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Personal Musings

Lifecycles

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I have been reading a very interesting book on a subject that I knew nothing about before picking up the book. I chose to read it with as open a mind as I am consciously able to open because the subject matter is of a nature that it would be easy to impose my personal philosophies, opinions, and experiences onto, prejudicing my ability to neutrally assessing the author's point of view.

The book is Lifecycles, subtitled "Reincarnation and the Web of Life", by Christopher M. Bache, Ph.D.

Dear reader, in the commentary that follows, I make one critical assumption about you, my reader. I assume that you, too, have read the book. Therefore I refer to things that are in the book without explaining those things. If you haven't read the book, my references might not make any sense to you. I found the book very easy to read, informative, and worthy of my time. If you haven't read the book, why not pick one up at the library and browse through it?

I have so many thoughts on this subject of reincarnation that I’m finding it difficult to organize them into a cohesive beginning, a step-by-step progression, and a conclusion. I think, since I have to start somewhere, that I’ll start by trying to step outside my “one-timer’s” point of view and contemplate what would be needed for reincarnation to exist.

Preface I
First, let’s take a good, hard look at what it means to exist. Bache asserts, with a valid framework and appropriate insight, that materialism with its insistence on substance, falls short of accounting for non-substantial things like thoughts or mathematics. He also quite correctly identifies the one-timer’s viewpoint as being metaphysical naturalism more than materialism. However, he fails to establish what it means to exist. You see, if something actually exists, then it does, indeed, fall within the realm of metaphysical naturalism. Under metaphysical naturalism, thoughts exist, in contrast to materialism, which doesn’t allow for anything as non-substantial as a thought to capable of existing. Note, however, that under metaphysical naturalism, mathematics still does not exist. Why? Because, unlike a thought, which can appear, be captured (or lost), can change, can grow, can become a foundational part of the universe, mathematics does none of those things. Instead of being an idea or a thought, mathematics, it turns out, is actually a hypothetical construction necessary to understand something else – something that does exist: enumeration. The question for this discussion becomes, “Does reincarnation exist (like radiation or quarks or joy exists) or is it a hypothetical construction necessary for understanding something else that exists (like mathematics or E=MC2 or UFOs)?”

The way that Bache presents his case, it almost sounds like reincarnation is a hypothetical construction necessary for understanding karma. I would like to explore what kind of a universe this would be if reincarnation actually exists.

Preface II
I find that it is much easier for me to understand intangible things if I can compare them to things I’m familiar with already. I like to use metaphor and analogy by comparing something difficult to something less complex. To understand a universe where reincarnation exists, I’m going to construct a much simpler universe and see what I can learn from it.

Part I: The Universe of Water Droplets
Imagine a small universe. In this small universe, we have ground or earth or a floor or whatever at the bottom of an enclosed space, air above the ground, and a vacuum or void at the top of the enclosed space. In this small universe, grass grows and sometimes clouds form and rain falls, but sometimes the skies are clear and the sun shines. Let’s say, for the purpose of keeping this universe small and simple, that there are twenty or so water droplets existing in one form or another. Sometimes they join together to form larger units of water. Sometimes they freeze. Sometimes they boil. But they exist.

These water droplets represent lives in that other, more complex, universe where reincarnation exists. In that other universe, lives are sometimes attached to bodies, sometimes lives are being born or reborn, sometimes lives are dying or between rebirths. But they exist.

Let’s focus our attention on one particular drop of water. We first noticed this drop of water when it was a small sphere falling through the air. When it hit the ground, the place where it hit became wet. This drop of water’s life has been born and begun. Another drop of water was mixed with food coloring. When it hit the ground, that spot, too, became wet, but it was different from the first wet spot. Another was absorbed by a man and later excreted as a tear. When it hit the ground, that spot, too, became wet, but it was different still from both of the other spots.

The sun came out and slowly the wet spots began to disappear. We don’t see any steam, we can’t tell where the water is going, but it is definitely disappearing. After awhile, it seems to be gone completely. At this stage in the analogy, the water is like a life that has been lived and is now dying. The life has accumulated experiences, made choices, learned lessons, and so forth. And when the life is gone, we could see it leaving but we didn’t see it go. We don’t know where it went.

Now, what happens when the water droplets are reincarnated in our small, simple universe? One morning we come out and notice that at some time during the night, a drop of dew formed on the tip of a blade of grass. Where did it come from? There was no rain, no source of water present that we can detect. When it went when it evaporated the day before and where it came from now is something we call “humidity.” You can’t touch humidity (although it can touch you), humidity doesn’t have a “place” that it goes, and it isn’t a mixture or a solution (to use chemical terms) as such. Humidity just IS. Humidity is like the spiritual part of the reincarnation universe. Humidity is spirit without body. All three of our droplets of water “died” and became humidity. Now, out of that collective humidity, this new drop of dew has formed. A droplet of water has been rebirthed.

Suppose this dew drop begins remembering things that happened to it in a previous life. Does it remember falling as rain? Does it remember the color red? Does it remember being salty? If it does, then I have to wonder, how did the hydrogen and oxygen molecules that experienced being red get back together again in the dew drop where they could remember being red? Wasn’t the humidity a homogenous whole? Or is humidity capable of keeping separate “lives” of water distinct so as to allow them to continue to learn from past experiences? I would also wonder, “Does water recycle under the influence of some larger consciousness that has a purpose in mind for water droplets? In other words, does water recycle because karma makes it do so? Or would it recycle anyway, even if there were no greater consciousness at all?” Stated another way, does it recycle because it obeys immutable laws that have no particular purpose but just are, or does it recycle because it obeys overpowering influences that have no particular structure except for purpose?

