The New Age movement understands death and the afterlife in a multitude of ways, but all forms of the New Age uphold belief in the continuation of the individual after death. Additionally, New Age practitioners tend to possess a generally positive view of death as merely a doorway to the next life, though this is not to say that individual New Agers grieve any less over the loss of a loved one, or face their own deaths with any less anxiety than members of other religions. But because most New Agers accept some form of reincarnation, the belief that the human soul takes on a succession of births, they tend to view death as merely a step toward another life. This softens the finality of death, as compared to traditions that uphold more linear views of a single life followed by an afterlife.
New Agers generally accept a form of reincarnation that has clearly developed from antecedents in Hinduism and Buddhism. Historically speaking, the 19th-century new religion Theosophy helped spread this belief from Asia to America, and the New Age adopted its belief in reincarnation from that tradition. In keeping with the Theosophical interpretation of reincarnation, New Age practitioners believe that the soul reincarnates through a succession of lives as it evolves from a lower state of spiritual awareness toward a higher one. The New Age adds to this understanding a belief that the individual soul subconsciously determines its own rebirth in accordance with its spiritual needs. Like the New Age understanding of karma, its view of reincarnation assumes a pedagogical purpose to rebirth. The soul incarnates as needed in order to learn from the world and develop itself to the highest possible extent.
New Agers tend to view incarnation as a human being on earth as only one option for a reincarnating soul. Most New Age practitioners believe that souls can take life on a variety of planets and planes of existence. Some New Age traditions, such as the Ramtha School of Enlightenment, believe that souls might reincarnate on distant worlds, whereas other movements, such as those influenced by the Seth material, envision a possible rebirth on a spiritual or astral plane of existence. In all cases, the New Ager hopes to achieve a better and more evolved rebirth so as continue individual self-development. Generally New Agers believe that the power of mind will permit such a rebirth, and merely being aware of the possibility offers the chance of doing so. Other New Agers recommend particular practices, such as meditation, while still others recommend the accumulation of positive karma.
The belief in reincarnation has lead to the unique New Age practices of past life regressions and past life therapies. Past life regression encompasses a variety of techniques designed to help an individual remember previous lives. Some New Agers believe that one can achieve this knowledge through self-initiated practices, but many more seek psychics, channelers, or energy healers in order to achieve past life regression. In keeping with the New Age belief that the mind constructs its own reality, New Agers believe that knowledge of one's previous lives brings not only wisdom but control over oneself. Past life therapy goes a step further and seeks to overcome present psychological and sometimes even physical conditions by confronting its causes in previous incarnations.
New Agers tend to focus on the possibilities for rebirth rather than seeking an end to the process, in distinction to the general approach of Hinduism and Buddhism. While some New Age practitioners adapt what they see as the Hindu concept of merging into the universal consciousness of Brahman, and others to what they understand to be the Buddhist notion of dissolution into the peace of nirvana, most hope for fortuitous future incarnations either as humans on earth or in alternative forms of consciousness.
The New Age focus on fortuitous rebirth reflects the movement's overall emphasis on salvation as this-worldly. While some scholars have characterized the New Age tradition as other-worldly and fundamentally rejecting the value of the world, since it characterizes the material world as an illusion constructed by the mind, the prevalence of New Age techniques designed to bring happiness, health, material abundance, and success in one's personal and business lives reveals the New Age tradition as very this-worldly. New Agers tend not to discuss the concept of "salvation," which they reject as a Christian or Jewish-Christian concept, yet in stressing self-development and spiritual advancement, New Age practitioners accept a form of salvation predicated on the progressive evolution of the individual soul in the current and future lives. Though this evolution may take many lifetimes, New Agers look to it as the ultimate goal of human existence.
1. What do New Age followers believe about the afterlife?
2. Describe the relationship between human existence and reincarnation.
3. What is past life regression? How is it achieved?
4. Is the New Age movement “other-worldly,” or “this-worldly”? Why?