We’re turning 100 this year! Help us share the wisdom of Kabbalah for our next 100 years! DONATE NOW
Far removed from religion albeit completely linked to the Torah, Kabbalah and reincarnation have always drawn hostile fire from both religionists and scientists. Perhaps some religionists fear the "blasphemy" of its topic while some scientists fear the metaphysics that take it beyond the scope of their familiar environment.
Descartes' seventeenth century philosophy of strict division between mind and body led the medical establishment to concentrate on the body as a machine. Accordingly, greater importance has been placed on the physical aspects, and the field of psychiatry has been relegated to the back burner of research. From a kabbalistic perspective, the story of mankind is really one of returning souls. Indeed, no mystery in the long history of our universe is so illuminating as the universal and repeated behavior of its inhabitants.
Breakthroughs that ultimately foster bigger leaps have had very little effect on human thinking. Is our frame of mind really different from that of the people of the Middle Ages? In spite of dramatic environmental changes, along with the progress syndrome, have human psychological needs really changed through the centuries? Do we really better ourselves by growing with progress which continues to become more complex with the passing of time?
Reincarnation, along with the tikun (correction) process, directs and dictates our everyday thought patterns, feelings and activities, although human behavior is genetically controlled to a significant degree. Now, I know that this position challenges the conventional view of most social scientists who claim that cultural and environmental upbringing, and not incarnation-related imperatives shape human nature. The far-reaching effects of our internal human spirit extend to our characteristics and determine our external actions which are fully determined and executed by the incarnation related cosmic forces prevailing at that time.
Actions of man are indeed controlled by the cosmos, but only to the extent that they were manifested in a prior lifetime. In other words, if an individual committed crimes against humanity in a previous incarnation, his incarnated soul returns and is faced with the same type of situation with which he was challenged in his past lifetime. A person is born at a very specific and particular moment in time, during which the interrelated planets and signs of the Zodiac collectively channel the unique physical and mental DNA that embodies and embraces the scope of the last lifetime, as well as all prior lifetimes that are now being manifest in the individual before us now.
The person is being given an opportunity to exercise free will and thwart the scenario of the cassette of prior lifetimes, or succumb to its influence. In essence, the cosmos presents the opportunity and framework for dealing rationally with our incarnation cassette. The cosmic strings of activity are not the cause of the life cassette's pre-determined structure. This has already been determined by former lifetimes.
However, we may raise the question, "What are the chances of succeeding this time around when we have already failed in countless prior lifetimes?" The answer lies in the fact of the Aquarian Age where we have merited the enormous and profound kabbalistic information whereby mankind now has a winning chance. The negative frames of reference created by ourselves provide us with an opportunity to exercise free will and achieve the removal of Bread of Shame. Obviously, if these negative cosmic forces did not exist, then man would simply conform to a programmed kind of intelligence that dictates only a sharing philosophy leaving us in a state that can be described as robotic. However, since negative cosmic forces do exist, we have the obligation and purpose of free thinking and free choosing individuals.
Thus far, history has demonstrated that mankind has failed to accomplish mastery of his destiny. With scientific advancements, we have become aware of an internal, metaphysical activity that seems to create even more uncertainty. We now live in a time of enormous upheaval, a time in which the traditions, and the answers of the past are all in question.
However, before proceeding any further, for those who question the case for reincarnation, let me address this question. Let us start with the verse from Ecclesiastes 1:4. "One generation passes away and another generation comes, but the earth abides forever." The Zohar tells us that what this verse really means is that the generation that has passed away is the same generation that comes to replace it. An identical clue may be found in the Ten Utterances (Exodus, 20:5) which states, "The sins of the fathers are remembered even unto the third and fourth generation." This does not imply, as some erroneously have contended, that God is so full of wrath that he is not content to punish merely the sinner, he will inflict punishment for sin upon the sinner's innocent grandchildren and great grand children as well. Who could rationally love and worship so fierce and vengeful a deity?
