It is Halloween, a day when the veil between this observable world and the vast depth that is not visible becomes its thinnest. Spirits and ancestors may come to us, come to others and share their worlds with ours.
In Buddhism, there is a belief in reincarnation. Well, not really reincarnation but rather the belief in rebirth. At first glance it may seem ‘semantical’, but there lies an important distinction between the two, reincarnation and rebirth. In the concept of reincarnation, when we die, we will be born again, in a new body. Well, in Buddhism there is no unchanging self, we are always a different person than we ever were before or will be. This is called anatta in Buddhism, which has been translated, rather negatively, as the concept of no-soul. Sounds pretty harsh! lol. But it is important. We all may feel we have a soul, a presence inside us that remains our ‘core’, never-changing. What else could we be, in fact, we may think to ourselves?
So in Buddhism there is no reincarnation, as we have no unchanging part of ourselves to be born into a new body. So, this brings us to rebirth. How is this different to reincarnation? Well, simply put, we can use an example. We remember what we did when we were a child, perhaps we played ice hockey on a frozen pond and used jackets as goal posts, or we went to the circus. We recall this as ‘ourselves’, we certainly aren’t remembering someone else doing those things! I have photographic proof it was ‘me’! lol. So, just as this was ourselves, so it is like this when we are reborn, or rebirthed.
Do I believe in rebirth? I am Buddhist, but that doesn’t mean I do. I keep an open mind about it. I have evidence both for and against it and I will ‘keep it under review’, as they say. lol.
So in Zen, we may use ko-ans, which, simply put, are paradoxical riddles, which are intended to exhaust the rational mind to see clearly beyond it. That may be too blunt a description, but there you go. One koan is: What was your face before you were born? Of course, our faces were created in our mothers womb, by millions upon millions of cells dividing, growing and moving into position. That is the scientific answer, so lets exhaust that and move on. Does the question want us to think who we were in a previous life? No, probably not very useful… interesting? hell yes, but probably not very useful in realising our true nature. Hey I used to be King Arthur! lol. I think lots of people used to be King Arthur! lol. But seriously, it is more an asking : Who the hell am I? If I was born, I must have been born out of something, what was that something? I must have always been existing, somehow, in some way, however disparate my atoms were, my consciousnesses were… what was going on? What IS going on? When our face is striped, what lies beneath? And I don’t mean cheek bones and blood! lol.
The questioning goes on and on, and can become relentless. This is good. It almost becomes an attack, like we are attacking our very core. Is there even a core there? When we end up in a state where we have given our brains a bad headache, we may then, out of exhaustion, let it go, drop it and give up. This is where our hearts perk up and look around. Our heart-minds think in a way that is beyond thought, well, beyond cognitive thought anyhow. It is wisdom thought. This is where wisdom is born and resides. And our hearts are born of love and compassion. When we hold ourselves with such love and tenderness, feeling sympathy for our own selves, true love, our hearts burst open and wisdom flows. Some of the stupidest people in the world are some of the wisest. Have you ever noticed that? Some of the smartest people in the world are not so wise at all.
So, I have rambled here, without any sort of goal or intent, to see where my words would end up. So, tonight, on Halloween, I think about that thin veil, and wonder and reflect on life, death, rebirth and what it all means. I have more to say about rebirth and I will talk about this next time, or so the plan goes!