PAST-LIFE SOUND BITES
How Weird Am I To Believe In This - Or, Can Statistics Help?
Yo, Shakira, What's Up?
Should I Pray For You, Or Look For You?
Cases Of People Who Reincarnated Before They Died
Coming Back: Choices And Laws
Freedom of Religion and Reincarnation
Native Americans And Nazis
How Weird Am I To Believe In This - Or, Can Statistics Help?
We all admire the lone rebel, able to stand up against the entire world in order to remain true to his beliefs. And yet - it doesnít take long to realize that heís more of a romantic figure, than a practical one. Try living in his shoes for even one minute, and youíll know what I mean.
Having an alternative view about anything can be very costly in this world. It goes without saying that having an alternative view about something as intensely felt or guarded as religion, or spirituality, can be especially so. Just ask all the "witches" who were burned, hanged, or drowned during the Middle Ages.
I do not think is cowardly, or unprincipled, in this context, for the Western believer in reincarnation and past lives to stop for a minute, and take a look around to get an idea of just how alone he is - to try to gain some sense of whether or not he is in good company - if someone has "got his back" - or if he is completely isolated and unprotected, on the fringe of society - just waiting to be picked off, like any loner through history.
For this reason, I decided to make a brief survey of some public opinion polls, to try to measure the exact extent of reincarnation-belief in our own society.
Although I heard one poll cited which claimed that 72% of people in America believe in reincarnation, no specific information regarding that poll was provided by the sources which cited it, and subsequent investigations have, in fact, led me to the conclusion that this figure most likely represents the % of people in America who do not believe in reincarnation.
According to a 1990 Gallup Poll, 21% of Americans believed in reincarnation at that time.
In 1994, the same polling service reported that 27% of Americans believed in reincarnation.
In 2001, a new survey conducted by the Gallup News Service indicated that 25% of Americans believe in reincarnation. This survey was said to have a margin of error of plus or minus 3% points.
In 1997, another polling service, the Yankelovich Partners, reported that 25% of Americans believed in reincarnation (which, according to them, was up 16 % points from 1976). This survey was said to have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 % points.
In 1997, the Roper Reports released the following poll results: 14 % of the American public was said to believe in reincarnation.
While the majority of the surveys seem to place reincarnation-belief in American society at somewhere around one quarter of the population, why the big disparity between the Gallup/Yankelovich Partners results, and the Roper Reports? Welcome to the world of public opinion surveys, hardly the most exact of sciences. Differences in methodology, the structure of the questions asked, and the interpretation of data, could all be issues.
One interesting point about the 2001 Gallup Poll, is that the subjects of the survey were asked if they believed in reincarnation, werenít sure, or didnít believe. 25% said they believed, and 20 % said they were not sure, while 54% said they did not believe. (The missing 1% would be accountable to fractions of a %.) This is an interesting fact, because the "not sures" do not represent a rejection of the reincarnation idea, but rather, express an openness towards it, and a potential for a considerable expansion of that belief through our society.
While some may say, "Only 25 %? Thatís all???" - the fact is that 25% is one out of every four, meaning, fill a room with one hundred people, and youíve already got twenty-five reincarnation-belief buddies. In a country of 265 million people (America in 1996), thatís 66 ľ million people, which is more than the total population of countries such as Colombia, Argentina, France, Sweden, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Australia, and even Egypt (as of 1997). Which are not small or insignificant countries, by the way! In other words, there are enough people in the US who believe in reincarnation to make a country of their own!
Not to forget that there are heavily-populated regions of the world, beyond our own "skeptical Western culture", where reincarnation has been the predominant religious belief since the beginning of recorded history: countries such as China, India, and many of the nations of southeast Asia, as well.
Whereas truth should never be determined by numbers, it is a sad fact of life that numbers often seek to impose their own views as "the truth", and to intimidate - through ridicule, ostracism, or threats - those who do not share those views. Knowing that one is not alone is a valuable asset in oneís struggle to remain true to oneís own perception of reality, and oneís own personal search for truth.
Which leads me to the following, straight-to-the-point conclusion: Go on, buddy, and believe in reincarnation, if thatís where your soul is taking you! Because youíre not alone. Somebody does have your back!
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Yo, Shakira, Whatís Up?
Some time ago, the famous Colombian rock-pop star Shakira, who has since become a successful "crossover" artist, came up with the song "No Creo" ("I Donít Believe"), which Iíve been dying to say something about for months and months! (Iím writing this in the summer of 2002.) The song, in essence a love song whose theme could be summarized as "I donít believe in anything except you", contains the lyrics:
"No creo en Venus ni en Marte
No creo en Carlos Marx
No creo en Jean Paul Sartre
No creo en Brian WeissÖ"
"I donít believe in Venus or Mars
I donít believe in Karl Marx
I donít believe in Jean Paul Sartre
I donít believe in Brian WeissÖ"
Woah, slow down Shakira! What are you saying?!! How did Brian Weiss, the world-famous advocate of past-life regression therapy, get in the mix?
Although I think Shakira is a beautiful, brainy, and talented singer, something about this song really irritated me! (And, at first, if didnít even have to do with Brian Weiss.) My first impression (could be wrong) was that maybe Shakira was influenced, here, by John Lennonís heart-wrenching classic, "God", sometimes also known as "The Dream Is Over." In that song, Lennon, an icon of the 60s dream, shouted out in a powerful and overwhelmingly painful way: "I donít believe in Ö" and then proceeded down a list which, aside from "Hitler", contained so many of the people/things that the dreamers of the 60s had built their lives around, including " the Bible, Jesus, Kennedy, Buddha, Mantra, Gita, Yoga, Elvis, Dylan (who he irreverently referred to as ĎZimmermaní, Bob Dís real name), and the Beatles." Lennon didnít come up with this song to trash the 60s as an outsider, but as a man who had once believed deeply - disillusioned, now, and waking up from a dream, with a terrible sense of loss and sorrow - and yet, also, on a more positive note, with the realization that he must not surrender his soul and his struggle to any icon or outside belief, but find his own path out of the ruins. My first impression of Shakiraís song, was, "a part of this song is trying to have the same icon-smashing attitude as Lennonís ĎGodí." In the same way that Lennon ended his assault on icons and sacred things, with the lines, "I just believe in me, Yoko and me, thatís reality", so Shakira finished her attack on Venus, Mars, Marx, Sartre, and Weiss, with lines to her lover: "I only believe in your blue smile, your crystal eyes, in the kisses that you give meÖ" Granted - Lennonís lines were far more courageous, because by the mid 1990s an attack on Marx (even in Colombia, where radical revolutionary movements persist) could hardly count as icon-smashing (especially since at least as many people hate Marxís ideas, there, as revere or even respect them); and the same could be said for JP Sartre, whose heyday of influence among students and culture radicals occurred thirty years before Shakira picked up her pen to write this song! As for Brian Weiss - well, once again, how much courage does it take to diss a once-reputable psychiatrist turned New Age guru, when he is already rejected by both mainstream organized religions and the modern scientific establishment?
Still, though, the very fact that Shakira conjured up Dr. Weissí name for her song is of great significance. It is a hint of the growing popularity and effect of his work throughout the world; for by considering him worthy of being inserted into her song as someone she didnít believe in, she showed us that he is actually a figure who many people, in her country, do believe in - or, at least, have heard of, and will be able to use as a frame of reference. (For example, would you write the lines, "I donít believe in Julius Caesar, I donít believe in Cleopatra, I donít believe in Marcelo Gugatarious the Fifth?" Who??!! Precisely.)
