Dealing with Death: Proof of Reincarnation Using Philosophy
What if you never got up from sleep? Would you still exist? Did you ever wonder who you would have been if your mother married someone else? Thinking about not-being is creative. The fact that we even exist is miraculous. It is very likely that you have spent your whole life wondering about these secrets of life and death, but the answer had already been known in Buddhism and Hinduism thousands of years ago. Alan Watts gave a lecture about death in 1959 from the Eastern perspective. Here is a summary of it:
The Concept of Death: Western Perspective vs Eastern Perspective
Western World: There are two main ways the West conceives of an afterlife. If you have a Jewish or Christian background, you believe in some sort of Heaven, Purgatory, or Hell. If you are grounded in atheistic Western rational materialism, you believe in an eternal nothingness in the dark, perhaps you are blind, death, and dumb but still conscious.
Eastern World: The major belief is of reincarnation, the endless series of lives.
The Wheel of Life
Here is a brief traditional overview of the Japanese/Chinese Wheel of Life (the Tibetan Wheel of Life is different):
The Wheel of Life represents stages of existence we pass through with our various lives, clutched by the Demon, who is Impermanence (Change). Unlike the West, there are no everlasting destinations, due to Change. Here are the five different levels/dimensions/states/realms/worlds:
Preta (frustrated spirits with large stomachs but with small mouths- a large appetite which cannot be satisfied)
A person goes through the Wheel life after life- if you do well you go to the upper levels of the angels or humans, if you do badly, you go to the other lower levels . It may sound a bit simplistic or even yet another Western conception of Heaven vs Hell, but it is not. Due to transmigration- you could never actually stop anywhere, what goes up must come down and vice versa. So if you are a goddess in heaven, you are still bound by Wheel of Life and if you mess up, you could be reborn in a lower level.
If you become awakened (a Buddha), you become released from the Wheel and do not reincarnate anymore (nirvana). That is the only way out.
Twelve-Fold Chain of Dependent Origination
Surrounding the Wheel is a series of links which form the sequence of life, the process which keeps the Wheel rotating:
Potter’s wheel (potential)
Man in boat (words, name + form, shapes and things)
Sense consciousness (the five senses)
Desire (woman w/twins)
Grasping (man with basket grasping for the fruits of life)
Growth (prosperity, fullness of life)
Old age/Sickness/Death/Grief/Compassion/Suffering: This is how it ends, but it starts again, since they are linked and inseparable. Therefore Ignorance is not actually Step 1 chronologically.
Ignorance (starts again)
The Chain which links everything= karma = action/to act/to do, not cause and effect. If you lift a brush by one end, and the other gets picked up as well.
Buddhists and Hindus see life and death involved with each other as the two ends of the brush.
Living involves dying, birth and death go together and are inseparable.
One must begin somewhere when one is taught, so the levels and paths are numbered, but it is just a formality of language. Death and life imply each other, self-evidently.
“To be or not to be” is NOT the question, they go together like up and down, back and front, solid and space. Karma is the continuity of pattern, in Buddhism there is no soul or fixed ego (”I”).
Here is an example to understand karma as the linking factor: an army regiment can last over hundreds of years, but the personnel and barracks change. At Harvard University, no original student or teacher remains, yet it goes on. Al molecules in a human turn over every seven years or so but we associate the pattern of the person, a form of life.
A wave’s motion, a barber’s pole, a toilet flush, they go around, not along. There is no water moving across the ocean, it just goes up and down, like a leaf on the waves.
The Eastern philosophies offer a solution to problem of death: the individual is constantly changing. The pattern of action goes on, not the actual person.
Change and death are liberating because life would not exist without either of them. The wise person embraces The Demon of Change.
Literalism vs Symbolism
Here’s something the Buddhist text books won’t tell you, yet Alan Watts did: the Wheel of Life is NOT literal. It symbolizes phases of consciousnesses: equanimity, happiness, animality, misery, and frustration. These are experiences in which we all go through in this ONE life time and beyond.
The Wheel/karma symbolizes the interdependence of life and death, being and not-being. The Demon of Change is a disguise of the very source of life. Death without with life is impossible. Without change, life is boring.
Is Rebirth ACTUALLY REAL or a Religious Myth?
Is it true? Is there a process of rebirth? Do our patterns go on and on and can we influence the future? Can Westerners, so conditioned in logical proofs, actually BELIEVE in reincarnation?
Actually the question was a trick: it is NOT a belief, rebirth is self-evident. Consider these two statements:
1) After I die, I shall be reborn again as a baby but I shall forget my former life
2) After I die, a baby will be born.
Both say the same thing and we know #2 is true every day, because someone dies every day and someone new is born.
If you die and your memory comes to an end, and you forget who you were, being reborn is the same of being someone else because if your consciousness goes, you might as well be somebody else.
Yet if a particular set of memories vanish, death is not the end of consciousness. We are deluded; if we think of death as endless darkness, it is meaningless and illogical. There could be no sensation of nothingness because it has to be compared to the sensation of something.
The Universal “I”
The vacuum of memory is filled by another being who is “I” just as we feel “I” right now. “I” is singular, not multiple. “I” feels like YOU are the center of the universe, but everyone feels like that.
The reasons why the “Demon” of Change/Death/Impermanence is actually good:
1) Disappearance of memory is not something to be regretted. You may want to wish to hold on to good memories and be attached to people BUT do you really want to have those we love for eternity? Would we not get tired of them.? That is why Change is good for us. Think how you marveled at everything as am infant and as a kid growing up, experiencing everything for the first time, the beauty, all being new to your eyes. Or consider a mystery book in which you forget how it ends. It is boring to read it again if you remember the plot twists. Forgetting is renewal, to love again and again over many lives, always with anew intensity without the contrast of seeing them before and before.
2) Who would I have been if my mom married someone else? Everybody’s name is “I”. There will always be “I’s” as long as there is consciousness. They are in a way the same “I”. We might be anyone else. It will always go on and on. The great secret of compassion is you may then look out through all “I’s”.