Springingtiger's Blog


Death and Reincarnation
August 9, 2013, 05:49
Filed under: Saivism, success | Tags: , , , , ,

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Sitting at my bedside, below my reading lamp, is a carved skull and around it a garland of smaller carved skulls. On waking, when I turn on my light, it is the first thing I see, and it is the last thing I see when I turn off my light before sleeping. The skull is a reminder of the impermanence off this physical body and of the inevitability of death. In ancient Egypt at royal banquets there was always a mummified corpse to remind the revellers of the transience of their pleasures, as the old saying goes, “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die!”.  Several groups, such as the Kapalikas, have used skulls to encourage their dissociation from the material world, thus we find both Tibetan and Hindu ascetics using crania to make bowls and two headed drums (damaru). The contemplation of one’s death is not a morbid activity, but rather an exercise in breaking free from emotional attachments to the things of this life.

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The garland of skulls is a reminder of reincarnation and that every life ends in death. Although the soul may be reincarnated the person is not, who one was in this life ends at death, the personality and identity are gone, subsumed back into the universal consciousness. There are two categories of reincarnation which we may politely call involuntary and voluntary. Because humans are unable to accept oblivion and persist in their attachment to the things, places and, particularly, people they have known and loved, they bind themselves into the cycle of births and deaths. One of the names of Siva is Bhootnath which means “Lord of ghosts”. Ghosts tend to be found where there is some sort of psychic or emotional event, or rather where people imagine ghosts would be found, murder scenes, places of betrayal, of untimely death, of tasks left undone and dreams unrealised. These are the hungry ghosts that occur in myth as starving creatures unable to satisfy their desires or fulfill their needs. It is these incompletions that bind a person to the material world.

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The other type of reincarnation is voluntary. This is either the bodhisatva type where, although an individual is free from attachment,  they choose to return to help others along the road to freedom. On the other hand there are those who have no call to return, but do so just because it amuses them.

The point of the skulls is to remind us to live this life to the full, Osho, in the days when he was , made an observation about reincarnation which I think is both accurate and profound, “Hindus are right to believe in reincarnation, but wrong to teach it. Christians are wrong to believe they only have one life, but right to teach it.” The belief that this is the only life, and upon this life you will be tried and judged, while patently ridiculous, provides an impetus to live in a manner that will secure salvation in this lifetime. When one believes in an infinite number of lives the urgency to make improvements or engage in any sort of spiritual discipline is lost. Whatever death may hold, this is the only life I have to live with this particular identity and the only opportunity this identity has to accomplish what it wants is now; reincarnation brings new dreams and goals. This day may be the last, live it well and suck every drop of nectar from it!

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