1 embodiment in a new form (especially the reappearance or a person in another form); "his reincarnation as a lion"
2 a second or new birth [syn: rebirth]
3 the Hindu or Buddhist doctrine that person may be reborn successively into one of five classes of living beings (god or human or animal or hungry ghost or denizen of hell) depending on the person's own actions
EtymologyFrom Latin re- ( over again) + in + car, carnis (flesh)
- Rhymes: -eɪʃǝn
- A rebirth of a mental capacity, such as a soul, in a physical life form, such as a body
- The idea of such a rebirth, a specific belief or doctrine on how such a rebirth occurs
- A fresh embodiment
- A new, considerably improved, version
- rebirth (1, and to some extent 2)
rebirth of a mental capacity in a physical life form
idea of such a rebirth
- German: Wiedergeburt
new, often improved, version
translations to be checked
Reincarnation, literally "to be made flesh again", is a doctrine or metaphysical belief that some essential part of a living being (in some variations only human beings) survives death to be reborn in a new body. This essential part is often referred to as the spirit or soul, the "higher" or "true" self, "divine spark", thetan, or "I". According to such beliefs, a new personality is developed during each life in the physical world, but some part of the self remains constant throughout the successive lives.
Belief in reincarnation is an ancient phenomenon. This doctrine is a central tenet within the majority of Indian religious traditions, such as Hinduism (including Yoga, Vaishnavism, and Shaivism), Jainism, and Sikhism. The idea was also entertained by some ancient Greek philosophers. Many modern Pagans also believe in reincarnation as do some New Age movements, along with followers of Spiritism, practitioners of certain African traditions, and students of esoteric philosophies such as Kabbalah, Sufism and Gnostic and Esoteric Christianity. The Buddhist concept of Rebirth although often referred to as reincarnation differs significantly from the Hindu-based traditions and New Age movements in that there is no "self" (or eternal soul) to reincarnate.
During recent decades, a significant minority of people in the West have developed a belief in reincarnation. Feature films, such as Kundun and Birth, contemporary books by authors such as Carol Bowman and Vicki Mackenzie, as well as popular songs, regularly mention reincarnation. Some researchers, such as Professor Ian Stevenson, have explored the issue of reincarnation and published suggestive evidence. Some skeptics are critical of this work and others say that more reincarnation research is needed.
Eastern religions and traditionsEastern philosophical and religious beliefs regarding the existence or non-existence of an enduring 'self' have a direct bearing on how reincarnation is viewed within a given tradition. There are large differences in philosophical beliefs regarding the nature of the soul (also known as the jiva or atman) amongst Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. Some schools deny the existence of a 'self', while others claim the existence of an eternal, personal self, and still others say there is neither 'self' nor 'no-self', as both are false. Each of these beliefs has a direct bearing on the possible nature of reincarnation, including such concepts as samsara, moksha, nirvana, and bhakti.
HinduismIn India the concept of reincarnation is first recorded in the Upanishads (c. 800 BCE), which are philosophical and religious texts composed in Sanskrit.
According to Hinduism, the soul (atman) is immortal, while the body is subject to birth and death. The Bhagavad Gita states that:
Worn-out garments are shed by the body;
Worn-out bodies are shed by the dweller within the body. New bodies are donned
by the dweller, like garments.
The idea that the soul (of any living being - including animals, humans and plants) reincarnates is intricately linked to karma, another concept first introduced in the Upanishads. Karma (literally: action) is the sum of one's actions, and the force that determines one's next reincarnation. The cycle of death and rebirth, governed by karma, is referred to as samsara.
Hinduism teaches that the soul goes on repeatedly being born and dying. One is reborn on account of desire: a person desires to be born because he or she wants to enjoy worldly pleasures, which can be enjoyed only through a body. Hinduism does not teach that all worldly pleasures are sinful, but it teaches that they can never bring deep, lasting happiness or peace (ānanda). According to the Hindu sage Adi Shankaracharya - the world as we ordinarily understand it - is like a dream: fleeting and illusory. To be trapped in Samsara is a result of ignorance of the true nature of our existence.
