Short and sweet: you are going to die

There is a little conversation I often have with folk, mainly exoteric Christians open to hearing new ideas, but also a few esoteric folk. It mostly begins like this:

Me: So, you believe that after die, you will go to heaven?

Them: Yes …

Me: And you will exist there for all eternity?

Them: Yes …

Me: Which ‘you’?

Them: Pardon?

Me: The ‘you’ now? The ‘you’ when you die – maybe with dementia, not knowing anyone?   The two month old ‘you’, before you could speak? The ‘you’ in the prime of your life?

Responses after this vary, but often, involve ideas and concepts not thought about previously. Sometimes folk are very happy about this. Occasionally folk block and sometimes they are a bit annoyed – because the truth is simple – the idea of an eternally existing personality-based ‘you’ is nonsense. I point out that the personality is formed from brain consciousness and is continually adapting and changing to its environment – that is, WE are. Take LSD or spend 2 years on a desert island and we are no longer ‘we’. Our self at 7 months is not our self at 17 or 70.

If any aspect of ‘the self’ survives death and continues in perpetuity, it has to be an aspect beyond change and beyond temporality. It has to be unborn to the world, which is indeed what all the esoteric and depth traditions teach. So it is a strange thing to find some esoteric folk having not really grasped this concept.

Often these good people  are likely, to quote the Indigo Girls, “bring up reincarnation over a couple of beers”. However, that really does not solve the issue, as most often people talk about ‘their’ reincarnation, or ‘their’ previous lives. A few years back there was a ghastly website out there spruiking a supposed ancient lineage of Witchcraft from Italy and gloriously gave potted histories of the tradition’s ‘masters’. One bio described how a female magistra, upon her first bonk at 14, remembered ‘she’ was really an ancient Egyptian priestess.

GONG! WRONG – DO IT AGAIN!

As soon as we identify ANY LIFE, including and especially our own, as the central core around which the others revolve, talking about ‘my previous lives’, or one incarnation really ‘being’ another, we have supplanted the place of mystery, with the ego. If reincarnation is indeed a fact, the ‘being’ that undergoes rebirth is not any particular life or ego at all. It is way beyond, often called the spiritual self or individuality.

Now of course, language here is a trap; how do we talk about reincarnation without the ‘I’ slipping in? However, it is also a wonderful opportunity to see how much the ‘I’, our ego-self, DOES wander into the centre of the frame. So, I often annoy my students by insisting they use language like ‘the previous incarnation of the being that is manifesting through me’ – wieldy and ontologically full of holes, but it does make one think 🙂 Thanks for listening!

18 comments

  1. Nick Farrell · October 6, 2014

    The whole concept of re-incarnation does not work once you accept a Hermetic idea of One Thing trying to learn about itself through its creation and punishing and rewarding itself for behavior of its tiny cells and them making these cells regenerate and having to bring in casts from previous lives to make sure it learnt the lesson. It is too complex to work, Mind you heaven and hell for eternity is equally as stupid. As I wrote in my novel Tree Falls… heaven for eternity with the sort of people who think they should be there, is hell.

  2. Michael Howard · October 6, 2014

    It is Monday morning. It is dull, wet and windy. The radio news is full of fresh horrors in the world. I open my email inbox ready to put a brave face on a new week – and see the heading to your latest posting…..Thanks a lot! 🙂 The week can only get better from now on.

    Mike

  3. Celia Acree · October 6, 2014

    If an individual believes s/he has lived previous lives, are the ‘memories’ of those lives valid experientially in this existance?

  4. Michael Howard · October 6, 2014

    I decided that reincarnation was logical and rational when I first got interested in matters esoteric at the tender age offifteen. I first heard about it through reading either one of Joan Grant’s novels or Lobsang Rampa, or as I called him ‘Rampant Lobster’ (OK I know, but give me a break I was young!) Reincarnation seemed to fit in with the whole natural cycle of birth, life, death and regeneration or rebirth on the material plane. I suppose from Darwinian/materialist perspective it just means that people die and babies are born and so life goes on repeating itself until the stupid human race destroys itself..

    IMO past lives regressions can open up a whole can of karmic worms best left unopened. I was taught that if you recollect a previous incarnation it was only to help you in this life . This was because you only remembered those that were relevant to situations in this existence.

    When I was young I remembered a past non-esoteric life as a Saxon pig farmer killed fighting the Danes at the Battle of Maldon. I’m still working that one out. I did study at agricultural college when I left school and worked on a farm for a few years – it didn’t have any pigs. Must admit they are not my favourite animal. Also- to – date I don”t know any Danes and anyway I don’t have any negative feelings about them 🙂 However I did start my writing career forty years ago writing books on the Germanic runes and the Northern European tradition. On second thoughts may be it does make more sense!

    Mike

  5. Peregrin · October 6, 2014

    Hey ho – thanks for all the comments folk 🙂 Sorry for the message so early, Mike 🙂 I can see where you are coming from, Nick – from a clear philosophical and theological viewpoint. However, folk – like Mike here – keep having these pesky memories from ‘other lives’. And the question Celia asks then becomes valid. David Stevenson has collected hundreds of such annoying things, often with ‘proof’ via going to the previous village etc.

