A Brief Discussion of Reincarnation and the World Cup of Cricket.
And Heaven and Baseball, too.
As part of my attempt to co-write another post about India with blogging friend Priya of Partial View, I watched the Cricket World Cup Final on April 2. After defeating arch-rival Pakistan in the semi-finals, India was playing Sri Lanka, and as I came to understand, both matches
were a very big deal. But I might as well have been attending a performance of Oedipus the King in the original Greek, because I had no idea what was going on. To make matters worse, the final wasn’t televised and I had to watch it on my computer. I guess online demand was extremely heavy, causing the video stream to start, freeze, and re-start every seven seconds for the entire match; as a result I developed a bad case of hiccups and a nervous twitch in my left eye. Meanwhile, of course, Priya enjoyed the event with her family in comfort, probably on a
72-inch flat screen television. She warned me about the streaming problem, but by then I was already experiencing convulsions.
PV: That’s what you get if you watch it through a medium that can get clogged with millions of visitors who couldn’t make it to the stadium or see a live broadcast. People here jostle everywhere, even in morgues, to watch their heroes play.
MBI: India really is a different place, isn’t it? Where I come from, people in morgues hardly move at all. They certainly don’t jostle.
PV: Really? Ours sometimes get a new lease on life to watch cricket before they’re re-born and come back. Do morgues there have no living people, by the way?
MBI: To be honest, I’ve never really been to a morgue. For all I know they may have Super Bowl parties and Sunday brunch. But this idea of reincarnation is intriguing. Do you think people in the West understand it?
PV: I’m not sure. You tell me.
MBI: I don’t know what anyone else thinks, but my concept is that reincarnation is a process that allows individuals to eventually close the gap between their true selves and the lives they’ve been living. It’s a kind of course correction. Our actions and attitudes either pull us closer or push us farther away from our destination. And because we’re slow learners, it may take many lives on Earth to get it right.
PV: Yes, very. You must have been paying attention in your past life. When you say our actions and attitudes decide our course, you are spot on. The crux, however, is the destination. What is it that you’d want? Take birth again as a sultan with a formidable harem, or perhaps a rock star with a steely voice? Or would you rather leave all that behind and renounce this blow-hot blow-cold world? Whatever you want, make a decision and live it. You will find yourself enjoying it in the next birth. If you have been good, the Moksha (or Liberation) will be yours. Okay, if not the next, then the one after that.
MBI: You say I’m spot on, but that answer surprised me. I thought the destination had already been decided — by the Universe, or something — and that we’re born with some mission to accomplish, but we have no idea what it is. So we spend our lives flailing around in the dark, hoping to find a path that at least takes us in the right direction. And to make matters worse, we can’t remember the lessons we learned, or were supposed to learn, in previous lives. That last part really had me confused.
PV: I knew I’d rejoiced too soon at your suspiciously quick comprehension. If you want to understand reincarnation, you will first have to understand the terms. Then it should be self-explanatory. I hope.
You previously said reincarnation is like a course correction, and that our actions determine whether we find our destination. According to the belief we are discussing, a soul, which is as old as the Universe (or something) and just a tiny part of it, sheds a body after it dies, much like changing worn-out clothes. It keeps on doing so, seeking the next mountain to climb or the next election to win, until it realises that desires are actually a means for eternal discontent. In this journey, it keeps correcting its course, or at least it’s supposed to. And it is believed that this will eventually lead the soul to its final destination, Moksha.
MBI: Do you find the idea of Liberation a little unsettling? Does it seem like one long boring, transparent Nothingness? Similar to an eternal Heaven, only without the angels and ice cream?
PV: About the boring, transparent Nothingness minus the angels and ice cream: again, I wouldn’t know. I am still in this world with sinfully pink Cadillacs and brilliant diamonds that could blind even the brightest of glow worms.
MBI: Here’s something else I’ve been wondering. Are these beliefs about reincarnation necessarily tied to what is traditionally thought of as religious doctrine? Or are they embedded in the secular culture?