The Zohar reveals that the truth of this verse is that the third and fourth generations are, in fact, the prior generation, one soul returning in the form of its own descendant so that it may correct the sins cited as "sins of the fathers." Such examples in support of the case for reincarnation abound in the Bible.
The concept of reincarnation is prevalent among many cultures; Indians on the American Continent. In the Orient, the teaching of reincarnation is widespread and influential. It is the basis of most of the philosophical systems of India where hundreds of millions accept the fact of reincarnation the way we accept the fact of gravity as a force of nature.
But like every idea of great antiquity, the concept of reincarnation has come to most of the world amidst a welter of superstition and misconception. Superstition is so repellent to the western way of thinking, that great discredit has been cast on the philosophical value of the central idea of reincarnation itself. Recently, many films have had as their theme the idea of reincarnation because beneath all the fancies there lurks a basic and eternal truth. How else could the idea have endured for so many thousands of years? How could it have attracted so many able thinkers?
The one question all of mankind still asks is: if God really exists, why is there so much misery in the world? Why do the criminals go unpunished and the righteous endure so much undeserved suffering? All too often the criminal goes free and the innocent is imprisoned. If all souls are equal at birth, why are human destinies so unequal? Are we all to fall back upon the hopeless doctrine of predestination? Is it all a matter of chance?
As far as this world is concerned, human equality is a myth. We are unequal mentally, spiritually and morally. Some have strong, healthy bodies; others are frail and diseased.
In a child, we see the apparent development of consciousness – the mind and growth of that mind with the passage of time. In old age, the consciousness and awareness suddenly disappears with the death of the body. When the instrument is destroyed and consciousness can no longer make itself felt physically, is the annihilation of the mind and the soul implied? The answer is no!
The soul of man is no more dependent upon the existence of the brain than a musician is dependent upon the existence of his violin, though both instruments are necessary for musical expression in the physical world. Only when we can fully grasp this viewpoint can we begin to approach the study of reincarnation. Human consciousness existed before birth, and by human consciousness, I mean the soul. This is the first fundamental fact of reincarnation.
My intention in this article is not to prove that reincarnation is a fact of nature, although a preponderance of evidence supports such a proposition. Anyone who feels the need for strict scientific validation should realize that as we probe deeper into the subatomic world of our existence, we find that strict scientific validation of anything becomes virtually impossible. Quantum mechanics and the now scientifically respectable "Uncertainty Principle" have taken care of that.
Essentially, verification lies not in the accumulation of more stringent proofs of reincarnation, but rather in the persuasion of skeptics to accept that which has already been made known. Unfortunately, between the abstract world of conjecture and the real world of experimentation there has been and always will exist a continuous strain sometimes even conflict, and because of this problem the layman has been left out, only to catch up to the realities of Kabbalah many centuries if not millenniums later.
However, in the Age of Aquarius, with the doctrine and principles of Kabbalah being made so simple, the idea of reincarnation is spreading phenomenally. As interpreted by the Zohar and the Ari, Rav Isaac Luria, reincarnation allows mankind to come to grips with the solutions to life's complexities. The Ari, stated in his Gate of Reincarnation, that if man does not recognize the fact of prior incarnation or incarnations, the ability to achieve tikun or reach a state of correction is not possible.
For many years, I could not relate the achievement of tikun with the knowledge of prior incarnations. However, over the years, it has become exceedingly clear that in one lifetime we come to recognize our mistakes only after it is too late to make any changes. Either we are too old or too weak in the latter part of our life to alter our state of consciousness, or become aware of the negative activities that were part of our individual life in past incarnations.
However, were we to achieve an awareness of the negative actions that we incurred in prior lifetimes, the knowledge of our experience will come early in our lives enabling us to have the stamina and courage to change. Over many lifetimes, humankind may incarnate into any of the three lower kingdoms, namely, animal, vegetable, and even inanimate. The kingdom in which we do incarnate will depend upon the nature of our negative activities.
