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Psycological Mechanics of Reincarnation

{written by : Ian Heath}

Article word count : 3518 -- Article Id : 1122
Article active date : 2008-11-23 -- Article views : 7802

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A theory of reincarnation (or rebirth) is the attempt to understand the issue of the transition of consciousness between planes of existence. In this section I explore the psychological mechanics by which reincarnation works.

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Transition of Consciousness

A theory of reincarnation (or rebirth) is the attempt to understand the issue of the transition of consciousness between planes of existence. In this section I explore the psychological mechanics by which reincarnation works.

Previous theories have given ethical reasons for reincarnation, but have usually lacked an adequate understanding of the psychological reasons. It is the psychological reasons that I focus on here.

The peculiarity with having Earth lives within the cycles of reincarnation is that the newly-incarnating baby on Earth has no memory of past lives. To account for this fact it is necessary to accept that human consciousness is binary in form and not a unitary phenomenon.

At death of the physical body, if the consciousness sojourns into higher states of mind (such as heaven), then the ego transposes nearly intact, with only negative aspects of its consciousness being reduced. The ego does not take the sorrow and pain of its life with it to heaven. Instead, any positive attitudes and traits of character that were created by the sorrow and pain are taken with it. The negative aspects are ‘put on hold’ till the consciousness is born again on earth, when they are added to the infant"s subconscious mind.

The real issue to explain is how reincarnation back to Earth happens, since the ego does not appear to transpose – the new-born baby does not have an existent ego, so it has to create one. After the life in heaven the consciousness comes back to Earth. The ego is no longer visibly existent. So what is it that actually reincarnates back to Earth ?

Two Deaths

There are two stages to understand, and these involve two ‘deaths’. When a person dies on Earth, this is his ‘first’ death, and represents the death of the physical body. In heaven, the person inhabits a psychic or astral body. When he leaves heaven to reincarnate on Earth, this is the ‘second’ death, and represents the death of the astral body.

So the two stages are :

1. Life on Earth.
On Earth the consciousness inhabits a physical body. At death of the physical body on Earth the consciousness is led to heaven.

2. Life in heaven.
In heaven the consciousness inhabits an ‘astral body’. At the end of a sojourn in heaven this astral body, in its turn, dies. Then the consciousness is reborn on Earth and once again inhabits a physical body.

The physical body and the astral body are sheaths that house consciousness. Whilst consciousness is permanent, the two bodies are cast off (each in its turn) when their usefulness becomes exhausted at the end of a life.

In a cycle of reincarnation, a person may sojourn in additional planes of creation, such as purgatory and hell, beside the basic ones of Earth and heaven. But I am only interested in understanding the parts of the cycle that are around Earth and heaven. I expand the theory that I outlined in the previous article Ego and Soul.

My theory differs from traditional views.
The central idea for me is that at death of the physical body, consciousness is split into its binary factors, those of ego and subconscious mind, which then become separated. The ego finds itself in heaven, but it is now a monad. The subconscious mind is temporarily detached from the ego (for the duration of the ego"s sojourn in heaven), so consciousness returns to the unitary state.

The opposite process occurs at death of the astral body, when the consciousness is preparing to return to Earth. To understand this part of the cycle I drew an analogy from Freud and Breuer. In their book ‘Studies on Hysteria’, they recount the malady of ‘condition seconde’ (now known as multiple personality), a situation where the usual consciousness of a person fades out for a time and is replaced by a second consciousness. Upon reverting to normal, the usual consciousness has no recollection of the incident.

I compared the amnesia of this type of neurosis with the fact that a consciousness newly reincarnating on Earth has amnesia of its past lives. I consider that the overwhelming of the ego in the ‘condition seconde’ is similar to the overwhelming of the ego that occurs at death of the astral body. The overwhelming of the ego is accomplished by repressing it, thus allowing a part of the subconscious mind to become prominent. This gives the clue as to what it is that reincarnates back to Earth. With the loss of normal consciousness at death of the astral body so the subconscious mind becomes dominant. Now consciousness is inverted. The ego ‘disappears’ and it is the subconscious mind which incarnates back to Earth.

At death of the astral body the ego is no longer conscious because it has been repressed and incorporated into the existing subconscious mind. This enlarged subconscious mind becomes ‘housed’ in the new-born infant on Earth, and then presides over the creation of a new ego for that infant. The subconscious mind determines the disposition of the new ego, or at least determines major character traits in it.

