One Soul, Many Bodies: The Case for Reincarnation

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What happens to us when we die? It’s a question everyone eventually asks themselves at some point in their life. It transcends racial, social, political, economic and gender lines, making it the one question common to all human beings whether we like it or not.

Yet ever since the first men and woman began pondering their mortality a hundred thousand years ago, the answer has eluded us. What does happen when we die? What becomes of our soul, our mind, our personality – our very essence? For that matter, do we even have such a thing as a soul, or is it all an illusion we have created to give ourselves a sense of permanence and the hope of immortality?

The rationalist answers this query by proclaiming that since we are nothing more than a collection of cells and our brains simply tissue encased within a mantle of bone, nothing can happen to us when we die. The essence, personality, mind – soul – or whatever we wish to call our consciousness, ceases to exist, endowing our time on this planet with no more meaning than that which we choose to give it during our brief sojourn here. This is, of course, the position of the atheist, which is what makes atheism, in my opinion, so easy. It requires nothing because it offers nothing, which strikes me as a fair trade.

To most people, however, this answer is unsatisfactory. It suggests that we are little more than some great cosmic accident and that, consequently, our life has no ultimate purpose, forcing us to contemplate an existence without meaning in a universe that, despite all its beauty and splendour, has no more significance – or ultimate permanence – than a flower that briefly blooms in the spring only to wither and die after a few short days of vibrant life.

I suppose there are people for whom such a prospect is acceptable. It does, after all, tidy things up and make life simply a little game we sentient beings like to play for no particularly good reason other than because we have no choice. Yet something deep within the human heart knows better. We instinctively understand that we are more than the sum of our parts, which is why most people believe their personalities will survive their physical demise in some form and will continue on long after their bones have turned to dust. This, of course, brings us to our second option, which is that the personality/ego/true self/whatever you want to call it does survive the demise of the body to exist – at least for a time – as a separate disembodied consciousness. If this is the case, however, the next question that logically follows is what happens next?

Some believe, for example, that we become ghosts – little more than disembodied spirits aimlessly wandering the Earth, capable of perceiving the physical realm but unable to interact with it in any meaningful way. They can even point to various evidences to support this contention, from reported hauntings to automatic writing, séances, and apparent disembodied spirits caught on film.

While I personally have no problem with the idea of ghosts, I don’t think existing as a disembodied consciousness is truly a viable long-term option for what happens to us. Ghosts always struck me as being transitory; beings stuck on the Earth plane for a time only to ultimately move on and so essentially vanish from our physical realm. As such, even if we are to become ghosts, it will be, at least for the vast majority of us, a brief experience and not our eternity. I suspect we all eventually move on to ‘greener pastures’, so to speak.

Now, however, is where things get more interesting. Most people, regardless of whether they believe in ghosts or not, believe that the essence of who we are – our “soul” if you will – goes some place. Heaven is the favoured destination for most; a place where our conscious personality, no longer shackled to the limitations and burdens of physical existence, survives within a perpetual state of bliss and joy throughout eternity. Some add to this by also embracing a belief in hell; a perpetual state of torment for those who turn to evil and so are doomed to exist forever within a conscious state of agony, regret, and fear.

Both positions, however, suffer from the same problem, and that is that they see our time here on this planet as but a blink of the eye of eternity, with the decisions we make – or fail to make – while in the body having profound and eternal ramifications. Unfortunately, this reduces the physical world to little more than a cosmic hatchery that exists only to birth new souls, each of which will spend a short time in it before winging – or, potentially, plunging – to their ultimate destiny.

While admittedly this idea does manage to make this single life of paramount importance, it also forces one to wonder why a physical realm is necessary at all. If the physical universe exists merely as a vehicle for our creation, why couldn’t the process be circumvented entirely and we be created directly into the spiritual realm – as was supposedly the case with God’s angels?

Why all the unnecessary pain and hardship of a physical existence – especially if there exists the very real danger that we might earn hell through our misdeeds – if the spirit realm is the only destination that awaits us? In such a context, physical existence seems not only pointless but, in many ways, even hazardous.

So where does that leave us? If no Heaven and if no Hell, then what’s left?

There is a third position to consider. It is one that until recently has been largely ignored in the West but has been embraced by literally billions of people around the world for thousands of years. It is the belief that this physical existence is neither insignificant nor transient, but instead is perpetually ongoing. It is the concept that our soul lives on not in some ethereal Eden – or Hades – somewhere, but realises perpetual existence through a process of continual rebirths into the physical realm, making our time on this planet not one single, brief experience, but a repetitive process realised through literally hundreds of lifetimes. It is a timeless belief – one that predates both Christianity and Islam by many centuries – and one that is known by many names in many cultures. It’s been called rebirth, regeneration, transmigration of the soul, even metempsychosis, but is perhaps best known to us today as reincarnation.