After many births, every person eventually becomes dissatisfied with the limited happiness that worldly pleasures can bring. At this point, a person begins to seek higher forms of happiness, which can be attained only through spiritual experience. When, after much spiritual practice (sādhanā), a person finally realizes his or her own divine nature—ie., realizes that the true "self" is the immortal soul rather than the body or the ego—all desires for the pleasures of the world will vanish, since they will seem insipid compared to spiritual ānanda. When all desire has vanished, the person will not be reborn anymore.
When the cycle of rebirth thus comes to an end, a person is said to have attained moksha, or salvation. While all schools of thought agree that moksha implies the cessation of worldly desires and freedom from the cycle of birth and death, the exact definition of salvation depends on individual beliefs. For example, followers of the Advaita Vedanta school (often associated with jnana yoga) believe that they will spend eternity absorbed in the perfect peace and happiness that comes with the realization that all existence is One (Brahman), and that the immortal soul is part of that existence. The followers of full or partial Dvaita schools ("dualistic" schools, such as bhakti yoga), on the other hand, perform their worship with the goal of spending eternity in a loka, (spiritual world or heaven), in the blessed company of the Supreme being (i.e Krishna or Vishnu for the Vaishnavas and Shiva for the dualistic schools of Shaivism).
JainismIn Jainism, particular reference is given to how devas (gods) also reincarnate after they die. A Jainist who accumulates enough good karma may become a deva, but this is generally seen as undesirable since devas eventually die and one might then come back as a lesser being. This belief also exists in a number of other schools of Hinduism.
SikhismIn Sikhism reincarnation is subject to grace of Guru and God. Though it affirms Karma, it recognises the possibility of modifying ones destiny with the blessings of Guru. The tenth Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh, after initiating Sikhs with Khande di Pahul (Sikh baptism ceremony) declared the Sikhs to have been freed from previous family origin (janamnaash), creed (dharamnaash), rituals (karamnaash), duality (bhramnaash) and pre-determined occupation (kritnaash).
Therefore, the Sikhs hold the belief, as per enshrined by the Sikh Gurus, that they are free from re-incarnation.
BuddhismAccording to the scriptures, the Buddha taught a concept of rebirth that was distinct from that of any known Indian teacher contemporary with him. This concept was consistent with the common notion of a sequence of related lives stretching over a very long time, but was constrained by two core Buddhist concepts: anattā, that there is no irreducible ātman or "self" tying these lives together; and anicca, that all compounded things are subject to dissolution, including all the components of the human person and personality. At the death of one personality, a new one comes into being, much as the flame of a dying candle can serve to light the flame of another.
Since according to Buddhism there is no permanent and unchanging self (identify) there can be no transmigration in the strict sense. However, the Buddha himself is said to have referred to his past-lives. Buddhism teaches that what is reborn is not the person but that one moment gives rise to another and that that momentum continues, even after death. It is a more subtle concept than the usual notion of reincarnation, reflecting the Buddhist concept of personality existing (even within one's lifetime) without a "soul".
Buddhism never rejected samsara, the process of rebirth, but suggests that it occurs across five or six realms of beings. It is actually said to be very rare for a person to be reborn in the immediate next life as a human. However, Tibetan Buddhists do believe that a new-born child may be the rebirth of some important departed lama.
TaoismTaoist documents from as early as Han Dynasty stated that Lao Zi appeared on earth in different persons in different times beginning from the time of Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors. An important scripture of Taoism, the Chuang Tzu (4th century BC), states: "Birth is not a beginning; death is not an end. There is existence without limitation; there is continuity without a starting point. Existence without limitation is space. Continuity without a starting point is time. There is birth, there is death, there is issuing forth, there is entering in. That through which one passes in and out without seeing its form, that is the Portal of the Divine." (Zhuang Zi, 23)
The core Taoist belief on reincarnation is Liudu Lunhui (六度輪回) or the six grades of reincarnations in existence for sentient beings who were once yuanling beings. The six types varied from humans, to beasts and insects where progressively each denotes a level of more severe incarceration for beings who sinned in previous incarnates that do not yet warrant an outright damnation to Diyu. This is in the realm of the living which in practice is akin to purgatory. Humans incarnates who has successfully purified their earthly dirt in their last lives improve on their fate or karma progressively as they reincarnate into their next level of beings, until they voluntarily clense the make-up of their internal Jing Qi Shen or until an involuntary process of absolution called Souyuan.
