Sunday, 1 May 2016

Reincarnation

This is a subject that divides many serious and sincere spiritual thinkers. Some, probably influenced by Eastern religions in which it is fundamental, regard it as an integral part of the process that turns a man into a god.  A number of the ancient Greeks, Pythagoras for example, also believed in it. Others, however, see it as a mistaken doctrine. This would particularly be the case for most Christians and, as far as I know, all Muslims, both of whom took many of their founding beliefs from Judaism. Some of the early Christian Fathers, Origen for one, were believers in reincarnation but it was eventually decisively rejected by the church in favour of the idea that we have one life and one life only in which to earn our salvation. Here I would like to set out why I do believe in reincarnation, but also to add some caveats and provisos.

Let me start with a couple of relevant questions. What is man and what is his intended end? I see the human being, rather like its Maker, as triune. In other words we are constituted of spirit, soul and body. Spirit is the uncreated part of us that is the spark of the divine fire within us. It is our life, our being, the point at which we and God are one. The soul is our individual self. God is the spirit. God created the soul. But I don't think of the soul as the self we are aware of on an everyday basis. That is the soul as manifested in a body, our outer material form, the thing through which we experience the external world. By no means all the soul is consciously available to us 'down here'. It is a spiritual being and heavily restricted by operating through an earthbound mind and body. This gives rise to the ego, the sense of a separate self which is not so much an illusion (as some say) as an inevitable result of the constraints of being in a material world. Of course, we have to overcome that, or full identification with it, but the point is that it is a real thing; at least it is so in terms of this world.

So, spirit, soul and body. That is what we are, simplified certainly but fundamentally this is how we are made up. And our intended end is to become consciously one with God. This requires the union of the soul, the individual self, with spirit, the universal self or God. Consciously one. Spirit on its own level is one with God but not consciously so, not in an individual sense. You might well ask why God wants to create individuals. He is God, surely all-sufficient in himself? No doubt that is so but that is leaving out two very important things. One, God is creative. His nature is self-expression and abundance, becoming more. He becomes more through other beings, some of which are us. And two, God is love. What does love want to do? To give of itself and to have a relationship with the loved one. Again, that is us. That is why God creates us as individuals with free will. What kind of relationship can you have with slaves and automata?

Thus far I have said nothing with which a non-believer in reincarnation would necessarily disagree. The question now is what is the process by which a newly created soul becomes a god? I think it requires experience in the material world which is the place where separation is possible. Through the sense of being separate we can develop our individual self which we must do before we can consciously transcend it in union with God. This all has to be done as a free and conscious act. I don't doubt for a moment that learning can take place in non-material spheres of existence but this world is the best environment for an undeveloped soul to grow into self-awareness, and eventually grow out of self-awareness, because it is the place in which the soul is alone. It's where the soul can suffer and where it can learn from that and move on to a new and higher level of understanding and self-mastery. And it takes a lot more than one life for a soul to progress from a more or less unconscious oneness with nature (its environment), which is the condition of primitive man, to a fully conscious union with God which means all of life. In the process the same soul develops the faculties of will, intelligence and love, all dependent on self-consciousness and none really known to primitive man, to a high degree.

That's the theory. From a personal perspective I believe in reincarnation for several reasons. Intellectually it makes sense for the reasons given above. But it also rings true to me as I feel a strong connection with certain times and places though I recognise that is far from conclusive evidence of anything. Then the idea that human beings, so individual and so different with widely varying talents and destinies, came into being with physical birth never seemed right but I realise that a doctrine of pre-mortal existence could account for that. However the Masters who spoke to me, and in whom I have complete confidence, made certain comments that strongly implied reincarnation. Some of them I can't remember now because unfortunately I lost the habit of taking notes. But I do remember being told (and I still have the notes for this) that I had asked to come back to this world. I was also informed that Michael (their medium) and I had been together in the past, and, further, that I had a previous connection with India. The Masters also referred on one occasion to my 'karmic weakness' (karma being the consequences of one life manifesting in another) and a tendency to mental sluggishness being 'partly due to karma'. There were other references that I can't recall now and, although things were never spelled out in plain black and white, the idea that Michael and I had been here before, and more than once, was referred to on several occasions. Now this might mean that I have had previous lives here but not everyone has. It might, but I don't think it does for the reason given above; that this world is the best arena for learning particular lessons and that it takes a very long time to turn a primitive man into a saint.

