The class was World Religions 101 at Kansas University: 1976. The topic was how all the religions of the world dealt with the idea of reincarnation. The class had ninety four students and the lecturer was a professor who had taught the class for what seemed centuries. He heard every question imaginable.
The professor went into the same lecture he had done for decades. First he showed that Christians believed in reincarnation because according to the Bible, they would have another body in another life which is a form of reincarnation. He discussed reincarnation from Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and other faiths.
From the back of the room came a voice cutting through his lecture.
“Sir, I have a question!”
The professor no longer took questions and kept going with his lecture.
“Hey, OLD GUY, I have a question.”
“No questions in this class today, we have too much to cover. You may ask my aid after class.”
“Purple Ninja Pirates!”
The professor’s face showed surprise, and then it completely relaxed with his mouth slightly open.
“How did you know THAT from my life? Nobody knows that,” said the professor.
Phil laughed his laugh. It was JUST as fun as he hoped.
“Well I had to get your attention somehow. Here’s the question,” said Phil. “Ready?”
The entire class looked at Phil standing at the back of class by the door.
“In all the major religions of the earth, reincarnation is pitched as problem to be solved. Some think it’s a problem that the spirit comes back over and over. Others think reincarnation is the result of natural cause and effect that creates the same emergent phenomenon over and over and that the ego itself is a delusion. Some think being judged by a God and then thrown into hell is an after-life reincarnation problem. Others see reincarnation as a fable and THAT is the problem and to solve it reincarnation may someday be a software program where we download ourselves in the future like in TRON or the Matrix.”
He raised his finger to the air.
He looked around and raised his finger again for emphasis.
He played with the silence with an impish smirk.
“SO! … What religion doesn’t see all the potentials of reincarnation as PROBLEMS? What religion sees every incarnation, regardless of its source, as truth manifesting it’s own evolution, even in the hell worlds or during a bad movie? What religion sees that the problem isn’t whether or not the spirit or meat reincarnates but whether or not the Paradox of self has the WILL to BE FREE ANYWAY and not blink at truth’s current evolution, but rather to laugh as it, dance as it and be the truth itself evolving?”
“There isn’t one I know of,” said the professor, “Especially considering the notion of truth being a living, evolving reality.”
“DON’T START IT!” cried Phil as he wagged his finger menacingly to the class.
Phil laughed and smiled deeply and fondly at the professor through his eyes and tapped on his watch in morse code. He held up his left arm in a vertical fist at his side with the back of his wrist showing his wrist watch. His smile was whimsical and kind.
Then, he disappeared into thin air.
The class reacted in ninety four different ways. But the professor’s eyes never left the spot where Phil stood. The professor stood there a full five minutes ignoring all the student’s comments and reactions. And then, he laughed with a paradoxical blend of choice and fate.
The professor felt a warm feeling as he checked his watch. It was an A-11 wrist watch that he wore in World War 2 in the South Pacific as a medic. For some reason he remembered his best friend’s death and missed him at that moment. He hadn’t thought about him in over a decade.
“Purple ninja pirates!” he chuckled as he packed his briefcase. “How did he fucking KNOW that? Damn, I miss that bastard,” he muttered.
He raised his face to the class.
He picked up his briefcase. It had a personalized name plate under the handle: “Doctor Phillip J. Pirsig.”