If you were born in a Buddhist country, or if you are a Western student new to this religion, one of the very first things you will learn is the concept of reincarnation. And as an intrinsic part of that concept, the ideas of samsara and of karma follow in its train. And as a Tibetan Buddhist or Vajrayanist, there is the associated teaching of the six realms of being, in which we wander endlessly, cycling rebirth after rebirth until we liberate ourselves from different forms of interminable suffering. But that is not the only game in town. As stated in the voluminous Encyclopedia of Reincarnation and Karma, it is surprising “how little real agreement there is on them across a very broad range of writings” on exactly what is going on here. (McClelland, 3) Indeed, it was traditionally five realms within Buddhism. Hindu cosmology of an eternal soul traveling from one body to the next go back to the Upanishads (c. 800 BCE–c. 500 BCE), while Jainism has four possible pathways of instantaneous rebirth—enlightenment, human form, animal, or hell). The ancient Orphic religion of Greece from the sixth century BCE taught that one continues to be reborn as human and animal until, with the help of the gods, one perfects their being. Pythagoras, and later Plato, famously taught how souls transmigrate from one embodiment to the next. The Romans, druids and Celts, the Kabbalists, the middle Eastern Druze and Yezidis had their notions too. Indeed, the variety of ideas around reincarnation on a global scale, just like the concept of heaven and hell, are a fascinating study, although leaving the water further muddied.
Like many in the West, I adopted the Buddhist concept over some time—a novel and fascinating idea for a Jewish boy from the Toronto suburbs. But increasingly, all of these ideas seemed “new agey” long before the term New Age had been coined. This idealized concept of life as a school, provided exclusively for one’s edification, seemed contrived. Similar to a Christian image of a benevolent old man with a white beard (or an angry, strict one if you are a Jew) waiting to usher good little boys and girls into heaven, it seemed similarly unnatural. Such narratives are excellent for an exoteric religion, providing reassurance and comfort in a violent and uncertain world. Buddhism and Christianity, in spite of the wars fought in their names, are civilizing influences, offering a moral code of kindness, compassion, charity, service toward others, and the like. Both the strange marriage of early Christianity with Roman law and governance, and the Tibetan merging of monasticism with yogic mysticism, remain problematic to this day. Nonetheless, religious ethics help to pacify and uplift suffering humanity, with both grains of truth about who we are and how we should act, and a good mythology to support these guides to a better way of life.
However, there is nothing in the natural world, the one we experience day to day, that conforms with this kind of “free ride” from life to life. And, when in my 20s I came across the profound Gnostic reincarnation teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff, it struck a chord deep in my soul. It is just common sense after all. Our evolution, transformation, the possibility of a secondary Light Body creation, is not guaranteed, any more than an acorn falling on the ground is guaranteed to become a mighty oak. Only one in 10,000 acorns may become a tree, and many will not survive the first year or two. Of the 100 million sperm in an ejaculation, only one can become the seed of a new child. And one in two million people will turn out an IQ of 180! We are not acorns, but things in nature do not stack up very well for the average blade of grass. In the Gurdjieffian postulation, reincarnation, like the Light Body, is not a given. It is a hidden potential that is realized only rarely. In order to attain this rather lofty goal, the individual must have done the necessary spiritual work, have met some real adepts, learned much, studied much, practiced in various specifically formulated ways.
