The purpose of reincarnation

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.

3 thoughts on “The purpose of reincarnation”

  1. Thank you for expounding upon that question I asked. Yes, I believe it’s appropriate (or possible) to think of the Ultimate Truth as God. I spent years going back and forth between agnostic and atheistic thoughts. When I say the word God or call the Ultimate Truth by that name, I am very comfortable with it. Also, my thoughts on reincarnation are that it is a process for us human beings to become more God-like, or at the very least, — and which may be the same thing — to reach the ultimate height in the evolutionary process.

  2. Reincarnation is the most grossly misunderstood concept of Hinduism! Wikipedia dictionary defines reincarnation as rebirth of the soul atman in a new body! How can that be? When the soul atman is indestructible… how can it rebirth in a new body?

    As per sacred Bhagavad Gita of Hinduism… every soul atman manifests the human form to work out its karma… remove dross impurities within! For a soul atman… the entire life cycle of 8.4 million manifestations is one single span of life!

    Body after body… manifestation after manifestation the journey of life continues uninterrupted for every soul atman! After death of body the soul atman simply manifests another life form based on residual balance of karma! Death carries no meaning in spiritual world… in the world of souls’ atmans!

  3. Thank You MIMI for asking the question and thank you Katinka and Vijai for answers, Yes Mimi there is PURPOSE in reincarnation as this is the Only way of Spiritual development of being(Soul). You have free will on earth and always have two possible action in every case and you choose one. Our higher self is ONE with source and IT MANIFEST Soul for a Life, we come as a soul with (or without as the case may be) hangovers of the karma (emotions merged ) of previous life, the script of the life also influenced by this complex and we are given an opportunity to remove hangovers from the Soul in current life and here comes the role of FREE WILL, we may choose to remove by Selected actions OR even collect more in this life ….this lies to our level (absolutely our action) as in world of SPIRIT it is ONLY an experience….cycle goes on ….We Souls have lot of work and accordingly we select life and PLANET…..

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