What Is Reincarnation? Reincarnation is the belief that after death the soul separates from the body and takes another body to continue with another mortal life. According to this belief, the souls go through cycles of deaths and new incarnations. A human being, for example, could return to live on earth born as a new character. A reincarnation belief called “transmigration” teaches that the great sinners can be reincarnated as animals or plants. Let’s discover in this article what is reincarnation, how this concept was created and what it implies.
Perhaps the belief in reincarnation began when applying to man the cycle observed in nature: The sun and the moon appear and disappear. Also the seasons, foliage, flowers and many other things in nature have a cycle. So they thought that man died but returned again in another body.
So What is Reincarnation?
Reincarnation is also the result of the human desire to give explanation for the differences in intelligence, health, talent, wealth, etc. between human beings. According to the doctrine of reincarnation these differences would be credit or punishment for behavior in previous lives. Therefore the poor, the sick and the afflicted are blamed by their wretched condition and nothing is done about them because they are paying their fault. The Gospel, on the contrary shows us that God became man in poverty, and that in the poor we find Christ himself.
Man should not make up “answers” to what he can not understand. “St. Anthony the Great, the famous Egyptian abbot was meditating in the wilderness: Why do some die after a short life while others reach an enviable age? Why some are poor and others rich? Why the unrighteous get richer and the righteous are in need? Then he heard a voice answering him:. “Anthony, Anthony, take care of yourself, for that belongs to God’s judgment and for you it’s no use knowing” (Testimonies and Teachings of the Desert Fathers, C. Tescaroli).
What is Reincarnation according to the Law of Karma? Reincarnation is linked to the concept of “Karma”, whereby each pays for their good or bad behavior in their next reincarnation. The soul of one who has good karma “transmigrates” and is incarnated in a higher being, the one who has a bad karma will reincarnate as an inferior being, for example, a cow or a cockroach. In successive incarnations the soul could evolve towards perfection to become a pure spirit that does not need more reincarnations. Then it is immersed forever in eternity.
Proponents of reincarnation believe that the soul is eternal but not the person. The soul inhabits a body and when it is no longer useful, another is obtained. The soul is not individual but a part of “God” or “Brahma”. The aim in the cycles of reincarnations is paying sins of past lives and purifying the soul from evil to reach “enlightenment”, which makes it possible to get lost in the “whole”, the “world soul.” To know oneself as part of “all things” is a sign of enlightenment.
What is the Origin of Reincarnation?
The belief in reincarnation began in India in the seventh century BC That means it’s not as old as the faith of the Jews or the Sumerians, Egyptians, Persians or Chinese. None of these believed in reincarnation, that’s why they built such magnificent tombs.
Buddhism appeared in India, in the fifth century BC and adopted the belief in reincarnation. Later it reached Greece and Rome. Some religions also adopted this human explanation for the problems they could not understand. It had followers among some Greek philosophers. In our times it is among the teachings of the theosophical societies, Indian gurus, psychics and the new age movement which imported many Eastern beliefs.
Reincarnation Meaning and Soul Meaning
Talking about What is Reincarnation, if it can be proven, would be conclusive proof of the existence of “something else” other than the physical body. For thousands of years humans have believed in reincarnation. Based on the knowledge acquired in altered states of consciousness (using certain plants, through meditation, rituals, music, etc.), many religions accept the existence of an immaterial soul that is a part of us, and that does not die when the body dies.
Regressions (using hypnosis, meditation or other techniques) provide access to theoretical lifetimes. Regressions can not be proven scientifically, but the existence of solid evidence (eg the provision of correct data that may not have been known before) can give a fairly solid support to these experiences. Each must judge whether this evidence is sufficient to test the reality of reincarnation, as it seems difficult that science, at least in the short term, will be dedicated to researching this subject, and even if it does, it might never be possible to prove reincarnation, since science cannot prove the existence of something not physical and measurable.
Read also: Is Reincarnation Real? 3 Arguments For And Against It
What is Reincarnation for Eastern religions and traditions?
All religions called dharmic (originating in Hinduism) state that reincarnation exists in an endless cycle (karma wheel), while good deeds or religious methods (good end, purpose or dharma) are not enough to cause a release or termination of this cycle.
Traditional religions of the various countries of Asia (such as ancestors’ in China in Shinto in Japan) incorporate reincarnation and influence greatly in popular devotion and culture and folklore of these countries.
Hinduism is the cultural and mythological framework in which different religions arise, but popularly speaking of Hinduism generally refers to Brahmanism. In the mythology of the Brahmanic religion, when the body dies, the soul or essential part leaves the body that has become useless, and is driven by iamadutas (servants messengers of God Iamaraya, in charge of judging the karma of all the souls in the universe); and judged. In ancient Egypt, their actions were weighed against the weight of a feather.
