The oppression of a philosophical ideal

Edgar Cayce "All souls were created in the beginning, and are finding their way back to whence they came"

Edgar Cayce
Reading 3744-5

A few nights ago a friend and I were talking. He had recently broken up with his girlfriend and was in emotional distress. Eventually, the conversation turned to spiritual principles. At this point I began to firmly bite my lip.

I learned a long time ago that I couldn't discuss my spiritual beliefs in normal conversation. In America, where diverse ideology is touted, alternative viewpoints, especially when of a religious nature, often lead to ridicule and contempt.

My grandmother, never caring about someone else's disdain towards her, has her own credo. She would say, don't cast pearls before swine. A biblical reference1 meaning don't bother sharing knowledge with someone who won't or can't understand what you're talking about.

However, in this rare instance, I thought it would be appropriate to open up the reincarnation can of worms. I said, "What do you know about reincarnation?"

Although prepared for the invariable response of belittlement, my friend's reply astounded me. He said, "What? That's crazy. I don't believe we come back as flies."

I calmly and methodically explained the basic tenants of modern-day reincarnation philosophy. When I was finished, I was pleased to find that my friend, although not a disciple, had a better understanding of what reincarnation was.

There are differing views on what reincarnation encompasses. Most religions believe reincarnation is a cycle of birth, death, and then rebirth. The original form of reincarnation was created in India around the 9th century BC. The philosophy was later adopted by the other major Eastern religions, Buddhism and Jainism, both of which also originated in India. Chinese Taoism took the philosophy from Buddhism around the 3rd century BC. Slightly thereafter the first Greek philosophical system arose under the teachings of Plato. There is dispute as to whether Plato drew his views from the earlier Greek philosopher Pythagoras or from Eastern religions that were beginning to seep into the Mediterranean. It was probably a little of both.

"For if the soul existed before birth, and in coming to life and being born can be born only from death and dying, must she not after death continue to exist, since she has to be born again?"
From Plato's Phaedo
Reincarnation is deeply misunderstood and mischaracterized in this country. This is due in large part to the efforts of the Christian church. Emperor Constantine was the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity in 306 AD and in 380 AD, Emperor Theodosius officially declared Christianity the state religion of Rome. It was during this period that biblical passages relating to reincarnation in the New Testament were removed. In 533 AD reincarnation was officially declared heresy by the Second Council of Constantinople. In these early Christian times, some religious sects such as the Gnostics, Manichaeans, Carthari and Celtic Christians taught reincarnation, but they were forced to keep their teachings secret due to fear of persecution. It was not until well after the fall of Rome that reincarnation began to be discussed openly.

Karma is directly linked to reincarnation. Karma is the result of our free will. We bring good karma or bad karma upon ourselves based upon the choices we make throughout our lifetimes. Simply put, every action you take causes a result in the future.

"As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it."

Job 4:8, King James Version

Although Christianity turned its back on its reincarnation roots, many of the world's other major religions still teach it to this day.

Hinduism teaches that at creation a soul is separated from the Divine. The soul is driven to reunite with the Divine, but is not able to until it attains perfection. The process of attaining perfection requires assumption of many different bodies and forms on earth. The soul passes through many lives and deaths. Reincarnation is the means by which a soul reunites with the Divine. This concept is summarily described in the following verse of the Bhagavad Gita:

"Just as a man discards worn out clothes and puts on new clothes, the soul discards worn out bodies and wears new ones."

The Path of Knowledge 2:22, The Bhagavad Gita

Buddhism Buddhism contains several (and varying) concepts in regard to reincarnation. The reincarnation system Tulku, of Tibetan Buddhism, is based on the theory that Buddha's soul never vanishes. Buddha reincarnates in succession throughout time to lead his followers and to accomplish his mission.

Tibetan Buddhism also teaches that Jesus was an incarnation of Buddha. The text, The Life of the Saint Issa. The Best of the Sons of Men, is an account of Jesus's travels in India and Tibet. In the New Testament there is an 18-year gap in the accounting of Jesus' life. It is during this period that Tibetan's report Jesus traveled and taught in their land.

"Issa is a great prophet, one of the first after the twenty-two Buddhas; he is greater than any of the Dalai-Lamas, for he constitutes a part of the spirituality of the Lord."

Teaching of the Buddha Issa, Nicolas Notovitch

Judaism calls reincarnation Gilgul Neshamot. This fundamental belief pre-dates Christianity. Gilgul Neshamot was a primary tenant of Jewish religion until the middle 1800's. During this period a more scientific method of thinking invaded Eastern European Jewish culture. The result of this influence was much of reincarnation philosophy was abandoned by Jewish leaders. In Chasidic, Hasidic, and Orthodox Jewish sects, reincarnation is still an important part of their everyday religion. In the Zohar, a primary Cabalistic text, it is said:

"The souls must reenter the absolute substance whence they have emerged. But to accomplish this, they must develop all the perfections, the germ of which is planted in them; and if they have not fulfilled this condition during one life, they must commence another, a third, and so forth, until they have acquired the condition which fits them for reunion with God."

Taoism Chinese Taoism openly teaches reincarnation. An important scripture of Taoism, the Chuang Tzu, states:

"Birth is not a beginning; death is not an end. There is existence without limitation; there is continuity without a starting point. Existence without limitation is space. Continuity without a starting point is time. There is birth, there is death, there is issuing forth, there is entering in. That through which one passes in and out without seeing its form, that is the Portal of God"

Chuang Tzu 23

Islam is a religion of many sects. The Sufis believe the immortal soul continually passes through different bodies. Jalalu 'D-Din Rumi, a famous Sufi poet, wrote:

I died as a mineral and became a plant,
I died as a plant and rose to animal,
I died as animal and I was man.
Why should I fear?
When was I less by dying?
Yet once more I shall die as man,
To soar with angels blest;
But even from angelhood I must pass on ...

