Saturday, March 18, 2006

A Return Engagement

Reincarnation is a belief prevalent amongst Hindus, Buddhists, some Taoists and I'm sure other people too. Such adherents believe that a person's soul or essence is reborn several times in different earthly expressions before reaching heaven, nirvana or perfection. Personally, I've always thought that reincarnation was a really far-fetched idea.

Lately, however, I've come to realize that I too believe in reincarnation, albeit in far different way than most who utilize the term.

To put it in its simplest terms, for me, reincarnation is nothing more than the act of human compost. From what I've observed in my lifetime, all matter eventually dies and breaks down into its most fundamental elements. These elements come together to form new matter.

We see this process at work in our home compost piles. We bring together vegetable scraps, fallen leaves, small twigs, grass clippings and a variety of other spent plants. With a little time and care (and even without the care), the various parts of this mass breakdown into a rich mulch which we spread on our gardens and lawns. From this mulch springs new life.

That's fine and dandy, some of you may say, but what about a person's soul or essence? Well, I don't see why the very same process can't occur with our spiritual side. It could be that, when we cease our present earthly existence, our spiritual essence returns to Tao and is thrown onto the giant soul compost pile to be transformed into celestial mulch. In time, this spiritual mulch becomes the springboard for the essence within future matter.

I'm certainly not suggesting this is the way it is. I'm just saying it's as good a possibility as the next belief.

As a Taoist, I really don't ponder these sorts of things very often because it represents the kind of question that we can't answer in this lifetime. Why waste a lot of precious time and energy worrying or debating what none us can know definitively until we get there.

That said, I see nothing wrong with people casually expressing their beliefs on this topic or venturing to guess what the "hereafter" MIGHT be like.

Anyone have an interesting theory you'd like to share?


  1. A thousand thousand possible realms , ideas, destinations

    Who is to say they arent all true, false or variations of each other ?

    Personally i believe life is eternal and reincarnation is just a flowing back into one of our possibilities :)

  2. Interesting analogy. Makes sense to me -- reincarnation elements, chemicals, etc. and reincarnation of the soul. I used to know someone who fervently didn't believe in any sort of life after death, but she used to refer to the reincarnation of elements. Both ideas make sense to me. But I guess I'll find out when I get there.

  3. Well, it mostly depends on how attached you are to your ego, I suppose. Some poeple like to believe their spirit continues forever in some form, or even in exactly the same form.

    For me, I find there is the watcher and the doer, the one who does things and the one who sits back and watches, observes, and nods sagely, laughs, or occassionally cries over what the doer is up to. My own suspicion is the doer is the compost, the watcher returns to the universal spirit and has a good laugh or cry over what they observed, and goes on to observe some other doer.

    I try more every day to follow the teachings of the observer, and let the frustrations, rages, and anger of the doer go. It seems to help.

  4. As I read your analogy, I was reminded of the Hermetic saying, "As above, so below." I believe Nature tells us stories to point us toward correct thinking. Your take on reincarnation is thought-provoking. I don't think I've ever heard it put in such a way.


  5. I have recently studied Buddha's teaching on interdependent origination. In Buddhism, rebirth is part and parcel of the continuous process of change. Indeed, we are not only reborn at the time of death, we are reborn at every moment.
    "what I've observed in my lifetime, all matter eventually dies and breaks down into its most fundamental elements. These elements come together to form new matter."..........and this is the essense of interdependent origination..... The Buddha said the flame in an oil lamp burns dependent on the oil and the wick: when the oil and wick are present, the flame burns, but if either is absent, the flame will cease to burn. Let us also take the example of the sprout: dependent on the seed, earth, water, air, and sunlight, the sprout arises. So, likewise, when the conditions are right, we, in this body, will cease to be in this body....then, back to the Tao?

  6. Great analogy - and precisely I plan to have a woodland burial, in a wicker coffin, wrapped in a pure cotton shroud. Therefore all the matter that is currently held in this shape will 'compost' down and form itself into other matter.

  7. "Wakefulness is the Way to life. The fool sleeps as if he were already dead, but the master is awake and he lives forever."-Buddha

    "Those who follow wisdom pass beyond and, on leaving this world, become immortal."-Katha Upanishad

    "He who has right understanding, is careless and never pure, reaches not the End of the journey; but wanders on from death to death. But he who has understanding, is careful and ever pure, reaches the End of the journey, from which he never returns."-Katha Upanishad

    "Unattached to speculations, views and sense desires, with clear vision, such a person will never be reborn in the cycles of suffering."-Buddha

    I used to believe in the idea of returning to the Source as some kind of spark, until some powerful meditation experiences proved to me that we do indeed continue on after physical death, and that this world is not the be-all and end-all of creation, but as quantum physicists know to be true, simply one of many dimensions. I'll never be able to prove it to anyone else, but it transformed me and my life, and it's what inspired me to write my book, investigate spirituality, etc. Belief in immortality may not be purely Taoist (for me, Taoism is a Way to survive THIS world), but there you have it - and for me anyway, it's a good reason to believe that cycling through multiple lives is simply not the point once one is aware of this. Once I get to the other side, I can promise you - I'm not coming back and you can't make me! Sometimes I wonder if people's past life 'memories' are simply misinterpretations of the Akasha, which some say is a record of every word, event and memory of every person who ever lived. Also, I like to say, my Grandma is passed, but she is still out there, and I'd be bummed if she reincarnated as someone's nephew in China! Not to mention that there are more people alive on the Earth right now than ever lived previously; where are all those recycled souls coming from?

  8. I first ran across the idea that souls are made of "spirit-stuff" that is recycled into new souls in a Native American philosophy class. My current take on it is that there is more than one possibility after death. That some spirits do decompose, and some continue on. Which and why? *shrugs* No clue.

    I like Donna's take on it, that the Observer continues on. It fits with much that I've experienced in meditation.


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