of animals like Vasanth Rao, is slightly complicated and centralised; hence these animals are not dividuals like lower organisms. Though mammals are individuals, they too have a dividual stage during their early development in their mother's wombs. Identical twins, triplets, quadruplets etc., result by the division of one and the same fertilized egg-cell. Do identical twins share one soul or reborn personality divided into halves?
In pulmonary respiration air is breathed into the lungs and there the oxygen is absorbed by the hemoglobin of the blood. The oxygenated blood is then sent through the arteries and capillaries by the pumping action of the heart to all the living tissues of the body, where oxidation of glucose, fats and proteins takes place liberating vital energy. The by-products of this chemical action - carbon dioxide and water - are absorbed by the de-oxygenated blood, and brought back to the lungs to- be exhaled.
If the oxygenated blood is prevented to reach any part of the body by blocking the artery leading to that part, the tissues in that part of the body will die. But, if blood circulation to that part is restored before the protoplasm in the cells there start decomposing due to bacterial action, it will be possible to revive the tissues in that part.
Similarly, if the protoplasm in the cells of tissues or organs severed from the parent body is preserved without decomposition under aseptic conditions, it will be possible to revive those dead tissues or organs by grafting them on the living bodies of other organisms even after many years. If a person has one or more such grafted organs in his body, does it mean that fragments of souls from the donors of such organs have merged with his own soul?
Tissues removed from organisms are made to live and grow in cultures in laboratories. There are numerous cases of such cultured tissues continuing to live and grow long after the death of the parent organisms. In such cases, are we to assume that a part of the soul of the dead organism is left behind in the tissues under culture? Do rebirths take place in installments in such cases?
Dismembered organs and tissues can be preserved for many years in glycerin at deep- freeze temperature to be used for future grafting. It is found that dead muscle tissues so preserved, contract like living muscles when exposed to the chemical trigger action of ATP (Adenosine triphosphate). Does it mean that such tissues still retain their souls?
Desiccated yeast can be preserved for years under aseptic conditions in vacuum containers. If a pinch of such dry yeast is put into sugar solution, and kept in optimum temperature, the dead yeast cells will revive and start multiplying. When yeast cells are resuscitated thus, do the departed souls of the dead yeast return after many years to reenter their old bodies? Or, is it a case of rebirths of other dead organisms?
Single-celled organisms like the amoebae do not ordinarily die but divide down the middle to form two new offsprings, leaving behind no father, no mother, no corpse and no spirits. In a sense, they are immortal. Have such organisms no ghosts or rebirths?
Death is the cessation of respiration. In higher animals, both breathing and blood circulation are necessary to enable the living cells in all parts of the body to respire. If the involuntary muscles of the heart and the diaphragm happen to stop functioning the animal will die even if the protoplasm in the cells of its body is in perfect condition. Such dead organisms can be brought back to life by artificial methods of resuscitation such as cardiac massage, 'kiss of life' or mouth to mouth breathing, iron lung, electronic pacemaker, heart and lungs machine etc.
In the case of Vasanth Babu Rao of
Poona, his death was due to cardiac failure. His resurrection was due to the re-establishment of blood circulation before the protoplasm in the cells of his body started decomposing. The violent jerk the corpse experienced when the car was driven along the pot-holed road· gave sufficient mechanical stimulus for the muscles of the heart and the diaphragm to resume their rhythmical movements. The dead cells of the corpse now began to get sufficient oxygen to respire and produce fresh life.
Peter Sellers, the well-known film star of
America, it was reported, died seven times in 1963, and each time he was revived by the use of electronic pacemaker.
Neither in the case of Vasanth Rao of
Poona nor in the case of Peter Sellers of America can it be said that their 'departed' souls came back to re-enter their resurrected bodies. Do resurrected persons get fresh souls, the old ones having gone to heaven or hell, or even reborn in some other places?
Life and mind cannot exist without there being a living body to carry on respiration. Mind is the product of electro-chemical activity of the nervous system. Like life, mind cannot survive the death and destruction of the neurons which constitute the nervous system of an animal. Thus, it is absurd to contend that memories of past lives can be recalled in a later rebirth as alleged to have occurred in the case of Gnanatilleke of Talawakalle or Shanthi Devi of
Muttra. More and more scientific evidences are forthcoming showing that memories are molecular based. Recent researches of Prof. H. Hyden have shown that "in the nerve cells of the mature organism, experiences retained in learning lead to more or less lasting alterations in the chemical composition of the cell's R N A (Ribonucleic Acid) content; a fact of great significance for the problem of memory". Hyden's opinion that memory is RNA-based finds corroboration in Prof. J.V. McConnell's researches on the memory of planarial worms at the . University of Michigan
The experiments of McConnell and Jacobson have shown the possibility of transferring memory from one organism to another by injecting memory-carrying molecules of R N A from one to another.
Thus, in dealing with accounts of rebirth, we are only dealing with human testimony and often with human gullibility. They are devoid of either scientific or intellectual merit. A molecular-based property cannot survive the destruction of the molecules on which it is based.
Cessation of respiration is also the cessation of life. The idea of an immortal soul escaping the mortal body resulted from the instinctive desire of our primitive forbears to avoid total annihilation. It is from such groundless beliefs that the earliest of religions, animism and ancestor worship originated.
It is a paying job for priests of all religions to perpetuate the belief that death is only the beginning of an eternal life 'in the other world', for, it is on such beliefs in the minds of the gullible that their livelihood depends. Since priests have no possible means of brainwashing the domestic or wild animals into the belief of the survival of their spirits, they are free from being haunted or possessed by departed spirits, or from the fear of going to hell or being reborn in a miserable state.
Let us be rational, and work to make our present existence happy for us and our fellow beings. Let us learn to live at peace and harmony with our neighbours even if their languages, cultures and superstitions differ from those of ours. Above all, let us refrain wisely from brain washing our own children with superstitious beliefs handed over to us by our ignorant forbears.