Mixing Christianity and Hinduism, reincarnation and resurrection

My essay “Christianity and Transhumanism are much closer than you think” has provoked some interesting discussions. Among the most interesting, a discussion about how Hinduist ideas about reincarnation and Christian ideas about resurrection could co-exist.

Christianity affirms that after death we will be resurrected to a new life in a new body and a new world created by God, where we will be forever reunited with our loved ones. The new body, immortal and incorruptible like the resurrected body of Jesus, will be a gift of God’s grace and love. The resurrection of Jesus, and the promise that God will similarly resurrect us in the new world, are the central concepts of Christianity.

The new body and the new world are likely to be deeply different from the present body and the present world. In particular, the new body will be “a transformed body, a body whose material, created from the old material, will have new properties,” according to Christian theologian N. T. Wright.

Hinduism affirms that after death our soul, or fundamental essence, or eternal self (Atman), is reincarnated in a new body, and goes through a long string of lives as different persons sharing the same eternal self. Reincarnation seems less appealing than resurrection because the memory of past lives is lost, and we don’t like the idea of a new life without our loved ones. But perhaps kindred souls “travel together” through time in groups, and find each other – unknowingly – life after life.

In an email discussion, Nupur Munshi raised the interesting question of what happens if both reincarnation and resurrection happen. If a soul is reincarnated many times as Hinduists believe, and then resurrected as Christians believe, which one of the reincarnation copies gets resurrected?

In Nupur’s words: “Person A reincarnates into person B (another biological body, without the memories of the past life). Then A and B are resurrected in a new world in new bodies, each with the memories of the past life. Does this mean that, when B confronts A in the new world, she is actually confronting her past self?”

My first reaction was warning that mixing Hinduism and Christianity is not guaranteed to work, but adding: “Assuming both the Hinduist ideas of reincarnation and the Christian ideas of resurrection, A and B are the same person in one sense and different persons in another sense. After resurrection, I guess there could be two persons who are also the same. Two person can be the same and different at the same time (think of yourself today and when you were ten years old).”

I continued to think about the problem overnight, but when I logged on in the morning to announce a tentative “solution” I found that Mike LaTorra had beaten me to the finish line. Mike said:

“I would like to suggest another possibility for resolving the identity question with regard to A and B.

Every apparent being imagines itself to be singular, but is actually a composite. Many components comprise each apparent one. We could envision these as layers or concentric shells.

As a model, consider the atom. It consists of a nucleus surrounded by shells (or clouds) of electrons. Two atoms can combine into one molecule by sharing, or by exchanging, electrons.

In spiritual history, on some occasions, apparently separate individuals have combined their spiritual components while retaining separate physical bodies. We can find instances of this in the spiritual history of Asia and in the Middle East. This extraordinary event happened in the case of the great 19th century Hindu Guru Ramakrishna and his devotee, the great Swami Vivekananda. It also happened in the more distant past as recorded in the Old Testament of the Bible, where the great prophet Elijah was asked by his devoted follower Elisha for ‘a double portion’ of his master’s blessing.

We can also look at Tibetan Buddhism, where there is a long tradition of tracing the reincarnations of top Lamas. In the case of some, there was not the usual one-to-one correspondence between a previous lifetime and subsequent ones. In the case of Jomgon Kongtrul, the great master reincarnated into five new bodies, each of which expressed only a portion of his extraordinary spiritual gifts.

Most fundamentally, or ultimately, all incarnations of any being or sequence of beings is only a partial expression of the One, the supreme Atman, the perfect Divine.

As my guru, Avatar Adi Da Samraj put it somewhat humorously, ‘No matter how many people are in the room, there is only one Person.'”

Then I tried to formulate the “solution” in terms compatible with Christian doctrine. I said:

“The key is the Christian concept of transformed and enhanced new post-resurrection body in the new world, ‘a body whose material, created from the old material, will have new properties.’

We are promised that the new body will be ‘glorified,’ immortal and incorruptible, and we can imagine that it has even stranger properties. In particular, we can imagine a Body (capital B) formed by many bodies (lowercase b) each hosting an individual consciousness, but with the option to merge individual consciousness into a group mind.

This seems an ideal Body to host separate reincarnation copies that share the same inner self (Atman) in the new world: A and B can continue to be one person and two persons at the same time, just like they were in the old world.

Things become even more interesting if, as I suspect at times, we all share one and the same eternal self (Open Individualism, see my essay ‘You Am Us.’).”