As a matter of fact, it turns out that Brian Weiss has had a big impact on Colombia, and many other parts of the world outside of the US. In a 1996 interview which he granted to Salle Merrill Redfield (the wife of James "Celestine Prophecy" Redfield), he claimed that, according to a poll heíd read about, 50% of Colombians believe in reincarnation and past lives, in spite of the fact that 95% of Colombiaís population belongs to the Roman Catholic Church, which does not officially support this belief. This apparent contradiction is easily explained by the prevalence of religious "sincretismo" throughout Latin America - the way that indigenous, African, and European beliefs have mixed together there. As a way of winning over non-Christians with powerful spiritual traditions of their own, the Spanish and Portuguese conquerors of the Americas frequently "tolerated" the continuation of some of the ancient religious practices of the conquered peoples, so long as these practices assumed an outward Christian form. The most outstanding example of this is the way in which the conquered Aztecs of Mexico were allowed to preserve traces of their beloved earth goddess Tonantzin in the form of the Blessed Mother Mary, who - as the Virgin of Guadalupe - promptly won the ardent devotion of the defeated multitudes, and drew them to the Church. This long-standing tradition of religious syncretism has helped to create a cultural atmosphere, in Latin America, in which many different forms of spiritual belief are able to exist side by side: it is in this way that a practicing Catholic may, at the same time, believe in duendes (elf-like spirits), or burn copal as an offering to God(s), or eat peyote, or pray to the spirit of the fields for a good crop, or to the sky for rain, or go to a curandera (healing woman) when he is sick, to be cured in pre-Columbian ways, or ask for the help of a brujo or bruja (magic person/"witch") to help remove a curse or spell; and it also makes it easier for elements of the New Age, such as the belief in reincarnation, or UFOs, to penetrate and gain acceptance here. (Many North Americans do not understand this aspect of Latin American Catholicism, imagining Latin Americans to be close-minded, blind followers of official Church doctrine. In fact, it is Protestant America, and those parts of Latin America which have fallen under the influence of the "evangelicos", which are much more likely to be suspicious of the New Age, and to insist upon maintaining the "purity" of their beliefs, rejecting any outside spiritual inputs which do not come directly from their own doctrine.)
For me, personally, this syncretistic religious tradition in Latin America has proved to be a great benefit, for it is what enabled the people of Colombia to receive Dr. Brian Weiss and his ideas with such an open mind, in the first place. It is what helped his book Muchas Vidas, Muchos Sabios (Many Lives, Many Masters) to become a best-seller there, and what helped to ignite a small past-life-regression craze in Colombia, which, in turn, got back to me, here in the USA, thanks to my own personal "Colombian connection." (No, donít think the worst.) Basically, I first heard about Brian Weiss from Colombians, as a result of his book being translated into Spanish, and gaining prominence down there - and that proved to be the beginning of my own long and strange spiritual journey (which is chronicled in The Journey of Rainsnow).
Thanks, Colombia, for "believing in Brian Weiss", just enough to spark my curiosity, and help me find a new path to myself.
Wow, Shakira, I bet you never thought your song would get played this way!
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Should I Pray For You, Or Look For You?
One of the big dilemmas of many reincarnation believers is the question of exactly how to relate to oneís own deceased relatives. Many survivors come from backgrounds and cultures in which it is common to pray for the souls of deceased relatives. These prayers may be a way of trying to help "the dead" in the afterlife, by asking God or the Universe to help their souls find peace, forgiveness, or enlightenment (as in the case of the Jewish kaddish, and some Hindu and Buddhist prayers, as well).
Or, alternately, the prayers may be a way of seeking the guidance, protection, and support of these deceased relatives, who are believed capable of exerting their influence and power from the Beyond, and coming to the aid of the living. This belief is common to most of the early animistic religions of mankind, and is preserved, to some extent, in what remains of Chinese ancestor worship, and in Latin American and African folk beliefs. For death, in these cultures, was seen to give power, and in the spirit-form, the relative was believed to have acquired a new level of force. (Of course, besides seeking the aid of the dead, members of these cultures also, traditionally, seek to comfort and help the dead with offerings, memories, and reverence. There is a sense of reciprocity, of mutual cooperation between the living and the dead.)
Finally, these prayers may simply be a way of continuing to cherish, love, and maintain some link with the deceased, to lessen the impact of separation - indeed, to conquer separation altogether.
Does the belief in reincarnation change any of this?
To make the question more concrete, I know a case of a deceased woman, from a Latin American background. Members of her family continue to pray to her in the Latin American folk tradition (influenced by indigenous and African customs). They pray for her to find peace, and to find the light, if she has not already found it. At the same time, they pray to her for all kinds of assistance, calling upon her to help them in their daily trials - to help them to be healthy, to procure jobs, to achieve good outcomes in earthly matters. Sometimes, they even pray to her for help in winning the Lottery. (This is no egocentric aberration. Life, here, is hard, and they want a break, and the chance to help others more effectively. Brian Weiss, in Through Time Into Healing, portrays more than one case in which deceased relatives helped surviving family members to win the Lottery, and that theme is also colorfully represented in the Brazilian classic Don~a Flor And Her Two Husbands, in which Don~a Florís crazy, life-filled madman of a husband, after his death, returns to the earth as a spirit and, among other things, helps some old gambling buddies to win big-time.) Now, however, several members of this Latin American family have become interested in the concept of reincarnation, and believe that it is possible that their deceased relative may have already been reborn as a child, within their family. So what do they do? Do they continue to maintain their current form of relationship with the deceased, and to treat her as a spirit, or do they give that up, now that she may have left the spirit realm and, once again, be incarnated in a human body? This question, of course, is what inspired the title of my article: "Should I Pray For You, Or Look For You?"
I have asked around on this one, and come up with a wide variety of takes. And I am sure that more substantial research would produce even more.
The most straightforward approach to the matter is that you canít have it both ways. The soul is either in the spirit realm (or existing as an earth-bound spirit), or else it is incarnated in a human body. (Unless, of course, it has evolved beyond both forms.) Once it is reborn, it makes no sense to continue treating it as if it were in its spirit-state, with its spirit power and its spirit needs. While one can, of course, continue praying to a deceased relative who may or may not have reincarnated, "just to be safe", the deceased relativeís abilities to relate to one as a spirit would be lost once he/she reincarnated (meaning, forget the Lottery).
The NSAC (National Spiritualist Association of Churches), the most prominent and respected of American spiritualist organizations, accepts a wide diversity of opinion regarding the concept of reincarnation (which some members believe in, and others do not). According to an official NSAC publication: "Another question frequently asked is, ĎWhy does communication [between the medium or relative and the deceased] cease, or never even begin with some of our loved ones in the Spirit World?í Ö If the loved one is no longer in the Spirit World, but somewhere else, then reincarnation could be one possible answer to this mystery. Of course there is also the possibility that a spirit may have gone to a higher plane and chooses to no longer contact the earth plane." (The Official Position of The NSAC: Reincarnation, p. 10.) According to the logic implicit in this argument, the soul would no longer be capable of being related to as a spirit, once it had accepted a new life and body on the earth. Speaking only for themselves, three members of this organization also told me that they thought it was simple logic that the soul could not be in two different forms, and related to in two different ways, at the same time.