Depending on the good or bad actions, the soul is reincarnated into an upper, middle or lower existence. This includes states of existence from heaven to hell, human life being an intermediate state. This ongoing process is called samsara (‘roaming’). This term comes from the Sanskrit verb samsrí ‘flow together’, ‘wandering’. Eastern religions understand this roam (entertainment, greed, accumulation of property, “killing time”) as a life without purpose or meaning.
Every soul travels this wheel, ranging from the demigods (devas) to even insects. The direction of the trajectory of a soul within this universe marks the content or meaning of its actions. According to modern popular Hinduism, the state in which the soul is reborn, is determined by its good or bad actions (karma) done in previous incarnations.
The quality of the reincarnation is determined by the merit or lack of merit that each person has accumulated as a result of their performances; this is known as the karma of what the soul has done in our life or past lives. The Urantia Book (reveal compendium of many religions) recognizes that what survives is everything that contributes to increased awareness. The souls of those who do evil, for example, reborn in “lower” bodies (such as animals, insects and trees), or even lower states of hellish experience and miserable lives. The weight of karma can be changed with the practice of yoga (increased awareness to the contemplative and unitive higher levels, depending on the degree and form of yoga), good deeds (generosity, keeping inner joy, responding well to bad), asceticism (forgoing what prevents growth of the soul, or prevents communication of superior beings to the individual) and ritual offerings (value of gratitude and generosity).
In Hindu religious thought, belief in the transmigration first appears as a doctrine in Indian religious compilation of the Upanishads, a part of the Vedas, a Hinduism religious base that has more than 2000 years. The Upanishads lived between 800 and 400 BC.
The release of reincarnation in Hinduism or liberation from samsara, is obtained after having atoned or exceeded the weight of their karma, that is, all the consequences from both their good and their bad deeds. This process is continued until the individual soul, Atman, is fully evolved and can identify or reach Brahman, the creator of the world, where it is saved from the misfortune of the need for more rebirths. This identification happens through yogic and ascetic practices. After its last death it goes out of the material universe and merges into the Divine Light (the effulgence emanating from Brahman), where the individual soul (atman) and the universal soul (Brahman) are identical.
Read More: Do Buddhists Believe In Reincarnation?
Jainism is another religion that is part of Hinduism and that arose along with Buddhism. In Jainism, souls are reaping the fruits of their good or bad deeds through successive lives. When a Jain has accumulated enough good karma, the purity of his soul can reincarnate in a deva or semi-divine entity, although this situation is not permanent, so Jains seek a final release.
Reincarnation is a central belief of this religion, also part of the Hindu. Sikhs believe that the soul has to transmigrate from one body to another as part of its evolution. This evolution will ultimately result in a reunion with God through the purification of the spirit. If one fails to do good deeds, the soul continues to reincarnate forever. The soul is purified by chanting the Naam, bearing in mind the Waheguru and following the path of Gurmat.
Buddhism arose from Hinduism but included a major reform of their views to form a new religion. It has a different notion of reincarnation, because on one side it denies it and on the other it approves it. It denies that there is an entity in the individual which can be reincarnated; there is no soul, no mind nor spirit. But it approves it by saying that a new individual appears depending on the actions of a previous one. This notion of reincarnation is closer to palingenesis than to transmigration. Buddhists believe that through the realization of Nirvana, the state of total liberation, the cessation of rebirth is also achieved. Within Buddhism, the Tibetan tradition refers very often to reincarnation, while others, like the Zen tradition, largely ignore it. Thus, the Tibetan tradition states that one has to pass by the Bard, which literally means “intermediate state” or “transition state” immediately after death.
Buddhism, unlike Christianity and Western religions, has never devised a similar thing to that of “immortal soul”. In Milindapañha (or Questions of King Milinda), the sage who instructs the king finds there is a continuity between individuals (I am you and you are me), but nothing to transmigrate from one to another.
To understand such apparent differences, we should understand the subjects of time and eternity, and how a Macro-being is separated from Eternity into billions of beings who are indvidual and believe to be apart from each other. Buddhism presents the Nirvana as cessation of the wheel of births and deaths. The Mahayana school also adds a more universal meaning, noting that the cycle will end when all living beings have attained enlightenment.
Read More: Do Buddhists Believe In Reincarnation?
The Shinto did not identify themselves as a religion until the arrival of Buddhism to Japan, so it influenced their beliefs. Being a mixture of animism and shamanism, it already had a notion of reincarnation in the form of spirits or souls that were related to the living. Shinto doesn’t have a clear way to salvation, but takes it from the Japanese Buddhism. With the absorption of Buddhist notions, the Shinto transformed some of its mythical elements as the so-called kami, beings that are reincarnated with various missions.
