No matter where I am invited to teach, or what topic I am asked to address, someone always raises the subject of reincarnation. I suspect what I think makes a difference to people because they imagine I know something they do not. This, however, is not true. My thoughts on a subject come from three sources: books I have read, teachers with whom I have studied, and my own contemplative practice; all three of which are prone to error. And yet, even when I make this clear, people want to know. So I tell them: reincarnation, like all afterlife scenarios, is a distraction.
We want to believe that “I” survive death because we don’t understand the true nature of the “I” in the first place. By identifying with the temporal “I,” the “I” I see when I look in the mirror, the “I” I take to the psychologist to work through my issues with others, the “I” I try to surrender to God in hopes of winning favor, peace, and immortality, is no more real than a character in a novel or film. The “I” is the creation of a narrative, stories you were told and that you continue to tell to perpetuate the drama of the “I” you think you are.
When you die the narrative ends. For some that is all there is to it. Without the narrative the “I” is gone and that “I” is all you are. For others this ending of the “I” is untenable, and they imagine the character can live on outside the story it inhabits. I disagree with both conclusions.
The “I” I see in the mirror is a narrative fiction of great value, but only within the story that fosters it. But the “I” that knows this is something else. The limitations of language make it difficult to explain in words, but you can experience it.
Who is the “you” who knows this “I?” Who is the “you” who knows you are reading this blog? If you ask these kinds of questions carefully, you will discover a field of awareness that embraces and transcends the narrative “I.” This field is your true self. It is also the true self of everyone and everything else. There is only one field manifesting as infinite “I’s.” This field I call God. This field is you, the real you that includes and transcends the narrative you.
You are not only the narrative; you are also the field of awareness in which the narrative unfolds. To the extent you identify with the story, you are anxious about its end. To the extent you identify with the field, you are curious about but never trapped in the story, realizing that you are unborn and undying.
When you know who you are, you can enjoy the story for what it is. Live in the story fearlessly. Die in it the same way. Just don’t forget it is a story.