For reincarnation-believers who agree with this view of the soul and spirits, the key to knowing whether oneís deceased relative should be related to as a spirit, or as a living person (who you could try to find, or just pray for, the same as you would pray for any other living person), is to try to get a grasp on the time lapse that occurs between death and rebirth. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Whereas Dr. Ian Stevenson, the foremost scientific researcher on reincarnation, writes that the average interval between death and rebirth is 15 months (Children Who Remember Previous Lives, p. 171), this is really an average compiled from 616 case studies, spanning ten different cultures; and there seem to be considerable variations from individual to individual, and from culture to culture. For example, the Druse Muslims of Lebanon (an Islamic minority which embraces the concept of reincarnation), believe that reincarnation is instantaneous - that at the very moment of death, the soul of the deceased attaches itself to an infant about to be, or in the process, of being born. The Jains of India also believe in instantaneous reincarnation, except that the soul of the deceased enters its new life at the moment of conception. In both of these cultures, if a deceased individual were proved to have been reborn 10 years after his death, an unknown intermediate life would be postulated in order to preserve the validity of their reincarnation model.
For other cultures, however, the intervals between death and rebirth are not considered to be instantaneous. Intervals of weeks, months, or years may be involved - sometimes many years - between one life and another. (Those spirit mediums who believe that a soul cannot simultaneously act as a spirit and be reincarnated, would back up this idea, as they frequently connect individuals with relatives whose passing could be measured in years.)
Most likely, according to the evidence and reincarnation traditions available, the time between death and rebirth varies from individual to individual. Some individuals may want/need more time before reincarnating, and be in no rush to leave the spirit realm. They may feel more at home there, or want to remain in a spirit-state in order to be able to provide "supernatural" support of some kind to those they left behind, or else want to wait for other loved ones to join them, before they all reincarnate together, into new lives that will coincide. Other souls, on the contrary, may be in a hurry to reincarnate. Some of these souls may be those who died suddenly or violently, those who died in childhood, those who died with unfinished business, or those who died with "continuing business", meaning that they were deeply involved in projects when their lives were cut short. All of these lives would share a sense of incompleteness. "At the time of death they might all, for different reasons, have felt entitled to a longer life than the one they had had, and this in turn might have generated a craving for rebirth, perhaps leading to a quicker reincarnation than that among persons who died replete with life, so to speak, and at its natural end." (Stevenson, op. cit., p. 212)
A good example of a soul that was driven to return to the earth to take care of unfinished business is the case of Jenny Cockell (Across Time And Death), whose frustrated sense of motherhood impelled her to reincarnate to try to find the children her premature death, in a previous life, had left behind as orphans. Her tenacity and bravery in being reborn, and then tracking down her lost family, is behind one of the most moving epics of modern reincarnation lore. (Some observers, however, believe that Jenny is not the reincarnation of her previous personality, Mary Sutton, but instead, explain Jennyís remarkable past-life memories as the result of Mary "using" her as a kind of spirit medium, to reach out to her surviving children, and provide them with comfort.)
In general, however, it is sound advice to never become hooked on formulas. And so, I would consider it possible that some souls who had met violent deaths, or had unfinished business, might not fall into the "quick reincarnation" pattern, due to the fact that they had a special reason for wanting to avoid the dangers of the earth, and to delay their renewed exposure to its risks; due to the fact that they were lost as earth-bound spirits (a common fate of traumatized souls), and had not yet arrived at the "platform" for launching a new life; or due to the fact that they wanted more time to reflect and learn in the Beyond, so as to better carry on with their work; or else that they needed to wait for an appropriate time to return - for "the great man, stranded outside his rightful time", lacks power. And for every soul, there may be a time of closed doors, and a time of open doors. (Just look at Vincent Van Gogh.)
In any case, from what I have just written, it ought to be clear that there is no fixed formula for determining when a deceased relative will be reborn, so if you do not recognize his or her rebirth through some sign, which may be occult, behavioral, or biological - (see Stevenson, op. cit., and also Where Reincarnation And Biology Intersect) - you really may not know when, or if, your relative has been reincarnated. In this case, you could continue praying to them as a spirit (just in case) and as a living (earthly) being. Though their spirit power might no longer be able to help you, your prayers could still help them, in whatever form they existed. And, from an unselfish perspective, isnít this what matters most?
On the other hand, there are also those who hold the opinion that a soul may be simultaneously related to as both a spirit and an incarnated being, living within an earthly body. This assumption seems implicit in the continuation of ancestor worship among certain Chinese Buddhist families. Ancestor worship seems to have come first, in Chinese history, where it then combined with other elements of Chinese culture, such as Confucianism, and later with the spiritual system of Buddhism, introduced from India. Even after the introduction and absorption of Buddhism, and its idea of reincarnation, by large numbers of Chinese, however, the earlier force of ancestor worship remained central to Chinese spirituality. Portraits of deceased ancestors were traditionally put up in the home, at the center of ancestor-altars, and candles were lit in their honor. Food would often be put beneath the portraits for a moment, as an offering, before being taken down by the family to eat. There would also be periodic visits to the graves of ancestors (pragmatic critics frequently complained that the cult of ancestor-worship was robbing China of vast tracts of arable land, which were preserved as graveyards and meeting places with the dead). At these graveyard encounters - in some ways similar to the rituals carried out by Mexicans on the Day of the Dead - offerings of food would be made to the ancestors, incense would be burned, and sometimes even money. While some took ancestor-worship more symbolically (and this trend is increasing) - as a way of remaining emotionally connected to ancestors, and honoring their role in oneís own existence - traditional worshippers believed that their ancestors had the power to protect them, to bring them good luck, blessings, and health, and safety from misfortune. Meanwhile, the reverence of the living was also believed capable of aiding the spirits of the deceased, and to protect them from suffering and pain in other realms or forms of existence (in some ways shielding them from the full force of any negative karma they might have earned, even helping to erase some of it).
The ability of this spiritual outlook and practice to coexist for so long with Buddhism, with its tenet of reincarnation, shows that, for millions of people, the idea of reincarnation, and relating to oneís deceased relatives as spirits, were not incompatible. Logic or no logic, millions of Chinese had it both ways.
Private discussions with some of my friends and contacts helped to introduce me to new concepts capable of putting this paradox into perspective. On the one hand, there is the concept that there are many dimensions, or parts, of the non-physical self. In Jewish kabbalistic tradition, for example, there are five levels of the soul, nefesh, ruach, neshamah, chayah, and yechidah (Rabbi Gershom, Beyond The Ashes, p. 177). Other systems also maintain their own theories of different soul-levels. According to some of these systems, it may be possible for some levels of an individualís soul to continue to be related to, found, activated, kept alive, etc., by surviving relatives and descendants, who are able to connect with it as a spirit, while other levels of the deceasedís soul move on into a new life, and incarnation. Whether these relatives are relating to an energetic imprint left behind in the world or in their own hearts by the deceased, or actually finding and communicating with the old personality of the deceased, submerged within his/her new (reincarnated) version, is hard to say. But as the living are sometimes able to communicate with each other in dreams, or by telepathy, or astral travel, perhaps there is some way in which who we were, hidden within who we are, may be elicited and contacted by those who still remember who we were.
