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© By Gary Vey

Evidence that we have lived before.


As promised, I wanted to consider the current religious positions regarding reincarnation. Many people who are exposed to scientific proof of this phenomenon worry that it conflicts with their faith and so they are hesitant to seriously consider its validity.

Since the majority of American and European readers of this series are likely Christians, it was my plan to cite some Biblical passages and parables that endorsed reincarnation. But in doing my research into Judaism -- after all Jesus was a Jew -- I realized this was a better place to start. Implicit in the story of Jesus and his teachings are the traditions and beliefs of Judiasm. And even deeper lie the teachings of Jewish mystics whose foundation is the belief in reincarnation.

Reincarnation in Judaism -- Rabbi Gershom

Rabbi Yonassan Gershom is a Hasidic Jew and author of Beyond the Ashes -- Cases of Reincarnation from the Holocaust. Hasitism is a branch of Orthodox Judaism that promotes spirituality and joy through Jewish mysticism. This very ancient mystic tradition is based on the Talmud and the teachings of the more recent Kabbala.

The purpose and method of reincarnation, as it would have been understood by Jesus and his followers, is described by Rabbi Gershom:

"The goal is to remain in the spiritual world -- to return to The Garden of Eden, that is our metaphor. Once the soul has reached that exalted pinnacle it no longer needs to return to this earth to learn its karmic lessons. Judaism preaches that these elevated beings return voluntarily, sometimes for thousands of incarnations, in order to help the rest of mankind. They are called Zaddakim or 'righteous holy ones'. While some Zaddikim are openly recognized, some come to this earth as ordinary human beings and do their work in disguise, as it were. It is said that there are at least thirty-six hidden Jewish saints on this earth, leading exemplary lives and helping the world turn on its axis."

Peronally, Rabbi Gershom spent most of his time helping reincarnated Holocaust victims who, because of their sudden and traumatic death experiences, had myriad problems adjusting in their new lives. Although there are many cases involving Jews, the Rabbi concentrated on studying survivors who had reincarnated as Gentiles (non-Jews). He believed those were more convincing -- especially when the cases involved a children who had not been exposed to the history or tradition of Jewish culture.

Often these children experienced terrible nightmares in which they were separated from their mothers, made to live in wooden sheds and even burned or buried alive. One child would scream and pat himself with his hands in an attempt to extinguish flames on his clothes. Other children recalled in vivid details how they looked up from a ditch at the black boots and guns of soldiers who covered their face with dirt.

Some children and adults exhibited strange behaviors. One young child would refused to drink milk if the glass were placed on the same table as meat, but he readily accepted juice or water. When his parents tried to force him to drink the milk he would throw the glass on the floor. This was later discovered to be carry-over from his past kosher habits. Some adults experienced terror at the sight of barbed wire, or could not stay in a crowded train station without experiencing extreme panic. Rabbi Gersham documented more than a thousand such cases -- and again, these were non-Jews with little knowledge of Jewish history or culture.

Good life & Bad life

Rabbi Gershom believed, as do Hindus and Buddhists, that it is possible to be reborn in a higher or lower position, depending on how the previous lives were lived. But he said the Jews had a slightly different teaching on this.

"In our teaching it is said that the core group at the Covenant of Sanai always come back as Jews, and that it is a step backwards on the spiritual ladder to be born as a non-Jew. Of course there are some individuals who wander in and out of Judaism but there are those souls who are like lighthouses, that are always there specializing and learning one path very deeply for many incarnations.

Personally, I believe the that the trauma of the Holocaust has driven many Jews from their own religion to seek other spiritual paths. They died thinking, 'If I am being starved and tortured and persecuted because of my religion, then I do not want to be a Jew any more. In their suffering and haste to come back they grabbed the first body they could get. But their souls are still Jewish."

The concept of reincarnation in Hebrew is called gilgul, gilgul neshamot or gilgulei ha neshamot. In Hebrew, the word gilgul means "cycle." Neshamot is the plural for "souls."

The Rabbi tells of five levels to the soul and he defines them as follows:

  • 1. nefesh - the biological life force of the body
  • 2. ruach - the lower emotional spirit or 'ego'
  • 3. nashamah - the individual higher consciousness
  • 4. chayah - the collective unconscious of the group
  • 5. yechida - the supreme consciousness, unity with God

Levels one and two do not survive death because they rely upon the physical body (brain). But level 3, the nashamah, does survive death and can be consciously developed. It is this level of soul that can remember, between lives, our past incarnations and which helps us choose our next life situation.

