If the actual truth of the world breaks out from the too rigid cadres our moral sense or our intelligence would like to see imposed on the freely or the inevitably self-determining movement of the Infinite, on the immeasurable largeness of his being or the mighty complexities of his will, it is very likely that that is because our moral sense and our intellect, since they are mental and human, are too narrow to understand or to bind him. Any shifting of the base of the problem by which we get out of the difficulty, impose our limits on what overpasses us and compel God to be even as ourselves, may very well be an evasion and an intellectual device and not the way of truth. The problem of knowledge is, after all, this, to reflect the movements of the Infinite and see, and not to force it into a mould prepared for it by our intelligence.
I'm going to quote a recent response by Billy Graham to a question about reincarnation, and then comment on it.
Christians reject reincarnation for good reasons
By BILLY GRAHAM
DEAR DR. GRAHAM: I'm a student of the various world religions, and I'm convinced that we return to Earth (or to some other planet) after we die, and keep doing that until we can finally reach perfection. Why aren't Christians open to the idea of reincarnation? -- F.D.
DEAR F.D.: You are right when you say Christians don't believe in reincarnation -- but I hope you'll understand why we don't, because a very important truth is behind our conviction.
Christians reject reincarnation for two main reasons. The first is because the Bible does not teach it and, in fact, makes it clear that when we die, we don't return to Earth again but enter eternity -- either with God in heaven or apart from God forever. The Bible says, "Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment" (Hebrews 9:27).
Think of it: Every sin you have ever committed can be completely cleansed, if you will turn to Christ in repentance and faith! Don't be deceived by a false hope, but put your faith and hope in Christ today.
I'll try to make this brief and to the point. I won't try to anticipate arguments in response, I'll just lay it out there, and if it makes sense to you, good.
There is no such thing as "the Bible" and what "it" as a single entity teaches. There are the recorded writings of various teachers and prophets and commentators. Some of it is authentic and some of it has been changed and distorted. Some of the prophets quoted were spiritually Perfect, some were Illumined, and some were philosophical commentators. In my opinion, for example, nothing written by Paul is scripture as I would define scripture, it is commentary.
Reincarnation is certainly mentioned in the New Testament, despite the fact that many direct references were probably edited out. John 9:1 makes it clear that it was taken for granted by the disciples and that Jesus had the opportunity to correct them and didn't. Rather, He lifted the question of karmic law they posed to Him to a higher level of understanding, which would have been typical of His teaching method since reincarnation in and of itself is not really that significant in the spiritual scheme of things (don't misunderstand my meaning here--it is extremely significant when tied in with the deeper mystical teachings). I would speculate that this clear reference to reincarnation was left in because it appeared to the editors that Jesus had refuted reincarnation, but that their interpretation was erroneous and this ignorance, happily, backfired.
Note that in this example the disciples presented two possible theories to Jesus--that the man's congenital blindness resulted from his own sins in a previous life, or from the sins of his parents. If we say that Jesus refuted reincarnation, the first theory (and note that it is the first one presented), then logically we must also say that He refuted the second theory as well, in direct contradiction to the Old Testament, and also to common sense (inasmuch as we know from psychology that unhealthy behavior in one generation has repercussions down through subsequent generations). Unless this was a special case, that would mean Jesus refuted both theories for all cases. If it was a special case, then Jesus didn't refute reincarnation in general, despite having the obvious opportunity to do so, suggesting, I believe, that it was taken for granted by all present.
People don't achieve a state of eternity just by dying.(1) In fact, there is no state of eternity in the sense of linear time going on and on and on in a state of paradise forever (it is possible to stay in that state a very long time, but even in these cases eventually the person has to come back, and after such a long "vacation" I think there is often greater difficulty re-adjusting). Paradise is not the goal of spirituality. The phrase "The Kingdom of God" means, God-Realization or Self-Realization, not the heaven-state. (Note that people often misquote it as "the kingdom of heaven", but to my knowledge this phrase doesn't appear in the New Testament--feel free to e-mail me with the reference if I'm mistaken.)
You can never be apart from God for eternity, as Mr. Graham suggests above. This is a doctrinal monstrosity. It is not possible because the soul is really one with God essentially. There is nothing but God in reality. All else is an illusion, or is ultimately found to have been an illusion once God is realized. God is nearer to us than our own breath, as our own real Self. We imagine that we are separated from Him. Indeed, we are already perfect in a sense--in the sense of our true Essence, as the soul is always one with the Oversoul. This goes for the worst sinner and the greatest saint, equally. And not only that, but as Swami Vivekananda said, "Every worm is the brother of the Nazarene!" It applies to the souls of rocks, plants, animals and man equally. All are alive, nothing is "dead"--God pervades all as the true Essence. There is nothing but God, so what else could they be? But consciousness is another matter. The rock has just the barest hint of consciousness, the plant and worm, each a little more. We, ourselves, having achieved full consciousness, are still not conscious of our inherent perfection due to the influence of mental impressions from countless previous lives, and thus we identify ourselves as a limited human being. It takes a very long succession of incarnations in various "roles" and situations to achieve this experiential Knowledge, which is our spiritual birthright.(2)
Jesus took on the suffering of Creation, to give Creation a spiritual push. Had he taken on all our sins, it would have been tantamount to giving everyone God-Realization. This He didn't do for reasons known best to God. When the Christ takes on the suffering born of our karma from many lifetimes, He leaves us enough to learn from. He takes on that portion that we couldn't possibly bear ourselves, as we have each accumulated so much karma over the course of many lifetimes that if He didn't help us this way, we would sink under the load (compare Luke 13:1-5).(3) Sin is karma (i.e., in a particular sense), and karma is what creates the illusion of a world. If Christ took away all the karma, there would by definition be no world, and the great Work of new souls advancing toward God-Realization could not continue.
