Saturday, May 2, 2009
Reincarnation, Transactional Analysis and Karma
One of the most fascinating tales narrated by Rosemary Ellen Guiley in her Tales of Reincarnation is that of Gail Bartley. Gail was an attractive young woman who worked as an advertising professional in New York. Soon after her marriage ended in divorce, she fell in love with Roger. As an advertising executive she had ample opportunities for meeting other attractive young men, she did not really like Roger, her mother took an instant dislike for him and a voice in Gail’s head kept screaming all the time, “Get away. He hates you. He is trying to destroy you!” In spite of all these Gail felt irresistibly drawn toward Roger. And he abused her constantly, hurt her emotionally and did not hesitate to beat her up occasionally; once he even tried to choke her to death during one of the fairly frequent violent outbursts between them. The relationship had wrecked her personal life, drained her emotionally, destroyed her self-esteem. However, in spite of all this, Gail found herself unable to get away from the man – and she completely failed to understand her love-hate relationship with this man, as did the other people around her.
It was this riddle of her relationship with Roger that eventually sent her to a past life regressionist. Upon regression and reaching her first past life experience, Gail found herself standing in a bedroom with high ceilings. She was now a twenty-three year old woman called Joyce in the 1920s. The experience, completely new to Joyce, was strange and eerie: she was at once the woman Joyce and Gail, who was watching her. Gail experienced that Joyce was shaking with fear, fear caused by a man who was with her in the room, lying on their bed – and that man was none other than Joyce’ s husband and the man Gail knew as Roger.
And then Gail experienced the man getting up from their bed and walking towards her. Joyce was now shaking in terror and Gail’s breath changed as she watched it, and she began to hyperventilate. The regressionist asked Gail what was happening and she told her the man was strangling her. Joyce fell on her knees at the violence of the attack and then collapsed on the ground as the man continued to throttle her. However, Joyce did not die. Before that could happen, the man released her throat and walked away, leaving her on the ground, struggling to breathe.
In a later part of the regression, Gail once again felt Joyce’s terror. Joyce was in their room again, that same night, and she hears him approaching her, climbing the stairs leading to their room. As he comes near, she sees he has something in his hand, which he is hiding behind him. His eyes are cold and she breathes in the hatred that emanates from him.
He rips open her gown with the knife he was hiding behind him, and brutally stabs her with it. Gail feels choked, her breath escapes her and she realizes she is experiencing the last moments of her life as Joyce. Coming out her body and hovering in a corner of the room, Joyce watches what is happening. One of the things she witnesses is her husband’s utter shock at what he has done, his complete disbelief and intense remorse.
Further regressions reveal a sad tale of revenge and guilt spanning across life times, centuries and continents. It all started in ancient Rome where Roger and Gail in a long ago lifetime lived as brothers. The two of them loved each other deeply and thoroughly enjoyed their life as Roman citizens. In her regression, Gail sees herself as the younger brother, a blond young man filled with raw energy and impatience to win a chariot race that is about to begin. The race begins and his chariot takes off like a storm, another chariot keeping abreast with him. And then the tragedy takes place. His chariot swerves violently, hits the other chariot, the man driving that chariot thrown off his balance and falls, his head hitting his own chariot wheel, causing an instant death. In the middle of his shock he realizes the saddest truth: the man killed by his mistake is none other than his beloved brother.
This life follows a series of lifetimes revealed by the regression, in each the elder brother is violent and vengeful, and the younger brother, Gail of this lifetime, is his victim. In one of these, Gail is a boy of seventeen, George, who lived in the Old West of America with his ill tempered, hateful, domineering father and his mother who was terrified of him. On one occasion his father catches George with his girlfriend, a girl who had grown up with him as his playmate. The two were together in the barn and they were kissing and feeling each other. The father orders George back into the house and then he rapes George’s girlfriend. One night the boy is asleep in his tent while camping out with his father in the wilderness. He wakes up hearing repeated dull thuds and realizes his father is digging something in the night. His father has been furious with him that evening about some small thing, maybe he hadn’t tied up the horses properly. Sudden realization comes: his father is digging a grave for him! And then the father hits him on the head with a shovel and he is dead and out of his body. He sees his father dragging his body to the pit he had dug and burying him in it.