Upon first consideration, especially to those who haven’t given the idea great thought, reincarnation may seem to be a foreign or exotic concept, especially to the Western mind steeped in the scientific method and drenched in two thousand years of monotheistic religion. It is something for Hindu holy men to ponder, or New Agers to embrace, but nothing that seems particularly relevant to most Westerners today.

I can easily understand this perspective for it is one I held myself for the first forty years of my life. And the truth be told, it is an Eastern concept – one in vogue more than four millennia before Christ was born and a belief held to by nearly two billion of the world’s population today – making it one of the oldest and most enduring belief systems known to man. In fact, it may be the original post-mortem belief among early humans who probably considered the idea when they began noticing strong similarities between recently born offspring and their deceased ancestors. Perhaps the mannerisms or interests a child displayed reminded one of a deceased loved one or a birthmark mimicked that found on a long-dead grandparent, leading village elders to imagine that the dead ancestor had returned a second time – a not unreasonable assumption in cultures that naturally assumed the soul to be inherently immortal.

Unfortunately, Westerners have traditionally had a tendency to consider foreign or primordial religious concepts as primitive and so reject them out of hand. However, this perception appears to be slowly changing as reincarnationist beliefs have become more prevalent in the West, especially in the last fifty years, and is becoming increasingly popular to ever growing numbers of people.

A Lost Western Tradition of How the Soul Returns

Of course, unbeknownst to most people, reincarnation has always been a part of Western thought. The prospect that the soul repeatedly returns to the flesh flourished in ancient Greece almost three thousand years ago and may have played a far more important role in our development as a civilisation than traditional histories have led us to believe. Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, and Pythagoras all taught and believed in some form of rebirth, the foundations of which were later adopted by the great Roman philosophers Ovid, Virgil, and Cicero, along with a host of other great thinkers of antiquity.

In fact, reincarnationist concepts were so prevalent in the centuries immediately preceding the birth of Christ, that they played a major role in many of the “mystery” religions of the Mediterranean; religions which were themselves to become the template for other later mystical faith systems of the region. Reincarnation, then, far from being a purely foreign concept was, in fact, widespread and may have strongly influenced the shape and thrust of Greek and Roman philosophy.

Even more of a surprise to many people, however, is the fact that reincarnationist concepts were also part of some of the more mystical branches of traditional Western religion, from the Sufis of Islam to the Gnostics of the early centuries of Christianity, and even within the Hasidic and Kabbalist traditions in Judaism. In fact, at times it virtually flourished and, especially in the case of Christianity, almost became the predominant belief system during the first few centuries of the Church’s existence until it was forced underground by the more traditional, non-reincarnationist branches of Christianity. Its proponent’s writings declared heretical and burned, the concept was so successfully suppressed by the Church of Rome that few Christians today even realise it was ever a part of their own faith.

Why was it suppressed? The obvious answer is because it threatened authority. Western religion is largely dependent upon the belief that man is destined to “die once and then be judged” to maintain control. In promising multiple rebirths, however, reincarnation renders the proclamations of the Pope or the Grand Mufti or whomever was the ruling head at the time transitory and, the truth be told, irrelevant. As such, reincarnation threatened the Church’s very livelihood, making it a very dangerous idea that had to be either suppressed or labelled as heretical in order for the Church to maintain its power base. As a result, the concept remained largely unknown outside of Asia for probably seventeen of the last twenty-one centuries.

Its revival in the West was imminent, however, with the arrival of the Age of Enlightenment in the eighteenth century. Once the long forgotten writings of the ancient Greeks again became available and one could hold to previously forbidden ideas without forfeiting their lives, such once forbidden concepts as reincarnation became increasingly popular, especially among the intellectual elite of the era. Amongst those who held to some form of multiple rebirths are such notables as Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Benjamin Franklin, Shakespeare, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Voltaire, among others.

Interpreting What it Means to Reincarnate

However, since its reintroduction into the Western consciousness, reincarnation has undergone a transformation. It is no longer the unending “cycle of life” wheel taught by the Hindus and Buddhists, but has become a “school of higher education” designed to bring us to ever greater levels of spiritual enlightenment. This is why when a Hindu or a Buddhist and their fellow Western reincarnationist talk about the subject, it often appears as though they are speaking two different languages. This is because in some ways they are, which is where the confusion comes in.

