Is this the real life?
What happened before we were born? Do we really choose our current lives? How does Karma factor in? Does it even matter?
I read somewhere that if we were to pile up all of the dead bodies of all of the lives each person has lived, we would create a pile that is higher than the Everest mountains. In Buddhism, we believe that we are reborn due to the force of craving or desire. We have an addiction to wanting therefore we are. We create the world around us. Things arise and cease in waves, leaving us wanting more.
What we are is another question. There is a belief that we can be reborn in many different forms, with the human form being of special significance. To be born in the godly/heavenly or demon/hell realms is something else entirely, and yes, it is possible to be reborn as a god or demon. However, to be human is to have the ability to make choices and uniquely have the potential to change your future destiny. Rebirth in the animal realms is seen as a condition in which you do not have a choice because your base nature holds sway.
To be human is to have the ability to make choices and uniquely have the potential to change your future destiny
So what happens in our present life? Do we choose our parents? I believe we do. I believe my kids chose me and, in a way, I was open to receiving them. Even one who is childless but with a desire may find a surrogate child, parent, or person who plays a significant role in their life. It all comes down to this base desire to ‘want’ and an infinite number of checks, balances, and interactions over the ages that tie our lives together. Have you ever met a person, or several persons, who just vibe with you on another level that cannot be explained? Have you ever had the feeling of deep distrust or even hate without ever having a rational reason for this visceral response?
One of my sons gave me a second of pause when he asked me not once but twice at the age of 3 and again about a year later at 4, “When are we going to go see my real parents?”. I quizzed him to find out to whom he was referring to. Did he mean his grandparents? Maybe he was mistaken with his word?. Adamant, he stuck to his belief that he had another set of parents someplace, somewhere who were not my husband and I.
In Buddhism and Hinduism, we explain these experiences via the cycle of rebirth. Often anecdotally, we will say that we must have shared something in a past life to lead to these responses. When I married my husband, one of the perks of the ceremony was agreeing to be married for seven lives. My husband and I often joke as to whether or not we are on our first life together or our last.
“Ha ha, whatever the case, you are stuck with me,” being the final jibe since we just signed up for seven more.
So as with several lives of spousal unity — so could you imagine that people appear and reappear in a cycle that requires much self-reflection via meditation and responsive equanimity before it breaks. The whole concept of nirvana or escape from the cycle of rebirth hinges on developing the skill of reflecting and releasing oneself from desire. In this manner, you can end the cycle and obtain enlightenment to be reborn no more.
As a teenager, I was fascinated with the Celtic spin on rebirth illustrated in Katherin Kerr’s Deverry novels. Here, the same philosophy was toted but with a single soul passing from one life into the mess of the next. The overriding push/pull of their lives was to lead people to their ultimate destiny or purpose, for example, achieving enlightenment or being a wielder of magic/power. Other destinies could be driven by a life purpose to repay a debt that was incurred several lifetimes ago. You could have been born this life just for the sole purpose of righting a wrong committed in a past life.
Buddhism takes it one step deeper. The analogy to rebirth is of taking a candle and lighting a series of lights. One can imagine each of those lights, in turn, needs to burn their fuel source but could also give rise to even more lights. There are an infinite number of possibilities to play out in many dimensions over parallel timelines. We can safely take a step into the Marvel universe and all of its parallel dimensions that the Flash (or a Buddha type figure) can navigate with ease of mind. How to escape this repeating pattern?
Let it go.
Whether you want to remember past lives or have a better understanding of current circumstances as a result of what came before — meditating on past lives or maintaining a certain objectivity or equanimity over the knowledge of past lives may provide answers. The majority of Buddhist scholars will tell you the Buddha advised against being too attached to the ideas of rebirth, karma, and past lives because that too gives rise to attachment and does not serve a purpose to the path to enlightenment.
But most of us are not saints and most of us stumble along without taking up the saintly robes. Out of curiosity, wouldn’t it be interesting to know these things?
A disturbing dream of running from a mob of angry people throwing stones. Finally succumbing to the injuries. A veiled woman ran. She ran and fell. She pulled herself up once more and continued running, though they were surrounding her and the pavement stones were light sand-colored and hot in the midday sun. The sky was blue. She neared a watchtower. Blood flowed from the cuts to her bruised skin. This life was ending.
She vowed to write not in this life but in another. She would live again in another life where she would have the freedom to write. With this final wish she died.
It was mid-afternoon at a large estate. She was running through the vineyard. She had two long auburn braids running down her back and she had to lift her skirts as she ran. She was young enough to steal away and run free from her caretakers. A prince, her sister’s betrothed, would arrive soon and she wanted to see him and his party ride up on their steeds. She would not be disappointed. The gates had opened and she could see the dust from the horses’ hooves not too far away. As they passed her, the leader looked in her direction. She bowed her head hoping he had not seen her. They rode past and she cut through the gardens to return to the villa before them. Mother and Father were greeting the guests. She quickly took her place beside her sister.
“I will marry this one,” he said.
Her sister’s smile fell. The girl’s heart dropped to the pit of her stomach as she realized her childhood had come to an end. No time was wasted. Although the bags had been packed for her sister, the same clothing and gifts would serve as her dowry as well. The girl was swept up onto the back of his horse and with little fanfare was carried away from family and friends. He was a good man and she would have a good life. However, to the day she died, her one regret in life was the sorrow she had brought to her sister and the shame to her family.
She was not meant to be his wife. He was not meant to choose her. In the next life, she would right the wrong and make sure he chose her sister. Her sister too would choose him. The wrongs would be set right.
Do you remember your past lives in your dreams? Do major life events trigger a memory or a flash of history repeating? Do they give new meaning to current relationships or decisions made in the present? At the end of the day, does it matter? Would it change anything in this present life? Perhaps it's just a means of giving you an internal narrative.
Let it go.