10 THINGS EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT REINCARNATION

Around the world, many people—perhaps the majority overall—accept a belief in reincarnation as part of their religion.

Not many people in the West believe in it, though. In fact, many scoff at the very idea and regard it as nonsense.

This is largely because in the West we are enamored with the benefits of scientific knowledge and increasingly sceptical of the old religions—rightly so, in my view. The knowledge science provides can be systematically checked to ensure that it is valid and reliable. This is why it is of such great value.

But it is not necessarily the only source of knowledge that is valid and reliable.

Besides, what science can see is limited to that which is physical and objective. Reality itself is not necessarily so limited. If we limit our understanding of what reality can be to just what science can see, we are leaving ourselves half-blind.

A wealth of information is now available from a wide variety of sources which, despite their differences, give surprisingly coherent and meaningful insights into the nature of the soul and its evolution.

Thanks to a combination of channeled teachings, insights from near-death experiences, reports of hypnotic regression, trans personal experiences induced by meditation, breath-work or psychoactive substances, after-death communications, and even scientific research into children’s spontaneous descriptions of their past lives, it is now possible to put together a very clear picture of reincarnation.

Regardless of the medium (no pun intended), the message is consistent. Whether one regards such information as factual knowledge or as loony nonsense depends upon one’s openness to non-physical sources of information.

Interestingly, in light of this accumulation of knowledge, we can now see that even within those Eastern cultures that believe in reincarnation, many people’s understanding of it is confused by all sorts of religious doctrines that are just plain wrong.

So, here are ten things about reincarnation which I think are valid and reliable and which I believe everyone—East or West—would benefit from knowing:

10 THINGS EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT REINCARNATION

1. THE SOUL EXISTS.

The soul isn’t just a myth or an illusion or a relic of pre-scientific superstition. All human beings are a combination of physical, mortal body and non-physical, immortal soul.
Your soul is the absolute essence of you — the only true answer to the question, “Who am I?” It is who you always are regardless of how you feel or what you believe or how you perceive yourself.
From the body’s perspective, the soul is the conscious, animating life force within it. From the soul’s perspective, the body is a vehicle for inhabiting the physical world and experiencing physical existence.
The soul is pure consciousness, pure energy, pure being. It exists on a timeless, non-physical level of reality. It is a piece of Spirit or God or Source, a spark of divine light and love, a fragment of absolute perfection.

2. THE SOUL EVOLVES.

All souls are on a mission to evolve (grow, develop) through their own experiences and efforts.
To evolve as a soul is to become increasingly self-aware and self-capable as a unique expression of Spirit.
By evolving, the soul changes in its level of beingness and consciousness, from new-born innocence to greater and greater levels of love, power and wisdom. In effect, that which is created rejoins the Creator — after eons of evolution.

3. THE SOUL EVOLVES MOST EFFECTIVELY IN PHYSICAL FORM.

Evolution of the soul comes about through individual experience and choice.
A soul evolves most effectively by facing and making choices as a separate individual, making choices big and small, and experiencing the effects of each choice.
To do so, the soul incarnates — that is, the soul fuses with a physical body for a whole lifetime, from birth to death.
By doing so, the soul gets to experience being physically limited and physically separated from others and from all-that-is. This is actually an illusion, a trick of the senses, as the soul itself is never really limited or separate. But the illusion creates enough desire, fear and other pressures to cause the soul to experience conflicts and dilemmas and to make choices. It also puts the soul’s own perceptions, feelings and decisions under the microscope, as it were.
The experiences and choices of a lifetime serve as lessons for the soul once the life is completed. After death (the soul’s exit from the physical realm), the soul and its guides review what happened during the life and what lessons can be learned from it.
The soul not only reviews its own experiences and choices but also discovers the effects of its own choices on others during the life. For example, the decision to steal a sum of money at one point may have caused the victim significant hardship and anxiety.
The soul learns that all choices have experiential consequences, not just for the self but for everyone involved.

