Abortion, a Dharmic Perspective- III: When does the Jiva enter fetus?

In Part 3 of the series we will try to answer the question central to any discussion on abortion: When does the Jiva enter the fetus?

In Part 1 of this series looking into the issue of abortion from a Dharmic perspective, we addressed the question of who a Jiva is. Then in Part 2, we enquired into the role allotted to giving birth by the Dharmic traditions. We saw how human life is treated as very rare and important and how giving birth is perceived as a noble and meritorious activity. Now, in this Part 3 of the series, we will briefly look into different stages in the birth of a child and try to answer a question, which is central to any discussion on abortion: When does the Jiva enter the fetus?

Stages in the birth of a child

Any discussion on abortion is not possible without understanding the stages in the birth of a child and in what stage does the Jiva enter the womb and enlivens the fetus. This is particularly important because, without determining at what stage of pregnancy will the fetus become endowed with the Jiva, i.e. at what stage will the fetus itself becomes a Jiva (i.e. a person), no analysis regarding the Dharmic implications of abortion can be made.

Let us then begin with a graphic account of how a child is born from Markandeya Purana [1]:

“As soon as the male seed is mixed with female blood, one, released from heaven or hell, enters into it. O father, the two kinds of seed being influenced by him he attains stability. He then grows into protoplasm, next into a bubble and then into a lump of flesh. The germ that grows up in the lumps of flesh called Ankura and then are gradually produced the five limbs. Then the minor limbs, fingers, eyes, nose, face, and ears are developed from (principal) limbs and from them the nails &c. Then hairs grow on the skin and then those on the head. Thus does the embryo grow up along with the uterus. As a cocoanut fruit grows along with its case so does this increase along with its case, with is face bent downwards. It grows keeping its hands downwards to its thighs and sides; the thumbs are placed on the thighs and the other fingers before them. The eyes are behind the thighs and the nose is within the thighs. The hips are between the two heels; the arms and legs remain outside. Thus a Creature, lying in the womb of a female, grows up gradually; the embryos of other creatures lie in the womb according to their forms. It gets hardened by fire and lives by what is eaten and drunk; the embryo exists in the womb depending upon virtue and vice. The entrail called Apyayani fixed to its navel is attached to the entrail of the female and it grows there. Having its body nourished while in the womb, by the food and drink a creature gradually grows up. It then gets the recollection of its many births and then pushed hither and thither it comes to entertain a distaste (for such a state).Having been released from the womb – “I shall never do it again – I shall so strive that I shall not have to enter into the womb any more” – thus does it think remembering a hundred miseries of births originating from destiny which he had experienced before. Then in the course of time, the creature, with its face bent downwards, turns itself and is then born in the ninth or the tenth month. And coming out it is assailed by the Prajapatya wind and tormented by the grief that is in its heart it bewails. Coming out of the womb it falls into an unbearable trance; it regains its consciousness when it feels the (surrounding) air. Then the enchanting illusion of Vishnu takes possession of it; having its soul possessed by it, it sustains a bewilderment of sense. With the loss of sense the creature comes of infancy, boyhood, youth and old age (Chapter 11, 1-20).”

