Rebirth reconsidered

As if on schedule, my soon-to-be-seventeen-year-old daughter was having an existential crisis.

“What’s the point of living?” she said. “We’re just going to die anyway. And we’re not going to remember any of it.”

I was actually proud of her, and said so, which she found puzzling. I told her these thoughts were perfectly normal, that I would be worried if she wasn’t having them. What was more shocking to me was the next thing I said.

“Besides,” I continued, referring to our not remembering anything after we’re dead, “you don’t know that for sure.”

I could see this came as a shock to her as well. The idea of any sort of afterlife is not something taken seriously in this house. As far as we are concerned, when you die, it’s lights out. 

I once wrote “Immortality lies in the lives we touch, the works we leave behind, and our children.” I still believe that. But I also found myself telling my daughter about an interview with the Dalai Lama I’d read wherein he was asked if he could remember any of his previous lives. He laughed and said he couldn’t even remember what he did last week.

And that got me to thinking. It’s safe to say I started this life inside my mother’s womb, but I have no memory of it. I don’t recall being squeezed out her birth canal either. And I can’t say I have any clear recollections of my first year on the outside. Why should I have any memory of a previous life?

So now I keep something of an open mind on the subject of rebirth. I know there are a lot of different interpretations on what it actually is, that it’s not necessarily straight-up reincarnation. Yes, what we’re afraid of when we die is that we won’t remember any of this life, and that we won’t meet our loved ones on the other side. That’s the BIG attachment. Elementary physics has taught me that matter cannot be destroyed, so when we die, our matter and energy don’t disappear, they just go on to become other things. Is there more to it? I just don’t know. And I still have a problem with karma across lifetimes (which, to me, is not much better than the idea of original sin), but that’s for another post.

My main reason for “coming out” as agnostic on rebirth or an afterlife was to keep my daughter from going down that existential rabbit hole. If you follow it as far as it goes, everything — and I mean everything — really does look pointless. And nothing good can come of that. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons humans invent religions.

I also shared this wonderful illustration from Zen Pencils with my daughter. Yes, we are all going to die. And that makes us the lucky ones:


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