A monk asked a Zen master, “What happens when you die?” The Zen master replied, I don’t know.” The monk said, “What do you mean. Aren’t you a Zen master?” And the Zen Master replied, “Yes, but I’m not a dead one.” – this is a classic Zen story and I am unsure of the origin. I got this version of the quote from Zenkei Blanche Hartman.
Some folks are invested in ideas about reincarnation and what would release us from the reincarnation cycle.
As with any topic, this one is as complex or simple as we make it.
I DON’T KNOW
The simple answer is that I don’t know.
I don’t know if there is such a thing as reincarnation. Or how it works. Or if there is a release from it. Or what would lead to such a release. Or if any of it is really important.
I cannot know.
I know what some folks say about it. That’s, at best, second-hand or X-hand info, and at worst speculation.
I know that there is some research into it and I know some of the findings and some of the ways to interpret the findings. (Reincarnation is just one possibility). That’s very interesting research, but it’s provisional and not by any means conclusive. No research is ever conclusive. There is always more to discover, and new contexts to understand it within which may turn it all upside-down and inside-out for us.
I can know that I, personally, have what seems like memories of the time between lives and some past lives. Here too, I cannot know for certain if this is accurate or not.
I can only find reincarnation and my personal memories as ideas here and now. They happen within my mental field. I cannot find them any other place.
What’s most honest for me is that I cannot know. And for that reason, it’s also the most peaceful. It’s most aligned with my reality, with my world.
EXPLORING IT AS PROJECTIONS
Also as with anything else, I can explore my ideas of reincarnation as a projection. And I can do that in two general ways.
One is to use the stories as a mirror for what’s already here.
Can I find what these stories point to in my direct noticing?
When I look, I find reincarnation here. I find that what’s here is always fresh and different. I find that any ideas of who or what I am is recreated here and now. Any sense of continuity is created by my mental field, it’s a story tying mental images together to create a sense of continuity, time, past, future, and present, and so on. Basic meditation (notice and allow) is good for noticing this, especially when combined with inquiry.
This helps me ground it in my direct noticing.
The other is to notice it as a mental overlay I put on the world.
I can find any and all ideas I have about reincarnation in my mental field. Any ideas of a self reincarnation, or specific incarnations, or release from the cycle, is here in my mental field. I cannot find it any other place.
This helps me hold it more lightly.
EXAMINE THE STORIES
I can also explore the stories more in detail, and how my mind creates its experience related to reincarnation. Here are two of my favorite ways to do this:
I can examine the stories I have.
What is a stressful story I have about reincarnation? (Hopeful and fearful stories are both stressful.) What happens when I hold it as true? How would it be to not have it? What’s the genuine validity in the reversals? (Including when I turn it back to myself.) (The Work of Byron Katie.)
I can explore it in my sense fields.
How does reincarnation show up in my mental field? Can I find it outside of my mental field?
What sensations are connected with it? Where do I feel it?
What happens when my mind associates certain sensations with these stories? Do they seem more solid and real? What happens when I rest with respectively the mental representations (mental images and words) and the sensations? What happens when I recognize the sensations as sensations, and the mental representations as mental representations? Does the “glue” soften? (The Kiloby Inquiries, based on traditional Buddhist inquiry.)
WHAT AM I TRYING TO ESCAPE? HOW WOULD IT BE TO MEET IT INSTEAD?
If I am invested in ideas about reincarnation and a wish to escape the cycle, that points to something I wish to escape here and now.
Which experience am I trying to escape here and now? What stressful story? What uncomfortable physical sensation?
How would it be to meet it instead?
To identify and examine the scary story?
To notice and feel the physical sensation?
How would it be to befriend the scared part of me? What does it have to tell me? How would it like me to relate to it? What would help it relax a little more?
And so on. The Work of Byron Katie and the Kiloby Inquiries are very helpful here, as is any form of befriending or heart-centered approach (toglen, ho’oponopono). Basic Meditation can also be helpful, especially when combined with inquiry.
TAKING CARE OF IT NOW
Here is a more general angle to the wanting-to-escape dynamic.
If we seek release from the reincarnation cycle, it may be because we imagine it as a release from any suffering we experience now. It’s a kind of get-out-of-jail card.
But can I know that’s the case?
To me, it makes more sense to assume that my hangups and struggles will be with me beyond this life. (If there is a beyond.) Why wouldn’t they? So why not find that resolution now?
GIVE IT TO MYSELF NOW
Here is another simple inquiry that can be helpful:
What do I hope to get out of a release from the reincarnation cycle? And what do I hope to get out of that? And that? (Continue until you find the essence. Usually, the essence is something simple and universal like love, contentment, peace, understanding, support, and so on.)
Is it true that’s not already here? How would it be to notice it?
How would it be to give it to myself now? (Yes, I know that giving it to myself seems unnecessary if it’s already here, but I find the two go hand in hand.)
FIND OUR NATURE
As with anything else, there is also an invitation for us to find our nature here.
Reincarnation is a story of change. It’s a story of taking on different selves and roles in the world. It’s a story of different words.
Everything related to this is a story of change.
If it all changes, none of it can be what I more fundamentally am.
I an have an idea of something within content of experience that doesn’t change. But that’ an idea. Here too, it’s not something I can find outside of my mental field.
So what am I more fundamentally?
The Big Mind process and the Headless experiments are the most direct and efficient supports I have found to explore this, along with the slower Basic Meditation.
FIND THE TWO AS THE SAME
If I was to guess what would release us from a reincarnation cycle, I imagine it would be this:
To find the two as the same.
To find the essential sameness in our incarnated and disincarnated life. And to not only see it but viscerally get it. To taste it.
So what is the sameness of the two?
This is something I have had a strong incentive to explore. In my childhood, I had flashbacks to the time between lives, to a disincarnate state, and I had a deep longing for it. So one of my genjo koans (life koans) is to find that here and now.
The most fundamental sameness is that it’s all – any experience whether its in the context of an incarnate life or a disincarnate existence – happens within and as what I am. I am capacity for it all. It all happens within and as the consciousness I am.
And there is more. I can find the same timelessness independent of the content of experience. I can find my nature as love.
Lila means the play of the divine. All of existence is the divine expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in always new ways.
And we can find that too here and now.
All our experience is the play of the consciousness we are.
It’s the consciousness we are expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in always new ways.
That includes our ideas of reincarnation.
And it includes any changing content of our experience – whether that changing content is waking life or night dreams, this human self changing over time, a disincarnate time between incarnations, new incarnations, and so on.
It’s all the play of the consciousness we are. It’s all lila.
It’s all the existence we are expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in always new ways.
MAKING USE OF IT
We can pretend to believe stories about reincarnation, and that may be comforting for a while and to some extent. But it’s also stressful, especially since we know we cannot know for certain.
So why not make practical use of our ideas about reincarnation?
Why not find what the stories point to here and now? Why not examine our stories about it? Why not meet the discomfort we wish to escape? Why not give to ourselves what we imagine we would get out of it? Why not use it to find what we more fundamentally are in our own first-person experience?
This grounds what’s otherwise speculation in something that’s already here and now.
We use speculation to find what’s already here and now. Read More