The Mystery of past life- Part 3
By Manik Gupta
This article is third in series about Past Life and Reincarnation
MAJOR RELIGIONS AND REINCARNATION
Where current scientific understanding about reincarnation is evolving with newer researches in the field, let us turn to mainstreamreligions and find what insights they have to offer.
In the New Testament, Jews are depicted as expecting the reincarnation of their great prophets. In fact, followers of Jesus thought that he was a reincarnated prophet.
Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do the people say that I am?” And they answered, “John the Baptist; but others say, Elijah; and others, that one of the old prophets has risen.” (Luke 9.18-19)
Jesus also stated to his followers that prophet Elijah reincarnated as John the Baptist. (Matthew 17.9-13, 11.11-15)
Many early Christian Church fathers believed in and wrote about reincarnations: St. Justin Martyr (100-165 A.D.) stated that the soul inhabits more than one human body. Origen (185-254 A.D.) who was considered by St. Jerome as the “the greatest teacher of the Church after the Apostles”, defended the idea that soul exists before the body, fundamental to the concept of reincarnation.
However, in the second Council of Constantinople (553 AD), the Roman Emperor named Justinian removed reincarnation from official Church doctrine and excommunicated the Church Father Origen who openly supported the idea of reincarnation.
The Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus (37-100 A.D.), wrote that of the three sects of Jews during that era, the Essenes (of Dead Sea Scroll fame) and the Pharisees both believed in reincarnation.
The mystical school of Judaism is called Kabbalah and the teachings are said to have been handed down from teacher to pupil in an unbroken line going all the way back to Abraham. Kabbalists have over the centuries verified reincarnation (or gilgul as it is known in Hebrew), and Zohar, a classic Kabalistic text, mentions reincarnation in details. The Jewish sect called Samarians believed Adam reincarnated as Noah, then as Abraham, then Moses.
Although mainstream Islam appears to reject reincarnation, there are several references in the Quran that point to reincarnation. “And you were dead, and He brought you back to life. And He shall cause you to die, and shall bring you back to life, and in the end shall gather you unto Himself.” (2:28)
“How can you make denial of Allah, who made you live again when you died, will make you dead again, and then alive again, until you finally return to Him? (Sura 2, the Cow, Verse 28) The mystic branch of the religion, the Sufi movement, is very supportive of reincarnation.
The Druze sect of Lebanon, Palestine (including Israel) and Syria widely believes in reincarnation.
THE RED INDIANS
There is a widespread belief in reincarnation among the native American tribes. The Dakota tribe taught that man reincarnates and in between those lives, he lives with the gods and receives instruction in magic and healing. Many of the Indian medicine men claimed to remember past lives.
Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism-all accept reincarnation. Reincarnation is also there in Pharoaonic Egypt, polytheistic Greece, Rome as well as in Taoism and Zorastrianism.
The main scripture of Hindus, the Bhagavad-gita discusses reincarnation in great detail (2.13-30). It proposes that the basis of consciousness is not the brain or some other organ in the body, but a spiritual spark called the soul. The soul does not die when the body dies, but moves into another body, human, plant, or animal or one of the 84, 00,000 species of life. The soul moves into the next body along with the mind. The mind carries the impressions from previous bodies and acts as a template around which our bones and tissues and the new physical body develops. When the impressions from the past life are very strong on the mind, it influences the new physical body to grow with characteristic facial features, birth marks or defects as in the case of Lilliput, mentioned at the beginning of the article. In Chapter 15 of Bhagavad-gita, this is described as follows:
Bg 15.8 – The living entity in the material world carries his different conceptions of life from one body to another as the air carries aromas. Thus he takes one kind of body and again quits it to take another.
Bg 15.9 – The living entity, thus taking another gross body, obtains a certain type of ear, eye, tongue, nose and sense of touch, which are grouped about the mind. He thus enjoys a particular set of sense objects.
USE OF BELIEF IN REINCARNATION AND KARMA
A belief in reincarnation and leading a life based on it offers personal growth and solution to major sociolo-political problems of the world. Reincarnation means that we can change species, race, religion, gender, and religious affiliation from lifetime to lifetime. Once people realize that religious, ethnic, and national affiliation constitutes a temporary belief system, that one can be a Hindu in one lifetime and a Muslim or Pakistani in another, then conflicts based on these affiliations will be seen as self-defeating. There would be less incentive to fight. If Germans knew that a person could be born Jew in one lifetime and Christian in another, then the Holocaust causing murder of six million Jews could never have happened.
When we know that reincarnation and karma are real, then we will accept responsibility for our actions, avoid violence and practice tolerance and compassion as everything we do, we know, will come back to us. It will give hope to those caught up in unfortunate circumstances making them realize that although their past actions are causing the current misery, still they have the power to change their future. We will be more conscious of environment and not focus on immediate gain, but instead on long-term benefit for the future generations. Relationships will improve, as we understand that our bitterest enemy may simply be giving us the bad karma we had offered him in the past, and the current situation may be an opportunity to understand him and resolve the conflict. We will no longer try to dominate but use our energies to build a harmonious planet.
As Dr. Jeffrey Long adds, “I’m a physician who fights cancer. In spite of our best efforts, not everybody is going to be cured. My absolute understanding that there is an afterlife for all of us-and a wonderful afterlife-helps me face cancer, this terribly frightening and threatening disease, with more courage than I’ve ever faced it with before. I can be a better physician for my patients.” (TIME, 22 Jan 2010)
WHAT IS THE FUTURE?
Still, the Vedas invite us to do more than just create a better world. They ask us to invest for a better tomorrow. The Gita explains that by our desires we lay the foundation of our next body. “Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his present body, in his next life he will attain to that state without fail.” (Bg. 8.6). Although we change our bodies, families, planets, nevertheless, all this cosmic hopping, enjoying and suffering has nothing to do with the real person, the spirit soul.
For the spirit, enjoying this world is like a fish trying to enjoy in a dry desert. Spirit desires to encounter the essence, it longs to connect and align to a greater energy-the Supreme Spirit, God-its creator and father and. The spirit longs for eternal residence in His abode. In that union it will find the peace and joy it searches for and tries to substitute by the ephemeral pleasures of this world.
The Vedic scriptures offer elaborate details about God, His abode, and the path to achieve them. As Gita sates: “…but there is a world beyond, the world of God, and one who attains it, never takes birth again.” (Bg. 8.16). That is the place where the completely evolved spirit, free from the indulgence of this world engages in a relationship of loving service to the Supreme and is fully delighted, enlightened, and eternal. To go there we have to adopt a life centred around the principles of love and devotion to the Supreme, so that when death comes, it will not be an entry into an incessant loop of species-hopping, but a final leap in to the spiritual world, with a sure opportunity to have a personal relationship with a loving God.
1. Kenneth Ring and Sharon Cooper, MINDSIGHT: Near-Death and out of body experiences in the Blind (Palo Alto,Califoria: William James Center for Consciousness Studies, 1999).
2. Searching for Vedic India, by Devamrita Swami
3. Born Again by Walter Simkiw, MD. Ritana books
4. Origin of Soul by Walter Simkiw, MD. Ritana books
5. Human Devolution by Michael A. Cremo
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