I know reincarnation is rejected by Christianity but it could have been one of the many more things that Jesus wanted to say to his disciples which they could not currently bear (John 16:12). It's also possible that, as a belief in only one life might give one a much greater impetus to seek salvation in that life, it was not taught in the religion destined for the West. After all, belief in reincarnation has no particular relevance in the context of treading the spiritual path so its omission is not important in that respect. So I don't think the fact of Christianity's rejection of reincarnation is that significant. There are hints of it in the Bible and, though these are often explained away, I would say that as long as scripture (by which I chiefly mean the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels) doesn't deny it outright I think a Christian can have an open mind. I don't say that he has to but he can do if he so wishes.

This is the basis of my belief in reincarnation. At the same time I would add that, while reincarnation may have explanatory power for the inequality of men, why some suffer and some are rich and others not and so on, it is not something to pay too much attention to in this world. Undue interest in searching out details of past lives will only distract you from the here and now, the lessons you have to learn today. All you need to know about your past is in you now in the present time, in your character, your tendencies, your weaknesses and your strengths. It doesn't matter if you were a notable person in the 16th century. Now you are who you are today and that is all you should focus on if you are to learn what you are supposed to.

Why don't we remember previous lives? If reincarnation is true how is it that no one (to all intents and purposes) can remember their past incarnations in this world? I don't see this as a problem. The doctrine is not saying that I, William Wildblood, existed in a previous life in such and such a place at such and such a time. It is saying that the soul that took birth as WW in this life took birth on a former occasion but then it manifested through a different mind as well as a different body. The brain on each occasion was entirely a new thing though the form the mind that used that brain took would have been decided by causes originating in the past and determined by karma (see above) and the needs of that particular lifetime. So WW is a new person in this life though he is not just made from his parents' genetic material. His karma, his purpose and the quality of his soul all play a part in making him what he is. The Masters told me, and I believe because it is what I have always felt, that the greater part of you remains with us. That is the soul of which only a fraction manifests itself through the earthbound personality. May I reassure those who think this means that when a loved one dies you will never meet them again in the form you knew that this is not the case. They will be more truly themselves just as you will be. The real individual will stand forth, almost as though a limited being acquires an extra dimension.

If and when reincarnation becomes more established as a concept in the West it should not be viewed in quite the same way it was and is in the East. For a start, the idea that human beings can be reborn in animal form should not be a part of it. It is possible, I suppose, that extreme karma might cause a man to be born as an animal. However at this stage of human evolution (as in unfolding of the spiritual seed within) that would be extremely rare. The point of reincarnation is education not punishment and, though painful conditions might sometimes be necessary, they only come about in order to teach a soul what it needs to learn. Then there is the idea of the soul or higher self as the reincarnating agent which is not properly present in Hinduism or Buddhism. There is no real individual in Buddhism, of course, and the jiva in Hinduism appears mostly to be just an individual unit of consciousness with none of the sense of a higher self or greater part of you that I would give it. So I would hope that Western ideas of reincarnation would view souls as real spiritual beings with a real life on their own spiritual plane who come to this Earth to learn needed lessons before returning to what is their real home. Of course, that home is not their final destination but it is still their current real home, the place they originated in as souls and where they belong for now. The experience of reincarnating in this world is designed to take them deeper into the heart of God, and to transcend their limited individuality in divine oneness, but that is for the future. Now they have a home and it is in the spiritual realm not the physical plane of this Earth. So what I am saying is that reincarnation is better viewed from the standpoint of the higher self or soul than that of the man as he is on this Earth. It is the soul that takes incarnation rather than the man who has been incarnated that is the important element in all this.

