Beyond Linear Time: Perspectives on Reincarnation

Introduction

File:Dazu Wheel of Reincarnation.JPG - Wikimedia Commons
Buddhist cycle of reincarnation, 1177-1249 AD, Wikimedia Commons

In our day to day observation of life on earth and the wider cosmos, we find the themes of cycle and transformation. The water bodies transform to vapor forming clouds and then return back as rain to rivers and oceans. In the more animate form we have the metamorphosis of a pupae into a caterpillar and finally a butterfly which then lays eggs, closing the circle.  It seems plausible then that an attunement to the rhythms of nature would keep one open to the possibility of reincarnation and perhaps one of increasing complexity rather than one that ends in complete annihilation or disappearance.

All indigenous wisdom traditions provide some form of a reincarnation cosmology with an underlying current of integrating our life experience. A theme which perhaps continues both at the individual and cosmic level. Even contemporary scientific evidence points to the plausibility of such a universal mechanism.

This article presents an overview of diverse reincarnation cosmologies and explores how their hermeneutics or interpretation can inform our life and our civilization in empowering ways.

One way to look at wisdom is the ability to contemplate multiple perspectives, without the need of holding one perspective to reject others. At times these perspectives can seem different, even paradoxical, like the multiple solutions of a single mathematical equation. Nevertheless, a case is made that they don’t negate each other but their refinement catapults us to a higher order vista of understanding. 

The hope is that these diverse perspectives trigger a contemplation that yields a panoramic context where one’s life is but part of a bigger play from life to life ushering in a deeper purpose and meaning. It is the short term view that perpetuates self serving attitudes that have brought our current civilization to where it is. A long term responsible view can facilitate the radical shifts occurring in many facets of our troubled civilization.

The Views

Materialist view

Our civilization is currently shifting from holding a view steeped in materialism which correlates with the absence of any continuation of a soul or essence at the time of bodily death. Such a view is oblivious to the wider rhythms of nature.

Consciousness or Awareness is deemed an emergent phenomena from random arrangements of matter devoid of any meaning or purpose to life. More extreme views consider consciousness itself an illusion, which ironically negates the view itself.  No wonder, such a view has created a paradigm of shortsightedness where each person or nation is operating for its own sake in a state of disconnectedness from the very nature and world that supports its life.

Re-incarnation in Wisdom Traditions

It is important to note that most wisdom traditions provide not merely views but accompanying methodologies which evolve the perception to bring the view to the stable ground of one’s direct experience.

Sufi View – Many levels of being

Jacob’s Dream by William Blake

A great reference to the Sufi view is the classic book by the spiritual luminary, Hazrat Inayat Khan’s, ‘The Soul Whence and Wither’. In this cosmology the soul takes birth from the singular luminous source like a ray from the sun and descends through multiple realms including the Angelic and Jinic realms before it reaches the grossest of them all, the Earth realm. Similarly, the souls culminating their earthly sojourn return back gradually to the source similar to the annual Salmon migration. The Angelic realm is a realm of light closest to the source. Angels attracted further to explore manifestation enter the Djinnic or realm of Genius, a mental realm perhaps similar to the Platonic realm of forms and ideals. So in a way there is no reincarnation in this journey of ascent and descent through these realms.  However, there is a rich exchange between beings who travel through these realms. The book describes various modes of how this exchange happens and how these realms are accessible to each one of us in the here and now. Each human at its core is an angel. The context of life is much wider and nuanced. In the Sufi view the newly  descending soul comes to meet returning souls and in this meeting there is tremendous exchange. The memory of such a meeting can come with a powerful level of certainty as if we lived that experience like in classical reincarnation.

Interestingly, this might be true of many  memories we experience in our day to day life which we take to be ours with a spontaneous certainty. At the mechanistic level the Sufi view describes that all experiences are stored in the subtlest element of Akash equivalent to the greek substance Aether. In my own contemplation, if one had an experience of a past life for all intents and purposes it could be explained by either the Sufi view of a past interaction with another soul or the Indic view of re-birth. What matters more perhaps are the lessons we glean from such an experience rather than the how of it.

This view also resonates with Hungarian philosopher of science Ervin Lazlo’s who wrote the recent book, ‘The Immutable Laws of the Akashic Field’. Ervin hypothesizes that everything we experience becomes part of the akashic field which is accessible to all of us to read.’

Other well known scientists such as Rupert Sheldrake in his theory of ‘Morphic Resonance and Morphic Fields’ describe a similar view. “Morphic resonance is a process whereby self-organizing systems inherit a memory from previous similar systems.”