A similar account, but one, which presents the correlation between the stage of pregnancy and the developments that happen in the fetus in respective stages, is provided in Garbha Upanishad, which belongs to Krishna Yajurveda and is listed among the 108 Upanishads given in Muktika cannon. It says [2]: “When ready, on the joining [of the male and female], [the embryo] after [a day] and night is in a mixed (semi-fluid) state; after seven days it becomes a bubble; after a fortnight, a solid mass, and in a month, it hardens. In two months, it develops the head; in three months, the feet grow. In the fourth month, belly and hip are formed; in the fifth month, the backbone is formed; in the sixth month, nose, eyes and ears are formed. In the seventh month, [the embryo] comes to have the jiva, and in the eighth month, it becomes complete in every sense. If the father’s seed is more potent, it becomes male; if the mother’s seed is stronger, it becomes female. If the seeds are equal, it becomes an intersexual. If [at the time of impregnation] the parents are agitated, the child will be blind, crippled, hunch-backed or stunted. If the vital air moves around, the seed enters in two parts, resulting in twins…..Whatever is consumed or drunk by the mother passes through the nerves and vessels to the child, becoming the source of his satisfaction. During the ninth month, all outer signs attain completeness. And he is reminded of his previous birth, and recounts the good and bad deeds committed. He thinks: I have seen thousands of wombs, eaten several kinds of food and sucked many breasts. Born and dead again and again, I am immersed in grief but see no remedy. Thinking of my good and bad deeds, I am suffering alone, although the bodies that enjoyed the fruits are gone. When I get out of this womb, I will take refuge in Sankhya-Yoga, which destroys misery and yields liberation; when I get out of this womb, I will take refuge in Maheśvara, who destroys misery and grants liberation….. When he reaches the birth canal and comes out of it with great difficulty, he is touched by an all-pervading movement [Māyā] that causes him to forget previous births and the good and the bad deeds performed therein (Verse 3-4).”

Similar accounts are also provided in various Smriti texts and Ayurvedic medical treatises. Yajnavalkya Smriti (Verse 3. 72-81), for example, says that during the sexual intercourse, the universal soul simultaneously grasps the five elements and mixing with them, the soul remains in the condition of a fluid in the first month, becomes a slightly hard lump in the second and develops limbs and organs of sense and in the third month and then begins to move. In the fourth month, the limbs become steady; in the fifth, the blood is produced; in sixth, strength, colour, nails, and hairs are produced; in seventh, the arteries, sinews and blood-vessels develop and the fetus becomes invested with mind and consciousness; and in the eighth month, skin, flesh and memory develops in the fetus.

Among the Ayurvedic texts, Sushruta Samhita says [3]: “In the first month of gestation a gelatinous substance is only formed (in the womb); the molecules of the primary elements (Mahabhuta—air, fire, earth, water, and ether) being acted upon by cold (Kapham\ heat (Pittam) and air (Vayu or nerve-force) are condensed in the second month. A lump-like appearance (of that confused matter) indicates the male-sex (of the embryo). An elongated-like shape of the matter denotes that the foetus belong to the opposite sex; whereas its tumour like shape (like a Salmali-bud) predicts the absence of any sex {i e, a hermaphrodite), In the third month, five lump-like protuberances appear at the places where the five organs —namely the two hands, two legs and the head—would be and the minor limbs and members of the body are formed in the shape of extremely small papillae. In the fourth month all the limbs and organs (of the body of the embryo) become more potent and the fetus is endowed with consciousness owing to the formation of viscus of the heart (Hrdaya). As heart is the seat of consciousness, so as the heart becomes potent, it is endowed with consciousness and hence it expresses its desire for things of taste, smell etc. (through the longings of its mother). The enciente is called double-hearted (Dauhrida) at the time, whose wishes and desires—not being honoured and gratified—lead to the birth of a paralysed, hump-backed, crooked -armed, lame, dwarfed, defect-eyed, and a blind child. Hence the desires of the enciente should be gratified, which would ensure the birth of a strong, vigorous and long lived son (Sharira Sthana, Chapter 3).” The Sanskrit word used for heart in the text is “Hrdaya” and is a reference to center of individuality and consciousness and not a reference to physical heart. Sushruta continues: “In the fifth month the foetus is endowed with mind (Manah) and wakes up from the sleep of its sub-conscious existence. In the sixth month cognition (Buddhi) comes in. In the seventh month all the limbs and members.”

