Aspects of Reincarnation
By: J. Marlando
Most of us want to believe that the spirit continues after what we call death. For much of the world, in fact, we are, in effect, all ghosts materialized. That is, all Eastern religions and many Western sects believe in reincarnation. In fact, the question whether or not reincarnation belonged to original Christian beliefs has been argued for many centuries between religious scholars and historians. (One statistic tells us that 25% of American believes in reincarnation).
Most Christians, however, deny that reincarnation was ever a part of church doctrine because, they say, the belief in reincarnation is basically a notion that we all came from God and we are spending lives as flesh and blood mortals on our journey back to God. If this is so, this would mean there was nothing truly very special about Jesus. Perhaps this is why Jesus called himself “the Son of Man” and not the “Son of God” (as others called him) except in terms of us all being “gods” in that sense. Indeed, Jesus said, the father and I are one which is spiritually something quite different than being a direct “offspring” of a deity as many ancient god/kings claimed to be and many ancient societies created myths to be.
With the above in mind, the question remains, did reincarnation belong to the earliest concepts of Christianity? Many say “absolutely not” but this is obviously naïve. It wasn’t until the 5th century that the church banned the concept of reincarnation as heresy. One does not “ban” something that has not already existed. And it is historically well known that Pope Vigilus and the Emperor Justinian (in 545 A.D.) disagreed on the belief in reincarnation and the pope was actually arrested for his advocating reincarnation.
While on this topic, there are at least some people who believe that Mormonism believes in reincarnation but this, I believe, is because Mormonism breaks from Creationism. The Creationists offer that new souls come into existence during the birthing process. Mormonism, on the other hand, believes in preexistence which means our spirits existed before our births in a spiritual realm. This however does not necessarily agree with or even support the ideas of reincarnation and should not be interpreted as if they do. My studies reveal that Mormonism like all mainstream Christianity deny that people reincarnate. In fact, I believe Joseph Smith, founder of the LDS Church, said reincarnation was “of the devil.”
Finally, the belief in reincarnation is not restricted to Eastern religions either: The belief was held by Socrates and Plato; taught by pagan religions such as druids and forms of spiritualism; nearly all tribal societies teach reincarnation as do followers of the Jewish Kabbalah and also some Christian sects. As for Jesus, it is well known that he said, “Verily, verily, I say to you, before Abraham, I was.”
I have deemed it important to discuss reincarnation here because its concepts are so universal although denied by many contemporary religions. Nevertheless, the belief in reincarnation can be found in the Koran: “How can you make denial of Allah, who made you live again when you died, will make you dead again and then alive again, until you return to him.”
There are many references to reincarnation in the Bible—old and New Testament. From Proverbs, for example: “I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or even the earth was.” And 1:4 Jeremiah states: “The word of the Lord came to me, saying: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
A reason I have deemed reincarnation as an opening topic to this investigational journey into the spiritual is because it grounds the “ghost in the machine” view in rationale. It is as the Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, once said: “Rebirth is an affirmation that must be counted among the primordial affirmations of mankind.”
The three year old boy sat in the back seat of the car next to his grandmother looking out the window. Suddenly, the little boy was pointing and he said, “Look, there’s that road we used to drive on when I was bigger.”
This was in Thousand Oaks, California where the Grandmother’s own son had died at age 21 some ten years before. The road the grandson pointed to was the very road that she and her son drove many, many times together. How or why would the grandson choose that particular road especially since he had never been in the area before?
It is simply not unusual for children three or four to talk to their parents about previous lifetimes. There’s an amazing story that comes out of India of a little three and a half year old girl being driven through the town of Katni. The little girl made a number of remarks about her house in this village—a village she had never been closer to than 100 miles away before this day.
Swarmlata, the little girl’s name began to describe friends and family members of her previous life when her family name had been Pathak. Later, at age ten, a friend of her parents came to visit. She as the wife of a college professor and little Swarmlata recognized the lady as being a friend in her formal life. When all this was brought to the attention of Sri H. N. Banerjee it was discovered that the previous life that Swarmlata described fit the history of Biya, a daughter of the Pathak family who had died in 1939.
Mostly, especially in our Western world, we pass the stories of children about past lives off as “imagination” and pay little attention but the phenomenon is far too common to simply be disregarded as “kid stuff.”
The author of, “Life before Life” is a child psychiatrist named Jim Tucker. Dr. Tucker brought a lot of attention to the story of James Leininger. James between the ages of 2 to 6 recalled intriguing details about being a Navy pilot during World War II and being shot down over the pacific. This young boy knew details about airplanes and a specific pilot—James Huston Jr.—that he simply could not have known.
In Brazil, a Dr. Stevenson was investigating the case of Marta Lorenz, who at age one recognized a friend of her parents and said, “Hello Papa.” At two years old she began giving details of a previous life as her mother’s best friend, the daughter of a family friend she had recognized. A great many of the details were unknown to her mother but confirmed by a number of people.
Here is a partial list of Dr. Stevenson’s assistant, Dr. Jim Tucker, mentioned earlier, M.D. of Perceptual Studies Department of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences at University of Virginia:
- Age when the memories appear—between 2 and 4
- Age when memories go away—between 5 and 8
- When children visit their previous homes they can point out changes
- The child behaves as an adult
Another signal of validity of reincarnation is that some people, under certain circumstances can actually speak different languages than they consciously know. One such case refers again to Dr. Stevenson’s case studies: A Russian Jewish woman living in Philadelphia claimed to be a Swedish peasant with the name named Jenson Jacopy. Under hypnosis, she spoke in a gruff male voice and spoke both Swedish and Norwegian.