4. THE SOUL UNDERGOES THE FULL RANGE OF MEANINGFUL EXPERIENCES AND CHOICES BY REINCARNATING.

One lifetime is not enough to experience the whole gamut of life circumstances and to make all choices. For example, the soul needs to experience life as both male and female; as both victim and perpetrator; as both student and teacher… Hence, the soul re-incarnates many times over in order to experience the full spectrum of life.
Being human again and again, each time with a different body, different life circumstances and different relationships, enables the soul to experience the full range of possible perspectives and relationships and all the lessons that these entail.
Through many different human experiences, the soul gradually becomes more self-aware, gradually discovers more of its true capabilities (love, power, wisdom), and gradually learns how to overcome the illusory limitations of being physical.
Generally, the soul learns best through a “compare and contrast” process, not through blind repetition. Hence any given lifetime may be completely different in some way from the last one. (From the soul’s point of view, there is little value in repeating the same kind of life again and again — unless, that is, there is a specific lesson within that lifestyle which has yet to be learned — in which case, Groundhog Day is an excellent metaphor).
Each human lifetime is an opportunity to learn specific lessons. One lifetime, for example, might focus on learning greater self-responsibility while the next might focus on being kinder to others. If in one lifetime the soul experiences being a man with a lot of power over women, say, it would then be of value to contrast that with the experience of being a powerless woman.
The soul has no preference for one side of the equation or the other, since both sides help draw out different aspects of the soul.

5. THE SOUL HAS NO NATIONALITY, CREED, RACE OR GENDER.

There is no such thing as a Jewish soul or a Chinese soul or whatever. We are just souls, and as souls we are free to experience the whole variety of human cultures across the planet.
We choose our birth location, race and nationality to suit our purposes for any given lifetime. Sometimes race and creed are a deliberate choice; at other times they are merely incidental to what the life is about.
Because the soul learns through a process of “compare and contrast”, one who has just experienced a life as (say) an Israeli soldier might decide to be (say) a Palestinian orphan in the next.
There is no such thing as a male soul or a female soul. Gender is a biological phenomenon, not a spiritual one. Human beings are of two sexes and so we have to choose which one to be before each life begins.
Because we want to experience, compare and contrast all possible perspectives, we will choose to experience lives as both men and women. We can be male or female as often as we please. We can be male in one lifetime and female the next. Or we can be male for ten lifetimes and female for the next fifty lifetimes. It is all a matter of choice. Even if we have a strong preference for one gender, we will still tend to incarnate as the other gender every now and then, just to maintain a balanced perspective.

6. THE SOUL STICKS TO ONE SPECIES AT A TIME.

Contrary to certain teachings, the souls of human beings reincarnate only as human beings.
That’s not to say we did not experience life in simpler life forms before that. But at some point in our earlier evolution, we selected the human species as our vehicle of choice (no pun intended) to evolve as self-aware individuals.
The soul’s mission is to expand in consciousness, and there is no value for the soul already at the human level in experiencing life at a “sub-human” level of consciousness. There may be rare exceptions where a soul who is normally human experiments with being a dolphin, say, but as a rule we do not return as insects or cows or blades of grass or what have you. We are spiritual beings on a human journey, learning to be ourselves through human experiences, human relationships and human choices.

7. EACH LIFETIME IS PRE-PLANNED.

Before taking birth, the soul (along with its guides in spirit) will decide what experiences and choices the life should include.
The appropriate circumstances and relationships will be chosen and set up with the cooperation and agreement of other souls who will be involved.
For example, let’s say the soul wants to experience being compassionate towards children. The soul may decide that the life to come should include its own childhood experience of abandonment by the mother. This would help drive the personality in adult life to want to help abandoned children. Another soul will then agree, out of love, to be the mother who abandons this soul in childhood.
Most major events in life are pre-planned: the birth, the family, the school, the relationships, the career and so on. This includes deaths, accidents and illnesses. There is, however, plenty of room for unplanned things to occur. The choices we make on the ground matter far more than “destiny”.
The body is also chosen by the soul before birth. Souls are aware of which foetuses are viable and which are not, and which are going to be terminated before birth. (Hence, abortion is not really ‘murder’.)
Some lifetimes are explicitly set up for the soul to undergo a particular learning experience (such as being a teacher, for example), while some are actually undertaken for the benefit of others‘ learning experiences.
For example, we might opt to live a life as a much-loved child who suddenly dies while still young, purely in order to help another soul undergo the experience of tragic loss.

