Does Spirit Go with Body? A Look at Reincarnation
by Janice Van Cleve
Reincarnation is a subject that keeps coming back (ouch). Seriously, the topic of reincarnation keeps showing up in magazines and books cloaked in mystery or psychobabble. Among New Age and neo-pagan believers, there is often talk of “past lives,” working out karmic justice over a series of lives and transmigration of souls. Hindus hold that we reincarnate many times until we achieve enlightenment or perfection and thus are able to escape the wheel of life, death and rebirth. Rabbi Shagra Simmons says that Jews sometimes get three shots at terrestrial life. Tibetan monks search for babies born at the moment of their lama’s death in the belief that his soul migrated into the newborn. Resurrection of the body is such a strong tenet of Catholic orthodoxy that the Vatican for centuries preached against cremation, supposedly because ashes are harder to resurrect than rotten remains in a coffin.
Not everyone believes in reincarnation. Many people believe that death is the end, finis, kaput. They do not believe in any afterlife or return to life in any form. Others believe that the body may die but some kind of spiritual essence or “soul” lives on and goes someplace, like heaven or hell. Plato was a great proponent of the theory of “essences” that exist beyond or outside of the physical body. Christians and Muslims believe in a paradise where the souls go and don’t come back. Ancient Sumerians thought spirits descended into a pit where they ate dirt, and the Greeks held that souls crossed the River Styx to linger in a dim underworld. The idea of spirits dwelling in a Great Beyond is advantageous if you want call on them in prayers or séances. If, on the other hand, souls do come back in new bodies, who will be left on the invitation list to your next Dumb Supper?
Modern technology and psychology have pushed the envelope in our understanding of death and rebirth. For example, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross has documented some amazing cases of apparent conscious existence outside of the body and/or after the body’s clinical death. Cryogenics labs are experimenting with freezing bodies to resuscitate them later. Cloning is a bit different in that a new body is generated, but the jury is still out on whether any conscious memory is transferred along with the genetic material. While these are interesting avenues of research that may someday prove or disprove some mechanical aspect of reincarnation, they are generally understood to be outside the discussion of reincarnation per se.
So what’s inside the discussion? One way to look at reincarnation is to examine its parts. The “carn” refers to a body and the “re” is a something that returns into a body. That got me to wondering: which body? Is it only humans who reincarnate? Do dogs reincarnate into new dogs, or trees into new trees? What about cross-species reincarnation? Can a fern reincarnate into a frog or a cow into a liverwort? There are some dire warnings in the literature about “coming back as a toad,” but for the most part we see the focus on humans returning as new humans. (Certainly most cat lovers will agree that cats believe that they don’t participate in reincarnation because no other living being could aspire to their level.)
People as far back as the Stone Age have understood that the body decays after death. They may have held many theories about where the soft tissue went, but they could see that soon all they had left was bones. Eventually, as in the case of the dinosaurs, even the bones break down and are replaced by minerals leaching through the soil. Occasionally nature has delayed decay, as in the prehistoric bodies found in an glacier in the Italian Alps or in a bog in Denmark. Children sacrificed by the Incas on Andean peaks still have hair and skin preserved by the cold, while Egyptians first learned mummification from bodies buried and desiccated in the hot Saharan desert. Yet even the most carefully preserved remains of a Pharaoh in Cairo or a Lenin in Moscow would be reduced to molecules if exposed to the normal processes of decay.
Scientists exploring biology, chemistry, genetics, forensics and the like have shown that as things decay after death, they break down into simpler and simpler components, eventually reducing into basic compounds or molecules that can be used by other living organisms. Gardeners practice this principle by composting. Dead plants and other organic materials are stacked in bins where, over time, they reduce to rich soil and are plowed back into the garden to provide nutrients for new plants. So a dead tulip may break down in the compost bin and its molecules eventually become incorporated into a turnip. Not all of its molecules may end up in the turnip, however. Some of them may wind up in the carrots, and others may become potatoes. Certainly a large number of the former tulip molecules will stay as dirt and may even become incorporated into stone, if said gardener happens to have a volcano in her pea patch!
So at least some of the material that was the physical body of the tulip may find itself after death reincorporated into other physical bodies, and therefore the tulip continues to participate in the phenomenon called life. In a way, I suppose that can be called reincarnation — at least of body material. Perhaps when we refer to a dead relative “pushing up daisies,” we’re closer to the mark than we think.
But if the remains of living things decompose and are scattered to be used by many other living things, or not used at all, is the identity of the original plant or animal or human forever lost? When do tulip molecules cease to be tulip and become turnip? And what about the turnip? If it got some material from a tulip and other material from a spider, where does its unique identity as a turnip come from? This is where the “soul” or “essence” comes into the reincarnation picture.
There have been times even in the historical past when the birth rate of new babies worldwide did not match the death rate. So according to the theory of reincarnation, did some souls get put on hold for awhile in a spiritual wait zone until there were enough babies to go around? Or did they hang out in the turnips? Conversely, our current population explosion clearly demonstrates way more births than deaths. So does that mean that some babies are born with half-souls or no souls? There can’t be that many souls waiting in turnips to fill the current demands!