From the perspective of spiritual physics, we need to produce very specific substances in our body, and reorganize our entire energetic and bio-photonic matrix. In other words, we have to be stream-winners on the path toward transformation—light body adolescents or infants at a minimum. The British academic and author J. G. Bennett spoke of two kinds of people in this world: the great majority of psycho-static individuals for whom life is just birth, old age, and death; and the psycho-dynamic who become something different, something meta-human. They are mundane people and seekers who may one day become adepts themselves, the oldest game in human evolution. It is odd and a great omission that all the teachings about Light Body or rainbow body formation in Asian spiritual traditions only seem to speak about the end-product. Very little or nothing is said about the actual process—what happens along the (very long) way. And what degree, what actual percentage of re-crystallization is needed before one does not fall back into one’s purely biological form? What threshold, specifically, is required for something within oneself to reincarnate one’s consciousness? If nothing whatever is developed, if a man or woman dies just as they were born, they will be recycled. Earth to Earth, fire to Fire, air to Air, planetary and solar energies back to their source, and so on. Bennett talks about the “soul pool stuff,” the place where the spiritual substance which animates one’s being will return to its source. Gurdjieff further maintains that the death of an individual releases energy that helps “feed the Moon” in its unstable orbit. Spiritual practitioners actually feed the planets and Moon through their spiritual work, whether or not this is done consciously. Whether allegorical or true, it is a process on a cosmic scale, not just individual. The above may seem like a flight of fantasy, more mental sophistry, theorizing and philosophical self-entertainment. Fortunately, having spent the better part of 50 years involved with intuitive or empathic healing work on many thousands of individuals, there is some possibility of answers, at least some that have both satisfied my curiosity and clarified the path.
The 30 per cent rule
The average person has only a 15 per cent organized bioenergetic or astral field. This happens biologically, as a natural part of living. It is slightly less in children and increases with age, but nothing is guaranteed by biology beyond that basic 15 per cent. Some have less, others a bit more due to individual personality, experiences, intelligence, genetics, and the infinity of life’s challenges and opportunities. But these differences remain small if solely under the influence of the rule of fate, luck or accident. For those who have had a strong spiritual predilection, even since childhood, they will often have felt “different” their whole lives. Others may have an “awakening,” a life-altering event or realization that totally changes their life direction. In either case, an internal magnetic center will forever, and unforgivably, drive them toward a higher level of vibration. Whatever the beginnings, once one has broken through the glass ceiling where their bioenergetic and magnetic fields have re-organized and crystallized in a specific way, then consciousness has the possibility of entering a subsequent birth to continue that evolution. This progression is a story for another time, as there is much more to the stages of Light Body creation than is generally understood or taught. And we must realize that this remarkable privilege of being able to go forward and continue our transformative process is itself no guarantee of some future resolution. Nothing is certain in the physical world filled with happenstance, negativity, and human madness. But with continued reliance on a solid spiritual lineage and our internal diligence, there is great hope. And yet the vast fields of humanity that merely live and expire like the poppies of the field will be the benefactors of such a unique occurrence. The conscious cosmic ensemble of planets and suns that pervade our reality will be also the recipients of those benefits, for we puny beings are part of a grand schema. The earth needs the acorn to become trees, although many must fall by the wayside, while fortunate others find rich fallow ground.
Atkinson, W. W. 1908. Reincarnation and the Law of Karma: A History of Reincarnation Beliefs in Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism and Other Religions. London: Yogi Publication Society.
Bhikkhu Analayo. 2018. Rebirth in Early Buddhism and Current Research. Boston, MA: Wisdom Publications.
Gurdjieff, G. I. 1992. All and Everything: Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson. New York: Jeremy Tarcher.
Luchte, J. 2009. Wandering Souls: The Doctrine of Transmigration in Pythagorean Philosophy. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Mann, A. T. 1995. Elements of Reincarnation. Shaftesbury: Element Books.
McClelland, Norman C. 2010. Encyclopedia of Reincarnation and Karma. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company.
Ouspensky, P. D. 1957. In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Thondup, T. 2011. Incarnation: The History and Mysticism of the Tulku Tradition of Tibet. Boulder, CO: Shambala.
Zivkovic, T. 2013. Death and Reincarnation in Tibetan Buddhism: In-Between Bodies. London: Routledge.
Related features from BDG
Light Body Practice: First Stages
In Search of the Buddhist Body
Science and the Rainbow Body, Part 1: Science Meets the Rainbow Body