Souls "cycle" through "lives" or "incarnations." These souls attach themselves to different bodies -- human and nonhuman -- over time. The most basic component of the soul -- called the nefesh -- is always part of the gilgul process. It must leave the physical body at the stage of death but it then moves into another body where life has begun. This is the "cycling of souls."

Level 4, the chayah, is a collective soul that we share with our fellow karmic group -- simiar to Carl Jung's collective unconscious -- while level 5, the yechida, is where we are united with God.

Like Buddhists, Jews believe in a kind of karma which is projected forward in time and will effect the situation of future lives depending on the lessons and development that are needed to attain the perfection of the soul and escape the cycle of rebirth.

It should be obvious that the Jewish belief and tradition on reincarnation was well known to Jesus and his followers. The confusion comes because the narratives about Jesus and his teachings were written after his death, at a time when there was both persecution and internal power struggles of the new Christian religion.

The focus of Jesus' teachings were on the prophesied and imminent "second coming" -- a time when early Christians believed that Jesus would return in glory and liberate the souls and bodies from their graves. Prolonged reincarnations would, theoretically, not be needed.

There was also the need to consolidate the church's power and legitimize the authority of the hierarchy. This was done by establishing a doctrine of beliefs concerning the identity and nature of Jesus and solidifying the interpretations of his teachings. The powerful Christian church was also used by Roman politicians to control their citizens.

Prior to 325 AD, Jesus was viewed by many intellectuals as a very high prophet -- a Zaddikim -- and was considered to be a mortal man who had been reincarnated to reveal the spiritual relationship between humans and their Creator (Father). His teachings were an extension of Judiasm. Indeed, for the first 150 years after his death, the followers of Jesus held their religious services in the Jewish temple and observed many of the Jewish traditions. Jesus' teachings, however, undermined the necessity for priests and allowed a direct relationship between man and God. The temple authorities were soon threatened by this and the new Christians became an autonomous group.

What did Jesus say about reincarnation?

Many scriptures are often cited to support the belief in reincarnation during Jesus' time on earth.

"And as he was passing by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who has sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?" Jesus answered, 'Neither has this man sinned, nor his parents, but the works of God were to be made manifest in him.'" (John 9:1)

This clearly shows that reincarnation and "karma" were well known concepts. Although Jesus does not elaborate on reincarnation in this passage, neither does he condemn the belief or correct them.

In the following passage, the deciples ask Jesus about Elias, who is long dead.

"And the disciples asked him, saying, 'Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?' But he answered them and said, 'Elijah indeed is to come and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also shall the Son of Man suffer at their hand.' Then the disciples understood that he had spoken of John the Baptist." (Matthew 17:10-13)

This implies that the soul of Elias was reincarnated as John the Baptist! So what happened to reincarnation in Christianity?

Reincarnation is outlawed

Around 250 AD, a brilliant theologian named Origen understood the teachings of Jesus and wrote about the pre-existence of the soul. He taught that the soul's very source was God (the Father) and that the soul was traveling back to oneness with God via the lessons learned in multiple lives. He taught that Christ came to show us what we can become -- on our own, without the need of an organized religion or church.

These views were precisely those that Jesus had taught, but they soon became a huge threat to the Roman Empire, which was desperately trying to use the Christian church to maintain its political control over the population. If there was no need for the church and its priests, then the people would be difficult to control and tax.

By 325 AD, the Council of Nicea effectively discouraged belief in reincarnation, but Origen's writings continued to be popular among those seeking clarification about the nature of Christ, the destiny of the soul and the manner of the resurrection.

Some of the more educated monks had taken Origen's ideas and were using them in mystical practices with the aim of becoming one with God. But the mass of ignorant Christians could not understand these concepts and insisted on interpreting the "final resurrection" as meaning that one's old and buried body would be re-animated. They claimed Origen's ideas were heretical and reincarnation was eventually condemned in 545 AD [right] by the actions of Emperor Justinian and his control over the Fifth General Council of the Church.

It was all over then.

Church politics notwithstanding, mystics in the Christian Church continue to practice divinization. They follow Origen's ideas, and are still seeking union with God. They wait for a time when Christianity will become the religion of Jesus and not the religion about Jesus.

Next, a look at the Eastern religions that have always embraced reincarnation. What can we learn from them?