My Comment: The following questions by visitors and answers by the modern sage Sri Ramana Maharshi were compiled by David Godman according to various subjects. Here is an excerpt from the chapter on reincarnation.
Q: How long does it take a man to be reborn after death? Is it immediately after death or some time after?
Ramana’s answer: You do not know what you were before birth, yet you want to know what you will be after death. Do you know what you are now?
Birth and rebirth pertain to the body. You are identifying the Self with the body. It is a wrong identification. You believe that the body has been born and will die, and confound the phenomena relating to the body with the Self.
Know your real being and these questions will not arise.
Birth and rebirth are mentioned only to make you investigate the question and find out that there are neither births nor rebirths. They relate to the body and not to the Self. Know the Self and don’t be perturbed by doubts.
Q: What becomes of the jiva [individual] after death?
A: The question is not appropriate for a jiva now living. A dead jiva may ask me, if he wishes to. In the meantime let the embodied jiva solve its present problem and find who he is. Then there will be an end of such doubts.
Q: Is the Buddhist view, that there is no continuous entity answering to the ideas of the individual soul, correct or not? Is this consistent with the Hindu notion of a reincarnating ego? Is the soul a continuous entity which reincarnates again and again, according to the Hindu doctrine, or is it a mere mass of mental tendencies – samskaras?
A: The real Self is continuous and unaffected. The reincarnating ego belongs to the lower plane, namely, thought. It is transcended by Self-realization.
Reincarnations are due to a spurious offshoot. Therefore they are denied by the Buddhists. The present state of ignorance is due to the identification of consciousness [chit] with the insentient [jada] body.
Q: Do not we go to heaven [svarga] as the result of our actions?
A: That is as true as the present existence. But if we enquire who we are and discover the Self, what need is there to think of heaven?
Q: Should I not try to escape rebirth?
A: Yes. Find out who is born and who now has the trouble of existence. When you are asleep do you think of rebirths or even the present existence? So find out from where the present problem arises and in that place you will find the solution. You will discover that there is no birth, no present trouble or unhappiness. The Self is all and all is bliss.
Even now we are free from rebirth so why fret over the misery of it?
Q: Is there rebirth?
A: Do you know what birth is?
Q: Oh yes, I know that I exist now, but I want to know if I’ll exist in the future.
A: Past!.. . Present!… Future!…
Q: Yes, today is the result of yesterday, the past, and tomorrow, the future, will be the result of today, the present. Am I right?
A: There is neither past nor future. There is only the present. Yesterday was the present to you when you experienced it, and tomorrow will be also the present when you experience it. Therefore, experience takes place only in the present, and beyond experience nothing exists.
Q: Are then past and future mere imagination?
A: Yes, even the present is mere imagination, for the sense of time is purely mental. Space is similarly mental.
Therefore birth and rebirth, which take place in time and space, cannot be other than imagination.
Q: What is the cause of tanha, the thirst for life and the thirst for rebirth?
A: Real rebirth is dying from the ego into the spirit. This is the significance of the crucifixion of Jesus. Whenever identification with the body exists, a body is always available, whether this or any other one, till the body-sense disappears by merging into the source – the spirit, or Self. The stone which is projected upwards remains in constant motion till it returns to its source, the earth, and rests. Headache continues to give trouble, till the pre-headache state is regained.
Thirst for life is inherent in the very nature of life, which is absolute existence – sat. Although indestructible by nature, by false identification with its destructible instrument, the body, consciousness imbibes a false apprehension of its destructibility. Because of that false identification it tries to perpetuate the body, and that results in a succession of births. But however long these bodies may last, they eventually come to an end and yield to the Self, which alone eternally exists.
source: David Godman, Be As You Are, The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi, p. 187 – 189