It's okay to say goodbye to someone because rebirth teaches us that we'll be together again anyway, right? This is false, because it is bad vision! I held this view for a few years. This vision was a crutch, a coping mechanism to help me deal with the painful emotions brought on by being separated from the people who mattered to me.
Unlike some of my other Buddhist friends from a Judeo-Christian background, I had no problem accepting the idea of rebirth. My belief in rebirth made it easier for me to become a Buddhist. I remember that since I was a child, the concept of rebirth seemed logical to me. I do not know why. Once, when I talked to my mother about it, she was just as baffled. There have been no encounters in our family or community with Hindus or Buddhists. My beliefs were simply part of who I was.
When I first started discovering Buddhism, I spent time contemplating rebirth. Sitting with different Buddhist groups and learning from several teachers exposed me to ideas such as:
• At some point, everyone has been your mother
• Or you were their mother
• Or both
Other teachings focused on the idea that we have all been in the lives of others in different ways, over many lifetimes. Or, people you have had difficulties with continue to appear in your various lives until those problems are resolved. A classmate and I started out having a combative relationship and started joking that he had killed me in another life. I don't know how we got there, but we did. After a while, he stopped liking the joke because the idea of it being true upset him. When I realized it wasn't funny for him anymore, I stopped joking with him about poisonings, stabbings, and shootings. We just became friends.
At one point, I started using the idea of rebirth as a way to comfort myself when I knew I might not see someone again. This made it easier for me when friends moved far away, a colleague I liked left the company, or a classmate I liked left. As a defense, or in response to the attachment I had for this person, I reminded myself that they were leaving now, but I would probably see them again in another life. For the most part, it helped me feel less sad.
This approach was useful to me. As I progressed in my Buddhist practice, wrote about my experiences with losing key family members, and interviewed Buddhist teachers about their experiences with death and grief, I I began to see the error of my ways.
In a discussion with my teacher, I asked, "Is it better to celebrate death and be sad about birth?" I expected him to validate me and tell me I was right. Instead, he kindly told me that when someone dies, you don't know what their rebirth will be. What if this person was reborn in a lower realm? He taught that my wish for others is that they not come back at all.
This brief but meaningful exchange paved the way for me to reconsider my reliance on rebirth to avoid the pain of separation. I shouldn't use the idea of rebirth to make myself feel better about someone leaving my life. This idea of hoping to see someone again in another life is selfish. I began to understand my thoughts on rebirth as a form of arrested development. Instead of sitting with my feelings of loss and abandonment, I tried to block out those feelings. There was no need to deal with the sadness, I could just put everything aside: I was going to see my friend again. Probably not for many years, and with no memories of this life together, but it would happen. And how did it go for me? It didn't stop me from feeling sad or missing the people who were gone. It just kept me from doing the necessary work in my practice.
I wouldn't want any of us to be together in a future life, the goal is to experience freedom from suffering and stop coming back. I don't want to lean on rebirth as a crutch. I don't want the idea of future lives to prevent me from working with my attachment to others. It’s time to put down the crutch and continue walking the path.