Reincarnation is believed to occur when the soul or spirit, after the death of the body, comes back to life in a newborn body. This doctrine is a central tenet within the majority of Indian religious traditions, such as Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism; the Buddhist concept of rebirth is also often referred to as reincarnation.[1] The idea was also fundamental to some Greek philosophers and religions as well as other religions, such as Druidism, and later on, Spiritism, and Eckankar. It is also found in many small-scale societies around the world, in places such as Siberia, West Africa, North America, and Australia.[2]

Although the majority of sects within Judaism, Christianity and Islam do not believe that individuals reincarnate, particular groups within these religions do refer to reincarnation; these groups include the mainstream historical and contemporary followers of Kabbalah, the Cathars, the Alawi, theDruze[3] and the Rosicrucians.[4] The historical relations between these sects and the beliefs about reincarnation that were characteristic of the Neoplatonism, Hermeticism, Manicheanism andGnosticism of the Roman era, as well as the Indian religions, is unclear.

In recent decades, many people in the "West" have developed an interest in reincarnation.[5]Feature films, such as Kundun, What Dreams May Come and Birth, contemporary books by authors such as Carol Bowman and Vicki Mackenzie, as well as popular songs, regularly mention reincarnation. Some university researchers, such as Ian Stevenson and Jim B. Tucker, have explored the issue of reincarnation and published reports of children's memories of earlier lives in peer-reviewed journals and in books such as Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation and Life Before Life. Skeptics are critical of this work and Carl Sagan said that more reincarnation research is needed.[6[1]]

Conceptual definitionsEdit

The word "reincarnation" derives from Latin, literally meaning, "entering the flesh again". The Greek equivalent metempsychosis(μετεμψύχωσις) roughly corresponds to the common English phrase "transmigration of the soul" and also usually connotes reincarnation after death,[7] as either human, animal, though emphasising the continuity of the soul, not the flesh. The term has been used by modern philosophers such as Kurt Gödel[8] and has entered the English language. Another Greek term sometimes used synonymously ispalingenesis, "being born again".[9]

There is no word corresponding exactly to the English terms "rebirth", "metempsychosis", "transmigration" or "reincarnation" in the traditional languages of Pāli and Sanskrit. The entire universal process that gives rise to the cycle of death and rebirth, governed by karma, is referred to as Samsara[10] while the state one is born into, the individual process of being born or coming into the world in any way, is referred to simply as "birth" (jāti). Devas (gods) may also die and live again.[11] Here the term "reincarnation" is not strictly applicable, yet Hindu gods are said to have reincarnated (see Avatar): Lord Vishnu is known for His ten incarnations, the Dashavatars. Celtic religion seems to have had reincarnating gods also. Many Christians regard Jesus as a divine incarnation and they and many Muslims believe he and some prophets may incarnate again. Some ghulat Shi'a Muslim sects also regard their founders as in some special sense divine incarnations (hulul).

Philosophical and religious beliefs regarding the existence or non-existence of an unchanging 'self' have a direct bearing on how reincarnation is viewed within a given tradition. The Buddha lived at a time of great philosophical creativity in India when many conceptions of the nature of life and death were proposed. Some were materialist, holding that there was no existence and that the self is annihilated upon death. Others believed in a form of cyclic existence, where a being is born, lives, dies and then is re-born, but in the context of a type of determinism orfatalism in which karma played no role. Others were "eternalists", postulating an eternally existent self or soul comparable to that in Judaic monotheism: the ātman survives death and reincarnates as another living being, based on its karmic inheritance. This is the idea that has become dominant (with certain modifications) in modern Hinduism.

The Buddhist concept of reincarnation differs from others in that there is no eternal "soul", "spirit' or self" but only a "stream of consciousness" that links life with life. The actual process of change from one life to the next is called punarbhava (Sanskrit) or punabbhava(Pāli), literally "becoming again", or more briefly bhava, "becoming", and some English-speaking Buddhists prefer the term "rebirth" or "re-becoming" to render this term as they take "reincarnation" to imply a fixed entity that is reborn.[12] Popular Jain cosmology and Buddhist cosmology as well as a number of schools of Hinduism posit rebirth in many worlds and in varied forms. In Buddhist tradition the process occurs across five or six realms of existence,[13] including the human, any kind of animal and several types of supernatural being. It is said in Tibetan Buddhism that it is very rare for a person to be reborn in the immediate next life as a human[14]

Gilgul, Gilgul neshamot or Gilgulei Ha Neshamot (Heb. גלגול הנשמות) refers to the concept of reincarnation in Kabbalistic Judaism, found in much Yiddish literature among Ashkenazi Jews. Gilgul means "cycle" and neshamot is "souls." The equivalent Arabic term is tanasukh:[15]the belief is found among Shi'a ghulat Muslim sects.




