Reincarnation – How plausible is it?

Spiritual Questions & Answers

reincarnationMore people in the West are becoming interested in the concept of reincarnation. They are attracted to the idea that the human spirit lives on beyond death. I suspect they have lost patience with two specific doctrines of traditional Christian religion.

Instead of reincarnation, final destiny according to actions in one life

The first of these is that one’s soul is judged to eternity on the basis of how one behaved in one’s short life on earth. Given the unequal range of hereditary and environmental influence, on the face of it, there seems to be too short a time in one life to provide sufficient opportunity for one’s destiny to be decided.

Instead of reincarnation, final destiny according to beliefs in one life

The second doctrine is that one can be judged as deserving eternal damnation because of lack of belief about Jesus Christ. It smacks of a God of condemnation rather than one of love. The first doctrine seems unjust and the second abhorrent.

Reincarnation as not a final judgment

In contrast, the Eastern religious idea of reincarnation is that the soul or spirit of a person returns to live in one or more new bodies, giving us more than one life-time to be purified of our weaknesses and failings.  It does seem more reasonable to suppose that a gradual improvement of the individual spirit takes place rather than a sudden change.

Swedenborg’s account of the spiritual world as an alternative to reincarnation

However, there is an alternative way of thinking to that of reincarnation that takes account of these problems. This is to do with Emanuel Swedenborg’s account of the spiritual world.

If you believe everything that is alive in the body belongs strictly to the soul (or spirit), then it follows that the spirit is the actual person. In line with this is the experience of Swedenborg that when a person’s body is separated from his spirit at death, he or she is still a person — still alive having a spirit body and retaining a complete personal memory.

This would mean the continuation of your personal identity in a spiritual world and thus no loss of your present personality in any new incarnations in the physical world. You wouldn’t have to keep repeating the whole process of childhood, teenage and adult mental and emotional growth.  Nor could you be blamed for any impairments or deformities as signs of past wrongdoing in a previous life which is a problem with the doctrine of reincarnation.

Swedenborg says he has psychically observed how individuals in the next life continue to spiritually develop; a growth that depends on the character they have formed on earth. This observation is in line with the idea of karma that what one does in this present life will have its effect in the next life: what we sow we will reap.

Retention of individuality

He indicates that after death spirit people retain their individuality and pass through stages something similar to what we might say are different kinds of psychotherapy. He claims this will involve you firstly in self-exploration: secondly in a stage where any attitudes, desires or habits of thought, that are out of line with your basic character, are removed: and thirdly in a situation where you will be able to learn more about spiritual life if you so wish. In other words, as long as you are genuinely sorry about your wrongdoings, these can be forgiven and set aside.

Phenomena apparently supporting reincarnation

One phenomenon, apparently supporting the conclusion that one has had a previous existence, is that of déjà vu – sometimes finding a place or person familiar although not actually previously seen and thus knowing what to expect. Another phenomenon that seems to support reincarnation is the memory of past life as revealed in regressive hypnosis.

My own view is we should try to distinguish between this evidence and its interpretation. I do believe these actually are evidence of past lives — but not the individual’s own past lives.

Swedenborg testifies from his psychic journeys that all spirits in the spirit world are men and women who once lived on our physical plane when they were in the body. I am persuaded by his experience that there is a psychic presence of these spirits of dead people with all of us on earth. It’s just that we cannot ordinarily see them.  I cannot see or hear them but I believe that their desires and thoughts come into my heart and mind; feelings and ideas that I mistakenly assume to be my own. Swedenborg says I am free to choose which one’s to ignore and which one’s to listen to and act on.

He writes that these spirits are normally not permitted to communicate from their own memories. However, for some reason, that admittedly is not clear to me, he says it does sometimes occur and, when it does the person recollects something he or she has never seen or heard.

So the explanation of the experience of past lives that I offer, is of an occasional overstepping of the boundaries by spirits associated with people leading them to believe they must have lived before.

Instead of thinking of reincarnation in terms of human souls reincarnating in new physical bodies, we could think of the Source of all life repeatedly reincarnating through each new created soul. We could also think of this Creative Source being reborn again and again within each person who is willing to receive the Divine inspiration during an eternal process of personal regeneration in this life continuing in a next world of spirit.

Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Posted on9th November 2011CategoriesMeaning of life, Other aspects of meaningTags, , , , , ,, , , ,, , , , , , ,, , , , , ,,  Leave a comment

To go to heaven do I have to be religious?

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

Go to heavenWhen it comes to the question of whether you will go to heaven, like Woody Allen, you might want to keep your options open.

“I don’t believe in an afterlife, although I am bringing a change of underwear.” (Woody Allen)

And you may wonder if there really is a heaven, is religion of any relevance? You ask “Can’t I get to heaven my way? Why should my beliefs make any difference to my fate?” If you haven’t killed anyone or done anything really bad why worry about it?

Inner character needed to go to heaven?

As a child I used to believe that whoever does more good things than bad things will go to heaven. So I wanted to keep a tally of right and wrong things that I was doing. However, later I came to understand that the afterlife is not a reward or punishment for the kind of life one lives on earth:  instead one’s eternal destiny can be thought of as the fulfillment of what already has begun to grow in one.

In other words inner personality is defined by the intentions behind behaviour; the motives that have grown through life and come to rule the heart. It is not necessarily what comes into your mind what reveals this true character but rather what you do with those thoughts or would like to if you could. The conclusion to this line of thought is that this spiritual state is what determines whether you are suited to go to heaven  — suited to a heavenly life consisting of mutual goodwill and fairness is personal dealings.

And so those who can enter into the heavenly sphere after death are those who have allowed the heavenly state to come into their lives on earth: who, perhaps unknowingly, have been undergoing a process of spiritual growth by being liberated from their self-centred materialistic tendencies.

Religious beliefs needed to go to heaven?

If what one feels with the heart and does with the hands, is at least as important as what one believes with the head, then religious belief can be seen as only one dimension to religiosity.

Jesus Christ claimed “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6)

And I happen to think that praying to my personal deity helps my spiritual orientation to life. For me, religion points to an aspect of life that rises above the usual preoccupations with individual self, transcending worldly needs and desires, when we look at things from a broader, less self-centred, more universal perspective. It has the perspective of eternity. It offers me an understanding of the deeper problems around with meaningful answers to questions concerning suffering and evil that point me to a heavenly supernatural realm of being beyond our ordinary experience — in other words to go to heaven when I die.

Jesus also suggested that religious belief is insufficient for heaven. In his sermon on the Mount, he said:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt 7:21)

According to Swedenborg you are already in heaven in the spiritual, subconscious level of your mind when you recognise and acknowledge what is Divine. Consciously, you may have taken on all sorts of beliefs and yet have a kind of inner perception and following of spiritual principles which means you have not been hateful, selfish, nor lived in other bad ways. A rational humanist or an agnostic may live a better life than those who are affiliated with a religion. Swedenborg wrote that after death, for those who are willing to learn, and this is their free choice, there will be a time of preparation when mistaken religious and notions can be amended by what is more deeply good and true so that they can see in heavenly light. Then one can go to heaven.

“I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will not ask, ‘How many good things have you done in your life?’ rather he will ask, ‘How much love did you put into what you did?” (Mother Teresa) 

Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems


Posted on18th November 2012CategoriesMeaning of life, ReligionTags, , , , , ,, , , , , , , Leave a comment