Transactional analysis [TA], a branch of psychology/psychiatry born in the 1960s, speaks of what are called scripts.
Speaking of scripts, transactional analysts say that “in the life of every individual the dramatic life events, the roles that are learned, rehearsed, and acted out, are originally determined by a script.”
These psychological scripts are very much like theatre or film scripts. As Muriel James and Dorothy Jongward say in their best-selling book Born to Win, “Each has a prescribed cast of characters, dialogue, acts and scenes, themes and plots, which move toward a climax and end with a final curtain. A psychological script is a person’s ongoing program for a life drama, which dictates where the person is going with his or her life and the path that will lead there. It is a drama an individual compulsively acts out, though one’s awareness of it may be vague.”
According to transactional analysis, these scripts begin to be written, or programmed, in early childhood, based on the transactions between parent figures and children. Depending on the nature of these scripts, children become “heroes, heroines, villains, victims and rescuers and – unknowingly – seek others to play complementary roles.” Eric Berne, one of the founders of the transactional analysis movement says: “Nearly all human activity is programmed by an ongoing script dating from early childhood, so that the feeling of autonomy is nearly always an illusion – an illusion which is the greatest affliction of the human race because it makes awareness, honesty, creativity, and intimacy possible for only a few fortunate individuals. For the rest of humanity, other people are seen, mainly as objects to be manipulated. They must be invited, persuaded, seduced, bribed, or forced into playing the proper roles to reinforce the protagonist’s position and fulfil his script, and his preoccupation with these efforts keeps him from torquing in with the real world and his own possibilities in it.”
Explaining how these scripts are formed, transactional analysis explains that children are amazingly sensitive and pick up messages about their self-worth right from the beginning. The first experiences of the infant are extremely important in this. From whether they are touched and hugged or ignored, from whether they are given warmth or left coldly alone, and later from other forms of behaviour of the significant people around him, like whether they are crooned to or spoken to without affection, from the messages in the eyes of these people, from their smiles and frowns and other facial expressions and so on, the child makes conclusions about himself and his self worth. These initial conclusions he forms become powerful scripts in his unconscious and they influence his future behaviour powerfully. In later stages, when they are grown enough to understand, children write scripts based on the verbal messages they get from their parents and other significant people. For instance, a mother’s comment watching her child explaining something to her doll that she would make an excellent teacher one day can become an unconscious script in her that eventually leads her to choose teaching as her profession. Or it could be a visiting relative’s unthinking comment that that the little boy is going to be a terror when he grows up that takes the shape of a script.
In whatever way they are formed, these imprints on our psyches are non-verbal and are hidden deep in our unconscious. That is, they are in the form of images, feelings and so on, and not in words, and are hidden from the light of our consciousness. And they exert powerful influences on us and shape us and our lives. These scripts decide what we become, what our strengths and weaknesses will be, how we act and react, whether we will be winners or losers, whether we will derive success and happiness from life or defeat and unhappiness, whether we will be persecutors, victims or rescuers, whether we will be heroes and heroines or villains, whether we will be the Beauty or the Beast, Cinderella or Narcissus, whether we will be healthy, balanced and effective or suffer from anger-proneness, assertiveness problems, communication problems, relationship problems, sexual problems, violence, manias, phobias, neurotic behaviour and so on.
