Most of us don’t want our bodily death to be the end. Perhaps this is why in recent decades, many Europeans and North Americans have developed an interest in reincarnation. Contemporary films, books, and popular songs frequently mention reincarnation. This belief gives us hope that life continues beyond the grave.
Reincarnation is very different from mainstream Western world religion, where each human conception and birth on earth is seen as the creation of a new human soul. I would say a hope in immortal life is not sustained by discredited ideas of some Christians to do with resurrection and last judgement. For example their notion that, at some future time in history, everybody’s dead corpses will be revived, some being glorified and others condemned to eternal punishment.
Today, more attractive for many is the central tenet of the Eastern world – the religious concept that a living being, after biological death, can begin a new life in a new physical body on earth.
Reincarnation and belief in the spiritual plane
Despite the theories of science, many people like the view that the material world merely veils a deeper plane of consciousness: that the non-material thought and intention of an individual is the real spirit of the person. So it is often assumed that everything that is alive and sensitive within us belongs to our spirit – and the body only serves this person in the way a tool serves an activating force. It is thus thought to be a mistake to believe that this real force is a property of the tool and not of the spirit of the person wielding it.
Reincarnation and the need to develop spiritually
I would suggest another good reason why people are attracted to reincarnation is a negative reaction these days to the traditional Christian view of instant salvation through ‘faith alone’. Instead there is the idea that personal inner growth is a slower development: only after gradual progress can the individual change sufficiently to be saved from the self-centred attachments and cravings of the world. What is needed is an evolution or step-by-step regeneration of the person’s spirit.
You might think it is unreasonable to expect anyone to make the spiritual progress necessary in one life-time that would justify salvation. After all, something of an inner transformation is necessary if the individual is no longer to be subject to negative natural tendencies for example our inclinations towards pride, impatience, intolerance, or greed.
On the other hand, I would say that the theory of an afterlife, consisting of a spirit world, can accommodate the need for slow spiritual growth after bodily death. In such a vision, the spirit body of a dead person is in a non-material but human form enjoying individual sensation and memory, as well as a heightened awareness of love and light flowing from the Divine Source.
Reincarnation or spiritual world for personal growth
Such an environment may be difficult for the worldly-minded to imagine, yet this spirit realm is affirmed by spiritualism. The afterlife, or “spirit world”, is seen by spiritualists, not as a static place, but as one in which spirits continue to evolve.
According to spiritualists, personal evolution occurs in the spirit world at a rate more rapid and under conditions more favourable to growth than encountered on earth.
For example what he calls ‘the spiritual world’ is described in detail by Emanuel Swedenborg from his own experience in altered states of consciousness and when awake. He reports that in one’s individual spirit body one develops one’s character in the next life without condemnation of any past misdeeds. Instead one is said to evolve spiritually according to the central desire that rules one’s heart. What one really wants becomes more apparent because, in the realm of spirit, one’s inner motives are said to be revealed.
Accordingly, if deep down we love what is good and true for their own sake rather than out of self-interest, we are said to have a heavenly state within our heart. For example what is good for our community and what is the truth about our own folly. Then there is potential for us to develop into angelic people. The Divine Source is envisaged as pure love and wisdom which is capable of great forgiveness – a feature absent from Eastern religion. And so the bad traits still with us – if not central to our character – will slowly be set to one side. This is said to happen as we collaborate with what insights we gain when learning more about the heavenly way of life.
Rebirth through reincarnation or spiritual world
Here then are two spiritual teachings – firstly rebirth through reincarnation in a new physical body and secondly regeneration in an afterlife of one’s spirit body.
I favour the latter, but can see some good reasons why people, who are unfamiliar with the idea of a spirit body, may favour the former.
Copyright 2016 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author Heart, Head & Hands