Sunday, March 3, 2013

Should We Believe in Reincarnation?

Should We Believe in Reincarnation?

In honour of the upcoming release of my debut novel Cailín (which will be released on March 17th, 2013) this month my blog posts will relate to the some of the subject matter contained within the book.  The principal of which my entire upcoming series Anam Céile Chronicles is based upon is the notion that we experience reincarnation and will indeed return after our death from this life to live yet again in another one.

Natural life is cyclical.  Day fades into night and turns back into day as the sun rises. One season gradually gives way to the next.  Over the passage of time, new generations are born and old ones die.  The continuous succession of birth, death and rebirth permeates nature even though our own lives seem linear.  So it is no surprise that some ancient observers looked at the seeming linearity of human existence and decided that life, like the natural world, might actually be more cyclical than linear.  

Multiple religions, philosophies and movements adopted the belief in cyclic life, or reincarnation. From the Egyptians and ancient Greeks to the Native Americans, Buddhists and Hindus to Wiccans, nearly all ancient religions and cultures do believe in the idea of reincarnation.  Philosophers Orpheus, Plato, Pythagoras also all believed in reincarnation.
So just what is reincarnation, how has the scientific community endeavored to study reincarnation, what evidence is there to back it up and how do the beliefs of different cultures differ?

What is Reincarnation?

Reincarnation, also called transmigration or metempsychosis, is the concept that the soul, or some aspect of the soul, is reborn into new lives.  Depending on the religion or philosophy, the soul can appear incarnate in humans, animals or plants as it works its way toward an eventual escape from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth.  Most religions and cultures which believe in reincarnation consider it the path to purity and salvation.

We know from physics that energy cannot be created or destroyed— it can only convert from one form into another— and since we too are energetic beings, the end of our physical body does not mean the end of our Soul and as a result merely moves on to another form.  Our life cycle will move on for us at its own pace until we've learned our lessons for this life and until it is time for us to depart.  Rather than the end, death of the physical body and the moving on of the soul is merely a journey.  For Pagans, death is a transition of spirit, a transition to a new existence, a new state of consciousness, but not a loss of individuality or consciousness.

Wiccans and Pagans

While some religions believe that when you die, your soul goes to either heaven or hell—depending on how much faith you had, or what kind of person you were in your life— there is one God who serves as the sole judge; Wiccans feel one makes their own destiny.
The God and Goddess are always there to guide you in life, rather than judging your actions— or more importantly, your soul.  With no transcendent deity who acts as judge and no concept of sin, logically no need for salvation exists.  Rather than incentives to live a good life which involve pleasing a god exterior to one's self, virtue and honor serve as their own rewards and one engages in such behavior out of a sense of love and personal pride.

That role instead lies with Karma. They believe that when we are reborn into another body, based upon our actions or deeds in our past life, we will receive them back triple fold in the new life.  Essentially, the role of Karma is not to punish the soul, but rather to learn from it.  Therefore, whether one realizes it or not, they create their own destiny.  Pagans believe there are lessons set upon our path to help teach us about ourselves and to overcome the karma we've created in a past life or an earlier time in this life.  Through that understanding we grow in enlightenment and wisdom.  There is both positive and negative karma.  

Until it can detach (let go and let God) from the past life, the soul experiences this karmic cycle.  When this occurs the soul has reached atonement or ‘At-one-ment’.  If the soul cannot let go, it can ricochet itself back to the "conquered" life.  This is why it is very important to learn how to accept, and let go.  Karmic situations, especially negative karma, cannot be avoided, and usually are accompanied by some degree of drama or trauma.  These are the situations which typically give one physical, mental and spiritual concern, stress or grief.  

It is by the resolution of karma that we travel the path to divinity.  This occurs in two ways.  The first is in repaying and receiving our karmic debts and credits. The second is in the karmic situations our soul has willingly chosen to take on.  We choose our own life lessons or path for every reincarnation by selecting a path that would challenge us and our previous experience, so that our spirit may grow and learn.
The highest deed that one has done in the life just past is the point of reference by which a soul measures its growth, progress and learning.  Some souls that have not had many lives and do not have as much to process and judge themselves on return to the next life very quickly.  All souls who have determined that they need to return to the body will do so, when they are ready.

Although each incarnation will surely carry its measure of suffering and sorrow, also will it bring about the joy of new relationships, new experiences, new wisdom and insights.

Wiccans believe that upon death of the physical body, the soul goes to a place termed the Summerlands, a paradise where one experiences happiness and sensual pleasures.  All people— except the spirits who remain behind lost and wandering— go to the Summerland, even the wicked.  The Summerland will be different for everyone, their own version of Shangri-La.  There, they can be reunited with their loved ones, look over those they left behind on Earth, and take time to recuperate from life.  Our time in the Summerland is spent processing and reflecting upon the previous lives lessons, recovering from the hardships endured, and then planning our next life.  The Summerland can function as a destination between reincarnations (a place of rest and renewal) or as the ultimate destination, when a soul eventually stops reincarnating.  Some feel that it goes to a spiritual realm where the Deities reside, until it's time to reincarnate.  Still others feel that the soul wanders the Earth until it's time to be born again.

Most Wiccans agree that when the soul is ready, it is are reincarnated.  Based upon which lessons the soul wishes to learn in the next life, it may choose what form it takes and even a little about its situation.  The soul may even choose lives of hardship in order to learn their lessons, although they don't get to plan specifically what the circumstances will be. 

