Is There Reincarnation?

The writings of 18th century Emanuel  Swedenborg who claimed to have seen into the other side for 27 years do not support reincarnation. He wrote that we have one life - eternal - and that we are born into this physical world to prepare us for our eternal life. In the book, Heaven and Hell, Swedenborg explained that these memories of what is now called "past lives' are the memories of those who have gone before us. Very often, we sense these past memories and believe them to be our own. Swedenborg's explanation does not discount the experience - this life was lived - but not by the person claiming more than one life. We have one life - eternal life - and we are ourselves throughout eternity. Swedenborg also wrote that God, being Divine Wisdom, in addition to Divine Love, is always rational. In other words, God always makes sense. If something doesn't make sense, it is not from God.

I have been made aware that a reincarnationist website has quoted my above paragraph without identifying this article. The point was made that the above explanation does not take into consideration why some people are seemingly healed emotionally by "past life healing." Well, there is an easy explanation - it's called the placebo effect and it has been documented in medical studies. If a person believes that something will help them, it very often does - even if that something is a sugar pill. It's not a stretch of the imagination to see if someone believes that they have past lives - then going to past lives therapy will help them.

In The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot, which details the work of David Bohm, a former protégé of Einstein's and Stanford neurophysiologist Karl Pribram, one the architects of our modern understanding of the brain, there is a convincing theory given that the entire universe may be a hologram, from which some individuals may be accessing the universal memory.

How does coming back to this earth to pay for past mistakes and being doomed to continue the cycle until we figure out for ourselves what is wrong, with no help from God? It simply does not make sense. And the earth now has more people than have ever lived throughout all the ages. Not everyone can be walking around with a past life then. And how many people claim to have been a famous person - there are many Cleopatras and Napoleons out there!

Tom Harpur, theologian and Anglican minister, and member of IANDS (International Association for Near-Death Studies), in his best-selling book, Life After Death [chapter 13], goes into detail about how the early Christian Church refuted reincarnation. Origen (c.185--c.254 A.D.) was driven from the priesthood and regarded as a heretic because of his espousal of the doctrine of reincarnation. Keep in mind that Origen was reported to have had himself emasculated in an over-literal application of Jesus' words: And some have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom.  (Matthew 19:12)

Harpur also points out that people who are trying to prove reincarnation from a Biblical standpoint often misrepresent history. They often times will cite that either the Council of Nicea of 325 AD or the Second Council of Constaninople in 553 AD voted to strike passages from the Bible that supported reincarnation. According to Harpur, who holds a Doctorate of Divinity and who has devoted years of study  researching the original Greek translations, there is no evidence of any kind that any passages relating to the doctrine of reincarnation or any other theory were expurgated from the Biblical text. 

Some have pointed out that John the Baptist was the prophet Elijah reincarnated because of what Jesus spoke in Matthew 11:7-15.  This passage is referring to Elijah being representative of the prophets - and that a prophet (John the Baptist) would  declare the Lord's ministry. Look at John 1:21:

And they asked him [John], What then,  are you Elijah? And he said, I am not. Are you that prophet? And he answered, No.

I would think that John would know whether he was indeed the prophet Elijah reincarnated. 

Also, if you recall the story of Elijah, he was carried into Heaven by God - he did not die - and the Jews expected him to come back, but not reborn as a child, but returned as himself. 

The Transfiguration of Christ with the appearance of Moses and Elijah is also cited as "proof" of reincarnation. Yet, the disciples who witnessed the Transfiguration, Peter, James and John clearly recognized Moses and Elijah as themselves. Keep in mind that Moses and Elijah were seen many centuries after their death and they were recognized as Moses and Elijah.

According to Frank J. Tipler, physicist and author of The Physics of Immortality, the idea of reincarnation is very new to the Eastern religious tradition. It did not enter into Hinduism until around 600 B.C.

According to Wilson Van Dusen, noted author and clinical psychologist who specializes in the area between psychology and religion, wrote in his articles, Reincarnation: The Universal Return:

Most people believe reincarnation means that the individual returns again to this world. I will show this to be an idea that, although inaccurate and illusory itself, points toward the real truth: God, the Universal, returns endlessly.

There are actually two doctrines of reincarnation. The simpler one, known to most everyone, is that the individual returns again to the this world [and which he refers to as the 'lesser doctrine']. The other doctrine is that ultimately there really is no individual, and that God alone reappears endlessly through the whole of creation [which he refers to as the 'greater doctrine'].

 Christianity, Swedenborg and the oriental religions basically support the greater doctrine. Indeed some of the clearest statements on the greater doctrine are to be found in Swedenborg...