From the extensive quotations given above from a wide range of texts ranging from Upanishads to Ayurvedic medical treatises, it is clear that the Dharmic tradition had a very extensive and thorough knowledge of the process of childbirth. Moreover, the chronology of the fetal development presented in the texts more or less corresponds to the chronology attested by the modern gynecological research [4]. For example, modern medicine has discovered how during the first month, an amniotic sac filled with fluids cushion the embryo during the first month. This corresponds to descriptions given in Garbha Upanishad, Sushruta Samhita and other texts quoted above. Similarly, that the head of the embryo becomes prominent during the second month and it develops hands and feet during the third month attested by modern gynecology matches the descriptions given in the above quoted texts. That the fetus formed in third month is very small and it progressively grows further is also attested by both Ayurveda and modern medicine. Modern medicine says that genitalia becomes fully formed and distinguishable in the fourth month. This is clearly reflected in the Garbha Upanishad, which says that belly and hip are formed in the fourth month. Even other texts speak about how all limbs become more potent during the fourth month, presumably including genital region. Shamanthakamani Narendran rightly observes: “It is surprising to read in them and in the various medical texts (i.e. in Vedas, Upanishads and texts of Ayurveda), the ideas of the ancient Hindus regarding the biological evolution, reproduction, generation, performation and spontaneous regeneration, which at a first glance appear to be borrowed from a modern text on embryology [5].” Thus, we see that Hindu Dharmic and medical texts have more or less accurately captured the biological stages in childbirth.

When does the Jiva enter the fetus?

Now coming to the central question about when exactly does the Jiva enters the fetus i.e. when can we consider fetus as being a living person, we must have to make a deeper analysis. It should be noted at the very outset that this is a very complex question and there are no easy answers. While from a biological point of view, as seen above, conception to childbirth is a simple linear process with more or less identical stages, the non-biological subtle process of Jiva self-identifying with the fetus and taking the fetus as its physical body is a much more complicated process.

Regarding the time of entry of the Jiva into the fetus, highlighting that this depends on the state of individual Jiva and the parents, the Mother (Mirra Alfassa) had written:  “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….. [6]” Thus, the exact time of entering of a Jiva into the fetus could be influenced by the Dharmic and Adhyatmic condition of the parents, as well as of the Jiva and hence there may be much variations regarding the time of entry. However, a careful study of various Shruti, Smriti, and Ayurvedic texts, does reveal that despite these variations, a general pattern in the process of entry of the Jiva into the fetus could be constructed and we would try to present the same in the next few paragraphs.

To understand the journey of a Jiva into the womb, one must first have an understanding about what happens to a Jiva after the death of its physical body and what course of journey does a Jiva take after discarding the present body and before taking birth in a new body. In the present discussion, we would limit ourselves to the course of journey taken by the Jivas, who were humans before discarding their bodies.

We have already seen how those Jivas, who are predominantly Sattvik and who had predominantly performed Dharmic actions when alive, will attain godhood and reach “Swarga” or heaven (Manu Smriti 12.20 & 40), while those who were predominantly Rajasic and whose actions were more or less equally directed towards Dharma and Adharma would attain a human birth (Manu Smriti 12.40) after staying in the realm of forefathers i.e. Pitrloka for a period of time. And then those who were predominantly Tamasik and performed mostly Adharmic actions would face enormous sufferings in their subtle body (Manu Smriti 12.21) by entering various realms of hell called “Naraka”[7] (Manu Smriti 12.54, Bhagavata Purana 5.26.3) and return back to take birth as various non-human creatures (Manu Smriti 12.40). Regarding the attainment of Narakas, Bhagavata Purana adds that the Jivas who go there are punished according to the kind of Adharmas they have performed (5.26.6) and then lists twenty-eight different kinds of Narakas to impart different kinds of punishments to Jivas. Regarding the kind of birth the Jiva who has performed Adharma takes after returning from Narakas, Manu Smriti (12.9) adds that those humans who perform Adharma through physical actions, such as stealing, violence, adultery, etc. will take birth as plants and trees which has limitations with respect to their physical movement and suffer; those who perform Adharma through speech like speaking falsehood etc. will take birth as various animals and birds, which can move, but cannot speak and hence suffers due to limitations with respect to speech; and those who commit Adharma through thoughts like wishing harm for others, desiring other’s wealth etc. will take birth as humans in lower classes of society and suffer mental suffering.

