When my dad passed away at the hospital's intensive care unit, I was there. I saw the machine when it flatlined. I was there at the time he had breath in his body and at the time he took his last breath. For some reason, it felt final but not final-- final in the sense that him as I know him is gone, but not so final because there was this inexplicable feeling of being so certain that we will meet again. Some would say it is just a feeling and there is no truth to it, and I am not here to argue the point of what can be proven or what cannot. But I am here to offer the idea of reincarnation as it is taught in yogic teachings, what it means to be alive in this lifetime and to go through many more.
Reincarnation is the idea of a permanent soul taking on a journey with different bodies. Our body is like a vehicle. You may take the MRT or a jeep or a tricycle or a bus or a car or a boat or a jet or a plane or all of them at different points in your soul journey. In any case, the body is just a vehicle that takes us from one place to the other. Our final destination is the same: enlightenment, awakening, liberation. It takes many vehicles, hence many lifetimes, to get there. Some of us are just starting. But they say that if we are drawn to the practices of yoga, it means we already started our journey, and we are merely picking up where we left off. It is said that while we are living out these lifetimes, it may seem as though time is long and stretches out forever. But the moment we are enlightened, we see that time is nothing, that it is a mere drop in a vast ocean. It is said that when the Buddha became enlightened, he saw before him the one thousand lives he had lived in a flash.
Now what gets interesting is that if we start to believe in this concept, our perspective about others changes. Given that we are all headed towards enlightenment and all at different stages of our journey, wouldn't we see that we are all fellow passengers? If you are lining up to get somewhere, would you judge the last person in line because he or she was not early enough? I would think not, because our new perspective gives us the clarity that we are headed towards the same direction. Our timing is just a little different. If we saw each other as souls, our bodies impermanent, and our destinations the same, it will be easier to accept each other and to recognize each other. And in that sense, that we are all souls taking the same journey, isn't it beautiful to think of the idea that we are all soul mates?
Reincarnation--it is the idea that we have life after life after life after life, repeating the same lessons lifetime after lifetime until we learn them, until we graduate from them. It's a tough concept to grasp because although it is a belief held by many traditions, and although there is a growing number of anecdotal evidence that support it, for most of us, we simply do not remember our past lives, and so for most of us, it is a belief that is hard to prove.
Some things to consider though: the idea of reincarnation is that the next life is a consequence of some of our actions in this life. At the final moment of this life, as we confront death, our state of mind, what we think, and how we feel will determine the next life. If we are full of regret in our last moments, then that will be the seed of our next life. If we are attached to certain things or ideas, then that too will be the seed of our next life. It is said that it is only when we are unattached, completely equanimous, and absolutely peaceful do we break the cycle of life after life after life.
The practice of yoga with its teachings on karma is an empowering one. Karma has now come to have a negative connotation, used in a way synonymous to being punished. Yet the word karma is neutral. It simply means action. And all actions have consequences. Therefore, we are taught through the teachings of yoga that we are not victims. We are never victims. Our present reality is the consequence of past actions we have taken, as our present actions will be responsible for creating our future realities. It is all too easy to look at the vicious cycles in our lives and blame others. Why do these things happen to me, one may ask. Things do not happen to us. We are the ones who make things happen, whether consciously or unconsciously. So the first step to break patterns is to acknowledge our own participation, to take stock of our responsibility, and then to create new karmas. It takes courage to do this, to see that we are active participants of our lives, and that our fates are determined by our choices.
The practical implications of reincarnation and karma mean quite simply, that (1) we reap what we sow, just across a period of time that seems inconceivable to our logical, pragmatic minds; and (2) we must be ready to let go when that final moment comes. Some of us believe in reincarnation. For those of us who do not, what is there to lose to accept that actions have consequences, which is a law of physics anyway? What is there to lose to let go of anger, jealousy, and fear? Even if we do not think forward to the next lifetime, we can at least reap those benefits in this lifetime that we now live.