If we do not believe in reincarnation, we will see life in a certain way.
If we do believe in reincarnation, we will see life another way.
Each will have a psychological effect on how we live our life.
This is a huge subject, and it is connected to understanding non-duality, which in itself is not easy to understand. I’ll try to keep to the bare bones. To investigate a subject thoroughly, we have to take it apart. When learning anything, we accept that 75% is provable, 20% is inference and 5% is trust… more or less. If we want an instant answer to match our personal mind set, this will be very difficult for such a closed mind. An open minded approach is necessary to see our reasoning at work.
Firstly, I have to say that I have buddhist friends who do not believe in reincarnation – so you are not alone!
At one time in past history, a mere gesture from the teacher was enough for the truth to be pointed out: nowadays we need words – lots of words! For some of us, a short phrase can open our minds, whereas sometimes we need years of meditation.
As an example of gesture: imagine your hands as mirrors. Hold up your hands, palms facing outwards (look). Now turn your hands so that palms are facing inward (see). Drop them on your lap (drop). That is the pointing out instruction, as given by a qualified teacher. The teacher would perform this gesture (at the right time), and long ago that was enough: the student would then rest in non-dual awareness! I’ve even heard stories of individuals having tea with the teacher, and afterwards, the teacher merely said, “That’s it!” This happened to one of my teachers, who told me he walked away asking himself, “What did he do? What did he do?”…and found that his mind was empty…
Nowadays, we have to use words. The point about non-dual awareness is the recognition of timeless essence.
As another personal example. I realised that which looks out of my eyes now – and when I was 4 years old – has never changed. The body changes, the ideas change, and the fluctuating sense of awareness changes, but the essential non-dual empty essence is always present. That proved to me that there is that which never dies, was never born, and merely…is. But that won’t do for everyone.
Back to reincarnation.
We are born with a certain set of temperaments and leanings…and hidden skills. One could say that this is due to chemicals, and DNA from our parents. However, some of us are very different from our parents – and don’t know why. As there is nature, there is also nurture, and so these natural leanings can become covered over by the environment in which we live. In fact, this is invariably the case – it’s the fog of living in society!
At times, we are aware of ‘having done this before’. There are individuals who know, and chose to be reborn here: these are called bodhisattvas (there are nine levels) and they have no fear of Samsara, and know the true nature of everything. Many claim they are the chosen ones, but this is just wishful thinking!
If we say life ends at death, then there is no reason to consider long term causes and effect (karma). If we acknowledge the possibility of reincarnation, then whatever we do or think, matters …really matters!
So what reincarnates?
Well, the answer must be a confused consciousness, which obscures essence, and which is driven by our karma, created by our fixation on ideas about ourselves. The last thoughts in our life produce the potential for the next life. So most of us have no choice, when the overwhelming hurricane of karma is at work in the Bardo (the gap between death and birth): through fear we will take shelter wherever it seems safe…and we can make mistakes – and we normally do!
There is no real proof about reincarnation. We can read accounts, and come to our own conclusions. Even if we remembered what it was really like, it will be coloured by our cultural understanding. The potential of reincarnation means there will be consequences to our actions, which could make us more caring, and less selfish. If we live in non duality (selflessness) and love (benefitting others more than oneself), it doesn’t matter what happens at death, as we will know that we have lived a fulfilling life.
Above all, we have to know that compassion has a purpose. People are the way they are because of mistaken beliefs they hold on to, from the past.
Whatever conclusion you come to, consider what is life, without love? When one understands non dual awareness, reincarnation, its causes, then compassion naturally arises when dealing with others. Compassion, however, may take many forms.