Western religions and traditions
Classical Greek philosophyAmong the ancient Greeks, Socrates, Pythagoras, and Plato may have believed in or taught the doctrine of reincarnation. Several ancient sources affirm that Pythagoras claimed he could remember his past lives. An association between Pythagorean philosophy and reincarnation was routinely accepted throughout antiquity.
According to Plato's fictionalized dialogue Phaedo, at the end of his life Socrates said, "I am confident that there truly is such a thing as living again, and that the living spring from the dead." However, Xenophon, our other main informant of Socrates' life, does not mention the latter as believing in reincarnation.
Plato presented detailed accounts of reincarnation in his major works. It may be questioned whether Plato's accounts, such as the Myth of Er, which also contain many fabulous details irrelevant to reincarnation, were intended to be taken literally. Marsilio Ficino (Platonic Theology 17.3-4) argued that Plato's references to reincarnation were intended allegorically.
In the Hermetica, a Graeco-Egyptian series of writings on cosmology and spirituality attributed to Hermes Trismegistus/Thoth the doctrine of reincarnation is central.
While ancient Greek philosophers like Plato and Socrates attempted to prove the existence of reincarnation through philosophical proofs, Jewish mystics who accepted this idea did not. Rather, they offered explanations of why reincarnation would solve otherwise intractable problems of theodicy (how to reconcile the existence of evil with the premise of a good God)..
Reincarnation has been a part of ancient Judaism since at least the time of Flavius Josephus' War of the Jews (C.E. 66-73). Flavius Josephus, the Jewish-Roman historian who formerly lived with the Essene Jewish sect, writes about the Pharisee sect, "they say that all souls are incorruptible, but that the souls of good men only are removed into other bodies, — but that the souls of bad men are subject to eternal punishment". The idea of reincarnation, called gilgul, became popular in folk belief, and is found in much Yiddish literature among Ashkenazi Jews. Among a few kabbalists, it was posited that some human souls could end up being reincarnated into non-human bodies. These ideas were found in a number of Kabbalistic works from the 1200s, and also among many mystics in the late 1500s. Martin Buber's early collection of stories of the Baal Shem Tov's life includes several that refer to people reincarnating in successive lives.
Among well known (generally non-kabbalist or anti-kabbalist) Rabbis who rejected the idea of reincarnation are the Saadia Gaon, David Kimhi, Hasdai Crescas, Yedayah Bedershi (early 14th century), Joseph Albo, Abraham ibn Daud, the Rosh and Leon de Modena. The Saadia Gaon, in Emunoth ve-Deoth, concludes Section vi with a refutation of the doctrine of metempsychosis (reincarnation). While refuting reincarnation, the Saadia Gaon states that Jews who hold to reincarnation have adopted non-Jewish beliefs. Crescas writes that if reincarnation were real, people should remember details of their previous lives.
The belief is common in Orthodox Judaism. Indeed there is an entire volume of work called Sha'ar Ha'Gilgulim (The Gate of Reincarnations)http://www.safed-kabbalah.com/ShaarGilgul/Introduction.htm, based on the work of Rabbi Isaac Luria (and compiled by his disciple, Rabbi Chaim Vital). It describes the deep, complex laws of reincarnation. One concept that arises from Sha'ar Ha'gilgulim is the idea that gilgul is paralleled physically by pregnancy.
Many Orthodox siddurim (prayerbooks) have a nightly prayer asking for forgiveness for one's sins that one may have committed in this gilgul or a previous one, that accompanies the nighttime recitation of the Shema before going to sleep.
GnosticismMany Gnostic groups believed in reincarnation. For them, reincarnation was a negative concept: Gnostics believed that the material body was evil, and that they would be better off if they could eventually avoid having their 'good' souls reincarnated in 'evil' bodies.