On the other hand, for those who consider that our linear concept of time is an illusion, and that all times, all places, and all parts of the universe are connected, the paradox may be explained in the following way: while our soul has moved on to something new, those who want to relate to it as it was, can still do so, by focusing on our old personality. In that way, they can still find our old spirit-self, deeply linked to our previous personality, "fish" it out of time, and relate to it as they wish. Thus, if a powerful Native-American elder has now been reborn as a small child, going to bathroom in his pants and crying and yelling all day long, driving his mother nuts, it will be possible to bypass that screaming little kid (though he and his mother both deserve our prayers!), and to reach him in the state that we remember him: the state of the wise, imposing man of spirit who continues to inspire us, and awaken our own greatness, with his example. Though it is the child who deserves all our love and support in the world of the present, there may be times when we need to contact the spirit of who that child was, in order to receive guidance. (And perhaps by honoring that former self, we will help to keep him alive within the child.)
As always, in matters of the spirit, each individual must find his own way of dealing with the mysteries, the paradoxes, the contradictions, and challenges of developing a spiritual system/sensibility that works for him. In my own case, I cannot deny that I sometimes act according to the laws of the heart, and mystical intuitions, rather than logic. While one part of me is concerned about that, another realizes that logic is but one way of perceiving the world, and that it sometimes acts to conceal the truth, as well as to reveal it. For this reason, I find myself capable, today, of living in the midst of paradoxes.
I hope this article has been useful to you, and apologize about the size of this sound bite. This is certainly not the typical sound bite, it seems more like the bite of some prehistoric monster! (I guess the writer in me got the best of me again.)
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Cases Of People Who Reincarnated Before They Died
Say what?!! You got it right. According to past-life researcher Dr. Ian Stevenson, there sometimes seem to be cases in which a person was born before the death of the person whose life he remembers! (Children Who Remember Past Lives, p. 124) While Dr. Stevenson admits that the majority of such cases are probably attributable to errors made in remembering or recording dates of birth or death (something that occurs far more frequently than we imagine), he believes he has encountered ten cases, among the many which he has investigated, in which this bizarre phenomenon seems to be documented. In these cases, the time frame of the discrepancy could range anywhere from one day to several years.
Skeptics, of course, are quick to cite this phenomenon as proof of the unreliability of Dr. Stevensonís work, for it seems to be impossible that a person could be reborn as another before he had even died! Some critics, alternatively, propose that these rare and incomprehensible individuals must not actually be reincarnations of the deceased, but rather, individuals who have been psychically touched by the deceased, and flooded with information about them. Dr. Stevenson, himself, however, concludes that in some cases, some kind of "body theft" or possession may have taken place, in which the deceased personality moved into a body already occupied by another personality, and, essentially, "took it over."
This concept is not merely the legacy of "primitive" and "barbaric" societies of other times and places, there are also many New Age thinkers, of our own times, who believe in the existence of "walk-ins", souls who move in to take over a body already being used by another soul.
At first, it sounds awfully sinister, but it need not be. In Jewish mystical teachings (kabbalah), for example - which do promote a belief in reincarnation - there is the concept of ibbur, the possession of an already living body by a righteous soul, which needs to use that body, for a moment, to help it fulfill a mitzvah (a sacred commandment or duty, necessary for the soulís progression). The body of another person may be in the circumstances and earthly condition to allow the righteous soul an opportunity to perform this task: a task which should, also, either directly or indirectly, benefit others. After completion of the task, the incoming soul should depart, making way for the temporarily dispossessed soul of the bodyís original "owner" to come back into it, and resume its normal life.
In New Age circles, the soul that comes into an already-living body is often seen to do so with the permission of the bodyís owner. The souls may trade places, or one may give way to the other, in an act of voluntary self-sacrifice, which allows the soul which can do the most good through the body in question, to "assume command" of it.
Others believe that a cohabitation of multiple souls within a single body may be possible, meaning that it would not be necessary for a soul entering an already-living body to displace another soul, in order to "occupy" its body. Could that be one possible explanation for the surprising number of Napoleons and Cleopatras who seem to emerge from past-life regression work? (Of course, in most cases, these multiple Napoleons and Cleopatras are probably nothing more than the product of fantasies, triggered by admiration or some other form of psychological bonding.)
In the case of the person who is reincarnated before he dies, it seems possible that the soul, or a part of the soul, of the person who is about to die, may leave for another body before final disaster strikes. (Maybe, for a time, the soul inhabits both bodies? Or just leaves a piece of itself in one? Or gives up its place in the body that is about to die to another soul, which comes in to experience that bodyís final moments?) If a soul takes this approach, and moves from one body to another without first returning to the Beyond, which seems to be a crucial place of learning, recovering, and preparing for life, it seems that some part of its potential for spiritual development might be missed. But then again, who is to say that the soul which is reborn into a new body before its original one dies, does not first stop off in the Beyond? (At other times, however, it might be necessary for it to avoid the between-lives stage, in order to position itself properly for its next life. This would be like someone rushing to catch the one train that could get him to work on time, if the next train, for example, would either arrive too late, or not stop at the station where he needed to get off).
Of course, this topic is definitely somewhat strange, even for a "strange topic." But it is helpful for allowing us to widen our perspective of the possibilities of the reincarnation experience. While the incidence of the phenomenon of rebirth before death seems rather low, for some individuals, this concept may provide a vital key which helps them to make sense of their own, hitherto incomprehensible memories and experiences.
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Coming Back: Choices And Laws
Say someone has passed away, leaving one life, and one lifeís conditions, behind. What forces are at work to bring this person back into a new life, and its conditions? Free will? Choice? Cosmic law?
For those who want an answer that is confident and certain, read no more. We are dealing with a great mystery, hidden behind a veil. We do not need to demean the Universe by pretending to know its most intimate secrets. I have my experiences, my visionary insights, and other individuals and other cultures have theirs. These insights do not always agree. But that does not mean that nothing can be said.
Probably, the best approach to this mystery would be one that compares and, to some extent, combines different insights and perspectives: which would leave us with the conclusion that rebirth is most likely generated by a combination of personal choice and cosmic law.
Dr. Ian Stevenson, the world-renowned researcher on childrenís past-life memories, believes the process of reincarnation occurs largely automatically, as the result of the spiritís "need" to come back, which is guided and shaped by psychic connections with other people and places. (Children Who Remember Previous Lives, 240-249.) Noting how, even in life, human beings who have a powerful relationship with each other are sometimes able to share telepathic experiences, he believes that the same connection is able to survive death, and to act as an attractive force, bringing the deceased back into the midst of those he knows and loves (or sometimes hates). For this reason, Stevenson believes, his field research has shown that the majority of "documented" reincarnation cases involve the return of individuals to their own families (nuclear or extended), to families that know their previous-life families, or to the regions where their previous lives were lived, where they will still be in proximity to those they knew and to the environment they were accustomed to. (It should be noted, Stevensonís field research has been carried out mainly, but not exclusively, in South Asia, the Far East, and the Middle East.)
