Friday, August 04, 2006

Reincarnation: Haven't I Begged this Question Somewhere Before? (updated)

Continuing with the interview, here is another question from Sigmund, Carl and Alfred. Hmm... Why do I get the feeling that I have begged this question before? Perhaps I can do a better job of equivocation this time around:

Q: Do you believe in reincarnation? Do we really get another chance to “get it right?” Why?

A: Why? Because let’s face it, Krishna was either liar, lord or lunatic. Krishna said it, I believe it, and that settles it.

Actually, it is interesting that the Eastern, “right hemisphere” of the world regards reincarnation as a banal matter of faith, while it is a stumbling block for the Western, left hemisphere of the worldbrain. Is there a corpus colossum that can join the two hermetispheres and make sense of the concept?

As always, words are problematic and potentially misleading in discussing spiritual matters. In short, words are words, not the reality to which they point or the experience which they memorialize. To back up a bit, there is a fundamental difference between Western and Eastern approaches to philosophy, in that the former generally begins and ends with knowledge by discernment, while the latter rests upon knowledge by identification.

For example, the touchstone of Hindu philosophy is the Upanishads, which were written by ancient rishis, or seers. As such, the Upanishads do not contain ideas that are argued but visions that were seen and experienced. Not only is the truth “seen,” but the seer comes to embody the truth so perceived. In other words, this is transformative truth--in knowing it, you are not the same. Naturally words must be used to convey the experience, but they mustn’t be confused with the thing in itself. This is a very different from Western philosophy, which mostly consists of ideas--however wooly or trite--that can be passed like an object from mind to mind.

The horizontal aspect of language is mostly reducible to a purely Darwinian explanation. But there is a very mysterious vertical aspect to language that cannot be so reduced, unless one wishes to be absurd. Most modern people don't mind being absurd, so long as they can imagine that they understand. Better to be absurd than to deal with the anxiety of not knowing.

It has been remarked that poets are metaphysicians in the raw, mediators between the essence of being and the miracle of knowing. In its sacred or mythological aspect, language is the nexus between the nighttime and daytime realms. It imparts a kind of knowing, but one must not confuse this knowing with profane knowing of the linear and unambiguous variety. Just like everyday language, it reveals and discloses an "object." But it is not a three-dimensional object. Rather, it is a hyperdimensional subject-object.

Or you may think of mundane language as dealing with horizontal recollection, while the type of language I am talking about involves vertical recollection, or anamnesis.

It is said that “that which is Night to all beings, that is Day to the Seer.” The typical soul is blinded by the bright and shiny objects of the waking world, while the seer is able to detect hidden connections in the night womb where events incubate before undergoing the formality of becoming in the external world.

There is a general stream of Life into which the particular stream of your life enters upon birth--your life is a little eddy in the stream of Life, so to speak, and is constituted by that larger Life. Once here, we see through a glass darkly: “on earth the broken arcs, in heaven the perfect round.” We ride atop the mortality-go-round, but the stream below is full of information that links us to the whole. There is a storehouse of collective memory to which we have access, and which can definitely give us the feeling that we have been here before, in particular, because spiritual growth always involves recollection--not horizontal recollection but vertical recollection. We are remembering something that is already inside us, in our deepest, most inward being.

I maintain that reincarnation is a way of talking about the two very different kinds of heredity that clearly operate in us: a horizontal heredity that is encoded in our genes, and a vertical heredity that seems to shape us from "above" rather than "behind." In my view, when we talk about reincarnation, we are simply acknowledging the reality of vertical heredity. It is a way of talking about something real yet mysterious--about that part of ourselves that not only has distinct inclinations and attitudes--even perhaps an earthly mission--but is also able to tap into a sort of knowledge base of which it has had no personal experience.

Are we really the product of two heredities? I don't know about you, but genes or no genes, I have no idea how I dropped into my particular family. I am amazingly incompatible with virtually all of my family members save for one--not necessarily to the point of open conflict (though there is that with one particularly polarized member who despises me), but mostly indifference and mutual incomprehension. I was born with very specific, not to say unusual, inclinations that I can find in none of my relatives, either living or dead. But I certainly see them in non-blood relations with whom I share vertical DNA.