Rather than a Hell, most do believe that a soul may be punished for the harm it does.  Some believe that one may be kept from reincarnating, or reincarnated into an undesirable life as a means of punishment.  There are other Wiccans who believe this, as well as Wiccans who don't.  Like Buddhists, some Wiccans believe the point of living is to learn and to perfect your soul, until you reach an enlightened existence.


Buddhists believe in the notion of reincarnation, with some similarities, as well as differences.  Like the Wiccans, they also believe in the role of Karma.  It operates in the universe as the continuous chain reaction of cause and effect.  It is not only confined to causation in the physical sense but also has moral implications.  A good cause equals a good effect; a bad cause equals a bad effect.  In this sense karma is a moral law.  Human beings are constantly giving off physical and spiritual energy, which as stated in the Law of Physics, energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be transformed.  Similarly, spiritual and mental action is never lost, rather it is transformed. Thus Karma is the law of the conservation of moral energy. 

By actions, thoughts, and words, humans release their spiritual energy to the universe and, in turn, are affected by influences coming in their direction.  Therefore, we are the sender and receiver of all these influences.  With each action-influence one sends out and at the same time, receives, one is changing.  This changing personality and the world he lives in, constitute the totality of one’s karma.

Unlike the notion of fate, karma can be changed and is within the control of the bearer of it.  Because we are conscious beings, we can be aware of our karma and thus strive to change the course of events.
Traditionally, Buddhism teaches the existence of the ten realms of being, which may be viewed as psychological states.  At the top is Buddha and the scale descends as follows:  Bodhisattva (an enlightened being destined to be a Buddha, but purposely remaining on earth to teach others), Pratyeka Buddha (a Buddha for himself), Sravka (direct disciple of Buddha), heavenly beings (superhuman, angels), human beings, Asura (fighting spirits), beasts, Preta (hungry ghosts), and depraved men (hellish beings).

These ten realms may be viewed as unfixed, nonobjective worlds, as mental and spiritual states of mind. These states of mind are created by men's thoughts, actions, and words.  Man is at the same time capable of real selfishness, creating his own hell, or can be truly compassionate.  Man is characteristically placed at the midpoint of these ten stages; he can either lower himself abruptly or gradually into hell; or through discipline, cultivation and the awakening of faith rise to the Enlightened state of the Buddha.

Scientific Explanations and Studies

So is there any credibility to the belief in reincarnation? 

The general air of skepticism in the modern westernized world has not prevented researchers from exploring the potential for the possibility of reincarnation.  Dr. Ian Stevenson, Ph.D., an academic psychiatrist, is well known for his work in the research of reincarnation.  Until his death in 2007, this former chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Neurology investigated over 3000 independent stories of children who claimed to have memories and know people from their alleged past lives.  Stevenson founded the Division of Personality Studies under the University of Virginia's department of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences.  The lab focuses on examining children who remember former lives, near-death experiences, apparitions and after-death communications, out-of-body experiences and deathbed visions.

Stevenson, who often called reincarnation the "survival of personality after death," saw the existence of past lives as a potential explanation for the differences in human condition.  He believed past experiences plus genetics and the environment could help elucidate gender dysphoria, phobias and other unexplained personality traits.

Stevenson's reincarnation studies focused on young children, usually between the ages of 2 and 5, who had inexplicable phobias or detailed memories about a previous life.  He would attempt to corroborate the facts the child presented with the details of a deceased person's life.  Sometimes he made startling connections between memories and lives.  One Lebanese boy studied by Stevenson not only knew where a deceased stranger tied his dog but also that the man had been quarantined within his room— a fact the family attributed to his pulmonary tuberculosis.

Facial recognition software confirmed that there was in fact a facial resemblance to their prior incarnation.  Some possessed birth marks on places where they allegedly suffered fatal wounds from in their past life.  Often there were dramatic and sometimes bizarre lesions, such as malformed digits or missing limbs, misshapen heads, and odd markings.

What seems to be more than mere chance is that children were able to accurately identify former acquaintances and relationships they had with people in their prior lives.  Most impressively was a Lebanese girl who was able to remember and identify 25 different people from her past life and the interpersonal relationships she had with them.  His best findings were put together in a book titled Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation.

The book consists of detailed case reports that included lists of every person Stevenson had interviewed, along with lengthy tables in which each statement the child had made about a previous life was listed along with the informant for that statement and the person or persons who verified that it was correct for the life of the deceased individual.

Over the course of about four decades, Stevenson studied 2,500 cases and published books and articles on his research.  He claimed he merely wanted to suggest reincarnation was plausible, not to prove it absolutely.  Despite this stipulation, Stevenson’s work was largely rejected by the scientific community, although he was widely accepted by the mainstream community.  The potential for piecing two lives together with coincidences rather than facts and the inability to perform control experiments opened his research to criticism.

The American Journal of Psychiatry said there were ‘‘cases recorded in such full detail as to persuade the open mind that reincarnation is a tenable hypothesis to explain them’’.  As a review in the Journal of the American Medical Association stated, ‘‘In regard to reincarnation he has painstakingly and unemotionally collected a detailed series of cases from India, cases in which the evidence is difficult to explain on any other grounds.’’

Is this all a figment of a child's imagination that happened to be perfectly verified with specific details time and time again through investigation by mere coincidence?  Or did ancient teachings have something right?  Do we really have souls that temporarily reside within our bodies?

And yet another, an absolutely incredible story you have to see!

"Life will give you whatever experience is most beneficial for the evolution of your consciousness."  ~ Eckhart Tolle

"All that we are is a result of what we have thought, it is founded on our thoughts and made up of our thoughts." ~ Buddha

 © 2013 Rosalind Scarlett

No comments:

Post a Comment