8. THERE IS A LAW OF KARMA…

… but it is not like many people think it is.
If soul A kills soul B in one lifetime, then in a later lifetime soul B will kill soul A. That is the effect of karma.
But karma is not (repeat not) about cosmic justice or divine retribution. From the perspective of Spirit, there is no need for cosmic justice because there is no such thing as cosmic injustice.
Karma is really about learning through “entanglement”. If I do something in physical life that violates your free will, we become entangled. We both feel the lack of equilibrium between us. It’s like we have become tied together by a rope. The only way to restore equilibrium is to undo the entanglement—by having you violate my free will in a similar way. That way, we both know from experience what it is like to be both the violator and the violated.
Souls tend to commit karmic acts in the early stages of their reincarnations when they have less experience of human existence.
Typical karmic acts are: murder, rape, dismemberment, imprisonment, abandonment.
In all cases, one person imposes something on another against the other’s will. There is no karmic entanglement for acts that are accidental or not by choice.

9. REINCARNATION HAS A BEGINNING AND AN END.

Contrary to certain teachings, we are not tied to a wheel of endless death and rebirth, to be saved only by renouncing the world and seeking spiritual liberation.
The whole journey of evolving through reincarnation begins with us at a certain level and ends once we reach another level. It takes (typically) well over 100 lifetimes. From first human life to last requires thousands of years, depending upon the availability of physical bodies.
In spirit, the whole path is clear to us and we know exactly what we are doing. Each lifetime is a deliberate adventure and is undertaken out of love and a desire to evolve.

10. THERE IS NO URGENCY.

Contrary to what many teach on the subject, there is no urgency for us to become enlightened, or to complete our reincarnational cycle.
It is not “better” to evolve quickly over a few lives than to evolve slowly over many lives.
Reincarnation is not a challenge to reach the end of evolution as quickly as possible.
We are not “caught” in the cycle of human death and rebirth.
The physical world is not a hell-hole to be climbed out of.
God is not wishing we would get a move on.
From the perspective of Spirit, there is no passage of time. Time is just a perceptual phenomenon for us while in physical form. Souls literally do not care how many thousands of years it takes to get from one level of reincarnation to another. The passage of time in human terms is, to the soul, irrelevant.

A FINAL WORD

I would also add one more correction to certain teachings: souls do not normally reincarnate instantly after death. Usually there is a period of several years or decades between one life and the next, during which the soul recuperates, considers the lessons learned from the last life and plans its next one.

It should come as no surprise to learn that we have had a past life, or even many past lives. The only ones who haven’t lived a previous life are those at the very beginning of the reincarnational cycle. The only ones who aren’t coming back after this life are those at the very end of the cycle.

Reincarnation is the norm for all human beings. It is universal. It is what we are all doing here.

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A Look at Reincarnation

What happens to us when we die? It’s a question everyone eventually asks themselves at some point in their life. It transcends racial, social, political, economic and gender lines, making it the one question common to all human beings whether we like it or not.

Yet ever since the first men and woman began pondering their mortality a hundred thousand years ago, the answer has eluded us. What does happen when we die? What becomes of our soul, our mind, our personality – our very essence? For that matter, do we even have such a thing as a soul, or is it all an illusion we have created to give ourselves a sense of permanence and the hope of immortality?

The rationalist answers this query by proclaiming that since we are nothing more than a collection of cells and our brains simply tissue encased within a mantle of bone, nothing can happen to us when we die. The essence, personality, mind – soul – or whatever we wish to call our consciousness, ceases to exist, endowing our time on this planet with no more meaning than that which we choose to give it during our brief sojourn here. This is, of course, the position of the atheist, which is what makes atheism, in my opinion, so easy. It requires nothing because it offers nothing, which strikes me as a fair trade.

To most people, however, this answer is unsatisfactory. It suggests that we are little more than some great cosmic accident and that, consequently, our life has no ultimate purpose, forcing us to contemplate an existence without meaning in a universe that, despite all its beauty and splendour, has no more significance – or ultimate permanence – than a flower that briefly blooms in the spring only to wither and die after a few short days of vibrant life.