I think reincarnation could happen naturally in the physical universe. Perhaps everything that ever happens, including our thoughts and memories, is stored in permanent “Akashic records,” a cosmic memory field hidden in yet unknown aspects of reality, and the Akashic information corresponding to the eternal self could find “spontaneously” its way into new bodies.

I am also persuaded that future science will permit achieving resurrection as an engineering project. Our descendants will find ways to reach back into their past (our present) – or, alternatively, read the information in the Akashic records – and copy us to their present (our future). I think that’s how God’s promise of resurrection in a new body and a new world, in which Christians believe, will be achieved – by our descendants in the far future, acting on God’s behalf.

If both reincarnation and resurrection happen, our eternal self could occupy a multiple Body after resurrection, with room for all reincarnation copies.  This seems an interesting way to reconcile Christianity and Hinduism.

Mike, Nupur and other participants will discuss this kind of things at the forthcoming India Awakens Conference in Kolkata, on February 12, 2017. Please contribute to our fundraising campaign to make the conference happen.

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Image from Pixabay.

  • René Milan

    Many esoteric tradition, eastern or western agree on an anthrpogenetic model according to which the essence (on the most abstract level) “embodies” into an entity sometimes called “Individuality” that functions on the causal plane (at times called Sivaloka) and which in turn undergoes a series of successive manifestations, sometimes called “Personality”s, each one usually incarnated in one corresponding physical body. Experiences accumulated during these successive incarnations are at the death of the Personality absorbed into the Individuality and constitute its “body” or identity. Many such incarnations are needed to reach completion (or “perfection”) of the Individuality before ultimately reabsorption into the original essence, which thus reaches it own completion, can take place. If there is any room in this scheme for the xtian model of “resurrection” it is as an expression of a low level of initiation that recognises the continuation of the personality beyond the death of the body but has no knowledge of anything beyond.

    • Giulio Prisco

      Hi Rene’ – I think the Christian model of resurrection could be part of this esoteric model (or the other way around) by identifying resurrection with “reabsorption into the original essence,” or “becoming (again) part of God.” Some Christian theologians have said similar things. Of course the question is whether, after becoming part of the original essence, or God, we continue to have some kind of continuation of individuality. I guess God must have a simple solution for that, so simple that we don’t see it.

      • René Milan

        Yes. But i have two reservations.

        1. The assumption of a god, loaded and misunderstood as the term is, is not required (see buddhism or thelema).

        2. The esoteric model is a dynamic one. Many incarnations and reabsorptions are required on the long (as long as a universal life cycle) journey toward perfection. Xtianity’s view is static. Be good and go to heaven or else. I pity Trump because he surely will go to hell and fry there forever under this model. In reality even he (or his higher self) will ultimately embark on the road of enlightenment. If you want to interpret resurrection as final reabsorption (reaching nirvana) you would have to produce a radically different, esoteric, version of xtianity, which would have nothing to do with catholic, orthodox or protestant churches. Such a tradition exists of course under the name of rosicrucianism.

        “the question is whether, after becoming part of the original essence, or God, we continue to have some kind of continuation of individuality” – if one accepts that akashic records are part of the phenomenal universe, and the perfected being is reunited within the original and ultimate essence which includes all of said universe, the answer is clearly yes. The more profound question is if the term continuation is relevant in a situation where the manifest universe, of which space, time, energy and matter are outward manifestions, has been transcended.

        • I wouldn’t say Christianity’s view is static in the sense you’re thinking. It’s just very focused on the present life, with very little time for delving into metaphysical or hypothetical realities. There’s no real exploration of what happens after death.

          • René Milan

            No real exploration, exactly, and consequently no knowledge, which makes it an exoteric tradition. All there is is the assurance of heaven or hell, with some initial fiddling possible, but once a decision is made it is final. That is static, it is eternal.

          • Ah, but the finality of that decision is heavily debated within Christianity.

          • René Milan

            What do the popes and hierarchs have to say, and where do the billions of believers stand on the issue ? In any case the fact that an untenable dogmatic conjecture is beginning to be questioned and discussed within an organisation does not make it one bit more attractive in my view.

          • Christians have had a diversity of opinions on what happens after death since the earliest times. What you’re describing as the untenable dogmatic conjecture is only one of at least three major ideas that have been a part of orthodox Christian thought (at the highest levels) since the very beginning.