Take as an example, the Biblical character Bilaam, who was bent on cursing the Israelites during their sojourn in the wilderness. He became incarnated within the inanimate kingdom to teach him the effects of not paying heed to one's verbal actions. Confined to a rock, the soul of Bilaam endured the pain of silence. Others may return as an incarnated leaf of a tree so as to be beaten by the wind ceaselessly.
While to the western mind and culture, the tradition of reincarnation will probably sound very foreign, inasmuch as the essential feature of this culture is based mainly upon a mechanistic view of man's role in the universe, nevertheless to ignore the reality of reincarnation is to shut off a true learning experience. When we pursue the path of examining our behavioral traits and why we think the way we do, we assuredly come closer to the reason for our present state and the purpose of our existence.
To assume that we have come into this world without purpose is to reject the idea that the vast universe came about with direction and meaning. The Ari, Rav Isaac Luria, may very well be correct when he states that to ignore the fact of reincarnation is to permit mankind to exist without a rudder and hence bounce around in chaos.
To ignore the reality that our existence since the beginning of time has been one filled with utter chaos blinds us to the need to arrive at solutions. Only a fool rejects any possibility, especially when the world has not become a better place to live in. Rejecting the rules and principles or the essence of reincarnation will bring mankind towards an unacceptable environment where man continues to devour each other, either by peaceful or violent means.
I recall the familiar story told by the Ba'al Shem Tov on the subject of reincarnation. One day a student came to the Ba’al Shem Tov and asked if he could provide some illustration demonstrating the existence of reincarnation. The student was told to go to a particular park, take a seat, and observe. After settling down on one of the park benches, he noticed a man approach an adjoining bench with a small satchel in his hand. After a while, the man got up and left, leaving his satchel behind. A few moments later, another person sat down on the same bench. As he seated himself, he noticed the satchel. He opened it and found a large sum of money. He hurriedly closed the satchel, and ran off like a thief. A moment later, a third man who was apparently very tired sat down on that very same bench. Soon afterwards, the first man returned to this same bench looking for his satchel. Assuming that since only a few moments had elapsed since he left the bench, he confronted the present occupant of the bench and demanded he return the satchel filled with his money.
The bewildered man responded with a blank expression and exclaimed, "What are you talking about? I just got here." Taking the answer by the assumed thief to mean that he was refusing to return the satchel with the money, the victim then proceeded to beat up the supposed thief.
The student of the Ba’al Shem Tov was in total confusion, and immediately returned to his master's home. Upon meeting the Ba’al Shem Tov, the student exclaimed that what he had observed led him to think that indeed this world is nothing more than chaos. Indeed, the concept of reincarnation which tends to create some semblance of order in the universe is nothing more than illusionary. The student then related what he saw. A man is grieved by the loss of his satchel. Another person benefits from the misfortune of someone else, and finally, the picture of total chaos, an innocent man is beaten for no reason.
The Ba’al Shem Tov replied that the student had not grasped the full implication of the scene which actually reflected an incident between these individuals in a past lifetime. The first person to whom the satchel belonged had stolen some money from the second individual, and now, in this lifetime, the second man was recovering what had been stolen by the first in the previous lifetime. The third individual, remarked the Ba’al Shem Tov, had been the judge who had not recognized nor had been through the facts of the case under review. Had he been a judge of pure mind and heart, no false judgment could have emerged under his jurisdiction. The natural laws and principles of this universe, continued the Ba’al Shem Tov, govern with precise accuracy. The chaotic realm that seems to prevail leads man into believing that there is no law and order in the universe, and that justice does not exist. The criminal goes unpunished and the innocent usually suffer unduly. And yet, if we come to an understanding of the doctrines of reincarnation, we come to a realization as to why babies are born with defects, and an understanding of the many seemingly unfair occurrences.
It is precisely for this reason that the Ari declared that if one does not have an understanding of the effect of prior lifetimes and the necessity to make corrections, inevitably this person must suffer the effects until such time when a full tikun has been real zed. The Ari makes it clear that before a person can know and abide by the laws of tikun, one must know the root and place of one's soul. To know that, however, one must first know the structure within which root and place are to be found.
