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Reincarnation in Hinduism(Representation of reincarnation in Hinduism, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Reincarnation_AS.jpg?uselang=fr)

Reincarnation (back in the flesh) is a survival process after death in which a certain immaterial and individual principle ( “soul”, “vital substance”, “individual conscience”, “energy” or “spirit”) would perform passages of successive lives in different bodies (humans, animals or plants, according to the theories). On the death of the physical body, the “soul” leaves it to live, after a new birth, another body.

It was assimilated through literature to the transmigration of souls, to the concepts of metempsychosis, of metensomatose, palingenesis, and to eternal return.

It is found in various religions and philosophies from antiquity, without meeting, in any of them, a theological or dogmatic unanimity. From the late nineteenth century, reincarnation was popularized in the West by various esoteric and spiritualist currents.

The Canadian psychiatrist Ian Stevenson is “internationally known” for attempting to scientifically prove reincarnation, although the results of his research are disputed.


In Hinduism

Reincarnation is one of the central beliefs of Hinduism. In all likelihood, it is in this religion (or culture, composed of different religious currents: Vaishnava, Shaivism, Shaktism, etc., themselves subdivided) that has established a theoretical and philosophical consensus on the issue (thanks to Bhagavad Gita (a book of the Mahabharata), who is not a sectarian work, but a shared reference for all Hindus, as well as the Ramayana).

According to indianist Jan Gonda: “The doctrine of Dharma and purity is attached in the most closely way to the principle of reincarnation – principle that Hindu can be in no doubt – to the idea that it is essential for those who have not reached the issue toreturn ceaselessly into an existence determined by karma.”

However, according to anthropologist Robert Deliège, this belief is not uniformly rooted in India, there are many belief systems that vary depending on populations, social groups, regions. For some Hindus, reincarnation is a certainty, for others, a possibility for others, an interrogation. Some, like Ramana Maharshi, ask, not that do not believe in reincarnation (as all Hindu streams seeking the issuance of the cycle of reincarnation), but do not believe that any individual ego can be reborn after death (the soul not the ego, personality, mind, etc.). And sometimes the belief in reincarnation also coexists with other concepts that contradict it.

According to Yâgnyâvalkya master (. 630-583 BC), all creatures, including humans, suffer at death a dissolution, the blood returns to the water, the body returns to the earth, the breath of the wind,  the view of the sun and intellect (or spirit) returns to the moon; but “unpaid shares” meet to be incarnated again in a body, in one form or another (plant, animal …). In the Bhagavad Gita, one of the key texts of Hinduism: “The embodied soul rejects the old body and takes a new one, like a man exchange an used garment for a new one.” The soul transmigrates life to life: “For, certainly, the death for one born, is the birth for the one who died.”

The reincarnation mechanism in Hinduism

For Hindus, the body, emotions and intellect are only temporal envelopes (kośa) that give the illusion of “me” and which must be overcome. When there is time to leave the temporary physical incarnation, the embodied soul (jīvātman) untie the cords that attach to existence. If the accumulated karma brings the result of too many negative acts, the ātman or the Self incarnate into a new body. This cycle is called saṃsāra and to break it to attain liberation (mokṣa), the individual must identify with the Absolute (Brahman) and must live detached and disinterested of thr fruit of his actions, so not to generate karman, “he who, bursting into Brahman all acts, acts in full detachment, sin does not attach to it any more than water to the lotus leaf. “.

Yoga and other Hindu currents teach the way to achieve this release, and everyone chooses the method that suits him best among the Indian schools of philosophy. Today, Hindu, since living in kaliyuga, when dharma is the most corrupt, chose the path of Bhakti yoga or devotion (which does not necessarily mean that it excludes other religious or philosophical means). Other paths of yoga (mārga) also help to break free from the cycle of reincarnation, including Karma Yoga.

In Jainism

Reincarnation is also present in Jainism. Every being, animate or inanimate, has a soul (jīva) that reincarnates until the liberation (kevala) during an ascetic life.

