I was in India in 1993 to help manage a community for orphans and blind children on behalf of a German charity. During the monsoon season, the week of the big Hyderabad earthquake, I took an all-day train ride almost all the way across the subcontinent (from Bombay through Hyderabad to Rajamundri) to visit an obscure town near the Bay of Bengal. In the train compartment with me were several Indian businessmen and a physician, and we had plenty of time to talk as the countryside flew by from sunrise to sunset.
Curious about how they viewed our children diagnosed as having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), I asked, "Are you familiar with those types of people who seem to crave stimulation, yet have a hard time staying with any one focus for a period of time? They may hop from career to career and sometimes even from relationship to relationship, never seeming to settle into one job or into a life with one person — but the whole time they remain incredibly creative and inventive."
"Ah, we know this type well," one of the men said, the other three nodding in agreement.
"What do you call this personality type?" I asked.
"Very holy," he said. "These are old souls, near the end of their karmic cycle."
Again, the other three nodded agreement, perhaps a bit more vigorously in response to my startled look.
"Old souls?" I questioned, thinking that a very odd description for those whom American psychiatrists have diagnosed as having a particular disorder.
"Yes," the physician said. "In our religion, we believe that the purpose of reincarnation is to eventually free oneself from worldly entanglement and desire. In each lifetime we experience certain lessons, until finally we are free of this earth and can merge into the oneness of God. When a soul is very close to the end of those thousands of incarnations, he must take a few lifetimes to do many, many things — to clean up the little threads left over from his previous lives."
"This is a man very close to becoming enlightened," a businessman added. "We have great respect for such individuals, although their lives may be difficult."
Another businessman raised a finger and interjected. "But it is through the difficulties of such lives that the soul is purified."
The others nodded agreement.
"In America they consider this behavior indicative of a psychiatric disorder," I said.
All three looked startled, then laughed.
"In America you consider our most holy men, our yogis and swamis, to be crazy people as well," said the physician with a touch of sadness in his voice. "So it is with different cultures. We live in different worlds."
Read more from the introduction to the "Edison Gene" here.