According to Stevensonís view, the discarnate soul, after death, seems to have some desire or need to be reborn, but does not seem to behave in an intellectual way, rationally constructing a scenario for its rebirth in the context of a wider vision of life and the Universe. The process which he hints at is, instead, more emotional, and more like water following the lay of the land, and flowing downhill - something not actively decided, but only taking its "natural course." And just as water, if one path is blocked, the dynamic of rebirth may flow around that obstacle, and continue onwards towards its general destination. (For example, if the original pull had been to be reborn to its own parent, but this is not possible due to infertility, or some other circumstance, the soul may have to settle for being reborn to its aunt, or cousin, or neighbor.) There is a sort of shadowy, ghost-like, semi-conscious feeling about this process, as Stevenson describes it, though I do not know if that is his intention: an awareness, and ability to perceive and respond to certain situations, without analyzing them in great detail.
In some of the more interesting cases described by Stevenson, one soul reincarnated as the child of a specific woman, because in her home he could get plentiful access to liquor; another reincarnated into an unrelated family, to which he had sold vegetables in the past, in his previous life as a vendor; while others reincarnated into families of strangers, because those strangers had shown some kindness or respect to their dead body. (One man buried a murder victim, who had been decapitated, after others dumped his lifeless body by his village; another woman helped to prepare the body of a stranger, who had died in her town, for her funeral. In both cases, the souls of the deceased reincarnated into the families of those who had cared for their bodies, after they died. But another manís soul, rather like a ghost, is said to have followed a man who happened to be visiting the area where he had died, back home on the bus, and reincarnated into his family, for no obvious reason, other than the desire to be reborn.)
According to the studies conducted by Dr. Stevenson, the majority of reincarnation cases occurred within a radius of 25 kilometers from the subjectís previous-life home. But, it must be remembered, his work has dealt largely with people and cultures in which family and community life are especially important, and in which local areas are still quite significant relative to the national environment.
While Stevensonís work tends to depict rebirth as a somewhat passive and "automatic", even "involuntary", phenomenon, it has also produced some case studies which show a more active and willful attitude, on the part of the deceased, towards reincarnation. He mentions the case of two former Japanese soldiers who died in WW II in Burma. They originally attempted to return to Japan to reincarnate, but they "failed", and, therefore, returned to the site of their death to be reborn as Burmese girls, in a Burmese village. (p. 244.) Another girl came to a woman, her intended rebirth mother, in a dream, and rebuked her for having had an abortion, which prevented her from coming back into the family and situation she desired. (p. 248-249) While another individual, seeking rebirth, appeared to a cousin in a dream, and said she had decided not to be reborn into his family, because it was "too noisy." (p. 248-249.) While some might question the use of dreams as valid strands of evidence in a scientific investigation on reincarnation, Dr. Stevensonís work obviously cannot avoid certain methodological problems created by the esoteric nature of his subject; and it is the experience of many of the peoples he has dealt with, that the deceased soul is likely to first visit the prospective mother of its rebirth or other family members, in an "announcing dream", before it is actually conceived or born.
On the point of karma, another major concern of those who seek to understand the dynamics of rebirth, Dr. Stevenson is emphatic. He has not found powerful evidence for it in his case studies (op. cit., 35-37, 258-259), and finds that many cultures which believe in reincarnation, do so without adhering to this concept, or any variant thereof. However, he also states that this does not imply that there is no law of karma; and, in fact, some of his case studies are suggestive of karma, as the case of Bishen Chand Kapoor, from India, who remembered a previous life as a rich man who killed another man when he detected him leaving from his mistressí apartment. In this life, Bishen Chand was born into a poor family, and, as a child, he complained constantly about the food they ate, the lack of fine clothes, and other luxuries, until, at last, he began to consider the possibility that his rebirth into these circumstances might have been a form of karmic payment for the transgressions of his last life, of which he had died proud, well-pleased with his cleverness at managing to avoid punishment. Bishen Chand then began a process of humbling himself, and struggling to restore moral direction and perspective to his life. He was transformed by the knowledge of his past life.
But Stevensonís is just one perspective on the dynamics of rebirth. The deep traditions and vast populations of the Asian Hindus and Buddhists actively support the concept of karma, a centerpiece of their spiritual beliefs. For every action in life, they say, there are consequences, or effects, and this is a cosmic law that none can avoid. The compassionate path, the just path, produces favorable results, while the cruel path, the unjust path, attracts suffering. Some see this suffering as a form of punishment, while others see it as a tool for soul-growth, for by actually experiencing the way oneís past-life actions felt to others, one may internalize the essential knowledge that what one does to others, one does to oneself; and that one should only do unto others, as one would have them do unto one. In this case, pain becomes less a form of divine retribution, than a process of gaining awareness, which allows one to ascend the ladder of moral evolution. Truly, the fortunate soul is that which is able to recognize and empathize with the pain of others, without having to undergo the totality of their pain in order to be driven to understanding. But for the insensitive soul, a harder form of learning may be necessary.
Some modern-day work with past-life regressions, here, in the West, also seems to support the concept of karma. In one case, a woman who suffered from agonizing, recurring headaches which originated in her neck, and then spread upwards, discovered, by means of regression, that she had once been a hangman, responsible for ending the life of many a soul. Her headaches came as a result of guilt, as a way of reliving the torment she had inflicted on others. (Tales of Reincarnation, Rosemary Ellen Guiley, p.158-159.) American psychic Edgar Cayceís past-life readings also made much of karma. In one reading, Cayce traced the impotence of a womanís husband to the fact that that man had, in a past life, forced his wife to wear a cruel and uncomfortable chastity belt when he went off to fight in the Crusades. The frustration and suppression of her sexuality, in that distant past life, had come back to haunt him in his present life, through his impotence - the thwarting of his own sexual desires. Cayce also uncovered a case in which a man who was suffering from frequent bouts of choking, was suffering the karmic consequences of having strangled a woman to death in a past life; while a modern-day sufferer of anemia was said to have caused great bloodshed in ancient Persia, which resulted in a weakening of his own bloodís power, in his present lifetime. Cayceís readings also attributed some incidences of physical deformity to acts of emotional cruelty and mockery, as when ancient Romans jeered and ridiculed Christians as they were being tortured or destroyed in the Roman arena. (Guiley, op. cit., 125-129, 154-155.)
It is interesting to note that Cayce did not believe that karmic debts from one life necessarily needed to be paid in the very next life. Thus, someone who had committed a crime in ancient Rome, might finally come to pay for it in our own times - centuries later. (This is not the same as having committed a crime of such dimensions, as to require a punishment of many lifetimes.) Asked why karmic debts sometimes "skipped lives", Cayceís explanation was that "it [karma] was unable to [act] before." (Guiley, 154.) I have wondered if another explanation might not be that the Universe was allowing time for the soul to learn its lessons in other ways - providing a compassionate window of opportunity for change, before compelling it - if progress were not made - to face the lesson of "last resort."
