The very first answers to this question were provided to me by good old stories of Hinduism. Based on the actions (Karma) I perform in this life time, my soul will be born again, to live the reactions of those actions. And the cycle of action and re-actions continue for ever, until, I live a life which will have actions and the reactions of which I will bear in the same lifetime. The whole objective for an individual soul is to arrive at a balance of action-reaction in the same lifetime, so that the soul is liberated from the cycle of re-birth.
I never understood this whole concept of re-birth. There are number of unanswered questions like,
How do we define an action in non-relative terms?
What is soul?
What happens to my soul when the cycle ends?
What is the meaning of liberation of soul?
I think the critical thing in this whole theory is the identification of entity called as “Soul”. There is no physical definition of this, and philosophies term it as related to the spirit of an individual. Soul is the spiritual me or whatever. The definitions are so vague and there is total disconnect from relating this to any of the physical elements was too-much for me to comprehend.
Human body is group of Atoms. Any matter is a group of Atoms, assuming Atom is the most elementary particle of any matter. (For the folks interested on the most elementary particles, please read on String Theory.) I tried to relate the soul to the physical entities understandable by me. I could come up with some definitions as below,
- The sum total effect of all the Atoms (elementary particles) in any matter can be termed as Soul.
- The first Atom of a matter when formed can be termed as Soul. (E.g. First atom formed due to a reaction of Sperm and Egg)
- An important “group of atoms” which define a matter to its core can be termed as Soul (E.g. Group of Atoms in some part of brain)
For me, the definition in Point 1 made a lot of sense. Each Atom of any matter has some sort of energy (polarity or electro-magnetic energy or whatever) in it. What defines an individual is the sum total of all these energies put together, such an important grouping defines an individual (any matter) can be termed as Soul. Whereas going by my physical definition, the Soul is ever-changing, it is changing every milli-second with the numerous amounts of chemical reactions, transformations happening in a human body (Any animal, tree, thing, for that matter). For e.g. when I eat a piece of matter (food :-)), there are new Atoms which are joining my system as proteins, carbohydrates are whatever. In the same way when I excrete, the Atoms which can not attach to me are thrown out of the system.
Having defined soul, the next step is to identify my future life using this definition of soul. When I die, according to my caste, my body will be burnt. My body will be transformed into various different forms of matter like, Gases, and Ash. There is no loss of atoms; it is just that the bonding which was holding them together disintegrates. This disintegration leads to the transformation of grouping of atoms to various other forms of matter. The ashes will be immersed in the water, a fish might eat that (part of me becomes part of fish), bigger fish eats the smaller fish, cat eats the bigger fish, dog eats a cat, so on and so forth. The atoms which were forming me, has dispersed and transformed into various other forms of matter, hence killing "Me" completely.
The above flow has basic conflict with the general theory of reincarnation, which is, Soul is immortal and Soul is carried forward to my next birth. Where as in my definition, soul disintegrates completely, and dies (Liberation?). Fortunately or unfortunately I subscribe to my theories only until proved wrong, and hence, though there is a conflict with age-old theory, I stand by mine. The thought that I die, is a comprehendable and safe option for me to live my life now.
As I was writing the above, I realised I had missed an important point. All those, Atoms which formed me, had a bonding of some sort, to be part of me. With the natural process, I have selected certain atoms to be part of me and rejected (excretion, vomit etc.) certain types of atoms. The reason an atom is part of me is because, it has found a natural bonding with my other atoms (electro-magnetic force?). In summary, all atoms which have made me, have found a natural bonding (natural attraction, natural affinity etc.) to be part of the group called me.
As I live my life, the energy polarisations (electro-magnetic force) which define these atoms, would have changed in some way depending on the way I have lived my life. The principle of atoms changing because of group behavior (Me) is similar to, “People in the same place (China, South Indian, Mangalore etc. etc.) typically look the same”. It is the set of individuals who make up the group, and these individuals typically have a common factor to be attached to the group. Going further, group characterstics gets built over a period and the individuals attaching to the group implement the group characterstics in them to be part of the group. In summary, concept can be simply defined as "group characterstic changes because of the individuals", and "individual characterstic changes because of the group".
Applying this concept to an "individual atom" which has formed "Me", all the atoms which have forrmed "Me" define "Me". Also, because of the group characterstic of "Me", each and every individual "Atom" which has formed me would have changed to implement the characterstic of "Me". When I die and get burnt, my soul disintegrates and I am re-born as various other forms of matter (atoms intergate into other forms of matter after I have burnt). My next birth is multiple (Trillions of Trillions probably :-)) lives. I guess it must be fun.
In summary, there are 2 answers I could arrive to my important question,
1) I die after I die
2) I will have multiple lives after my death as human
The second option looks more realistic to me, and I prefer that as the final answer for my next birth.
If you see a piece of wood after my death, love it, it might be me :-)