Last week was spring break so the girls and I joined friends in a river-side cottage for a few days. Lovely. Then, I had some nasty flu that has been going around so I spent two whole days in bed.  Less lovely.  I share all of this with you because this vacay-illness combo meant I had the luxury of time away from home and then time away from the ability to move due to fever and fatigue. This was time I spent reading a whole book! Cover to cover, I sped through a retelling of the Indian Epic, The Mahabarata by William Buck.  The Bhagavad-Gita is sandwiched in the story of the Mahabarata so I’ve been curious about all the people mentioned and the context in which this battle was taking place.  Now, this isn’t a strictly yoga discussion because yoga isn’t a religion and doesn’t try to explain where we come from or where we go after we die.  But like me, some of you yogis out there like to read the Bhagavad-Gita and maybe even the Mahabarata because it gives you insight into your practice. Along with the insight on yoga, we also get to know larger religious structure of Hinduism. Which means we get some talk of reincarnation.

Reincarnation.  I can’t say that I believe that I have a soul that has been in lots of other beings in the past and because of my particular collection of karma, I was fortunate enough to be born into the life of a yogini.  I have to admit that I also don’t think it is impossible.  Either way, I’m not trying so hard to figure out what happened before life as Amanda or what is going to happen when this body of mine dies because I’m mostly interested in what’s happening here on earth in this body and life right now.  That said, when I read all this business about reincarnation, I wonder how to think about it so it is meaningful to me in this life.

So here are some thoughts I had about reincarnation when I was sick with the flu:

1. Reincarnation as allegory—Perhaps the cycles of rebirth can be seen as the repetitive cycles of suffering that we must face again and again until we really do have the wisdom, surrender and humility to relinquish a way of being that isn’t serving our Self.

i.e. Stuff that comes up in one relationship somehow keeps happening in all the other relationships that come along UNTIL I see that maybe there is something I keep doing and I need to let that behavior DIE and be REBORN as a new pattern or way of dealing with stuff.

2. Reincarnation and Einstein,  “Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another.” Is our soul made of energy? Can it keep getting transformed and become the soul of another being? I don’t know.  Not a very good follow up to number 1.

3. Reincarnation and Carl Jung.  Maybe reincarnation is related to the idea of the collective unconscious and the archetypes that come to the forefront of our consciousness as we move through life.  And maybe it isn’t archetypes that are passed down from the whole human race to each baby, but our ancestors, the ones that came before us, the ones that we are connected to, have some influence on how we are in the world — on our soul.

i.e. Have you ever seen a documentary about scientists who taught a mother octopus to go through a very complex maze and then when she had offspring and the offspring went through the maze, they actually mastered the maze much faster than babies from a different octopus mama?  I saw this when I was 12 at some science museum and I looked for evidence of this study on the interwebs because it is so crazy-fascinating. I didn’t find it and several sources said that thought-transference doesn’t actually happen with octopuses, but I’m pretty sure I remember it all with great accuracy and it might be related to reincarnation.  (thank goodness this is a blog and not a scientific journal.)

4. Reincarnation as a means to deeper compassion.  Perhaps the belief that we might come back as a creature or a person who is struggling or someone very fortunate gives us a sense of connection and compassion toward all creatures.  If we feel we are a part of the world and the people and the life around us, our behavior will be different than if we see ourselves all alone and separate from.

I think number one is probably the most useful in my life.  “Kick the habit” becomes a little more exciting when I think of letting a habit die and be reborn as something more lovely.

I’ve got the Ramayana in the book queue.  Hanuman’s story is in that one.  He’s the monkey god who leaps over some ocean to help save Sita for his god-friend, Rama.  My friend suggested that I might need to put the Indian Lit down for a while because when I saw the photo of my kid in a tiny text message, my first thought was that she was wearing a yoke.  She might be right…


5 thoughts on “Reincarnation.

