Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Reincarnation and the Meaning of Life

Perhaps the underlying notion of reincarnation deserves additional consideration. I don't mean the notion that our spirits are somehow reborn over and over again until we get life right, but the notion that the purpose of life is not to be the best person you can be, but to embrace life itself (which, in turn, leaves you to be the best person you can be). Reincarnation ends when striving ends, when balance is achieved. We westerners sometimes think of reincarnation as the move up a ladder - be more and more perfect until you get it right, but that's not how the teaching works. Enlightenment comes not by doing life right, but by doing life, being at peace with simply living. The notion underlying reincarnation is that there's something transformative about not seeking transformation.

That's the kind of paradox a good Christian can get behind.

Our tradition looks at eternity the same way (at least our theology does; common practice may be a different story). Jesus talks about a never-ending kingdom - this is what scripture means when it talks about heaven, not a fantasy world up in the clouds, but real life done right. There's no end to the kingdom of God, no "point" to heaven. This is pretty much the same thing Buddhists call Nirvana - a place of enlightenment, peace.

But Christians continue to seek after heaven as some sort of goal. Scripture teaches pretty plainly that there is no end (death is just a bump in the road); resurrection means life goes on - it may be a changed life, a transformed one, but it's a life everlasting. We need to stop thinking about "this life and the next." There is just one life and the good news of Jesus' gospel is that we can live into this life now; we can have access to God's never-ending Kingdom right now, before we die. This really is like reincarnation - at least the underlying principle. It's not about dying and coming back (although that happens once), it's about living well as an end in itself. That's how we find purpose in life, it's how we encounter Christ's kingdom, it's how we discover enlightenment. It's how we get to heaven, even if we're not yet dead.

Even the concept of purgatory plays on the same theme. Purgatory is this limbo state in which people wait out or work out or suffer through all the sin and junk that keeps us from being the people God created us to be. The end result of purgatory is heaven. In some sense, we could say the Christian belief is that all life is purgatory. This process by which we live and love and grow and learn is a process by which we discover our purpose: to live - and, in doing so, find transformation.

This is the reason Jesus is so important - because in Christ you find not only the words of life, but the example of life. This embrace of living (even unto death) is how we figure out what it means to live into this eternal kingdom. In Christ we see the fulfillment, the coming together of everything God has revealed from the beginning of time - life lived rightly, embodied in one man.

I think it's easy to pick these connections out across all human beliefs, because I strongly believe that God has been revealed to all people in all times. By that I don't mean all roads lead to God, but that all roads come from God. I also believe all roads lead to Christ, even if you never know the name of Christ or the story. All truth is God's truth and discovering the truth means discovering Christ. Now, as a Christian, it seems especially helpful to have a whole body of teaching laid out to direct and challenge us to right living; it seems preferable over a couple millennia of essentially trial and error - at the same time, I think it's really valuable to have such diverse perspectives on truth. To me, it's even more evidence of a God involved with creation when we see the same core notions of life and eternity emerging from different cultures and locations.

I affirm Christ as Truth and the only means by which we find God. But I'm also not willing to dent the possibility that while all roads may not lead to God, they all, if pursued honestly, lead to Christ, or, more specifically, the Truth Christ embodies.

In the end, it is not the Christian culture that sets the standard for others, but God's creative purpose in the world that transcends all cultures and religions. This is the message of Christ, who came no to start a new religion, but to put an end to all religion - to unify all people in the transformative power of love and to shift our focus from the ends to the means: living life well, for it's own sake.

It's there we find heaven, and life everlasting.

No comments: