It’s hard to believe in this wide universe that there is only one chance to live in a lifetime. There are many controversial issues surrounding the subject of reincarnation. Who created those ideas? Were these ideas created to steer people away from their religion? Did reincarnation exist before the New Testament? The Bible, the Quaran? Or can the truth of reincarnation be traced to the Holy Scriptures?
What is reincarnation? Answer to this question can be different for different people, but the basic meaning of reincarnation is Life before the life that we are living in. Reincarnation is a select process for the role the person will have to live. A person may reincarnate immediately after death, or may be assigned to a dimension of life, which is a plane before heaven, until it is time for the person’s reincarnation. Reincarnationists believe that most people can reincarnate many times, due to an ongoing goal, or to initiate important decisions that would insure the future of the world.
This might sound strange but it could be possible if a person believes in reincarnation. Reincarnation is the rebirth of a soul in a new body, which is when a person dies the body disintegrates but the soul live in new body. People who believe in reincarnation say that you might have had many lives before your present life and will have many lives after the current life. All do not believe in reincarnation, in spite of its uncertainty that it is not true; several phenomenon’s’ can be explained by the theory of reincarnation.
There are many aspects in our day to day life such as poverty, crime, pain and suffering and they play an important part in our lives in some way. There are many question to this as why do people suffer from poverty? , why are many children deprived from food, shelter and clothes? , This all questions can be explained by the Hindu’s belief in Karma. The definition of karma according to people who believe in it is that human suffers because they are being punished for their sins that they had in their past. That is that if someone is poor it is because they did some wrongful acts in their past life. God would not punish innocent people and he punishes only the people who did sinful activities in their past, and who deserved to be punished.
Critics can argue to this comment by saying that a innocent child can be born with deadly diseases is because their parents might have done wrongful acts in their life. The child now suffers due to his parent’s actions and not because of his own actions. God works in mysterious ways, right? Well, since God is all-powerful, He would be able to destroy the deadly disease from an infant and as stated before He would not tolerate the suffering of an innocent person. Since God does not destroy evil from the world, it’s safe to say that people who suffer deserve to suffer because they are paying for a sin they committed in their previous life.
One of the other feelings that we all might have is déjà vu. We go to some place and we feel that we have seen this place before even though we might have never been there in our entire life. People are convinced that they feel they have visited a place before but they can’t swear it was not in their current life. This feeling can be explained by stating that they are remembering an experience from there past lives. This proves that reincarnation is true and it really exists. The other side of the argument can be that people who are experiencing déjà vu are not remembering experiences from their former lives. What critics can argue about this déjà vu feeling is that someone having that feeling might have seen a particular place in a photograph or might have seen something similar. This argument is very likely to happen. But this theory does not explain all the cases, not every situation can be explained by simply saying the person saw a photograph or saw another place that was similar to it. Sometimes it can be true that if some one feels that they have visited a particular place before, they might be recalling it from their past lives.
We human beings have memories of our former lives and some of us have flashbacks of our former life also. People who are against reincarnation would say that these memories are false. But what supports their statements? There have been scenes where people actually remember names of places they lived in and also the name of the people at that time. Those cases have led to studies of various types.
This overall concept of reincarnation is an increasing on going topic today, sustained by TV broadcasts; we see various movies that show reincarnation, there are many books out there. Most of them are related to the world of esoterically wisdom and occult phenomena. The belief of reincarnation in Eastern religions has spread across the world. Many Orthodox Christians seems the concept of a second chance fairer than the concept of chance.
There have been discoveries that the early Christians also toyed with reincarnation, until it was declared that it was not in accordance with the faith. The Bible according to some people shows the “evidence” that Jesus referred to a past life. Jesus asserted in his message that were delivered by Padgett and Samuels that reincarnation is false, and offered physical evidence why it cannot be accomplished. This again leads to the question of why do some many people report their past lives? Out of which many have been validated as we talked earlier.
There are many religions in the entire world some of which are Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, and many others. Different religions have different perspectives on reincarnation. We will see how different religions believe in reincarnation and how their societies are affected by such thing.
