What little I know about reincarnation

Reincarnation is a standard concept in Hinduism and pretty common in the wider Pagan world, but I have long been agnostic about it. As a kid it didn’t make much sense to me, but then, neither did the ideas of heaven and hell.

The afterlife was a giant unknown – no one ever came back to tell us what really happens, so why let the hope or fear of an afterlife encourage us in the here-and-now? Any devotion to a god should be done for the virtue and blessings in this life. The concept of being a Christian so that one could get into heaven always struck me as sucking up to the popular kids to get invited to the cool party – really shallow and likely to be disappointing.

Reincarnation didn’t make sense because there are WAY more humans now than there ever have been, so maybe bugs are really living right and advancing quickly? Most people I heard or read about when talking about their past lives were always Exotic and Awesome. We can’t all have been Cleopatra or Julius Caesar, John Dee or Queen Elizabeth.

I made peace with reincarnation when I started contemplating the Cycle of Life. We die, dissolve into the earth, feed the worms and birds and bugs, they in turn feed other creatures and the soil. We eat animals and vegetables that ate that land or those creatures and they become part of us. What we eat literally becomes part of us: our bones, our blood. While pregnant that point was driven home even further, as a baby is built from my bones, my blood, my flesh. This seems like a form of reincarnation, even if it’s the most scientific of understandings.

As for the recycling of souls….. I’m not sure. I don’t have a good grasp of how all the Parts break down after death.

However, off and on throughout my life I’ve wondered if maybe……. just maybe….. there’s something to this reincarnation thing. I don’t understand where my almost obsessive drive to dive into the spiritual realm comes from. It doesn’t make sense in the context of my upbringing. Sure, becoming a Christian in modern America feels like a religious rite of passage. But my longings go much deeper than wanting to be Right about God or being saved or wanting a happy church community (the last two are perfectly fine goals; the first one leaves a lot to be desired, but is sadly all too common). I’ve meandered through mainstream evangelical Christianity (please note the lower case e) to Eastern Orthodox Christianity to liberal feminist Christianity to dabbling in general paganism to Feri to Feri AND traditional witchcraft AND Tantric Hinduism. What the hell am I doing? And why am I doing it?

I’ve been in the middle of an ongoing and extremely helpful discussion on devotion with my spiritual teachers. One of them said something to me that got me thinking about this topic once again. Perhaps this drive for devotion and spirituality is because I’ve been working at this for many lifetimes. I’ve often thought that if reincarnation is real, then I was likely a monk or a nun, or one of each. I have a strong scholarly drive, but once I was working on my PhD I realized that it is not the life for me. I feel a little bit like ‘I’ve done this before, I don’t need to do this again.’ With Christianity I feel as if I’ve gone as far as I can go.

Some might explain the urgings of my heart as God calling to Himself. But I know many people – spiritual and non – who don’t have these urges. If there is One God then this reason smacks of predestination, which is, in my opinion, the theology of an asshole god.

Maybe the urges of my heart are louder and clearer because I’m listening and so many people ignore their own heart (or don’t have the privilege to listen), so I hear the Universe calling to Itself. Oh maybe. But my husband will tell you that I’m only just getting the hang of this listening thing.

Ultimately I don’t know, and ultimately it doesn’t matter.

Perhaps my past as a monk is the reason that being a mother is so challenging and so important for me in the here-and-now. I don’t have quite the right temperament for the job and as a woman of my time and place, I certainly didn’t need to become one. Yet I’ve chosen it willingly and consider it an intrinsic part of my Self, my life and my practice. I wonder if my past lives of monks, nuns, and priests needed to balanced by being a householder.

Which leads to into my next post: Priest vs Householder.

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About Niki Whiting
  • Bobby Davies

    “Reincarnation didn’t make sense because there are WAY more humans now than there ever have been”

    Seems this could be an urban myth!!

    http://io9.com/5882375/are-there-really-more-people-alive-now-than-have-ever-lived

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram myownashram

      So, I wasn’t meaning that in some mathematical way, where there are more people alive at this time than there have ever been altogether. I just mean, that there we have more people alive now than there have been at any one time before. Sure a case could be made that as we’re offing other lifeforms at an alarming rate, maybe those lifeforms are ‘leveling up’ and are now humans. I may have to write a longer post about reincarnation. There’s also an idea of anthropocentrism in this idea that humanity is the pinnacle that doesn’t sit right with me.

