Reincarnation is one of those flash point metaphysical concepts in Zen, rather like resurrection in Christianity. It has its would be defenders, its would be debunkers, and its would be reinterpreters/metaphor makers.
I’m in the latter group, to the (very little) extent I’m in any of them. Mostly, I think the whole discussion is uninteresting, like just about any other metaphysical discussion, and certainly not where the real action is.
This said, I’ve long carried an image of what may happen when I die. It’s the image of a kid at the end of a trip down a slide or a roller coaster ride, with a big smile on her face, saying, “Can we do it again?”
Do I really expect this to happen? I don’t know. But this is my disposition toward life now, and, whatever happens when this life ends, I hope it’s my attitude then.
I love this life.
I realize how fortunate I am to feel this way.
I recognize it’s relatively harder for some (perhaps many) people to feel this way, due to varied socioeconomic, political, genetic, environmental, and other factors.
And feeling this way isn’t necessarily the measure of a good life or a worthy life.
Will I feel this way as I die? Again, I don’t know.
Life is hard. My life has been hard in some ways, at times.
Attitudes can change as things change, and though I do believe many of us have a significant capacity to determine our own attitudes, even in challenging circumstances, I don’t know the limits of that principle as applied to my own life.
This attitude generally has remained a constant for me during challenging times, or has eventually returned in full force when the challenging times were especially challenging. I do think there’s a fundamental resilience that’s widely (though not necessarily universally) shared among us humans. Researchers like Daniel Gilbert seem to agree.
In my experience, there is something fundamentally solid and trustable about this ever-changing existence, if only we allow ourselves to trust.
Whatever the proximate or cosmic scale future may hold, for now I’m grateful for this attitude, and for the ingredients of my life that help sustain it: family, friends, meaningful work and other commitments, relative good health (despite some significant challenges in that arena the past couple of years), Zen practice, etc.
I have found Zen practice helpful in sustaining this attitude. If Zen is about anything, I think it is about learning to love this life, and expressing this love by honoring this life, and helping create the conditions in which others can do the same.
Here’s a short video of my daughter and me tubing in the snow yesterday. We kept doing it, again and again, for 90 minutes — an accomplishment for a four-year old, I think.
At the end of each ride she asked, smiling, “Can we do it again?”