Reincarnation in Hinduism:
Hinduism believes in body and soul. Your soul returns to your body after your death. Your status or caste in next life depends on your deeds of the previous life. This is called Reincarnation in Hinduism. According to Hinduism a soul reincarnates again and again on earth till it becomes perfect and reunites with it Source. And, also being has to live many lives and under go many experiences before it attains perfection and becomes one with the Divine. The Hindu theory of creation suggests that creation begins when the individual souls becomes separated from the undifferentiated One. It continues as the evolution of life and consciousness in matter progresses. During this process some of souls journey back to God through the transformation of matter or prakriti in which they were hidden. The remaining souls continue their existence and rejoin Him in the end, not through transformation but through a process of great destruction. Thus the great cycle of creation, stretching over millions of years, comes to its logical end.
Once the creative process is switched on, the individual soul hides behind the false personality called jiva, the subtle body and an outer personality called the mind and the body or the ego. The Jiva is made up of the subtle body, the subtle mind and a little bit of discretionary intelligence called buddhi. The ego is made up of the gross physical body, the surface consciousness consisting of innumerable desires and impulses. Since the Jiva and the ego have no idea of Truth or reality, they suffer from ignorance and illusion. They give way to illusion and suffer from the delusion of the outer mind. They behave selfishly as if they are different from the rest of creation and end up with suffering, indulging in acts of self perpetuation.
In order to explain how the effects of past actions of man are preserved in the atman after the death of the body and how these effects produce their fruit in a future rebirth, the Hindu theologians make a distinction between two types of body: the gross body (sthula-sarira) and the subtle body (sukshma-sarira or linga- sarira).9 The gross body is that which is visible and tangible, consists of the eternal senses, of organs, etc. The subtle body, instead, is not visible nor tangible, and is composed of subtle elements, like: budclhi (intelligence), manas (mind), ahamkara (ego), etc. The subtle body encircles the atman and se~ves as a connection between the soul and the gross body. Every action of man leaves its imprint (samskara) on the subtle body and remains as a seed which has to mature and produce in due time its proper fruit.11 while the gross body disintegrates at death, the spirit continues to be in contact with the subtle psychic body which it carries forward. The subtle body together with all the tendencies, merits or effects of karma is said to migrate with the soul (atman) at death.
At the end of each life, the physical body and the gross mind return to the elements of the earth. But the Jiva and the soul survive death. Depending upon the nature of their past deeds, and the number of subtle bodies it has developed, the Jiva either ascends to the heaven or descends into the hell. Hiding the indwelling spirit in its core, the Jiva stays in these worlds till it exhausts the fruits of its good or bad actions. Having learned some new lessons, it then returns to the earth again to take another birth. Thus the Jiva undergoes innumerable births and deaths. It becomes bound to the mortal life and the laws of nature. Death provides temporary relief, but exposes the individual Jiva to the risk of falling into greater depths of suffering.
Hinduism speaks of the existence of heavens above and hells below. The former are sun filled, inhabited by gods and innumerable divine souls. The latter are dark worlds (asurya lokas) and populated by all the dark and demonic forces. The individual souls go into these worlds according to their deeds. But they do not stay there permanently till the end of destruction. They go there basically as a consequence of their actions, either to enjoy or to suffer. In either case they learn the lesson and come back to earth to start a new earthly life all over again.
Thus according to Hinduism, life in heaven may be longer, but still it is a mortal life only. There, a Jiva may enjoy extreme pleasures, but it would not last for ever. Once its karma is exhausted, the Jiva is thrown back from the heights of heavenly glory into the turmoil of unstable earthly life.
As the soul moves from one body to another, it carries forward something along with it, which is nothing but what it has accumulated performing various deeds. This can be thought of as a global account that each soul is associated with, irrespective of the place it is in currently. This account would have both the logs of good and bad deeds it performed similar to the credit and liabilities. This account is what is called karma.
