Reflections on Reincarnation
We don't know what comes next. The next life-this is a mystery," the monk told me. He looked right at me with his big brown eyes: "Some claim to know what the next life will bring, but we do not worry about this. Tomorrow you are reincarnated-tomorrow you are a new being, simply because you are alive today."
This is how Aladdin, a Buddhist monk at Wat Suan Keaw-a Buddhist monastery outside Bangkok, Thailand-explained his understanding of reincarnation to me this past November. Many Buddhist strains of thought recognize reincarnation as a fact of the great cause-and-effect chain of life: based on the sum of its actions, each living being is continually changing its fundamental nature. Often this is thought of in terms of physical death and rebirth: after death, a living being will be reborn in a form appropriate to its condition of being. But what Aladdin shared with me was something quite different. Each day we make choices-in terms of the words we choose to speak, the thoughts we give attention to, the emotions we choose to honor. These choices we make are continually shaping us, and on some level continually changing the character of our souls. In the most basic terms, if you practice showing mercy today, you are more likely to show mercy tomorrow-perhaps even without thinking about it. I made an effort to walk a bit slower along the monastery's sidewalks that warm afternoon-and I silently marveled that truth comes in such a wide variety of packages.
-Andy Willis '03