On Reincarnation

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Through the Looking GlassI have never seriously believed in reincarnation, but it is an idea I’ve had a lot of fun playing around with. Whenever my life is even mildy uncomfortable, I think, “Well, in my next life, I’ll be . . . .”

There are two professions I mentally espouse. The first is that of an engineer who builds bridges. He gets to do something that only has to be done once (per bridge) and stands for decades as a completed project. Contrast this to the roles of people whose work is very repetitive without giving them a finished project to which they can point. These people are necessary and important in our culture, and I hope most are happy in their work. I, personally, rebelled against the repetitiveness of housewifery and looked to outside activities to provide another kind of work satisfaction.

The second thing I might want to be is a rabbi. In this I am not thinking of current clergy who minister in various ways such as educating, counseling, supporting people in need and speaking inspirationally. My notion of “rabbi” comes from novels depicting the rabbi as a wise old man to whom people bring their moral dilemmas. He has an office in his house, and his wife and kids tiptoe around trying not to disturb his reading and contemplation. It is this image that causes me to want to be a rabbi. His reading is respected and he is not interrupted with household trivia. Think of this in comparison to the housewife who is “only reading” and should be ready at an instant to drop it and help you find your missing sock.

And there are times when life is hard and my only thought about reincarnation is “No thank you, I’m not going through this again.”

And there are times when I’m philosophical and ask myself, “Would you rather come back as a painfully flawed human or a cat?” Or “What role in life could I assume to be most helpful to the greatest number of human beings?”

Many people believe in reincarnation, but a real number would be hard to get. One study compiles the numbers of followers of Hinduism (950 million), Buddhism (500 million), Sikhism (23.8 million), Jainism (4.2 million), Shinto (4 million), and Taoism (2.7 million) which adds up to 1.4 billion people, or an approximate 19% of the world’s population.

There are also studies that purport to support the idea of reincarnation by pointing to stories of people who claim to remember a past life. Some of them are very convincing with detailed research showing their details to be accurate to the life of a person who has passed away.

Make of all this what you will. Some of us feel a strong need to “know” what happens after death; others are indifferent. But, underlying both faith and indifference, there is often fear of the unknown. As Shakespeare puts it in Hamlet’s suicide soliloquy:

Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovere’d country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?

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