This karma is further categorized. In the example let us assume the person on moving to the new place gets a new local account into which initially some of the credits and liabilities from the global account get transferred to start with. Subsequently till the person is in that location the day to day transactions occur onto that local account. Similarly from the global account of karma, which is known as prArabdham, some portion is transferred to the new local account when the soul reincarnates into a new body and this portion of karma is called sanchitham. In the day to day affairs the soul enjoys the fruits of the good deeds from the karma bank and suffers the fruits of bad deeds. In the process due to the deeds it performs the soul accumulates new good and bad karma to add to its account. This newly earned karma is called AkAmiyam. When the soul leaves that body the balance gets transferred back into the global account. The journey goes on.
In the life we see in this world, we work to get the results. The work is the action and the result is fruit of it. This is exactly what karma is. The fruit may come in a minute in a day, in a week, in a year or much later that the delay may even make one forget the action that triggered the fruit got! If there is no correlation between the action and the fruit, won’t the world be in a mess?! This theory would also explain why unexpected things happen – either good or bad. (As the situation undergoing due to the function of various past deeds.)
The reincarnation (in conjunction with karma) explains why some people never get to see the fruits of their action in their life time and why some children die when they have committed no sin. When the karma exists one would have to undergo the fruits of it for which one may have to go through multiple births in multiple forms – plants, animals… The bank doesn’t let you go unless the account is settled!
The Hindu concept of reincarnation is alien to western people. It is mostly misunderstood and misinterpreted, partly because of ignorance and partly because of some inherent mental blockage natural to the single minded pursuit of religious faith along rutted paths. It generated a lot of controversy because it directly challenges the western notion of one life, one heaven and the final Day of Judgment.
Reincarnation in Islam:
Let’s explore into Islamic religion on what are their preferences on reincarnation? At first we must learn about the history and their procedure way of preaching to Allah. The term is Islam means submission to the will of God, and the person who submits is referred to as “Muslim.” Allah is the Arabic name for God, and Arab Christians use the name Allah to describe the God of the Bible. The founder of Islam religion is Muhammad, who was born in 570 A.D. At age 40 he claimed to begin receiving revelations from a spirit being he believed was the angel Gabriel. These later were recorded and became the Qur’an, Islam’s holy book.
There are Six Articles of Faith that all Muslims hold to.
* The first is that “there is no God but Allah.”
* The second Article of Faith is belief in a hierarchy of angels, of which the archangel Gabriel is the highest. Each Muslim is assigned two angels, one to record his good deeds and the other to record the bad deeds. At the bottom of the angelic hierarchy are the jinn, from which we get the word “genie.”
* The third Article of Faith is belief in 104 holy books, with the Koran as the final revelation.
* The fourth is belief in the prophets. According to the Qur’an, God has sent a prophet to every nation to preach the message that there is only one God. 124,000 prophets have been sent, most of them unknown but some of them biblical characters, including Jesus. Muhammad, though, is the prophet for all times, the “Seal of the Prophets.”
* The fifth Article of Faith is belief in predestination. All things, both good and evil, are the direct result of the will of Allah. Islam is a very fatalistic religion.
* The sixth Article of Faith is the Day of Judgment. Those whose good deeds outweigh their bad will be rewarded with Paradise; those whose bad deeds outweigh their good will be judged to hell.
Islam has five pillars of their religion where every Muslim must be obligated to it.
* The first is reciting the creed, “There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his messenger.”
* The second is prayer: 17 cycles of prayer, spread out over five times of prayer each day. They must wash in a prescribed manner before they kneel down and face toward Mecca.
* The third pillar is almsgiving, 2.5% of one’s income for the poor.
* The fourth pillar is fasting during the lunar month of Ramadan. Muslims must forego food, water and sex during daylight hours.
* The fifth pillar is making the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lives.
Islamic scholars and theologians, certainly among the 90 percent of Sunnis, unanimously and unequivocally reject reincarnation as contrary to Islam. This is true of scholars in every field jurisprudence, theology, Qur’anic commentary (tafsir), or Hadith commentary. Their reason: the absolute centrality in Islam that each individual lives and dies according to his or her own destiny, carries his or her own load, will be resurrected and called individually to answer for his or her intentions and actions and their consequences, and will be judged individually by God (with perfect justice) according to the same criteria. Islamic religion rejects reincarnation for many such reasons as follows.