To the Hindu, the soul is essentially stuck in a never ending cycle of rebirth which can never be broken due to the continual need to balance one’s karma. In effect, with each incarnation into the flesh, the human personality – a by-product of the underlying soul that birthed it – accumulates a degree of bad karma that must be worked off in order to restore balance to itself. Some of this karma can be worked off in life in the form of good works, but this is seldom sufficient to work off the entire debt, which must be accounted for in the next life by having the soul take on an incarnation that may be more difficult so the ongoing karmic debt can be worked off.

On rare occasions, a life may be so exemplary that the person might be born into a higher station (or caste in Hindu parlance) but as a rule, bad karma tends to outweigh good karma and, in being continually accumulated through each lifetime, adds to the growing debt that remains to be balanced and so perpetuating the rebirth cycle. (Of course, if one accumulates too much bad karma, they may not be reborn as a person at all, but could come back as an animal or even, in some teachings, an inanimate object such as a stone. This belief is called “transmigration of the soul” and is also a major element of Hindu teachings.)

Buddhism, on the other hand, while understanding the process of reincarnation in much the same way as does the Hindu, differs in that it teaches that the cycle of rebirth can be broken through achieving nirvana (literally, enlightenment), at which point the cycle is broken.

Enlightenment means essentially to be become aware of one’s true nature and to the realities contained within the Four Noble Truths as articulated by Gautama Buddha over two thousand years ago. These are: first, to be alive is to suffer due to the imperfection of human nature and the world around us; second, that the cause of suffering is attachment to transient things (in effect, craving or desiring things); third, that one can learn to let go of these attachments; and, finally, that the process of achieving enlightenment is progressive and may itself extend over many lifetimes.

In sharp contrast, to many Western reincarnationists, the purpose of rebirth is to learn the lessons we need to learn in each incarnation in order to advance to the next spiritual level which, while having some similarities to the Buddhist concept of slowly achieving enlightenment over a number of incarnations by practicing the Buddha’s Eightfold Path (right view, right intentions, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration), is actually quite different.

The Buddhist does not believe that one is “learning” new lessons with each lifetime, but simply applying the principles contained within the Eightfold Path until craving, ignorance, delusions and its effects gradually disappear as progress is made towards enlightenment. To the Western mindset, attachment is not seen as the source of the problem (though it does generally acknowledge that an obsessive attachment to things can be detrimental to spiritual growth).

Another significant difference between Eastern and Western concepts of reincarnation have to do with the perception of what it is, exactly, that is reincarnating. The Hindu sees the soul – the divine essence of God – as being the generator of each incarnation, with the individual personality or ego a transient expression of that soul.

In marked contrast, the Buddhist doesn’t believe in individualised souls at all, but believes the sense of self is merely an illusion created by our own perceptions – a conscious “memory” if you will, conceived by our assumption that we exist separately. To the Buddhist, we are all a part of a larger, divine consciousness that has simply taken on the very brief “illusion” that it is separate. The Buddhists compare our sense of existence to the waves upon the ocean; just as a wave is a temporary phenomena caused by wind and currents, our personality is equally as transient and is, upon death, absorbed back into the divine consciousness in the same way that a wave upon the ocean is eventually swallowed up by the ocean itself.

In the West, however, the personality – or ego – is more robust and generally considered immortal. To many, the soul and the personality are considered essentially synonymous, so as a result, when we die, our basic personality – complete with all its memories, life experiences, knowledge, and traits – returns in another body to continue its existence. It may not have a direct memory of its past life – though some people claim to be possess the ability to consciously remember their previous incarnations – but it is essentially the same personality starting life over again in another context.

The personality may experience dramatically new surroundings – for example, it may experience one incarnation as an Indian girl who lived and died in the nineteenth century and then return as a Spanish man in the twentieth century – but it is still the same “person” underlying each “role.” Of course, the experiences and environment it finds itself in through each subsequent incarnation will affect the base personality in both subtle and sometimes substantial ways, but this too is a part of the process. This is why the Westerner sees reincarnation in the context of “lessons.” After all, the Indian girl was able to experience and learn only so much in her short time on Earth, mandating that she return again – this time as a Spanish male – to learn those things she either neglected to learn or hadn’t the opportunity to learn in her previous incarnation.

