Reincarnation and Karma
by Paul Naras
Not everyone who can be loosely categorized as a New Ager believes in reincarnation - but one might be thunderstruck by the proportion of this aggregate who completely embrace the tenets of this most ancient of philosophical theories, or who at least have no palpable objections to the teaching.
The literature on this subject is quite extensive so the point here is not to trace the historical roots through Egypt and Greece or to explicate the Hindu or Buddhist conceptions of this system of thought. What needs to be stressed is that the majority of human beings on the face of the earth have always subscribed to the doctrine and still do. Only the Jewish and Christian religions have repudiated and outlawed this tradition (even though both originally recognized it).
So - why the antagonism? Why would reincarnation be at odds with Christian theology? Why would Church Councils (Nicea/Constantinople) hundreds of years after the death of Jesus alter and even delete certain passages from the books that comprised the Bible? And even then they didn't quite get it right, leaving a number of references to reincarnation intact (John 9: 1-3 and 3: 4-8; Matthew 16: 13-17 and 17: 10-13; Mark 8: 27-30 and 9: 10-13; Luke 9: 7-9).
We have to remember that Christianity under Constantine expanded from cult status to state religion in the twinkling of an eye. The piper had to be paid.
The vox populi had never been invited to conventions where decisions were made as to what would become allowable, legal and infallible and what would stand as forbidden, illicit and heretical. All institutions (political and religious) have had to grapple with the issues of power/control and in our patriarchal society the men who have risen to positions of authority have been, more often than not, a self-serving lot.
Individuals who believe in reincarnation cannot be spiritually controlled, cannot be daunted by the blackmail of a literal everlasting Hell and, most importantly, don't need clerics to tell them what to believe and to keep them on the straight and narrow.
So, long after the death of Jesus, the grand Pooh Bahs of the time created dogma out of whole cloth (purgatory and Original Sin just to name two) and blue-penciled certain traditions like reincarnation because they were deemed not to be in the best interests of 'Churchianity'.
Born Again (and again and again) Christians (and Jews and Moslems and ...)
Having asked any number of friends and acquaintances as to why they adopted and incorporated reincarnation into their philosophies of life the following observations were echoed and re-echoed:
Even secular humanist scientists and atheists know that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Life appears to be an incessant drama of energy converting into mass and mass back into energy. We are surrounded by being, transition and then rebirth (the four seasons). Everything is cyclical - from the planets revolving around the sun to a woman's fertility period. Are we to believe that the energy that comprises a human being is an exception to this process?
WARNING: A psychic telling us that we were one of Cleopatra's lovers does not make it so.
A few words must be said concerning New Age faddism. Past life regression can be deceptive and specious as often as it can be useful and veritable. Many people have come forward to say that regression has helped them to unriddle a phobia or a health problem that was debilitating them. Skeptics would rejoin that they were delusional or prompted by suggestion.
F.L. was an acquaintance who decided to try past life therapy and I sat in on the initial session (to ascertain that she was not going to be led down the garden path through auto-suggestion or any type of manipulation). This particular facilitator did not use hypnosis but put his clients into a deep state of relaxation through breathing and visualization exercises. He then led F.L. gently back into her childhood and had her describe various episodes and experiences. When the regression edged back into the time before her present birth that was when things started to get interesting. In fact the session had to be terminated prematurely because, as the facilitator subsequently related, when a previous incarnation ends on a traumatic note it is that particular emotional shock that usually surfaces first - and, in this case, it was proving to be quite unsettling to the client.
In her debriefing with me F.L. informed me that she had had no vague impressions of the scene unfolding in front of her. No - the images were real, startlingly vivid, and what she saw was a woman being unjustly burned to death for witchcraft and she instinctively knew that she was that woman - and she could sense/feel the heat and the terror.
Although the field of past life therapy begs for further investigation and analysis it is important to remember one thing. Our present life should be the one that bewitches us the most. Our current existence is the outgrowth/synthesis of our previous incarnations, of all our past mistakes and successes, and it is today's insights, motives and ambitions that have any import at all as far as the future is concerned.
So - is it really imperative to know whether we were Pharaohs or Pharisees?