In Buddhism

Reincarnation (punarbhava, rebirth) is one of the characteristics of Buddhism. However, Buddhism in general does not believe in the existence of individuality, soul or a spirit, for what he called citta, “mind, heart” is not an immortal soul. Indeed, the Hindu concept of ātma, the Self, Buddhism opposed the idea of ​​anatman, non-self, impersonality of which it is a feature of all: there are not self that reincarnates but “everything is without self.”

Buddhism offers, instead of a soul and a body, the distinction of five clinging aggregates, skandha. Aggregate described the individual as a set of different phenomena; attachment insists that these constituents are taken to be a being, for a self, and lead to focus on the idea of ​​ego, where there are only ephemeral, impersonal and unsatisfactory phenomena: these are the three characteristics of all phenomena conditioning.

Although the term “reincarnation” may be included in some translations and became popular in the West with the tulkus of Tibetan Buddhism, the term most used is the “rebirth“. There is, indeed, a continuity – death does not mean that the conditioning ceases. Samsara thus forms a cycle of lives that flow one after the other according to the law of causality. The suffering thus continues from life to life; but according to Buddhaghosa, every life lasts, in reality, a single moment.

The concept of continuity is explained by Pratītyasamutpāda, the dependent origination. This instruction details the various phenomena dependent of each other and that cause suffering continues from life to life. Karma is responsible for the perpetuation. The analogy of the mango shows this way: a mango seed gives birth to a new mango tree that manifests the original mango character without however a single atom of that previous mango has been transmitted. Karma would be comparable to the genetic code: information transmitted is not a sustainable entity from body to body.

For some schools, rebirth is immediate: at death consciousness corresponds to die and then follows a consciousness reborn. In Tibetan Buddhism, death involves intermediate stages, the Bardo.

As for the one who does not believe in reincarnation, the Kalama Sutta taught four consolations, which this is the second: “Suppose there is no hereafter and there is no fruit, result, of the actions, good or bad. Yet in this world, here and now, free from hatred, free from malice, safe and sound, and happy, I exist.”

In Chinese Buddhism, as described in the esoteric, legendary and historical novel Journey to the West of Wu Cheng’en, the here and the hereafter as are two forms of illusion, unreality, and even if this view of reality is unreal, too, it is the only basis of our experience.

This question of two realities is exemplary of the different philosophical approaches in Buddhism; if all its branches distinguish a purely conventional reality and ultimate reality, the analysis that is made varies greatly.

Serge-Christophe Kolm distinguishes the level of popular belief in which reincarnation is held to a reality of the physical world, while the highest levels of Buddhism, the profound Buddhism, gives to this concept only a sense of parable, a pictorially and simplified way to define a concept too complex to be delivered to the faithful unable to understand it.

Whatever the interpretation of the “rebirth”, Buddhism teaches that a purpose, and education only makes sense with the aim of putting an end to suffering. Gautama Buddha analyzed not only dissatisfaction but taught the four noble truths, having caused the dissatisfaction, its cessation and the path leading there. Rebirth as a human being ( “precious” according to the texts, because both unlikely and only capable of carrying the Unconditional) is then presented as a great opportunity to break the cycle of existences, where low existences do not allow it and where the gods are not aware of suffering.

The rebirth is not an “article of faith” of Buddhism. Unlike the essential concepts of liberation (nirvana) and anatman, characteristic of Buddhism, the theme of rebirth or future life can be ignored (what the Chan for example, which is primarily concerned with the “here and now”).

In Judaism

Absent from the Judaism of the Second Temple, as the Tanakh, Mishna,Talmud or the 13 principles of Jewish faith of Maimonides, the doctrine of reincarnation appeared in Judaism with Anan ben David, reformist Persian Karaite of eighth century that theorized the transmigration ofsouls. Most medieval Jewish commentators reject the doctrine – like Saadia Gaon, Abraham Ibn Daud, Joseph Albo, Abraham bar Hiyya Avraham Maimonides – or ignore – as Judah Halevi or Maimonides. For cons, the idea appears in Kabbalah – the mystical and esoteric Jewish tradition – from its first expressions in Europe with the Sefer HaBahir in the late twelfth century.