Abilities, beliefs and attitudes, sensitivities, strengths and weaknesses reincarnate, but not a memory or a consciousness of self. However, these abilities, beliefs, etc, only manifest in suitable circumstances ; they are subconscious at birth, the memory of them is not conscious. At rebirth, the consciousness of the past life has become part of the subconscious mind of the new life. The past-life consciousness (from heaven) has been added to the existing subconscious mind. On the basis of this augmented subconscious mind a new consciousness is eventually created.

The past-life consciousness, now subconscious, helps the new-born infant begin the process of creating a new ego. Childhood conditioning creates new beliefs, relevant to the new environment. Some of these beliefs have to be repressed by the child since they are unacceptable to the parents. Hence the subconscious mind still grows, but the past-life ego represents the major part of it. So in each life on Earth, the ego changes, along with the subconscious mind.

Chain of Incarnations

What happens in a chain of incarnations around heaven and Earth ? . Pick any one life on Earth as a convenient starting point ; the existing ego we can call ego-1 (as a convenient label).

1. Ego-1 is the current ego.
At the end of the Earth life, the transition to heaven occurs, followed by rebirth back on Earth. So one complete cycle has occurred.

2. Now ego-2 is the new ego.
Ego-1 is subconscious. Again, at the end of the Earth life, the transition to heaven occurs, followed by rebirth back on Earth. Another cycle has been completed.

3. Now ego-3 is the new ego.
Ego-2 has become subconscious. The subconscious mind has been augmented by both ego-1 and ego-2. Again, at the end of the Earth life, the transition to heaven occurs, followed by rebirth back on Earth.

4. Ego-4 is the new ego.
Ego-3 is subconscious. The subconscious mind contains ego-1, ego-2 and ego-3. Probably the newest ego (ego-3) added to the subconscious mind will carry the most influence on the creation of the next ego (in this case, ego-4), whilst the influences of ego-1 and ego-2 will diminish.

5. The process continues until there is no longer any need to be reborn on Earth.

In my view, the egos of past lives gradually fade in importance and blend together below the threshold of consciousness. However, any ego that was a powerful one in its particular Earth life carries its strength and ‘voice’ down through the centuries of subconscious existence. For example, in any emergency, when I may be irresolute, the power to act with determination comes from a past powerful ego putting relevant ideas and thoughts in my mind.

Not only strengths remain in the subconscious mind, though ; any problems that have been left unresolved by past egos remain active in the subconscious mind too, and have to be faced by future egos.

When rebirth on Earth occurs, the previous consciousness does not appear to be reborn because it is no longer conscious but subconscious. This is why Buddha thought that no actual entity reincarnated ; in his view only bundles of psychological characteristics were being endlessly recycled.

The ego is not immortal, but neither does death end its existence. It simply fades away eventually in the melting pot of the subconscious mind.

Two Forms of Unity

In the manner that the mind is handled at ‘death’, the two transitions form a binary process.

a). The transition of consciousness from Earth to heaven
In this transition the subconscious mind is not important. It is ‘put on ice’, as it were, and only the ego sojourns in heaven. The importance of this fact is that a unitary state of consciousness is not necessarily an holistic state. What I imply is that the populace of heaven are monads because the subconscious mind does not exist in heaven. Hence determinism is absent from a heavenly mind. In heaven the ego has become temporarily purified, but this purification lasts only as long as the sojourn in heaven lasts. Consciousness is purified but not complete ; the heavenly consciousness is not an holistic one. The ego understands only as much of heaven as its level of understanding of life, as achieved on Earth, allows it.

This arrangement of consciousness explains a puzzle about the phenomenon of contact between psychic mediums on Earth and astral guides in heaven. This arrangement of consciousness means that the heavenly hosts usually have little understanding of the problems of the subconscious mind that face people on Earth. The astral guides can see the ups and downs of an Earth life, but lack the understanding of why this occurs. Hence when guidance is ‘channelled’ via mediums from astral guides to seekers on Earth, much of the advice given for psychological issues is of poor quality. A consciousness that is unitary has little understanding of a consciousness that is binary. Much of the guidance given by astral guides is applicable to monads but is often of little relevance to binary forms of being.

b). The transition from heaven to Earth
In this transition a different process occurs. Now the ego becomes subconscious and the previous subconscious mind is added back to it. The state of consciousness is now the inverse of what it was in heaven.

