The History of Reincarnation – V
By Rajeev Dalvi
Part V – The Modern Age (Contd.)
Mahatma Gandhi, one of the greatest political figures of modern times and apostle of nonviolence, once explained how a practical understanding of reincarnation gave him hope for his dream of world peace. Gandhi said, “I cannot think of permanent enmity between man and man, and believing as I do in the theory of rebirth, I live in the hope that if not in this birth, in some other birth I shall be able to hug all of humanity in friendly embrace.”
In one of his most famous short stories, J. D. Salinger introduces Teddy, a precocious young boy who recalls his reincarnation experiences and speaks forthrightly about them. “It’s so silly. All you do is get the heck out of your body when you die. My gosh, everybody’s done it thousands of times. Just because they don’t remember, it doesn’t mean they haven’t done it.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull, hero of the novel by the same name, whom author Richard Bach described as “that brilliant little fire that burns within us all,” goes through a series of reincarnations that lead him from earth to a heavenly world and back again, to enlighten the less fortunate gulls. One of Jonathan’s mentors inquires, “Do you have any idea how many lives we must have gone through before we even got the first idea that there is more to life than eating, or fighting, or power in the Flock? A thousand lives, Jon, ten thousand! And then another hundred lives until we began to learn that there is such a thing as perfection, and another hundred again to get the idea that our purpose for living is to find that perfection and show it forth.
Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer often speaks of past lives, rebirth, and the immortality of the soul in his masterful short stories. “There is no death. How can there be death if everything is part of the Godhead? The soul never dies and the body is never really alive.
And British poet laureate John Masefield, in his well-known poem about past and future lives, writes,
I hold that when a person dies
His soul returns again to earth;
Arrayed in some new flesh disguise
Another mother gives him birth
With sturdier limbs and brighter brain
The old soul takes the road again.
Musician, songwriter, and celebrated ex-Beatle George Harrison’s serious thinking about reincarnation is revealed in his private thoughts on interpersonal relationships. “Friends are all souls that we’ve known in other lives. We’re drawn to each other. That’s how I feel about friends. Even if I have only known them a day, it doesn’t matter. I’m not going to wait till I have known them for two years, because anyway, we must have met somewhere before, you know.
Reincarnation is once again attracting the minds of intellectuals and the general public in the West. Films, novels, popular songs, and periodicals now treat reincarnation with ever increasing frequency, and millions of Westerners are rapidly joining ranks with the more than 1.5 billion people, including Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, and members of other faiths, who have traditionally understood that life does not begin at birth nor end with death. But simple curiosity or belief is not sufficient. It is merely the first step in understanding the complete science of reincarnation, which includes knowledge of how to free oneself from the miserable cycle of birth and death.