The origins of the notion of reincarnation are obscure. They apparently date to the Iron Age ( around 1200 BC ). Discussion of the subject appears in the philosophical traditions of India and Greece from about the 6th century BC, but is conspicuously absent from the earlier Vedic texts of India.[citation needed].Also during the Iron Age, the Greek Pre-Socratics discussed reincarnation, and the Celtic Druids are also reported to have taught a doctrine of reincarnation.[16]

The origin of the Indian tradition is usually assumed to lie in the non-Vedic sramana traditions, which would explain why it only enters the historical record with the adoption of sramana elements into mainstream Brahmin orthodoxy at the end of the Vedic period.[17][18] along with the associated concepts of karma, samsara and moksha.[19] Some scholars suggest that the idea is original to the Buddha.[20] Another possibility is an origin in the native tribal religions of the pre-Indo-Aryan Ganges valley, or in prehistoric Dravidian traditions of South India.[21]

Whatever its ultimate origin, Indian discussion of reincarnation enters the historical record from about the 6th century BC, with the development of the Vedantic tradition, in the early Upanishads (around the middle of the first millennium BC), Gautam Buddha (5th century BC)[22] as well as Mahavir the Tirthankar of Jainism.[23]

Early Greek discussion of the concept likewise dates to the 6th century BC. An early Greek thinker known to have considered rebirth isPherecydes of Syros (fl. 540 BC).[24] His younger contemporary Pythagoras (c. 570-c. 495 BC[25]), its first famous exponent, instituted societies for its diffusion. Plato (428/427 BC – 348/347 BC) presented accounts of reincarnation in his works, particularly the Myth of Er.

Proponents of cultural transmission have looked for links between Iron Age Celtic, Greek and Vedic philosophy and religion, [26] some[who?]even suggesting that belief in reincarnation was present in Proto-Indo-European religion.[dubiousdiscuss][27] Authorities have not agreed on how the notion arose in Greece: sometimes Pythagoras is said to have been Pherecydes' pupil, sometimes to have introduced it with the doctrine of Orphism, a Thracian religion that was to be important in the diffusion of reincarnation, or else to have brought the teaching from India. In Phaedo Plato makes his teacher Socrates, prior to his death, state; "I am confident that there truly is such a thing as living again, and that the living spring from the dead." However Xenophon does not mention Socrates as believing in reincarnation and Plato may have systematised Socrates' thought with concepts he took directly from Pythagoreanism or Orphism.

Early Buddhism and HinduismEdit

The systematic attempt to attain first-hand knowledge of past lives has been developed in various ways in different places. The early Buddhist texts discuss techniques for recalling previous births, predicated on the development of high levels of meditative concentration.[28] The laterYoga Sutras of Patanjali, which exhibit heavy Buddhist influence,[29] give similar instructions on how to attain the ability.[30] The Buddha reportedly warned that this experience can be misleading and should be interpreted with care.[31]

Tibetan Buddhism has developed a unique 'science' of death and rebirth, a good deal of which is set down in what is popularly known as The Tibetan Book of the Dead. The Hasidic tzadik was believed to know the past lives of each person through his semi-prophetic abilities.

[2][3]A 2nd century Roman sarcophagus shows the mythology and symbolism of the Orphic and Dionysiac Mystery schools. Orpheus plays his lyre to the left====Classical Antiquity====

The Orphic religion, which taught reincarnation, first appeared in Thrace in north-eastern Greece and Bulgaria, about the 6th century BC, organized itself into mystery schools at Eleusis and elsewhere, and produced a copious literature.[32][33][34] Orpheus, its legendary founder, is said to have taught that the immortal soul aspires to freedom while the body holds it prisoner. The wheel of birth revolves, the soul alternates between freedom and captivity round the wide circle of necessity. Orpheus proclaimed the need of the grace of the gods, Dionysus in particular, and of self-purification until the soul has completed the spiral ascent of destiny to live for ever.

An association between Pythagorean philosophy and reincarnation was routinely accepted throughout antiquity. In the Republic Plato makes Socrates tell how Er, the son of Armenius, miraculously returned to life on the twelfth day after death and recounted the secrets of the other world. There are myths and theories to the same effect in other dialogues, in the Chariot allegory of the Phaedrus, in the Meno, Timaeus and Laws. The soul, once separated from the body, spends an indeterminate amount of time in "formland" (see The Allegory of the Cave in The Republic) and then assumes another body.

