Friday, March 18, 2005

What About Reincarnation?

I sort of used to be a Buddhist, and with them, reincarnation is a proven fact: there's lots of very well attested and documented records among them of people who visit the environment of a previous lifetime and demonstrate a familiarity well beyond the realm of ordinary possibility. I'm sure you heard or read much of this material (a good source in this respect is Sogyal Rinpoche's Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, one of the best-written guides to death and its experiential aura ever produced--I have a copy and in fact quoted him in the last chapter of the HP book).

That stuff is pretty compelling, but I found that reincarnation reduced to the level of belief became for me a kind of catechism, a doctrine to be followed rather than experienced. By the time I became a Buddhist I had already encountered Roger Woolger's work: he's a Jungian psychotherapist who wrote a book called Other Lives, Other Selves that documents his clinical work in leading people into their past lives. I met him at the NY Open Center about 18 years ago, and watched him as he gave the most compelling demonstration of past-life regression that I have ever witnessed (more than one, actually). I wanted to try it myself, but didn't have the money to afford his fees and never quite got around to really attempting it on myself. Woolger said that he had no opinion about reincarnation, because he saw this form of regression as a clinical instrument, a method that helped people feel better.

Working with the I Ching, I've come to a less structured and more embracing way of understanding the life of consciousness that continues after the death of a living being in form (this goes, of course, for humans and all other life-forms). My meditation experience with Lao Tzu, which I wrote about in one of the chapters of the new book, tended to confirm a general impression that consciousness continues after death (to this day, I quite commonly feel my old, beloved cat Lou jumping onto the bed beside me, and hear his purring--sometimes I'll look or feel about in the dark for him, the sensation is so clear).

But it's not about a progression of lives, birth to death to birth to death to birth, ad infinitum or until you gain enough karmic merit to enter Nirvana--that seems to me an ideological simplification of a truly quantum and time-defying process. I think we can, for example, experience the consciousness of people or beings who haven't lived yet in linear time, or of the consciousness of entire nations, peoples, species, or planets. We both already know from experience that we can directly feel the presence, hear the voice, and sense the feelings of those who are alive but physically distant from us: this, too, tells us of the extraordinary motility and energy of consciousness--it leaps through time and space and across the boundaries of self and other. That's why the so-called string theory of modern physics appeals to me: not, though, because I'd like to imagine the Cosmos as consisting of physical threads of infinite matter. I'm far more attracted to the idea of the vibration of the strings, the music that they produce: that, to me, is the reality of string theory; because that helps to explain my experience. I feel as if every time I consult the I Ching, for example, in a mindful attitude of sincerity and openness, one (or more) of those strings is "plucked" and I hear the resonant music of the Cosmic Teacher.

1 comment:

Freya said...

all things that are made, are made of the number of those things.

music notes are also made of things which have numerical values.

musical numeric values are similar to the numeric values of prayer.