I’ve been thinking about birth and death lately, as someone I know has been approaching death. It struck me the other day how these two big events, between which we live out our lives, have some meaningful opposites. If you think about the soul incarnating into a baby’s body, I imagine it would feel terrified and vulnerable as it faces all the variables and unknowns of this earth-bound world, knowing it would forget its celestial home.
On the other hand, babies are usually welcomed into our world, ‘trailing clouds of glory as they come” to quote Wordsworth. At the end of the body’s life, as the soul prepares to depart this 3 dimensional bonded experience, the earthly family mourns, even as the celestial family awaits.
I have always sensed the liberation of the soul from the body to be one of upliiftment and joy for the soul, even as it is a travesty for the loved ones left behind. I think it helps to keep birth and death linked, understanding it as a continuum and a cycle. Reincarnation is a concept that has been taught in many of the world religions because it is a living truth. Christ himself also pointed to the laws of karma and reincarnation when he taught, “you reap what you sow”.
Recently there has been some humorous news as the Chinese government said they would be in charge of the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation. The Dalai Lama has put out a very clear teaching on reincarnation. Here it is – under messages: reincarnation
One of the most beautiful poems on the nature of our immortality comes from William Wordsworth. This particular stanza talks about our birth and our forgetting of our celestial home.
Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood
by William Wordsworth
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting
And cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature’s priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.
Earth fills her lap with pleasures of her own;
Yearnings she hath in her own natural kind,
And, even with something of a mother’s mind,
And no unworthy aim,
The homely nurse doth all she can
To make her foster-child, her inmate, Man,
Forget the glories he hath known,
And that imperial palace whence he came.
And from my beloved Rumi, this extraordinary poem on the homecoming at death:
Imagine the time the particle you are
returns where it came from!
The family darling comes home. Wine,
without being contained in cups, is handed around.
A red glint appears in a granite outcrop,
and suddenly the whole cliff turns to ruby.
At dawn I walked with a monk
on his way to the monastery.
“We do the same work,” I told him.
“We suffer the same.”
He gave me a bowl.
And I saw:
the Soul has this shape.
and actual sunlight,
help me now,
being in the middle of being partly in my self,
and partly outside.
Translated by Coleman Barks