In later Greek literature the doctrine is mentioned in a fragment of Menander[35] and satirized by Lucian.[36] In Roman literature it is found as early as Ennius,[37] who, in a lost passage of his Annals, told how he had seen Homer in a dream, who had assured him that the same soul which had animated both the poets had once belonged to a peacock. Persius in his satires (vi. 9) laughs at this: it is referred to also byLucretius[38] and Horace.[39]

Virgil works the idea into his account of the Underworld in the sixth book of the Aeneid.[40] It persists down to the late classic thinkers,Plotinus and the other Neoplatonists. In the Hermetica, a Graeco-Egyptian series of writings on cosmology and spirituality attributed toHermes Trismegistus/Thoth, the doctrine of reincarnation is central.

In Greco-Roman thought, the concept of metempsychosis disappeared with the rise of Early Christianity, reincarnation being incompatible with the Christian core doctrine of salvation of the faithful after death. It has been suggested that some of the early Church Fathers, especiallyOrigen still entertained a belief in the possibility of reincarnation, but evidence is tenuous, and the writings of Origen as they have come down to us speak explicitly against it.[41]

Some early Christian Gnostic sects professed reincarnation. The Sethians and followers of Valentinus believed in it.[42] The followers ofBardaisan of Mesopotamia, a sect of the 2nd century deemed heretical by the Catholic Church, drew upon Chaldean astrology, to which Bardaisan's son Harmonius, educated in Athens, added Greek ideas including a sort of metempsychosis. Another such teacher wasBasilides (132–? CE/AD), known to us through the criticisms of Irenaeus and the work of Clement of Alexandria. (see also Neoplatonism and Gnosticism and Buddhism and Gnosticism)

In the third Christian century Manichaeism spread both east and west from Babylonia, then within the Sassanid Empire, where its founderMani lived about 216–276. Manichaean monasteries existed in Rome in 312 AD. Noting Mani's early travels to the Kushan Empire and other Buddhist influences in Manichaeism, Richard Foltz[43] attributes Mani's teaching of reincarnation to Buddhist influence. However the inter-relation of Manicheanism, Orphism, Gnosticism and neo-Platonism is far from clear.


Taoist documents from as early as the Han Dynasty claimed that Lao Tzu appeared on earth as different persons in different times beginning in the legendary era of Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors. The (ca. 3rd century BC) Chuang Tzu 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."[44]

The CeltsEdit

In the 1st century BC Alexander Cornelius Polyhistor wrote;

The Pythagorean doctrine prevails among the Gauls' teaching that the souls of men are immortal, and that after a fixed number of years they will enter into another body.

Julius Caesar recorded that the druids of Gaul, Britain and Ireland had metempsychosis as one of their core doctrines;[45]

The principal point of their doctrine is that the soul does not die and that after death it passes from one body into another..... the main object of all education is, in their opinion, to imbue their scholars with a firm belief in the indestructibility of the human soul, which, according to their belief, merely passes at death from one tenement to another; for by such doctrine alone, they say, which robs death of all its terrors, can the highest form of human courage be developed.===Middle Ages===

Around the 11-12th century several reincarnationist movements were persecuted as heresies, through the establishment of the Inquisition in the Latin west. These included the Cathar, Paterene or Albigensian church of western Europe, the Paulician movement, which arose in Armenia,[46] and the Bogomils in Bulgaria.[47]

Christian sects such as the Bogomils and the Cathars, who professed reincarnation and other gnostic beliefs, were referred to as "Manichean", and are today sometimes described by scholars as "Neo-Manichean".[48] As there is no known Manichaean mythology or terminology in the writings of these groups there has been some dispute among historians as to whether these groups truly were descendants of Manichaeism.[49]

Norse mythologyEdit

[4][5]Sváfa holding the dying Helgi in their first incarnation of three.

Reincarnation also appears in Norse mythology, in the Poetic Edda. The editor of the Poetic Eddasays that Helgi Hjörvarðsson and his mistress, the valkyrie Sváfa, whose love story is told in the poem Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar, were reborn as Helgi Hundingsbane and the valkyrie Sigrún. Helgi and Sigrún's love story is the matter of a part of the Völsunga saga and the lays Helgakviða Hundingsbana I and II. They were reborn a second time as Helgi Haddingjaskati and the valkyrie Kára, but unfortunately their story, Káruljóð, only survives in a probably modified form in theHrómundar saga Gripssonar.