    Now there are plenty of other ways to explain the ‘memories’ apart from serial incarnation of an individual soul – such as group/racial memory/mind. However, the question then becomes this: if I remember events in a ‘past life’ as clearly as I do when I was, say 8, or 10, or 24 – then why do i validate the personal memories and not the transpersonal, ‘past life’ ones.

    Once we start pondering these things we are very much down the path to conceptions like the Buddhist understanding of sunyata, or emptiness of the individual self (personality).

    I agree with Mike re Past Life Regressions. However, in my youth I conducted a number. We got ancient Egyptian phrases and words, towns being in a country they were in only several hundred years back etc. But the one I think most likely to be a ‘real’ regression was to a simple farmer in Suffolk. This chap was concerned with his crops, his children, the threat of war – and that was it. No matter what part of the life we moved to – turnips, wheat and marriage dominated his mind. It was mind-numbingly boring :/

  6. Mathias · October 6, 2014

    Well, unless you are Agrajag (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_minor_The_Hitchhiker%27s_Guide_to_the_Galaxy_characters), it may be difficult to remember previous incarnations. I always wondered about all these people who find out what kind of grand poobah they have been previously. However, as for Christianity, it is the eternal, immortal soul that survives the person, no? Apart from that it is rather difficult to determine what it really means. At the end, all concepts we may come up with are man made. We can only believe that this or that may happen but we do not know for sure, don`t we? It is unlikely that people will be reborn with their physical body. This is also not what you would read in the bible if I remember correctely. It is just that people (well in this case Christians) do not have enough of an immagination maybe to be open to any alternative form of ressurection. And it is the ego that wants to survive in its best bodily shape possible, of course. I am still not sure what concept I really have about all this but it certainly is worth thinking about it… Nice post

  7. Philip Grier · October 7, 2014

    I think I am on my fourth or fifth incarnation in this life alone and hopefully one or two more before the truth does or does not become revealed to me

  8. Peregrin · October 7, 2014

    Great comments, Philip and Mathias – THANKS 🙂

  9. dirkt · October 7, 2014

    Jack Kornfield gave a nice Dharma talk once, re the subject reincarnation in Buddhism:

    Q: Well, if there isn’t an inherently existing Self that reincarnates, what is it exactly that reincarnates?
    A: Your bad habits (sankhara)

    😉

  10. Michael Howard · October 8, 2014

    One of the interesting things is that people who are not occultists accept reincarnation or have experiences of past lives. I remember reading a biography of General George Patton some years ago. He had several deja vu type flashbacks to what he believed were past lives. When the Allies invaded Italy in WWII he described to a colleague what was up ahead in a town despite the fact that he had never been to the country before. He put this down to a past life.. The evidence from all over the world to support reincarnation is pretty extensive. and well documented.

  11. Peregrin · October 8, 2014

    Hey Dirk – this is gold!! THANKS 🙂

  12. Peregrin · October 8, 2014

    Hi Mike,

    Yes, I am with you here; I’ve spoken to a few non-esoteric folk who have clear memories of other lives, and verification along the same lines. 🙂

  13. Michael Howard · October 8, 2014

    Catching up a previous comment; I wish I had a pound for every person who has told me over the years they are a reincarnation of Cleopatra, Mary Queen of Scots, King Arthur or Crowley. Funny nobody claims to be a reincarnation of Hitler of Stalin! It is also odd that these reincarnated illustrious personages never live up to their past glories in this life 🙂 In my experience the more humble a past life somebody claims the more likely is it to be a genuine The others are just suffering from reincarnated ego syndrome.

  14. Michael Howard · October 10, 2014

    Interestingly ‘The Times’ on Wednesday (October 8th) published details of a survey from hospitals all around the world of reported ‘near death experiences’ by patients suffering cardiac arrest. They included feelings of deep peace and calm, unity with the universe, seeing a ‘mystical being’, suddenly understanding everything, and out of the body experiences where the patient was looking down on nurses and doctors working to revive them. After he survived one patient described a male nurse he had not seen before who was present but had left before he regained consciousness. He had seen him while apparently hovering near the ceiling. The doctors involved in the survey naturally dismissed these NDEs as hallucinations or illusions due to a lack of oxygen to the brain.

    Mike

  15. Peregrin · October 10, 2014

    Hi Mike – yes, I saw this re-reported here. This is pretty common, and reductionist folk explain it away very easy, but the repeated occurrences does point to something … 🙂 Thanks

  16. Autumn (@readingsbyautmn) · October 13, 2014

    I’ve often thought that if we could inherit our ancestors genes, i.e. eye color, dimples, etc., why can’t we also inherit there memories.

  17. Michael Howard · October 13, 2014

    I am not a scientist but I’m not sure DNA or genes are capable of carrying memories. Perhaps somebody on here with a scientific or medical background could advise if that is true.

  18. Peregrin · October 13, 2014

    Hi ho – this idea is close to the Lamarckian view of evolution; something the consensus of science now considers mostly disproven :/

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