Thus, the Hindu scriptures speak about three possible course of journey termed as “Devayana”, “Pitryana” and the “third path” for the Jivas after the death of their physical human body. The path of Devayana is taken by those Jivas, who as we saw above are Sattivika by nature and who have performed Upasana i.e. worship and meditation (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 1.5.16). The journey involves travelling to the region of light rays, from light to day, from day to bright half of the month (shukla-paksha), from there to the six months when the sun rises northwards (uttarayana), from there to the Year or to the world of devas (devaloka or swarga), from there to the Sun, from there to the Moon, from there to lightning and finally to Hiranyagarbha (Chanddogya Upanishad 5.10.1-2, Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 6.2.15). Those who have perfected their Upasana and fulfilled their obligations to performance of Karma (i.e. Svadharma), they attain Hiranyagarbha permanently, without having to return to the physical earthly realm (Isha Upanishad verse 11). While, those who are yet to perfect Upasana and who have practiced Upasana alone while ignoring performing sva-dharma-karma anushtana, they may not go beyond Devaloka and will return back to physical realm and take birth as humans after the fruits of Upasana becomes exhaust (Isha Upanisad verse 9). It is important to note here that terms like Sun or Moon does not refer to physical sun or moon, but to subtle realms. Each of the terms related to time duration have a specific context with reference the duration of time in different realms and their relation to the sense of time on earthly plane. Thus, the Jiva travels through the Devayana in its subtle body and merges with the Hiranyagarbha to never return or reaches perhaps up to Swarga and returns back to earthly plane after exhaustion of the fruits of its Upasana.

The path of Pitryana is taken by those Jivas, who as we saw are Rajasic in nature and who have performed Karma Anushtana like sacrifices, charity and other Dharmic actions (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 1.5.16, Chanddogya Upanishad 5.10.3). In this journey, the Jiva first passes into smoke, from smoke into night, from night into dark half of the moon (krishna-paksha), from there into six months during which the sun rises southwards (i.e. dakshinayana), from there to the region of the forefathers i.e. Pitrloka, and from there to Akasha and finally into the Moon (Chanddogya Upanishad 5.10.3-4, Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 6.2.16). After exhausting the fruits of the good Karma, that took the Jiva into the Pitrloka and the Moon, they return back and take a human birth. The third path refers to the journey of Jivas into various narakas and birth as various creatures, animals and birds due to Tamasic nature and performance of predominantly adharmic actions. It may take such Jivas a very long time and hundreds or thousands of births and deaths as various creatures before they attain a human life again. Thus, all the Jivas, whether they have journeyed through Devayana, Pitryana or the third path into Narakas, ultimately return back to take human birth, except those Jivas, who become blissfully merged into Hiranyagarbha by travelling through Devayana.

