Meditation on Reincarnation
Whether an awareness of death actually does give our life, a spiritual orientation depends on our view of what happens after death.
In Buddhism, we meditate on death and impermanence so as to encourage ourselves to make the most of every moment of our precious human life. Rather than wasting our energies on meaningless things that we cannot take with us when we die, awareness of death and impermanence encourages us to use our life to practice spiritual teachings, so that we have a wealth of mental good qualities, such as wisdom and compassion, that we can draw upon both now and in the future. Buddhists also contemplate reincarnation in order to gain a deep understanding of how best we can use our present precious human life.
Whether an awareness of death actually does give our life, a spiritual orientation depends on our view of what happens after death. If we believe that death is simply the end and that, when our body stops functioning, our mind just ceases, it is uncertain what effect an awareness of our mortality will have. An awareness of death is only sure to turn our mind in a spiritual direction if we believe in some kind of afterlife.
Is There Life After Death?
The question, “Is there life after death?”, is too important to ignore. We cannot afford just to “wait and see what happens” any more than we can afford to just wait and see whether we have enough money to live on in our old age. Our view of what happens after death strongly influences the way we live our life now. If we believe we simply stop existing, or if we just ignore the question, it is likely that we will fail to make adequate preparations for our life beyond death. Even if we feel we cannot be sure what happens after death we still need to consider the matter seriously and make preparations, just as people prepare for their retirement even though they realize they cannot be sure to live to retirement age.
Meditation On Reincarnation
To gain a feeling for reincarnation, it will be helpful to do the following meditation to try to recognize our mind as a formless and unbroken stream of awareness:
Where did today’s mind come from?
Where did today’s mind come from? When we woke up this morning, the first moment of waking consciousness arose from the last moment of sleeping consciousness, which in turn arose from the last moment of waking consciousness of last night. Today’s mind therefore came from yesterday’s mind, which came from the mind of the previous day. In this way, it is possible to trace the continuum of our mind back through our life to the moment we were born. Where did this first moment of mind come from? It did not come from physical causes because its nature is mental, and it did not come from nowhere. It arose from the mind we had whilst in our mother’s womb.
The only answer is that it came from the mind of our previous life.
Since the substantial cause of mind is necessarily a previous moment of mind, our mind did not develop from the chemicals that formed our body. We can therefore trace our mind back to the moment of conception. Where did this mind come from? It too had to have a cause, just like every other moment of mind. The only answer is that it came from the mind of our previous life. Our body developed from the union of the sperm and ovum of our parents, but our mind came from our previous life and entered this union. The same applies to the life before that previous life, and so on, ad infinitum. Our mind is an unbroken, formless continuum, beginningless and endless, like an ever-flowing river, and the substantial cause of one moment of mind is necessarily a previous moment of mind.
By tracing back the continuum of the mind, we can understand that it existed before this life, and that we have therefore had previous lives. By contemplating mental tendencies, we can understand that when we entered this life our mind was not a clean slate but already contained the imprints of previous virtuous, non-virtuous, and neutral actions. Together these two reasons point very strongly to the existence of previous lives