In heaven there was unity of the conscious mind, without the presence of a subconscious mind.
At rebirth back on Earth there is unity of the subconscious mind, without the presence of a conscious mind.

The ego does not perish at the astral death in heaven but merely becomes subconscious. Now the person"s karma and ego form one unit of consciousness, one whole, but this wholeness is not always present. In heaven the person has ego but no karma. At rebirth back to Earth the infant has karma but no ego.

The task of the infant is now to create a new ego from the framework of the old one. It is mainly the subconscious old ego that orchestrates this task, modified by the opportunities available in a different environment, with different social relationships. Dominant desires and goals provide the main continuity of theme that links the past ego with the new one to be created.

What is the point of making the old ego subconscious at the moment of rebirth ? . Since rebirth ends the past memory, so it gives a fresh chance for the new ego to change. It is selective memory that stabilises an ego into a personality – the person usually remembers only those events that fit into his belief systems, or reinterprets to his own advantage any events that he cannot forget. But this stabilisation is achieved at the cost of producing psychological stereotyping and determinism : the ego loses its flexibility and stops changing. Then the person stops learning about life (unless a crisis breaks him down, thereby giving him the opportunity to build up afresh).

A person will change and learn more through many short lives than through a few long ones.

Death offers the opportunity to change which life denies !


There is a pronounced ‘side-effect’ to the process of reincarnation that past thinkers appear never to have noticed. It creates a source of pain at the centre of a person"s being. This pain is the primary source of all pain and sorrow that a person ever experiences. This pain creates nihilism, or the sense of meaninglessness, as the only ‘essence’ that each person has.

At the astral death in heaven, the ego is forced to become subconscious. To be in this state is an experience of great pain. The young infant on Earth carries within its being the pain of the previous ego in the state of forced subconsciousness. This pain is created by the cycles of reincarnation around the Earth plane, and since the previous ego can no longer attain to full consciousness so then this pain is ever-lasting for the duration of Earthly reincarnations. The pain is created anew at each new incarnation on Earth.

This nihilism has several pronounced effects on a sensitive person.

c ). It dissolves any sense of purpose in life, and so propels the person on a search for meaning.
In the twentieth century, the effects of warfare and rapid social change on the European and American consciousness de-stabilised many people and brought the subconscious mind into prominence. This helped to bring a nihilistic influence to some of the literature of the times, and generated an examination of values and meaning.

d ). Even the meaning of life may be lost.
The pain of nihilism, in suitable circumstances, drives the person into madness, usually that of catatonia.

e ). Static and stable mental structures help to contain the pain of nihilism.
The primary static mental structure in people is sexual structure : the division into male and female. So, for example, before the late twentieth century, a basic aim for most people was to have a stable sexual relationship in life – this gave their life a deep sense of meaning.

If the child has a good upbringing in its early years then the stable creation of sexual structure contains and restrains this pain. But if the child experiences traumatic relationships with its parents or other significant adults (either in the present life or in a recent past life) then there always exists a channel between the surface consciousness and the nihilistic pain of subconsciousness. It is this pain that can undermine sexual structure (that is, sexual ‘normality’). Hence the person may be driven to change some aspects of his / her sexuality in order to try to keep nihilism out of the surface consciousness. So sexual orientations (that is, secondary sexual structures) may change between heterosexuality, homosexuality, transvestitism, trans-sexuality, etc.

The person changes his / her sexual orientation till eventually the new one can contain the pain of nihilism. In other words, the need to change sexual orientation results from the activity of nihilistic influences in the subconscious mind. The person will settle with an orientation that ensures that the nihilism will once again remain buried in the subconscious mind.

f ). Compulsive sexual phantasies are familiar features of instability.
This is a product of factor (e). However, the nihilistic influences are not necessarily intense enough to affect sexual orientation.

g ). Dynamic and changeable mental structures help to express the pain of nihilism.
The primary dynamic structure in people is the creation of attitudes to authority and the political manner of understanding life. Hostile attitudes to political and social forms of authority allow nihilistic influences to be expressed.

h ). The pursuit of happiness is the eternal panacea and soporific.

