Monday, January 18, 2010

Reincarnation- A Call to Action in Haiti

There is a website called Reincarnation Station where you fill in a survey and it tells you what you will reincarnate as in your next life. The site tells you that if you live a virtuous life you will reincarnate as a highly respected animal. Otherwise you can expect to come back as a lower creature. So I took the test. The results came back and it turns out my next life will be spent as a Rhinoceros in Africa. I was quite pleased with that result.

The Rhino is a very handsome and distinguished animal with few predators. I mean it could have been worse. I could have reincarnated as a tapeworm. But then the survey told me that almost 27% of people will be reincarnated as a higher form of life than me. This was the summary statement, “You’re not perfect, but you’ve lead a better life than most. With a few changes now, your next life could be even better.” Well that’s encouraging. Basically, better luck next time.

What do you think about reincarnation? Do you think you get to live again and take care of unfinished business? Are you a believer or a skeptic? Americans are split 50/50 on this issue.

During World War 2, a 21-year-old fighter pilot was shot down by Japanese artillery. The Leiningers believe their 10 year old son James is a reincarnation of the pilot. It all started just after his second birthday, when he began having nightmares about planes. Then he started telling his parents details about a plane going down; the type of plane, the location of the bombing. They researched and discovered that the details matched very closely the demise of fighter pilot James Houston. He seemed to know details that a two year old should not know, as if they were actually memories. His parents were skeptical at first but eventually became firmly convinced that their son was indeed the reincarnation of James Houston. The fighter pilot’s sister is also convinced.

Of course there are skeptics. There is the argument that his parents took him to a World War 2 museum when he was a baby and fed him all the details, and that it’s all a hoax. I have to say that I saw the parents interviewed and they seem to genuinely believe that their son had had a past life. What impressed me the most was that the Leiningers were orthodox Christians who up to this point had believed in an orthodox afterlife with heaven and hell. They were asked if it had changed their worldview. They said it had enhanced it. They were even more firmly convinced that there is some sort of life beyond death, but they now find themselves more open to the mystery that no one can know for sure what happens after death.

Every now and again events take place that question the very bedrock of your beliefs. Maybe it’s an experience of wonder like the Leiningers that makes you more open to mystery. Maybe it’s the death of a child that makes you question the goodness of God or maybe it’s an earthquake destroying an already fragile country that makes you question the very justice of life. Some events have the power to turn a perspective into a passion, a worldview into a value, and a belief into a call to action.

This is true for all of us, not just those who question fundamental beliefs. As free spirits, many of us have enjoyed the freedom of abandoning a wrathful God, and questioning an inerrant Bible. I welcome and encourage this freedom. But what next? What happens to your worldview after Haiti? What happens now? What does the image of bodies piled in dumping grounds and survivors walking the streets moaning and lost do to your beliefs? Do they become a call to action?

From Belief to Action

There are three general stages in most new realizations; 1. Orthodox beliefs, 2 .Self Awareness and 3. A call to action.

Matthew’s gospel tells the story of Peter’s conversion, but it’s not a conversion to particular beliefs. It’s a movement from head to heart to hands. Jesus uses the Socratic method to help Peter come to this realization himself. He starts by asking a very general question- “who do people say that I am?” Peter gives the orthodox answer for his day. He says, “People say that you are the reincarnation of Elijah, John the Baptist or Jeremiah.” Then Jesus pushes Peter to self awareness, “Who do YOU say that I am?” Peter says, “You are the Messiah.” Finally Jesus pushes beyond words and beliefs to actions. He says to Peter, “Now be a Messiah yourself. Be a rock on which others can build their lives.”

Now relate these 3 stages to a belief in the afterlife. You may have certain ideas about the afterlife in your head. They could be heaven and hell, reincarnation or nothing at all. All are valid. But they are all speculative beliefs. When death comes close, your own or someone close to you, or global tragedy strikes, it suddenly becomes a matter of the heart, what you feel is true. This is usually a much softer, more permeable perspective, less dogmatic, more open. The final stage is to be so moved by death that you commit to creating heaven on earth and being the reincarnation of the highest humanity you can possibly muster.

The purpose of spiritual community is not to replace old beliefs with new speculative beliefs. This may happen in some cases but it’s not essential. The purpose is to help each other move from belief to value, via self awareness and a call to responsible and compassionate action in the world. How does this relate to reincarnation?

