D.: How long is the interval between death and re-birth?
B.: It may be long or short, but a Realised Man undergoes no such change; he merges into the Infinite Being, as is said in the Brihad Aranyaka Upanishad. Some say that those who, after death, take the path of light are not re-born; whereas those who take the path of darkness are born after they have reaped their karma (self-made destiny) in their subtle bodies.
If a man's merits and demerits are equal, he is re-born immediately on earth; if the merits outweigh the demerits, his subtle body goes first to heaven, while if the demerits outweigh the merits it goes first to hell. But in either case he is later re-born on earth. All this is described in the scriptures, but in fact there is neither birth nor death; one simply remains what one really is. That only is the truth.
Again, he would explain in terms of God's mercy.
B.: God in His mercy withholds this knowledge from people. If they knew that they had been virtuous they would grow proud, and in the other case they would be despondent. Both are bad. It is enough to know the Self.
He did, however, refer sometimes to a person's preparedness or maturity as being due to the achievements of a previous incarnation.
A competent person who has already, perhaps in a previous incarnation, qualified himself realises the truth and abides in peace as soon as he hears it told to him just once, whereas one who is not so qualified has to pass through the various stages
before attaining samadhi (direct, pure consciousness of being).
That is to say that a lifetime may be regarded as a day's journey upon the pilgrimage to Self-realisation. How far from the goal one starts depends on the effort or lack of effort made on the previous days; how far forward one advances depends on the effort of today.
A Science lecturer from a university asked whether the intellect survives a man's death and was told:
"Why think of death? Consider what happens in your sleep.What is your experience of that?"
D.: But sleep is transient, whereas death is not.
B.: Sleep is intermediate between two waking states, and in the same way death is intermediate between two births. Both are transient.
D.: I mean when the spirit is disembodied, does it carry the intellect with it?
B.: The spirit is not disembodied; the bodies differ. If not a gross body it will be a subtle one, as in sleep, dream or day-dream.
Source: Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi in his own words by Arthur Osborne, Chapter Three