Reincarnation, Karma and Presence

Eckhart TolleEckhart Tolle, Ramana and the Zen Master Dogen

The following statements by these gentlemen on the topics of reincarnation, karma and presence reflect my own views. Many years ago as a young man I had a vision of great magnitude in which I was standing on a wide path, a road, which came spiraling up from below. It was like an endless funnel and this road, this path, was spiraling around and up the inside of this funnel-like landscape. I recognized it as the path of time and of myriad past human generations. As I gazed mesmerized by the sheer magnitude of this scenario, someone on the opposite side of this ‘inverted mountain’ waved to me. In that moment I waved in return and recognized that the one ‘over there’ was me in another life.

The instantaneous realization was that all the figures I saw moving along this path in time were me. I also realized that had I embodied all the lessons I had been able to learn during all of those journeys, and therefore there was no need to connect with any of those lives more closely in order to examine them. There also was no fascination involved, such as, “Wow, that is who I was in that life!” as there were so many that I saw at once that I had lived through all possible variations of existences on my journey to this life here and now. Actually it would be more correct to say that it was not “I” who had lived all of these lives, but rather that I was in a quality of consciousness in which I felt the unity of all of humanity’s experiences through myriad lifetimes. This is the meaning of Krishnamurti’s statement, “You are the world and the world is you”.

This vision led me to the understanding that now my task was to learn to not be distracted by whatsoever events happen in my life right now. This includes also not being distracted by any impressions of past events during this life or possible past lives which we call memories. The challenge is to stabilize in the quality of consciousness that Eckhart calls Presence, Ramana calls the Heart or the Self and Dogen calls Buddha. This quality transcends both reincarnation and karma.

Please enjoy what these three clear-sighted men have to tell us.

Eckhart Tolle on Karma

Q: “You talk about Presence and Being as the keys to enjoying form, and creating positive circumstances, or softening circumstances.  How does karma fit into all of that?”

ET: “Everybody is born into a certain external environment.  Also, everyone is born with certain predispositions – they may be partly genetic, they may be other things.  A person is born with certain patterns, in other words.  We don’t need to examine where they come from, but the fact is that a human being is born into a certain environment.  It may be violent, or it may be relatively peaceful.  A person is born with inner patterns that you inherit.  Even painbody is partly inherited.

“There’s a whole set of conditioning that happens when you come into an environment.  The environment conditions you further, and there’s no choice involved – it’s just influences.  You find yourself in this world with certain unconscious patterns that have become the conditioning of who the person is.  Karma, as I see it, is the unconscious conditioning that runs your life.  Karma is partly collective, and partly personal.  You can only understand karma not as an abstract subject external to yourself, you can only understand it by observing yourself, and then you know many other things.  If you want to understand karma, you need to look at yourself.

“I began to understand what karma is when something arose that was not part of karma at all.  Here is the key – the arising of consciousness, or Presence, or spiritual awakening, is not part of karma.  It is another dimension that breaks into the karmic realm.  You do not become awakened by accumulating, as they sometimes say in the East, “good karma”.  That’s fine on this level, you can make the walls or furniture in your prison a little more comfortable, but there’s something totally from beyond karma, that can come into your life at any point.

“Re-birth is of course part of karma.  The deeper meaning of re-birth is identification with form.  We don’t need to even believe in transmigration, or whatever, you can look at re-birth in your own life.  Every time you identify with a thought that arises, which is form, you are born into that thought.  Your identity, your sense of self is in it.  That’s karma.  Your karma is the unconscious identification with these patterns that you have inherited – the conditioned.  It is complete identification of consciousness with the conditioned patterns.  Consciousness is dreaming, one could say.  That is why we use the word “awakening” in many spiritual traditions.  Consciousness is awakening, consciousness is in a dream-like state, when you are identified with the unconscious patterns.  Many times a day, you are re-born into an emotional or mental reaction, into thoughts that arise.

“Karma creates, in the external, confirmation that it is correct.  So if you think the world is full of evil people, you will meet many evil people – in other words, unconscious people.  Even people who are halfway between being conscious and unconscious, your belief will pull them into unconsciousness.  Karma is the complete absence of conscious Presence.  It is automatic.  It plays itself out.

“Time does not free you of karma.  That is a misperception, that if you only spend enough time, eventually you can become free of karma.  Karma renews itself and repeats itself.  The only thing that can free you of karma is the arising of Presence.  At any point in the wheel of karma, Presence can come in.  It can happen to a criminal in prison, condemned to death.  It can happen to somebody who’s never heard of anything spiritual.  It can happen to somebody who’s been meditating for thirty years.