Another great mystic Mansur al-Hallaj wrote:

Like the herbage
I have sprung up many a time
On the banks of flowing rivers.
For a hundred thousand years
I have lived and worked
In every sort of body.

Additionally, it is written in the Koran:

"And you were dead, and He brought you back to life. And He shall cause you to die, and shall bring you back to life, and in the end shall gather you unto Himself."

The Cow 2:28, The Koran

It is clear that the vast majority of world religions support a belief in reincarnation. Christianity is in the minority. Despite the rewriting of the New Testament, there exist several passages that show reincarnation existed in early Christian teachings.

The greatest example of reincarnation in the Bible centers around the story of Elijah. This is one of the few biblical stories that span both testaments. Elijah first appears in the Old Testament, in the first book of Kings. He is one of the greatest of the Hebrew prophets.

Elijah performed many miracles in the name of the Lord. His greatest may have been when he challenged the followers of Baal to a contest2. The contest entailed that two altars be built. One to Baal and one to the God of Abraham. Upon each altar was placed an offering. Whichever God was able to rain fire down upon the altar and consume the offering would be declared the one true God.

The priests of Baal prayed and prayed but nothing happened to their altar. When it was Elijah's turn he had the altar doused with water. Elijah knelt and prayed and suddenly fire rained down from heaven and the altar was consumed in flame.

Elijah had demonstrated the power of the God of Abraham. However, he was consumed with anger towards the followers of Baal and he had them all beheaded. This was a mistake and bad karma would follow him in future incarnations.

Many years after the death of Elijah, another Hebrew prophet, Malachi, foretold Elijah's return:

"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord."

Malachi 4:5, King James Version

This is the first biblical reference of reincarnation. Malachi prophesizes that Elijah will return and he will precede the coming of the Messiah. The Hebrews were very aware of this prophesy and were constantly looking for Elijah's next incarnation. They knew that when Elijah reappeared the Messiah would shortly follow. Many years later, Jesus' disciples asked if he was Elijah.

"And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No."

John 1:21, King James Version

This demonstrates that the very first Christians, Jesus' own disciples, believed in reincarnation. Furthermore, Jesus tells that Elijah had already come.

"And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things. But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist."

Matthew 17:11-13, King James Version

It seems very clear that the old Hebrew prophets and Jesus' disciples all believed in reincarnation. Jesus himself validates reincarnation when he confirms that Elijah had already been reborn

An interesting correlation is also found here. In first Kings Elijah had the followers of Baal beheaded. In Elijah's next incarnation as John the Baptist, he was beheaded by Herod. The bad karma Elijah created returned and manifested itself in Elijah's next incarnation.

In the New Testament, the story of the transfiguration is an account of reincarnation [Mathew 17:1-13]. This chapter of the Bible is hotly debated. Fanatical Christians flat out deny this is any reference to reincarnation. More progressive Christians hold the chapter up as proof that reincarnation is a valid Christian principle.

Without a doubt, Christians are divided on the topic of reincarnation.

Edgar Cayce and Reincarnation
Edgar Cayce
In the past century the philosophy of reincarnation has become more widely accepted in the United States. In the 1930's reincarnation was thrust into the spotlight by the work of Edgar Cayce. Later to become known as, The Sleeping Prophet, Cayce performed thousands of past life readings. Most of Cayce's work dealt with holistic cures for physical ailments. Cayce often found that physical ailments in this lifetime are the result of bad karma from a past lifetime.

Edgar Cayce was the first psychic to perform personal readings, (Or at least to call such an activity by that name), a term that would endure to this very day.

The work of Edgar Cayce led to the foundation of the A.R.E. (Association for Research and Enlightenment) In addition to the International headquarters located in Virginia Beach, Virginia, the A.R.E. boasts local chapters in over 25 countries and activities in over 80. Membership is reported to be over 25,000.

In the 1960's the philosophy of reincarnation experienced another insurgence as Eastern religious ideals permeated hippie culture. In the 1980's and 90's an additional revival occurred as new age religious practices began to spread across the country. Prominent figures such as Shirley McClain and Sylvia Browne further increased interest in reincarnation.

All of this may be quite moot. There is most likely no special spiritual advance if a person believes in the concept of reincarnation while incarnated. If reincarnation is, it simply… is. Belief in the philosophy is not required. In fact, belief in reincarnation may very well hinder a soul's ascension. Apathy may overcome an individual if he or she thinks they'll just get another chance to do it all over again. It is for this very reason the Roman Catholic Church declared reincarnation heresy. The Church wanted followers to believe they had only one shot at salvation.

It is not natural for a person to remember their past lives. When a soul reenters a physical body, it removes all previous spiritual and carnal knowledge. It is important that we don't remember our past lives. It is important, because it helps us grow in this lifetime.

"It is absolutely necessary that the soul shall be healed and purified, and if it doesn't take place in one life on earth, it must be accomplished in future earthly lives."

Saint Gregory of Nyssa
Roman Catholic Bishop
Approximately 380 AD

1 "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you."
[Matthew 7:6, King James Version]

2 The Contest on Mount Caramel
[1 Kings 18:20-40]