I suppose there are people for whom such a prospect is acceptable. It does, after all, tidy things up and make life simply a little game we sentient beings like to play for no particularly good reason other than because we have no choice. Yet something deep within the human heart knows better. We instinctively understand that we are more than the sum of our parts, which is why most people believe their personalities will survive their physical demise in some form and will continue on long after their bones have turned to dust. This, of course, brings us to our second option, which is that the personality/ego/true self/whatever you want to call it does survive the demise of the body to exist – at least for a time – as a separate disembodied consciousness. If this is the case, however, the next question that logically follows is what happens next?

Some believe, for example, that we become ghosts – little more than disembodied spirits aimlessly wandering the Earth, capable of perceiving the physical realm but unable to interact with it in any meaningful way. They can even point to various evidences to support this contention, from reported hauntings to automatic writing, séances, and apparent disembodied spirits caught on film.

While I personally have no problem with the idea of ghosts, I don’t think existing as a disembodied consciousness is truly a viable long-term option for what happens to us. Ghosts always struck me as being transitory; beings stuck on the Earth plane for a time only to ultimately move on and so essentially vanish from our physical realm. As such, even if we are to become ghosts, it will be, at least for the vast majority of us, a brief experience and not our eternity. I suspect we all eventually move on to ‘greener pastures’, so to speak.

Now, however, is where things get more interesting. Most people, regardless of whether they believe in ghosts or not, believe that the essence of who we are – our “soul” if you will – goes some place. Heaven is the favoured destination for most; a place where our conscious personality, no longer shackled to the limitations and burdens of physical existence, survives within a perpetual state of bliss and joy throughout eternity. Some add to this by also embracing a belief in hell; a perpetual state of torment for those who turn to evil and so are doomed to exist forever within a conscious state of agony, regret, and fear.

Both positions, however, suffer from the same problem, and that is that they see our time here on this planet as but a blink of the eye of eternity, with the decisions we make – or fail to make – while in the body having profound and eternal ramifications. Unfortunately, this reduces the physical world to little more than a cosmic hatchery that exists only to birth new souls, each of which will spend a short time in it before winging – or, potentially, plunging – to their ultimate destiny.

While admittedly this idea does manage to make this single life of paramount importance, it also forces one to wonder why a physical realm is necessary at all. If the physical universe exists merely as a vehicle for our creation, why couldn’t the process be circumvented entirely and we be created directly into the spiritual realm – as was supposedly the case with God’s angels?

Why all the unnecessary pain and hardship of a physical existence – especially if there exists the very real danger that we might earn hell through our misdeeds – if the spirit realm is the only destination that awaits us? In such a context, physical existence seems not only pointless but, in many ways, even hazardous.

So where does that leave us? If no Heaven and if no Hell, then what’s left?

There is a third position to consider. It is one that until recently has been largely ignored in the West but has been embraced by literally billions of people around the world for thousands of years. It is the belief that this physical existence is neither insignificant nor transient, but instead is perpetually ongoing. It is the concept that our soul lives on not in some ethereal Eden – or Hades – somewhere, but realises perpetual existence through a process of continual rebirths into the physical realm, making our time on this planet not one single, brief experience, but a repetitive process realised through literally hundreds of lifetimes. It is a timeless belief – one that predates both Christianity and Islam by many centuries – and one that is known by many names in many cultures. It’s been called rebirth, regeneration, transmigration of the soul, even metempsychosis, but is perhaps best known to us today as reincarnation.

Upon first consideration, especially to those who haven’t given the idea great thought, reincarnation may seem to be a foreign or exotic concept, especially to the Western mind steeped in the scientific method and drenched in two thousand years of monotheistic religion. It is something for Hindu holy men to ponder, or New Agers to embrace, but nothing that seems particularly relevant to most Westerners today.

I can easily understand this perspective for it is one I held myself for the first forty years of my life. And the truth be told, it is an Eastern concept – one in vogue more than four millennia before Christ was born and a belief held to by nearly two billion of the world’s population today – making it one of the oldest and most enduring belief systems known to man. In fact, it may be the original post-mortem belief among early humans who probably considered the idea when they began noticing strong similarities between recently born offspring and their deceased ancestors. Perhaps the mannerisms or interests a child displayed reminded one of a deceased loved one or a birthmark mimicked that found on a long-dead grandparent, leading village elders to imagine that the dead ancestor had returned a second time – a not unreasonable assumption in cultures that naturally assumed the soul to be inherently immortal.