So, the next question is, what is the path of their return journey into human condition? Describing the path of return journey of those who have attained Pitrloka and the moon, the Upanishads says that after the exhaustion of fruits of good karmas, they return by the same path as they came (Chanddogya Upanishad 5.10. 5), i.e. from Akasha to air, from air to smoke, from smoke to mist, from there to cloud and rain, from rain, they are born as various food items like rice, barley, herbs, trees, etc., from there they enter the human male as food and then in the form of semen, they enter the human female, to finally take birth as human (Chanddogya Upanishad 5.10. 5, Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 6.2.16). Though, this return journey of the Jiva into the human womb is described for those who had gone into pitr-loka, it is safe to assume that the return journey of the Jivas who had attained the Devaloka, but who have to return owing to non-performance of svadharma, would also follow a similar trajectory. After all, the Chhandogya Upanishad (5.10. 5) clearly says, “they return by the same path” with respect to Pitryana, which can easily apply to Devayana as well. But, then it is also possible that the Jiva from the Devaloka, being Sattvika and spiritually evolved as it is, can directly enter the womb at the time of conception, when the male sperm unites with the female egg as suggested by the Markandeya Purana (11, 1). Similarly, in the case of the third path, Jivas who have attained Narakas and have subsequently taken births as different creatures, enter the womb directly at the time of conception (Markandeya Purana 11, 1). So, whether it is through the route of rain, food and semen, or through direct attachment to semen during conception, the Jivas are present at the moment of conception itself being impelled by their prarabdha karmas and rina bandhas with the parents. But, there is a difference with respect to the state of consciousness of the Jivas in relation to their mode of return. Adi Shankaracharya in his commentary on the Chanddogya Upanishad verse 5.10.6, states that Jivas who are returning from Pitrloka pass through various states of Akasha, air, mist, cloud, rain, food and semen in an unconscious state and they have “no consciousness of their connection with the procreating agents (i.e. the to be parents)” as well. This is so because, after the exhaustion of the fruits of good actions in Pitrloka, their subtle body generated in the Pitrloka becomes destroyed and they enter into a state of unconsciousness throughout their journey from Pitrloka into the womb and regain their consciousness only later while developing as fetus. On the other hand, Adi Shankaracharya says that the Jivas in the third path, attain different births as plants, trees, animals and birds owing to their past adharmic actions and hence consciously suffer through various births as plants, animals etc.  As a result, they would have limited consciousness even when they eventually manage to enter the semen and become attached to the womb as a result of their prarabdha karmas, which makes them to suffer extreme pain in such limited condition, but without having much power to influence the development of the fetus. The point to note here is that such Jivas are not conscious in the full sense of the word. They are only conscious in limited way in the sense that they can experience suffering. Thus, the Jivas returning from Pitrlokas remain unconscious on their return journey to earthly realm and pass through various conditions like rain, crops, etc. without experiencing any pain and remain unconscious even during conception and the union of sperm and egg, while the Jivas returning from Naraka pass through various lower tamasic births in a semi-conscious state and enter the human womb in a semi-conscious state as well wherein they experience enormous suffering due to limitations of those conditions. Those returning from Devaloka, on the other hand, will mostly remain unconscious like their counterparts returning from Pitrloka and enter the womb through the path of food and semen in unconscious state, or in rare cases some may remain fully conscious, but without any suffering and attach themselves directly to the womb, guiding and influencing the entire process of fetal development. Describing such rare cases, the Mother (Mirra Alfassa) states: “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 [8].” Except such rare cases, the Jivas about to enter the womb would be either unconscious or in partly-conscious state and hence are rightly called as “antaraabhava” or intermediate being in one of the Buddhist texts [9].

This journey of the Jiva from the different realms like Pitrloka etc. to its entry into the womb of the mother and it’s attaching itself to the zygote first and then to embryo that forms in the womb constitutes the first and the longest stage in the Jiva’s quest of taking a human birth. But, in none of the cases, this entering of the Jiva into the womb and later into the embryo can be considered as Jiva enlivening the embryo i.e. though the Jiva becomes attached to the embryo, it does not make the embryo alive as yet. At this stage, the embryo is still a physical matter and not a Jiva. This entry of the Jiva into the embryo just after conception can be compared to the possession of a body by a spirit, which despite possessing the body does not enliven it, does not make the body alive in the true sense. One may object to this comparison saying that spirit possessions are mostly forceful possessions of a human person and this is not the case here and they are right. The purpose of the example is to enunciate only a single point that: the presence of Jiva within the embryo right at the beginning does not endow the embryo with consciousness and life at that stage of pregnancy. The embryo is still only a physical matter until a later stage when it becomes fit to manifest the seat of consciousness. Thus, at the beginning of the pregnancy, the embryo is not a person, not a human as yet. The Yajnavalkya Smriti rightly comments “mixed up with the (five) elements, the soul remains in the condition of fluid during the first month” i.e. the soul remains distinct though in union with other elements after conception.