Taoism is a philosophical view of life and nature, the religious aspect is characterized by ways of life, health and meditation. According to Taoism, the Tao is a supreme principle that pervades the universe, and therefore its nature is immortal and eternal. Reincarnation exists because nothing dies, being all life flowing within the Tao. The Taoist seeks to end not reencaranción directly, but follows the path of Tao whose culmination is to become one with the Tao, and thus achieve immortality.
What is Reincarnation for Western religions and traditions?
Classical Greek philosophy
Diogenes Laertius describes a story in which Pythagoras recognizes a deceased friend in the body of a dog that had been hit. Plato is the leading exponent of reincarnation in Greek than we know of. In his work ‘Phaedrus’ he writes how the human soul, according to the level of discovery of the truth that one has reached, is born in a type of body or another. These existences represent evidence that souls are perfected. In ‘Republic’ he explains how the mythical warrior Er died in the battlefield but returns after ten days, during which he sees the souls of men waiting to be reborn.
Similar to Christianity, reincarnation is not admitted as official doctrine, although it appears in the Kabbalah. In the Zohar (2.99b) we can find: “All souls are subject to transmigration, and men who do not know the ways of the Lord, be blessed; they do not know they are being brought before the court, not when they come into this world and not when they leave it. They are ignorant of the many transmigrations and the secret test they must pass. ”
The current official Christianity rejects reincarnation as a majority considering it a doctrine contrary to the Bible, hardly reconcilable with the belief in resurrection, and opposed to the Saviour design that holds this religion.
However some Christian denominations, treated as apostates by mainstream Christianity, have promoted the belief in reincarnation (mainly New Thought churches and New Age) or spirits (many spiritualist churches identify themselves as Christian). These groups normally assure that such doctrines can be found in the Bible or in the early Christian tradition.
Read also: Reincarnation In The Bible: What Does It Say?
Christian groups in the early days, as the Gnostics, took the belief in reincarnation, very early on as a key element, since this view was widespread in the ancient world. Some of the Fathers previous to the First Council of Nicaea tried to combat this philosophy addressing this issue in their writings, openly rejecting and trying to show its contradictions to people who in those days probably had no problem taking that belief within the framework of early Christianity, this being influenced by many earlier traditions.
Tertullian was perhaps the Father who dealt with the issue further, dedicating eight chapters of his treatise on the soul to the question of what is reincarnation. Other authors such as Irenaeus, also tried repeatedly to refute the belief in reincarnation.
What is Reincarnation according to Modern thinkers
Among modern thinkers who have criticized reincarnation we find Rene Guenon who writes on the subject in his book The Spiritist Error. He claims that this doctrine was never taught in the West, and that the mid-nineteenth century, Herder and other German thinkers linked to utopian socialism, translated and adapted initial reports coming from India on Vedanta, Upanishads and other sacred books from that culture. Supposedly, this “secret doctrine” (as they called it) served to explain why workers were being exploited as a result of the Industrial Revolution, saying that after a sacrificial life in this world they would be “reincarnated” in a state of happiness.
In the twentieth century, a number of schools such as Helena Blavatsky’s Theosophy or Spiritualism of Allan Kardeck, endorsed and developed this theory. Important to the subject of reincarnation is the contribution of Rudolf Steiner, father of anthroposophy. Easterners, with little knowledge of the language, accepted it at first, but then chose to adopt the term rebirth. Daisaku Ikeda, in his book “Life, An Enigma”, says that while the latter is the right concept, we must accept regression techniques or hypnosis supposedly leading to knowledge of past lives, because “that’s somehow true”.
Read also: Reincarnation Facts That Science Has Proved
Western popular culture
During the twentieth century the West has been more permeable with regard to assimilation of religious-philosophical concepts from former British and French colonies of Asia, perhaps only for the purpose of enlarging the popular taste for the exotic and remote, and to indirectly legitimize expansionism with advertising on its side.
However, the life situation of many European and American victims of agonizing uncertainty caused by economic chaos and political tensions that directly affected the personal conceptions of life, led to new ways of dealing with questions about suffering and existence. It was auspicious for the US and European aristocracy to avoid internal tensions between the spiritualists in vogue (which have always had suggestive influence, especially among young people) and political consensus. Reincarnation diverted social injustices toward metascientific explanation of karma, to the point that in the United Kingdom and the United States numerous Orientalists sects made emphasis on political neutrality and the resignation to the disastrous events of social and personal life, in favor of a search for the “truth” in “self” in order to transcend a better existence in a supposed afterlife.
The notion of Renaissance or as translated in the West, Reincarnation also among Aboriginal Plains in the United States: consider that in life, man walks the Red Road or the Black Road and dying makes a trip culminating, if one has followed the first path, in ceasing to being born and dying and to retreat in the center of all things. Instead, a life of selfish and misguided affections, is worthy of new births to purge their behavior.
This concludes the answer to our original question: What is reincarnation? and its history and different points of view. Keep browsing this website to learn more about reincarnation and life after death.
Reincarnation in America – Documentary