We will all die. How many of us believe we’ll be reborn? I’m reading two books about death right now—Being Mortal by Atul Gawande and The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche. Both books came into my life at the same time I received news that my uncle died; some might say this is coincidental. I tend to believe there’s more to it, even though I can’t prove or define what ‘more to it’ looks like.
My mom tells me that I talked about reincarnation when I was very young, and that she was shocked to hear me use such a word. She doesn’t know where I heard it. I don’t remember thinking about it much when I was young, but I’ve been thinking about reincarnation a lot the past few days. In The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche recounts a few examples of individuals who actually remembered their past lives and suggests that if you want to come to a serious understanding of rebirth, “You investigate this open-mindedly, but with as much discrimination as possible.” Yes, there are frauds out there. But such is the case with many things.
I believe reincarnation is a possibility, not an absolute. I like how Sogyal Rinpoche explains it in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying:
Most people take the word “reincarnation” to imply there is some “thing” that reincarnates, which travels from life to life. But in Buddhism we do not believe in an independent and unchanging entity like a soul or ego that survives the death of the body. What provides the continuity between lives is not an entity, we believe, but the ultimately subtlest level of consciousness. The Dali Lama explains: According to the Buddhist explanation, the ultimate creative principle is consciousness. There are different levels of consciousness. What we call innermost subtle consciousness is always there. The continuity of that consciousness is almost like something permanent, like the space-particles. In the field of matter, that is the space-particles; in the field of consciousness, it is the Clear Light…The Clear Light, with its special energy, makes the connection with consciousness.
Regardless of whether or not you believe reincarnation exists, I know that the spirits of the departed live on through the people’s lives they touched. In a way, those who have passed on are reborn again and again when we share stories about them.
If you know of anyone who is scared of death, I highly recommend they read The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. People with different spiritual beliefs have said that the book strengthened their faith in their own tradition. For me, it has proven that one’s spirituality is central in how accepting of death they are; in today’s world, spiritual nourishment can be hard to come by.