The spirit is a mental body of instincts that does not die
The Tibetan Book of the Dead explains that a human being has a mental body made of instincts and it cannot die. This mental body of instincts is a natural form of emptiness and a natural energy of one’s own awareness that lacks substantiality, and that this spiritual body ascends to the realm of the intermediary state (bardo). This seems to suggest, at least to me, that reincarnation is an intentional phenomenon. The spirit which does not die with the physical body reincarnates with a specific purpose and lives a physical life to achieve a goal that is an intentionally specific physical manifestation. According to Y. T. Hsiung’s translation of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching (1977): “Through perpetuity one can see the manifestation. ”
The Tibetan concept that the spirit is a mental body of instincts may provide an explanation to the following:
In 2004, one of my students was a surgeon. He described to me his mental state while he performed surgery. He said that often he could see himself performing surgery from above looking down. He often felt that his psyche was floating above watching himself performing surgery. One plausible explanation is that his “mental body of instincts” was separate from his physical body that was performing the surgery.
Purposeful and intentional reincarnation
Here are three stories that illustrate, at least to me, that reincarnation is purposeful and intentional.
In the case of Y. T. Hsiung, a spirit of awareness reincarnated as the physical person of Professor Y. T. Hsiung to fulfill four life goals: the perpetuation of Chinese art, the perpetuation of the very difficult and almost extinct art of Chinese palindrome poetry, the perpetuation of the philosophical concepts of nature as expressed by Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, and the perpetuation of the practice of the I Ching Oracle as a pragmatic guide in one’s physical life. Chinese painting, palindrome poetry, the Tao Te Ching, and the I Ching are created physical entities. The purpose of reincarnation as the physical person of Y. T. Hsiung is their perpetuation through physical manifestation. The spirit, an aggregate of instincts and awareness, achieves this by reincarnation. The reincarnated physical life accomplishes the goals of the spirit of awareness.
In the case of Elena Kovalenko, her spirit of awareness reincarnated as the physical person who lived as a Catholic nun to accomplish a physical goal of perpetuating the important concept of purified personal existence, which is not only a Platonic concept but also a Buddhist concept (jing, jing tu, purity of mind).
A third illustration is that of another beloved Russian lady, born Faina Ipat’evna Vakhreva aka Chiang Fang-liang (May 15, 1916 – December 15, 2004), First Lady of the Republic of China (1978-1988). She was the second daughter of a Belarussian family from Minsk that migrated to Yekaterinburg in the Urals during World War I. She joined the Soviet Communist Youth League at an early age and went to work at age 16 for the Ural Heavy Machinery Plant. She married a Nikolai Vladimirovich Elizarov on March 15, 1935. She left Soviet Russia in April, 1937 with her husband and children for China and spent the rest of her life with her Chinese family in China and then on Taiwan until her death. She outlived all of her sons. Although she lived her life as a “Russian wife and mother”, she was praised as a “virtuous Chinese wife and mother who was more Chinese than Russian.” Her husband, Nikolai Vladimirovich Elizarov aka Chiang Ching-kuo (April 27, 1910 – January 13, 1988), was the eldest son of Chiang Kai-shek. One could explain this as an intentional or purposeful reincarnation, a Cinderella story. The purpose of reincarnation in this case could be explained by her life purpose of accompanying her husband and on his advice keeping out of politics and social activities. In historical retrospect, it seemed more appropriate for Chiang Ching-kuo aka Nikolai Vladimirovich Elizarov, a Chinese Communist and the eldest son of his staunchly anti-Communist father, to have a virtuous Russian wife who produced for him sons of half Russian and half Chinese blood than to have his Chinese lover who produced two sons of pure Chinese blood for him, as part of his legacy. Indeed, her life after the death of her husband was described as “quiet, lonely and virtuous”.
Some spirits seem to have been “redirected” to reincarnate and live a physical life with an expressed purpose of helping others achieve their legacy. The case of Faina Ipat’evna Vakhreva would be an excellent example of such a case.
A spirit that wishes to accomplish a physical legacy will also intentionally choose a particular “spirit” and “redirect that spirit to reincarnate” so that the chosen spirit would help accomplish the original spirit’s legacy. The two reincarnated people would then meet in their physical lives and make it possible for the chosen reincarnated spirit to help accomplish the physical legacy. This is well illustrated by the case of Elena Kovalenko.
Buddhist Master Yin Guang told a story about intentional reincarnation
Buddhist Master Yin Guang described a historical account of intentional reincarnation in his sixth lecture given in November, 1936, in Shanghai.