          • René Milan

            And one of many that suffice for me to not want to be part of their club. What little truth they may be in possession of can be found in other organisations in less corrupted manifestations, and more importantly, within myself.

          • Giulio Prisco

            MIcah could you say something more about the other two? Rene’s point is frequently brought forward, perhaps you should write a CTA paper to clarify.

          • There have historically been three big ideas in Christianity about what happens to evil people after death. These three are universalism (all are eventually saved), conditionalism/annihilationism (the evil simply cease to exist), and eternal torment.

            Some have argued that universalism was the mainstream position for the first few hundred years.

            Even within those ideas, there are a lot of variables at play. CS Lewis, for example, seems to have believed in eternal torment, and yet famously said that “the doors of hell are locked from the inside”. In other words, eternal torment is not a punishment imposed by God, but a condition of continually choosing evil, akin to a deeply destructive addiction. In CS Lewis’s understanding, if someone wanted to leave hell, they would be free to do so at any time.

            Similarly, there are possible indications in the scriptures of post-mortem conversion. Again, the scriptures have very little time for elaborate metaphysical speculation, so many Christians simply acknowledge this as a possibility.

            Whether one believes that all are eventually saved, or that people are given other opportunities after death, or that hell is locked from the inside, Christianity (intentionally, I would say) leaves a lot of ambiguity about the path we take through the afterlife.

          • Giulio Prisco

            This can be connected to the idea of different personalities sharing the same inner/higher self.

            Assuming agreed definitions of good/bad, we can imagine a person with two personalities, one good and one bad.

            Or a person who is good at 25 but bad at 50. Or two reincarnation instances of a self, one good and one bad. Or two instances of a person in two different branches of the multiverse. In one, bad life circumstances push him to become a serial killer, but in the other he is spared and lives a good life.

            It makes sense to save at least the good ones, and perhaps saving the good instances is equivalent to saving all.

          • Giulio Prisco

            I don’t think we know enough physics for a “real exploration” of what happens after death. Best we can do is to continue our quest to understand fundamental physics, and in the meantime draw happiness and hope from vague glimpses, embedded in the poetic and mythological narrative of religion. We wouldn’t understand more than that anyway. I guess that’s what Martin Gardner had in mind when he described his religion as “Mysterian.”


          • René Milan

            I disagree and am almost pleasantly surprised to find that we appeared to have switched positions (:-). If you accept at least the possibility of 1. the existence of what in neutral terms could be described as the metaphysical realm, and 2. the communication with (entities populating) this realm (and from all i know about you it seems that you do), then it follows that even before having mastered the underlying physics we can operate within it, just like all life on this planet could function in the physical realm for billions of years without the need to understand planetary physics. Which means that we can though various methods and techniques which have indeed been developed by humans and perhaps prehumans for at least tens of thousands of years find out about metaphysical realms and what role they play in connection with physical death without actually having to die. True esoteric tradition is utterly empirical and scientific. When terms like mystery are used it is merely for lack of generally understood vocabulary (even though the vedic traditions offer a very advanced categorical framework) and more importantly because the states of consciousness attained, explored and discussed transcend that mundane language-based discriminatory mindset needed for practical physical survival. Those who never (yet) attain these states have to make do with the notion of mystery (“vague glimpses” at best) or reject that reality altogether from the common materialist academic point of view.

          • Giulio Prisco

            We can operate with something without really understanding how it works. The compass was used for centuries before Maxwell. I do accept the possibility of 1. and 2., but accepting is not understanding. I think future scientists will understand.

          • René Milan

            Good ! I have been working on increasing my understanding of this realm all my life and with some success, as have many others before me and some to much more advanced degrees; so i can assure you that there is no need to wait for academic science to catch up, but i do agree that it must, and soon, in order to avoid civilisational collapse.

          • Giulio Prisco

            I don’t deny the validity of non-scientific (or better extra-scientific) advancement toward understanding, but it can be highly subjective and difficult to communicate. Therefore I wish for academic science to catch up. Also, science is fun.

        • Giulio Prisco

          @Rene’ re “The more profound question is if the term continuation is relevant in a situation where the manifest universe, of which space, time, energy and matter are outward manifestions, has been transcended.”

          It is relevant to me here and now.

          I guess “continuation” is a poor and imprecise description of ultimate reality (like all the other words that we have to use when we try to discuss these things).

          Perhaps a Mind in the far future, or just elsewhere, has full access to my Akashic memories and sometimes chooses to remember them and feel like a continuation of me (in parallel with many others, including my loved ones and yours). That, imprecise a description as it is, qualifies as resurrection to me.

