[Excerpt from "Searching for the Meaning of Life in the City of Angels," available from Kindle]
During an ongoing weekly study on the Mahabharata, led by Shining Bear, we delved into the meanings of karma, dharma, justice, and reincarnation.
Shining Bear attempted to clarify one of the major points of the Mahabharata, specifically the conversation with Arjuna and Krishna, the part of the major work which is generally called the Bhagavad-Gita. In that conversation, Arjuna is looking for a way to avoid an impending war. Arjuna was told that the only real choice is to do your dharma. That is, do what you must in your station in life, and do what you must based on your past choices, that is, your karma. There was a distinction made between the two types of dharma: spiritual-dharma, and karma-dharma.
“So,” said Shining Bear, “when we speak of the karma-dharma, it refers to those actions that you are have no choice but to do in order to rectify or balance your past choices. Yes, you can try to avoid this balancing, but some day, in some way, Justice will demand balance. You can do it willingly, or you can let Justice carve it out of your life, at a time that is not convenient to you, usually very painful.”
Shining Bear then attempted to delineate again that our real work in life should be to do our spiritual-dharma, the work that moves us ahead. Our karma-dharma work is necessary, but it is catchup. “Still, you cannot avoid your karma-dharma. If you try to avoid it, you will eventually still have to find that balance, in this lifetime or in a future embodiment.”
A student, Joe, who was present spoke up and said, “This is all pretty interesting. But I don’t believe in the reincarnation part. You can’t prove any of that.”
“For starters, are you aware that close to 80% of the world’s population believes in reincarnation, in some form?” responded a different student.
Joe quickly retorted, “That’s not proof.”
A long discussion ensued about what much of the world believes, and why.
For example, why are some people born with incredible talents, like being able to play piano at age 4. Conversely, why are some people born into such dreadful conditions? “IF we live multiple lives, and if Justice does operate in the world, doesn’t this explain a lot?” asked another student.
Joe was silent.
“Keep in mind,” added Shining Bear, “your opinion of how the universe operates in no way affects the universe’s operation.”
After much more discussion – it would take too long to share it all in this format -- Shining Bear looked at me and said, “We only have a little more time for today, but are you willing to share your own past life glimpses?” I felt “on the spot.” I proceeded to share two stories..
“About 20 years ago,” I began, “I was experiencing great conflict in my life. I was overwhelmed with what I should do, and what choices I should make. In fact, the conflict had to do with whether or not I wanted to stay close to Shining Bear. I was very challenged by his demands, and I seriously considered moving somewhere else and dropping any further involvement. At the time, my life seemed to be in chaos, and my involvement with Shining Bear seemed very valuable, but seemed to eat up every single second of my time, and I had very little to show for it in a material sense. Anyway, I sat outside one day on the hill, staring towards the setting sun, wondering what to do. While fully conscious, with eyes open, I saw this clearing in the forest. There was this large tipi there, which I believed to be the medicine lodge where the elders gathered. I had my back to the tipi, and I was walking away. I felt shamed in some way. The feeling was that I had been tested, and did not do well. I would have to work horrendously hard to keep up, and though I wanted to be a part of the lodge more than anything, I just didn’t think I could do it. The setting seemed like a few hundred years ago. It felt like it was up in the Northeastern U.S. At the time, I felt that I had been in this emotional state before, this state of uncertainty, and this state of possibly leaving and going somewhere else. The scene that opened-up to me was a glimpse of that very same moment in a past life, when I had a difficult choice to make.” I stopped, and everyone was silent.
“And the other experience?” asked Shining Bear.
I continued. “OK, the other one took place while I was seated in the cave, and it was around the same time. There were several people present for a meeting to discuss the various ramifications when Mariana (a close student of Shining Bear) choosing to suddenly depart, and sever her connections to Shining Bear. Some of her family members were there, as were several of the close associates of Shining Bear. Mariana had been very instrumental in unifying everyone, and providing the cohesiveness to move forward many of our projects. Now she was gone. One woman was crying openly. Others were upset, sad, confused.
“We were all wondering what fate would befall her, and how we all should best carry on. Shining Bear asked someone to play Pachebel’s Canon in D Major on the record player. He turned it on loud, and we were all taken on a most dynamic musical journey. It was my first time hearing it and it was an incredible experience to listen to that classic song. And while I sat there, looking upward at the ceiling, fully awake, a scene opened up to me. At first I saw only the sands of the desert. I knew I was somewhere in Egypt, a very long time ago. I was standing by the side of a road in a very dry and barren place. There were stone or clay buildings of a town in the southern distance. A man rode by on an elephant, and I knew he was departing to another place. There was a small caravan of followers and supplies. As he rode by, he paused and looked at me, but said nothing. I looked into the deepness of his eyes and I knew it was the Shining Bear persona. I felt overwhelmed with inner conflict. He was departing and it would have been my best choice to leave with him and study with him. But whatever for forces were in my life, they kept me unable to move. I stood there, sullen, frozen, and then he turned away and they rode off into the desert. I was with a friend, and I sensed that we traveled south to that city, and lived a short life.”
Again, everyone was silent, and I said, “That’s it.”
“Interesting,” said Joe. As he looked at me, though, his face said that he believed I was just making it all up.
“Very interesting,” said Joe, “and it really makes me think about it. I’m not exactly saying I disagree with you. I’m just saying, there’s still no proof. Even with all these stories. I’ll think about it all, but I still see no reason to believe in reincarnation.”
Laughing Bear asked, “What exactly would you accept as proof?”
Joe quickly said, “Well, no one really knows what happens after you die. No one has ever come back to tell us about what happens after death.”
This caused instant laughter among half the participants.
When the ruckus died down, Big Bear (no relation to Shining Bear) said, “How do you know that? Lots of people have talked about past lives, and having died and come back to life, and having interacted with ghosts. But what happens? Our biased, body-mind driven media labels them all as hoaxes, quacks, liars. Why would a sincere person expose themselves to such indignity?” After a pause, Big Bear added, “What you’re really saying – and this is really OK – is that you, personally, have no knowledge of the afterlife. That is OK. We’re trying our best to open your eyes.”
No one had anything more to add, and Shining Bear began putting away his papers that he carried to our gathering spot under the huge arching tree. We never did get to the lesson about the Brahman Chronology and the description of the vast periods of time in a Maha Yuga.
As there was nothing to be gained by trying to convince anyone about anything, especially if they clearly assert their opinion or belief in something else. Shining Bear continued to pack up as others did likewise.
“Remember,” said Shining Bear, “that our opinion of how the universe operates does not affect the universe continuing to so operate.”
Joe retorted with an air of authority, saying “Truth is never established by proclaiming it.”
“Ahhh,” said Shining Bear, as he got up and walked away.