Meditations: Reincarnation - Fact but not Truth?
Reincarnation: A Fact but not the Truth?
An inventor--a man whose name I happily forget but who was called “Edison’s successor” by the interviewer—claimed recently that in 30 or 40 years science will be capable of making us immortal. The issue for 50-somethings like himself, he intoned, is to stay alive long enough to stay alive forever.
Is it really necessary to repeat the obvious: that death is an intrinsic, inherent, and inescapable part of life? Yes, when such a horrifying possibility as this exists. Through reverse-engineering the mechanisms in the human brain that store and organize memory into a more or less coherent self, we will, theoretically, be duplicated and downloaded, thus becoming “immortal.”
First, continuity is not immortality. It is accrual and decay. The prospect of perpetuating one’s self in the circuitry of a computer is a fate worse than death. It is not life, and it is not death. It’s some kind of netherworld where the essential, animating, intangible aspects of life have been stripped away, leaving only the husks of humanness.
Many take solace in the idea that we may be a long way from replicating self-consciousness in computers, as if self-consciousness is the precious jewel that makes us human. But I don’t think the trick of self-referential, closed-loop thought will be that difficult to master. In any case, there are much more important questions to consider, questions like the meaning of death, reincarnation, and immortality.
Life is not worth living without mystery, which is a completely different characteristic than mysteriousness. (Science is concerned with mysteries in the latter sense.) And the biggest mystery is death. Without dying (which makes it too late), and without trying to make it a matter of scientific knowledge, can we understand death?
The self clings to so-called life, and so thought may continue in some form after death. Not necessarily as an individual entity, much less in some supernatural place, but perhaps in a vast reservoir of collective consciousness, carried on seemingly ad infinitum by and in the living generations. From this pool, do some threads resurface, and that’s what is known as reincarnation?
I read an interesting quote along these lines the other day: “Reincarnation is a fact, but it’s not the truth.” I understand that to mean that reincarnation exists as a wheel of ignorance that humankind is chained to, which is killing the planet and the human spirit. Therefore it’s not just a matter of individual concern that we free ourselves of the wheel of ignorance. The future of humanity depends on our doing so.
Death is and will always be a crucial part of life. Is what we call death an infinite ground which preceded the universe, from which the cosmos arose, and to which everything is going? Is death, faced while embracing life, synonymous with awareness, love, and God? What reason to fear it then?
It’s mid-day, and the sun slowly crosses the sky, the sunlight passing over the dense foliage like water passing over the pebbles and stones of the stream. It’s all the same movement, and if thought is very quiet and the brain very attentive, one is part of that movement--of life and death.
It isn’t man’s knowledge of death that makes us afraid, as anthropologists have often said. (If animals only knew, they would be afraid too, we think.) Rather, it is the desire for permanence in life or after life that puts us in existential conflict with the universal fact of death.
Though just early afternoon, it’s already very hot. In the shade next to the stream it’s pleasant, but a half hour walk along the dusty paths drenches you in sweat.
I lie on my back in the shallow stream and float down with the current, looking up through the canopy of oaks and sycamores to the cerulean sky. For 100 meters or so, my sandals don’t touch the stones, and I hold my breath.
Like an electric jolt, the insight hits me: if one totally lets go, this is what death feels like. The movement, stillness, light, color, and silence carry you on an immeasurable current to the ocean.
Letting death come near, one sees there is nothing to fear. In awakening fully, and dissolving the past completely, there is just awareness. Then there is no need to reincarnate, for we consciously rejoin that from which we came. Isn’t this journey of awareness what it truly means to be a human being?
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: email@example.com. The author welcomes comments.