The Impending Popularity
For over 150 years, leaders in the fields of religion, philosophy, psychology, literature and science have been trying to reintroduce the truth of reincarnation to Western society.* Although society as a whole may not know it yet, the battle is won and all that remains is for the coming generation to discover the wealth of research and cases which clearly indicate that reincarnation is a fact--a very significant fact. Only the irrational denial of the present materialistic generation stands in the way of this revolution.
The acceptance of reincarnation in Western society, which has been a long time coming, will appear very quickly.
Across the highway from my apartment complex in the late 1980's was an outlet of a popular store called "Turtles Records." Compact discs had been on the market for several years as an option, but the vinyl LP was still king as it had been all my life. One morning I saw that the sign for Turtles Records was gone, and in its place was "Turtles Music." Inside, they kept one shelf for vinyl LP's for a few weeks, and then the unthinkable happened--vinyl was gone, never to return. It happened literally overnight.
Very soon, the idea that man is only a physical body, along with the ideas of one life with eternal heaven or hell awaiting, will go the way of the vinyl LP.
But, what will we have inherited? Will we all embrace a clear, sane view of reincarnation based on solid research and the explanations of genuine spiritual teachers? Or will we inherit a goulash of accurate information mixed with fantasy, speculation, and wrong valuation?
History suggests the latter is inevitable, at least to some extent and for a period of time. There is no idea so sublime that it cannot be distorted by the mass culture. In fact, it may have been these very distortions which caused well-meaning church leaders and prominent thinkers in past centuries to seek to remove the idea of reincarnation in the first place. That course of action has been very costly, as it is always costly to suppress truth. We have had hedonism and meaninglessness on the one side, and hell-fire sermons and inquisitions on the other, as a result.
This time, we need to separate the wheat from the chaff. We need to develop discernment in this area of reincarnation, to determine what part is accurate and what is fantasy; what part is wise and what part is unwise. We need to retain the "baby" of reincarnation and its companion concepts of genuine mysticism, while throwing out the "bathwater" of fantastical interpretations and potentially harmful applications.
Loss of Compassion
One immature application of the concept of reincarnation is to lose compassion for people because their suffering is caused by their own past-life actions. This is generally-speaking true for everyone--if you take past lives into account, most problems in life are self-created. To be more specific, the pattern seems to be that a person will commit some act against another or against intrinsic values, in a state of casual oblivion or intoxication with lower motivators like lust, anger, greed or egoism. Then in some subsequent incarnation comes the reverse of that experience, the inevitable backlash, when circumstances have shifted so that one experiences the other side of the equation, thus achieving a complete, well-rounded understanding.
The mental and emotional impact of this backlash is imprinted on the mind, creating an emotional complex. It then must be resolved, and the experience will tend to repeat, with variations, until this resolution is accomplished. This resolution process is sometimes called "karmic learning," though it is a deeper process than what we normally think of as learning. It means that the original act has to be undone; the ignorance that was inherent in the original action must now become enlightened in wisdom; it has to be understood fully as something one would never wish to do again. If one was seeking something (love, power, knowledge, freedom, etc.) through the act, that seeking must be purged of its lower elements and the impulse redirected to a more noble goal.
This kind of multi-incarnational learning is often quite painful and is usually much resisted. No-one is exempt from this process, and the wise person, seeing this drama of suffering all around him, will be moved to great compassion. Only a person with an immature understanding of reincarnation will abandon compassion because he understands the suffering was self-created. If your child, in his ignorance, does something to make himself sick, do you lose compassion? Someday, as we progress spiritually, we will feel for the whole world the compassion we would feel for our child in this situation. Those who have studied the deeper teachings, of which reincarnation is a part, understand this principle.
In grade school I was small, sensitive and almost a full year younger than my classmates, and I was plagued by bullies who made my young life a living hell. In college, I fell briefly into conversation with a young man on the steps of the library, who told me he had been a bully in grade school, and felt deeply ashamed of it. Time marches on, and people grow wiser. Allowing for reincarnation, we all grow in wisdom sooner or later.