The University of Virginia, incidentally, has conducted studies of over 2,500 children who talked about their previous lives. In all cases, those past lives were forgotten by age 6 or shortly thereafter. Nevertheless, while the “fresh” memory persists some children have remembered songs and dances from what they term their “other lives” along with people, places and things.
Consciousness, Science and Other Speculations
As most everyone knows these days, the Dalai Lama is thought to be the latest reincarnation of spiritual leaders who have chosen to be reborn in order to enlighten others but what Buddha taught about reincarnation seems more complex than the meaning we generally give to the term.
Buddha it seems taught “rebirth” as opposed to reincarnation in terms of having a specific self that continues from one incarnation to the next. This is understandable since the ego self believes that it is its body/mind or what Buddha called the “five skandhas.”
- Mental functions
- Consciousness (in this sense meaning self-awareness)
What I believe is that when Buddha spoke of death he was talking about the departure from the skandhas and so it is only our essence that continues on and grows from the experiences of incarnations. (It is important to note that this is my interpretation and many Buddhists have other ideas). The point I believe, however, is one of transmigration and so the leaving one body and entering another. The children we spoke of in the above are apparently “new children” in the process of new experiences in new bodies. The old ego has gone away with the old body and now a new ego emerges to fulfill its own delusion of a body/self. In other words one has gone from being Joe in one life to a Jack or James in the next—it is the “old Joe” that fades out of the child’s memory by the time he or she is around five to eight years old. (In some children the memory is never blatant because not every child recalls a past life, at least not on a conscious level.).
If this all sounds a little strange there are a great many people—especially would be intellectuals, scientists and scholars who do not believe a bit of what is being said here. They are of the Richard Dawkins-mold who told us that we are “mere survival machines—robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known to us as genes.” But there is, if you will, a fly in the intellectual’s ointment; a blind spot in the “Richard-Dawkinism” to which I refer: What we learn from quantum physics is that matter depends on an observer (or in other words on awareness) for its existence and not the other way around. Our brains, and so our bodies, are manifestations of our awareness, it is not our awareness that evolves out of our body/brains as the Dawkinists would have us believe.
Indeed, it is consciousness that manifests the particle out of its wave state. In a similar way it can be said that our bodies arise as manifestations of our own conscious awareness and so we might be far more at the helm of our incarnations than ever imagined? We will retreat from going into that subject here, however.
In regard to the above and as a quick aside, I want to make it clear to the reader than I am not attempting to suggest that quantum mechanics gives scientific proof of reincarnation or to even life after life. I am merely pointing out that it borders on lack of common sense and insight to think of ourselves as “gene machines.” With what we know from quantum physics the “gene machine theory” lacks knowledge beyond the “reductionist’s’” view—as metaphor, the reductionist’s view simply cannot see the oak tree in the acorn.
To me, the observation that everything in nature evolves in cycles is enough to convince me to consider reincarnation as being part of that system that no doubt runs through the entire universe. It is as Rumi said, “Like grass, I have grown over and over again.”
I personally believe that we are individual natures as opposed to individual personalities and this is why, if reincarnation is true, we forget our past lives as we travel into new futures. How could we grow if we held on to our old attachments and values, the stuff of our personalities? In this view that positive old saying works well here: Every ending is a new beginning.
Some people fear or are depressed by the thought that they lose their identity during the process or in the a few short after years of rebirth. This however is real freedom from virtual tons of baggage you accumulate in each life. If your name is Jack or Jill Jones, you are fully convinced that this is fully and wholly who and what you are. Thus, you carry all of Jack’s or Jill’s joys you also carry all of Jack’s or Jill’s baggage—all his or her pain, fears, frailties, upset, regrets and so on. Would you really want to drag them along with you into another life?
In regard to the above, try an experiment: Go one full day pretending that you don’t have a name—you can do it if you truly put your mind to it! Do it on your day off since it is nearly impossible to accomplish during a working day unless you work in a pretty isolated situation. Anyway, if you do this sincerely, you will get a small taste of being free. Indeed, if you truly permit yourself to imagine namelessness, you will discover that you attach much—and probably all—your reality to being what you’ve been named; your label! If you abandon the label, you will discover that you, that is the essential, basic you are unencumbered—all that “psychological and emotional baggage” belongs to Jack or to Jill.
The truth (and try to realize this) is that you are NOT your name. Your name merely symbolizes you as the totality of your experiences, if you will, in this lifetime. What you will take with you is your essence, that part of your personality that belongs to the depths of your unconscious or, in other worlds, to your soul. If, for example, you are unforgiving in this world you will take that nature with you when you are incarnated and you might have to go through a great number of lifetimes before you master greater understanding and tolerance for others; greater love on your journey toward godliness.
In regard to the above, the nuclear physicist from the University of Oregon, Amit Goswami, tells us that there is what can be called, reincarnation memory” which refers to a nonlocal window that is open to us between reincarnations. I suggest that any reader of this article who is seeking scientific answers to what has been presented here that he or she read Goswami, and especially his titles, “The Self-Aware Universe” and “God is Not Dead.” (All his books can be found at Amazon and most book stores—he is always well worth the read).
Most certainly there are mysteries to the workings of our world that no one grasps or ever will—what scientists like Amit Goswami are doing, however, is offering that in order for anything—including ourselves—to exist it takes a conscious, sentient being to be aware of it. And so, in one corner of the scientific arena there are those who are convinced atheists, the reductionists, who believe we are merely the totality of our parts. In the other corner are those who are scientific believers in the spiritual aspect of existence and researchers of quantum realities.
I am not a scientist—a long way from it and I am not a theologian or spiritualist—I am like you, a seeker amidst the noise and chaos of this world.