          Again, I have the impression that some Christian theologians said similar things. Micah?

          • René Milan

            Could it be that you say “It is relevant to me here and now” because you have doubts ? Perhaps a lack of faith ? Please regard this teasing as utterly benevolent. Of course we all have doubts. In my current state of mind all i know is that i know nothing. But i do have trust (which is based on direct experience, as opposed to faith which is based on hearsay) that there exist a higher aspect of myself which does know. Here is my position of ignorance, which is the only one i am sure of: either the findings of my investigations of the metaphysical realms and the conclusions i draw from them are valid, in which case i do not have to worry about continuation, or it is all hallucinatory and will completely and finally disappear when i die, which would be value neutral by definition.

  • I think we always run into this sort of dilemma when contemplating resurrection. As you pointed out, there is the question of previous ages of yourself—which one is most truly you? This is particularly problematic when thinking about neural degeneration and so forth—does it make sense to resurrect you with many of your memories of loved ones missing, or to resurrect you without the experiences of your final few years?

    To push the point further, suppose that you had multiple personalities, or had experienced amnesia, and built a new life and persona on top of your missing memories. Which persona does God resurrect?

    The answer to these questions is most likely “all of the above”—God would surely want to preserve all the experiences and aspects of your mind, even though some of those were incompatible with each other, and couldn’t occur in the same body at the same time.

    The question then becomes how do divergent identities get reconciled?

    Something like what you propose must surely be part of the answer. Our brains already work to combine and correlate multiple “selves” (our two brain halves, for starters). We can imagine a brain extending that correlation across many more selves—especially if that brain “on resurrection” has radically expanded potential.

    • Giulio Prisco

      Hi Micah – following this line of argument, an intriguing possibility is that all identities get eventually reconciled in God, yet retain subjective memories and perspectives. See reply to Rene’ below.

      I mean, God remembers all memories, mine and yours alike, and can be me and you in two parallel streams of human-like consciousness. There is room for all in the mind of God. Or in other words, God has multiple personalities – you, I, my doggy, your grandmother, and all people, and all sentient AIs, and all aliens out there…

      I guess I am saying again things that have been said many times…

  • spud100

    Yes, to the incarnation of dead guys becoming parts of the minds of new people, in the same way that we all are descended from the past folks and the monkeys before them. I mean also, in the non-biological and thus, non-scientific occurrences, as with Rupert Sheldrake.

    No, to us all being one guy, otherwise, why don’t I just reach into your pockets and take out my money. Why don’t I, Bill Clinton or Donald-like, cross a room to an attractive women, and reach out and touch ‘my’ breasts? Too crude? Ah! but nature itself is crude and seemingly invented death, the crudest thing of all, or really sorrow, for nature invented that too.

    Maybe the purpose of the human being was to evolve things that fight death, and revive the dead? Reassemble, Recur, Restore, Return, Reify, Regain. We do what all the king’s horses and all the king’s men could not. The only thing that sets us all apart from Joe religion, is that we are creative and ask the HOW questions, and not focus on the WHY questions. WE need the science, we need the plausibility, we need the logic, and we need the perseverance to do all this. On the other hand, as a common work man in this affair, the saying goes, “it’s a poor workman who blames his tools!” For this work, I am that poor work man. Like us all, I what I can, when I can.

    • Giulio Prisco

      Hi Spud – re open individualism: You don’t reach into my pockets and take out your money, because my pockets are also your pockets: you would make a version of you poor and unhappy. Do you really want to do that to yourself?

      re HOW: small step after small step. For example, gravitational wave memory hints at the possibility of a permanent cosmic memory:

      • spud100

        Sure, Guilio, like cosmic gravitational memory leading toward something AKASHIC, like a sky database , the well of souls (Minkowski Spacetime), the Book of Life. On stealing from Myself, I just have a nervous habit, and I know that “I” am such such a Why trouble Myself? I’ll never miss it, because there are 7.5 billion other pockets to pick. My name is Legion, or course, Sam Legion, pleased to meet me! ;-)

        Incidentally, for whatever its worth, those 2 trillion extra stars that weren’t supposed to be there in the 1997 WMAP survey, sort of got delivered a bit late, because they were recently discovered by a better survey So, I suppose Tipler;s Standard Model isn’t so bad after all. Poof, goes dark energy and matter, as well as steadily increasing acceleration.