“Presence frees you from karma.  Not all at once. Karma has an enormous momentum.  The thought patterns, the emotional patterns, the reactive patterns.  As Presence arises, gradually karma diminishes and you will experience a fading out of those patterns.  Not that it matters that much anymore, because once you are present, those thought patterns may still arise, but it is no longer problematic.  They no longer cause the suffering that they would have caused before, because they are seen in the light of awareness.  In the light of awareness, the patterns no longer dominate your life.

“Painbody is part of karma, which may be strong in some and not so in others.  As Presence arises, you are freed from karma.  Then you have another completely different factor coming into your life.  For example, for a person to become free of collective karma, you need a considerable amount of Presence for that to come in.  It then will remove you, either internally or you may find yourself somewhere else.

“For a person who is born into vast collective karma, it requires considerable Presence for one not to be drawn into that.  When Hitler came into power, not many people were able to remove themselves.  Some were, and they left.  They could see what was happening and they were strong enough not to be identified with the collective.  To take yourself out of that collective karma requires considerable Presence – and some people had it.  It is our destiny, then, to go beyond karma by being the receptacles for Presence.

“Everyone who is awakening will find that sooner or later that they become a kind of teacher to others.  What a spiritual teacher does is point out the possibility of awakening out of identification with unconscious patterns.  The spiritual teacher teaches you to go beyond karma.  That is your function, and will become increasingly so, whether you become a formal teacher, or an informal teacher.

“Spiritual awakening and stepping out of karma are the same thing.  Many people will be drawn to you.  Anybody who is going through the awakening process is already a teacher.  Teaching means you find yourself listening from spaciousness, when somebody speaks or asks a question, or tells you about their problems.  You may find that the answer comes out from that Stillness in which you listen.  You don’t have a sense that “I’m going to teach this person now”.  You will find that teaching is spontaneous.  You will help people to step out of identification with unconsciousness, which means going beyond karma.  This applies to everybody who is awakening.

“As you teach, Consciousness is becoming aligned with your mind.  Your mind is able to tune in to the deeper Consciousness and can be used as an instrument.  Then the words come out of your mouth.  There is ultimately really only one teacher, the awakened Consciousness is the teacher.  It can only teach those in whom there is a degree of readiness.  The teaching needs to be received.  If there is only a density of mind, the teaching won’t happen.

“You will be amazed when people are drawn to you – people who are ready – and you find yourself saying something that you didn’t even know yourself.  It’s only when the question was asked, that the Consciousness responded.  As you teach, you learn.  Realizations come.  Teaching and learning is the same process.  A deepening happens, as you teach.  You are here to help people go beyond karma.

“The important thing to know is that time does not free you of karma.  The egoic mind says “I need more time to become free”.  The only thing that people may need more time for is that they need time to realize that they do not need time”.  It may be another twenty years of suffering for them to realize that they do not need time.  They may need to suffer a bit more before they realize the power of the timeless.  The timeless is of course the end of karma.”


 This is the video of Eckhart’s above response:

Eckhart Tolle on Peace after a Loss

Q:  “My sons drowned in the sea ten months ago. I did surrender, but when I felt the peace and calm coming over me, it felt wrong. It was not right to feel peace and calm with such a loss.”

ET:  “The natural way of being after death of a loved one is suffering at first, then there is a deepening. In that deepening, you go to a place where there is no death. And the fact that you felt that means you went deep enough, to the place where there is no death. Conditioned as your mind is by society, the contemporary world that you live in, which knows nothing about that dimension – your mind then tells you that there is something wrong with this. Your mind says “I should not be feeling peace, that is not what one feels in a situation like this”. But that’s a conditioned thought by the culture that you live in. So instead we can recognize when this happens, when that thought comes – recognize it as a conditioned thought that is not true.

“It doesn’t mean that the waves of sadness don’t come back from time to time. But in between the waves of sadness, you sense there is peace. As you sense that peace, you sense the essence of your children as well – the timeless essence. So death is a very sacred thing – not just a dreadful thing. When you react to the loss of form, that’s dreadful.

“When you go deep enough to the formless, the dreadful is no longer dreadful, it’s sacred. Then you will experience the two levels, when somebody dies who is close to you. Yes it’s dreadful on the level of form. It’s sacred on the deeper level. Death can enable you to find that dimension in yourself. You’re helping countless other humans if you find that dimension in yourself – the sacred dimension of life. Death can help you find the sacred dimension of life – where life is indestructible.

“Surrender can open that door for you. Complete acceptance of it. So honor that sacred dimension and realize that what your mind is saying, that it isn’t right, is just a form of conditioning – it isn’t the truth. It is supremely right.

“This is always the window into the formless. As you accept it, surrender. Because the form is gone, your mind becomes still when you surrender to death. It’s not through explanations that you accept death. You can have explanations, mental explanations that say, well, he or she will move on or reincarnate, or go to some place of rest. That can be comforting, but you can go to a deeper place than that, where you don’t need explanations – a state of immediate realization of the sacredness of death, because what opens up when the form dissolves is life beyond form. That is the only thing that is sacred. That is the sacred dimension.

