While most people think of reincarnation as a dogma of religion or an interesting philosophy, the Buddhist monks in Tibet have developed it into a science.
This ancient and isolated Himalayan community has a tradition of contemplating and recording the aspects of human consciousness. Buddha, himself, began these thought experiments as a means of understanding human suffering. He discovered that our misery comes from our reluctance to accept change and our emotional attachment to both situations and material objects. Buddha understood that change is an inevitable process with time and he devised a method for detaching oneself, mentally and emotionally, from transient phenomenon.
Detachment and Meditation: Who's Watching Who?
Tibetan Buddhism is a bit different from the usual philosophy of "dry detachment" from the world. The teachings incorporate an attachment to one thing which is the foundation of the universe -- compassion. They seek the goal of enlightenment not for their personal accomplishment or mastery -- but so that they will be able to likewise liberate all sentient beings from their suffering. This grand goal is accomplished through good works and meditation.
In Tibetan Buddhism, meditation is not merely thinking about "nothing", as some people have written. It's much more complicated process with definite goals.
It was explained to me as follows:
Imagine you are an actor on stage, performing a very emotional role in a play. To be convincing, you must believe, at that moment, that you are actually the character you are portraying. You must try to feel the emotion of the drama and express your reaction. But somewhere inside of you, at the same time, you know that you are an actor. The performance you are giving is not real.
Relate that same phenomenon to yourself right now. You are reading this web page and you have a pretty good idea about who you are -- your identity. Yet, it is possible to step back from this in meditation and become the person who is observing yourself.
As I have aged, I have watched my hair turn white and my face change. I noticed that I think about life and the world in different ways, from my accumulated experience and wisdom. Yet there is part of me that has not changed -- it has been consistently there, through the good and bad, watching my life as if it were some play.
I'm told that Tibetan Buddhism encourages one to go even deeper into consciousness, to where exists the person watching the person who is watching the person who is watching one's life. This is not as easy as it seems. The various personae of consciousness define our understanding of reality and they are not easily shed. But when they are, we discover who the "actor" really is; and with this awakening from our "character" we can voluntarily control our role in the drama of life and death. We can stop being an actor or we can define our character.
In Tibetan Buddhism these levels of consciousness are called the truth body or Dharmakaya, the enjoyment body or Sambhogakaya and the emanating body or Nirmanakaya. Ironically, you must thoroughly understand and use each of these levels of consciousness to be free from them. And it is often the case that the harder you try to be free, the more they tempt you to resist this liberation. It is often quoted that Buddha said,
"Use yourself to conquer yourself."
Traditionally, the metaphor used to describe our normal consciousness is a dream, and the arrival at the primal consciousness is spoken of as "awakening." This view is carried through one of the most famous works in Tibetan Buddhism, The Book of The Dead or Bardo. This a an ancient text designed to actually be read aloud at the time of death, so that the dying soul can hear and be reminded of his real nature. I'll include a short video of the Bardo here:
Tibetan Buddhists differ from other sects in that they believe in both reincarnation, which applies only to one who has gained control of their future life and rebirth, where a person is reborn according to their life's moral accomplishments and karma. The latter can have many possibilities -- both good and bad.
The Wheel of Life [above] is driven by karma at the time of death. A lifetime of good and bad decisions creates a set of experiences that are either beneficial or detrimental to the attainment of enlightenment. The quality and nature of one's next rebirth is designed to modify these traits and advance towards that goal.
If one was a cruel person, one might expect to endure cruelty in the next life. If one were a kind and compassionate person, one might be reborn in a position to use their virtues to help others. A lifetime cannot be judged as a single entity. Each life is like one frame in a movie. And like a movie, our spiritual journey has actors, a plot and an ending.
Tantric Rules for a better rebirth
Very few of us will ever have the opportunity to run away to a Tibetan Buddhist monastery. But we can benefit from their philosophy of life. I like to think that, since they have already done all the hard work of fasting, meditating and debating, we can look at what they have discovered. Surprisingly, it sounds familiar to the golden rule, but it contains details that are even more specific.
I will show some of the rules of the so-called Tantric path here. These are designed to improve your rebirth and advance your enlightenment:
It's best to learn about enlightenment from someone who has already started along the path. They will know about the difficulties that you will encounter when you start to withdraw from your normal, materially involved life. You really cannot get everything from books.
Wake up! Realize that you are alive and this is your opportunity to work on your REAL self. Seriously, take a moment to actually realize that you exist and what that means.
Try to see the good and bad side in everything. Even things that you detest have something good in them. Hateful people and acts will be a challenge but you must learn to see that they have some goodness inside that you can recognize. Along with this comes forgiveness.
The picture on the [right] is Mahakala. It represents the wrathful form of death. Yes, death is often seen as bad -- maybe the worst thing that can happen to a person -- yet it is also good. Death liberates us from the suffering of life and offers a new opportunity to advance to enlightenment, when we will be fully awake and realize who we are.
With people, it helps to remember that each person is working out some problem in their current life. We may not understand what it is, but hopefully they will and it will serve as a lesson for either them, or someone they hurt. In this big "play" of lifetimes there are protagonists and antagonists -- both are necessary to enable the victim and the perpetrator to work out their karma.
Remember in our earlier narrative of the blind man, Jesus said that he was born blind so that, in effect, Jesus could demonstrate his ability to cure him! Was his blindness good or bad?
"And as he was passing by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who has sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?" Jesus answered, 'Neither has this man sinned, nor his parents, but the works of God were to be made manifest in him.'" (John 9:1)
Recognize that all beings (including animals) are precious and part of our family. You may want to stop eating meat... or you could consider that the animal was sacrificed to advance its own karma.
Always try to show kindness to others -- especially when it is not easy to do so. This means being kind to people who insult you or show disrespect. It is a good way to minimize your ego and attachment to your transient personna.
Understand that everyone just wants to be happy. We are all basically the same inside. Often miserable or hateful people are that way because they have shut out love and compassion. Maybe they have been hurt in the past. But they need to be happy, so try to understand their condition and break through their barriers. Show them it is alright to trust and experience joy.
Avoid thinking that you are special or more important than anyone else. Repeat: Avoid thinking that you are special or more important than anyone else.
"Walk in another's shoes..." by this is meant that you should exchange problems with someone else and try to experience their pain, fears and needs. Imagine how you can give them some happiness and act on it.
Develop compassion. This is the most important goal. It will motivate all the others listed here.
Share your good fortune with others. Remember that your fortune was likely the result of your previous compassion and karma. But with this fortune comes the need to use it to help others along their path to enlightenment. Ease their suffering with food or material needs, share your intellect by teaching or comforting, share your love by giving it to the unlovable.
Do not identify with your ego. If you do good works, don't expect or anticipate recognition or even personal satisfaction. You do good because you are good.
I hope you are beginning to see some similarities in the view of many different religions with regards to reincarnation. The topic is too vast to cover in detail on any single website, let alone an article like this. We will next cover Hinduism's view of reincarnation, after which we will explore the occasions where future lives have been revealed under hypnosis. Next on viewzone.