During the reign of Tang Xuan Zong (713-755 A.D.), An Lushan, originally surnamed Kang with a first name Tza Niu Shan, son of an ethnic minority mother who was remarried to a Han Chinese and took the surname An, and who spoke six Turkic tribal languages, was appointed as a Tang official of high rank but he rose up against the Tang emperor in an uprising (742 – 756 A.D.). The garrison commander of Dong Tu (Eastern capital) was captured and executed by An Lushan. The commander’s son, Lee Yuan, thus decided not to pursue a career as a bureaucrat but to rebuild his residence in Loyang as a Buddhist temple and called it the Huilin Temple, and he invited Master Yuanze as the head monk of his temple. They lived and worshipped together in the temple for several years until one day Lee Yuan invited Master Yuanze to travel with him to Omei Mountain. Master Yuanze wanted to go by way of Shaanxi but Lee Yuan was reluctant to go through the capital so he insisted on traveling by waterway to Jinzhou. Master Yuanze knew that he would not return from this trip so he wrote down what would happen to him during the trip, set the year and the date on which Lee Yuan would be able to meet the reincarnation of himself. He then left his will and testament inside a book of Buddhist scriptures. Lee Yuan and Master Yuanze took a boat together and traveled upstream to the mouth of the Three Gorges. The waterway became very shallow and the boat could not progress further so it stopped before dusk. Suddenly they saw a woman in silk clothing on the bank of the river trying to fetch water. As Master Yuanze saw her, he began to cry. Lee Yuan asked what was the matter. Yuanze said: “I did not want to take this route precisely because I wanted to avoid meeting up with this woman. This woman has been pregnant for three years without giving birth. She is waiting for me to reincarnate as her son. If I did not see her, I could have avoided being reincarnated but now that I have seen her, I cannot avoid being reincarnated as her son. Master Yuanze told Lee Yuan: “Pray for a rapid reincarnation. After three days, come to my house to see me. I will smile at you when I see you. Then after 12 years, on August 15, come to the Gehongjing in Tianzu in Hangchow to meet me.” After telling Lee Yuan all of this, Master Yuanze sat down and passed on. The woman immediately gave birth to a son. After three days, Lee Yuan went to see the baby. As soon as he saw the baby, it smiled at him. Lee Yuan then returned to the Huilin Temple and discovered the will and testament left by Master Yuanze. Twelve years later, Lee Yuan traveled to Hangchow and on August 15, he went to the appointed place at Gehongjing to wait. Suddenly, on the other side of the river appeared a cow herder boy riding on the back of a water buffalo, tapping the cow horns with a whip. The little boy herder then bagan to sing. “Three lives alive on the rocks are old spirits. Old friends have come from afar to meet. Although the bodies have changed, the spirits live forever.” Lee Yuan then asked about the present life of the boy. The boy sang again: I know not what has gone before and what will come in the future. Talking about causality is very painful.” Then the boy rode his water buffalo and left. [From the sixth lecture by Master Yin Guang in November, 1936, in Shanghai. Lectures published on March 6, 1937, and republished as a booklet in December, 1991, distributed by the Amitabha Buddhist Society under the guidance of the Venerable Master Chin Kung (Jin Kong Fa Shir)]
A modern story of reincarnation
This is a modern story of reincarnation told in the first person.
Several days ago, younger brother told me a story. Back in the 1950s, mother collected all her ration tickets for textiles and bartered them for a small lamb so that the family could enjoy a good New Year’s day meal. All the children loved the lamb and took good care of it. In less than a year, the lamb had grown to be a healthy animal weighing over 100 jin (about 100 pounds). However, several days before New Year’s Eve, the lam disappeared and the family suspected that someone had stolen it. In 2004, younger brother had a dream. He dreamt that a man approached his bed and called to him in a low voice. In the dream, he saw that the man was uncle. He asked: “Uncle! But you are dead! Why are you here?” The uncle said to him in the dream: “When you were young, I stole the lamb. And since then, I have been stuck in Hell unable to reincarnate. I have come to repay my debt.” The next day, younger brother went to the market and a familiar voice said: “Come! Here is a piglet for your family! It is a very healthy animal.” Young brother purchased the animal, brought it home, and raised it with the flock of lambs the family now has. The little pig ran with the lambs and grew to weigh over 100 jin in six months. One day, young borther’s wife noticed that the little pig seemed to understand human speech. “Is it possible that this little pig is the reincarnation of uncle to pay for his debt? Why don’t you call uncle’s name and see if the little pig responds”, she said. Young brother called uncle’s name, and the pig immediately ran to younger brother and uttered “eng, eng, eng” as if answering “yes, yes, yes” instead of “oink, oink, oink.” Younger brother decided not to slaughter the pig for the New Year’s feast, so when the pig grew to 180 jin, he sold the pig so it could reincarnate again as a human. In Chinese Buddhist folklore, those who incur debt in life without repaying it would be reincarnated as domesticated animals such as cows, pigs and dogs to repay their debt as service animals. [Originally posted on the Ming Hui Net, appeared as a story in the Perspectives Page, August 26, 2011, The Epoch Times]
A question about the fate of the souls of victims of war, natural disasters and their reincarnation
A bundle of instincts that is formless may or may not necessarily stay forever as the same bundle. Since they are formless, they are borderless, therefore boundless, and thus omniscient, omnifarious, and omnipresent, as Liao Fan Si Xun explains. When an intention is formed, for example, to create a legacy, then a purposeful and intentional reincarnation is born to fulfil that intention and to create that legacy. This reincarnation would be a new bundle of instincts from various formless sources. The individuality of this bundle of instincts is the manifestation of this new combination. Therefore, some people would say: “My life’s purpose is to leave a legacy” while other people would say: “My life’s purpose is to discover my past.”
A bundle of instincts that reincarnates into a human being may have a simple intention to live a good life but this life is soon cut short by an honor killing. The daughter who wished to simply live a good life becomes the victim of a misguided and extremely hateful belief of the parents who perpetrate such evilness.
Animals act and react instinctively. People act and react intentionally. Human intention therefore can be good or evil, and sadly, human thought and beliefs guide such intention. Some humans become vengeful, animals are not. Vengence is the emotional product of reactive evil thought. Some people are greedy, animals are not. Greed is the emotional product of active intentional thought.
In honor killing, those who perpetrate this evilness are the misguided souls, not the daughters who become victims of this kind of evilness. Maybe this is why Buddhism teaches that a soul must undergo many reincarnations in order to learn what is right and what is wrong, and to learn to be good and not to be misguided by evilness. If we consider the soul as merely a bundle of instincts not that different from the instincts of animals, the house cat and the pet dog, then the soul is misguided by human thought since it cannot be intrinctly evil. It is therefore human thought that perpetrates evilness. And as the Buddhist masters tell us, the soul ascends when it cleanses itself of human evilness.