Pursuing Past-Life Experience
As soon as people are convinced of the reality of past lives, they are tempted to awaken these memories through various artificial techniques. These techniques are not without potential dangers and side-effects. The natural course of life is for the memories to gradually become accessible to consciousness when a person develops spiritually to the point that he or she can handle them wisely. Forcing this natural unfoldment carries with it many unforeseen hazards, and they include effects that may surface in future lifetimes. For example, I have come to understand that forcing these memories may cause them appear unbidden in a future life, when they may intrude and create tremendous confusion. Past-life emotions or tendencies may "leak" into the present lifetime and be difficult to assimilate or remove. If a person remembers having done something horrible in a past life, the resulting guilt may interfere with his present life, in which he was to be given a clean slate to do better without the burden of that memory. There is a natural memory barrier, and there are reasons for it. The legitimate reasons I see for artificially accessing past-life memories are for psychotherapy (where it can be very effective) under a trained practitioner, and for research.
When reincarnation becomes generally accepted, and the pull toward past-life companions is understood, we will undoubtedly see a rash of affairs and inappropriate liaisons being justified by reincarnation. Actually, this is not quite the disaster it appears, because these liaisons have been driven all-along by past-life connections whether people understood it or not. Now, the driving engine for the liaisons will be more clearly seen. Although at first reincarnation will be used as a justification, in due time people will learn to refrain, and it will be easier once the root cause is understood--and once the future-life repercussions are glimpsed. Such entanglements, when acted out, only create more potent entanglements in the future which will be even more difficult to resolve.
There is no end to fantastical interpretations of reincarnation, just as there is no end to fantasy. The rigorous dedication to truth, once a part of spiritual studies, has gone to materialistic science and has been largely abandoned by both traditional religion (which is now said to hinge on beliefs), and by the popular culture (which is first bemused, and then made cynical, by the wizardry of high-powered marketing techniques). This may be inevitable; but when the rigorous insistence on truth that is characteristic of good science is applied to subjects like reincarnation, it will be purified of at least some of the "fluff" of fantastical teachings.
One such teaching is that human souls can reincarnate as animals. Although in Eastern countries this idea has been used to scare the masses into behaving (much as the idea of eternal hell has been used here in the West), it is inaccurate. People continue to always reincarnate as human beings.
Another such idea is that a soul can be incarnate in two bodies at the same time. This idea, in my opinion, has been advanced primarily to justify proposed past-life personality matches that were found, upon historical research, to overlap in time. The correct response to discovering the overlap is to admit that it was a mistaken match; not to posit that the same soul overlapped incarnations.
A third is the concept that all incarnations are happening simultaneously in some realm beyond time. As with all ideas, there is some shred of truth that this idea is based on, but it is misinterpreted. There is, according to my studies, a very high state of experience, existence and consciousness (all three being aspects of one state) wherein there is only the Eternal Present. But, no-one who has experienced this State and reported back to us, says that things are happening in this state. To the contrary, they say that nothing ever has, is, or will "happen" in this state. Therefore, I interpret that it is mistaken to think that all incarnations are happening in the present moment (no less that they could contact each other). No sooner do you posit incarnations, than you have landed yourself in linear time. If you posit yourself in the State of Eternity, then you have taken yourself out of the realm of incarnations into a seamless Unity. You can't create a philosophical amalgam wherein all incarnations are happening in the present and can talk to each other.
Writing an article like this will not prevent the misuse of the concept of reincarnation. What it may do, however, is to help those who are able to listen, become aware of the issue and prepare for it. Trying to stamp out wrong ideas is like hitting shadows with a broom; only turning on the light will reveal the shadows as having never really existed. Those who can hear what I'm writing are like lightbulbs; but we are not the power station where the electricity comes from. All we can do is make sure that we, as bulbs, are connected to the power source, and then, shine.
*A partial list of such leaders who wrote supporting reincarnation either publicly or privately would include Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, Oliver Wendall Holmes, Elizabeth Barret Browning, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning, Walt Whitman, Edgar Allen Poe, William Butler Yeats, Count Leo Tolstoy, Victor Hugo, Helena Blavatsky, Thomas Carlyle, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, H.G. Wells, Thomas Edison, Aldous Huxley, Henry Ford, Edgar Cayce, William James, F. Max Muller and Carl Jung.
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