Whatever the case, if one believes in the law of karma, then it is especially clear that the soul will not have absolute freedom of choice in determining how, where, when, and as who it will be reborn. Just as a man with only $20 to his name will not be able to live in a luxury highrise, or take a Caribbean cruise, or buy a Jaguar or a Bentley, so a man with "karmic damage" may not just be able to jump into the life of a wealthy, healthy, admired, much-loved, and fortunate man. (Which does not mean that that is the life an evolved soul should necessarily choose, for choosing that life in a world filled with poverty, might be a karmic mistake, unless one had the will to use oneís resources to help others, rather than simply being swallowed up by them.) This is just one example, of course, to show that choice and will have limits, and that the law of karma may block certain soul preferences, and guide oneís life along paths not entirely of oneís making. Or, to use another example, consider the process of chemical bonding, and the formation of molecules. As those of us forced to learn it have come to know, atoms and molecules cannot just combine in any which way. Electrical charges and chemical laws govern their ability to connect. In the same way, a soul cannot connect with any life it wishes, but must find the life that has the right attributes to allow it to join with it.
That stated, there are many who believe that, within the confines of these cosmic laws, there is ample room for souls to exert their will in choosing the place, the time, and the circumstances in which they will be reborn.
From my own past-life experiences (see The Journey Of Rainsnow), I have come to appreciate the importance of will and personal choice in selecting many of the details of our rebirth, for I frequently found myself inputting into the question of my reincarnation, when I was outside of this world, and selecting the life-possibility which I wished to experience - which was the one through which I felt I could best realize my goals. I also found that my state of mind, at death, had a very great impact on the trajectory of my future life.
Outside of my own experience, a great example of the role of the will in rebirth comes from the following story, as told by Soyen Shaku in Zen For Americans. In this story, a Japanese general, Masashige, due to the foolishness of others, was forced into a hopeless battle, which honor and duty, however, compelled him to fight. As the story is told:
"ÖThere was nothing for him to do but to check the advance of the enemy as long as he could, so that the Emperor could find time enough to make his safe escape from the capital. He fought most gallantly, and repeatedly repulsed the furious attacks of the enemy. But many times outnumbered, and occupying a strategically disadvantageous position, and himself covered with many wounds, he saw the uselessness of further resistance. He then gathered his commanding generals around him and asked them if they had anything to desire in this life before they bid farewell to all things earthly. They replied that they had done everything within their power, their obligations were completely filled, and there was nothing more to be desired. But our hero, Masashige, made a solemn utterance: ĎI pray that I be born seven times on this earth and crush all the enemies of our Imperial House.í" [They all then ended their lives, as their warrior codes, and Japanese culture of those times, dictated.] (p. 172-173.)
Soyen Shaku went on to state (p. 173): "This corporeal existence, this particular temporary combination of feelings and thoughts and desires, may dissolve, may not last forever as it is, for it is no more than an agent in the hands of the world-soul to execute its own end. When it decrees that its agent must put on a new garment, this will take place as it is willed. ĎLet there be light,í it commands, and behold there it is!" In this comment, and in the story of Massashige, we see a perspective that individual will and the laws/"needs" of the Universe, both play an important part in the human reincarnation formula. The individual may "will" himself into a new situation, and yet, he cannot do so in opposition to the forces, dynamics, and laws of the Universe, but only in accordance with them, as a part of the intricate web of lives that is leading us all towards something we have yet to fully comprehend.
Will is also preeminent in the Buddhist concept of the "Bodhisattva", the enlightened soul which could, in light of its development, break free of the wheel of earthly life and escape into the bliss of eternal union with the divine aspect of the Universe, but which turns down that greatest of opportunities, in order to return to the earth to help all those who still remain here, trapped in suffering. Like someone who has escaped from a burning building, these are the ones who abandon safety, and come back into it, because they hear voices still inside, crying out in pain and fear.
As a soulís karmic power increases, so its ability to select the circumstances of its birth is likely to increase; and yet, its choices are likely to be made on the basis of considerations very different from those which weigh the most on the earth. For having acquired that soul power through understanding and insight, and through the action and non-action that comes from understanding and insight, it is likely to choose a life of service on the earth, a life in which it is able to help others to learn, to see, to grow, to awaken, to rise above suffering; not necessarily a life of "success", as we measure it in our world, today.
The idea of free will in life selection is prominently featured in Michael Newtonís very interesting book, Journey Of Souls, which describes the spiritual processes and experiences that take place between human death and rebirth. Newtonís information is derived using the same hypnotic regression techniques as are commonly used to uncover past-life memories: techniques which are often criticized, but which are also sometimes capable of producing impressive results. Newton uses the testimony of many individuals, regressed into re-experiencing their stay in the between-lives world, to construct a model of the process of life & body selection, as the soul prepares to return to the earth in a new incarnation. (p. 201-248.) According to Newtonís model - and remember, this is Michael Newton, not Isaac Newton! - the soul spends a certain amount of time in the between-lives world recovering from its past life, going over the lessons it has learned, or should have learned, and making new goals and objectives for its next life: a process which is aided by a variety of spiritual guides and helpers. At a certain time, the soul may decide it is time to return to earthly life, or else it may be advised by its guides that it is time. As Newton describes one such incident, in a regression transcript:
NEWTON: When do you first realize that you might be returning to Earth?
S: A soft voice comes into my mind and says, "Itís about time, donít you think?"
NEWTON: Who is this voice?
S: My instructor. Some of us have to be given a push when they think we are ready again. [p. 203.]
According to Newton, the soul then undergoes a process of somehow seeing, experiencing, previewing, and evaluating, certain lives which are available to it. The choice is not infinite, but it is, oftentimes, considerable. Some witnesses describe the life selection process as taking place in a special life-selection room, or space, in front of movie-like screens on which they can see some, but not all, aspects of the future lives that are available to them. (In my own experiences, I have undergone life-selection in something that seems to be much more of a library. Are these but mental constructs, through which we are able relate to a far more intangible process?) As the subject considers the pluses and minuses of the lives he might select, he is, hopefully, guided by the wisdom his spiritual helpers have shared with him in the between-lives world, to choose the life which will maximize his opportunities for developing, as a soul. Since his vision of the life he may live is incomplete, there are risks that it may contain challenges, unseen as he makes his choice, that will be difficult for him to face - obstacles or temptations which could impede his soulís development. Still, Newton believes, the soul should have a fair idea of what to expect. Then, it will be a question of holding onto its vision and will, once it has returned to the earthly plane, and reincarnated into the new life it has chosen. (Though the holding place of this vision and will may be in the subconscious mind of the reborn individual - invisible and not consciously known - it should, nonetheless, be able to exert its influence from there, if the soul has prepared itself well in the between-lives world.)
According to Newtonís model, individuals who are particularly unfortunate in this life may be considered to be either victims of their own actions, through the law of karma, or else souls which have chosen to experience hardship as a means of accelerating their spiritual development (and/or, as a means of helping others by providing them with an opportunity to develop their compassion). It should also be stated that someone who was a past-life criminal might not be born handicapped (to use an example) as a matter of automatic soul punishment, but might have voluntarily opted to go through this experience, in order to better understand the suffering which he had inflicted on others, to help his soul develop the sensitivity needed to avoid harming others in the future.
As many New Age thinkers, Newton believes in soul groups and soul mates: souls which have had a special relationship with each other through many lifetimes, and which sometimes reincarnate together, or in such a way as to be able to meet and interact with each other, again, on the earth. Obviously, the process of life-selection may also take into consideration the availability of the other members of oneís soul group, and affect a soulís decision of when and where to reincarnate.