  1. Nice article. I had read the book “I am That” by Nisargadatta, few years back.Here’s are some quotes from the book related to rebirth and karma. I can’t say I quite understood them but they seem to resonate with me –

    The memory of the past unfulfilled desires traps energy, which manifests itself as a person. When its charge gets exhausted, the person dies. Unfulfilled desires are carried over into the next birth. Self-identification with the body creates ever fresh desires and there is no end to them, unless this mechanism of bondage is clearly seen. It is clarity that is liberating, for you cannot abandon desire, unless its causes and effects are clearly seen. I do not say the same person is re-born. It dies and dies for good. But its memories remain and their desires and fears. They supply the energy for a new person. The real takes no part in it, but makes it possible by giving it the light.

    Karma is only a store of unspent energies, of unfulfilled desires and fears not understood. The store is being constantly replenished by new desires and fears. It need not be so for ever. Understand the root cause of your fears – the longing for the self, and your karma will dissolve like a dream. Between earth and heaven life goes on. Nothing is affected, only bodies grow and decay.


    Most of our karma is collective. We suffer for the sins of others as others suffer for ours. Humanity is one. Ignorance of this fact does not change it. We could have been much happier people ourselves, but for our indifference to the sufferings of others.

    1. Hi Sunil… I’ve had to think on this one for a few days.
      First, I think if something resonates and feels true, there is some important truth in it. So cool that you tuned into that when you read the book and shared it here. I’m curious to see how this idea continues to pop up for you over the years. Thank you for sharing it.

      After reading the quotes a couple of times, I’m not sure I understand exactly what is being said either, but this idea that unfulfilled desire and fears not understood become the energy to make another person seems like a bummer-way to start out life for whoever that next person is. It isn’t the “clean slate” or “perfect and untarnished” little baby point of view. That turns me off a little bit.

      On the other hand, this fears/desires thing makes me think about this discussion I’ve been having with my friend who is the 3rd generation in a family who survived horrific persecution for their Jewish faith. She is investigating how the trauma experienced by her grandparents has been passed on to her parents and then to her. It may be a more behavioral-psychological health perspective but I think it does apply to the more subtle work of energy in the body, too. I guess the question is, “How does the energy of trauma, processed and worked through or not, get passed along to the following generations?” There’s actually a lot of investigation into third gen HOlocaust survivors and how the PTSD from their ancestors gets passed along. Such an interesting inquiry, isn’t it? And I think it does relate to this “reincarnation” conversation… maybe not in it’s most esoteric form, but in an “energy being transformed and passed on” kind of way.

      1. Hello ladies,
        What an interesting discussion! I was wondering if it is not much simpler. Isn’t it true that as parents, it is very tempting in some ways to transfer unfulfilled desires onto one’s offspring. For a variety of reasons of course, like wanting a better life for my children etc. However, I believe if I am leading an unfulfilled life, if I don’t know how to be content, how would I possibly teach my son that very skill? Every day I observe how the energy between my husband and I directly affects our son, how I relate to people at work…
        Humans are very much interconnected. It seems just right that this goes beyond a lifetime.
        With the octopuss documentary I wonder if it is some form of lifeskill. Something like how to approach a confusing situation (=maze), how to navigate it and get through it. Maybe it is not about thought transendence but more about a general disposition.
        Just going out on a limb… 🙂
        This will keep me busy for a while…

  2. Weirdly, I have been thinking about reincarnation a lot lately too. As you point out, one of the best things about yoga is that it’s not a religion. And it really doesn’t concern itself with what happens when you die (or before you were born). But the Vedas do. I’ve been reading David Frawley’s Yoga & Ayurveda, which goes pretty deeply into it in a matter of fact way. But I love that even if you don’t “believe” it all to be true – who cares? Still practice yoga and still make this life more immediately full for yourself. It works on the micro without understanding or subscribing to the macro.

    1. “It works on the micro without understanding or subscribing to the macro.” What a great way of putting it, Lauren. I think the understanding can start and stop in the micro and be really meaningful. AND sometimes, unexpectedly, when we really get to know it at the micro, we end up deeply appreciating the bigger picture, too.

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