There is a Zen story in which a student approaches his teacher and asks, “Master, what happens after we die?” The Master says, “I don’t know.” The student is taken aback. “What do you mean? Aren’t you a Zen Master.” “Yes, I am.” the master replies, “But I am not a dead one.”
I also do not know just what happens after we die. However, I do believe the universe is rationally ordered and, therefore, must have an Intelligence of some sort at its Source. As the Psalmist says, “The skies proclaim the work of God’s hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.” (Ps. 19)
I also believe this “rational order” has a moral dimension. History shows that, over the long run—albeit sometimes a very long run—evil ultimately fails. Hitler’s supposed 1,000 year Third Reich barely achieved 1% of that target. While Pharaohs and assorted tyrants and their dynasties may appear to fly as they jump off their cliffs, their fall to the earth, generally in a mangled heap, is eloquent testimony to the gravity-like laws of karma. In that context, I cannot believe that death is final—some complete dissolution of the human personality and all its memories. Isaac Newton’s “Law of the Conservation of Energy” suggests that, while the form may change, the content cannot be utterly destroyed.
Furthermore, I cannot believe the traditional Western notion that, on the basis of one’s behavior in one life, an individual will be assigned to the sublime of heaven or the suffering of hell for all eternity. This “one and done” approach is simply irrational, not to mention immoral. For a 5 year old boy buried by the volcanic eruption at Pompei in 79 AD, a 27 year old mother cremated in the ovens at Auschwitz in 1941, and a 64 year old scientist incinerated at the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 to all be judged for all eternity by any common standard makes no sense. Yes, dust in all three—and everyone everywhere else–inevitably leads to dust and ashes to ashes, but that equivalence alone cannot meet Abraham’s challenge to God threatening Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone: “Shall not the Judge of all the Universe do justly?” (Gen. 25:18) As one Sufi writer complained, “Would I had died a mere babe to go directly to Allah before having the chance to sin and be doomed to the fires of Jahannam (Hell)!”
Theologians may quibble as to what constitutes “reincarnation” and just what it is that gets reincarnated. Nevertheless, even though I am not dead, and certainly not a dead Zen master, as I believe that the Universe is both rational and moral, I have no doubt that, in one form or another, in the immortal words of The Terminator, “I’ll be baahck.