Unfortunately, Westerners have traditionally had a tendency to consider foreign or primordial religious concepts as primitive and so reject them out of hand. However, this perception appears to be slowly changing as reincarnationist beliefs have become more prevalent in the West, especially in the last fifty years, and is becoming increasingly popular to ever growing numbers of people.

A Lost Western Tradition of How the Soul Returns

Of course, unbeknownst to most people, reincarnation has always been a part of Western thought. The prospect that the soul repeatedly returns to the flesh flourished in ancient Greece almost three thousand years ago and may have played a far more important role in our development as a civilisation than traditional histories have led us to believe. Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, and Pythagoras all taught and believed in some form of rebirth, the foundations of which were later adopted by the great Roman philosophers Ovid, Virgil, and Cicero, along with a host of other great thinkers of antiquity.

In fact, reincarnationist concepts were so prevalent in the centuries immediately preceding the birth of Christ, that they played a major role in many of the “mystery” religions of the Mediterranean; religions which were themselves to become the template for other later mystical faith systems of the region. Reincarnation, then, far from being a purely foreign concept was, in fact, widespread and may have strongly influenced the shape and thrust of Greek and Roman philosophy.

Even more of a surprise to many people, however, is the fact that reincarnationist concepts were also part of some of the more mystical branches of traditional Western religion, from the Sufis of Islam to the Gnostics of the early centuries of Christianity, and even within the Hasidic and Kabbalist traditions in Judaism. In fact, at times it virtually flourished and, especially in the case of Christianity, almost became the predominant belief system during the first few centuries of the Church’s existence until it was forced underground by the more traditional, non-reincarnationist branches of Christianity. Its proponent’s writings declared heretical and burned, the concept was so successfully suppressed by the Church of Rome that few Christians today even realise it was ever a part of their own faith.

Why was it suppressed? The obvious answer is because it threatened authority. Western religion is largely dependent upon the belief that man is destined to “die once and then be judged” to maintain control. In promising multiple rebirths, however, reincarnation renders the proclamations of the Pope or the Grand Mufti or whomever was the ruling head at the time transitory and, the truth be told, irrelevant. As such, reincarnation threatened the Church’s very livelihood, making it a very dangerous idea that had to be either suppressed or labelled as heretical in order for the Church to maintain its power base. As a result, the concept remained largely unknown outside of Asia for probably seventeen of the last twenty-one centuries.

Its revival in the West was imminent, however, with the arrival of the Age of Enlightenment in the eighteenth century. Once the long forgotten writings of the ancient Greeks again became available and one could hold to previously forbidden ideas without forfeiting their lives, such once forbidden concepts as reincarnation became increasingly popular, especially among the intellectual elite of the era. Amongst those who held to some form of multiple rebirths are such notables as Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Benjamin Franklin, Shakespeare, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Voltaire, among others.

Interpreting What it Means to Reincarnate

However, since its reintroduction into the Western consciousness, reincarnation has undergone a transformation. It is no longer the unending “cycle of life” wheel taught by the Hindus and Buddhists, but has become a “school of higher education” designed to bring us to ever greater levels of spiritual enlightenment. This is why when a Hindu or a Buddhist and their fellow Western reincarnationist talk about the subject, it often appears as though they are speaking two different languages. This is because in some ways they are, which is where the confusion comes in.

To the Hindu, the soul is essentially stuck in a never ending cycle of rebirth which can never be broken due to the continual need to balance one’s karma. In effect, with each incarnation into the flesh, the human personality – a by-product of the underlying soul that birthed it – accumulates a degree of bad karma that must be worked off in order to restore balance to itself. Some of this karma can be worked off in life in the form of good works, but this is seldom sufficient to work off the entire debt, which must be accounted for in the next life by having the soul take on an incarnation that may be more difficult so the ongoing karmic debt can be worked off.