Despite its darkness and density in contrast to water, air, and light, earth is the means and source of all the varieties of the works of Divine art, in meaning it has some superiority to the other elements. Likewise, the human body is a most comprehensive and rich mirror to the manifestations of the Divine Names. It has been equipped with the instruments to weigh and measure the contents of all of the Divine treasuries. Belief in Islam requires belief in (both bodily and spiritually) Resurrection and Judgment, when justice is meted out to each individual soul according to that individual’s record in life.
According to reincarnation, those who live a bad life pass into a lower form of life (animal, tree, etc.) after death. After undergoing cycles of suffering, their lives will end in some way, which means the end of the cycles of reincarnation. Therefore, by its very nature, reincarnation is not a final end and its cessation means contradicting the world’s final destruction and the Supreme Judgment. To get round this, believers in this doctrine have a doctrine of forgetfulness the soul “forgets” its past existence. In that case, for all practical purposes, having had (or not having had) a past existence is of no consequence. Plainly, the doctrine contradicts itself and has no bearing on the “current” life except to make the individual accept his or her condition, whatever it may be, without actively striving for salvation.
If each individual is supposed to go through a painful cycle of transmigration to acquire eternal bliss, then God’s promise to punish the wicked and the sinful, and to reward the good and the righteous, has no meaning for the individual life. This is unacceptable for Providence, for God is neither vain nor futile in His actions. In Islam, there is no sin that God will not forgive, as He wills. God, the All-Mighty, reveals and promises in the Qur’an that He will forgive those who repent and sincerely intend to abandon such behavior. In this respect, God does not see how great or little your sins are, nor how late your penitence is.
This may mean that a sinner who disobeys and rebels against God throughout his or her life can be forgiven by a single act of true repentance, done with absolute sincerity and a profound understanding of servant hood and dependence on God. Due to his/her very nature, every sentient person feels the pain of committing sins in his/her conscience and is given during his/her life-time so many opportunities to repent for them and reform himself or herself as there will be left no requirement for another, painful life cycle. As for those whose hearts have been hardened and sealed so that they will no longer be able to awake to the truth, it would mean nothing to them even if they were to pass through innumerable cycles of life.
God is indeed All-Mighty. There are approximately 6 or 6.5 billion people in the world. In recent times, we have learned how to prove that each individual is absolutely unique? an idea urged by many verses of the Quaran by looking at fingerprints or genetic codes. These facts are so reliable that they are used in forensic science to identify criminals. For example, over 30 years, of millions of pictures of snowflakes not one of which is ever exactly like any other. We cannot even imagine how many snowflakes fall in one season on one mountainside, let alone all that have ever fallen. If reincarnation educates souls so that they become pure enough to attain salvation, would it not be logical for those returning to the world to remember their former, sinful lives and draw lessons from them? If the souls of the wicked experience many cycles of life in different bodies, would it not be an utter injustice and mercilessness to many innocent parents because of their babies who have come to their world carrying the souls of those wicked ones?
Whereas Islam declares that every person comes to the world sinless. When a body reaches an age (say of 3 or 4), a measure of physical maturity, should we not expect the soul to emerge with all that it has acquired and achieved in its former lives? Should we not expect prodigies? There have been quite a few prodigies in recorded history, but their special gifts need not be the result of former lives. Such cases can be explained equally well as a special combination of genetic characteristics occurring in a particular time and place, which is attributable to Divine Grace and Favor. Added to this is the individual’s own supreme effort to understand his or her own gift in the tradition and context in which it is given.
If being a human or an animal is the consequence of one’s deeds in a former life, which existed first: human or animal, the higher or the lower? Advocates of reincarnation cannot decide or agree on any form for the first creature, for every generation implies a preceding generation in order that the succeeding generation may be considered as the consequence of the former. And if generation is an evil, as some who believe in reincarnation also believe, why did the whole thing start?