The Buddhists use the analogy of a candle to explain reincarnation. I have an unlit candle that gives no light. It is lit by the One Flame that can light all candles. The candle is the body, individuality, the personal history. The One Flame that gives light is God. But burning here and lighting my study, it appears alone, unique. Reincarnation is a new candle lit by the old flame, the Universal. This is very similar to Swedenborg's statements that we are recipient vessels. The new vessel (candle) receives the influx (Universal Light). The quality of the vessel affects how well it reflects the light. The real mystery is, how could I experience the life of a long dead Mayan priest? Not because I am something, but because It, the Light, knows all lives. I was shown something of the Universal in my life that illuminates all human nature. We are essentially recipient vessels and ultimately what is received is the Universal. The journey from the individual to the Universal is a loosening and expansion of the boundaries of personhood. And it is also an intensification of person hood into its source and life, the Universal. Reincarnation and its companion doctrine of karma are both small aspects of this underlying drift towards the oneness of things...

The center of Swedenborg's works is the process of regeneration. The most detailed treatment of it is in his twelve-volume Arcana Coelestia [Heavenly Secrets]. In regeneration we move from the conception of the unitary spiritual self into the more heavenly world of usefulness and networking toward the experience of God. I think one of the most pervasive errors in theology is that many think moving from awareness of self to awareness of God must represent a loss of self. I can only say the experience is far from loss.

The more closely one is conjoined to the Lord the more distinctly does he seem to himself to be his own, and the more plainly does he recognize that he is the Lord's.

[E. Swedenborg,
Divine Providence No. 42]

The idea of loss of self is rooted in the idea of the unitary package of self. It never did exist. It is illusion on whatever level you examine it. The experience of moving from self-awareness into the full awareness of God is a continuous one of expansion of the self. Not loss, but expansion. Finally the expansion reveals the ultimate truth. Only God exists. What was called the self before was the life of God hidden in darkness.

From much experience I have come to know that there is but one life - the Lord's.

 [E. Swedenborg,
Arcana Coelestia, No. 3484]

Reincarnation can also be a dangerous doctrine to accept. Several years ago, an acquaintance told a story where she did not intervene in a child abuse situation. Her reasoning was that it was the child's karma - he must have really done something wrong in his past life - and he must pay for it and set it straight. Look at modern India today, with the shameful treatment of the lower castes - due to the notion of reincarnation.

I have pondered whether people believe reincarnation because they fear living in the spiritual world as a spirit. I had this fear myself - who wants to be an ethereal, vaporous form of themselves? Yet, according to Swedenborg, that is NOT what a spirit is. A spirit is merely a person that has died - and is now residing in the spiritual world. Our spirits have form - human form and we look very similar to what we look like now - only without physical or mental defect. The spiritual bodies that we reside in are merely the spiritual bodies that we were born with - and have developed in - when we leave this world, we merely cast off our physical bodies (like a pair of pajamas) and are then in the spiritual world. We have all the faculties of sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch.  Indeed Swedenborg wrote that the spiritual universe looks very similar to our material universe. 

Swedenborg wrote that there is a correspondence of all things in nature and spirit. When we consider that there is One God, that seems to point to  the correspondence of one life. If reincarnation is considered, it may lead one to believe in many lives, many gods - Hinduism which teaches reincarnation does have a belief in many gods.

Does it matter what I believe? 

Swedenborg wrote that we are free to believe as we want. It's not our beliefs, but rather how we live our life (and the underlying motivation of our choices) that determines whether we are in heaven or hell. God gives us the freedom to believe whatever we want. The only caution that I make is this: when we believe things that are not true and which do not stand up to the light of examination, we become confused. Untrue beliefs cause confusion, which leads to depression and despair. I know...for I have lived a life of not understanding spiritual truths and experiencing the confusion that results from not having those truths. 

who doesn't, in their heart of hearts, long to be reunited with loved ones in an eternal Afterlife - never to be parted again? The idea of one individual/one life gives worth and dignity to each person -- and it seems to go hand-in-hand with our ONE GOD.

"For God is not the author
of confusion but of peace.
I Corinthians 14:33

" is destined to die but once..."
Hebrews 9:27

For more on Reincarnation,
please read the articles:

Rebirth and Reincarnation
by Charles A. Hall
edited by Rev. Lee Woofenden

by the Rev. John Odhner

Divine Reincarnation
An Alternative Perspective
by the Swedenborg Movement

 How Good Do We Have to Be?  
by Rev. Robert McCluskey

The Straight Facts ~ Spiritually Speaking
by JudyE


Music: On Your Shore by Enya