So, we apparently have a terrestrial heredity that extends back through higher primates, lower mammals, fish, plants, single cells, and across the dark abyss to insentient matter.

On the other hand, we have a vertical heredity that extends through various degrees of being--various powers, principalities, rulers, and thrones--all the way up until we reach Brahman, the Absolute, the One, The Father in Heaven, J.R. "Bob" Dobbs and Uncreated Slack.

Our "frontal self" comes into the world the usual way, while another part of us is imaginately conceived, or "word made flesh." Unlike the horizontal word of DNA and natural selection, this is the vertical word of "supernatural" election. (I put supernatural in quotes, for nature herself is supernatural, as anyone who appreciates the transcendental beauty of the mythematical equations governing the big bang can tell you.)

There was a time, not too long ago, when human beings were not aware of their vertical descent from above, any more than animals are. Again, if you think of our humanness as situated at the innersection of the horizontal and vertical, it took some time for Homo sapiens to realize their place in the vertical.

One cannot even know of the horizontal until consciousness has lifted above it. Otherwise we are simply immersed in our perceptions and engulfed by the senses. But as consciousness ascends, one begins to realize that the vertical is also a world in its own right.

After all, Homo sapiens was genetically complete by as long ago as 200,000 (or as recently as 100,000) years. And yet, either way, we don't see much evidence in the archeological record of "vertical liftoff" until about 35-40,000 years ago, with the sudden appearance of beautifully realized cave paintings, body decoration, musical instruments, statuary, widespread burial of the dead, etc.

Clearly, vertical liftoff had begun, into a nonsensuous dimension of transcendental Love, Truth and Beauty that was anterior to our arrival there. For what would motivate an erstwhile ape not just to paint, but to do so with such refined delicacy of line, shade, and contour? Why bother?

But vertical progress for humans is frequently stalled--both collectively and individually. Human beings have reached many historical impasses, or crossroads (frankly, we are in a somewhat nasty one right now). In reality, these are not horizontal impasses. Rather, they are vertical impasses. Overcoming these world-historical obstacles is not a matter of additional horizontal evolution. That process is basically over, although recent research seems to demonstrate that some additional evolution has been going on at the margins.

But even if certain brains have been getting a little bigger or smarter, it is not our hardizontalware, but our vertical software--or aloftware--that counts. You can have a gifted IQ but still languish below on the vertical launch pad, a point that is obvious if you consider the sorry state of contemporary academia. Plenty of big-brained primates there, all messed up with no place to grow (up, that is).

As such, past historical impasses have been broken through in one of two ways: either a vertical ascent by some great hero from this side of manifestation, or a descent of the divine energy into time or into a particular person (technically known as a "avatar," this happens much more often than you might realize).

The vehicle of both ascent and descent is said to be a "resurrection body," the perfected self, unencumbered by the accidents and distortions of horizontality. It is actually already there calling you--wherever there is--just waiting for you to catch up.

Have you ever been acquainted with your resurrection body? I'll bet you have. Again, this is one of the main purposes of religious language--to provide a means for talking about an otherwise immaterial and nonsensuous dimension. Light, transparent, bright, freely coursing energy... these are all gladjectives that apply.

In the gospels, it says that Jesus gave a few disciples the privilege of seeing his vertical body of light. What must that have been like? First, of course, the disciples had to "ascend" vertically, "high upon a mountain." There, within the orbit of their highest aspiration, Jesus' face "shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light." Then Jesus held a summit conference with two other luminous bodies, Moses and his shadowy double, Elijah. Wo! What was that all about?

Our physical body is on loan from nature, whom we must repay at the end of our days. "Thou owest nature a death." But looked at vertically, the body is descended from the spirit, not vice versa. Death, or disincarnation, involves separation of the vertical from the horizontal. Reincarnation is simply a way to talk about their mysterious union down here in 4D.