Reincarnation is hardly a false hope, and neither is Christ. But, Jesus was not the only incarnation of the Christ. The Christ incarnates periodically throughout history. This is not the same process as ordinary reincarnation, it would be more accurately described as a periodic "descent" from Reality into the realm of cosmic illusion.
From this very brief response, you can see how far orthodox Christian belief has gotten from the true teachings. It is not possible to argue Christians into understanding where they are going off the beam. They are locked in to a system of belief that is as air-tight as a paranoid schizophrenic's delusion. I don't mean this in a derogatory way, it's really the best example I can think of. It's a kind of systematized delusion which has just enough truth in it to keep them locked in--because they can't separate out the wheat from the chaff. They feel that if they gave up the distortions, they would have to give up what is true in it as well, and they dare not. If following this belief system brings them closer to the Christ, then, He, and probably only He, can straighten them out when the time comes. But for many people, it has been necessary to throw off the entire thing and start over from scratch.
There is one element of traditional Christian doctrine that is particularly misleading and destructive. Imagine the worst tyrant in the world. Imagine he has the ability to consign you to a terrible prison where you are tortured for a thousand years, for mistakes you made over the course of a lifetime. This is probably more heinous than anything that has actually ever occurred in human history. Even the worst tyrant has never had the ability to do this much, as at best people could only live under such circumstances for a few decades.
Now, what would you think of this person? If I were to tell you that this person is all love, and loves you very much, and that you should follow him out of love, to avoid this thousand-year torture--and if I were to further tell you that if you refused to follow this person, you would be punished by being put in the thousand-year prison, what would your response be? Well, if you were rational, first of all, you would be a bit distrustful that he was really so loving. It would look more like extortion, wouldn't it?
Now understand that the orthodox Christians are asking you to believe that God is all loving and loves you, and that if you follow him you will avoid eternal torture. But if you don't, you will be sent to eternal torture. We don't have an idea of what "eternal" means in linear time, but this means that in 100 years, or 200 years, or 500 years, or 5,000 years, or even 50,000 years of torture you could hardly bear for a day, the sentence will hardly have started yet. And this loving God supposedly sends millions of people into this eternal hell daily, perhaps just for not believing in Jesus, or because we all deserve this due to "original sin", or for the kinds of mistakes we all make in life.
Again, I say, this is a monstrous doctrine. They haven't thought it through, one hopes. Because if they have, then everybody who sincerely believes this doesn't love God at all. How could they? How could anybody? It is no more logical to suppose that a caring person who believes God is this kind of tyrant could love Him, than it is to suppose I have a ten-headed giraffe in my basement (and I don't have a basement).(4)
This is the sad state of affairs with the teachings of Jesus, who really is all Love, being distorted this way over the centuries. Let the historians explain how it got distorted. But if you find a passage in the Bible which declares this idea of one life, eternal heaven or eternal hell, I guarantee it was added later on by somebody who didn't understand the first thing about metaphysics or the love of God.
Now, look at the New Testament portrayal of God by Jesus. According to Jesus, God is like a shepherd who will leave the 99 sheep to go find and rescue the one that is lost. This makes absolutely no sense if you accept one life, eternal heaven or eternal hell. Because, that would mean that God fails on a regular basis (and on a massive scale, by the millions every day). It also means that He would go to all that trouble, presumably out of great love, and then if the "sheep" refused His help, he would cast the offending critter into eternal fire.
Now put reincarnation back in. Suddenly, you have a person going astray for one, two, three incarnations, gradually getting into a worse and worse condition. God continues to watch over him, to go after him, and continues to offer every conceivable type of help. But the person refuses. Eventually, that person turns to God when he reaches rock-bottom. And I will testify from my own experience, when you get to that point, God is right there. This is the God who, as my Guru Meher Baba says, "Loves you more than you can ever love yourself."(5) It is also the God described in the parables by Jesus.(6)
All this is not to say there is no hell state or heaven state in the astral plane. There is, and it is simply the state you have created for yourself (just as what happens to you in life is what you created for yourself in your previous lives). What you experience after death is the state you create and carry around with you right now, magnified in intensity because of not having the dampening effect of a physical body. What is currently your attitude and frame of mind (specifically, the accumulated mental impressions left by your actions and their motives in this life), will in the afterlife be your environment, projected, and your companions will be those who resonate with that state. You are building your own afterlife experience this very minute. As Marley's ghost says in "A Christmas Carol", "I wear the chains I forged in life." But it is all temporary, and after it has exhausted itself you will come back to a new chapter of life in a fresh body and with a fresh start.
