Room with a View|Feb 14, 2005 7:52 AM| by:

Karma and Reincarnation

Karma and Reincarnation: The Key to Spiritual Evolution and Enlightenment by Dr Hiroshi Motoyama; Edited and translated by Rande Brown Ouchi

Hiroshi Motoyama is a parapsychologist, psychic and healer who is also a practising Shinto priest.  Although understated in the book, this living connection with Japan’s ancient wisdom seems to give Dr Motoyama’s ideas their coherence and clarity, as well as an extra layer of spiritual strength.  Shinto in its true form is itself understated.  It has no founder and no fixed set of dogmas, but has merely evolved with the people and landscape of Japan.  Thus it venerates the expanses of nature but adapts just as well to an enclosed urban world.  It balances the eternal and the traditional with the continuous cycles of change within human society and the natural world.  Shinto allows the Japanese to see divine possibilities in rock formations, streams and mountains.  At the same time, multinational corporations raise shrines to Inari, the god of the rice harvest who has become the god of business success.  There are no contradictions between these old and new faces of Shinto, for one follows directly from the other.  In the same way, Shinto is capable of absorbing and adapting external influences, such as Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism, and subtly integrating them into its spiritual consciousness. Although it is a distinctively Japanese spirituality, its kami, or deities and nature spirits, are universal archetypes.

The influence of Shinto enables Dr Motoyama to draw widely from Vedantic and Buddhist philosophy, as well as some of the most recent insights of modern psychology and physics. The result is not the eclectic, spiritual butterfly quality of some New Age thinking in the West, but a holistic philosophy with the quiet confidence of an ancient and continuing tradition. Shinto is therefore the backdrop to Dr Motoyama’s thought, and being an eminently practical path it enjoins him root his spirituality in lived experience, to address the challenges affecting real human beings today instead of engaging in abstract speculations.

Dr Motoyama takes as his starting point the Vedantic concept of the three-bodied self.  This consists of the gross body, which undergoes the physical processes of birth, death and rebirth; the astral or subtle body, the repository of thoughts and emotions that acts as the vehicle for transmigration; and the causal body, a purer consciousness ‘most closely related to the Absolute’. Rather than focussing on the dissolution of individual consciousness as a goal, like many Vedantic thinkers, he helps his clients to make sense of their present lives, emotions and attachments and achieve emotional equilibrium.  Instead of breaking radically with the karmic cycle, his approach seeks to ease the burden of karma, to overcome negative patterns and so accumulate wisdom. In its subtlety and its awareness of complex processes, this method expresses a gentler and often overlooked side of Vedanta.  It is as valid, and valuable, as the ascetic tradition, indeed they are two sides of the same coin.

This human-centred approach is reflected in an emphasis on the importance of past lives. These play a crucial role in the spiritual consultations that Dr Motoyama undertakes with clients. Previous incarnations are part of the individual’s total experience and so understanding them helps to resolve conflicts and release emotional blockages in our present lifetimes.  The calm and measured approach that results enables us to rise above negative karma, by casting off unnecessary and harmful attachments and putting worldly ambitions in a healthy perspective.  Thus past life regression is an extension, and a transcendence, of the psychotherapeutic process. It reflects a view of the individual that is holistic in a cosmic sense and takes a long view of spiritual progress. Our individuality consists of a delicate balance of ‘nature and nurture’, genetic inheritance and environmental influences, but it also contains the accumulated experience of many lifetimes. This inclusive, indeed universal view of the human person retains the respect for the individual that is at the heart of good psychotherapy, whilst reminding us of the interconnectedness of all life and the karmic thread that runs through human existence.

Karma and Reincarnation is peppered with examples of past life regression that intrigue and delight the reader.  There is the case of the boy from Kamakura whose school phobia and other behavioural problems were related to a previous life in which as a senior clan chief he met defeat and violent death.  Similarly, Ms Y, a devotee of the Tamamitsu Shinto shrine with which Dr Motoyama is associated, killed herself in a previous incarnation in which she had been forbidden to marry beneath her station.  Ms Y’s clinical depression took hold when she was twenty-one, the same age as her former self’s suicide.  As Dr Motoyama writes:

‘The cause of her depression was her attachment to her former love and to the resulting sorrow. This attachment, the emotions and thoughts that occurred as a result of her unfulfilled love, remained in her soul after her physical death. When she reincarnated in this life and reached the same age, the sorrowful mind manifested and overtook her.’

For Ms Y, therefore, the usual insights of psychotherapy could never be more than partially helpful.  She is being harmed psychologically by an entrenched attachment, which is also blocking her spiritual progress. Through awareness of her past experience, she is able to neutralise that attachment, to become more integrated as a human being and evolve as a spiritual being. Dr Motoyama’s consultations thereby fuse the roles of therapist and spiritual adviser. He gains insights from creative visualisation and a form of shamanic trance as well as the more conventional methods of the therapist.

Past life therapy remains contentious in the secular West, with its linear view of history and time and its materialistic view of the individual. Yet awareness of past lives is increasingly interpreted as arising from the collective unconscious, or as an aspect of the ‘genetic memory’ encoded in DNA. As well as individual karma, Dr Motoyama stresses the importance of family karma and national karma, collective characteristics or patterns of attachment that can determine the destiny of human groups, but which can be transformed by human awareness.  An example of the latter might be Japan’s transition from militaristic power to peaceful state with strong pacifist leanings.  Although imposed by military defeat, this transformation could not have lasted without a change of consciousness on the part of the Japanese people, collectively and individually.

In the East, the work of past life therapists can arouse controversy as well.  Mainstream Hindus and Buddhists, for example, doubt or deny that previous incarnations can be directly remembered.  However the memory of past lives can also be seen in the context of akashic records. Akasha is the Vedic term for primary substance, the stuff of the universe, and it can be said to contain a record of every thought, word and deed, every form of consciousness that has occurred or will occur in the cosmos.

Hiroshi Motoyama’s practice straddles East and West, uniting the most positive elements of each.  He applies the systematic approach of Western scientific investigation, but gives that science the spiritual dimension that the West too often overlooks. This restores to the Western rational tradition the openness to ideas that has been its greatest strength.  At the same time, it rescues spirituality from ethereal and irrational realms.  In the context of Eastern thought, Dr Motoyama restores to karma its empowering dimension. Far from being mere fatalism, as it is frequently presented, this ancient law of cause and effect equips individuals, and human communities, to exercise rational choice. Dr Motoyama does not refer to Sri Aurobindo, but his subtle balance of detachment and engagement, human and cosmic, material and spiritual will be familiar to any student of Integral Yoga. The ancient Japanese wisdom at the root of his thinking deserves more positive recognition in the world.

Aidan Rankin

 (Aidan Rankin has a PhD in Political Science from the London School of Economics. He is Research and Publications Officer for the Economic Research Council in London.)