For any spiritual believer there are three possibilities of our whereabouts before we were born into this world. Firstly, we were nowhere and it's an entirely new person. This is what materialists would say and it's also what most orthodox Western religions teach. For me it's the least plausible of the options. It really doesn't take into account the vast differences between human beings and their lives in this world, never mind the intuition that some people have that they are not beginners at the game of life. Then there is the idea of pre-mortal existence. We may not have been in this world before but we have not come from nowhere. Our creation was in a spiritual realm and we have lived and learnt in higher worlds before coming to this one. This makes much more sense than a fresh creation but, for me, it doesn't provide as satisfying an answer as reincarnation. I certainly agree that there is a pre-mortal or pre-physical existence which is that of the soul on its own level or other non-material levels but I think earthly experience is required on many occasions before one has extracted all the possibilities this world has to offer and learnt all it has to teach. But that's just my belief. No doubt we shall only find out for certain when all mysteries are revealed in the fullness of time. Until then the important thing is to love and serve and seek to know our Creator to the best of our ability.






7 comments:

Bruce Charlton said...

@William

Thank you for this. I tend to suppose that reincarnation is a kind of spontaneous belief for human beings - at least it seems to be the norm for all hunter gatherers all around the world - but the specifics and reasons of what people mean by reincaration, and their reasons for believing it, seem to vary very widely. (e.f. see this overview by Owen Barfield - http://www.owenbarfield.org/why-reincarnation ). This is why I am interested in hearing what you-specifically think about it.

I can see that your understanding of reincarnation fits with your general metaphysical system of understanding such that reincarnation is pretty much integral to it.

Given that so many people believe in some version of reincarnation, perhaps it is more accurate to ask why people - most Christians - do not believe it usually happens (I think most Christians believe that it can happen, sometimes happens, but not many that it is an integral part of God's plan for Men).

As you know, my metaphysical beliefs are specifcially Mormon - and from that perspective I think the big difference with your account is the role of incarnation: 'getting a body' is seen as the primary reason for life on earth; because this makes Men more like God the Father and Heavenly Mother - who are understood each to have a body that is perfected but otherwise essentially the same as mortal men and women.

So the incarnate spirit is seen as superior to the pure spirit: the body is a plus. The idea is that pre-mortal spirits are given the opportunity and choce to incranate on earth as mortals - and receive a body (at minimum).

I received this doctrine with a sense of it completing a puzzle, because (since reading some reflections of CS Lewis on the theme) I have been aware that a large majority of mortal men and women who have lived never made it to adulthood - indeed many of them never made it out of the womb. I therefore felt there must be a basic and universal reason for incarnation which had nothing to do with gathering the kind of experiences we do as adults.

The *universal* benefit of mortal life is therefore understood as the getting of a physical body, which then is the template for the eternal resurrected body.

Part of this is that many/ most of those people who die very early did not need to live longer than they did - they got what they needed, died, and then moved-on.

(continued)

Bruce Charlton said...

Continued...

The incarnate human is often (by Mormons) called 'the soul' (i.e. they use a different terminology than you) - and the soul comprises the spirit and the body 'fused' - such that death of the body leaves the spirit maimed and incomplete - this was the situation of the Ancient Henrew underworld of spirits - 'sheol' - and the condition which Jesus Christ cured for us by enabling resurrection.

The second question - which can be separated - is what about the kid of threescore years and ten complete mortal life? - what is all that for? We would agree that it is for theosis, for the process of divinization or moving toward being more like God. And I agree that it seems impossible to imagine that this could be squeezed into one mortal lifetime, with all its limitaions and with all our weaknesses (weaknesses that seem to be intrisnic to our learning, in some senses).

