The thing I find most fascinating about reincarnation within Buddhism is its state as a natural law within the culture of south and east Asia. Within Buddhism, the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth is called samsara, and it is this that, by way of enlightenment, one seeks to escape in nirvana. By achieving nirvana and eventually dying… well, the religion is a little hazy on what happens next. You sort of dissipate, sort of cease to exist, and yet the Buddha (and all the others who have achieved nirvana) is believed to exist on a higher plane, somehow, in some form. We’re going to learn more about this later in the semester to try and clarify the subject.
Part of the belief in reincarnation is that an individual can, through meditation, gain knowledge of their past lives. Regardless of whether they were human, god, or in hell (or, for most people, all six of the states I mentioned in a previous post, since there are hundreds of thousands of lives we’ve had in the past), it is possible, though certainly difficult, to meditate and learn about one’s previous lives. Indeed, when seeking enlightenment, knowledge of one’s previous lives, mistakes, and lessons can speed up the process significantly.
When I was a witch, years ago before I converted to Christianity, I believed devoutly in reincarnation. Of course, I’m not the sort to assume most anything. I have to test everything and prove the truth of the matter to myself. Therefore, I withheld judgment regarding the afterlife and anything else that might happen until I obtained such truth. In my case, the proof came in visions of my previous lives.
One morning, I was considering the subject while I lay abed, and eventually gave up. Throwing the blankets off myself, I sat up and, while still perched on the edge of the bed, a vision slammed into me, taking my breath away. I do not have the words to describe it elsewise, for I sat there somewhat stunned by the revelation.
- I had seen a vision of a previous life, when I didn’t know such was possible.
- In my vision, I had been in love and married with a beautiful, red-headed Irish girl.
- It was about 600 years ago.
- We were soldiers.
- We had both died at the end of the vision in an attack by bandits, and I had to watch her die before I was cut down.
Over the next couple of years, I spent quite a bit of time meditating and learning of other previous lives. I only saw a few, some more peaceful, some longer, some shorter and more violent… but in all, I was quite convinced of reincarnation. Until I became Christian.
As one might imagine, I didn’t know what to think when I became Christian. I had figured out a lot of the religion, enough that I felt I could convert in confidence, but mostly I took the vows because God told me to. I knew that Jesus existed and the Bible was true because he told me so, and there’s no arguing when the voice of God tells you something. These things being true, I knew that heaven was true, and reincarnation didn’t fit into the picture, but I didn’t know what to do with that. How do I address my visions of past lives?
Within the world, there are three spirits that influence our thoughts and behaviour. The first is God, who tends to be subtle in his guidance, more so than even the devil. The second is Satan, who tries to guide us away from worship of God and towards worship of pretty much anything else. It doesn’t matter what we’re doing, good or bad, so long as our worship is on anything other than God. The third is the most direct and yet the hardest to detect sometimes, and that is ourselves.
I had to sort out what spirits had been influencing me all my life. Every action I had taken in the past had to be considered, disected, and refiled. One of the spiritual gifts that God granted me was the gift of discernment, or the ability to judge between spirits and the validity of teachings, and this gift enables me to see if something or someone is being influenced in a particular way. Using this gifting, I was able to sift back through my memories and, slowly, painfully, take things apart, examine them, and put them back together with a better understanding.
The visions of past lives were a carrot dangled in front of me to lead me along, to set me up for a greater fall, and to embolden me with self-assurance and self-confidence that could not come from my relatively short life and experience. I learned a great deal through them and experienced more than anyone at my age should have, and Satan secured my faith. I knew reincarnation was true because I’d seen it.
Except it isn’t. In re-examining my memories and those visions, I see things that could not be corroborated by recorded history. I see my emotions and desires influencing them to show me what I wanted to see, rather than some sort of truth, and I see Satan’s hand in their sending. Satan got them started, while my own limited knowledge of history and extravagant desires wrote the scripts.
As Descartes would observe, our eyes can deceive us. I deceived myself, and it is something I have worked hard to avoid since then. My own knowledge is limited, and therefore I must corroborate my conclusions outside myself. Having reached this decision, the concept of taking reincarnation as a natural law simply startled me. I have spent long hours and weeks considering each facet of Christianity to discover its truth, and have thus far been satisfied. But to simply not think about it…
The Bible says that it is good for those who have seen and believed, but better still for those who believe without seeing. I fall in the first category; my faith comes from having spoken with God, having been shown, as Saint Thomas was, quite directly. And while I admire those who have faith without seeing (more admiration than I can express), I also fail to understand such “blind faith.” It runs counter to my entire life; even when I was deceived, I was still trying to figure things out. If I hadn’t been, I never would have investigated Christianity to begin with.
So, reincarnation as a natural law. It boggles my mind.