Buddhists may help us out here. Buddhists seek to skip the Hindu wheel of birth, death and reincarnation altogether through discipline and meditation. They believe that they can reach a point at which independent identity is no longer relevant. The “soul” loses itself by merging with a universal mass of spiritual energy called Nirvana, something analogous to the universal mass of living energy that scientists call biomass. For the sake of discussion, let’s call this “spiritmass.”
That solves the mathematical problem, because math in the spirit world may not add up the same as it does here in the mundane world. If there is spiritmass, then some babies could inherit old souls directly and some may get new ones from the reservoir of spiritmass. Whatever the case, nature and nurture inevitably work to individualize the baby’s identity, just like they individualize his or her body into a unique new person. Old souls are either absorbed into spiritmass or changed in their new incarnation and new souls are sprung from spiritmass. In either case, the old identity is lost. Tulip becomes turnip, and essence of Uncle Frank becomes Little Carol.
Which brings us back to the two parts of reincarnation. If the body and the spirit both disintegrate and become reabsorbed into biomass and spiritmass respectively, then one could say they were reincarnated. However, such a reabsorbtion automatically means that the unique personal identity of the dead being ceases to exist. Reincarnation therefore implies that individual identity is temporary.
Humans don’t like that. Humans would like to believe that their identities will live forever. Since the body could not be counted on, humans proposed underworlds and paradises to maintain some manner of unique identity after death. Not content with just a spiritual existence, some humans attempt to preserve their existence in the physical world with statues and monuments, trust funds, artistic creations or by making a name for themselves in history books. Ultimately, however, we do not live forever in body or spirit or stone. We do know that we live beyond our death — at least for a little while — in the hearts of those who loved us, and probably in the memories of those who hated us.
So I can buy reincarnation if the most that is meant by it is recycling the body and the spirit. I’m certainly not going to lose any sleep over what kind of identity, if any, I will have after I die. I just hope that if reincarnation does pass identity along that John Ashcroft comes back as a gay, homeless black woman.
Janice Van Cleve has reincarnated several times. In this round, she is a writer.
5 thoughts on “Does Spirit Go with Body? A Look at Reincarnation”
I like that last sentence. LOL!
Hi, My name Is krystael Lynn. I am a spiritual healer/ teacher/ psychic, paranormal Investigator and have done years of spiritual warfare, doing mass exorcisms of dark entities off the planet and doing past life clearing and healing on people & animals. I also communicate with animals. Animals have souls and they Indeed reincarnate back to us. I write short stories about many of my experiances and post them on the Internet. I am an animal rights activist and rescue animals. I love animals more than most people and have a real connection to them. I lost a cat on Nov, 21/2009. He returned to me on Nov, 21/ 2011. A week before I found Him, on boxing day 2011, his spirit came to me to let me know he had returned. He returned as a female this time around
I wrote a story about his return and called It ” Miracles In The Darkness ” I was so devastated by my cats death, I kept asking God to let me come home. I told God, there’s nothing you can give me that would make me want to stay here. I want to be with my cat, Simba. I guess God, called my bluff and sent Simba back to me with a message that I had to stay In my physical body because I was needed here. My story reached a lot of people and I received a lot of positive feedback and It got published on a paranormal website. After I wrote the first story, more was revealed to me about the reincarnation of animals and past lives that literally blew my mind. I found out that not only did Simba come back but brought his father from a past life with him. I am In the process of writing a second part to this story. Yes, animals can have more than one spirit occupying their bodies. You have heard of people with split personalities, right? or people with multiple personalities. That is because they have more than one spirit In their bodies. This is true with animals as well. Animals are much more than people believe them to be. They understand everything we think, do and feel. They are telepathic. I have a lot to share about our precious animal friends who love us unconditionally. I would like to send you my first story called, ” Miracles In the Darkness. I need an email address to send It to ? It’s also published on line at examiner.com under reincarnated pets, along with other links and video’s of other
pets who came back * In Love & Light, Krystael
I forgot to mention In my post that I have all the pictures of the cats Involved and absolute proof of their return. My cats have been returning to me for many years. I have pictures of them In previous lives as well. I also have testimony from another animal communicator who Is a medium to bring messages from your pets who are In spirit. She brought me a beautiful message from my cat Simba after he passed on. She also wrote a book all about animals In the spirit world and shares many messages from these animals. I would like to add that If you have lost a loved one, human or animal and you are In deep grief and cannot heal that grief and let It go, there’s a good chance that person/ animal did not go to the light and their spirit Is hanging around you. If the spirit of that person / animal does not get to the light, you will both continue to suffer until that is done. 0ur grief and despair holds our loved ones here * In Love & Light, Krystael
Good morning Krystael,
It is wonderful to hear from you. I am very interested in your story. I have had similar experiences with one of my dear companions for many years. She came back to me until I found a fit replacement for her. Well replacement is not the right word. She wanted me to obtain a guardian for myself. That was part of her job as my companion and she did not feel comfortable passing one with me having another. So yes, I am very experienced with animals’ and their souls.
Can I publish your articles on the site? I will give you full credit and publish any future writings you may have. Please let me know. You can contact me at email@example.com. In the subject line, Attn: Lady A.
Thank you, dear sister.
Hello Lady A, Yes, of course you can publish my story. I have sent it to you already along with pictures along with some other Interesting news and a short video called ” Animals and Consciousness which shows the truth of what 0ur animal friends are here for * Absolutly Amazing * In Love & Light, Krystael
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