The second stage in the journey of the Jiva comes in the fourth month of pregnancy. During the fourth month, after the belly and the hips (and hence the genitals) of the fetus are formed [10] and all other limbs are made steady and potent [11], the Hrdaya (heart) manifests in the fetus endowing the fetus with consciousness. This is so because, as the Sushruta Samhita (Sharira Sthana, Chapter 3) says, the Hrdaya is the seat of consciousness and as the Hrdaya manifests, the fetus becomes endowed with consciousness. This manifestation of Hrdaya in the fetus is nothing but the process by which the Jiva truly enters the fetus, enlivens it and makes the fetus its own Sthula-Sharira i.e. physical body. It is important to note that the term “Hrdaya” here does not refer to the physical heart, as it often understood. It is a specific reference to the seat of consciousness, the very center of individuality in a person. It is “center of individuality” which is referred in Bhagavad Gita, when Sri Krishna says that he is seated in the Hrdaya of all creatures or when the Upanishads speak about the Angushtamatra-Purusha staying in the Hrdaya. Thus, in the fourth month, the Jiva manifests as the Hrdaya of the fetus and enlivens it. As a result, the desires of the Jiva for things of taste, smell etc. becomes manifest as longings of the mother [12] and Sushruta Samhita (Sharira Sthana, Chapter 3) rightly describes the pregnant mother in such a condition as “Dauhridi”- the two hearted. It further adds that desires and hankerings of such pregnant mothers must be fulfilled, since non-fulfilment of such desires, which actually are the desires of the fetus endowed with Hrdaya, may result in the birth of handicapped child. But, it is important to note that, at this stage, the fetus, though endowed with consciousness, is still in unconscious state owing to non-development of faculties like manas (mind) and buddhi (intellect). In other words, the process of fetus transforming from a mere material into a Jiva itself endowed with Hrdaya, Manas, and Buddhi has only begun and is still incomplete by the end of fourth month. It should also be noted in the passing that the Charaka Samhita places this condition of “Dauhridi” in the third month [13] of pregnancy, indicating how the exact time of development may differ by a few days from a child to child. But, for our purpose, we can take the fourth month as the average time period, since even modern gynecology attests that the external genitalia becomes fully developed and distinguishable in the fourth month [14] and as we saw above, only after the genitalia and other limbs become well formed, the fetus is endowed with the Hrdaya. Thus, the formation of the Hrdaya in the fetus during the fourth month of pregnancy constitutes the second stage in the journey of Jiva into human birth and marks the beginning of the process of fetus transforming from a mere physical object into a full-fledged individual (jiva). Another evidence towards this comes from the Samskara of Pumsavana. It literally means “a ceremony for quickening a being” or “bringing forth a child” and refers to the process of Jiva entering and seating itself in the Hradaya of the fetus and subsequent development of the Manas resulting in the quickening of the fetus. For this reason it is performed usually in second or third month of pregnancy (Paraskara Grihya Sutra 1.14.1-2, Vishnu Smriti 27.2), just after the pregnancy becomes visible and before the quickening of the child.

After this, in the fifth month, the fetus which has become endowed with consciousness, will develop the mind (manas) and becomes conscious for the first time, as the Sushruta Samhita (Sharira Sthana, Chapter 3) observes: “In the fifth month, the fetus is endowed with mind (Manah) and wakes up from the sleep of its sub-conscious existence.” This results in the first movement of the fetus inside the womb, which is termed in modern gynecology as “quickening”. Thus, we can see that the internal development within the fetus at a subtle level, though invisible to eyes and modern technology, can be gauged by the external symptoms they manifest. Just as the manifestation of Hrdaya in the fetus can be gauged from the development of specific longings in the mother, the manifestation of Manas can be gauged from the process of quickening. This formation of Manas in the fifth month constitutes the third stage in the journey of the Jiva. After this, in the sixth month, the fetus develops Buddhi-the faculty of intelligence [15], which forms the fourth stage in its journey and in the seventh month, the fetus becomes fully endowed with the Jiva [16] and then this Jiva takes birth in the ninth or tenth month. According to some accounts, the fetus becomes fully endowed with the Jiva by sixth month itself [17].

