Infinite Life (excerpts)*
by Professor Robert Thurman
I more and more have come to feel that if anything positive could result from my teaching, any real benefit for any person, it should be that they get just a hint of the reality of their own former and future lives, that they diminish just the tiniest bit their usual “only this one life” sense of cosmic disconnection, loneliness, alienation, and meaninglessness . . . .
When some people hear the word “reincarnation,” they automatically think that the person speaking is a nut . . . . Why is it so difficult for us to accept the continuation of our personal existence throughout many lives? After all, due to our educated familiarity with the theory of biological evolution, we freely embrace the concept of the evolution of life forms . . . .
[B]ut long before Darwin . . . the Buddha and his contemporaries had already “discovered” evolution. He clearly saw that the life form of the human being was not sui generis and was not the creation of a “God,” but was evolutionarily connected with all other life-forms, had developed out of them . . . . Only he went even further than the materialist scientists. He made evolution a personal matter . . . . He taught that we are not merely passive inheritors of genetic codes. We also personally and intentionally evolve ourselves toward higher states of awareness and happiness, or deteriorate ourselves toward lesser awareness and more wretched embodiments. We do so not just in this life, or in a few lives, but over the course of billions of lives, just as it takes billions of lives for a paramecium to become a butterfly.
Why is this so hard to believe? After all, you and I and Darwin and Shakyamuni Buddha were all in the primordial soup together . . . . And now we are here. Isn’t it realistic that our continuity of mental awareness is also here with us, in the same radically transformed and transforming sense that our physical genetic codes are here with us? Why should mind be the one element of reality that is arbitrarily selected to be more nonexistent than matter . . . .
I have a theory about why we’re so reluctant even to entertain the possibility that our existences might go on: The idea just scares the pants off of us! We find the vista of infinite future lives simply terrifying. Because if we believe we will live on, it inevitably leads to anxiety about the form of our continued existence . . . .
Instead, see your fear itself as the problem and allow your courage to rise as the more natural response. Feel a new kind of strength surge forth from the fullness of your sense of continuing throughout many lives. Forever changing, but forever taking responsibility for seeing that it’s forever good! . . . .
Our spiritual evolution, like our physical development, is an ongoing process. When you take responsibility for it, you can consciously, and therefore more accurately, aim yourself toward the achievement of a secure state of bliss for yourself and for others. You gain a sense of connectedness with all life that gives you great strength . . . .
In encouraging you to accept your life as infinite, I am asking you to transform your concept of reality . . . . I am encouraging you to open your heart to a new understanding of yourself and your world. . . .
* From INFINITE LIFE by Robert Thurman (Foreword by The Dalai Lama) copyright (c) 2004 by Robert Thurman. Used by permission of Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) LLC. From Chapter 1, “The Nature of Reality,” at pages 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10 and 21.