Thursday, April 21, 2011

Why I believe in Reincarnation

In a previous post John mentioned that he does not believe in the concept of reincarnation. It is a concept that was mentioned by ancient mystics. It is an inherent part of Christianity (read more) as well as Eastern religions. One may define anything more than one life as reincarnation. Without it another life in Hell or Heaven would be impossible. But then, there is so much else that ancient mystics mentioned that has not been proven by science. In fact some of what the mystics said has been shown to be absurd (unless it is viewed metaphorically). Therefore it is perfectly reasonable for a modern rational person to disbelieve in this concept. I too regard myself as a modern rationalist. My profession is a scientific one and I have made useful scientific contributions during my career. However my reflections have led me to believe firmly in reincarnation.Read why.

My spiritual belief begins with a belief that there is something deeper to my self than my body i.e. the soul. I believe that this deeper self has not changed even though all the cells of my body have changed since childhood. my belief is that even though my body has changed my soul is the same. The moment one senses the soul, it becomes crystal clear  from where consciousness and the feeling such as fear, love etc. arise. Neither my computer nor that cute Japanese robot they showed on TV possesses any of those things. I just can’t scare my computer or robot with the fear of death nor make it pine for me out of love when I am away.

Once having firmly accepted the soul that is internal to my ever changing body, I suddenly realize that the soul can survive death because death is the end of this physical body as a functioning machine not that of my soul as a consciousness that feels and remembers. Immediately that permits me to escape the fear of death and along with that a host of other fears, since no other fear can be greater than death for this body. As long as fear remains true joy or freedom is impossible. In fact there was a time I was uncertain of reincarnation either way but chose in its favor because that belief offered such great advantages.

The next thing that comes to mind is that if the soul does not get annihilated after death it was probably around even before one was born. Suddenly the proclamations of mystics both ancient and modern, from the east and the west, that the soul always was and always will be makes eminent sense.

The thought that comes to mind immediately then is that if the soul has always been around, is this physical life a one-off event? There is no logical reason for that to be so. A soul that can perform the feat of a physical birth once can do it again. Immediately then the realization of reincarnation dawns upon one. With the acceptance of reincarnation a veil is lifted from a lot of other dilemmas. Why am I fairer than the next fellow, why I was born in a rich family rather than a poor one, why my height and nose is such and such and different from the next guy, why I picked up writing very quickly but failed to play a musical instrument ever. My daughter could construct tunes on a Casio player as a kid. I can’t do it even now. It becomes clear that some of our learning too come from past lives. Without belief in reincarnation one would be forced to accept that whatever one received at birth was a random throw of cards by the Universe. I am unable to accept that fact as a scientific person and believe as Einstein did that God or the Universe does not play dice.

"A little while, a moment of rest upon the wind, and another woman shall bear me." Concluding line from the Prophet by Khalil Gibran

More to read on Reincarnation here, deep philosophy in a lighter vein:

Monday, April 11, 2011

Purpose of Life

In some eastern spiritual texts it is mentioned that life is inherently full of sorrow. To support this contention the texts mention that sickness, death and old age are integral parts of human life. As an escape from this sorrow, texts suggest that humans should learn to banish their thoughts and desires through advanced yogic techniques. Eventually when all thoughts are stilled, all desires banished and consequences of all previous actions i.e. karma exhausted, it is said that the individual soul gets freed from this cycle of births and deaths. It then merges with the infinite consciousness from which it originally arose. In the absence of this liberation or nirvana the soul is subjected to repetitive births and deaths.

Although an ardent student of spiritual philosophies, my own view differs somewhat from this philosophy. I believe it can even be misleading. The same spiritual texts clearly state that this liberation is achieved only by rare human souls, possibly one in millions. Therefore, my own opinion is that giving it too much importance is of no use for the vast majority of humans. However. I do accept the eastern viewpoint of the existence of an  individual soul,  and a universal spirit - the Almighty God - as the father of the universe as well as the concept of reincarnation. My own belief is that the purpose of life is to evolve. The human soul evolves through millions of birth, starting as bacteria and then gradually moving up through insect and animal lives to the human level. At the human levels we acquire linguistic and intellectual abilities that make this sort of an article and discussion possible. Evolution does not and should not stop at the human level. The eastern approach of trying to approach the bliss of nothingness is however useful in that the very attempt for it makes us march in the right direction of evolving because to focus much on worldly gain often does precisely the reverse.

It appears that even amongst humans levels of evolution differ greatly on our planet. If there are humans on other planets elsewhere in the universe then the variations are likely to be even greater. Life on other planets is not entirely impossible if one went by the latest theory of evolution - panspermia (or my version pansmeria in another blog of mine).

What is being talked of here is spiritual evolution and not physical evolution. That is a whole topic by itself and I have an entire separate blog devoted to it -  However, it may be something entirely possible that physical and spiritual evolution take place in harmony.  It is so because the physical body is merely an expression of the inner self .