Whether Newtonís perspective, based on the accounts of numerous regressed subjects, reflects cosmic truth, or is in some way merely expressing the philosophical preferences of our own culture, which vociferously advocates "free will" in the place of "fatalism" and "destiny", is surely a reasonable question. However, I find enough resonance between what he has said, and my own experiences, and the experiences and traditions of some other cultures and times, to believe that the circumstances of our rebirth are, in fact, partly chosen by us, within the broader laws and "contours" of the Universe; and that we do, indeed, frequently choose our parents, our country, our gender, our race, and a general set of life opportunities and challenges, before we are born into this world. Which does not absolve us of any of the responsibilities of loving, and living with compassion, courage, and kindness, while we are on the earth.
Before we came here, surely all of our goals were spiritual - for in the world between lives, illusions are exposed, and truth is revealed. Letís try to remember. Letís try to stay on track!
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Freedom Of Religion And Reincarnation
According to the First Amendment of the US Constitution: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." Our right not to have our spiritual individuality subjected to the repressive demands of an official State religion, crushing us into conformity, as well as our right to follow the spiritual path of our choice, are guaranteed to us by the most sacred political document of our land, which defines our national ideals and gives shape to our unique cultural identity amidst the discordant alternatives of history. Here, in our country, or so we are told, there will be no persecuted pilgrims forced to flee their country, no pogroms, no St. Bartholomewís Day massacres, no witch trials, no burnings at the stake, no discrimination crippling our access to employment, housing, and social services simply because we see God in our own way, or do not see Him at all. Here, I may be a Roman Catholic, an evangelical Christian, a Greek Orthodox Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Hindu, a "pagan", an atheist, or an agnostic, without impediment and without retribution; I am part of a "secular" society, which does not mean a society without spirituality, but a society in which spirituality is not incorporated as a criterion for the judgment, advancement , or limitation of its members. In this system, our individual passion is not allowed to sweep aside our social tolerance; our personal experience, no matter how intense, is not permitted to negate the personal experience of others. This, at least, is the theory and the superficial reality of our cherished principle of freedom of religion.
In practice, however, the exercise of this freedom is not invulnerable to sabotage. While Law may protect the right of our souls to seek God and to worship God according to our own spiritual nature, enormous social pressures exist outside the system of law which sometime come into play to drive us towards a few accepted mainstream forms of religion. These pressures, manifested as discrimination, exclusion, rejection and harassment, are sometimes so subtly wielded against us that the constitutional amendment (and corresponding bodies of law) meant to protect us against them cannot adequately detect them or respond to them. No clear legal violation can be proved, and as a consequence, no effective defense can be brought to bear against the transgression. We are attacked because of our spiritual beliefs, and left to fight our battle alone.
In the case of getting a job, for example, there are many factors which could logically enter into the decision of the employer whether to hire, or not to hire. In many cases, the religion of the prospective employee is not known to the employer, but in other cases, he is able to infer it (sometimes incorrectly) from the physical appearance, clothing, or name of the applicant. I remember one case in which a supervisor at a public school, who could seem to find nothing good about anything I did, discovered that I celebrated Christmas. He, himself, was a Christian, and had apparently assumed, for a long time, that I was Jewish. "You celebrate Christmas?" he asked, in disbelief. "Oh, so youíre one of us!" And he offered me a handshake. Up until that time all of his harassment of me, based on his prejudices, had worn the disguise of professional concerns: did I give the students long-enough reading assignments for homework, was there a relevant map hanging on the wall, etc. etc.? To me, there was an obvious double standard being applied (other teachers were cut huge amounts of slack in their evaluations), as well as an obvious will to oust me which was driving all of the evaluations (many of the criticisms were unreasonable: for example, how could I give the students five pages of reading when I was following the curriculum, and the text book we had been given only had two pages on the topic?) However, for others, viewing the situation from the outside, it seemed that this supervisorís attacks were motivated by his genuine concern for the quality of his school. His prejudice did not leave a visible footprint for others to see, and my First Amendment rights were violated without a trace.
In the same way, individuals identified as belonging to a certain religion which is not to the liking of an employer, may be rejected, supposedly on technical grounds: there is "another candidate" who is "better qualified"; something in their experience, work record, skills portfolio, or education is "lacking"Ö It is precisely because of the widespread use of "invisible discrimination" in the hiring process that some institutions and organizations first developed "quota systems" for hiring: blunt and often unfair tools for attempting to right a massive cultural wrong which could be detected on the basis of its magnitude, but not easily proven on the level of individual cases. Of course, these quota systems were applied mainly to the categories of race and gender. In the 1980s and 90s, at least, the subtle preference of Christians for Christians, or Jews for Jews, or the subtle prejudice of almost everyone against pagans, where it occurred, did not seem to be being red-flagged or targeted. Most likely, the system was already overloaded with efforts to evaluate hiring on the basis of race and gender, and already struggling enough with charges of "reverse discrimination", to try to fine-tune itself even more to deal with cases of religious discrimination. It simply sought to protect the right of applicants to keep this information confidential as their best means of self-defense.
With this general background established, I want to set it down for the record that the belief in reincarnation and past lives is sometimes capable of eliciting fierce persecution, even in the context of our First-Amendment-protected society. For some evangelical Christians, it is a strange and sinful belief, which they distrust and resent. They are not eager to associate with reincarnation-believers, or to extend their hand to them, personally or professionally. Just as damagingly, or even more so, are the prejudices of some influential, non-religious sectors of society, which tolerate the traditional religions as inherited patterns of culture which do not necessarily reflect negatively upon the competence of their adherents; they understand that smart people can simply be born into these religions, and remain in them as the result of conditioning and in order to profit from the social advantages made available by them. However, these non-religious sectors have much less understanding of individuals who have left the cover of the traditional religions in order to actively pursue a spiritual experience of their own. They doubt the competence of these individuals, judging them, by their own standards, to be irrational, nonconformist, and potentially flaky. For stridently non-religious people, reincarnation is "weird", and "something that only weird people could believe in." In the case of some job searches, the belief in reincarnation is what shoots the applicant down; however, this bias is never stated and never proved; other factors are alleged to be behind the decision not to hire.
But how, you may ask, does the employer find out about the applicantís exotic belief to begin with? I am aware of the following example, which has outraged me, and which is the reason I am writing this little article in the first place: a man I know has been affected. This man is a talented producer, researcher, and creator, who has done excellent work which attempts to document, or at least advance into the realm of credibility, the idea of reincarnation, which he feels is a great spiritual truth which has the potential to transform peopleís lives once they believe in it. His work on reincarnation has been a lifelong labor of love, but in the meantime, he must use his skills to seek reliable sources of income, since his work on the "spiritual fringe" has not been able to sustain him. For him, the problem has come as the result of a little miracle known as "Google", the Internet search engine which is now routinely tapped by employers to investigate potential employees and to scoop up whatever can be found out about them from cyberspace. This is especially so in the case of higher-end jobs, in which a worker is going to be entrusted with major responsibilities, and must be able to live up to his resume. The problem for this very talented man seems to be that he is seeking employment in a professional world which utterly distrusts and dismisses the idea of reincarnation, and sees the belief in reincarnation, not as a legitimate spiritual opinion protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution, but as a badge of flakiness. Someone who believes in past lives, and has hurled himself deeply into its study, is not to be taken seriously, or hired where there is real work to be done. Whether this attitude reflects the actual mindset of prospective employers in this field, or only their fear that their clients will be turned off by it, and that business will be lost as a consequence, it is hard to say. In the end, the result is the same. Now, obscene though it is to behold, this wonderful man has been forced to attempt to cover the tracks of everything that means the most to him; to try to "de-google" himself by having his name changed or removed from spiritual web sites which once promoted him, in order to erase every vestige of his connection with the study of reincarnation from the public record. At stake is nothing less than his future, as a spiritual human being who must survive in an economic world which obeys the prejudices of its jaded material outlook.