On rare occasions, a life may be so exemplary that the person might be born into a higher station (or caste in Hindu parlance) but as a rule, bad karma tends to outweigh good karma and, in being continually accumulated through each lifetime, adds to the growing debt that remains to be balanced and so perpetuating the rebirth cycle. (Of course, if one accumulates too much bad karma, they may not be reborn as a person at all, but could come back as an animal or even, in some teachings, an inanimate object such as a stone. This belief is called “transmigration of the soul” and is also a major element of Hindu teachings.)

Buddhism, on the other hand, while understanding the process of reincarnation in much the same way as does the Hindu, differs in that it teaches that the cycle of rebirth can be broken through achieving nirvana (literally, enlightenment), at which point the cycle is broken.

Enlightenment means essentially to be become aware of one’s true nature and to the realities contained within the Four Noble Truths as articulated by Gautama Buddha over two thousand years ago. These are: first, to be alive is to suffer due to the imperfection of human nature and the world around us; second, that the cause of suffering is attachment to transient things (in effect, craving or desiring things); third, that one can learn to let go of these attachments; and, finally, that the process of achieving enlightenment is progressive and may itself extend over many lifetimes.

In sharp contrast, to many Western reincarnationists, the purpose of rebirth is to learn the lessons we need to learn in each incarnation in order to advance to the next spiritual level which, while having some similarities to the Buddhist concept of slowly achieving enlightenment over a number of incarnations by practicing the Buddha’s Eightfold Path (right view, right intentions, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration), is actually quite different.

The Buddhist does not believe that one is “learning” new lessons with each lifetime, but simply applying the principles contained within the Eightfold Path until craving, ignorance, delusions and its effects gradually disappear as progress is made towards enlightenment. To the Western mindset, attachment is not seen as the source of the problem (though it does generally acknowledge that an obsessive attachment to things can be detrimental to spiritual growth).

Another significant difference between Eastern and Western concepts of reincarnation have to do with the perception of what it is, exactly, that is reincarnating. The Hindu sees the soul – the divine essence of God – as being the generator of each incarnation, with the individual personality or ego a transient expression of that soul.

In marked contrast, the Buddhist doesn’t believe in individualised souls at all, but believes the sense of self is merely an illusion created by our own perceptions – a conscious “memory” if you will, conceived by our assumption that we exist separately. To the Buddhist, we are all a part of a larger, divine consciousness that has simply taken on the very brief “illusion” that it is separate. The Buddhists compare our sense of existence to the waves upon the ocean; just as a wave is a temporary phenomena caused by wind and currents, our personality is equally as transient and is, upon death, absorbed back into the divine consciousness in the same way that a wave upon the ocean is eventually swallowed up by the ocean itself.

In the West, however, the personality – or ego – is more robust and generally considered immortal. To many, the soul and the personality are considered essentially synonymous, so as a result, when we die, our basic personality – complete with all its memories, life experiences, knowledge, and traits – returns in another body to continue its existence. It may not have a direct memory of its past life – though some people claim to be possess the ability to consciously remember their previous incarnations – but it is essentially the same personality starting life over again in another context.

The personality may experience dramatically new surroundings – for example, it may experience one incarnation as an Indian girl who lived and died in the nineteenth century and then return as a Spanish man in the twentieth century – but it is still the same “person” underlying each “role.” Of course, the experiences and environment it finds itself in through each subsequent incarnation will affect the base personality in both subtle and sometimes substantial ways, but this too is a part of the process. This is why the Westerner sees reincarnation in the context of “lessons.” After all, the Indian girl was able to experience and learn only so much in her short time on Earth, mandating that she return again – this time as a Spanish male – to learn those things she either neglected to learn or hadn’t the opportunity to learn in her previous incarnation.

This makes spiritual enlightenment a type of “to do” list that needs to be checked off in its entirety before we can cease the process of rebirth. (What happens after that is equally open to speculation among Westerners: some imagine we come back as avatars or spiritual teachers; others speculate that we start the process over again on another planet, while still others maintain that we move onto other dimensions. Apparently, the options available to the enlightened soul are extensive.)

Maybe in the end we were never meant to fully understand how reincarnation works, and that may be where the adventure really begins. Perhaps the question of what happens to us when we die was never meant to be answered but merely explored, for it is in seeking – not necessarily finding – the answer that growth can take place.

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