Friday, December 19, 2008

Hot Topic: Reincarnation and Guest Blog by MJ Rose

When Daniel I travelled to Burma, one of the highlights of our 3 week visit was talking with two monks at the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. We sat with them for about 2 hours and they told us about Buddhism, and what they told us about their views of reincarnation is pretty much the extent of my knowledge on the subject. It’s not something I personally believe in or promote, but nevertheless I do find it fascinating. The Burmese thinking on rebirth follow the 5 precepts (that is, what monks - and Buddhists in general - are forbidden to do):

1. No killing (if you do you'll come back as a dog - a fate worse than death if you consider how badly dogs are treated in Burma)
2. No stealing (or you'll be reborn as a poor person)
3. No womanizing (apparently only for men - because if you do this as a man, you'll come back as a woman)
4. No lying (or you'll come back mute)
5. No getting drunk (or you'll come back mentally ill).

Burmese also believe that if they do not live a good life, they'll be reborn as non-Burmese.

Obviously, MJ Rose, author of The Reincarnationist and The Memorist knows enough about reincarnation to plot two novels around it. She provided the following guest post about her experiences and the genesis of her books.

(Don’t forget to enter my contest to win a two book MJ Rose prize pack with a paperback copy of The Reincarnationist and a hardcover copy of her new book The Memorist. I am also giving away up to 5 paperback copies of The Reincarnationist. Read my review and enter here. Comment on this post for your extra entry.)

The Venerable Thich Nguyen Tang said: “To Buddhism, however, death is not the end of life, it is merely the end of the body we inhabit in this life, but our spirit will still remain and seek out through the need of attachment, attachment to a new body and new life. Where they will be born is a result of the past and the accumulation of positive and negative action, and the resultant karma (cause and effect) is a result of ones past actions.”

When I was three years old, I told my great grandfather things about his childhood in Russia that there was simply no way I could have known. He was not a Buddhist but a Kabbalist – and reincarnation is as much a part of mystic Judaism tradition as it part of Buddhism. As he continued to talk to me about these memories, my great grandfather became convinced I was a reincarnation of someone from his past. My mother – a logical and skeptical woman – argued with him about what she called his “old fashioned” ideas but over time and more incidents, she became curious enough to start reading up on the subject.

And so reincarnation was an idea I grew up with. A concept that my mom and I talked about and researched together. We studied what Buddhists and Kabbalists and Hindus wrote. We read scientific articles and skeptical arguments. We debated and postulated.If you had asked me at twenty if I believed, I would have said “I don’t not believe.” But I was fascinated. And remained fascinated.

In my early thirties I studied Zen Buddhism and learned to mediate. It was about the same time I started writing fiction and found myself very much wanting to write a novel about reincarnation. But it wasn’t until my mother died ten years ago that I finally began to make notes for that novel… a story about someone like her who started out skeptical but came to believe in reincarnation. At the time I was too close to the subject and missed her too much to work on the project. The grief was too close and too raw.

Then four years ago on the exact anniversary of my mom’s death my niece, who was almost three years old told me about experiences I’d had with my mother… experiences my niece couldn’t have known – moments I had never shared with anyone.There was no turning away anymore. That experience convinced me it was time for me to finally explore my ideas and questions about reincarnation through my novel.

Josh Ryder, the main character in The Reincarnationist has my mom’s initials, her spirit and her curiosity and like her, he’s a photographer. But there the similarities end. When Josh starts having flashbacks that simply can’t be explained any other way except as possible reincarnation memories he goes to New York to study with Dr. Malachai Samuels -- a scientist and Reincarnationist who works with children helping them deal with past life memories. In the process Josh gets caught up in the search for ancient memory tools that may or may not physically enable people to reach back and discover who they were and who they are.

Thich Nguyen Tang said: “So we can say that in Buddhism, life does not end, merely goes on in other forms that are the result of accumulated karma. Buddhism is a belief that emphasizes the impermanence of lives, including all those beyond the present life. With this in mind we should not fear death as it will lead to rebirth.”

I think writing is a rebirth like that. Thoughts reborn as words that in a way die for the author once they are put to paper but are then reborn again for the reader who picks up the book and experiences the ideas and thoughts of the writer in his or her own personal way.

M.J. Rose is the author of ten novels. Read an excerpt of her books at http://www.mjrose.com/.

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27 comments:

jocelyn said...

That's really interesting, that personal experience inspired this story. I haven't ever experienced anything like that, but it is intriguing.

Kristen M. said...