This makes spiritual enlightenment a type of “to do” list that needs to be checked off in its entirety before we can cease the process of rebirth. (What happens after that is equally open to speculation among Westerners: some imagine we come back as avatars or spiritual teachers; others speculate that we start the process over again on another planet, while still others maintain that we move onto other dimensions. Apparently, the options available to the enlightened soul are extensive.)

I wonder, however, if the truth is not a conglomeration of each of these perceptions? Clearly the Eastern concepts of a parent soul that births each and every individual personality has merit, as does the Buddhist belief in the transient, temporary nature of the ego that is birthed. And the Western concept that we reincarnate until we learn what we need to know also has some validity and seems to parallel in some ways the Buddhist idea that the cycle of rebirth ends upon achieving enlightenment – however one chooses to define the term.

I often wonder if we aren’t all looking upon the same phenomena and not simply seeing only those parts of it that speak to us personally. I suspect our understanding of the purpose for reincarnation is lacking in many ways and may never be entirely complete, though I also believe we are making progress in coming to a fuller appreciation for its complexity and sophistication. Perhaps one day East and West will come together and merge their different perceptions and in so doing, form a complete whole that answers everyone’s questions.

Of course, I recognise that such may sound like a contradictory process. After all, how can there be a soul and yet not a soul, and how can the ego be immortal and yet transient? To combine both Western and Eastern concepts of reincarnation would seem to embrace paradox, but I have found it is often within the complexities of paradox that the truth exists. In fact, it is only our limited ability to understand that makes these apparent contradictions paradoxes in the first place.

I wonder if they would still appear as such were we to find the capacity within ourselves to truly understand on a level our current mental capacity does not permit. On the other hand, perhaps understanding these concepts is not done at a mind level, but on a spiritual level, which is a difficult place for many people to go.

Maybe in the end we were never meant to fully understand how reincarnation works, and that may be where the adventure really begins. Perhaps the question of what happens to us when we die was never meant to be answered but merely explored, for it is in seeking – not necessarily finding – the answer that growth can take place.

It may be, in fact, that it is only in abandoning our need to find the answers that we give them the ability to find us. In effect, we may be like the man who is so busy looking for treasure that he fails to realise he is searching for it within the bowels of a gold mine. Were he to but look up and see the treasure that shimmers all around him, he would realise how silly his fervent quest had been all along. Perhaps we need only do the same.

Jeff Allen Danelek’s latest book The Case for Reincarnation: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Soul (Llewellyn, 2010) is available from all good bookstores or via www.newdawnbooks.info.

If you appreciated this article, please consider a digital subscription to New Dawn.

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A native Minnesotan who currently resides in Colorado, JEFF ALLEN DANELEK has been working as a graphic artist and technical illustrator since leaving the Navy in 1984. He has been writing as a hobby for fifteen years, and enjoys presenting alternative theories on increasingly popular subjects dealing with the strange and inexplicable world around us. Danelek is regularly featured at seminars, conferences, and has been a frequent guest on Coast to Coast AM with George Noory and the X-Zone with Rob McConnell. His books include The Case for Ghosts, Atlantis: Lessons from a Prehistoric Civilization, UFOs: The Great Debate, and 2012: Extinction or Utopia: Doomsday Prophecies Explored. His latest book is The Case for Reincarnation: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Soul. Danelek is also a novelist and instructor at Colorado Free University. His website is www.ourcuriousworld.com.

The above article appeared in New Dawn Special Issue 14.

© Copyright New Dawn Magazine, http://www.newdawnmagazine.com. Permission granted to freely distribute this article for non-commercial purposes if unedited and copied in full, including this notice.

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The Sin of Eve?

Hypatia

Our children are beyond us; even if they haven’t grown into it yet, they will take some aspect of us onward. At age five my mother asked me to pray to a male presence in the sky for forgiveness and mercy. I did as she asked. I don’t mind that I did that… it gave both of us peace.

Now let’s take the same moment forward and I’ll respond again: “Mom, how about if I pray to us instead. The universe is holographic and my mind is a hologram… so is yours: perfect and complete replicas of the whole. God is in Me and You too. Will you offer me forgiveness and mercy? I love you.”

Feeling is energy, and the transmission of feeling is much stronger than words. Had I been able to express the consciousness of divinity within as a child, my mother would have felt fear… both for herself and for me. Oh how she feared the specter of divine punishment for ‘diminishing’ God into human form… or did she? It’s possible she feared contradicting or diminishing my father’s belief. We want to be loved, we want to please, and we fear ‘deep-level’ revelations that may result in emotional pain.