Indian mythology refers to what transactional analysts call scripts, the unconscious imprints on the psyche, by several names. One of them is what all Indians understand as Chitratgupta, the accountant of Yama, the lord of death. According to Indian mythology, Chitragupta keeps an account, much as Gabriel does in Semitic mythology, of every deed we do on this earth and of every thought we think. And when we die and go to the other world, Chitragupta opens the pages containing our account in his book and depending on whether we have done good or bad, depending on whether we have acquired punya [merit resulting from virtuous thoughts and deeds] or papa [sin], or it is a more or less equal balance of the two, he sends us on our onward journey, to heaven to enjoy or to hell to suffer or to the earth to be reborn.
What the myth of Chitragupta tells in short is that our future life will depend on our present actions and thoughts. Indian mythology is absolutely right: it is indeed Chitragupta that decides our future. However, he decides our future not merely after our death, but does so at all times. It is Chitragupta that has decided what we are now. For, our present is a result of these hidden pictures generated in our dark depths by our past thoughts, actions and reactions. And what we will become in the future is being written now – in the same dark depths of our psyche, by our present thoughts, actions and reactions.
Chitragupta literally means hidden [gupta] picture/s [chitra]. He makes us what we are at all times. Our hidden scripts make us what we are at all times.
Indian philosophy uses other words to describe the transactional analyst’s scripts. Karmas, vasanas [psychological dispositions] and samskaras [more or less the same as vasanas] are nothing but TA’s scripts. Karmas are the deep imprints that we write on our psyches through our thoughts, actions and reactions. It is these karmas that form our vasanas and samskaras.
However, there is a major difference between the approach of TA, essentially a product of western thinking, and Indian philosophy. While transactional analysts say that scripts are decisive in shaping our self perceptions, behaviour patterns and life events, they say that the earliest scripts are formed in our early infancy, or, according to some, in our pre-natal state. According to Indian philosophy, however, we carry these scripts [karmas/vasanas/samskaras] with us from life to life.
Study of karma is as old as Indian thinking and the Indian mind has studied it in great depth. Indian philosophy classifies karmas into sanchita [accumulated], prarabdha [‘begun’ or currently active], and agami [future, yet to become active]. Sanchita karmas are an individual’s total karmas that he has acquired through the several lifetimes he has lived. Prarabdha karmas are those that are active in this lifetime – the psychological dispositions we are born with in this lifetime, which are of course subject to modification due to our thoughts, actions and reactions. The prarabdha karma is part of our sanchita karma. The remaining part of sanchita karma that is waiting to be lived out in future lifetimes is called agami karma. Just as transactional analysis speaks of rescripting, of wiping out bad [negative] scripts and writing fresh, positive scripts in their place, through the swish and other techniques, Indian spiritual traditions describe several ways of eliminating negative [bad] karma and creating positive karma in their place, and these are universally known and have been practiced by the common man in India for millennia.
Indian philosophy differentiates between an individual’s personal scripts [vyashti karma, vyashti in Sanskrit meaning an individual] and a groups, or family’s or society’s or community’s, collective karma [samashti karma, samashti in Sanskrit meaning total or collective] which is a sum total of the karma of all the individuals involved in the group or family or society or community, as the case may be.
Life events that happen to us, people we attract or repel, associate with or keep away from, are all decided by a combination of the vyashti karma of each of us in association with the samashti karma, says Indian philosophy.
Gail Bartley’s tale of successive reincarnations from Tales of Reincarnation narrated briefly at the beginning of this article speaks of karma/scripts being carried across lifetimes because of their immense power.
In her lifetime as the younger Roman brother, though it was not an intentional act of hers that caused the elder brother’s death, she, as the younger brother, concludes she is responsible for the tragic death. The deep love between the brothers gives birth to an intense feeling of guilt with which she, her psyche, is branded. An almost indelible script of guilt is written, the power of the script so alarming that she carries it in her psyche across lifetimes and centuries and continents. Hers is a victim script, which will make her vulnerable to suffering and pain, until the power of the script/karma is exhausted. And the elder brother who lost his life blames his younger brother for the accident and, in his dying moments, vows vengeance, perhaps unthinkingly and unconsciously, thus writing a powerful script of revenge, a persecutor script, in his psyche. Through his several lifetimes across two thousand years, as father, as husband and possibly through many other relationships, he persecutes his younger brother, killing him again and again, raping the younger brother’s girlfriend, and committing the numerous other crimes some of which Gail’s past life regressions take us to.