The two effects of static sexual structure and dynamic political structure are the primary derivatives of nihilism. They enable a person to handle both a static society and a society that is undergoing change. Each person can seek either social support (through sexuality), or control and domination (through politics). After their creation, these effects are developed and expanded to give rise to secondary derivatives, those of religion, culture, ethics, science, etc.

Process & Inquiry

Does the pain of nihilism serve any useful purpose ? . The answer is Yes, and relates to effect (c) - the search for meaning in life.

Most people prefer to pursue happiness rather than ethics or morality. We have seen in the twentieth century, when affluence has come to a large section of the Western world, that freely available happiness and freedom from pain do not necessarily lead to moral improvement, or even to morality at all. And ethical philosophy is unpopular. Whereas in hard times, moral codes tend to be promulgated and ethical theorizing is often top of the philosophical agenda.

The deduction from these trends is that only psychological pain and sorrow lead to ethical development. This effect is enhanced by the process of abreaction. In abreaction, all self-generated joy or happiness (resulting from a catharsis) leads to unhappiness, that is, the experiences of guilt, resentment and bitterness. The regular occurrence of abreaction gradually leads to a focus on conservative morality. Therefore, the ethical and moral development of humanity is process orientated: it requires hard times and the regular occurrence of conflict. As times change, new values and standards are produced that are more in keeping with the new social conditions.

When sorrow is an objective fact of existence, then it generates process : it forces the person to come to terms with the need for ethical and spiritual development. This fact ensures that spirituality is always a process and never a goal, never something that is achievable once and for all.

Conflict cannot be avoided, so the only way to minimize resentment and bitterness is to clean-up one"s life and to take responsibility for one"s own actions and attitudes. The person has to develop his strengths and resolve his weaknesses.

Spirituality is always a process, so there can never truly be a golden age on Earth. If a golden age did indeed come tomorrow then we would merely polish our virtues ; our failings would not be affected. Quite likely, we would not even recognise that we had failings, since these are only made visible by sorrow. A golden age removes any motivation to change. Goodness supplies the basis of stability, whereas badness supplies the incentive to change. Without conflict, so people will not evolve. Conflict is essential to evolution. And the conditions of conflict are provided by the nihilism at the core of one"s being.

The sorrow caused by abreaction may not always lead to a conservative morality: if the intensity is too little, it can be annulled by community support, whereas if the intensity is too great then the person will be crushed. But when the intensity of sorrow is between these two extremes then the person may begin to question what he has achieved in life, and what is the meaning of life, anyway.

Nihilism creates the sense of meaninglessness. As the person tries to make sense of life, so eventually he has to realise that he has to create his own meanings, his own sense of purpose. He has to create his own identity, his own purpose for living, his own understanding of what life means, his own way of achieving harmony. He faces the obstacles of determinism, confusion, self-deception, and social conflict.

Hence he cannot create his own reality, but only his own meanings and purposes.

Nihilism creates the framework of a human life. The person is subjected to process, which develops his objective values and standards. And the person becomes propelled, sooner or later, into an inquiry about subjective meaning and purpose in life.

Ending Rebirth

The theory of abreaction is needed in order to complete the understanding of why the rebirth back to Earth occurs. Reincarnation depends, in part, on psychology. Abreaction is a psychological process, and is dialectical in its operation. This means that self-generated joy is followed by its antithesis, the guilt and resentment stages.

At the moment of the death of the physical body on Earth the ego grasps joyfully at the thought of heaven and so goes to heaven. This joy is merely the cathartic stage of transition. The dialectical response to this joy of going to heaven is subconscious guilt and resentment. Therefore, at the moment of grasping at heaven the person sullies his subconscious mind. So eventually the person has to leave heaven in order to purify again his subconscious mind. Going to heaven initiates an abreactive process !

All self-generated joy ends in unhappiness (which in this case means the rebirth back to Earth). By grasping at heaven and the life of happiness there the person automatically and necessarily ensures that he will eventually return to Earth, because only on Earth can he discharge his guilt and resentment.

The only way to avoid rebirth back to Earth is to remain in a state of equanimity at the moment of death on Earth, thereby preventing the occurrence of abreaction – and this requirement is beyond the capability of average man.


Freud, Sigmund and Breuer, Joseph. Studies on Hysteria. Pelican Books 1986.

Author Bio :
Copyright © 2002 Ian Heath, owner of a map of psychological spirituality suitable for modern times.

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