1) Except in certain special cases, as when a person repeats the Name of God at the moment of death, or when granted Liberation by a God-Realized master.
2) "God Speaks", Meher Baba, Dodd, Mead, 1955.
3) Luke 13:1-5 is a passage about reincarnation and karma in which I feel sure the relevant references have been edited out, and which as a result is rarely quoted by reincarnationists. As in the incident portrayed in John 9:1, the disciples are posing a question of karmic law to Jesus, and, as I would interpret it, Jesus is laying out the principles of karma to them. He is saying that not only the men who were killed by the tower, but each of us has done enough wrong in past lives, and built up enough negative karma, that events like the falling tower are "pending" for karmic backlash, in this life or in a future life, for all. However, He says that this negative karma is held in abeyance so long as we are sincerely engaged in learning the karmic life-lessons set out for us. Should we avoid these lessons, eventually the only way for us to learn, and thus keep from sliding backwards spiritually, is for this karma to be allowed to catch up with us, i.e., to learn "the hard way". This intense suffering has the effect of "cutting" or destroying the mental impressions, which survive from lifetime to lifetime in the causal or mental body, and which form the "roots" of our karmic "tree". Look at the judgementalism and confusion that resulted when reincarnation was (as I presume) edited out of this passage--and look at how clear it is when reincarnation is put back in! Judgementalism is unnecessary, and God is no-longer to be feared as a tyrant who arbitrarily "axes" people when they stop working hard.
4) It also reminds me of the Old Testament story of Solomon judging the claim of the two women who both insisted they were the mother of the child (the one who was not really the mother was okay with the idea of cutting the kid in half and each taking half--the real mother said, "No, let her have him, then.") In this case, if you really want to know who loves God deep down, see who believes that God is so cruel a tyrant that He would consign people to eternal torture for simply not believing this way or that. You may find that the person who appears to be an atheist, and who has thrown out religion altogether in response to this, really loves God deep down, and that the person who appears to be a great Christian and embraces this idea with tremendous fervor, really does not. Some Christians would offer a slightly different version, saying that God hasn't put people in hell, they have put themselves there by their own free will. This is correct if by "hell" you mean the hell state between incarnations. However, this version doesn't change anything if you insist on one life and eternal hell. First of all it distorts the entire purpose of Creation for anybody to end up in eternal hell, since the purpose of Creation is for God to consciously know who He is in and through each of us, as our real Self, and thus none are ever lost in the long run; it is impossible since all souls are really One in essence with the Oversoul; and nobody has done anything so horrendous in any number of lifetimes, no less in just one lifetime, to deserve spending eternity in hell. That would make a mockery not only of God's love, but of His justice. Even if they invoke this idea of free choice, we also find in practice that Christians say that a person will spend eternity in hell just for not accepting their beliefs, which shows that they are being hypocritical when they suggest some kind of equity based on free-will decisions. Any child would know that deciding not to accept a leader or a belief system is not a crime worthy of the worst punishment man can conceive.
5) "Creed, ritual, dogma, the conventional ideas of heaven and hell, and sin are perversions of the Truth, and confuse and bewilder..." Meher Baba, as quoted in "Lord Meher", pg. 1658
6) Other parables, such as the Prodigal Son, also take on a whole new meaning when reincarnation is put back into the equation--the journey of the prodigal son takes place over several incarnations. With this missing piece put back in place, mysteries in both psychology and religion suddenly become quite clear and are in perfect accord. For example, psychology cannot answer the question as to why some people develop life-long mental illnesses or character disorders (despite the appeal to brain function as a sole cause), and religion cannot answer the question as to why some people go astray and seemingly never return to God, whereas others turn their life around. That is because both insist on trying to fit a multi-incarnational process into a single incarnation.
Lest you think I'm too hard on Mr. Graham, have a look at this quote from the Catholic document "EXTRA ECCLESIAM NULLA SALUS" (No Salvation Outside the Church):
"The Catholic Church has solemnly defined three times by infallible declarations that outside the Catholic Church there is no salvation. The most explicit and forceful of the three came from Pope Eugene IV, in the Bull Cantate Domino, 1441, who proclaimed ex cathedra: "The Most Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, also Jews, heretics, and schismatics can ever be partakers of eternal life, but that they are to go into the eternal fire 'which was prepared for the devil and his angels' (Mt. 25:41) unless before death they are joined with Her... No one, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, no one, even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ can be saved unless they abide within the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church."
This means that according to this pope and perhaps many officials in the Catholic Church today, Billy Graham is going to eternal damnation (since he falls into the category of a "schismatic"). It's all nonsense. I can understand why the early Church fought heresies, when I read some of the early apocryphal literature--some of it is the most absurd kind of fantasy, and they would have felt the legitimate need to sustain the purity of Jesus's teachings. But after 2,000 years, too many of the wrong people (i.e., the politically powerful) won and a great deal of truth has been thrown out, while a great deal of error has been retained and made doctrine.