The concept used in Hebrew is the “gilgul” (Heb גלגול הנשמות, literally “cycle of souls.”.)or “guilgoul” (Heb. גִּלְגּוּל), a term that can refer to the transmigration of souls, metempsychosis or reincarnation. According to this concept, the souls perform a “cycle” through the lives or “incarnations”, being attached to different bodies over time. The body to which they associate depends on their particular task in the physical world, the spirituality level or previous incarnations.

The idea of ​​”guilgoul” seems to have been present since in Jewish popular beliefs. Moreover, the kabbalistic commentaries on the Bible explain the “guilgoul” as a transmigration of souls of some characters to repair the damage caused during their life: and Moses and Jethro are considered reincarnations of Abel and Cain, David, Bathsheba and Uriah as those of Adam, Eve and the serpent or Job, that of Terah, Abraham’s father. Many Kabbalists were particularly interested in the reincarnation of the soul of Adam. We find long explanations about these “guilgouls” of biblical characters in the writings of Chaim Vital and Menahem Azariah da Fano.

The book that deals most directly with the subject is the Sha’ar Ha’Gilgulim (Gate of reincarnations), based on the teaching of Isaac Luria, or “Ari” in the late sixteenth century, the Lurianic Kabbalah lasting influence on the Jewish communities of the Middle East and Europe. Based on the comments of Parshat Mishpatim of the Zohar, the Book of Splendor – one of the most important works of Kabbalah – he describes the complex and profound laws of reincarnation. One of the concepts of this book is the idea that “guilgoul” is physically realized in parallel with the pregnancy.

Alongside the concept of “guilgoul” Kabbalah has, at the same time, developed the concept of “ibbour” – literally “pregnancy” – to describe a process by which a soul comes to help another, for a limited period in the body where it is already in operation and that of “dybbuk” which often means a demonic spirit that inhabits the body of an individual.

Nowadays, the concept of “guilgoul” is always present in the traditional and Popular Orthodox Judaism, while the rabbis who defend explain that in no way contradicts the notion of resurrection as conceived in Judaism. For these currents, the soul of a human may well be reincarnated in a mineral, plant or animal body. Nevertheless the “guilgoul” remains a concept whose relevance remains debated within Judaism.

In Christianity

Early Christianity

Some esoteric groups, spiritualists or theosophical born around the nineteenth century in parallel with a growing interest in the occult, describe reincarnation affirming the rely on various elements of religious and spiritual teachings through the ages and places , the number of which they include ancient Christian currents.

In this perspective, Origen – a Father of the Church whose doctrine on this subject has been convicted three centuries after his death at the Council of Constantinople – has often been presented as “reincarnationist” on the pretext that he admitted in the pre-existence of souls a kind of higher world or in the mind of God. However, he never taught the transmigration of body nor human nor animal: it is the idea of ​​pre-existence of the soul to the body, and thus the separation of the two, that the council intended to condemn.

If it is likely that among the currents of old some Christianity to the margin, especially among the Gnostics, had to be influenced by Platonic or Pythagorean metempsychosis, Christians – who stand out in the Greek world to the extent that their doctrine falls within the tradition of transcendence – refused the belief in successive existences, an education that would ruin the foundations of their beliefs, including the resurrection, as evidenced by the appearance from the second century treatises on the resurrection. It is notable that Syriac Christianity of India, with an autonomy and a fairly ancient tradition, although in a Hindu environment, has still refused to belief in reincarnation.


In the Middle Ages, the Cathar, influenced by Gnosticism, intends to revive the original purity of Christianity and has some success before being fought by the prevailing orthodoxy. Some Cathars – essentially those that evolve to absolute dualism – from a theological perspective that seeks to exonerate God from evil to total rejection of the concept of Hell, consider transmigration of souls. Thus, the term “reincarnation” is anachronistic and non-adapted to the medieval world. This belief will mean for them vegetarianism. Catharism differs from the rest of the Christians by the current absolute value it gives to the prohibiton of murder, so in that it extends to animals likely to have received a heavenly soul.

In Islam

Reincarnation does not appear in orthodox Islam. But some minority Shiite currents such as the Ismailis, influenced by neo-Platonism, believe in reincarnation (tanāsukh). Similarly to some Sufi currents.

Translated from Wikipedia

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