The Mahabharata tells us the story of Amba, who carries her persecutor script across three lifetimes. When we first meet her in the epic, she is a beautiful young princess, one of the three nubile daughters of the king of Kashi. According to the Indian custom of the day, a swayamvara has been arranged for all three sisters, in which each would choose a husband for herself from the kings and princes who have assembled there from all over the land. However, while the swayamvara is in progress, Devavrata Bheeshma, the Bharata prince who has renounced the throne, the most renowned warrior of the day, a living legend whose name has by then become a synonym for integrity, valour and duty, arrives there in a single chariot. He announces, following the ancient custom, his intention to carry away all the three princesses who had been declared veeryashulkas by their father – that is, to be won through valour, a very common and highly respected custom among the warrior class of the day. He, as custom required, challenges the assembly of warrior princes and kings to stop him if they could, and then boards the chariot with the princesses. The assembly challenges him and a fierce battle ensues with Bheeshma alone on one side and all the other princes and kings together on the other. Eventually they are all forced to retreat before the Bheeshma’s might, and Bheeshma carries the princesses to his capital, Hastinapura, where he hands them over to his [step-]mother, Queen Satyavati, so that the princesses could be given in marriage to his half brother Vichitraveerya.
However, when the marriage is announced, the eldest of the princesses, Amba, informs Bheeshma that she wouldn’t be willing to marry Prince Vichitra since she has already given her heart to another king. She tells Bheeshma she and King Shalva have been in love for a long time and they have pledged themselves to each other. Respecting her wish, Bheeshma, after consulting his ministers and priests, sends her to Shalva.
Shalva is one of the kings who was present at the swayamvara. He too had fought Bheeshma and had been defeated. When Amba comes and requests him to marry her, a request she makes overcoming her maidenly modesty with great difficulty, Shalva refuses, saying that she now belonged to another and he cannot have her. Amba begs repeatedly, but he does not relent. Eventually she leaves. Shalva will not have her, she cannot go back to her home now, for that would be shameful, and she cannot go back to Bheeshma either for the same reason, and since there is no other place she can go to, she goes to an ashram to live a life of asceticism there. She does not know whom to blame for her fate – herself, for not revealing to her father her love for Shalva and also for not jumping out from Bheeshma’s chariot when he was carrying her away, Bheeshma for abducting her though it was done according to perfectly acceptable customs of the day, or Shalva for rejecting her, or her father for announcing to the world that she could be had with valour, without finding out about her love for Shalva.
In the ashram, however, an ascetic convinces her that her all suffering is because of Bheeshma – had he not abducted her, she would have been fine. Soon she meets in the ashram the great Parashurama who is on a visit. Parashurama is Bheeshma’s teacher in the martial arts and an unsurpassed warrior, though very, very old now. When he asks Amba the reason for her sorrow, promising help, she tells him that her sorrows are because of Bheeshma and Bheeshma should pay with death for his crime. Parashurama goes to Bheeshma and asks him to have Amba back, or accept his challenge for a battle. Bheeshma accepts the challenge since he wouldn’t on any account now have Amba back and a fierce battle that lasts for many days ensues between the guru and the disciple. In the battle neither is victorious, and when they come to using all-powerful weapons that could destroy the world itself, great sages appear on the spot and stop the battle. Parashurama goes back to continue his austerities, apologising to Amba for his inability to fulfil his pledge to her.