  • Niklas Gander

    My “beliefs” about reincarnation are not systematic. There are lots of understandings that have gone into a syncretized vision of the essence that differentiates an inanimate human body (a “corpse”) and a living, breathing person. It ranges from seeing the general conservation of energy and matter, so that energy goes into the energy of other living things like plants, animals, etc., to understanding discrete consciousnesses that transmigrate. You know me: hold at least two contradictory viewpoints before breakfast.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram myownashram

      Ha! I do the same thing too, but my systematic brain revolts. Some times the tension is incredibly helpful. Other times, not so much.

  • surya

    “ o I hear the Universe calling to Itself.” There you go, you said it all !

    (Formless and genderless) Brahman has left a part of It/ Her/ Him in us all and it is called “Self’ or ‘atman’. Once all accrued karmas are resolved through many rebirths then the atman will become Brahman without acquiring any new body and mind (there is no hell/heaven after life). Thats called moksha or liberation. In fact this is how hindus also justify the very core reason for human avatar appearing on the planet. Hindus frequently ask abrahamic adherents, ’so why God took trouble creating a human in the first place, if hell or heaven are the permanent alternatives for after life. Why keep producing ‘new ones’ generation after generation at all, just so to fill up heaven or hell? Why bother creating (humans) at all then?’. I must say, there got to be a good godly (abrahamic) reason that Iam not familiar with.

    Coming to ‘why more humans now’ question, it is likely that overall humans became less of savages and more of humans in last few centuries and they get to live as humans in next life as well. Previously most of them were tossed back to bug’s life for their bugsy karma. Just guessing…

  • Pingback: The Scientific Proof of the Existence of the Soul | I am a_cntrovrc

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  • Anuj

    I don’t consider myself a believer or a non-believer because I don’t know.

    The part about elements transferring from one thing into another thing is interesting. It’s one of the reasons why I find astrophysics very interesting. Basically, the elements in the universe are always constant. The simply move from one place to another. So it is possible to make an argument that an element which used to be part of your left leg is now part of a tree’s branch, a cell phone or a concrete wall. It’s amazing. Sadly it does not answer the real question. Our body is a collection of different elements. What powers this body? The only available answer at the moment is a “soul” but who knows.

    What do you think? What makes a believer?

    • Anuj

      Sorry. It should be “What makes YOU a believer?”

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram myownashram

        Ah, excellent clarification. Do you mean a believer in general? Or regarding reincarnation? Because I’m decidedly agnostic on the reincarnation front.

        • Anuj

          In general. A creepy celestial being watching over all of us. Is it really up there?

          You’ve practised all sorts of religious beliefs for these few years. So maybe you do believe in an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent celestial being. What makes you believe that such a being exists?

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram myownashram

            I definitely don’t believe in a Yahweh-styled god, who is all the omnis. I do believe in a great cosmic ground of being, but I don’t think the Holy Mother (as I refer to her) is personal and reading my thoughts.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram myownashram

      What makes a believer seems to be a different question altogether. What you are talking about regarding particles is exactly what I mean about the possibly scientific ideas regarding reincarnation.

      • Anuj

        Yes, elements are always constant. Reincarnation may have got it right there but the real test for the proponents of reincarnation is to prove if a “soul” indeed exists. If a “soul” doesn’t power a body(a pack of various elements) then what does?

  • surya

    absence of Atman (or the Self) automatically excludes the reincarnation doctrin preached by dharmic faith Hinduism and its offshoots buddhism, sikhism etc. It is the same atman along with the accrued karma thats taking up a newbody or annamaya kosha birth after birth until it is liberated.If a platic bucket gets recycled and a new identical plastic bucket is made out of it, we can technically call it a reincarnation, right? Wrong. It hasnt carried the karma phala or kriya karma at all to the next janma, for it doent have an atman (again which has no form or other physical elements whatsoever) so bucket doesnt qualify the reincarnation lable…rebirths are second chances for sentient beings to right the wrong. Hindus didnt believe in ‘one chance and thats it’ diktum. Humans err and they have to go thru the reform process. No short cuts here. People, the sentient beings, of all faiths will have to resolve the karma.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram myownashram

      This is very clarifying and helpful. I’ll have to think about this.

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