Some Thoughts on Reincarnation
By Tim Frayser (c) 1999

The more I think about reincarnation, the less I like it.

It kind of reminds me of communism.
Communism started out with a good idea: everybody gets treated equally,
everyone has the same rights, everyone was guaranteed a job.
The reason it didn't work was because... everyone was guaranteed a job.
It didn't matter what kind of worker you were, good or sloppy, you still got a job.
If you were late to work all the time or goofed-off
or had no skills at all, you still got a job.
Even if you were so sloppy as to be a danger to your coworkers, you wouldn't be fired ... they would just
find you another job somewhere else.
The people who did work hard,
on the other hand, and did a good job, saw no reason to work any
harder than the slob next to him since they both got paid the same,
and both got treated the same, so he didn't work any harder.
Communism fell apart from within because there was no incentive for anyone to do a good job.

Upon close inspection, the idea of reincarnation starts out with a good idea, but also falls apart from within.
With reincarnation, a person is supposed to work hard to be a good person, so that when he dies
he can come back to Earth as someone better in the next life,
eventually working towards getting it all right and moving on to Nirvana.
If a person does not live a good life, he
pays for it by coming back in the next life as something not so good.

The problem is: if a person is bad, like a lying, no-good, murdering monster,
he might come back as some horrible little bug or something,
in order to pay for what he's done,
...but he still gets to come back.
Suppose you've been a completely awful person your whole life
and you've completely screwed up this entire lifetime... it's okay; you still get to come back.
...And not only that, you've got an infinite number of lifetimes to make up for it.
Don't worry about it.
You can start being a good person the next incarnation.
You could even be a completely awful person several incarnations running
...or every incarnation (what's to stop you?) still get to come back.
There's no incentive to live a good life because, either way, you still get to come back.
Reincarnation is supposed to help advance your spirit, but it doesn't.
In fact, by default,
reincarnation encourages your spirit to not advance.
(How else would you continue to reincarnate?)

What exactly does it mean to come back "better?" Will you be
reborn into a rich family? Lots of rich people live unhappy
lives. Will you be reborn into a poor, but loving family? That
would still be no guarantee you'd be happy.
If you were sickly, will you come back healthy? Lots of healthy people live miserable lives.
There's probably an infinite number of possible "better lives"... but who decides what you get when you reincarnate?
The idea of reincarnation originally came from a society with a caste system,
where everything you did in life was based on what caste you were born
into. It made sense to believe at the end of your miserable, low-
caste life you might come back born into a higher, nicer caste.
(Incidentally, people who attend Christian churches and believe in Hindu reincarnation are getting their religions mixed up.)

Contemporary people seem to put a lot into reincarnation. Reincarnation says
you've lived any number of previous lifetimes. Maybe dozens, maybe hundreds.
But what happened in those lifetimes? Were you good or bad? Were
you famous or infamous? What talents or skills did you learn or develop?
Who knows?
You don't remember one way or another. A lifetime of
experience, or several lifetimes of experiences, are not there
for you to draw knowledge from. You live these lifetimes, but you
don't remember anything useful from them, so there's no way to learn
anything from them. What's the point of having them?

Suppose you live a selfish, greedy lifetime, and pay for it
by coming back as something not-so-good. There's nothing to keep you from
making the same mistakes all over again. Wouldn't it be useful if
that  experience of reincarnation taught you to not make the same mistakes again?
Wouldn't the process of reincarnating over and over for the purpose of
advancing your spirit be a lot more efficient if you could
consciously learn from your past experiences? Some might say you
learn unconsciously, but how do you know?
If  you encounter suffering in your life,
is it punishment for something bad you did in a previous life,
or is it a reward for enduring even more suffering in a previous life?
How do you know?
Some say it is our spirits that do the learning, and what we learned in past lives manifests itself through
deja vu and instinct; our conscious selves are just sort of "along for the ride" as our spirits learn stuff;
it's an answer, but is it the right answer?