Finding no other solution, Amba now decides to do tapas, austerities, by herself. For years she stands in water and performs tapas, for more years by standing in water and for still more years without eating. According to one version of her story, she dies and part of her becomes the crooked, seasonal river Amba [because her tapas had evil intensions] and the other part is reborn as a princess in the country of Vatsa. She continues her austerities in this life too and eventually Lord Shiva appears before her and asks her what she wants. When she expresses her desire, Shiva blesses her that she would be able to have her vengeance by killing him in her next birth. She then immolates herself in a funeral pyre and is reborn as Shikhandini, the daughter of the Panchala king Drupada.
She has a long way to go still, before her desire for vengeance that she has been carrying with her from two lifetimes ago is fulfilled. Since she is born a princess and since princesses do not fight battles, she gets herself transformed into a male and becomes Shikhandi. It is as Shikhandi that years later she becomes the cause of Bheeshma’s death in the Mahabharata war – Bheeshma, of course, has become very, very old by then.
Amba carries her will to vengeance, her prosecutor script, through three lifetimes before the power of that script, the power of that karma, is exhausted through fulfilment. We have in the Mahabharata story of Nalayani yet another story of scripts lasting over lifetimes, though the script here is entirely different and the course it takes is at the very core of the story of the immortal epic.
Nalayani, also known as Indrasena, was the wife of an old ascetic called Maudgalya. He was a leper, impetuous, lustful, jealous, and prone to furious anger. His body was skin and bones, it was crooked and stank, his skin was wrinkled, his head bald, and, because of leprosy, his nails and skin had begun to fall off. But in spite of all this, Nalayani serves her husband devotedly. Pleased with her devotion, Maudgalya reveals his true form to her – he is none of the things he appeared to be. He is neither a leper, nor impetuous or lustful. He is not aged, nor is his body crooked or ugly. In fact, he is a great sage with amazing spiritual powers who can do anything he wishes. The sage asks Nalayani what he can do to please her. And Nalayani tells him that he should assume five different forms and pleasure her sexually, for she is filled with lust. The sage does that and a long, long time passes, during which they plunge into erotic pleasures assuming different forms and living in different worlds. Eventually the sage tires of the sexual games they play and decides to go back to his spiritual practices. But Nalayani’s voracious sexual hunger is still not satiated and she begs Maudgalya again and again to continue their games and not to go back to his austerities. When she insists on this repeatedly, the sage curses her that in her next lifetime she will have five husbands, for no one man can satisfy her boundless sexual hunger. It is this Nalayani, according to the Mahabharata, that is born as Draupadi in her next birth and she gets the five Pandava brothers as her husbands. Draupadi’s powerful sexuality is legendary in the Mahabharata, and in some of the epic’s numerous folk versions and regional retellings, she becomes sexually insatiable.
There are several other stories about Draupadi’s past lives. According to one of these, she was the daughter of an ascetic and though she was extremely beautiful, she did not get a husband. Unhappy, she performs austerities to please Lord Shiva and to ask a boon from him. Shiva appears at the end of her austerities and in her excitement, she repeats five times that she should get a husband. Shiva blesses her that she would have five husbands in her next lifetime. And it is this young female ascetic that is reborn as Draupadi.
The Mahabharata also tells us that in one of her earlier lifetimes before she became Nalayani, Draupadi was a woman called Shaibya Bhaumashwi Ausheenari, an extremely beautiful woman with a voice as sweet as that of the veena, which made you swoon when you heard it. In her swayamvara, in which she had the choice of marrying anyone she wanted from the assembly of princes and kings present, she chose five brothers as her husbands: Salveya, Shoorasena, Shrutasena, Tindusara and Atisara, all sons of King Nitantu. Shaibya was the only wife of these five men whom the epic calls ‘bull-like’, and she had a very happy, contented life with her five husbands. According to this story it is possible that her powerful sexual script was written in this lifetime. It is also equally possible, however, that her choice of five husbands in a swayamvara was itself dictated by a powerful sexual script she carried from a still earlier lifetime, and her lifetime as Shaibya reinforced this script.
