More on Karma and Rebirth

Okay, I said I’d get back to this topic and so to prevent the accumulation of (more!) bad karma, here I go.

First a quick Katagiri memory. I remember at least once (and can’t remember now if it’s in Keep Me in Your Heart or not), Roshi put his hands in gassho (palms together, fingertips about at nose level) and said, “I vow next life to return as a human being to suffer because I love it.”

I’ve puzzled about the various contradictions in that statement for years, mostly loving it. Do with it what you will.

Next, I fully admit that I don’t know – about rebirth that is. I’m an agnostic on the issue. But I have a story that Roshi thought reflected a past life (and another that he thought involved a god-realm being … but that’s for another day).

I was in France in 1989. I’d just completed a month at Plum Village and was driving across France with my significant other and having a wonderful time. Then one morning just as we began driving into northeastern France, I began to feel uneasy. In addition to doing my Zen thing with the feelings, I scanned my psychological environment for a clue about what might be setting this off. No clue was found.

The unease got much more intense as we drove until I was having a mild panic attack by the end of the day. Still no explanation.

I had been very relaxed and was really enjoying the trip. The anxiety seemed to come out of the blue.

In the late afternoon, I realized that we were sometimes paralleling the trenches from WWI. Then I got the idea that maybe the anxiety was related to where I was physically, not what was going on emotionally, relationally, or in my internal dialogue.

That helped a little bit and I was able to be with the anxiety a bit more.

About 5pm we found our country hotel, hauled our bags into our room, and went for a walk. Without knowing what we were doing, we suddenly found ourselves walking into what must have been a WWI trench. The rim facing west was higher so I surmised that it was a German trench. My anxiety exploded and I sat down for quite a while and breathed. Gradually the anxiety subsided and then disolved.

I made it back to the room with the help of my friend and we had a lovely French dinner and talked all this over. I’m about 25% German this life and one idea we kicked around was that I had been German a couple lives ago and died in that trench. Maybe I was progressively working through “German” karma (no offense intended to the German reader) and had whittled it down from 100% to 25%.

I expected that I might have a dream clarifying the whole, strange episode. I even held back on the wonderful French wine! But sadly (for my wine consumption) in the morning, remembered nothing.

In the morning, we found an WWI cemetery with what appeared to be German soldier graves and sat zazen with them, in part hoping some light might be shed on the mystery. But again were disappointed.

Never had an anxiety attack again. To date, anyway.

That’s my story. The impact now, twenty years later, is that my skeptic heart is open to the possibility of rebirth. Like I said, I’m agnostic.

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