If reincarnation is a real process of nature, it's an inefficient process... and that's the problem: nature hates inefficiency.
Inefficient things don't work.
Inefficient machines break down.
Inefficient life forms die.
If a square was more efficient at rolling than a circle, wheels would be made from squares.
Animals with inefficient methods of survival quickly become prey for other animals and the forces of nature.
If a tree is inefficient at producing seeds it will fail to reproduce, and the species will become extinct.
Reincarnation is, at best, inefficient, and Nature punishes inefficientcy-- Nature does not perpetuate it.

Reincarnation encourages people to be lazy, to take this world
we live in for granted; if we allow ourselves to miss out on life experiences through
laziness or misdirected obsessions, it's no big deal. If we don't
cure some disease, or stop some injustice, or fix some problem with society,
who cares? We'll just do it next incarnation... or the next... or the next...

Some argue that the problems in their lives are because of mistakes they've
made in past lives, but isn't that just passing the buck?
Aren't people just putting the blame on someone else (themselves in a past life),
avoiding the burden of taking responsibility for
their problems and doing something about them?
Reincarnation gives people an easy out.
Taking responsibility for your problems is the first step towards maturity
...but reincarnation says it's not your problem-- you don't have to take responsibility-- it's all somebody else's fault.
Reincarnation is a cop out.

By the same token, if your problems are the fault of your past lives,
then it's a logical conclusion that your achievements, accomplishments and skills,
however much you've worked for them,
are not your accomplishments.
The skills and abilities learned in past lives
must play a part in your present life, and for all you know represent all of your useful abilities.
Reincarnation means you have nothing to be proud of.
If you believe in reincarnation, you can't really claim credit for anything you've
accomplished your whole life. Everything you've done is just the end product of work
started by others (your previous lives). How do you know it's not?
You're just the latest in the series, the next guy in line, the next suit on the rack.

Reincarnation says that your life is nothing special.

You might work your whole life becoming a good person,
building yourself into a special,distinctive, unique individual.
You might endure all kinds of hardships, and survive any number of dangerous situations
which build your character into something strong and admirable.
...But reincarnation says that your feelings, your emotions, your memories, your personality, everything that
makes you distinctly you-- is nothing;
you are nothing more than a suit worn by your spirit, a vehicle designed to be casually discarded
by your spirit when your body's usefulness is over... and when
your spirit departs, everything that made you distinctly you is gone forever.

I'd almost prefer the idea that I have no soul, and that there is
no afterlife, to the idea of reincarnation. At least then, my
life would be my own. My short, limited existence would have
meaning. I would be special, one of a kind, a first edition,
limited edition of one... instead of a pile of pulp that keeps
getting recycled over and over into successive editions of a
disposable newspaper. I don't have any memory of past lives and I
have no control over any future lives; the only thing I know
about for certain is this life here and now.

On the other hand, what if reincarnation was just poetic, wishful thinking,
and there was no afterlife waiting for us after we die?
Believing this is the only lifetime we get means we need to live every day-- every moment-- to the fullest,
because we only get one shot at life, and this is it.
I think this outlook makes life more precious, and prevents us from taking the world--  and each other--   for granted.

I think that if there is a "life after death," it is in the actions
we do-- the good deeds, the hard work, and the useful
contributions we make to society--that  are what really live on
once our individual lifetimes are over.

...And what exactly happens when you reach Nirvana, anyway?
People talk about it, but don't know what it really means.
What is it's purpose? Some people say the purpose of all life is to learn,
which makes a certain amount of sense. In the case of reincarnation, our spirits would keep coming back in order to
learn all there is to learn. Theoretically, we would reach
Nirvana when we've learned it all.
But if our existence is based
on learning everything, and at some eventual point we do indeed
learn everything, then what would be the point of existing past that level?
That would be the end of us. We wouldn't just die-- our
spirits would cease to exist, forever, never to return again.

That would indeed be the ultimate, cosmic joke: that Nirvana is just another word for ...oblivion.

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