I think that most authors who write about the supernatural or other unexplainable phenomena usually take an academic view of them but don't necessarily believe. It would be interesting to read a fiction book about a topic like reincarnation written by a believer.

Buddha said...

As a hypnotherapist I had first hand experiences with past life regressions.
It is much more common than anybody believes but because there is no scientific acceptance of reincarnation it is all treated like a big brain fluke.
For your personal experience you could try a session of hypnosis.
It works much better than meditation since your therapist can guide you more effective in your journey.

Taren said...

That was really interesting! Though their beliefs aren't my own, it's still fun to learn new things -and I've always been interested in different religions.

violetcrush said...

I have read a couple of books by Dr. Brian Weiss on reincarnation.

When i was young, we used to say that anyone who didn't give water to a thirsty person would be born as a lizard in the next life.

I find the concept very interesting.

bermudaonion said...

What an interesting guest post. I'm old enough to remember when Edgar Cayce and his ideas about reincarnation were popular.

Dar said...

Great post. I get shivers reading the parts where MJ and then her neice are telling of things that had happened in the past that they couldn't possibly have known about. Reincarnation is a fascinating subject.

Amber said...

Burma - wow. You are very lucky. I hope to have the chance to visit sometime! It seems like a beautiful country and the Burmese have very interesting beliefs. I am not sure if I believe in reincarnation. It is something I need to ponder.

Meredith said...

Wow. That is such an interesting experience. I am glad that she decided to share it in a way.

And you are soo lucky to get to travel the world! I have only been to like 6 of th 50 states and that is it. I would love to be able to travel more.

~Meredith

allisonmariecat said...

Fascinating. I'm even more intrigued by the books now...

Book Spot said...

I hadn't heard those beliefs about reincarnation-it's Incredibly interesting :)

Wendy said...

Thank you, Ms. Rose, for such a fascinating post. I am always interested in different religious viewpoints and Buddhism is one of those beliefs which has intrigued me. I hope I win one or both of your books in the giveaway...they look wonderful!

Lalaland said...

Buddhism has always been a kind of religion that is peaceful. There may be certain rules to follow, but it usually makes you a better person.

MJRose said...

Thank you all for your comments, if you have any questions I'd be happy to answer them.

Gwendolyn B. said...

Thanks for the great post -- reincarnation is fascinating all the way around! Looking forward to reading your books.
geebee.reads AT gmail DOT com

Serena said...

I love stories that are personally inspired.

No need to enter me into the contest. I already have copies for her January tour.

allire said...

Wow. I think stuff like that is so cool. It's fun to think about.

Haha. Usually I lose interest and stop reading at guest posts, but I read the entire post. ^_^ It all was very interesting.

Teddy Rose said...

Wow, what a great guest post. Thanks for all the information on the Burmese. I didn't know that they actually belived that if you did "a" that you would come back as "b". If womanizing men come back as women, I wonder what women do to come back as men. I won't do it! LOL!

carolsnotebook said...

The personal experiences are really fascinating and have made me even more interested in the story, since reincarnation is a concept she grew up with.

ddurance said...

So, I'm getting my extra entry in. LOL

Deidre

Liviania said...

Cool guest blog. I'm fascinated by Buddhism. It's nice to get to see how authors became interested in their subjects.

Amanda said...

Wow...such an interesting post. I wonder if I have had past lives? I read somewhere that if you have an interest in a specific time period, you might have had a previous life then. If that is the case, I have been very busy!

The Tome Traveller said...

What a fascinating post. I've always been interested in the idea of past lives, it is an intriguing subject. I would love to read these books!

Carey

Aerin said...

If it's not too late, I have a question for Ms. Rose (and please feel free not to answer!):

I'm a Christian theologian, and I - like you in your 20s - don't not believe in reincarnation, though it's not a cornerstone of my faith, (and certainly outside the bounds of traditional Christian doctrine.)

I want to raise my children with open minds - aware, at least, of different beliefs - do you know of any books for small children (toddler through early elementary) that you consider to do a good job of honoring Buddhism and reincarnation?

cindy said...

awesome post. had to read this interview because my YA novel also deals with the idea of reincarnation. i find this very fascinating. thank you for sharing!

Linda said...

I have read and reviewed both The Reincarnationist and The Memorist. I loved both of them. It's really interesting to know that the author's interest in reincarnation was based on personal experience. That makes the books even more interesting to me.
lrobe190@sbcglobal.net

Wrighty said...

I recently got the Reincarnationist but haven't had the chance to read it yet. The author's background story is fascinating. Her own experiences with reincarnation make the book sound even more interesting. She has a lifetime of research into it. Great review! I learned a lot from that alone.