PV: No, they’re not tied to religious doctrines at all. That would undermine their validity, I’d say. These are concepts that have been derived from, believe it or not, a rare scientific and spiritual collaboration over centuries. They are a part of the culture in which people here grow up. Most, of course, do not waste their time in counting the previous births or the remaining ones before attaining Moksha, but almost all are aware that every action has a reaction — Karma. You keep adding to your kitty of actions, good or bad. And see if it gets you Nothingness or A Glorious Muddle. It’s entirely your choice.
MBI: But who would prefer Nothingness? I’d take the Glorious Muddle, just because something is almost always better than nothing. Or have I missed it again?
PV: Maybe. But I can see why you would think that way. Why pursue something you don’t know about; something that’s going to turn out to be Nothing anyway? What would Heaven be like, I wonder. It does seem to be Glorious, without the Muddle. Or not?
MBI: I can only repeat what I was taught. Or how I interpreted what I was taught. My image of Heaven was a place where the soul goes after it leaves the physical body. A place of eternal joy. All of the negative experiences and emotions linked to mortal life are gone. But consciousness remains. When in Heaven, I would know that I was there. That seems to be a strong difference. When the soul reaches Moksha, where is it? Does it even make sense to ask where?
PV: The where would be everywhere. But even that isn’t accurate. Languages are too limited to express some of these ideas. Where is Heaven? Everywhere, somewhere, or nowhere?
MBI: As kids, we all pictured it as up, in the sky. And Hell was down.
PV: Inside the Earth?
MBI: That’s hard to say. Down, but not necessarily under the ground.
PV: It’s a different way of thinking. Completely different.
MBI: When I took Spanish in high school, the teacher told us that we would be on our way to learning the language when we stopped translating in our heads and began thinking in Spanish. I’ve always remembered that advice, yet as I read about and watch the cricket match, I can’t help trying to make sense of it by translating every play into the language of baseball. Even when I consciously tell myself not to, I do it anyway. I have a feeling that, as nations and societies struggle to understand and relate to each other, there’s a similar tendency that gets in their way. We keep looking at other people and filtering what we see through our own familiar lenses.
PV: And different religious groups do the same. I don’t think there’s a solution to that. If your concept of the afterlife is some kind of eternal reward, you may struggle to find the same thing in our notion of Liberation. If you watch a cricket match and keep waiting for someone to hit a “home run,” you will be frustrated. But I want to ask you: when the batsman hits the ball in baseball, why does he throw his bat?
MBI: I noticed that in cricket, the hitter runs with the bat. That seems awkward. In baseball, once the batter hits the ball, he’s no longer a batter; he becomes a runner, and running with the bat makes no sense. But again, we’re both looking at the other’s sport from a biased point of view.
PV: That’s true.
MBI: In baseball, a team plays a full season of games. And with each one, the players, managers, and coaches work to make improvements, fill gaps, let go of weaknesses, and build on strengths. The team hopes to eventually make its way though the playoffs and
into the World Series. Would you say life, death,
and reincarnation are similar to that process?
PV: No. I wouldn’t. You’ve oversimplified again. Reincarnation has nothing at all to do with baseball. However, it’s very much like what a cricket team goes through in order to get to the World Cup finals. You win the final match, and that may be as close to Liberation as you can get without leaving this Earth.
* * * * *
MBI: Here’s what I learned about cricket:
The hitter is called a batsman. There are two batsmen up at a time. Their goal is to score runs and protect the wickets. The pitcher is called a bowler, and a bowler who doesn’t throw very hard is sometimes referred to as a Dibbly-Dobbler.
On April 2, 2011, in the finals of the World Cup of Cricket, India (277 for 4) defeated Sri Lanka (274 for 6) by six wickets with ten balls remaining. Team Captain M.S. Dhoni hit 91 not out of just 79 balls to lead India to victory. Whatever that means.