This is a sorrowful state of affairs, indeed; receiving a letter from a gifted man asking to be returned to invisibility, asking to be "purged" from my web site, to be disassociated from his lifelong passion, in order to have a chance to make a living; in order to survive in a world where religious freedom is "protected." From now on, he must lead a double life, and hide his secret past from the world, like those fugitives from the law who flee to another city and change their name. Meanwhile, the First Amendment stands guard, mighty and useless in his case, like a Maginot Line of justice easily outflanked by a thousand transgressions too subtle to awaken it. What can I do, under the circumstances, but help this man as he wishes, and do my part to erase his beautiful jugular vein from the Internet? Nothing more, except to send him my prayers; and to counsel all of us who share his beliefs to commit ourselves, more than ever, to standing together in support of each other and our right to walk on our true spiritual path, not in fear, in the middle of the night, but proudly and openly in the light of day. (July 2007)
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Native Americans And Nazis
I was recently asked why so many Native Americans have an esoteric connection with Nazi Germany. First of all, I am not sure that this is true, I have encountered no statistically valid past-life surveys of Native Americans to indicate that there is, in fact, such a connection. I am only aware of isolated cases, which include several modern-day Native Americans who believe they lived previous lives in Nazi Germany. I have also met several Caucasians who believe they lived past lives as Native Americans, who also believe they were Germans during the time of Hitler.
Since this phenomenon may be isolated to a small number of individuals, there is no use to build a grand theory about it. However, regarding those individuals who have had the experience, the following can be said:
On the occult level, there may be a peculiar and strong affinity between Germans and Native Americans. Recently, the New York Times published an article, "In Germany, Wild for Winnetou" , chronicling the success of a series of novels featuring a Native American protagonist which was written by Karl May (1842-1912). These books, revolving around the adventures of "Winnetou", a fictional Apache chief, and "Old Shatterhand", his German immigrant/frontier friend, brought the romance of the "Wild West" to German audiences well before the age of Hitler. German readers were drawn to the adventures by their own love of nature; and by their sense of identification with noble, proud warriors resisting the advance of a civilization determined to sweep them to the side (the heroism of the doomed). After World War I, the appeal of the books deepened, for Germany, with its proud warrior tradition, felt itself oppressed by the victors of that war, who occupied important swaths of its territory, such as the Ruhr Valley, and demanded crushing reparations for a conflict in which all bore equal blame. When the Nazi movement began, it sought to tap into Germanyís mythic folklore to find virile heroes and role-models from before the days of the invading civilizations, heroes such as Siegfried, subsequently glorified by the operas of Wagner, and liberated from the self-crippling tendencies of the Western cultural conscience by the philosophy of Nietzsche. Into this fertile, turbulent mix, as part of the package of the "return to the primitive" Ė the fusion of civilizationís industrial and military assets with the "spirit of the barbarian", which was to become the hallmark of the new German soul Ė was added the fiction of Karl May. The adventures of Winnetou were virtually adopted as one more source of Volkisch power. The Apaches were embraced as German; their war against American civilization was taken to parallel Germanyís struggle not to be ingested by the "international culture" of the British, French, and Americans.
For the German, the Native American became a symbol of the strength of a people in touch with nature and with their roots; and a symbol of heroic resistance against invasion.
Though this may strike some as strange, the amazing thing about the Nazis is that they rose to power not as the invaders and aggressors we know them as, in the minds of the people who let them rise to power, but as the redeemers and defenders of a vanquished nation. (Only too late did the real path of the pied piper, who even misled the likes of Carl Jung for a short time, become clear. The spirit of the Native American which so many Germans related to became the spirit of Colonel Chivington, the white frontiersman who slaughtered peaceful Indians at Sand Creek. This time the peaceful Indians were the Jews, the Gypsies, civilian populations who got in the way of the Nazi war machine or did not turn over their freedom fighters, and Germans who did not join in the patriotic stampede.)
Given this background, it is easy to see how some Native American souls may have reincarnated in Nazi Germany. There, there could be found an environment highly sympathetic to the Native American Ė to the Apache, the Sioux, the Cheyenne, the Iroquois, the ShawneeÖ The books of Karl May had turned Germany into a nation of devotees of Native America.
Besides this, Germany was a nation endowed with a powerful warrior tradition, going back to the days of Arminius, who defeated the Roman invaders in the time of Augustus, to Frederick the Great of Prussia, who laid the foundations of the Germany to be, to Otto von Bismarck who built that Germany with "blood and iron", to Paul von Hindenburg, the hero of World War I, and later Erwin Rommel and Heinz Guderian. For Native Americans possessed by the warrior spirit, this was, in some ways, familiar territory.
Then, there was the issue of anger: anger at the injustice of being conquered by the white invaders; anger at the massacres, the deaths in battle and at the hands of the white manís diseases; anger at the reservations; anger at the emasculation, the contempt, and the powerlessness. Germany, after World War I, was a great occult magnet for angry souls, a place that offered a chance to use oneís rage, to fight again against oneís old enemies, or to fight against new ones who could take their place in the realm of oneís emotional necessity.
In some ways, the war Nazi Germanyís philosophy promoted was against the very same civilization which had destroyed Native America. Germany, in its own way, sought to shatter that civilization.
But, of course, in the end, the Nazi experiment was a moral nightmare, it veered far away from Native American concepts of valor and freedom towards a barbaric refurbishment of the modern state. Regimentation, industry, the suppression of individuality via the police state and propaganda, corrupted the escape from civilization, which only lost its mercy, not its constraints. From being a beacon of the weak, Germany became the god of bullies, the perpetrator of a thousand Wounded Knees.
For any Native American soul attracted to Nazi Germany in the wake of white Americaís conquest of the West, Germany turned rapidly from a soul haven into a karmic nightmare. Only by means of the power of the individual to make choices, and by means of the karmic might of small deeds of humanity performed inside steel traps, could these souls leave Germany on their feet. Men swept away by the dark river of sin can still give a ray of light to the world before they drown.
Some "Native American Nazis" believe that their experience with the modern reservation is karmic payback for their German past. It could be, but I prefer to see their experience with the reservation as nothing more than a return to their people after an interruption by the Nazis: one more band of "white swindlers", like Peter Minuet, who summoned strong and wounded souls from the corners of history with crimson lies appealing to the bold.
Now that the Nazi interruption is over, those native souls that have gone through this process Ė perhaps only a handful Ė can return to the business of finding a truly native way to recover what has been lost. It does not work to fight "white with white"; "red" must accept the harsh odds it faces in order to preserve its soul purity. But, in the end, this is where the hope lies, because only by means of the soul can our world be healed.
Red heart doesnít belong in the corral of dark riders.
 New York Times. "Art and Design" section, September 12, 2007. "In Germany, Wild for Winnetou" by Michael Kimmelman.
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