Adam, whose very name means ‘man', was the repository of all the souls which would exist on earth. Thus, his own soul was infinitely sub dividable. When he sinned in the Garden of Eden, the repository of the vessel was shattered and this was fragmented into what the Kabbalists calls 'sparks', each one as unique as the microscopic double helix of DNA that determines every characteristic of the individual who receives it. Intelligences that were once part of Adam's brain incarnate as intelligent people whose work relates to mind activity. Those intelligent forces that were part of Adam's fingers were corporealized in humans whose activities are related to working with the fingers such as craftsmen and artists. Thus, each and every intelligent energy force of Adam's profile transmigrated with its peculiar and particular DNA formula accounting for the different people who inhabit earth.
One of the many questions that arise for those who fully understand the concept of reincarnation is why some parents are blessed with children of wisdom and the ethics of a saint, and other parents with children of amorality and ignorance. True, these children have something or many things to correct. However, what determines where which go to whom?
For the answer to that question in the case of every birth that has ever taken place or that will ever occur, look to one specific condition at one specific moment in time the thoughts of the parents during sexual intercourse. If the thoughts of a man and woman are of pure lust, motivated solely by the desire for self-indulgence, their child will reflect selfishness and lust, while the child conceived in a moment of deep love and mutual understanding will reflect positive characteristics. Because every soul, returning after death, must find a place in which conditions will be similar to those just left behind, parents virtually order their offspring as if picking from a cosmic catalogue.
Thus, conception, ranging from the rage of forcible rape to the tenderness of righteous love making, will produce children ranging from the enraged to the righteous. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. Some few souls, tikun completed, return to this plane with a mission for mankind that has nothing to do with personal karma. Rav Shimon Bar Yochai, an incarnated spark of Moses, had no tikun reason to walk this earth 2000 years ago. But he alone could have revealed the wisdom of the Zohar. Likewise, Rav Isaac Luria appeared solely to interpret the Zohar and spread its wisdom, himself an incarnated spark of Rav Shimon Bar Yochai.
For the average man or woman to become a parent is to open a channel for a soul that will enhance their lives or make them miserable. It is a frightening prospect, and those who know nothing of Kabbalah or who dismiss reincarnation, gamble with their very lives in the art of procreation. Happy are those who may be soul mates in such a situation, for soul mates are truly one, and are so happy in each other's company that no thought less than the most benign could intrude upon the act of making love.
In the Endless, all souls were one. But the Zohar tells us that the Creator split each of them from the state of positive negative circuitry, thus creating male and female. Soul mates are those two halves of a single soul, back together again usually after wandering through many lifetimes searching for each other and fulfilling tikun.
As a general rule, soul mates may meet and marry only after the karmic debt has been paid. Therefore, few in the world at any given time are soul mated. Still, men and women meet and marry, sometimes even divorce and remarry. None of these unions are wasted, however, according to the kabbalists. Every one of them was meant to be for the sake of whatever lessons were meant to be learned and virtues were meant to be gained.
It is a wise adage that says, "Marriage is like a besieged fortress – those who are outside want to get inside, and those inside want to get out." With the divorce rate for those who do marry reaching epidemic proportions, why then does anyone bother? Since marriage plays such an important role in any society, it is important to understand that role. The cosmic laws of reincarnation cannot be changed and it is lack of knowledge of those laws that spawn so many of today's problems.
We cannot hide the instability and lack of devotion that mar most modern marriages. A true soul mate marriage is where unconditional love is the foundation of its union. The high standard of unconditional love cannot be brought about without a thorough understanding of reincarnation. The Zohar affirms that no major human relationship is the result of chance. King David and Batsheva were the direct result of a tikun process that became established at the time of the creation of the world. A marriage where the participants simply cannot bear to be without each other all of the time is an exemplification of soul mates in its highest degree. The harmony of the entire universe is maintained by this balance. The study of reincarnation is the most singular important factor towards world stability.
This article originally appeared in Kabbalah Magazine Vol. 2, Issue 2, January 1997.