Daily Prompt: Karma Chameleon 2013Reincarnation: do you believe in it?
As a girl growing up in the deep south in America, I learned very early all the stories of Jesus, the books of the Bible, and the importance of Christianity in my family’s world. We went to church every week, often more than once, and I did the obligatory church-centered activities: Sunday school, vacation Bible camp, choir and youth retreats when I got older. Ours was not a church filled with priests, incense and the stations of the cross. Our church was one where you knew that heaven or hell awaited you based on how you behaved here on earth. Heaven was glorious, picture an aged white man with a beard surrounded by haloed-angels and dramatic light. Hell was run by a failed angel who danced about in flames and tortured souls in burning lakes of fire. Pretty scary stuff for a young girl to imagine. Heaven and hell were literal places and upon death, my soul would be judged by God and sent to spend eternity (just how long is that?) in one of these places.
I’m sure I believed it all at some point. I was a dutiful daughter and actually enjoyed church because I like to sing. The beliefs of the Christian faith were so predominate in my upbringing that it’s hard for me now to tease out what I think I know in contrast to what I was taught to believe. I think it was sometime in high school that I began to doubt this version of the world, and I began to read more books that explored other ways of thinking about man’s role in the cosmos, about what death means.
And who can say, really? Sure I’ve read of people who have died and “come back”, all sharing a similar experience of the white light and being outside their bodies. I’ve also read of people who can predict where they will born again or those who recall specific details of a past life. For me, at this stage, I think my understanding of life/death and the incarnation/reincarnation souls is fed by my limited understanding of physics and world religions that just make more sense to me than Christianity’s static versions of heaven and hell.
We are all made of matter, spinning atoms of electric energy. Via scientific proofs, we believe that matter cannot be created or destroyed; it simply changes form. So if this is the case, how can people die and their energy disappear? Doesn’t it make more sense that is remains and takes another form? I like the idea of Carl Jung’s collective unconscious, the notion that all of us originate from a common place of energy and knowledge. If this is so, upon death my spirit or soul or whatever you want to call it, will merge again with the greater cosmos and will regenerate into another form, another being with life-force.
I prefer the ideas behind Buddhism’s eight-fold path and the laws of karma. To me, these tenets that outline how a person is to live here on earth, with devote consciousness to her role within the world and compassion for others, are far more compelling than the idea that I will be “rewarded” in heaven or punished for eternity in hell. People are human, flawed; there will always be “sin” and unethical behavior. I think that each of us is living in an effort to learn to be a better person: kinder, wiser, more empathetic to all other life forms. Yes, this means animals and the natural world. How can anyone get all this done in one lifetime? Reincarnation of one’s life force or prana is a gift that allows us to try to strengthen our earthly bodies and thus our eternal spirit.
It seems that at its most basic level, one goal of Christianity is to teach people to love one another and be true to the teachings of Jesus and God. If we look at religions that embrace the idea of reincarnation, like Buddhism or Hinduism, the same “goals” are in place…Be loving, kind, respectful to yourself and others. But Christians believe they get one life to “be good” and then there is judgement. Other religions view life as a long process whereby each person strives to learn and grow when in a bodily form. I don’t know exactly why – especially when the teachings of traditional Christianity were so dominate in my early upbringing – but these latter ideas just make more sense to me.
So if someone asks me my religion, it’s a hard question to answer. I do believe in the teachings of Christ; I do believe in the “golden rule”; yet, I also think all sentient beings are part of a larger, interconnected network of energy and that our spirits return to earthly form again and again until we reach some stage of enlightenment, a purer form where we can merge with God.
Here’s a great quote by Tolstoy (and many, many other famous historical figures have believed in the immortality of the soul):
“As we live through thousands of dreams in out present life, so is our present life only one of many thousands of such lives which we enter from the other more real life… and then return after death. Our life is but one of the dreams of that more real life, and so it is endlessly, until the very last one, the very real life of God.” Count Leo Tolstoy