Reincarnation- You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere

Two dear old friends, Bill and Fred, had many conversations through their life about death and what they thought Heaven would be like. They made an agreement that whichever of them died first would make every effort to make contact with the one that was still living and tell them what Heaven was like.

Well, Fred was the first to pass away and about a year later, Bill was truly missing his dear friend. One day, when he was immersed in grief, the phone rang…and when he answered it, he heard a familiar voice on the line.

Bill said:

“Fred, is that you?”

“Yes it is my old friend, yes it is.”

Bill was overjoyed, and said:

“So, tell me dear friend, what is it like where you are?”

Fred said:

”Oh, it’s wonderful. You wouldn’t believe what I am experiencing now. The most plentiful food and lushest fields you have ever seen, I sleep in late, have a long luxurious breakfast, and then I go and make love.

If it’s a nice day I go out in the fields and make love some more. I come in and have a long lunch, then I go out into the fields again and make love all afternoon and retire early in the evening.” 

Bill responded:

“Heaven sounds so amazing!”

Fred immediately replied:

Heaven? Who said anything about heaven? I’m a rabbit in Minnesota!”

There is a case to be made that you aint goin nowhere when you die. Whether it’s through a specific reincarnation as a person or creature, loving deeds that create life that you aren’t even aware of, evolution, the passing down of genes, or whether it’s your body becoming worm food for the earth, a strong case can be made that you will be around for a long time to come.

The Sufi poet Rumi said:

“I died as mineral and became a plant,
I died as plant and rose to animal,
I died as animal and I was man.
Why should I fear?
When was I less by dying?”

-Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi (Persian Sufi)

Banda Aceh in Thailand was nearer to the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 than any other place. One fifth of the population was destroyed. But if you visit today, you discover a prosperous province where poverty has decreased post Tsunami and there is new peace in the region. The whole province has been reincarnated, mostly because the global community heard the call to action. Will the same thing happen in Haiti?

We could sit around and talk about our various beliefs about reincarnation and the afterlife until the cows come home. It would be interesting, but might not make an iota of difference in your life or make the world a better place. In Haiti death has struck, and we are compelled to move beyond belief to action.

Haiti is Heaven on Earth

It was unfortunate that Pat Robertson made his comments about Haiti and the pact with the devil. He revealed more about himself and his own prejudices than anything else. Now is the time to rediscover the beauty of the place. Haiti has just become your heaven on earth, because this is where your actions will make the most lasting difference.

Begin by celebrating the depth of culture that has emerged from that place, and will again.

It was the first independent nation in Latin America. It was the first black independent republic of this hemisphere. It was the only nation who gained her freedom out of a successful slave rebellion. Forget about pacts with the devil. This is a nation that has trail blazed independence through hard work. Haiti has gifted the world musicians and artists, authors and activists.

It’s also the poorest nation in Latin America, and it’s overwhelming to reflect on how it will come back from this Earthquake. We must all stand alongside her to rebuild heaven on earth.

Let me end with a call to action. Right now, Haiti resembles the Gates of Hades. The place that Peter had his conversion was Caesarea Philippi. This was a multi cultural center full of diverse beliefs and practices. This was the home of the Greek God Pan’s cave known as the entry to the underworld. It was called the Gates of Hades, where Pan would disappear every winter and the people would hope for his reappearance every spring. This was a world where children died often and average life expectancy was around 40. The fear of death was ever present. The fear that death was final and ultimate was paralyzing, but it was also disproved every Spring when the days lengthened and the sun brightened and the land became green.

The incredible synergy is that Caesarea Philippi was most likely flattened by an earthquake in the 3rd century. Today it is not inhabited, but you can visit the excavated sites to soak in the history and culture.

I can only imagine that for most people in Haiti today, it feels like the Gates of Hades, surrounded by death and fear. Will death be the final word in Haiti or will there be a reincarnation of the spirit of independence and courage that has marked the country’s history?

The answer to that question lies with the survivors of Haiti and with you and me. With your most passionate and caring actions, Haiti can rise to see the spring of a new era and believe again in life beyond death. As you follow your call to action, and allow your life to be the rock on which other people can rebuild their lives, you will discover in the most profound way the meaning of life after death.

The infinite spirit in me that endures the most devastating circumstances and cannot be broken, greets the infinite spirit in you. Namaste.

For Further Reflection (questions that can be used individually or in groups)-

Do you believe in reincarnation? Why or why not?

How important is to you to be able to explain what happens after death?

How do you intend to create heaven on earth?

What are you doing to support the rebuilding of Haiti?