Without reincarnation, clearly the bulk of theosis has to be done in pre-mortal spirit and post mortal-resurrected life - indeed, the concept is that all of our eternal existance is theosis; and that mortal life is necessary for only certain kinds of experience to do with the mortal condition.

Furthermore, I think all this entails that each human spirit is *placed* in a specific situation (e.g. at the geographical location, the point in history and with the parents - also with the mind, body, abilities, disabilities and diseases etc) where these special experiences are most available - these make up our sense of an unique destiny.

So this scheme answers what are to me the pressing questions. But still there is the question why *not* reincarnation? Well, I don't rule it out - not least because the above scheme may go wrong for one reason or another - eg. a person dies before they get the necessary experiences for which they were born; or somebody (a prophet or wise person) returns to perfom a job for God.

How often does this happen? - and people want and need to be reincarnated for whatever reason? That I don't know - and I don't suppose it would have to be the same frequency at all times and places in history, which may account for such large differences in the way that reincarnation is described. Perhaps reincarnation has been very important and necessary and frequent in some times and places, but not others?

I find that I don't have an intuition of my own reincarnation, and that some of the things that other explain by reincarnation I explain by supersensory (not perceptual, non-scientific) factors - such as spiritual inheritance, the existence of spritual groups, various non-sensory forms of communication etc. But I accept your own intuition of your reincarnation and the reasons you give for it - it makes sense in terms of what I know of your life.

But I suspect that your personal destiny is more related to doing something for other people ('a job') than it is to working to move forward your own spiritual progress.

William Wildblood said...

It may be that God has different ways of bringing human souls to the same end, some through the process of reincarnation and some through the way you describe. I certainly would not be dogmatic about this. I do think that many lessons can only be learnt in a physical world where conditions are as they are, specifically we feel separate from God to a degree perhaps not possible in more spiritual worlds. I also think that part of our purpose is to spiritualise matter as Jesus did at the Resurrection and Ascension though clearly not in such an exalted manner as him or as dramatic a fashion. But perhaps you're right that certain people return for a specific job, though that would not preclude them having certain lessons to learn too as I know is the case in my own particular example.

I think we both agree that life in this world is about accepting God and learning the lessons that that acceptance requires. In my scenario those who don't come back until they do but perhaps there are further opportunities in non-material worlds as well. I'm sure there are. Even so there must be something essential about this world, something that is only possible in a physical body, and it may be that it is only when in a body that we can consciously unite in ourselves the two poles of existence, that being part of the process you call theosis. Anyway let the debate continue!

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - I don't feel sure enough of my ground on this topic to push my own views. I am particularly impressed that so many of the people I most respect on spiritual topics believe in reincarnation of one sort or another.

Perhaps what I would most like to see in relation to this topic is recognition that reincarnation means very different, and almost opposite, things for different people. For some modern Western people it seems to mean that they can do-what-they-like during 'this' mortal life - which on the one hand frees them for any concern with morality and lets them indulge themselves 'with a clear conscience' but on the other hand downgrades the significance of their actual lives.

Also, I don't think many modern Western people understand how profoundly pessimistic is the meaning of reincarnation in some Eastern religions - Westerners see reincarnation as opportunity and progress, Easterners almost the opposite.

Hunter-gatherers are different again - it has been said (by Tim Ingold) that they see life in terms something like a closed system of circulating and transforming life energies. There is neither progression nor decline - just a permanent state of dynamic equilibrium.

Of course, these are very modern scientific metaphors! But I am trying to be brief - a better description is in The Other Side of Eden by High Brody. Our HG ancestors do indeed seem to have lived in a kind of 'Eden' - but stuck in that state of non-divine immaturity, a state of spiritual childhood. From this perspective The Fall was a necessary and positive event in its potential, because there always is risk in spiritual progression.