Truth or Consequences
Reincarnation and karma are as inexorably coupled as day and night, north and south, weekends and rain. You can't have one without the other.
Karma is a Sanskrit word meaning - deed, to do. Its purpose is to teach us. Exactly how Karma instructs and enlightens us has been misapprehended by many in both the Eastern and Western traditions.
All of us have heard people (whether in jest or not) uttering statements like - I can't believe all this adversity/tragedy is swooping down on me; I must have been a rotten S.O.B. in a previous incarnation. It's commonplace to interpret and liken karma to some sort of divine retribution. But, this is an unsound conclusion and perhaps even downright specious.
Picture two people standing on the roof of a seventy floor skyscraper. One is wealthy, well-connected and makes decisions which affect millions of people. The other is poor and the sphere of influence this individual occupies touches a mere handful of friends and acquaintances. Both slip on a patch of ice and tumble off the building toward the ground. Will the law of gravity exhibit any ad hoc partiality by cushioning the plummet of either soul?
There is a proclivity in the universe for balance, for equilibrium. Karma is the surplus credit or indebtedness incurred as the result of our thoughts and conduct. Like gravity the law is impersonal. The word 'impersonal' means - not influenced by personal feeling. It does not denote that this universal law is cold and perfunctory but simply that every cause has some sort of effect. If you fall asleep at the wheel your car will eventually slam into something - whether it's another car, a tree or a gentle and yielding haystack.
All volitional thoughts and actions engender karmic consequences and human habitude tends to label these developments as either "good" or "bad".
Jimmy is having difficulty comprehending a particular mathematical formula. His teacher gives him a set of thirty problems which she wants him to complete over the weekend and this homework has to be on her desk Monday morning. Now Jimmy can choose to perceive this situation in a couple of ways. This is a punishment solely imposed on him and all the fun he was planning to have on the weekend is now ruined. Or, the teacher has his best interests at heart, wants him to pass the course, and has provided him with the means by which to master a bewildering algebraic impasse.
We have to cease construing karma as penance and instead try apprehending it as reformation. After all, the principle of cause and effect teaches some very basic lessons. If you believe that it is okay to beat someone's face to a bloody pulp then you have to recognize and admit the reverse - that it is righteous for someone to do the same to you. Karma doesn't so much spank you for your 'sins' as much as it attempts to repair and redeem your flaws and faults. It is always constructive, always an occasion for insight and realization.
There are some who follow the Eastern path and even some New Agers who subscribe to the idea that all situations are karmic; that if you're robbed, if you live your life in destitution, if you are diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, then all this affliction is something you have effectuated and drawn to yourself and fully deserve. This view is egocentric, counter-productive and (in my humble opinion) altogether incorrect. If Peter is murdered because he himself killed someone in a previous incarnation then logically we could jump to the conclusion that the person who killed Peter was only operating as a karmic agent and thusly should not himself be penalized.
There can be divers causes for the frowns of fortune. Is your triple bypass operation karmic or could it perhaps have something to do with the fact that you clogged up your arteries by eating fatty foods every day for thirty years? When Helen Keller was nineteen months old was she stricken with the disease that left her blind and deaf because she had herself blinded someone in a past incarnation, or was this 'fate' simply a tremendous vehicle for self-growth and a modus operandi for a life devoted to eminent and substantive service? We have to get away from a literal interpretation of "an eye for an eye". Not every obstacle that materializes in front of us is predestined but every hardship is an opportunity for personal unfoldment.
In essence, karma is the law of compensation. Every 'positive' deed is recompensed in kind. Every 'negative' course of action must be redressed. The law can be implemented in the present or in a future incarnation. There are no exemptions, no immunity based on the color of your skin, your gender or the particular spiritual philosophy you may espouse. Unlike earthly justice it is never blind or unfair.
For those who are interested in the fundamentals and corollaries of the law, in theories of familial and national karma, in what happens after the karmic wheel is balanced et cetera, the literature is yours for the asking. But, simply stated, the person who desires to become a master of his/her life does not attempt to appraise each good fortune and each personal cataclysm as to whether it is karmic or not. Causality is not as material as your interpretation of the experience. We surely cannot control every circumstance that interpenetrates our reality but, to repeat, we can determine how we're going to respond to it.