There are variations between individuals in any one geographical area at any given period of its history and their are variations with time. At the present time it appears that in some parts of our world, human life is still only slightly different from the life of monkeys and chimpanzees, the evolutionary and genetic predecessors of humans (the chimpanzee is perhaps 99% human genetically), whereas in other parts we have a well-organized civilization with well managed cities and towns. These differences appear to be a result of the different levels of evolution amongst various human groups.

As a result of modern communications things such as motorized cars, shirts and jeans and even computer access may be imitated by a relatively less civilized and remote tribal society. However, these external accessories cannot mask the fact that levels of evolutions vary greatly on our planet. The ability to drive a car is not a mark of evolution. Even chimpanzees can be taught to drive one. Amongst monkeys and chimpanzees it is not considered immoral to steal or indulge frequently in violent fights. It requires a certain degree of evolution to conduct one's life on the basis of moral principles. Animals on the other hand function on the basis of their immediate needs. A scam that most computer users are familiar with is the frequent emails announcing that you have won a lottery. The idea is to con you into parting with some of your money through deception. Most such emails probably originate from persons who have not evolved very much since their animal past or returned to that level again.

It takes some lifetimes to evolve before a human realizes that earning money through fraud is monkey behavior and criminal. It takes some evolution as a human to realize that the best course for a human is to earn his living honestly. Similarly, there are parts of the world where large cities, and legal systems such as courts and police forces have come up imitating civilized parts of the world. However, a closer look reveals that in such countries even basics like electricity and water supply are highly irregular and intermittent. The courts and police forces are ineffective, corrupt or lethargic. It is common in some countries for a simple civil suit to languish in courts for over twenty years and common for policemen to spend more of their energies in collecting bribes and concocting false evidence rather than doing the work they are supposed to. Such behavior implies a need for further evolution within these countries.

It has also been noted that variations take place with time. Parts of the world such as ancient Sumeria, Egypt, Indus Valley and Athens that have led human civilization and presumably also human evolution are not in the forefront anymore, whereas other parts such as Central and Northern Europe appear to have led the march of evolution, at least in the past few centuries. This is an indication that evolution is not a one way process but has its ups and down. The overall trend for humanity as a whole is hopefully upwards.

Returning to our spiritual discussion, my own understanding is that the purpose of any life form including humans is to evolve to higher levels. This improvement includes cultivating  virtues of truth and non-violence i.e. love and honesty. Such an evolution can take several lifetimes. It is only then that a human being can increase happiness. Eastern philosophies also stress on stilling thought and desire. In my view meditative techniques that teach how to still thought may be restricted to develop control over the thinking process, so that when we do think we can channel it in the most productive directions. The Universe /Almighty has given us the ability to think so that we can use it for our evolution and well being, not as an encumbrance that should be permanently extinguished. Yogic techniques that teach how to control desire may be used so that we learn to be happy with whatever is available and easily attainable and to turn our thoughts and desires away from that which cannot be attained easily or is perceived as harmful in the long run. The idea is to develop joy and contentment while avoiding pain and frustration. The question arises as to what happens after a human attains the highest possible levels of human evolution. My view is that just as evolved human souls take birth amongst evolved humans, a soul that has evolved to even higher levels would take birth in parts of this vast and infinite universe where beings exist that are even more evolved i.e. amongst beings we may refer to as gods and goddesses. Evolution would not stop even at this point. Our universe is vast enough to support still higher life forms. At the very apex of this vast chain of evolution is the father of the Universe, the almighty God. Since there can be only a single God in the universe the most evolved soul of the universe must necessarily merge with the infinite soul and thus become a part of God. Until that happens, most souls must continue on the paths of their respective evolution.

One must attempt to make this evolutionary journey joyful by increasing happiness and reducing sorrow. Old age need not be sad. It is undoubtedly a phase when human energy reduces. One can make the most of it by using the period for reflection and for preparation so that the next life would be a good one. Death is not sad when one firmly believes in reincarnation. It is like changing old clothes for new ones. Each phase of life will be a happy one, provided one has prepared for it adequately in the previous phase and makes the most of the present one. The past cannot be changed therefore we need not be bothered with any more than it is necessary to make our present moment wiser. We do have the present in our hands. Each phase is enjoyable, provided we divide our time wisely between work and play. Thus childhood needs to be spent in acquiring education and disciplined habits besides play. As an adult one needs to divide time between entertainment and earning enough so that one does not have to work or suffer in old age. Old age needs to be spent in reflecting on ones strengths and shortcoming, life and the universe and strengthening our love for God, so that next time around we are born as a more evolved human in more fortunate circumstances. Much bad karma can be resolved through reflection, repentance and forgiveness so that we do not have to carry this burden with us into future lives.

A powerful way to hasten our evolution is to help the lesser evolved part of the universe - plants, animals and other less evolved or less fortunate humans in their evolutionary journey. The attitude towards the less evolved needs to be one of love and compassion, rather than hatred because love raises us to higher evolutionary levels while hatred does precisely the reverse.

I wrote this article a long time ago elsewhere on the internet and thought it is interesting enough to post here again with minor changes. It is a continuation of the philosophy of many other posts of this blog.