Let me conclude by saying that this is one of those topics which I am happy to throw open to debate. My responses are meant to provoke thought, not to be the last word.



That was sort of a lame post. When SGA asked about reincarnation, I should have just said “Hell, I don’t know,” and left it at that. Believe it or not, I hate to speculate. For one thing, it makes religious metaphysics look subjective and conjectural, like theories of global warming. My whole point is that religions not only reveal objective truths, but a core of truths that cannot not be.

True, there is a penumbra around any religion (or any science, for that matter), a dark area encircling the light, into which we can project anything we choose. This is where occultists and mere theologians rush into the breach and spookulate about what they do not know. Properly speaking, this is not theology but theodoxy, or “opinions about God” rather than “knowledge of God.” Such vain chatter is nothing more than an agitation in the cosmic void--as Whitehead called it, “the fallacy of vacuous actuality.” Religion is then reduced to philosophy, little more than idle deidreaming, the codification and fetishization of the lower mind’s ability to doubt anything.

Interestingly, the one thing that I wasn’t speculating about probably seemed the most speculative, and that was my crack about the “astral body,” or “body of light.” All traditions speak in their own way of some such similar experience--again, don’t get hung up on the words--and I think I have some idea of what these traditions are talking about. Many people who undertake a spiritual practice--apparently some more than others--are subject to all sorts of sometimes bewildering (and not always pleasant) physical sensations and experiences. This is something I haven’t specifically posted on in the past, in part because I am still in the thick of it and haven’t figured it out myself. It would be nice if it were a stable phenomenon, but it is anything but, so there is no stable conclusion I can draw at the moment--religious or otherwise.


will said...

For me, the most telling aspect about the reincarnation concept is that it's simply economical. Maybe some folks have an actual, working gnosis re: reincarnation. I don't, or at least, I don't think I do. However, whatever degree of gnosis I do have tells me (1) spiritual perfection can't be accomplished in one human life span, and (2) if you mess up (and who doesn't?), you've got to return to the scene of the crime to work with and learn from the same issues under the same basic strictures in which you messed up in the first place. That is, if you failed Algebra, you can't learn from your mistakes by being bumped up to Calculus. This works for me.

There's been a lot of romancing of reincarnation, but when you get down to it, it's a pretty ugly, albeit necessary, business. Anybody who wants to revel in their past lives should consider that it would be hyper-traumatic to re-live even one death, let alone a whole series of them, some of them probably violent. Thank God for the River of Lethe. In any event, one could probably surmise with great accuracy what one's previous lives were all about, or at least the moral/spiritual issues involved, by simply taking full stock of what moral/spiritual issues one faces *at the present*.

Last, I hold to a Westernized notion of reincarnation, which holds that (1) we do NOT have "infinite" time to get our spiritual act together - we may have a very long time in which to reincarnate, but there is a certain cutoff point at which point it's back to the drawing board and start all over again. And (2), just because there may be "karmic casualties", people who have, through their own spiritual transgressions, earned a rather nasty station in this life, we still have an obligation to help them out as best we can. (and in the real way, not through lefty panaceas) Also, not all earthly troubles are the result of "bad karma" - I think many a suffering soul voluntarily opts for challenges in order to expedite spiritual growth.

lasch 2.0 said...

I've been impressed all week with Bob's responses but I confess, on this one I just can't sign up! The materialist in me just has to take a pass.

But a fascinating week of entries nevertheless.

will said...

Gee, the silence is deafening. Hmm, Bob, you may have reached the point where the envelope pushes back. But that's why O.C. is the prince, nay, the king of blogs, IMHO.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating. I would never have expected a Christian to write so positively about reincarnation. Aside from that, my compliments on your fine site, Bob (I came here via American Digest).

will: There are other reasons for us to continue hanging around this place.

"I think many a suffering soul voluntarily opts for challenges in order to expedite spiritual growth."