Reincarnation in Christianity:
“Religion is among other things a way of reconciling people to the fact that some day they must die, whether by the promise of a better life beyond the grave, rebirth, or both.”–GERHARD HERM, GERMAN AUTHOR.
IN MAKING a promise of an afterlife, virtually every religion depends on the belief that a human has a soul that is immortal and that upon death journeys to another realm or transmigrates to another creature. As noted in the preceding section, the belief in human immortality has been an integral part of Eastern religions from their inception. But what about Christianity and Reincarnation? How did the teaching become central to this faith? Well in order to talk about Reincarnation and Christianity we will have to really talk about the underlining definition of Reincarnation since for the most part Christians do not fully believe in Reincarnation.
Definition: The belief that one is reborn in one or more successive existences, which may be human or animal. Usually it is an intangible “soul” that is believed to be reborn in another body.
Most Christians do on the other hand believe in that the soul is immortal. Let us now see now see how this idea of the immortal soul came to be part of the Christian dogma. Later we will talk about the different beliefs surround the immortality of the soul.
Christianity Adopts Plato’s Thoughts
Genuine Christianity began with Christ Jesus. Concerning Jesus, Miguel de Unamuno, a prominent 20th-century Spanish scholar, wrote: “He believed rather in the resurrection of the flesh, according to the Jewish manner, not in the immortality of the soul, according to the [Greek] Platonic manner. . . . The proofs of this can be seen in any honest book of interpretation.” He concluded: “The immortality of the soul . . . is a pagan philosophical dogma.”
When and how did this “pagan philosophical dogma” infiltrate Christianity? The New Encyclopedia Britannica points out: “From the middle of the 2nd century AD Christians who had some training in Greek philosophy began to feel the need to express their faith in its terms, both for their own intellectual satisfaction and in order to convert educated pagans. The philosophy that suited them best was Platonism.”
Two such early philosophers wielded a great deal of influence on Christianity’s doctrines. One was Origen of Alexandria (c. 185-254 C.E.), and the other, Augustine of Hippo (354-430 C.E.). Regarding them, the New Catholic Encyclopedia states: “Only with Origen in the East and St. Augustine in the West was the soul established as a spiritual substance and a philosophical concept formed of its nature.” On what basis did Origen and Augustine form their concepts about the soul?
Origen was a pupil of Clement of Alexandria, who was “the first of the Fathers explicitly to borrow from the Greek tradition on the soul,” says the New Catholic Encyclopedia. Plato’s ideas about the soul must have influenced Origen deeply. “[Origen] built into Christian doctrine the whole cosmic drama of the soul, which he took from Plato,” noted theologian Werner Jaeger in the Harvard Theological Review.
Augustine is viewed by some in Christianity as the greatest thinker of antiquity. Before converting to “Christianity” at the age of 33, Augustine had intense interest in philosophy and had become a Neo-Platonist.* Upon his conversion, he remained Neo-Platonist in his thinking. “His mind was the crucible in which the religion of the New Testament was most completely fused with the Platonic tradition of Greek philosophy,” says The New Encyclopedia Britannica. The New Catholic Encyclopedia admits that Augustine’s “doctrine [of the soul], which became standard in the West until the late 12th century, owed much to Neo-Platonism.”
*An adherent of Neo-Platonism, a new version of Plato’s philosophy developed by Plotinus in third-century Rome.
In the 13th century, the teachings of Aristotle were gaining in popularity in Europe, largely because of the availability in Latin of the works of Arab scholars who had commented extensively on Aristotle’s writings. A Catholic scholar named Thomas Aquinas was deeply impressed by Aristotelian thinking. Because of Aquinas’ writings, Aristotle’s views wielded a greater influence on the church’s teaching than Plato’s did. This trend, however, did not affect the teaching about the immortality of the soul.
