An Indian spiritual Guru, who shall remain unnamed, was recently asked the question by someone in an American audience: “When does the soul choose a body? After conception, is it ok to abort a foetus if we already have children and do not want an accidental pregnancy?“. The question assumes significance because unlike Christianity, which declares that life begins at conception, Hinduism avers that the souls reincarnate into newer bodies through reincarnation. Since abortion is a politically charged issue, a hushed murmur rippled through the crowd before the Guru gently defused the tension by leaving the question unanswered. (see also Religion_and_abortion)
While Sri Aurobindo and the Mother Mirra Alfassa did not specifically comment on abortion, they did offer a few pertinent remarks on time of conception and contraception, which we present here.
Mother Mirra Alfassa on the time of entry of the soul
(The Mother based on her occult insights presents a fluid timeline.)
It depends on the state of development of the soul which wants to reincarnate ― we take the word “soul” here in the sense of the psychic being, what we call the psychic being ― it depends on its state of development, on the milieu in which it is going to incarnate, on the mission it has to fulfil ― that makes many different conditions….It depends very largely on the state of consciousness of the parents. For it goes without saying that there is a stupendous difference between conceiving a child deliberately, with a conscious aspiration, a call to the invisible world and a spiritual ardour, and conceiving a child by accident and without intending to have it, and sometimes even without wanting it at all. I don’t say that in the latter case there cannot also be an incarnation, but it usually takes place later, not at the conception.
For the formation of the child it makes a great difference.
If the incarnation takes place at the conception, the whole formation of the child to be born is directed and governed by the consciousness which is going to incarnate: the choice of the elements, the attraction of the substance ― a choice of the forces and even the substance of the matter which is assimilated. There is already a selection. And this naturally creates altogether special conditions for the formation of the body, which may already be fairly developed, evolved, harmonised before its birth. I must say that this is quite, quite exceptional; but still it does happen.
More frequently there are cases in which, just at the moment of its birth, that is to say, of its first gesture of independence, when the child begins to develop its lungs by crying as much as it can, at that moment, very often, this sort of call from life makes the descent easier and more effective.
Sometimes days and at times months pass, and the preparation is slow and the entry takes place very gradually, in quite a subtle and almost imperceptible way.
Sometimes it comes much later, when the child itself becomes a little conscious and feels a very subtle but very real relation with something from above, far above, which is like an influence pressing upon it; and then it can begin to feel the need of being in contact with this something which it does not know, does not understand, but which it can only feel; and this aspiration draws the psychic and makes it descend into the child.
I am giving you here a few fairly common instances; there are many others; this may happen in innumerable different ways. What I have described to you are the most frequent cases I have seen.
So, the soul which wants to incarnate stays at times in a domain of the higher mind, quite close to the earth, having chosen its future home; or else it can descend further, into the vital, and from there have a more direct action; or again it can enter the subtle physical and very closely govern the development of its future body.
(Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 8, p 335-338)
Sri Aurobindo on birth control (contraception)
[Sri Aurobindo’s observations stem from the recognition that the vast majority of human beings are not capable of self-control. A one-size-fits-all approach of imposing impractical moral rules on all mankind worsens the problem by precipitating psychological disorders in large sections of society. A better approach is to offer people some psycho-spiritual tools (e.g. Yoga) to regain self-awareness and recover their true nature, and hope for the best. ]
(Sri Aurobindo refuted criticism of birth control in an article.)
Sri Aurobindo: Scientists and medical men have devised methods by which birth control may be made effective without any injury. The objects are twofold: first, the prevention of too many children; secondly, keeping the woman in good health, so that the few children she gives birth to may be healthy. Of course inner control is better. But can that be expected of the man?…
Disciple: Gandhi has quoted all the doctors who oppose this method.
Sri Aurobindo: But he has not quoted those who support it.
Disciple: One objection is that it will increase licence.
Sri Aurobindo: That again is the moralist idea. There are the two extremes: one extreme is inner control, the other is free indulgence; mid-between comes the system of birth control.
(India’s Rebirth, Part III, August 29 1926, page13)
Another conversation on the topic
Nirodbaran: Anilbaran has forwarded a letter from some Rajkumar Bhattacharya of Dacca, who seems to be a permanent invalid from asthma and bronchitis and has no energy left for sadhana(spiritual practice). He has a dozen children. His wife died last year. He says that strangely enough he didn’t cough a single time while writing the letter.
Sri Aurobindo: Then he can go on writing such letters. But why did he spend all his energy in creating and rearing children, so that none is left for sadhana (spiritual practice)?
Nirodbaran: Do you think birth control would have helped? People say birth control has no religious sanction. Children are supposed to be given by God.
Sri Aurobindo: So is asthma then. Why take any treatment for it?
Nirodbaran: Birth control is an artificial means. Gandhi is against it.
Sri Aurobindo: I know. But civilisation is also artificial, and even Gandhi’s loin-cloth. What do you say?
Nirodbaran: But the loin-cloth is such a small artificiality. Gandhi says self-control instead of birth control. The latter is likely to create more indulgence
Sri Aurobindo: Of course if one can exercise self-control, it is best. But why didn’t this man do that instead of producing six children and causing the death of his wife? Birth control is not creating indulgence in Europe. Indulgence in which respect? Legitimate or illegitimate?
Nirodbaran: Even in legitimate relationships, it is said that birth control will remove the restraint imposed on people by the fear of having a large family.
Sri Aurobindo: Does Gandhi say that?
Nirodbaran: I don’t know precisely, but he says that such artificial means cause more harm than good.
Sri Aurobindo: That is a different matter. But I don’t think any fear can stop indulgence. People will indulge all the same in spite of fear of consequences when they have an impulse.
(This observation echoes verse 3.33 of the Bhagavad Gita “Prakritim yanti bhutani nigrahah kim karishyati.” Human beings act according to their acquired nature; what can coercion achieve?)
Nirodbaran: Under present economic conditions it is better, I think, to adopt birth control.
Sri Aurobindo: Yes, since most people can’t exercise restraint.
(Nirodbaran. Talks with Sri Aurobindo, vol. 1, 4 Feb 1940, page 418)
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- Sublimating the sexual urge through Yoga
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- Raising a child prodigy
- Does population growth invalidate reincarnation?
- Cases of reincarnation across religions
- Why one should not hate the sinner?