To summarize, the Jiva’s journey into birth involves following stages:

Stage 1: A Jiva who is either in Pitrloka or Devaloka, after exhausting the fruits of Karmas that took him there returns to take birth as a human again. During the return journey it passes through different stages like Akasha, air, mist, cloud, crop, etc. and finally enters the father, with which it has rina-bandha, when the time for the new birth arrives. Throughout this return journey, the Jivas would remain unconscious and hence will not suffer while passing through stages of cloud, crop etc. On the other hand, Jivas who had gone to Narakas due to their Adharmic actions and had subsequently taken repeated births as plants, animals and other small organisms for a very long period, pass through all these various stages in a semi-conscious or a limited-conscious stage, wherein they can only experience the fruits of their Adharmic actions in the form of suffering without the freedom to think or act, and when they are spiritually evolved enough to take human birth, they enter the to be fathers in a partly-conscious state experiencing huge suffering throughout the birth process. This stage constitutes the longest stage in the journey and depending on the prarabdha of the Jivas, it can last from a few days or weeks to many many years. But, of course, since, most Jivas go through it in unconscious or partially conscious state, they don’t retain any recollection of it.

Stage 2: After entering the mother’s womb during conception, the Jiva attaches itself to the zygote and then to the embryo without enlivening it. While the embryo slowly develops biologically, the Jiva waits until all the limbs and genitals are sufficiently formed and steady. Then in the fourth month, the Jiva enters the fetus and manifests as the seat of consciousness called as “Hrdaya”. This marks the beginning of the process of the Jiva enlivening the fetus and embracing and accepting it as its Sthula-Sharira (physical body) and thus transforming the fetus from a mere physical material to a Jiva itself.

Though the Hrdaya manifests in the fetus in the fourth month, causing the feelings and desires of the Jiva to manifest as desires and moods of the mother, the fetus or the Jiva is still unconscious owing to non-formation of faculties of Manas and Buddhi.

Stage 3: The first signs of Jiva/fetus being conscious happens in the fifth month after the Manas is formed. This also results in the fetus moving within the womb for the first time called “quickening”, which is felt by the mother as well.

Stage 4: The faculty of Buddhi (intelligence) develops during the sixth month, and the fetus becomes completely endowed with the Jiva by the end of the sixth month or in the seventh month.

Therefore, the process of fetus becoming endowed with the Jiva, which began in the fourth month becomes complete only by sixth or seventh month. Though, the fetus can truly be called a person or as a Jiva in a complete sense, only in the seventh month, the first sign of life in the fetus appears in the fourth month itself owing to the manifestation of Jiva as the Hrdaya of the fetus. As a result, the fourth month of pregnancy has been considered very vital in the Hindu tradition, be it for determining when to perform Samskaras like Pumsavana or for analyzing the propriety or impropriety of abortion, which we shall see in detail in the next and concluding article.


  1. Manmatha Nath Dutt, “A Prose English Translation of Markandeya Puranam”
  2. Subhash Kak (tr.), Garbha Upanishad [http://www.ece.lsu.edu/kak/GarbhaUpanishad.pdf]
  3. Kaviraj Kunjlal Bhishagratna (Editor), “An English Translation of the Sushruta Samhita”
  4. For Fetal development according to modern gynecology, read “Fetal Development: Stages of Growth”, Cleveland Clinic [http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/fetal-development-stages-of-growth]. Also read “Fetal development”, Mayo Clinic [http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/art-20045302] and [http://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Prenatal-Development-How-Your-Baby-Grows-During-Pregnancy]
  5. Shamanthakamani Narendran “Care of the Unborn Child with Yoga”, Page 96
  6. Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 8, p 335-338
  7. Swarga and Naraka should not be confused with Abrahamic concept of heaven and hell. In Hindu Dharma, these refer to subtle realms, which a Jiva enters temporarily to face the results of his/her actions and later returns back to physical or earthly realm.
  8. Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 8, p 335-338
  9. The term appears in a Buddhist text called “Garbhāvakrāntisūtra”. Cited from Robert Kritzer, “Life in the Womb: Conception and Gestation in Buddhist Scripture and Classical Indian Medical Literature”, Page 79
  10. Subhash Kak (tr.), Garbha Upanishad Verse 3
  11. Sushruta Samhita Sharira Sthana, Chapter 3, Yajnavalkya Smriti, Verse 3. 80
  12. Sushruta Samhita Sharira Sthana, Chapter 3
  13. Cited from Robert Kritzer, “Life in the Womb: Conception and Gestation in Buddhist Scripture and Classical Indian Medical Literature”, Page 84
  14. Fetal Development: Stages of Growth [https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/fetal-development-stages-of-growth]
  15. Sushruta Samhita Sharira Sthana, Chapter 3
  16. Subhash Kak (tr.), Garbha Upanishad Verse 3, Yajnavalkya Smriti Verse 3. 81
  17. Agni Purana, Cited from Robert Kritzer, “Life in the Womb: Conception and Gestation in Buddhist Scripture and Classical Indian Medical Literature”, Page 76
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With a degree in civil engineering, and having worked in construction field, Nithin Sridhar passionately writes about various issues from development, politics, and social issues, to religion, spirituality and ecology. He is based in Mysore, India. His latest book “Musings On Hinduism” provides an overview of various aspects of Hindu philosophy and society. Tweets at @nkgrock
  • Excellent essay – truly appreciate the amount of research you have done.
    1. Intriguing how Indian scientists were able to describe the internal workings of pregnancy so accurately – another Hindu “coincidence”, or Yogic insight or the presence of indigenous technologies to study the insides of body (technology perhaps lost after 1500 years of jihad and colonization?)