The belief in reincarnation may have been commonplace among the Norse since the annotator of the Poetic Edda wrote that people formerly used to believe in it:

Sigrun was early dead of sorrow and grief. It was believed in olden times that people were born again, but that is now called old wives' folly. Of Helgi and Sigrun it is said that they were born again; he became Helgi Haddingjaskati, and she Kara the daughter of Halfdan, as is told in the Lay of Kara, and she was a Valkyrie.[50]===Renaissance and Early Modern period===

While reincarnation has been a matter of faith in some communities from an early date it has also frequently been argued for on principle, as Plato does when he argues that the number of souls must be finite because souls are indestructible,[51] Benjamin Franklin held a similar view.[52] Sometimes such convictions, as in Socrates' case, arise from a more general personal faith, at other times from anecdotal evidence such as Plato makes Socrates offer in the Myth of Er.

During the Renaissance translations of Plato, the Hermetica and other works fostered new European interest in reincarnation. Marsilio Ficino[53] argued that Plato's references to reincarnation were intended allegorically, Shakespeare made fun[54] but Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake by authorities after being found guilty of heresy by the Roman Inquisition for his teachings.[55] But the Greek philosophical works remained available and, particularly in north Europe, were discussed by groups such as the Cambridge Platonists.

19th to 20th centuriesEdit

See also: Reincarnation research[6][7]American psychologist and philosopher William James (1842 - 1910) was an early psychical researcher.[56]

By the 19th century the philosophers Schopenhauer[57] and Nietzsche[58] could access the Indian scriptures for discussion of the doctrine of reincarnation, which recommended itself to the American Transcendentalists Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson and was adapted byFrancis Bowen into Christian Metempsychosis.[59]

By the early 20th century, interest in reincarnation had been introduced into the nascent discipline ofpsychology, largely due to the influence of William James, who raised aspects of the philosophy of mind,comparative religion, the psychology of religious experience and the nature of empiricism.[60] James was influential in the founding of the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR) in New York City in 1885, three years after the British Society for Psychical Research (SPR) was inaugurated in London,[56]leading to systematic, critical investigation of paranormal phenomena.

At this time popular awareness of the idea of reincarnation was boosted by the Theosophical Society's dissemination of systematised and universalised Indian concepts and also by the influence of magical societies like The Golden Dawn. Notable personalities like Annie Besant, W.B.Yeats and Dion Fortunemade the subject almost as familiar an element of the popular culture of the west as of the east. By 1924 the subject could be satirised in popular children's books.[61]

Théodore Flournoy was among the first to study a claim of past-life recall in the course of his investigation of the medium Hélène Smith, published in 1900, in which he defined the possibility of cryptomnesia in such accounts.[62] Carl Gustav Jung, like Flournoy based in Switzerland, also emulated him in his thesis based on a study of cryptomnesia in psychism. Later Jung would emphasise the importance of the persistence of memory and ego in psychological study of reincarnation; "This concept of rebirth necessarily implies the continuity of personality... (that) one is able, at least potentially, to remember that one has lived through previous existences, and that these existences were one's own...".[59] Hypnosis, used inpsychoanalysis for retrieving forgotten memories, was eventually tried as a means of studying the phenomenon of past life recall.

Reincarnation researchEdit

Main article: Reincarnation research

Psychiatrist Ian Stevenson, from the University of Virginia, investigated many reports of young children who claimed to remember a past life. He conducted more than 2,500 case studies over a period of 40 years and published twelve books, including Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation and Where Reincarnation and Biology Intersect. Stevenson methodically documented each child's statements and then identified the deceased person the child 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 autopsyphotographs, in Reincarnation and Biology.[63]

Stevenson searched for disconfirming evidence and alternative explanations for the reports, and believed that his strict methods ruled out all possible "normal" explanations for the child’s memories.[64] However, a significant majority of Stevenson's reported cases of reincarnation originated in Eastern societies, where dominant religions often permit the concept of reincarnation. Following this type of criticism, Stevenson published a book on European Cases of the Reincarnation Type. Other people who have undertaken reincarnation research include Jim B. Tucker, Brian Weiss, and Raymond Moody.

Some skeptics, such as Paul Edwards, have analyzed many of these accounts, and called them anecdotal.[65] Skeptics suggest 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 Carl Sagan, see the need for more reincarnation research.[66]

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.[67] 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.[68]

Reincarnation in the WestEdit

See also: Reincarnation in popular culture

During recent decades, many people in the West have developed an interest in reincarnation.[5] Feature films, such as The Reincarnation of Peter Proud , Dead Again, Kundun, What Dreams May Come and Birth, contemporary books by authors such as Carol Bowman and Vicki Mackenzie, as well as popular songs, regularly mention reincarnation.