The Indic View

Illustration – Incarnation in Indian Mythology

In Indian philosophy generally speaking existence has a deep cosmology of many realms and many kinds of beings with varying levels of wisdom or realization of their place in reality’s ecology. There is one source that emanates as being into all these realms and through multiple births and deaths evolves back to realize its true nature of a single source. So, in this case reincarnation could involve many births and deaths through many realms. Ofcourse, there is more nuisance to this map alongwith methods or means provided to verify the territory and discover its truth. On the surface this seems different from the Sufi view but I feel that it is an equivalent explanation of the same experience.

It is important to add that there is no unified indic view but even in Indian philosophy there are different schools, some of which point to an evolving mechanism of consciousness which loves to evolve for the joy of exploring itself. The philosophical tradition of Kashmir Shaivism and Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy are such examples. Other views such as Vedanta treat creation as a mere illusion with the intent of recognizing Brahman or Being in its pure form.

Interestingly, the Indic view also incorporates the Akashic storehouse and the theory of Karma is based in part on information stored in the Akash.

The Absolute or Non Dual View – Nothing Ever Happened

Every spiritual tradition I have come across has a non dual view. In these models time and space are not primary but are contained within something beyond time and space which has the effect of introducing paradoxes for Karma since causality no longer applies. For instance such a view is reflected in the non dual quote, ‘Nothing ever Happened’.

This is the truth of unity of being or a single being that emanates its rays into the cosmos. Through this highest viewpoint, nothing was ever born and thus never died, nothing ever happened. There is no other than the one so there is no reincarnation.

In my own contemplation this realization when digested fully doesn’t dismiss creation or reincarnation. As a matter of fact it somehow integrates with it. The highest truth transcends and yet includes the relative levels of creation, unity becomes diverse and lives through a creation such as the one we experience.

The View of Resonance

Breaking Waves at Ocean

I recently heard an enlightening conversation between Argentinian Etymologist Matias’s De Stefano on a podcast around reincarnation. Matias is a modern day 1Tulku who claims to remember many of his past lives and has a cosmology based on his memory of the Atlantean civilization. I found Matias’s view to provide another nuanced perspective on reincarnation.

In summary Matias describes the universal being as an ocean with many waves. Each wave is an individual being which has a certain frequency. What we consider our past lives are in fact waves that have a similar frequency. For an individual living in space and time, the waves with similar frequencies are more relatable, they can offer something that informs each other’s lives. Each wave that has a similar frequency can be considered to be in resonance with all the other waves in that vicinity. Matias classifies these waves of similar resonance as one’s past lives that can offer a useful perspective. He highlights that time is not linear and from another vantage point all the waves are happening simultaneously. The view of eternity or simultaneity doesn’t negate time but displays the richness of the one being, which is unfathomable!

Supporting Scientific Views

Various contemporary and historical scientific views seem to support a memory mechanism that traverses time and perhaps even multiple universes.

Quantum Mechanics & Ervin Lazlo

My introduction to Lazlo’s work is through the writings of James Oroc in ‘Tryptamine Palace’ and Christopher Bache’s book ‘LSD and the mind of the Universe’.

Laszlo proposes that the ‘quantum vacuum’ which he refers to as the ‘akashic field’ is an information-carrying field that informs the past, present and future universes. He posits that this view fits well with the effects of quantum mechanics such as entanglement and non-locality.

Rupert Sheldrake’s Morphic Field

Rupert Sheldrake in his theory of ‘Morphic Resonance and Morphic Fields’ describes a similar view. “Morphic resonance is a process whereby self-organizing systems inherit a memory from previous similar systems.”

Evolutionary Epigenetics  & Lamarck

Lamarck, a contemporary of Charles Darwin, proposed an evolutionary theory which introduced an alchemical principle that evolved organisms rather than a random process which is still the mainstream scientific consensus. His theory also posited the possibility of transfer of traits from parents to children which was not part of Darwin’s theory. Lamarck’s theory fell out of vogue and was dismissed later in favor of Darwinian evolution but in recent decades a new science of epigenetics has taken root which studies how behaviors & environment impact genes. Though not exactly reincarnation, the Lamarckian epigenetic view connects each generation and its environment to the coming generation at the genetic level, instead of being guided by a set of random mutations.

Near Death Experience –  Research

In the recent past there is a growing body of scientific research on near death experiences. As of writing this article pubmed.com has over 125,000 results for a search of ‘NDE’s’. A graph of historical research papers shows an exponential rise in the study of the phenomenon since 1975.