    2. To answer Right’s comment below, I think he assumes that the Jiva attaches itself to one single sperm cell. This is the euro-centric way of looking at things – discretely. The Indic way is holistic – it would say that the Jiva attaches itself to the entire “unit” during ejaculation and not a single cell. Hence it would not matter if 99% got wasted, hence all the other points are not relevant.

    • Nithin Sridhar

      I think it would probably had been both. While some had Yogic vision and understanding, our Ayurveda was very advanced as well.

  • Right

    Hmm. Diverse answers to confound the matter.
    For those jivas that are attached to semen – what happens when the semen gets wasted ???
    How does a jiva wanting to enter womb in 4th month know that a womb without intrinsic jiva is available for it to enter ??
    And since jiva comes in only in 4th month in other cases – so abortion prior to 4th month should be ok ???

    • Nithin Sridhar

      1. The Jiva waits till the time for its birth arrives based on its prarabdha and attaches itself to the semen. So, most likely it will result in conception. If conception fails at any stage, then the Jiva may have to wait until another such oppurtunity arises.

      2. The Jiva is already present in the womb from beginning, only that towards the end of fourth month, the Jiva begins to self identify with the fetus by becoming seated in the Hrdaya of the fetus.

      3. Your Question will be answered in the next part.

      • Right

        Whilst you are just clarifying based on what scriptures and their interpretation.. a little critical inquiry will throw up many contradictions
        With regards to your very first response.
        How would that ( jiva waiting for another opportunity for conception to happen) actually work ? Just 1/1000th( and I am being conservative here) of an ejaculated content is potent enough to conceive – so what happens to the jiva in the other 999 parts ?? Or is the jiva actually in the female intercourse area ( and not in semen ) and latches itself into the successful conceived egg only ?? And then if the jiva seeks a body for itself based on its prarabdha – then parents are in no way responsible for their offsprings , but by indulging in act of copulation they are also contributing to their own prarabdh ??

        The answers to these would lead to further contradictions and indeterminate.

        Suffice to say that what you are conveying is a Hindu belief system . Do not try to retrofit into modern science nor logic/reasoning. Prarabdh itself is just ones belief system .. some bits/bytes of data held in a particular way in ones brain.

        • Nithin Sridhar

          Read the title, it says “from Dharmic perspective” and that is what it does. Nobody asking you to read it or comment. Consider your rants ignored.

          • Right

            You responded this time ( I had commented even earlier on this series – and there were no response then so pretty much reconciled to the fact that my comments were ignored). If you react then irrespective of what words you use – it means that my comments did impact you.
            Carry on with celebrating your life ‘divine’ .