Past Lives Matter

Ben Franklin once said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” He was right with respect to taxes but was he right about death? Not if you accept reincarnation. Throughout history, people have believed in it, including Mr. Franklin. Today about a quarter of Americans believe in reincarnation.

We’re starting to seriously think about it.

The word reincarnation is derived from Latin and literally means “entering the flesh again”. Believers think that a person’s spirit or soul starts a new life in a different physical body after each biological death. It is thought that previous life experiences can contribute to our personal traits, strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes and phobias. Those who trust in reincarnation also believe in the law of karma in which you are punished or rewarded depending on the deeds you performed in your prior lives. So past lives do matter. This means that if you are loathsome in this life you might come back as a maggot or a slug or even worse… a Republican.

According to Buddhists, who generally believe in reincarnation, the best way to improve one’s karma is through acts of benevolence or generosity. And there are five commandments which are to be adhered to:

1. Do not kill

2. Do not steal (I assume stealing the company office supplies doesn’t count)

3. Do not lie (telling your wife that the dress doesn’t make her look fat is ok since a more truthful response such as, “I wouldn’t blame the dress” may cause you to move on to your next life prematurely)

4. Do not indulge in forbidden sexual pleasures and

5. Do not take intoxicating drugs or liquors.

Legal sexual pleasures are ok, tho.

I’m three for five here which in baseball would be a great batting average so I think I will do pretty well in my next life. Part of the allure of Buddhism may be that they only have five commandments as opposed to Christianity’s overly burdensome ten.

Most people can’t recall their previous lives but some claim to be able to remember. There is a shop clerk who is convinced that he was once Marilyn Monroe and there are a number of people who allege that they were once Jesus including a couple in Australia who assert that they had been Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Some famous people have similar beliefs. Henry Ford professed that he was killed at the battle of Gettysburg, while Salvador Dali proclaimed that he had been his dead brother. He was probably confused because his parents had named them both Salvador. Others include Napoleon, who thought he had been Charlemagne in a previous life and Shirley MacLaine who believes that she had once been a Moorish peasant girl who slept with Charlemagne. She also claims that Charlemagne was later reborn as Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme. She slept with him too (or again). Reincarnationists seem to be obsessed with Charlemagne.

But the most famous reincarnation devotee was World War II General George Patton. He also had the best recollection of his previous lives. He remembered being: a soldier with Alexander the Great, a Roman legionary under Julius Caesar, an English knight during the Hundred Years War, A Napoleonic marshal and the Carthaginian military commander Hannibal. It is unknown if Ms. MacLaine slept with General Patton in any of his lives.

If you are interested in finding out about your past lives, there are past-life practitioners who use hypnosis to promote the recall of previous life experiences. But do so at your own peril. You might not have been human and even if you were, you might not have been a Hannibal or Charlemagne or anyone heroic. You could have been someone terrible like Ivan (The Terrible) or Vlad (The Impaler) or Don Corleone. If that’s the case, you will just be waiting for the bad karma to roll over you.

Or maybe you would find out that you hadn’t been evil but you had just done stupid things.

1.) If you like to leave work early to have some beers with friends you might have been the guy who was supposed to be guarding Lincoln at Ford’s Theater but left his post to go to a tavern for a beer.

2.) If you are very forgetful you could have been the Byzantine guard who forgot to close one of Constantinople’s gates which the Ottoman hordes poured through.

3.) If you are a bad planner you could possibly have been the guy responsible for ensuring there were adequate life boats on the Titanic.

4.) And, if you are terrible with directions you may have been Archduke Ferdinand’s driver who, after the botched assassination attempt, made a wrong turn and drove the Duke past the assassin for a second time. The Duke was killed which started World War I.

Makes you wonder who the guy who turned down the Beatles is now.

Or you might have been Mrs. O’Leary’s cow. I do enough stupid things in my current life. I wouldn’t want to be reminded of the moronic things I was responsible for in other lives.

Believers in reincarnation know that past lives matter since how we lived our past lives will affect what we become in the future. And although we can’t change the past, we can improve our future lot in life by obeying at least some of the commandments.

There is no way of knowing for sure what is in store for us but there are a number of websites that will predict WHAT you will be based on how you answer a series of questions. I took the quiz. In my next life I’m going to be a sloth. Oh God, not again!

John Wade, a frequent contributor to Unhinged Magazine, is a retired Chief Financial Officer who lives in Wildwood, Missouri.

Want more Unhinged stuff from John Wade? Read why having multiple wives isn’t as easy as you’d think.

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published with permission of the author