But we both, I think, feel that our ultimate goal as eternal beings is to become fully divine - and that this progression is an *extremely* long and slow process which requires *either* multiple reincarnations, *or* a great deal of post-mortal resurrected living and experiencing - *or* some combination of the two.

William Wildblood said...

Regarding reincarnation meaning different things to different people, yes absolutely. I take your point about how some see it as licence to do what they want in the immediate present, and maybe this was why it was not permitted for the Christian world. A belief in reincarnation can certainly lead to spiritual stagnation in immature minds. This is also why I wanted to draw out a difference between Western ideas about it and traditional Eastern ones. Some Buddhists do say that life in a human body is a great opportunity not to be wasted but I doubt many people actually looked at it in that way.

I would like to see a belief in reincarnation as giving purpose and meaning to life in this world. It's not the only thing that could do that, of course. Sincere belief in God and the idea that he has put us here to learn and get closer to him would do that just as well, if not better. But it does provide a kind of structure. Hunter gatherers seem to me to live in a world governed by nature and the seasons and so think cyclically which doesn't normally lead to progression. So they would look at reincarnation as a process of coming and going without any real purpose to it. Doubtless this is why their ways of life persisted in the same way without changing for ages. The great gift of the linear historical way of thinking in Judaism with its sense of history is that things can change. It's obvious that the Christian era was the period of greatest development of anywhere ever. Again, perhaps reincarnation was not allowed in Christianity precisely so that this might happen.

I'm speculating here and just following my thoughts. What I would say though is that if reincarnation is accepted by anyone now it has to be seen as an incentive to responsible living. Spiritually responsible I mean, as everything else springs from that. So it's not a penance or an endless cycle to be got off only by denying the reality of oneself as a person but a means of learning and growing.

With respect to your last paragraph, I go for the combination of the two option!

Bible Zone said...

Many peoples in the ancient world believed in reincarnation of one form or another. Even Josephus the Judean General was recorded giving a speech to soldiers before a battle--a speech in which he clearly expressed their common belief in reincarnation, and told his troops not to fear death because they would be born again in the next round of incarnation.

I take a different view from the idea of souls progressing to godhood. I do not believe in the idea that "souls incarnate in flesh to progress to becoming gods." I believe that gods incarnate in flesh to become men.

The Son of God, Christ Our Lord, was from the beginning a god. He incarnated not to become a god, because He already was one. He incarnated to grow into a man, and to show his brethren the path to becoming men. He has brother gods, who are descending from heaven, from the Godly abode, to become men: "Father ... even as you have sent me into the world, so also have I sent these into the world ..... I pray not that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil ..."

The Psalmist wrote: "God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods. How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Selah. Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked. They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course. I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High. 7 But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes."

We see here that the Chief God, who stands in the congregation of the mighty gods, judges them all. Then the Psalmist says that the gods will die like men. ". . . ye shall die like men . . ."

So it does not seem to me like "souls" are trying to progress to "godhood." It seems just the opposite, which is why mysticism makes no sense to me. Flesh cannot be or become spirit, but spirit can become flesh. The word was made flesh, and dwelt with men. It seem that gods are progressing through birth into becoming men and that the only Master in this whole process is Christ the Lord. The mystical idea of ascended masters must give way to the idea of descended mighty ones, all under one master. Christ sent the gods into the world, to DESCEND below everything.

There is something about a god increasing in stature and glory, and the Father of the gods sent His Sons into this predicament to die like me and drink of this deceptive world so they can see with new eyes the rock from which they are cut.

I believe this fallen world is a rite of passage for God's children, to pass into manhood. For although God is not a man, he certainly is the pinnacle of manliness.

William Wildblood said...

I think I see what you mean. I would prefer to say that we are spiritual beings, potentially gods, and we come to Earth to become men in order to bring that potentiality to actuality through the experiences we undergo here and the choices we make in a world where we are required to make choices.

So flesh cannot become spirit but through experience in flesh, as you put it, spirit can become more aware of itself as spirit.