The overwhelming majority of mainstream Christian denominations reject the notion of reincarnation and consider the theory to challenge basic tenets of their beliefs. Many churches do not directly address the issue, but indirectly, through teachings about death (see Particular judgment). A few consider the matter open to individual interpretation due to the few biblical references which survived the purging of texts considered to be heretical in the founding years of Christianity as a church. New Age Christians contend that reincarnation was taught by the early Christian church, but due to bias and mistranslations, these teachings were lost or obscured. Many of the philosophies associated with the theory of reincarnation focus on "working" or "learning" through various lifetimes to achieve some sort of higher understanding or state of "goodness" before salvation is granted or acquired. Basic to Traditional Christianity is the doctrine that humans can never achieve the perfection God requires and the only salvation is total and complete forgiveness accomplished through the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross wherein he took the sins of mankind. There seems to be evidence however that some of the earliest Christian sects such as the Sethians and followers of the Gnostic Church of Valentinus believed in reincarnation, and they were persecuted by the Romans for this.
A number of Evangelical and (in the USA) Fundamentalist Christian groups have denounced any belief in reincarnation as heretical, and explained any phenomena suggestive of it as deceptions of the devil. Although the Bible never mentions the word reincarnation, there are several passages through New Testament that Orthodox Christians interpret as openly rejecting reincarnation or the possibility of any return or contact with this world for the souls in Heaven or Hell (see Hebrews 9:27 and )
The Bible contains passages in the New Testament that could be interpreted to allude to reincarnation. In Matthew 11:10-14and 17:10-13, John 1:21, the Jews ask John the Baptist if he is Elijah and John replies clearly that he is not, implying that Jesus' reference was meant in a figurative sense (which is what most Christians accept). It should be noted that Elijah never actually "died," but was "raptured" in a chariot of fire. Furthermore, the prophetic texts stated that God would send Elijah back to Earth, as a harbinger of Jesus Christ. As cousins they were born respectively to barren Elizabeth and Zacharias; Jesus, firstborn of Mary and Joseph, was the first to rise from the dead visibly demonstrating his power over death .
In any case, it is obviously difficult to reconcile the idea of reincarnation with the fundamental Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the body.
There are various contemporary attempts to entwine Christianity and reincarnation. Geddes Macgregor, wrote a book called Reincarnation in Christianity : A New Vision of Rebirth in Christian Thought, Rudolf Steiner wrote Christianity as Mystical Fact and Tommaso Palamidessi wrote Memory of Past Lives and Its Technique which contains several methods which are supposed to help in obtaining memories from previous lives.
Several Christian denominations which support reincarnation include the Christian Community, the Liberal Catholic Church, Unity Church, The Christian Spiritualist Movement, the Rosicrucian Fellowship and Lectorium Rosicrucianum. The Medieval heretical sect known variously as the Cathars or Albigensians who flourished in the Languedoc believed in Reincarnation, seeing each soul as a fallen angel born again and again into the world of Matter created by Lucibel (Lucifer). Only through a Gnostic 'Rebirth' in the Holy Spirit through Christ could the soul escape this process of successive existences and return to God.
IslamThough mainstream Islam rejects the concept of reincarnation, a number of sufi groups believe in the concept of dawriyyah (cycles) which has many points in common with reincarnation, claiming that this concept is mentioned in the Quran (Koran), the central religious text of Islam:
- "How can you deny God, when you were dead and God gave you life? Then God will cause you to die, and then revive you, and then you will be returned to God." (Quran 2:28)
Most Islamic authorities rejects this interpretation of the verse, claiming that it refers to the worldly human life and the consequent resurrection in the hereafter.
It is claimed by some sufi groups that the mystics and poets in the Islam tradition have celebrated this belief:
- "I died as mineral and became a plant,
- I died as plant and rose to animal,
- I died as animal and I was man.
- Why should I fear?
- When was I less by dying?"
