Many of us have barely heard of the concept of reincarnation, and the majority reject it and think of it as fairy tale. But once you get introduced to it deeply, by taking on the spiritual path for example, and when you ponder it a little bit, it becomes inconceivable to think of any other reality. How could anything else be fair, or make any sense? It’s just that those who’ve barely heard about the idea, as it was the case for me before coming to the path, the mere impression of it is too blissfully ignorant of the real thing.
I was thinking reincarnation meant that I was once a cat, and then I became me, and next life I become a spider, and then maybe even a river. But reincarnation isn’t a pointless shape-shifting game. It has a deep purpose. It is our spirit’s gradual evolution in consciousness, taking over forms and bodies, but always into more refined forms, bodies, or species, with the ultimate goal of merging back into the consciousness whence it came from. The soul goes through incarnations in rocks and inanimate objects, in which there’s still minuscule consciousness. As it evolves it seeks more opportunities and capabilities to express consciousness and learn and grow from. So gradually it takes on forms of plants, animals, and eventually human beings, who finally have the capacity to break the cycle and rejoin the Infinite Spirit upon reaching enlightenment. Unfortunately, once a human, the blessing and the curse of free will means thousands and millions of human reincarnations are typically necessary to get there.
But we think of reincarnations (those of us who’ve figured it out) as happening through dying and then being reborn. But, in fact, the real reincarnations happen within one’s each lifetime.
That’s because the Astral world, in which we dwell after death, turns out to be not much of a learning experience, for most of us anyway. It’s meant to be a kind of a respite. We get to see how most of the things we took as reality weren’t actually real, and we experience an expanded consciousness since the body and bodies aren’t there to prison and distract the self. After a while, the soul says “Alright, this has been fun, but we’ve got to get a move on! I need to find my eternal home, and it ain’t here either. I’ve got to pick up in the school of life, where I left off.”
And that’s exactly what happens. The soul comes back to the physical realm, being born in a new body and place, not a step forward or backward from where it left off in the last life. While to the body it is, to the soul that’s not much of an reincarnation! It hasn’t progressed closer to God.
But looking back only a few years, or a decade, in my own life, on earth, this time around, it feels like major reincarnations of me have occurred—reincarnations within an incarnation. And I only suspect it isn’t too far off for you either.
In late 2000s and early 2010s I was a graduate student at UCLA, doing research in the area of programming languages. I had met my two career idols, my mentor and my graduate advisor, and thought my life was for nothing but to be successful in my research work. I actually was imagining someday winning the most prestigious award in my field, the Turing Award, just as my career hero had done. My consciousness was overwhelmingly focused and reduced, to the life as a programming researcher. I didn’t ponder “the big questions” or even the little ones, nor was I interested in much else life has to offer. All else was a distraction, and uninteresting.
In early 2010s I was past 30 and by then was pretty much convinced (as were my family) that the romantic relationship thing wasn’t meant for me. I hadn’t been with anyone ever in my life. By that time I was quite content with going my merry single way. My life wasn’t about that in any case. But in the least place you’d except, in a programming seminar in Southern California, where the site of female students is indeed a scarce one, my first and last real love came into my life. It expanded my consciousness quite a bit. Now the “feeling” was getting some play, with the “mental”, at least for a few minutes each day, willing to step aside. But before I could get used to the couples life, my love had to leave back to her country since she was a foreign student and had now graduated.
By then it was 2013. I had graduated too and was continuing the same work as a full-time researcher. I actually got permission from my boss to work remotely from Morocco for part of the year, so I can be with her. Soon, realizing the impracticality of that plan and also feeling our relationship was becoming less warm and more distant, one day I decided to just move there to be with her. The day I was about to tell her the good news, I received an email from her, telling me that it was time for us to go our separate ways.
Fast-forward only a few more years to now. I live in a spiritual community and I practice offering my life to my guru, Paramhansa Yogananda. I follow spiritual practices only to keep tuned-in to his guidance and plan for me. I think soon I will be becoming a monk.
It isn’t the different circumstances, when I was a researcher, or single, or with someone, or yoga teacher, etc., that I’m calling different “reincarnations”. Rather, it’s the great shifts and expansions in consciousness which qualify it. For who are we, in reality, than the consciousness who’s behind the form and feelings? Yet most of us go through many different situations, but bring the same level of consciousness to them, over and over again. Most of us do that endlessly, from lifetime to lifetime.
Look back to your life, and contemplate on the times you know your whole consciousness shifted. What qualities in you allowed those, your real reincarnations, to happen?