Mimi asked: The one I am interested in right now is reincarnation. What are your views on it? I mean, I know you believe that and all, but, well, at least I think I read that somewhere… Anyway, if you do believe in reincarnation, what do you believe is the purpose of it and does it in any way relate to God or Source or Divinity or what in your mind.
You can see she’s stumbling over words in this question. So am I in my answer.
First off – God is an alien word for me. There are all kinds of theosophical words for aspects of what people call God – but none of them describe a personal being who created the world in seven days (for instance).
Yes, I believe in reincarnation. I feel it relates to the source of all being (the divine, God or whatever you want to call it) in the way that st. Paul says ‘For in him we live, and move, and have our being’. Technically speaking I’m a pantheist: I see God (or rather The Divine) in everything. This is close to the panentheism that can be read into the Bible.
From an Indian perspective one might say that Brahman (God, Consciousness but also The Universe itself) expresses itself in us, that It learns through us, that the creativity of the Divine lives through us. We learn through reincarnation and the ultimate goal of that learning is the expression of consciousness in as much perfection as is possible on the limited physical plane. Us humans are the first level on which there is an actual consciousness of The Divine. In our precise step on the evolutionary ladder this is mixed up with our mental evolution: we are developing the mind, thought, intellect. Combining that with spirituality leads to dogmas, religions fighting amongst each other etc.
The reason I stumble over this question is that the word God is alien to me. I was raised an atheist, taught to pray in kindergarten, taught to meditate (in one memorable class) in an otherwise religiously neutral elementary school and in my nominally Catholic high school religion was stepped around with light feet. While the word God is alien to my understanding of life, spirituality is home. This is a difficult combination. But one that is at the heart of the cultural dilemma of our time, in my opinion.
Evolution is a physical fact. There’s no longer the option of denying that science has proved that humans descend from animals which were also the ancestors of the current apes. Even the Roman Catholic Church has officially accepted this.
For theosophists evolution is also a fact of our mental and spiritual lives. The divine has descended on human beings at some point in our physical evolution. Similarly the ability to think rationally isn’t, in the theosophical view, the product of physical evolution, but something added (as an ingredient as it were) by beings from elsewhere.
The fact is: humans do have a claim to uniqueness compared to the other animals. We have created cultures capable of a high variety of mental conceptions. We have specialization as seen nowhere in the animal kingdom. The fact that one human spends his days collecting garbage while another spends her days writing on the computer is amazing if you think about it.
Scientists have ways of explaining all that. That is: they have the reasoning (which is circular btw) that since intelligence and spirituality weren’t bred out of us, they must serve some evolutionary purpose. Which is a way of saying: apparently those aspects of us are useful. But, they will add, that doesn’t mean religion is TRUE.
I would say, with John Hick, that the universe is religiously ambiguous. This means that we can interpret the universe in an essentially religious or spiritual way – or we can choose to be materialistic in our interpretation of life. Neither position can be proved. The spiritual position is one that is basicly positive: there is a purpose to it all. There is a final ‘day of redemption’ (however one may interpret it). The materialistic interpretation is more negative: this is the only chance you get. Fail now and you won’t even be remembered by future generations.
Reincarnation is a way of saying: fail now and you’ll get to deal with the consequences later (in other words: karma). So you’d better pull your act together. At the same time reincarnation is, again for theosophists, part of a world view that sees consciousness as forever learning and growing. The ‘end’ is called enlightenment, Nirvana, Moksha. It’s the end of all sorrow, the end of all suffering. It’s the drop of consciousness merging in the see of Ultimate Truth, the All, It – perhaps the word God is appropriate here?
A version of this post appears in my book Essays on Karma.