Recent studies have indicated that some Westerners accept the idea of reincarnation[5] including certain contemporary Christians,[69] modernNeopagans, followers of Spiritism, Theosophists and students of esoteric philosophies such as Kabbalah, and Gnostic and Esoteric Christianity as well as of Indian religions. Demographic survey data from 1999-2002 shows a significant minority of people from Europe and America, where there is reasonable freedom of thought and access to ideas but no outstanding recent reincarnationist tradition, believe we had a life before we were born, will survive death and be born again physically. The mean for the Nordic countries is 22%.[70] The belief in reincarnation is particularly high in the Baltic countries, with Lithuania having the highest figure for the whole of Europe, 44%. The lowest figure is in East Germany, 12%. In Russia, about one-third believes in reincarnation. The effect of communist anti-religious ideas on the beliefs of the populations of Eastern Europe seems to have been rather slight, if any, except apparently in East Germany.[70] Overall, 22% of respondents in Western Europe believe in reincarnation.[70] According to a 2005 Gallup poll 20 percent of U.S. adults believe in reincarnation. Recent surveys by the Barna Group, a Christian research nonprofit organization, have found that a quarter of U.S. Christians, including 10 percent of all born-again Christians, embrace the idea.[71]

Skeptic Carl Sagan asked the Dalai Lama what would he do if a fundamental tenet of his religion (reincarnation) were definitively disproved by science. The Dalai Lama answered; "if science can disprove reincarnation, Tibetan Buddhism would abandon reincarnation... but it's going to be mighty hard to disprove reincarnation."[72]

Ian Stevenson reported that belief in reincarnation is held (with variations in details) by adherents of almost all major religions exceptChristianity and Islam. In addition, between 20 and 30 percent of persons in western countries who may be nominal Christians also believe in reincarnation.[73]

One 1999 study by Walter and Waterhouse reviewed the previous data on the level of reincarnation belief and performed a set of thirty in-depth interviews in Britain among people who did not belong to a religion advocating reincarnation.[74] The authors reported that surveys have found about one fifth to one quarter of Europeans have some level of belief in reincarnation, with similar results found in the USA. In the interviewed group, the belief in the existence of this phenomenon appeared independent of their age, or the type of religion that these people belonged to, with most being Christians. The beliefs of this group also did not appear to contain any more than usual of "new age" ideas (broadly defined) and the authors interpreted their ideas on reincarnation as "one way of tackling issues of suffering", but noted that this seemed to have little effect on their private lives.

Waterhouse also published a detailed discussion of beliefs expressed in the interviews.[75] She noted that although most people "hold their belief in reincarnation quite lightly" and were unclear on the details of their ideas, personal experiences such as past-life memories and near-death experiences had influenced most believers, although only a few had direct experience of these phenomena. Waterhouse analyzed the influences of second-hand accounts of reincarnation, writing that most of the people in the survey had heard other people's accounts of past-lives from regression hypnosis and dreams and found these fascinating, feeling that there "must be something in it" if other people were having such experiences.

Contemporary religious philosophiesEdit


Further information: Karma in Hinduism

In Hinduism the soul (atman) is immortal while the body is subject to birth and death. The Bhagavad Gita states;

[8][9]Hindus believe the self or soul (atman) repeatedly takes on a physical body.Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be. As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from childhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change. (2: 12-13)


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. (2:22)[76]

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 (the cycle of birth and death) is a result of ignorance of the true nature of our existence. It is ignorance (avidya) of one's true self that leads to ego-consciousness, grounding one in desire and a perpetual chain of reincarnation. The idea is intricately linked to action (karma), a concept first recorded in the Upanishads. Every action has a reaction and the force determines one's next incarnation. One is reborn through desire: a person desires to be born because he or she wants to enjoy a body,[77] which can never bring deep, lasting happiness or peace (ānanda). After many births every person becomes dissatisfied and begins to seek higher forms of happiness through spiritual experience. When, after spiritual practice (sādhanā), a person 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 born again.[78] When the cycle of rebirth thus comes to an end, a person is said to have attained liberation (moksha).[79] All schools agree this implies the cessation of worldly desires and freedom from the cycle of birth and death, though the exact definition differs. Followers of the Advaita Vedanta school believe they will spend eternity absorbed in the perfect peace and happiness of the realization that all existence is One Brahman of which the soul is part. Dvaita schools perform worship with the goal of spending eternity in a spiritual world or heaven (loka) in the blessed company of theSupreme Being.[80]


Further information: Karma in Jainism and Jain philosophy

Jainism, like Buddhism, is historically connected with the sramana tradition with which the earliest mentions of reincarnation are associated.[81]


Main article: Rebirth (Buddhism)[10][11]In this 8-meter (25-foot) tall Buddhist relief, made sometime between the years 1177 and 1249, Mara, Lord of Death and Desire, clutches a Wheel of Reincarnation which outlines the Buddhist cycle of reincarnation.

