Sunday 6 November 2016

Why is reincarnation so rare?

My assumption is that reincarnation can happen and has happened - but that it is rare and exceptional - and very far from the normal thing for most people.

I state as a starting assumption that the Mormon view of life is correct - beginning as eternal primordial essences; we were made spirit children of God (that is, children of Heavenly Parents); who chose to be incarnated into mortal life and to die in order to enable spiritual progression towards deity - and that after our mortal death we are resurrected to continue spiritual progression, if we so choose and behave thus, towards the ultimate goal of full deity.

As an implication of this, there is a distinction between spirit, body and soul. We used to be spirit beings, but on becoming incarnated into bodies - en route to resurrection to eternal beings with bodies - the soul became a combination of the spirit and the body.

This is why mortal death is a terrible thing from which we needed to be saved by the work of Jesus Christ - because after incarnation, the death of the body is a tearing apart of that which has been fused, and it leaves the remaining spirit in a maimed state. This maimed state was described in the inhabitants of Hades or Sheol along the lines of being a demented ghost, without self-awareness or agency.

Resurrection is therefore a restoration of the unity of body and spirit which we have in mortal life - but (if we accept this gift of Christ) in a perfected and purged unity suitable for eternity.

In some primary sense, resurrection is a restoration of that 'old body' which the spirit was fused with in mortal life. So that resurrection is to be reborn with the same body - but that body made divine and immortal.

My point is that therefore reincarnation can only be either one of two:

1. Restoration. A return of the resurrected (purged and perfected) person to the world of mortal life - with the 'old body'.

The resurrected soul is thus restored to the mortal world instead of going to Heaven - presumably to do some divinely-appointed task (eg. be a prophet or angel).

2. Recycling. Some situation in which the first 'attempt' at mortal life is simply 'scrapped' - and the now-maimed human spirit is resurrected (i.e. has the integrity of its incarnated wholeness restored) but with the 'old body' restored but in a non-divine form.

With 'recycling'; presumably the first 'attempt' at mortal life had been such a failure (for whatever reason - perhaps the person did not live long enough to achieve what was necessary) - and they are simply given a second chance (if they choose to accept it) to experience mortal life a second time, and with what is in some essential fashion the same mortal body they had the first time.

My point is that if reincarnation is to be a return of a person to the mortal world and with a body, then that body must be the old-body restored; either restored in divine form or restored in a non-divine form - but the same body. The fact of having-been incarnated means that it can only be the same person if he also has the same body; and anything other than a completion of the same body represents a maiming.

In other words, our premortal spirit is not incarnated into mortal life as a ghost in a body-machine (the ghost being the real me, and my body merely its temporary dwelling); but that incarnation works by a profound process in which the spirit and body are made-one so intimately and wholly that they can never again be severed without loss of identity.

This is why true eternal life of the human soul is, and can only be, in the form of resurrected beings with bodies. But the consequence of this is that reincarnation can only be a very limited process, to achieve limited goals, as described above. 

What is not possible, I think; is that you or I could be reborn multiple times, in multiple bodies, in order to experience multiple lives for the purpose of some kind of stepwise spiritual progression.

This is impossible if my assumptions are taken as correct; because such a view of repeated reincarnation necessarily assumes that the soul is actually a spirit, which can - and does - inhabit multiple bodies like a diver putting-on and taking-off multiple diving suits.

The classic view of reincarnation is therefore one which requires that we are ultimately, in our essence, only-spirits - and that bodies are no more than secondary and exchangeable garments. And this seriously challenges why - if we are spirits - eternal divine life should be as resurrected and incarnate beings, instead of simply remaining as spirits.

Indeed, the reason for mortal life becomes hard to understand at all. Why should we want or need to gain experience as mortal incarnates (with bodies) if our eternal essence does not actually need a body? Why be resurrected, indeed why be incarnated in the first place?

So - my belief is that resurrection can occur, and has occurred - but only seldom and as an exception. The normal and destined progression is that each life goes through incarnate mortality only once, en route to incarnate immortality and aimed at increasing fullness of deity.

This further implies that the full benefit of mortal life can be, and usually is, achieved from a single mortal life and death; therefore, given that most humans in history have died in the womb or as young chidlren, the main and only essential benefit of mortal life must be the experience of death


ted said...

