Religion & Culture | The real, real possibility of reincarnation
Reincarnation - the doctrine of birth and rebirth - is integral to Eastern philosophy. It speaks of the soul's immortality and its many incarnations (lives).
Faced with many challenges in this school called life, the soul falters but learns invaluable lessons in a continuous cycle towards perfection. We shed the body, but the soul goes through transition, waiting its turn in the spirit realms to be reborn. When no longer attached to the impulses of the world, the soul graduates to fulfil other obligations in the cosmos.
Noteworthy is that the soul never devolves into animal or plant form as metempsychosis teaches. Many detractors argue that reincarnation is speculative because there is no way it can be proven. They also cite the futility of having past lives that we cannot recall.
But if it were possible to easily recollect our past, the likely trauma of reliving these events would interfere with the progressive nature of existence. This runs counter to the evolutionary trajectory of reincarnation. God has placed a barrier before us for sound reason.
Physical law and reason lend credence to reincarnation. The former is "a theoretical statement inferred from particular facts". It upholds that a phenomenon will always occur given specific conditions and circumstances.
LAW AND REASON
Reason is "the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgements by a process of logic". It can also be defined as "a cause, explanation, or justification for an action or event".
Now, how do physical laws and reason apply to reincarnation? The world has always been wrought by seemingly inexplicable tragedies, including the wanton loss of life by natural disasters; babies and children born into abject poverty and conflict; children born into the lap of luxury, many blessed with long fruitful lives, others damned from birth with madness and diseases. The inconsistencies are infinite.
But cosmic order is always well established. The seasons are well arranged and so are the days of the weeks and months of the year. Night follows day, and there are laws of planetary motion. The Earth's rotation and the stars' movement on orbits around the centre of the galaxy all reflect universal structure.
If we are part of nature, why then is there randomness in our lives? But, is there?
The basis of reincarnation is karma - the law of action and reaction. In other words, we sow what we reap. Reincarnation explains the so-called injustice of this life.
It offers an explanation for the suffering and pain that we encounter as infants. It explains the incredulous gifts with which many are born and the disabilities of others. It teaches that we must repay our debts incurred in the past. Nothing is left to chance.
Reincarnation also re-establishes equilibrium and levels the playing field. It allows us to see life through an open-ended prism. While Judeo-Christian and Islamic teachings attribute our blessings and suffering to God's will, reincarnation demonstrates that we are the ones who knowingly or unknowingly carve out our fate. We are always creating our reality.
DEATH AS AN ILLUSION
Nature proves the fallacy of death. There is only transition as evident in the seasons. Our body decomposes upon transition but assumes another form of matter. Socrates taught that the soul or consciousness is separate from matter.
Some scientists have long argued, and rightly so, that we are essentially pure energy; that we are the composite of atoms, and that consciousness cannot be destroyed. Thus, death is really illusory.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said that much when he stated: "All creation is one." This means that our soul is as old as the Heavens, rivers, seas, and mountains.
Notable is Johan Wolfgang von Goethe's assertion: "As long as you are not aware of the continual law of Die and Be Again, you are merely a vague guest on a dark earth."
Albert Schweitzer eloquently added to the discourse when he articulated: "Reincarnation contains a most comforting explanation of reality by means of which Indian thought surmounts difficulties which baffle the thinkers of Europe." Voltaire added: "It is not surprising to be born twice than once; everything in nature is resurrection."
Unfortunately, reincarnation has always been a hard-sell among mainstream Christianity that teaches the finality of death and a subsequent judgement (Hebrew 9:27). However, there are several though-provoking quotes in the Bible worth considering.
In Romans 9:10-13, we read that God hated Esau and loved Jacob before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad. Was God's judgement based on Esau's past incarnation?
Matthew 11:14 - "But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they do not recognise him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands."
Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist. (Matthew 17: 12, 13)
In Revelation 3:12 - "The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name."
This is the crux of reincarnation - that when we have surmounted the challenges of our many incarnations, we will not be reborn on this earth, or, "never shall (we) go out ... ."
In John 9:12, Jesus' disciples enquired if sin caused a man (they encountered) to suffer blindness at birth. This suggests that during that era, reincarnation was accepted, and disability at birth was explained as a consequence of deeds done in a past life.
And I would be remiss if I failed to mention Job 1: 12 - "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return there," and Hebrew 7:10 - "When Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor."
Indeed, there is much to ponder.
- Dr Glenville Ashby is an academic member of Religion Newswriters Association and author of Anam Cara: Bridge to Enlightenment and Creativity. Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter@glenvilleashby