The early Buddhist texts make it clear that there is no permanent consciousness that moves from life to life.[82] Gautama Buddha taught a distinct concept of rebirth constrained by the concepts of anattā, that there is no irreducible ātman or "self" tying these lives together,[83] and anicca, that all compounded things are subject to dissolution, including all the components of the human person and personality.

In Buddhist doctrine the evolving consciousness (Pali: samvattanika-viññana)[84][85] or stream of consciousness (Pali: viññana-sotam,[86] Sanskrit: vijñāna-srotām, vijñāna-santāna, or citta-santāna) upon death (or "the dissolution of the aggregates" (P. khandhas, S. skandhas)), becomes one of the contributing causes for the arising of a new aggregation. 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.[87][88] The consciousness in the new person is neither identical to nor entirely different from that in the deceased but the two form a causal continuum or stream. Transmigration is the effect of karma (kamma)[89][90] or volitional action.[91]The basic cause is the abiding of consciousness in ignorance (Pali: avijja, Sanskrit: avidya): when ignorance is uprooted rebirth ceases.[92]

The Buddha's detailed conception of the connections between action (karma), rebirth and causality is set out in the twelve links of dependent origination. The empirical, changing self does not only affect the world about it, it also generates, consciously and unconsciously, a subjective image of the world in which it lives as 'reality'. It "tunes in" to a particular level of consciousness which has a particular range of objects, selectively notices such objects and forms a partial model of reality in which the ego is the crucial reference point. Vipassana meditation uses "bare attention" to mind-states without interfering, owning or judging. Observation reveals each moment as an experience of an individual mind-state such as a thought, a memory, a feeling or a perception that arises, exists and ceases. This limits the power of desire, which, according to the second noble truth of Buddhism, is the cause of suffering (dukkha), and leads to Nirvana (nibbana, vanishing (of the self-idea)) in which self-oriented models are transcended and "the world stops".[93] Thus consciousness is a continuous birth and death of mind-states: rebirth is the persistence of this process.

While all Buddhist traditions accept rebirth there is no unified view about precisely how events unfold after death. The Tibetan schools hold to the notion of a bardo (intermediate state) that can last up to forty-nine days. An accomplished or realized practitioner (by maintaining conscious awareness during the death process) can choose to return to samsara, that many lamas choose to be born again and again as humans and are called tulkus or incarnate lamas.[citation needed] The Sarvastivada school believed that between death and rebirth there is a sort of limbo in which beings do not yet reap the consequences of their previous actions but may still influence their rebirth. The death process and this intermediate state were believed to offer a uniquely favourable opportunity for spiritual awakening. Theravada Buddhism generally denies there is an intermediate state, though some early Buddhist texts seem to support it,[94][95] but asserts that rebirth is immediate.

Some schools conclude that karma continues to exist and adhere to the person until it works out its consequences. For the Sautrantikaschool each act "perfumes" the individual or "plants a seed" that later germinates. In another view remaining impure aggregates, skandhas, reform consciousness. Tibetan Buddhism stresses the state of mind at the time of death. To die with a peaceful mind will stimulate a virtuous seed and a fortunate rebirth, a disturbed mind will stimulate a non-virtuous seed and an unfortunate rebirth.[96] The medieval Pali scholarBuddhaghosa labeled the consciousness that constitutes the condition for a new birth as described in the early texts "rebirth-linking consciousness" (patisandhi).

Sant mystics and SikhismEdit

Reincarnation remained a tenet of the Sant Bhakti movement and of related mystics on the frontiers of Islam and Hinduism such as the Baulminstrels, the Kabir panth and the Sikh Brotherhood. Sikhs believe the soul is passed from one body to another until Liberation. If we perform good deeds and actions and remember the Creator, we attain a better life while, if we carry out evil actions and sinful deeds, we will be incarnated in “lower” life forms. God may pardon wrongs and release us.[97] Otherwise reincarnation is due to the law of cause and effect but does not create any caste or differences among people. Eckankar is a Western presentation of Sant mysticism.[98] It teaches that the soul is eternal and either chooses an incarnation for growth or else an incarnation is imposed because of Karma. The soul is perfected through a series of incarnations until it arrives at "Personal Mastery".


