The Puzzle of Reincarnation

Many cultures down through the ages including Hindus, Buddhists, Sufis, Greek Rationalists and even some Christian and Jewish thinkers have come up with the idea of reincarnation. It has a certain obviousness about it. Yet there is one HUGE problem. That is if people do not remember past lives how can one be said to be reincarnated at all. Now, it would be one thing if we REMEMBERED our past lives and could learn lessons from them but if we do not remember them then it is no different than if we were not reincarnated at all. It is just a kind a fairy story to ease the sting of death.

Moreover, if the Eastern religions, the Dharmic religions, were true then there would have to be (a) a discrete individual soul; and, (b) some sort of divine judge who could determine who was coming back as a frog and who was coming back as a human being. If karma is mere cause and effect then how in the world would this work? If we are going to dismiss gods, magic and the supernatural how can we account for the process of transmigration of souls. That raises the question “what the hell is a soul anyway?”.

Ancient peoples had no answer for this. They simply took it as an article of faith. Buddhists were more sophisticated coming up as it were with the concept of mindstream. However, until fairly recently this was something which still smacked of the supernatural. Then in the last half century or so we have discovered that our DNA is far more than a blueprint for building bodies. In fact recent discoveries have shown that DNA contains even more storage capacity than we ever believed and only a tiny fraction of DNA is needed for coding bodies. What the hell? We know that nature is stingy. She does little without cause. Evolution demands that mutations have a useful purpose to be passed on. It is an article of faith. So why all this excess storage capacity? Even when we factor in genetic switches and modules there is still this immense storage capacity. It is as though our DNA has a petabyte of storage and the DNA we can identify fits on a flash drive.

Now we are discovering that this DNA contains coded information. How it is read, processed or utilized we do not know. Yet. One thing is clear though and that is that somehow real life experience is coded into the sequence. This then is the connection. Every strand of DNA in existence be it a man, a mouse or a virus comes from some original strand. One. One original strand and in the 3.5 billions years or so we have added to it. Sometimes by mutation. Sometimes by colonization from other organisms. Sometimes … well … we don’t know yet. We are all one creature when viewed from the vantage of four dimensional space time. All traced and connected as islands are connected under the sea.

Here then is the process divorced from any idea of the supernatural. Yet, for this very reason, even more fascinating.

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