As promised the universe and I have finally caught up. Today we will look at one of the core elements of the Buddhist teachings, that of rebirth or reincarnation. Rather than limiting ourselves to just the Buddhist philosophy, I want to expand that idea to look at two other forms of “rebirth” belief, along with the Buddhist belief. I will cover Buddhist and Hindu belief today and in my next blog, a reincarnation thought that may surprise you.
Of the four largest religions; Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, two of them, Hinduism and Buddhism, embrace and teach the precepts of rebirth or reincarnation as core values to their faith.
Buddhism’s views on Reincarnation
The teachings of Buddha in this area focus specifically on the actions a person takes in their lifetime, leading directly to what type of new existence they will reincarnate into after death. Reincarnation, in Buddhist lore is an endless cycle known as “samsara”. This cycle of death and rebirth is considered to be “dukkha” (unsatisfactory and painful). This endless death and rebirth can only be halted by the attainment of liberation or “enlightenment” which can be achieved by reaching insight and the extinguishing of personal desires. The idea of rebirth is foundational to Buddhist thought, along with karma, nirvana, and moksha (freedom from ignorance).
It is reported that Buddha, himself, on attaining enlightenment after those forty-nine days of meditation under the fig [pipal] tree, was then able to recall all his previous lives. He is said to have remembered not just a few past lives, but literally a vast number that stretched back some ninety-one eons (one eon being the equivalent of the lifespan of a solar system).
Karma and Reincarnation
Traditional Buddhist teaching speaks of six possible realms of rebirth (also known as reincarnation or metempsychosis). These six realms (The Gati) include three good realms; Deva (heavenly), Asura (demigod), and Manusya (human). There are also three lower realms Tiryak (animals), Preta (ghosts), and Naraka (hellish). Where you end up after rebirth is totally dependent on one thing – KARMA. Your actions, thoughts and deeds in this and previous lives will determine what realm you will be reborn into in the next life. Good Karma will get you into the three good realms – bad karma, not so great; this theory says you will be heading for the lower realms.
At this stage, I will say that personally I don’t fully agree with the six realms described above, nor the endless suffering concept of “samsara.” Based on my personal experience with animals reincarnating – the story of my show jumper Redbrook returning some years later as Hooray Henry, is fictionalized in my novel Spirit of Prophecy. These two horses had a contract with me to reincarnate in order to allow me to get the ending right the second time around. Animals have souls, and moreover as I intuit it, they form part of our soul group connections and come back offering love to assist us here on Earth [the 3rd physical dimension] and to support us and help us or teach us something we really need to learn.
“A little while, a moment of rest upon the wind, and another woman shall bear me.”
Dogs for instance are a great gift to humanity and examples of what love really is all about. It does not resonate with me that animals – fully sentient beings after all – who feel fear, pain, but who are all too often abused, abandoned, [eaten!], yet still they show up, forgive the suffering inflicted on them, and express love and joy [in the main] : that they are supposedly a ‘lower’ species. People who abuse those smaller and more helpless [animals] or the innocent [children] have plenty of seriously heavy karma to shift – deservedly, and so it is! Equally, I don’t imagine that simply turning a blind eye and choosing to ignore rather than acting to stop/prevent/report/expose such abuse, will go entirely un-noticed. Maybe next time around those adopting passive “whatever,” not-my-problem strategies, will get to experience abuse themselves plus what it feels like when no-one responds to their sobs, let-alone steps up to help or support them? Living in the now, and being positive also requires paying attention, and the intention to stay in alignment with your divine souls’ integrity, and willingness to empathize and walk in another person’s shoes, surely?
A central Buddhist message on reincarnation, resonant here, is the justification for following the precepts of good karma. They take a totally pragmatic approach known as the “wager argument”:
1. We wager that karma is true and good moral actions in this life will get us a happier rebirth:
- If it is true – we will have a happy life in the next life.
- If it is not true – we are praised by the world, in this life, for our upright and moral actions.
2. We wager that karma is not true and how we live today makes no difference at all to anything in the next life:
- If karma is true – we are unhappy in the next life.
- If karma is not true – we are condemned by people for our actions in this life.
Based on this reckoning it is easy to see why people might choose to believe in Karma and many Buddhist principles in general. If we lead a moral and upright life, we either reap our rewards in this life or the next – that, in my view is what is called a “win-win” situation.
Hinduism and Reincarnation
Next, I want to touch briefly on the role reincarnation plays in Hindu thought and teaching, bearing in mind that both Buddhism and Hinduism grew out of the ancient Vedic principles.
The basic precept that differentiates reincarnation in Hinduism, as opposed to Buddhism, is the idea of the soul. In Hinduism, the body dies, but the soul does not. In this respect I land more in the Hindu camp, I guess, as Buddhism does not explicitly recognize a soul as existing separately from the human being. The concept of Karma, however, is just as important in Hindu belief as it is in Buddhist. Good intent and actions lead to a good future whereas bad intent and actions lead to a less auspicious future.
In the afterlife the soul is believed to be reborn (based on your Karma) into one of three realms: Heaven, Hell, or Earth (as either a human or an animal). It is important to note that wherever you are reborn, it is only temporary. Gods also die again, once their stored karma has been used up. The same is true for those sent to Hell. Everyone gets another chance, back on Earth, to do it all again, in an endless cycle. Like Buddhism, this cycle can only be broken after one embarks on a spiritual journey, gains deep self-knowledge and thereby gains moksha (liberation, freedom, release), believed to be a state of “utter bliss”. In Hindu tradition, this state of utter bliss is identical to what is known as Brahman. Brahman is described as, the “pervasive, genderless, infinite, eternal truth, which never changes and yet is the cause of all changes. It is a metaphysical concept that is seen as the single binding unity of all diversity that exists in the Universe.” Perhaps the best definition I’ve read of Brahman is that it is the unchanging reality that existed before the creation of the Universe, exists today and will still exist long after the Universe has disappeared.
Although different Hindu and Buddhist sects exist that teach differing ways of approaching rebirth and of how to achieve enlightenment, it is easy to see that both religions approach the topic in very similar ways and that the inviolable principles of karma, reincarnation and enlightenment run through every school of thought. There are, of course, other religions, offshoots and philosophies that embrace the idea of reincarnation, including, but not limited to; Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism, Yoruba, Native American Tribes, and even to a limited extent in some Christian denominations.
So, there we have it – a brief look at the Buddhist and Hindu views of reincarnation. In my next blog I will introduce you to another view of reincarnation – one that may surprise you a little. Make sure not to miss that one.
I hope you enjoyed us scratching the surface of this fascinating subject, and I would definitely encourage you to do some research and reading if it has piqued your interest to know more. Alternatively feel free to contact me through the website with your questions or leave comments on this blog.
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