The idea of reincarnation is accepted by a few Muslim sects, particularly of the extreme Sh'ia (Ghulat),[99] and by other sects in the Muslim world such as Druzes.[100] Historically, South Asian Isma'ilis performed chantas yearly, one of which is for sins committed in past lives.[101](Aga Khan IV) Sinan ibn Salman ibn Muhammad, also known as Rashid al-Din Sinan, (r. 1162-92) subscribed to the transmigration of souls as a tenet of the Alawi,[102] who are thought to have been influenced by Isma'ilism.

Modern Sufis who embrace the idea of reincarnation include Bawa Muhaiyadeen.[103] However Hazrat Inayat Khan has criticized the idea as unhelpful to the spiritual seeker.[104]


See also: Kabbalah#Human soul in Kabbalah

Reincarnation is not an essential tenet of traditional Judaism. It is not mentioned in the Tanakh ("Hebrew Bible"), the classical rabbinical works (Mishnah and Talmud), or Maimonides' 13 Principles of Faith, though the tale of the Ten Martyrs in the Yom Kippur liturgy, who were killed by Romans to atone for the souls of the ten brothers of Joseph, is read in Ashkenazi Orthodox Jewish communities. Medieval Jewish Rationalist philosophers discussed the issue, often in rejection. However, Jewish mystical texts (the Kabbalah), from their classic Medieval canon onwards, teach a belief in Gilgul Neshamot (Hebrew for metempsychosis of souls: literally "soul cycle", plural "gilgulim"). It is a common belief in contemporary Hasidic Judaism, which regards the Kabbalah as sacred and authoritative, though unstressed in favour of a more innate psychological mysticism. Other, Non-Hasidic, Orthodox Jewish groups while not placing a heavy emphasis on reincarnation, do acknowledge it as a valid teaching.[105] Its popularisation entered modern secular Yiddish literature and folk motif.

The 16th-century mystical renaissance in communal Safed replaced scholastic Rationalism as mainstream traditional Jewish theology, both in scholarly circles and in the popular imagination. References to gilgul in former Kabbalah became systemised as part of the metaphysical purpose of creation. Isaac Luria (the Ari) brought the issue to the centre of his new mystical articulation, for the first time, and advocated identification of the reincarnations of historic Jewish figures that were compiled by Haim Vital in his Shaar HaGilgulim.[106] Gilgul is contrasted with the other processes in Kabbalah of Ibbur ("pregnancy"), the attachment of a second soul to an individual for (or by) good means, and Dybuk ("possession"), the attachment of a spirit, demon, etc. to an individual for (or by) "bad" means.

In Lurianic Kabbalah, reincarnation is not retributive or fatalistic, but an expression of Divine compassion, the microcosm of the doctrine of cosmic rectification of creation. Gilgul is a heavenly agreement with the individual soul, conditional upon circumstances. Luria's radical system focused on rectification of the Divine soul, played out through Creation. The true essence of anything is the divine spark within that gives it existence. Even a stone or leaf possesses such a soul that "came into this world to receive a rectification". A human soul may occasionally be exiled into lower inanimate, vegetative or animal creations. The most basic component of the soul, the nefesh, must leave at the cessation of blood production. There are four other soul components and different nations of the world possess different forms of souls with different purposes. Each Jewish soul is reincarnated in order to fulfil each of the 613 Mosaic commandments that elevate a particular spark of holiness associated with each commandment. Once all the Sparks are redeemed to their spiritual source, the Messianic Era begins. Non-Jewish observance of the 7 Laws of Noah assists the Jewish people, though Biblical adversaries of Israel reincarnate to oppose.

Rabbis who accepted reincarnation include the mystical leaders Nahmanides (the Ramban) and Rabbenu Bahya ben Asher, Levi ibn Habib(the Ralbah), Shelomoh Alkabez, the Baal Shem Tov and later Hasidic masters, and the Mitnagdic Vilna Gaon. Rabbis who have rejected the idea include Saadia Gaon, David Kimhi, Hasdai Crescas, Joseph Albo, Abraham ibn Daud and Leon de Modena. Among the Geonim, Hai Gaon argued in favour of gilgulim.