Incidentally, Amba and Nalayani, whose stories we have discussed here are both eventually born in the same family, and as sisters. Amba is born as Shikhandini, daughter of King Drupada and subsequently becomes Shikhandi through a gender transformation. And Nalayani is born as Shikhandini younger sister Krishnaa, popularly known as Draupadi.
Several other stories of reincarnation, contemporary and old, talk of people carrying their scripts across lifetimes. These scripts/karmas could manifest in the form of psychological tendencies or needs, phobias or physical illnesses, and in many other forms.
A striking case is that of a woman called Pat from New York, who suffered from chronic headaches. She had tried several doctors and they had all failed her. She had tried a CAT scan and acupuncture, but nothing helped. Her chronic aches that began on her neck and moved onto her head continued. Eventually she tried past life regression, which took her into a lifetime in medieval England, in the Warwick castle near Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford-on-Avon. To her horror she realised that in that lifetime she was the hangman of the castle, who had been forced to hang several innocent people during a time of strife against the castle. What had happened was that Pat developed a script of powerful guilt in that lifetime as the hangman and this guilt was carried over to her present lifetime. She was eventually freed from her guilt and the chronic headaches after the regression experience and the realization of the cause of her suffering.
Dr Brian Weiss, in his best selling Through Time into Healing talks of a woman who was in a past lifetime an extremely beautiful Native American woman. Because of her beauty she was singled out by a member of an enemy tribe. He kidnapped her, and then raped and mutilated her, making her suffer all her life. The reason why Dee had gone for past life regression was her obesity. From her regressions she realizes the reason for her obesity. She realises that she has a deep-seated fear of being beautiful and attractive, resulting from the lifetime as the Native American Woman, and to avoid becoming attractive, she eats so much that she develops obesity. Dee’s is another case of a script, this time of the fear being attractive, written in one lifetime affecting her in another lifetime.
While discussing past life and regression with a group, a young lady once told me of her hydrophobia, which, she believed, had resulted from a past life in which she had drowned in the sea. The young lady had graphic memories of being on a beech, of a rather violent sea and of her getting into water – all from what she believed was another life time, since they did not correspond to her present life time experiences.
All scripts are not negative. There are good scripts and bad scripts, good karmas and bad karmas, good samskaras and bad samskaras. Most of the scripts discussed tend to be negative because these are more dramatic and striking in their effects. But good scripts/karmas/samskaras create powerful good effects too. The Buddhist Jataka tales deal with the Buddha’s past life incarnations and his noble acts in each of those incarnations, which develop such positive scripts or karmas/samskaras that he is eventually led to Buddhahood and freed from all scripts/karmas.
And that is perhaps what all this should mean to us: that whatever we are, is what we have made of ourselves. Which means that while other forces and other people and events do have an influence on us and our lives, to a very large extent what we are and what we shall become are in our own hands. For, while the scripts are powerful, their power on us is only so long as we are in the grip of our unconscious. As we awaken and learn to live consciously, they lose their power over us.
During one of my recent sessions on Mind Management and Self Mastery to a group of trainee officers from a leading national bank, I quoted the Dhammapada saying “All that we are, is the result of what we have thought: It is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts.” I proceeded to elaborate on the implications of this statement to each one of us today and discussed how our unconscious scripts make us susceptible to certain events. Subsequently a young lady from the group wrote to me asking how a victim could be blamed for what happens to her or him.
Well, no one is absolved from responsibility for his or her negative actions – no persecutor is, no criminal is. The victim script of the victim is no justification for the persecutor’s evil acts. So a murderer’s act cannot be justified on the ground that his victim’s script demanded it, a rapist’s act cannot be justified on the ground that his victim’s script called for it. At the same time, our psychological, social, cultural and spiritual scripts do have a powerful influence on what we are, what we do and what happens to us. We have all seen around us people who attract love and adoration wherever they go. We have also seen around us people who are victimised in job after job, get into relationship after relationship in which they are exploited, or end up suffering and grieving wherever they are.