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.