Native American nationsEdit

Reincarnation is an intrinsic part of many Native American and Inuit traditions.[citation needed] In the now heavily Christian Polar North (now mainly parts of Greenland and Nunavut), the concept of reincarnation is enshrined in the Inuit language.[citation needed]

The following is a story of human-to-human reincarnation as told by Thunder Cloud, a Winnebago shaman referred to as T. C. in the narrative. Here T. C. talks about his two previous lives and how he died and came back again to this his third lifetime. He describes his time between lives, when he was “blessed” by Earth Maker and all the abiding spirits and given special powers, including the ability to heal the sick.

T. C.’s Account of His Two Reincarnations

I (my ghost) was taken to the place where the sun sets (the west). ... While at that place, I thought I would come back to earth again, and the old man with whom I was staying said to me, “My son, did you not speak about wanting to go to the earth again?” I had, as a matter of fact, only thought of it, yet he knew what I wanted. Then he said to me, “You can go, but you must ask the chief first.” Then I went and told the chief of the village of my desire, and he said to me, “You may go and obtain your revenge upon the people who killed your relatives and you.” Then I was brought down to earth. ... There I lived until I died of old age. ... As I was lying [in my grave], someone said to me, “Come, let us go away.” So then we went toward the setting of the sun. There we came to a village where we met all the dead. ... From that place I came to this earth again for the third time, and here I am. (Radin, 1923)[107]===Christianity===

Though the major Christian denominations reject the concept of reincarnation, a large number of Christians profess the belief. In a survey by the Pew Forum in 2009, 24% of American Christians expressed a belief in reincarnation.[108] In a 1981 Survey in Europe 31% of regular churchgoing Catholics expressed a belief in reincarnation.[109]

Geddes MacGregor, an Episcopalian priest who is Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern California, Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, a recipient of the California Literature Award (Gold Medal, non-fiction category), and the first holder of the Rufus Jones Chair in Philosophy and Religion at Bryn Mawr, demonstrates in his book Reincarnation in Christianity: A New Vision of the Role of Rebirth in Christian Thought,[110] that Christian doctrine and reincarnation are not mutually exclusive belief systems.

New religious movementsEdit


The Theosophical Society, the first institution in the modern west to spread the concept of reincarnation, draws much of its inspiration from India. The idea is, according to a recent Theosophical writer, "the master-key to modern problems," including heredity.[111] In the Theosophical world-view reincarnation is the vast rhythmic process by which the soul, the part of a person which belongs to the formless non-material and timeless worlds, unfolds its spiritual powers in the world and comes to know itself. It descends from sublime, free, spiritual realms and gathers experience through its effort to express itself in the world. Afterwards there is a withdrawal from the physical plane to successively higher levels of Reality, in death, a purification and assimilation of the past life. Having cast off all instruments of personal experience it stands again in its spiritual and formless nature, ready to begin its next rhythmic manifestation, every lifetime bringing it closer to complete self-knowledge and self-expression. However it may attract old mental, emotional, and energetic karma patterns to form the new personality.


Awareness of past lives, dreams, and soul travel are spiritual disciplines practiced by students of Eckankar. Eckankar teaches that each person is Soul, which transcends time and space. Soul travel is a term specific to Eckankar that refers to a shift in consciousness. Eckists believe the purpose of being aware of past lives is to help with understanding personal conditions in the present. Practicing students of Eckankar can become aware of past lives, through dreams, soul travel, and spiritual exercises called contemplations. This form of contemplation is the active, unconditional practice of going within to connect with the "Light and Sound of God" known as the divine life current or Holy Spirit.


See also: Scientology beliefs and practices

Past reincarnation, usually termed "past lives", is a key part of the principles and practices of the Church of Scientology. Scientologists believe that the human individual is actually an immortal thetan, or spiritual entity, that has fallen into a degraded state as a result of past-life experiences. Scientology auditing is intended to free the person of these past-life traumas and recover past-life memory, leading to a higher state of spiritual awareness. This idea is echoed in their highest fraternal religious order, the Sea Organization, whose motto is "Revenimus" or "We Come Back", and whose members sign a "billion-year contract" as a sign of commitment to that ideal. L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, does not use the word "reincarnation" to describe its beliefs, noting that: "The common definition of reincarnation has been altered from its original meaning. The word has come to mean 'to be born again in different life forms' whereas its actual definition is 'to be born again into the flesh of another body.' Scientology ascribes to this latter, original definition of reincarnation."[112]

The first writings in Scientology regarding past lives date from around 1951 and slightly earlier. In 1960, Hubbard published a book on past lives entitled Have You Lived Before This Life. In 1968 he wrote Mission Into Time, a report on a five-week sailing expedition to Sardinia, Sicily and Carthage to see if specific evidence could be found to substantiate L. Ron Hubbard's recall of incidents in his own past, centuries ago.

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