I've been thinking on the same lines lately. It appears we have a subtle body that we take with us when we leave mortal life. And although I have been drawn to the eastern (particularly Buddhimsm) takes on reincarnation, I recently found out that even "Enlightened" beings are still attached to their body. There is a phenomena in Buddhism known as Rainbow Body (which are accomplished by esoteric practices) where a dying person can dissolve their body. There was a Catholic Priest, Francis Tiso, who recently published a book on this and claims that Jesus may have learned these practices to accomplish the Resurrection. But it is rare even in Buddhism. My only question is for those that do reincarnate, how can it be the same mortal body. Even in cases where the evidence is strong for people that have lived past lives, it appears their form body was unique albeit similar.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ted - "My only question is for those that do reincarnate, how can it be the same mortal body. "

I suspect our understanding is blocked by modern science (biology or physics) - and that people in the past did not have a problem in understanding in what sense we are resurrected - and in rare instance reincarnated - with the same body.

Clearly it isn't the exact same molecules, because these have turned over many times during life (as well as being involved in other entities at other times); but it is the same 'form' (which does *not* mean identical in appearance, since appearance changes through life).

I don't know that philosophers have ever come-up with a satisfactory definition (beyond 'form') of what it is that stays the same when so much changes - but whatever that identity is concerning the body, then *that* is what remains the same through resurrection and reincarnation.

William Wildblood said...

I'm glad you went into a bit more detail about what constitutes the body since I also was puzzled about your reference to the same body.

As for the post itself I can only say, Bruce, that you’ve put the matter sufficiently eloquently to make me question my belief in reincarnation as the normal tool of spiritual evolution for all people. Might it not be possible that different groups of people progress in different ways? That could explain why some people are so drawn to this doctrine while others feel equally strongly that it is incorrect.

Regarding a heavenly body, I think that pure spirit must have a form of some kind if it is individualised so I would distinguish between the physical body which, being physical, is secondary to the spiritual element, and the ascended body which is a pure expression of the spirit as an individual soul and in some way bound to it in an indissoluble union which does not mean it cannot change and develop. It can and will but always in a way that is faithful to its unique pattern.

Sean Cory said...

If one purpose of reincarnation, if it happens at all, is to reinsert the person into mortality in order to experience something essential to further progression that they missed the first time then reincarnation may not be so rare after all. Millions are killed by human initiated action (war, murder, carelessness, stupidity) and often while quite young. It would seem to me likely that many of these were removed from mortality without gaining needed experience and so sending them through again would follow logically. Add to this the many millions aborted without even getting the chance to take a breath let alone gain any experience.

Then again it may be that for many of us a relatively brief experience of mortality is all that is needed. Someone like me may need decades to learn needed lessons and others may only need a few minutes. I have often speculated that this might be the case. Add to this those of us who come into this life with bodies so damaged or deformed as to make the gaining of any but a very narrow field of experience impossible. People suffering from mental retardation used to be called "innocents" long ago and even today it is recognized in law that if one is unable to determine right from wrong one cannot be held responsible for criminal actions. Perhaps these people need only a relatively few lessons and then to experience death and they are done.

Bruce Charlton said...

@WIlliam - This is how it seems to me with my assumptions, and it seems to make sense of the things I currently regard as important.

As Ive said before, I think that some of the highly spiritual people who believe in reincarnation by direct intuition (such as yourself, Rudolf Steiner, William Arkle) are likely to be among that minority of people who are reincarnated to be teachers, prophets etc - they know (from memories) that they themselves are reincarnated, but may be wrong about most other people.

Also, I think it likely that some people have been present on earth and among people of the past, earlier in their lives when spirit children of God - and some memories of reincarnation may derive from this.

In other words, they recall past 'lives', but they were not incarnated during those lives.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Sean - That is more or less what I think too. I think we were 'placed' in specific mortal lives, according to need.

As for how common reincarnation is - I would guess that the recyling reebooting second-chance type of reincarnation may not allow for memories of the past life; I suppose the previous mortal life experience might be wiped clean and start afresh. I'm not sure why I think this is likely, but it seems so.

pyrrhus said...

I agree with much of the spiritual discussion, but having hypnotized and regressed a number of people to more than one past (and in one case, future) life, I must accept that reincarnation is the norm, and that we typically experience many lives for purposes of learning and soul development.

360 Decrees said...

@pyrrhus - The future? Tell us more!

Shades of Edgar Rice Burroughs' "Moon" trilogy, in which a man of the 20th century relates the fate of the earth in the 21st and beyond as seen by a couple of his future incarnations (who are also descendants of his).