You see, if there is a purpose, a plan for the eventual outcome of the water droplet, then it makes sense that humidity would keep the droplets’ experiences discrete but it would mean that the dew droplet forms in exactly the way it does in spite of natural laws that would form water droplets randomly from the collective whole of humidity.

Lessons from the Universe of Water Droplets
If the soul continues after death, formless, material-less, boundless, in the spiritual universe, beyond the constraints of the physical universe, I find it difficult to understand how it could remain discrete. Without constraints of material, location, form, how could souls become anything other than homogenous, like humidity? And if souls are homogenous, then they are not “spiritual beings wait[ing] to reincarnate into them [bodies].” (Lifecycles, p. 58).

Part II: Curriculum Earth
One of the questions that I have asked before, and one which Bache does not address (or at least hasn’t so far – I’m not done reading the entire book yet) is, “Why do lives keep recycling back to Earth?” What is so special about Earth that souls in the spiritual universe are lining up to reincarnate into humans on Earth? I mean, Earth is only one little planet in one insignificant solar system in one moderately sized galaxy in what appears to be an infinitely large physical universe.

One might go back to my small, simple universe of water droplets and say, “You answered your own question with this model. The envelope of air around the planet is itself surrounded by a larger envelope of vacuum. Humidity cannot escape to some other planet because it cannot pass through the vacuum. Souls might be in the same situation.” To this I respond, the spiritual universe must be greater than the physical universe in order for reincarnation to happen. If the spiritual universe is greater than the physical universe which is already infinitely large, then surely the spiritual universe is greater than the Earth.

I suppose that if I was to ask Bache himself this question, he might likely reply that the same souls keep returning to earth because they haven’t graduated yet from Curriculum Earth yet. He doesn’t come right out and say that he believes that souls start their learning process in the animal kingdom, but he suggests that some ancient traditions might support this idea and he is willing to entertain it. Under such a system, presumably young, neophyte souls need to learn simple lessons and that when they graduate from the lower lessons, they begin retuning in human form for more difficult lessons. Perhaps he might even suggest that once a soul has learned everything that human experience can teach, that it would move on to post-graduate work in some other form, perhaps in some other place than Earth.

OK, let’s examine this idea of returning to Earth over and over again under these presuppositions. My first thought originally about this “school of karma” idea was, “If it requires hundreds, perhaps thousands of years to master the lessons of life and karma, then why not just live that long? Why the necessity of dying repeatedly in order to be recycled through again, with no memory of previously learned lessons immediately available?” It seemed to me to be wasteful, forcing the soul to re-learn everything over and over again, like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day”. The idea of karma being wasteful is unpleasant to me because natural laws, that make things the way they are, are not wasteful. On the other hand, if this karmic school is evolutionary, bringing souls upward through the ranks, then by necessity, reincarnation would be required and, once in place, could be useful for “practicing that play until you get it right”. Still, if the human curriculum takes a thousand years (let’s say) to learn, might it not have been better for humans to have longer lifespans?

This idea of Earth, and the human condition, being a school for spiritual souls makes more questions come to mind. Clearly, there are young, unschooled souls; there are souls who have mastered some lessons and are returning to practice them or to take on more difficult lessons; there are souls who finally get everything right and are ready to move on; there are souls who sit on the guidance councils of the spiritual plane; and possibly there are souls who have advanced to higher planes beyond. So where are these young, unschooled souls coming from? Oh, from the animals, of course. But that doesn’t fit either. Weren’t those young, unlearned souls around seventy million years ago when there were no humans? If they were, why are they still coming back as animals? If they weren’t, then where did they come from? Besides, it isn’t established that souls do live animal lives. That is merely something that Bache allows for, but there are no memories of such lives being revealed in the documented cases. Not all philosophies and traditions incorporate animal reincarnation into the plan. And that gives rise to a question from the other end of the spectrum: If souls reincarnate through humans alone, then what did they do for the billions of years of evolution pre-dating the rise of humanity? We are talking about lives of eternity, aren’t we?

Another element of the curriculum concept that troubles me is the descriptions of souls sitting before a council of judgment or guidance, reviewing the live just lived, analyzing the lessons learned, the choices made, and then planning the outline for the lessons the soul would encounter in the next incarnation. All this love, all this caring, all this desire to bring the soul to a higher, brighter spiritual plane is very desirable, but the watchers on the councils, the spirit guides, don’t seem to have the same love and concern and earnest interest in helping the humans who are living on the Earth right now. We’re the physical, material beings. Maybe our souls are here to learn lessons, but our minds and dilemmas and feelings and emotions are ours alone, not the soul’s that resides in us. Don’t we count for anything to the spirit beings?

It also occurred to me as I read about how time sort of ceases to be relevant while in the spiritual domain that even though the soul being reviewed and the council and guides collaborating with him to plan the next life might be able to experience future, past, and present as one, that still the soul always chooses to re-enter the physical realm, which does have a time stream, at a point after the last departure from the physical realm. Why is that? Wouldn’t it be beneficial to re-enter the time stream at the same point as before to see if the last life lived could be lived out better? If time doesn’t matter in the council circle, then why not examine the next life lived, too, after examining the last life lived? Wouldn’t experiencing the next life lived be as effective as actually returning to Earth and living it?

Epilog
I feel that I have so much more to express, but I’m still digesting what I’ve read. I’m sure that not all my questions have surfaced and I know for certain that I haven’t even begun to explore all the nuances and facets of this interesting topic. However, this is all I have for tonight, so it will have to do for now.

I’m interested in hearing how my little examination reverberates in you.
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