I’ve journeyed through all kinds of religions. As a teenager I hung out with Mescalero Apache shamans in New Mexico, and got to go to a peyote meeting where the group energy was channeled to help somebody in trouble. When I finally went to college, I took courses in Anthropology with a professor who had learned witchcraft in Africa, and proved it by murdering chickens and divining the future from their guts on the floor of the classroom. As a graduate student in Anthropology, I learned about lots and lots of religions that believed in reincarnation.
But it wasn’t until the year 2000 that I began to look into my own native religion: Judaism. Jews are famous for being Buddhists, Hindus, anything but Jews. And I was no different.
My motivation for exploring the religious beliefs behind my genetic heritage was simple. Because of a confluence of influences, I lost everything I owned. My health took a dive. My 16 year old son was living on the streets, eating out of dumpsters, just as I had done when I was his age. Life sucked.
A friend turned me on to a book of the Apocrypha: Christian mystical writings that didn’t make it into the Bible. I started wondering, wow, if the New Testament is this cool, what is the Old Testament like? So I started reading it, and came up with not much knowledge but loads of questions. Naturally, I turned to the Internet, and typed this into Google: “What is the meaning of life?”
The top of the search results lead me to the Meaningful Life Center, run by Rabbi Simon Jacobsen. It would take more words than I have here to explain what is contained in there. It’s everything Jewish, both traditional and mystical. I went straight to the mystical. There I discovered that Judaism teaches that we are sent into this life, these bodies, in order to fix things. These things can be blemishes on our souls because of misdeeds in previous lives, or they can be blemishes on the collective soul (which is another topic), or they can be fixings of specific events that are destined to happen in this life, or in the world at large.
I have spent the past 13 years in further study of Jewish mysticism and concepts of reincarnation, and how I can personally work on fixing myself and my little part of the world.
Then I went to India, as a result of an event that I do not believe was random. It was 2010, and I was very ill with something that was eluding the diagnostic prowess of Western physicians. I have a passing familiarity and great respect for Ayurvedic medicine, so I researched the most reputable Ayurvedic hospitals in India, and one of them happened to fit my time frame and pocket book, so off I went to Tamil Nadu.
On the day that I arrived, the physician in charge was out on maternity leave, or paternity leave, I guess, since his wife had just had a baby. The doctor who was filling in was Dr. Sundar Raman. The moment I saw him I burst into tears. I knew that he was somehow related to me, from a previous life. Unlike a Western doctor, he jumped up and ran around to my side of the desk and held me while I cried.
I stayed at the Ayurvedic hospital for ten weeks, undergoing intensive treatments. And every day, Dr. Sundar came to my cottage and we studied together for three hours. He is a Brahmin priest. We studied the correspondences between the Hindu Vedas (the scholarly tracts behind the religion) and the mystical backbone of the Torah, which is the parallel system of the Hebrews. We drew diagrams and studied passages from both disciplines.
I learned that in Hinduism, the understanding of reincarnation is that we are engaged in a process of purification of the soul. With every incarnation, we should strive to live as clean and true a life as possible, with the aim of ascending through the layers of unreality and misdeeds that are inherent in the human condition, and eventually reaching a pure state, finally merging with the Cosmic Consciousness.
And what about illness? Where does that fit in? Illness, says Dr. Sundar, is a pathway to salvation. If we pay true attention to the message of illness, and realize that it is a process of cleansing from sins committed in previous lives, we can use it as a springboard to ascending in consciousness and leaving the Karmic Wheel.
I was shocked at this, and very excited, because this is exactly what Judaism says about the purification process, and the ability of illness and misfortune to cleanse and actually benefit us, even though the process can be very unpleasant.
On difficult days, I try to remember what Dr. Sundar says: Illness is the key to salvation. And I fervently hope that in the merit of my suffering and the good deeds that I try to do, I don’t have to have a next life; and that if I do, it could be easier than this one.