- I died as plant and rose to animal,
Modern Sufis who embrace the idea of reincarnation include Bawa Muhaiyadeen (see his To Die Before Death: The Sufi Way of Life). However Hazrat Inayat Khan has criticized the idea of reincarnation as unhelpful to the spiritual seeker's quest for unity with God, as it focuses the aspirant's attention on the past and the future, rather than achieving spiritual transcendence in the present moment.
Reincarnation has also been used to reconcile the Quran's apparent identification of Miriam, the mother of Isa as the sister of Aaron and daughter of Amran, all of whom lived well before the first century CE.
Another verse of the Qur-an that may support the theory of reincarnation is: "Thou [God] makest the night to pass into the day and Thou makest the day to pass into the night, and Thou bringest forth the living from the dead and Thou bringest forth the dead from the living, and Thou givest sustenance to whom Thou pleasest without measure." (Quran 3:27) Some verses of Quran that seem to discount repeated lives:
- "And say not of those who are slain in the way of Allah. "They are dead." Nay, they are living, though ye perceive (it) not."(The Quran, 2:154).
- "From the (earth) did We Create you, and into it Shall We return you, And from it shall We Bring you out once again." (The Quran, 20:55).
- "And Allah has produced you from the earth, Growing (gradually), And in the End He will return you Into the (earth), And raise you forth (Again at the Resurrection)." (The Quran, 71:17-18).
- "Nor will they there Taste Death, except the first Death; and He will preserve Them from the Penalty Of the Blazing Fire." (The Quran, 44:56).
- "Is it (the case) that We shall not die, except our first death, And that we Shall not be punished?' Verily this is The supreme achievement! For the like of this Let all strive, Who wish to strive." (The Quran, 37:58-61).
Native American nationsReincarnation is an intrinsic part of many Native American and Inuit traditions. In the now heavily Christian Polar North (now mainly parts of Greenland and Nunavut), the concept of reincarnation is enshrined in the Inuit language. The survival of the concept of reincarnation applies across these nations in varying degrees of integrity, as these countries are now sandwiched between Native and European traditions.
- The Reincarnation Song by Roy Zimmerman
- Eternal Caravan of Reincarnation by Santana
- The Reincarnation of Luna by My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult
- Highwayman by The Highwaymen
- Tommy by The Who
- "Galileo" by The Indigo Girls
- Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory by Dream Theater
- ''Jillian by Within Temptation, itself a recapturing of the central story of the Deverry cycle
Thomas Huxley, the famous English biologist, thought that reincarnation was a plausible idea and discussed it in his book Evolution and Ethics and other Essays. The most detailed collections of personal reports in favor of reincarnation have been published by Professor Ian Stevenson, from the University of Virginia, in books such as Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation and "Reincarnation and Biology: A Contribution to the Etiology of Birthmarks and Birth Defects Volume 1: Birthmarks" and "Reincarnation and Biology: A Contribution to the Etiology of Birthmarks and Birth Defects Volume 2: Birth Defects and Other Anomalies".
Stevenson spent over 40 years devoted to the study of children who have apparently spoken about a past life. In each case, Professor Stevenson methodically documented the child's statements. Then he identified the deceased person the child allegedly identified with, and verified the facts of the deceased person's life that matched the child's memory. He also matched birthmarks and birth defects to wounds and scars on the deceased, verified by medical records such as autopsy photographs.
In a fairly typical case, a boy in Beirut spoke of being a 25-year-old mechanic, thrown to his death from a speeding car on a beach road. According to multiple witnesses, the boy provided the name of the driver, the exact location of the crash, the names of the mechanic's sisters and parents and cousins, and the people he went hunting with -- all of which turned out to match the life of a man who had died several years before the boy was born, and who had no apparent connection to the boy's family.
Stevenson believed that his strict methods ruled out all possible "normal" explanations for the child’s memories. However, it should be noted that a significant majority of Professor Stevenson's reported cases of reincarnation originate in Eastern societies, where dominant religions often permit the concept of reincarnation. Following this type of criticism, Stevenson published a book on European cases suggestive of reincarnation.
