a little east of reality

Friday, March 25, 2005

reincarnation and karma

I was talking with Cramer and Quasi the other day. They both believe in reincarnation, and I was particularly curious as to how Quas reconciled that with her Christian belief. To me the two are incompatible. Her response ~ that Christ taught about reincarnation ~ surprised me. That's one I hadn't heard before. I went on a bit of a hunt on the net, and found argument to that effect with numerous references from the New Testament. As it turned out, every reference is (according to the interpretation I understand) references to the pre-mortal existence with God. They've taken them all as references to past mortal lives. Anyway, she may have been referring to other sources outside the Bible as well (Dead Sea Scrolls and the like) but I haven't pursued it any further for now.

Another curious thing she told us was that when she was a young child she had memories of her previous life. Cramer suggested that they may not have been her own memories, but have come instead from what Jung described as 'the collective unconscious'. I find that idea intriguing.

Reincarnation in general I find an interesting, but unconvincing, concept. Quasi sees us as raindrops, metaphorically falling to earth at birth and returning to our collective existence at death in the same way that rain eventually evaporates and returns to the clouds. Each time we do this we bring more experience and understanding to the whole of which we are a part. It's a pretty idea, but my gut response is 'to what purpose?' Learning is integral to existence, but learning only for learning's sake only ever seems valuable to me if it's temporary. Surely understanding should eventually lead to action, change, progression...something more...or what is the point?

The other problem I have with that concept is that it renders what we do meaningless. If our only purpose is to learn and share, then despair, cruelty, selfishness, etc, are just as worth experiencing as hope, kindness and integrity. Perhaps she would answer that this learning does lead to progression, that we would seek good in order to live better in our successive lives. Then our purpose becomes more than learning. But again, to what end? If all we're destined to do is relive life over and over again, what's the point? I know the buddhist answer to this - nothingness, Nirvana - but this all came from a Christian.

Some would say that we try hard to be good in one life because our situation in life depends on our karmic baggage from the last. I find this idea appalling. What it really says is that if people have a terrible life we can basically assume they were evil in their past life, ergo they deserve their lot. That's not only illogical (because a lot of bad stuff happens to very good people...were they all evil in their last life??) - it's also a good way to absolve ourselves from responsibility.

The terrors of life either just happen (sickness, untimely death, natural disaster) or they are the product of people's actions (war, violence, abuse, manipulation, injustice). People are not 'starving in Africa' because they are paying a karmic debt. They are starving because other nations ruled Africa and arbitrarily created country borders that led to territorial warfare. They are starving because of harsh climate and corrupt government. They are starving because when 'first world' farmers want to reduce an abundant harvest to keep prices from falling, they would rather dump the extra in the ocean than send it where it is needed. Maybe, if I want to be really honest and introspective, one of those people is starving because I have too much credit card debt and have rendered myself too poor to help even those I would really like to help. Actually I'd be more likely to give to the Fred Hollows Foundation, so they might still be hungry, but they'd be able to look for food at least (sorry, bad joke. FHF assists people with cataract blindness.)

Okay, 'starving people in Africa' is a cliched example. But this principle occurs much closer to home, too. I don't believe that my friend's baby died because of something she or her husband (or the baby) did in a past life. I think that, for no reason other than an allergic reaction, a sudden and unexpected medical emergency occurred during labor and it was physically impossible to save both lives. Twenty years ago they probably would both have died. Trying to find a reason for things is human, but sometimes the reasons people invent when they have no answers are just so ridiculous, and occasionally cruel. It's a terrible shame that their baby died, but death is a constant possibility in our frail human existence. It's not a punishment, it's just a fact.

In other words, sometimes shit just happens, and sometimes we make it happen, and neither thing can be explained by blaming the innocent.