“You can get tiny glimpses of that when you lose something, and you completely accept that it’s gone. This is a tiny glimpse of death and it can give you a tiny realization – maybe even more than tiny, if you’re ready.”


Eckhart’s view on Reincarnation:


Ramana Maharshi on Reincarnation

Q: “Is reincarnation true?”

Ramana: “Reincarnation exists only so long as there is ignorance. There is really no reincarnation at all, either now or before. Nor will there be any hereafter. This is the truth.”

Q: “Can a yogi know his past lives?”

Ramana: “Do you know the present life that you wish to know the past? Find the present, then the rest will follow. Even with our present limited knowledge, you suffer so much; why should you burden yourself with more knowledge? Is it to suffer more?”

Source: Maharshi’s Gospel, Guru and His Grace, p. 42


Dogen (13th century Japanese Zen master)on Reincarnation

Question 10:

“It has been said:

‘Bemoan not mortality; the path to escape it is at hand, and it is to realize the eternal nature of spirit. The body shall die just as surely as it is born, but not so the spirit. Realize that the immortal spirit exists within, and that therein lies thy essential nature, the body a mere temporary abode, ephemeral, dying here, reborn there. Mind endures unchanging, throughout past, present, and future. To understand this is to be liberated from mortality. Those who do so put an end to the living and dying of the past and, when they cast off their mortal form, enter the ocean of nature. As they do so verily they are endowed with the same sacred virtue as the angels. Those who have not yet learned this principle are damned to repeat their experience of mortality forever.’

“This can only mean that what’s really important is to realize that we all have an immortal soul. What on earth is to be gained by wasting your time sitting on a cushion? Is this line of thinking in accord with the way of the buddhas and the patriarchs?”

Answer 10.

“Not in the least. It’s the heresy of Senika. The heresy claims that lurking in your body is a sort of ghostly intelligence, which can tell good from bad, right from wrong. The ability to feel pain and pleasure, suffering and delight is due to this ghostly intelligence. And what’s more, this ghost-like nature can slip out of a dying body and be reborn somewhere else. Just when you think it’s dying, it manages to get itself reborn somewhere else and thus hangs on through all eternity.

“That’s what the heresy says.

“Believing such nonsense and calling it buddhadharma is more foolish than grasping tiles and pebbles and imagining that they are golden jewels. It’s so stupid I’m at a loss for another analogy. Echu, the master who taught a Tang Dynasty emperor, strongly criticized this fallacy. How laughable — raising to the level of the Buddha’s subtle truth the belief that the soul endures and the body perishes. You are promoting the basic cause of the very mortality that you are trying to escape. It’s pitiful. Know that this is pure heresy, and pay it no heed.

“Let me add that to see past this heresy you need to know that we teach that in the buddhadharma body and mind are intrinsically unified, nature and aspect are indivisible—an unshakable principle known throughout China and India. If a religion teaches things are permanent then everything is permanent, making it impossible to separate body and mind. If a religion teaches things are evanescent then everything is evanescent, making it impossible to separate nature and aspect. In either case, it cannot possibly be true that the body perishes while the spirit lives on. Let it also sink in that mortality is nirvana.

“Nirvana has never been discussed outside the context of mortality. Think about it: that mind of yours which is trying to arrive at a supposed Buddhistic wisdom but shuns mortality, hoping instead that the enduring soul is separate from the body, is itself an understanding and perceiving mind which is itself subject to mortality, thus violating the premise of eternality. Who can deny this?

“Look closely, and you’ll see that true religions have always taught that body and soul are unified. So why on earth should the soul take off and detach itself from the body and survive when the body dies?

“That would imply that body and soul are unified sometimes but not other times, turning all these religions into big lies. Those who think the idea is to eliminate mortality are guilty of hating Buddhism. We must tread carefully here. You should know the Buddhist school of thought called Universal Aspect of the Nature of Mind, which states that, throughout the entire dharma realm in all its vastness, it is impossible to separate nature and aspect or distinguish life and death. Nothing, not even awareness and nirvana, is outside the nature of mind. Each and every thing and phenomenon shares this mind, nothing excluded, nothing unrelated. There are many such schools of thought in Buddhism, but all of them hold that mind is uniformly singular. Buddhist teachings are known for their insistence on saying that distinctions of mind do not exist.

“To nevertheless try to distinguish body and mind, or separate life from nirvana, is impossible. We are born children of the Buddha, and must not lend our ears to the jumbled mumblings of the non-Buddhist philosophers.”

First Dogen Book, Dialog on the Way of Commitment, (by Dogen, the 13th century Japanese Zen master) pgs. 19 -22

5 thoughts on “Reincarnation, Karma and Presence

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