There are many people who have investigated reincarnation and come to the conclusion that it is a legitimate phenomenon, such as Peter Ramster, Dr. Brian Weiss, Dr. Walter Semkiw, and others, but their work is generally ignored by the scientific community. Professor Stevenson, in contrast, published dozens of papers in peer-reviewed journals.
Some skeptics, such as Paul Edwards, have analyzed many of these accounts, and called them anecdotal. Philosophers like Robert Almeder, having analyzed the criticisms of Edwards and others, suggest that the gist of these arguments can be summarized as "we all know it can't possibly be real, so therefore it isn't real" - an argument from personal incredulity.
The most obvious objection to reincarnation is that there is no evidence of a physical process by which a personality could survive death and travel to another body, and researchers such as Professor Stevenson recognize this limitation.
Another objection is that most people do not remember previous lives. Possible counter-arguments are that not all people reincarnate, or that most people do not have memorable deaths. The vast majority of cases investigated at the University of Virginia involved people who had met some sort of violent or untimely death.
Some skeptics explain that claims of evidence for reincarnation originate from selective thinking and the psychological phenomena of false memories that often result from one's own belief system and basic fears, and thus cannot be counted as empirical evidence. But other skeptics, such as Dr Carl Sagan, see the need for more reincarnation research. Carl Sagan asked the Dalai Lama what would he do if a fundamental tenet of his religion (reincarnation) was definitively disproved by science.
- Buddhism; see also Anatta, Vajrayana, Mahayana, Theravada, Rebirth (Buddhist), Tulku
- Edgar Cayce, Edgar Cayce on Karma
- Esoteric Christianity - Cathars/Catharism - Gnosticism
- Hinduism; see also Reincarnation and Hinduism, Hindu philosophy, Karma in Hinduism, Atman (Hinduism) & Yoga
- Kabbalah; see also Gilgul (Kabbalah) and Ibbur (Kabbalah)
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- Palamidessi Tommaso, The Memory of Past Lives and Its Technique, ed. Archeosofica, 1977
- Palamidessi Tommaso, Reincarnation And Christianity
- Ramster, Peter, In Search of Lives Past, ISBN 0-646-00021-7
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- Love and reincarnation
- Audio file of Jewish view of reincarnation
- Carol Bowman, "Families Reincarnating Together"
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- In Another Life, reincarnation documentary project
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- Reincarnation: Socrates to Salinger
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- Study: Belief In Reincarnation Tied To Memory Errors
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reincarnation in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Reincarnation
reincarnation in Italian: Reincarnazione
reincarnation in Hebrew: גלגול נשמות
reincarnation in Latin: Metempsychosis
reincarnation in Hungarian: Lélekvándorlás
reincarnation in Moksha: Реинкарнацие
reincarnation in Dutch: Reïncarnatie
reincarnation in Japanese: 転生
reincarnation in Norwegian: Reinkarnasjon
reincarnation in Polish: Reinkarnacja
reincarnation in Portuguese: Reencarnação
reincarnation in Russian: Реинкарнация
reincarnation in Albanian: Rimishërimi
reincarnation in Slovak: Reinkarnácia
reincarnation in Serbian: Реинкарнација
reincarnation in Finnish: Jälleensyntyminen
reincarnation in Swedish: Själavandring
reincarnation in Vietnamese: Đầu thai
reincarnation in Turkish: Reenkarnasyon
reincarnation in Ukrainian: Реінкарнація
reincarnation in Yiddish: גלגול
reincarnation in Chinese: 轉世
avatar, catabolism, catalysis, consubstantiation, corporealization, displacement, doubling, duplication, echo, embodiment, heterotopia, imitation, incarnation, incorporation, materialization, metabolism, metagenesis, metamorphism, metamorphosis, metastasis, metathesis, metempsychosis, mutant, mutated form, mutation, permutation, personification, plagiarism, quotation, reappearance, rebirth, recurrence, redoubling, reduplication, reecho, reembodiment, regurgitation, renewal, reoccurrence, repetition, reproduction, resumption, return, sport, substantiation, transanimation, transfiguration, transfigurement, transformation, transformism, translation, translocation, transmigration, transmogrification, transmutation, transposition, transubstantiation