This week, I’d like to explore a bit more the metaphor of rebirth that I mentioned in last week’s video introduction to metaphor.
To pursue this idea further, you can consult this section of my book, where I discuss these themes with a Buddhist in Nepal.
Where does new life really begin?
Right now, I’m witnessing the amazing process of a new being growing in my wife’s womb. Each week, she becomes a litter rounder, as our child expands to fully occupy this nourishing space. Sometime in August, he will emerge from this incubation… and will be promptly stamped with a date that will follow him the rest of his life on passports, driver’s licenses, and credit card applications.
What we accept as birthday, however, is just a convention to facilitate social relations. If you examine yourself more closely, it’s equally plausible to date yourself from conception. Or even further back with the conception of your parents, since they were the proximate cause for our existence.
There’s a parallel with the idea of spiritual rebirth. While many people understand rebirth literally (as transmigration from life to life), we can also see it as a description of the reality that we are constantly changing moment to moment and day to day. Your actions (karma) determine your lot in life. If you have spent all your time cheating, stealing, and manipulating, you’re reborn as an animal even if your outer form looks human.
When Paul expresses, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me,” he’s referring to a radical shift in his life’s orientation, where his ‘old self’ has died (crucifixion) and a new one has emerged (resurrection). For some people like him, this rebirth happens suddenly after being hit with a lighting insight (satori).
But for most people, the newer self develops gradually over a period of years or decades, emerging slowly after a period of gestation. I place myself in this category. As a result, I feel the term rebirth can be misleading. Perhaps we’d be better off talking about rebirthing instead, not as a one-time event, but as continual process.
Just because I made the resolution to stop exploiting the more ‘animalistic’ side of my nature (food, sex, power- the lower three chakras) doesn’t mean that I can bask in the glory of my triumphant new self. Most of the time, I have to constantly remind myself that caving into these types of desires will only lead to more.
Perhaps there will come a point where these insights will be fully internalized, where I express the fullest potential of my humanity naturally. Only then could I claim to be reborn as a human.
Until then, this new self is still being delivered slowly but surely, through aspiration, diligence, and practice.