In Nichiren Buddhism, my faith, there is a concept called "Ganken Ogoh" (sorry, no English name I know of): We (Bodhisattvas of the Earth) have volunteered for our sufferings, in order to defeat them, thereby inspiring others to practice Buddhism to defeat their own karma. I guess, if one insisted, one could stretch that to other faiths. Choose your amrita!


Jacob C. said...

Taking on sufferings in order to overcome them - not only does that sound like a description of many of the Christian martyrs, it resembles to a degree the redemptive theme of Christ's crucifixion.

Adam's initial Edenic f__kup gave all his descendants a terminal case of bad karma - it was up to the Bodhisakta from Nazareth to pull it off our shoulders by taking it on his.

Or does that sound a little too much like Kerouac?

will said...

Anony - "We (Bodhisattvas of the Earth) have volunteered for our sufferings, in order to defeat them, thereby inspiring others to practice Buddhism to defeat their own karma. I guess, if one insisted, one could stretch that to other faiths."

No insisting necessary, that's an absolute fact. St Francis up to Padre Pio and Mom Teresa (I'll throw in J Krishnamurti for diversity) - these are saints/Bodhisattvas who suffered plenty so as to help anchor the Light. That's hardly a concept exclusive to Buddhism, trust me.

will said...

Jacob - it's an idea worthy to take On The Road. (and distribute freely to those who need it)

Bad Penny said...

Krishna said it, I believe it, and that settles it.

Dude, don't scare me like that.

Gagdad Bob said...


Hmm, you're probably right. Shouldn't have sprung that crack about the resurrection body on an unsuspecting audience. I do know for a fact that I have at least one other reader who has a vague idea what I'm talking about.... It's just that I happened to feel mine yesterday. Or something similar--astral body, body of light, crown chakra opening, whatever. Whatever it was, it's gone again today.

Zrinyi's Last Stand said...

Have you considered Plato as a bridge between Eastern and Wsetern philosophy? He is considered the foundation of western philosophy, but he was greatly influenced by Pythagoreanism and Orphism, and he did express a belief in reincarnation. I even go so far as to see an underlying Zoroastrian dualism in much of his cosmology, although the extent to which he was familiar with Zoroastrianism is unknown.

Jimmy J. said...

Not sure I believe in reincarnation. But I don't reject it out of hand.

I do believe that life is a circle. A kind of self sustaining circle that endures.

After reading BIll Bryson's book, "The History of Nearly Everything," I was inspired to write this poem.


Why do things ever have to end?
The answer eludes me.
But everything does.
Everything on this Magic Blue Marble disappears.
Every leaf turns brown and rots. Every caterpillar, bronze sculpture, tennis ball,
elephant, season and passion gives way eventually.
Even sturdy granite wears away and turns to dust.
And you and I, too.
We have a rendezvous with dirt, as well.

All around us is death and change.
We feel it in our bones and we hesitate and stumble as we
make our way along the steepening path.

But from deep within a memory stirs! We are given to recall:
Endings are also beginnings.

As the tree dies and rots it prepares the soil for new life.
The delicate flower petal withers, but a seed floats to earth,
awaiting spring rains and sunshine to spring forth into glorious new bloom.
The salmon makes its deadly run to deposit new life in stream gravels.
Even as mountains are ground down, new ones are building.

Yes, it is a circle. Birth, life, death and rebirth - a circle of life.

Our task is to hold our candles steadfastly against the dark
as we tread the upward leading path.

Confident in God's plan that LIFE ENDURES.

Bryson's book showed that at various times during Earth's history life could have, and maybe should have, just ended. But it didn't. Coincidence? I think not.

larwyn said...

I've always thought that the Catholic church dealt with those "second chances" with the sacrament of Confession and with the concept of Purgatory.

I liked the idea of Purgatory as your friends and family could help to bail you out with their prayers. Don't know why it was given up. We used to pray for "the poor souls in Purgatory" every day. And there were special days when we were asked to offer up prayers (Novenas) or fasts from treats to shorten their stays.