Children will naturally do their best to accommodate the culture they are born into and they will absorb the feeling: they are vulnerable and an empty book… but not quite. They’re not empty of their higher selves. Someone is in there questioning, ‘knowing’ in an innocent way, noticing things, asking questions, and rebelling a bit. There is someone who wants to Be, but who doesn’t know ‘Battle’.

I’ve come to realize how fortunate I am in that my early upbringing offered parents that were just right for my journey; plus abundant nature, companionship and many spiritual concepts upon which to expand later in life. Returning within the spiral, after years of transmuting childhood experiences through adult relationships, what remains to be examined is my mother’s fear and my father’s heavy heart: the imbalance of masculine and feminine.

On a book stand in my home is a little ruby red candy dish. It’s one of my mother’s things… an object that I have carried with me for years. She, like the ruby candy dish, was a colorful container for sweetness and enjoyment. But something happened to temper her joy. I can look back and say imbalance… separation, made fearsome by a male God and the epic sin of Eve, but was that it? Was that all of it?

Every human is the sum of their aspects: only waiting to be re-membered. And, duality is the foundation of creation. We have believed ourselves separate… masculine and feminine. But within each individual we find both the masculine and feminine polarities: the yang and the yin, the light and the dark, the thought and the feeling, the single ‘I’ and the ‘I and I’. The kingdom of God is within. We have heard the masters say that… but do we all know that?

We must not know it quite yet. We are now in a world so far out of balance that we are facing obliteration. Why did the world begin to tip, and then tip more and more in order to reach this point where we actually see the devastating result and ask the question?

Did masculine reason and the thinking mind evolve and disassociate from feminine feeling? Let’s have a look. Which one of these ‘theologies’ is true: ‘I think therefore I Am’ (the ‘I’) or ‘Who feels it knows it’ (the ‘I and I’)? No… feeling is not emotion. It is the intuitive and instantaneous knowing of the energy and information of a thing. It is perception: information Felt. It is the perfect counterbalance to reason – the actual spark of creation. Even the revered scientist will state: I came to the question through reason, but the answer came through feeling, intuition, perception… suddenly I knew something that was beyond my thought.

Now we are coming into realization of our inner duality, and we are called to bring the poles together… to love the divine feminine, and love the divine masculine as equal forces in creation. Need I say that this ‘inner marriage’ doesn’t take away from the masculinity of a man or the femininity of a woman. Yes, women can reason and men can feel… this capacity to enjoy the ‘opposite’ polarity within doesn’t take away from who we are. It adds to our being, and makes us whole.

But we do have some lingering effects to clean up… actually, quite a few. Assertions that, “My mother did this to me, my father did that, women are like this, men are like that.” Many people experience their relationships as contests over whose will reigns supreme, and because of this, the really deep doors are closed. Oh that we could heal this separation! Seems the recovery of natural balance would then be possible.

And please don’t think I’m pointing the finger at men: we are equally as messed up. Imagine if the Queen of England could feel… if her ‘I and I’ were operational. She possesses enough wealth to feed every hungry child. If she could feel, would there be a starving child in her ‘realm’?

The feminine essence is the lover indeed, if only she can be reached. She is the content of my mother’s ruby candy dish, or better yet, the garden behind the gate. And what is the key to the gate? Not just a compatible energy between the polarities; but a refined, sensuous, compelling, loving energy.

I’m sure you have heard of the Biblical Song of Solomon. Most likely you also have read the love poetry of Rumi. Whether these men were adoring the feminine essence, or a female individual doesn’t really matter. What matters is what we see of the feminine: we see her receptive… calling forth and opening her deepest self to a particular quality of masculine energy.

Receptivity is the essence of the feminine, but it can’t often be found in this out of balance world. Thus the rape of the earth and the sad contest between men and women as to who will conquer whom. We’re in an agonizing state at the moment.

It seems that balance within the individual must come first: marriage of the polarities. No more fear, no more heavy heart… just a return with lessons learned as we come back around to the beginning.

Let’s conclude with a quote from the Song of Solomon… the Bride’s response: “Awake, O north wind; and come, you south; blow on my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out. Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits.”

About the Author

Ida Lawrence is an author, blogger, copywriter and editor based in Atlanta, Georgia. She has contributed to and edited two books on racial justice and human rights, and numerous articles on human rights, self-empowerment and related subjects. Her latest book is entitled The Warrior’s Way to Heaven on Earth. Ida has also published a companion book of blog favorites from http://talk2momz.com/.

This article is offered under Creative Commons license. It’s okay to republish it anywhere as long as attribution bio is included and all links remain intact.

via The Sin of Eve? – Waking Times.