The phenomenon of Near Death Experience today has fortunately become part of the mainstream paradigm, thanks to the rigorous study on the subject by researchers, hospital and hospice staff and among them those who personally became transformed by a personal NDE experience. Some of these mavericks have gone out to change the dismissive perception of the materialist establishment.

An example of such a maverick is neurosurgeon Eben Alexander who became a poster child of NDE in the scientific establishment and beyond through his book Proof of Heaven. In my own study of Eben’s account, I felt that his experience not only had decent scientific rigor but that it also resonated with the geography of mystical experiences and consciousness cataloged in many perennial traditions.  Near Death Experiences are also part of ancient cosmologies of spiritual traditions, indigenous cultures and non western societies. They are even mentioned in Plato’s (428-384 B.C.) ‘Republic’, where he described soldier Er’s death on the battlefield with his consciousness leaving his body to wander the countryside before re-animating the body right before cremation. (Rawlings, 1978)

Figure1 : PubMed search on NDE’s has 125,000 studies, an exponential increase since 1975

Purpose of Re-incarnation

One question one might ponder on is, What purpose does reincarnation or creation serve? How evolution and learning which hint at a process unfolding in time, paradoxically connect to a timeless reality!

Maybe the answer is beyond the grasp of reason! Nonetheless there is a creation that unfolds mysteriously and there are wisdom schools which either dismiss it as illusory or celebrate it as the natural capacity of consciousness or being. Kashmir Shaivism refers to this as Anuttarra and Ananda , inner being and external being respectively. The external being is described as the pratibimba (प्रतिबिम्ब, reflection) of the inner being in itself!

A quote from the Prophet Mohammed about Creation is along the same lines, ‘I was a hidden treasure; I loved to be known. Hence I created the world so that I would be known.’

Learning

One theme that emerges is of learning and evolution , life seems to become more complex and evolve.

Philosopher, Scientist Ervin Laszlo posits that all of the information is recorded in the akash and is available to all of us and even future universes. This idea is echoed in  many planetary mythologies where the concept of akash or aether is present.

Holographic Universe

In Kashmir Shaivism each being is a hologram of the entire cosmos and thus all is accessible in a timeless way.

A quote from Bhagavata Purana

There are innumerable universes besides this one, and although they are unlimitedly large, they move about like atoms in You. Therefore You are called unlimited.— Bhagavata Purana 6.16.37

Cosmic Exploration

Cosmic Exploration

Chris Bache in his excellent book ‘LSD and the mind of the universe’ alludes to the theme of cosmic exploration as something independent of the human quest for awakening. The philosophical tradition of Kashmir Shaivism also seems to hint at this exploratory aspect in the form of 118 worlds that the seers of this tradition have explored and cataloged. Abhinavagupta, one of the apostle saints of this tradition has said that these worlds are just the tip of the iceberg!

Diamond Soul

Diamond

Chris also alludes to a human evolutionary jump, which he calls the Diamond-Soul!

In his book ‘LSD and the mind of the Universe’ Bache says, ‘This Diamond-Soul is an individuality that is not at all separate from the infinite field … what if the larger goal is not mere dissolution back into the Primal Void but conscious return? What if the One is actively working to grow itself into forms sufficiently complex and strong that they can withstand the full impact of return without complete dissolution?

Perfected Soul – Jainism

Perfected Soul in Jainism

This is an interesting proposition that is often not echoed by many spiritual traditions other than perhaps the Jain tradition, where a liberated soul (a soul free from reincarnation or causality) retains its individuality.

In most cases it seems the goal is to realize the individual as the universal. Debashish Banerjee, a philosopher and hermeneutic scholar posits the possibility of physical immortality as part of the evolutionary arc of man and the vision highlighted by the ancient Upanishads, notably Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.

Never ending story

Ouroboros - Ancient Greek Symbol
Ouroboros – Ancient Greek Symbol

Often we see life as a journey that comes to a conclusion, but what if this journey is a spiral or circular with no beginning or end! Maybe this story includes both transcendence and immanence, on an equal footing, uniting and separating ad infinitum!

In the Philosophy of Leibniz, each individual is a monad ( a perspective) on God who him/her-self has infinite perspectives. So, perhaps an integration of these perspectives is natural and we live in such a time that calls for such integration!

References

  1. Book: Immortality a Traveler’s Guide
  2. Rawlings, M. (1978). Beyond death’s door. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson
  3. The Lost Art of Contemplation by Andrew Holecek
  4. Discover Magazine: Can Science Explain Near Death Experiences?
  5. Historical perspectives on near-death phenomena. (1990). Journal of Near-Death Studies, 9(2).
  6. Podcast: Matias’s De Stefano in conversation with Blu : What happens after Death?

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