By Steve Klein
A while back I was reading accounts of people’s near death experiences. Whether these actually represent what happens after death is not the issue for me. I found them interesting nonetheless. For example, in one account a man was wandering through heaven and admiring the palatial homes that a number of folks had there, until he came to one poor hovel which stood out from the rest because of its impoverished condition. It turned out that this was to be his home. When he asked why, it was explained to him that the homes were built with materials that people “shipped” to heaven during their lifetimes. The materials basically consisted of selfless deeds, and because he had done so few, his house reflected this. Nor was he allowed to live anywhere else as you had to live in the home you had “built” for yourself. This reminded me of the story Eruch used to tell so often about Bahlul building castles in heaven.
Another account was from someone who had been afflicted with a crippling disease. He had always resented this condition and felt bitter about its imposition until he “died” and found himself in a classroom where an advanced soul was teaching the assembled crowd about reincarnation. On the blackboard were the names of several diseases. The instructor explained that ordinarily the shedding of sanskaras (although he didn’t use those terms exactly) was a slow process, but that it could be speeded up if one voluntarily took on one of these diseases during the next life. The man saw himself raising his hand and volunteering for the disease which he had been unhappily suffering from for so many years. When he woke up in his hospital bed, he found that his attitude toward his disease had changed considerably, and he was able to overcome the self pity and bitterness which had been his constant companions.
A feature common to all the accounts I read was the “life review.” In this, one sees one’s life pass before one’s eyes, but this time around, one feels the sorrow and pain one’s selfish acts may have inflicted on others. One also experiences approbation for any good deeds one has done, although these tend to be fewer and farther in between. Partly, it seems, because the good deeds tended to consist of spontaneous moments where one is kind to another without having giving it a second thought. (Which reminded me of a different story Eruch liked to tell: that of the prostitute who kicked some straw to a cow on her way to an assignation.)
It also seems that in between lives one will make a goal for the next life and during this life review you see to what extent you reached that goal. This got me to thinking. I have to confess that my life has been relatively easy. So much so, that when I mentioned this to someone who was talking about all the suffering he had experienced in his life since coming to Baba, the other person said, “Oh, you must be on a vacation incarnation.” “A what?” I asked, and was told that every so often, one gets a break from the hardships of life with a vacation incarnation. As I thought more about this, I developed a theory as to why I got this break. Undoubtedly, as I was going through my last life review, it was pointed out to me that my self appointed goal for that just finished life, which had been to love God, had not been fulfilled. Because one’s ego no longer comes to one’s defense in the same way after death, I had to admit the truth of this. But — because the ego doesn’t entirely disappear — I imagined that I had cried, “But wait, it’s not my fault. I had to slog so hard just to get by. From morning to night I was busy just trying to survive. Give me a cushy life in the West next time, where I don’t have to worry about such things, and then you’ll see, I’ll be thinking about God all the time.”
“Really?” my instructor asked with no apparent sarcasm.
“Of course,” I boldly asserted. “Just watch.”
And so I was given exactly what I asked for, a cushy life where I didn’t have to worry from moment to moment, or even year to year, about how I could maintain my existence, and yet I find that I still devote very little time to thinking about God. Eruch once said that life reviews are not particularly pleasant and I am beginning to dread my upcoming one. The sages used to say that just being born as a human was an incredible boon; one that should not be wasted in frivolous self indulgent pursuits. So what about being given a vacation incarnation? What can I possibly say to excuse myself this time? There’s nothing for it but to try to start remembering Baba with every breath from here on in.
However, as much as the pall of my life review shadows me now, there is this much to be said for a vacation incarnation. Despite my self indulgences, my inability to think about Baba, or to love (or, often, even be kind to) others, I can still claim that I love God. For Baba has said that if we think ourselves more fortunate than many, many others, we are loving God. And it’s impossible to have a vacation incarnation and not at least be aware of one’s great good fortune even as you realize you’re wasting a golden opportunity to immerse yourself in thoughts of Him.