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The Middle Path, One Day At A Time

Thoughts on Reincarnation

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I began thinking about resurrection and reincarnation as I was writing down some other ideas about religion (on which, it seems, I spend an inordinate amount of thought, given that I profess none). You need to understand that these are my thoughts, although not entirely my ideas. They are not a critique of your beliefs, and your mileage will almost certainly vary.

I do not believe in Life After Death in any metaphysical sense. I hold with one of the Buddhist views that our very existence and each of our choices lead to changes in reality — ripples in the pond, if you will — that proceed pretty much eternally. I suppose that, in that sense, there is some survival after death, although certainly not cognitive. Some folks — Siddartha, Jesus, Aristotle, the Arab who invented the zero, Genghis Khan — make big ripples, and their influence is recognized for many generations. The rest of us carry over in other ways: someone taught the person who taught the person who first got Einstein interested in physics, thus unknowingly buying into a veritable tsunami. Ditto Mohammad, and some of the people who wrote about Jesus (those whose writings were not marginalized or eliminated entirely by the church).

Our thoughts may survive, in the form of our own work or that of others, but that is not life after death. We all make ripples — karma — that follow us throughout our lives and carry beyond. In that sense, incontrovertibly, something of us does remain after we have left the building.

The reincarnation/resurrection thing — the idea that we will eventually inhabit a new body or reinhabit an old one — is not so incontrovertible. In fact, though the idea has been bandied about in writing for at least 2,800 years (the Upanishads) and, doubtless, for many more generations orally, we have yet to see any provable instance of it. At all. Ever. Given our primal fear of annihilation, however, it is not surprising that we have developed ideas that seem to support it.

Before you throw a bouquet of Talmudic, Biblical, Quranic verse or Sutras at me, please recall that I wrote “incontrovertible.” If you believe that a deity was reanimated after three days, or that, at the last trump, some carefully chosen people will reconstitute and be reunited with an atman, thence be transported heavenward — well, that is perfectly fine with me, as long as you do not force your beliefs on others.

All of this is not to say that I am right and you are wrong, but merely to illustrate why I do not buy into the idea. As the good Bishop of Occam said some centuries ago (I paraphrase), the most logical answer should be taken as the right one, unless other information comes to light. Since, to date, all the “proofs” of life after death and reincarnation fail to meet my standards, I do not accept them.

So, to repeat, your mileage may vary. Me — I’ll just keep on trying to make useful and durable ripples. That way, I know something of me will live on — and there is no faith involved, nor any required.

What do you think?

Addendum – 03/21/2011

[My dear friend Austin B. has the following to say. Since it is an interesting expansion of the discussion, I asked and received his permission to reprint a personal email.]

I read with interest your article on reincarnation and the poll yes/no/maybe etc. Your article was very well written, mercifully without the gushing passion of a newly enlightened religious proselytizer….or a devotee of fundamentalism bent on destroying anyone who disagrees with the inventions of his or her closed mind and tunnel vision. In fact the article was well written, very logical and made a great deal of sense. Of course, being the spiritual entity that I am and presently having the experience of a material body in a material world, I am one of the 8.3 percent.

I think what surprised me were the number of folks who thought that they would somehow become some kind of cosmic energy once they leave the planet (a polite euphemism for death!) Guess what, they already are (energy) and it’s the same energy in trees, pussy cats and even politicians.

It is fairly easy to see the human aura and of course it has been photographed and some folks can see the aura around other living things, plants etc. What is it the 43 percent don’t get? Duh!!!!!

It is curious to me that while other aspects of eastern philosophy and spirituality have taken hold in this country…what is generally accepted as truth (reincarnation) in some religions, even in the early Christian teaching prior to Emperor Constantine, is dismissed as hogwash by religious peoples and scientists in the western world; and that these two groups should have a common thread or agree on anything is indeed mystifying.

On the one hand, we have the scientists who quite reasonably state that there is no empirical evidence to support the concept. OK, I can accept that. On the other hand are the religious folk who say that you have to have faith and believe…just as long as it’s what I tell you to believe and that the truth which has been given to me by {Enter your personal savior here} has not been tarnished by eastern philosophy, black magic or Satan.

It is very well documented in the Gnostic Gospels that Jesus’ disciples considered him to be the reincarnation of the great prophet Elijah but the religious, excuse me, dictatorial tyrants who got together in Nicea at the Emperor’s request chose not to include that part in the Christian Canon. No doubt they had their reasons to omit it perhaps it was a control issue: I wonder could it be the same control issue that ordained that men were in charge and which has subjugated women for 2000 years, by inferring that Mary, rather than being given the role of teacher, which she apparently was, was in actuality a whore.

Having been quite close to checking out this concept of death and dying several times in the last few years, I must confess that the concept of nothingness does not frighten me one bit in fact it could be quite appealing. I do like some of the other ideas, eg. because of our experience we live on in the collective intelligence of the whole….I just wish that I had not wasted so much time and had a bit more to leave behind for my group soul.

One thing I found interesting in my research on various religious beliefs, there is a tribal religion in Africa, which more or less says….if you don’t reincarnate you are committing a sin because it blocks the way of rebirth for others…..damming up the birth canal so to speak!

The nice thing about all this is that we will all have the opportunity to check out these various concepts and for some of us it may not be too far away.

Pax….AWB See you soon!!!!!

Author: Bill

Stumbling down the Middle Path, one day at a time.

One thought on “Thoughts on Reincarnation

  1. Pingback: Some thoughts about thinking, maybe too much of it, I don’t know… « Digital Dharma

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