Know that I have read opinions that our very own founding fathers were beings who had already passed thru several lives, as only those with all that accumulated knowledge could have so designed our republic.

If reincarnation is real, who were all those KosKids et al in past lives?

dilys said...

C.S. Lewis, in addressing the question of Purgatory, finessed it by saying that we would all certainly need -- and want -- a bath and a change of clothes before ringing the doorbell for the Glory Party, so, whatever it takes...

And zrinyi makes a good point about Neoplatonism, which runs through the warp and woof of the Eastern Orthodox and, lesserly, Roman Catholic philosophical anti-materialist framework, with, naturally, some development and adaptation.

larwyn said...

Thank you for the C.S.Lewis.
I've been upset with the discarding of Purgatory for just that reason. How many of us will actually be in a perfect state of grace when death arrives, was my thought.

ben usn (ret) said...

I don't believe that humans can achieve a perfect state of grace, on their own, but we can accept a perfect state of grace with the blood of the perfect sacrifice.
The Justice of G-d is pure and completely True and objective.
In our corrupt flesh, we are unable to live a perfect life that fulfills Justice.
Some can do much, based on our free choice, to move in that direction, or away from it, ut in the end, and the beginning, we need the Messiah, who fulfills the requirements of Justice.
This enables us to do far more, spiritually, and empowers us to go beyond belief.
Yet, even with the perfect bodies (flesh) we are assured of (unless we travel the path of darkness, choosing evil as our goal), we still have free choice.
Even Angels can fall, a Lucifer demon-strated.
So, after receiving G-d's Grace, and Mercy, Truth and Justice, we can still choose to deny this gift that is granted out of Love.
That is why it is important to remember to choose the Tree of Life.
If we choose Life, we will choose to repent, because one cannot choose Life, and bow towards death.
Crucifiction provides the Blood that tears the veil of the Holy of Holies. Past, present and future, it is timeless, because G-d is not constrained by time.
In this sense, I believe in spiritual rebirth.
With the new, and perfect bodies we are promised is a kind of rebirth, but it is not seperated from our spirit, like our corrupt flesh.
For now; To live is Christ, but to die is gain.

Sal said...

dears: no one gave up Purgatory - check the Catechism, or the Compendium. Emphasis got changed, that's all.
Which, augmented by crappy catechesis for forty years or so, means a lot of people may have that impression.

will and anon. - a life of redemptive suffering, in one form or another, is the vocation of every Christian.

The "big saints" have what we call the charism of notoriety - they become a blazing example for everyone. Mother T. would have been the first (see our chat on humility) to insist there were holier sisters than she in her order - but she was the one God shone the spotlight on. For whatever reason.

But every serious Christian picks up their cross.

Joan of Argghh! said...

Much of this post spurred thoughts of the King of the Moon as Munchausen (ala Gilliam) finds him: desperately trying to reconcile the unbridled mind with the visceral body; the body always being a drag of reality on the flights of desire. (Well, without drag, there's no lift, eh?)

Still, we try to imagine what we can't, and yet know to be true. In that sense, we attempt to grasp an unbridled Cosmos with our inadequate grey matter.

In those rare moments when the Cosmic Mind humbles itself to our attempts, that transcendent circuit of communication with our tenuous flesh is every bit as jolting, enlightening and light-ening as any astral journey can be.

But--thrilling unhappiness!-- I can no more hang onto the moment than the Moon-King could keep his head about him.

Still, I grab a net....

Luminous (\ô/) Luciano ™ said...

Aye - the King of the Moon was most... down to earth about things that truly mattered!

I do not believe in the recycling of bodies. "Economical" does not apply to the soul - it needs not several bodies but The Light.

As for Krishna - two out of three is not bad.

Hmm... word verification reads "wchrandy". Randy - me?

PSGInfinity said...

A great person once said that education's objective was to help you learn to seperate your mind into four categories: what you know, what you think, what you believe, and what you don't know. Bob, you just treated us to a fine exposition of that, and I think most of your readers respect that.

Thank you.