Aristotle taught that the soul was inseparably connected with the body and did not continue individual existence after death and that if anything eternal existed in man, it was abstract, no personal intellect. This way of looking at the soul was not in harmony with the church’s belief of personal souls surviving death. Therefore, Aquinas modified Aristotle’s view of the soul, asserting that the immortality of the soul can be proved by reason. Thus, the belief of the church in the immortality of the soul remained intact.
During the 14th and 15th centuries, the early part of the Renaissance, there was a revival of interest in Plato. The famous Medici family in Italy even helped establish an academy in Florence to promote the study of Plato’s philosophy. During the 16th and 17th centuries, interest in Aristotle waned. And the Reformation of the 16th century did not introduce a reform in the teaching about the soul. Although Protestant Reformers took issue with the teaching of purgatory, they accepted the idea of eternal punishment or reward.
The teaching of the immortality of the soul thus prevails in most denominations of Christianity. Noting this, an American scholar wrote: “Religion, in fact, for the great majority of our own race, means immortality, and nothing else. God is the producer of immortality.”
A Theological Dilemma
“THE idea of the immortality of the soul and faith in the resurrection of the dead, are two concepts on completely different planes, between which a choice needs to be made.” These words of Philippe Menoud sum up the dilemma faced by Protestant and Catholic theologians over the condition of the dead. The Bible speaks of the hope of a resurrection “at the last day.” (John 6:39, 40, 44, 54) But the hope of many believers, says theologian Gisbert Greshake, “rests in the immortality of the soul, which separates from the body at death and returns to God, while hope in the resurrection has largely, if not completely, disappeared.”
In that case, a thorny problem arises, explains Bernard Sesboüé: “What is the condition of the dead during the ‘interval’ between their bodily death and final resurrection?” That question seems to have been at the center of theological debate in the last few years. What led to it? And more important, what is the real hope for the dead?
Origin and Development of a Dilemma
The first Christians had clear ideas on the matter. They knew from the Scriptures that the dead are not conscious of anything, for the Hebrew Scriptures say: “The living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all . . . There is no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom in Sheol, the place to which you are going.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10) Those Christians hoped for a resurrection to take place during the future “presence of the Lord.” They did not expect to be conscious somewhere else while they waited that moment. Joseph Ratzinger, present prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, says: “No doctrinal affirmation existed in the ancient Church on the immortality of the soul.”
However, Nuovo dizionario di teologia, explains that when reading Church Fathers, such as Augustine or Ambrose, “we become aware of something new with respect to Biblical tradition–the emergence of a Greek eschatology, fundamentally different from that of Judeo-Christians.” This new teaching was based on “the immortality of the soul, on individual judgment with reward or punishment immediately after death.” Thus, a question was raised about the “intermediate state”: If the soul survives the death of the body, what happens to it while it awaits the resurrection at the “last day”? This is a dilemma theologians have struggled to resolve.
In the sixth century C.E., Pope Gregory I argued that at death souls go immediately to the place of their destiny. Pope John XXII of the 14th century was convinced that the dead would receive their ultimate reward on Judgment Day. Pope Benedict XII, however, refuted his predecessor. In the papal bull Benedictus Deus (1336), he decreed that “the souls of the deceased enter a condition of bliss [heaven], purging [purgatory], or damnation [hell] immediately after death, only to be reunited with their resurrected bodies at the end of the world.”
Despite controversy and debate, this has been the position of churches of Christianity for centuries, although the Protestant and Orthodox churches in general do not believe in purgatory. However, from the end of the last century, an increasing number of scholars have pointed out the non-Biblical origin of the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, and as a consequence, “modern theology now often tries to view man as a unity that is totally dissolved in death.” (The Encyclopedia of Religion) Bible commentators, therefore, find it difficult to justify the existence of an “intermediate state.”
“One should probably note that a belief in reincarnation is not a dangerous belief, in the sense of endangering ones spiritual progress, provided that the individual is not relying on a second chance to get things right. One cannot of course believe in eternal hell and reincarnation at the same time, but since hell is not eternal, this is probably a good thing. But many that we have come across who believe in reincarnation appear to have discarded any belief in there being any souls in darkness. That might not be such a good thing.”