Our conversation started with the question of reincarnation. The point was quickly made that reincarnation is not necessary, it is inefficient as a process and has many drawbacks.
If a person is reincarnated, as the teaching goes, over very many lifetimes, as a man, a beast, a woman, a deer, an ant, or a tree, who is that person? What is their identity? They are all of these things and none of them really. They have no essential being, so it would seem. Then, what persists in these reincarnations? Is there an ego, which persists? But one of the teachings surrounding reincarnation is that there is no self, no person. There is only the law of karma. Indeed, reincarnation is tied to the law of karma, namely that the consequences of acts must be played out. One must make up for the wrong choices of the past. But is the law of karma so iron clad. Is there no mercy or forgiveness? Is there only justice?
In answer to a question at one of the Buddhist Summer Schools, Venerable Traleg Rinpoche, a noted teacher of Buddhism in Melbourne, stated that one could be a Buddhist without believing in reincarnation. This reply caused consternation among some participants in the seminar. Indeed, the Four Noble Truths, which encapsulate the essence of Buddhism do not involve the teaching on reincarnation.
The process seems inefficient. Must there be seemingly endless rebirths and re-deaths? Is this the best way, the only way?
The contrast is with the idea of resurrection. Here the material is made spiritual without ceasing to be physical; the passing and corruptible is made enduring and firm; the limited becomes unlimited. It is like the flowering of the plant. The plant achieves its purpose in the flower, which is hidden, so to speak, in the plant. The flower and its fruit are the purpose of the plant, and the revelation of its possibility.
The problem of evil is a constant issue. The experience of evil is shocking and unbearable. It has deep effects in body, mind and spirit: pain, doubt, despair, and so on. But it is also true, as we all experience, that once health is restored and the pain disappears and in the context of flourishing good health, the fact of the pain is remembered but its influence has gone. So too in the resurrection, the knowledge of past vulnerability persists, but is now superseded. Indeed, there can be thanksgiving for the time of trouble since if it has born fruit in freedom from superficiality and in the deepening of spiritual experience.
Is not resurrection a cheapening of things? It is too easy! But no, because resurrection involves purification and detachment, it means acknowledging the errors of the past, and their abandonment. This can be extremely difficult.
The individualism of reincarnation is an issue. Is it a question of ‘me’ being liberated and achieving ‘my’ liberation? But the sense of community means that everyone’s life is a gift for others, so that every life is lived by every life. The whole richness of human experience is shared by those who reach consciousness and the fullness of sensitivity. The experiences of the past and the experiences of a so far inexperienced future are shared by all. This experience of another’s experience is itself an experience, so that the exchange grows exponentially, and is far greater than what is available in endless reincarnations, which are essentially limited though numerous. The gifting of one’s life by giving and receiving life is itself greater than merely experiencing life individually.