Reincarnation and the Tao
Derek, how does the concept of reincarnation fit into the Tao? I would like to understand what you base your belief on regarding this matter, so I can deepen my understanding from your perspective.
None of the early Taoist texts mentions reincarnation explicitly. The concept became popular in Chinese culture primarily through Buddhism, which originated in India and spread into China centuries after the time of Lao Tzu.
So how does the concept fit, given that it originated from a different cultural source? We can answer that by contemplating nature. One of the things we notice about the natural world is cycles. We see all kinds of cycles in nature: day and night, seasons, lunar cycles… the examples go on and on. Cycles are also abundantly present in things too big and too small for our unaided senses. When we look through the telescope, we see celestial cycles in astronomy; when we look through the microscope, we see life cycles in microbiology. Cycles seem to be an intrinsic part of reality, at every level of existence.
This being the case, it may not be so far-fetched to believe that our consciousness also goes through the cycles of life and death. After all, human consciousness is part of nature, not apart from it, so it must have characteristics that are consistent with all other aspects of the natural world.
Another observation about nature, related to the myriad cycles great and small, is that nothing goes to waste. Everywhere we look, everything is endlessly recycled and transformed. Not one bit of it is wasted — ever.
If we examine human life in light of the above, we really have to question the notion that there is absolutely nothing beyond death. If it really is the final stop, the ultimate oblivion, then wouldn’t that be a tremendous waste of a lifetime’s worth of accumulated experience and wisdom? How can we explain that as the one exception that flies in the face of what we know about reality?
Thus, while I cannot claim to understand how reincarnation works, I also cannot dismiss it outright. It is not the fear of non-existence that leads me to this perspective. Rather, it is the reasoning process that compels me.
One last point I’ll bring up is that the Tao, as Lao Tzu says, is constant and everlasting. At the deepest, most fundamental level, there is no distinction or separation between you and the Tao. Therefore, what is true for the Tao must be true for you as well.
In this paradigm, your true self is an unchanging point of consciousness in the midst of constant change. This consciousness moves through lifetime after lifetime, experiences change after change, and still remains essentially you — with all your quirks, your gifts, and the lessons you have learned. It has blazed a path in eternity through many incarnations, with many more to come. That path is the Tao… and the Tao is you.