The Law of Reincarnation: An Ancient Truth Rediscovered

Introduction

The law of reincarnation, also known as rebirth or transmigration, is a concept found in several ancient religious traditions. It refers to the belief that the soul or essence within living beings can be reborn in one or more successive existences after death. For many cultures and belief systems across the world—from Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism in Asia to the ancient Greek Orphic cult and certain Native American tribes—reincarnation has been an integral part of understanding the nature of the soul and its progression throughout multiple lifetimes.

While belief in reincarnation declined under certain strands of Abrahamic religions that advocate faith in a single lifetime and judgment after death, the concept has continued to hold fascination for many spiritual seekers and philosophers throughout history. In recent decades, there has been a resurgence of interest in reincarnation research and new evidence emerging to support this ancient doctrine. This article examines the law of reincarnation from its roots in various religious teachings to modern reincarnation case studies that offer fascinating glimpses of past-life experiences and memories. It aims to provide an overview of this enigmatic concept that has perplexed humanity since ancient times.

Reincarnation in Eastern Religions

Nearly all major Eastern religious traditions propagate the doctrine of reincarnation. Let us examine their foundational teachings on this law:

Hinduism

The oldest references to reincarnation come from Hindu scriptures like the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and the Puranas. In Hindu philosophy, rebirth is part of the continuous cycle of samsara or worldly existence determined by one’s karma – the sum total of actions and their morally induced consequences. Based on karma, the atman or eternal soul undergoes birth and rebirth through different lifeforms until moksha or liberation is attained, bringing freedom from this cycle.

Good actions and the practice of dharma (righteous living) lead to higher rebirths while harmful behaviors result in lower births. Gods, humans, animals and other beings are different vehicles for the soul’s journey according to its karma. Death does not eliminate this journey – it simply continues in a new body according to one’s deserts. Most Hindus believe in an endless cycle of rebirths until enlightenment or self-realization through yoga is achieved. Powerful saints like Adi Shankaracharya and Ramakrishna expounded upon the nature of reincarnation and moksha in Hindu philosophy.

Buddhism

In Buddhism, influenced by Hindu ideas, reincarnation is caused by a law of moral causation – karma. All sentient beings are bound by samsara, the beginningless cycle of birth, suffering, death and rebirth in various realms as a consequence of actions. However, Buddhism rejects the idea of a permanent, immortal soul or self. In Buddhism, rebirth refers to the continuity of a “personality” consisting of five aggregates or skandhas which are impermanent and in constant change.

The Buddha rejected the notions of eternalism and nihilism regarding the soul and asserted there is neither self nor non-self. Liberation is achieved by realizing the truth of anatta or selflessness through meditative insights and following the Noble Eightfold Path. Overall, Buddhist reincarnation emphasizes rebirth as a process arising from ignorance and craving rather than an unalterable destiny or a soul transmigrating across lifetimes.

Jainism

Like Hinduism and Buddhism, Jainism also accepts the doctrine of reincarnation and karmic causality. However, it goes a step further by postulating the existence of the jiva or soul, separate from the physical body. According to Jain texts, the jiva is eternal and passes through an infinite number of births in an ongoing samsaric process. Liberation can be attained by dissipating all karmic matter from the soul and becoming free of the cycle of rebirth. Jainism rejects the concept of a Creator God and believes the universe and its workings are determined by natural laws alone.

These core Eastern traditions share the underlying tenet that worldly existence and rebirth are determined by one’s actions and thoughts through multiple lives until moksha or moksha is achieved. Let us now explore how reincarnation ideas evolved in other ancient cultures.

Reincarnation in Ancient Western Thought

While the primary schools propagating reincarnation have been Eastern religions, the concept also enjoyed popularity among certain ancient Western esoteric traditions:

Pythagoras and Plato

Pythagoras, the 6th century BCE Greek philosopher was one of the earliest Westerners to openly expound on reincarnation based on his experiences with past-life memories. He believed the soul undergoes purification through multiple rebirths. His views influenced Plato who accepted the theory of reincarnation. In Phaedo, Plato refers to prenatal memories related to a former life and states philosophical reasons for believing in rebirth.

Orphics and Neoplatonists

The Orphic cult originating from Ancient Greece propagated reincarnation as part of their mystic teachings around 600 BCE. Later Neoplatonic philosophers like Plotinus absorbed Hindu and Buddhist concepts and gave metaphysical expressions to the workings of karma and rebirth. They believed the human soul progressively emancipated itself through multiple incarnations until it merged back with the divine World Soul.

Celtic Druids and Vikings

Ancient Celtic Druid priests and Nordic Vikings also held beliefs aligned with reincarnation as evident in their burial practices and poetic works speaking of valor in afterlives. Modern research suggests reincarnation was a broader Western spiritual concept before it lost popularity under monotheistic religions like Christianity.

Christian Opposition to Reincarnation

Christianity emerged as a prominent Abrahamic faith which largely rejected the reincarnation doctrine. Its theology established belief in a singular lifetime for humans followed by judgment and an afterlife in either heaven or hell. Some key reasons cited for rejecting reincarnation ideas were:

The Bible makes scant mention of reincarnation and much Christian scripture contradicts it. Passages about resurrection were interpreted to mean single physical rebirth only on Judgment Day, not multiple rebirths.

The idea of karma is inconsistent with Christian notions of free will and God’s omnipotent salvation or punishment of souls.

Reincarnation detracts from the significance of Jesus Christ as the sole savior and advocate before God the Father, as taught in Christianity.

While certain Christian Gnostic sects and mystical groups accepted reincarnation secretly, mainstream doctrines strongly opposed it as a pagan concept inconsistent with Church teachings. Thus belief in reincarnation waned considerably in Western thought under Christianity for almost two millennia until recent times.

Reincarnation in Kabbalah and Sufism

Certain non-orthodox mystical streams within Judaism and Islam incorporated elements of reincarnation. Kabbalah, the mystical aspect of Judaism saw existence as an ongoing cyclic process and some interpretations accepted rebirth. Among Sufi Muslims too, concepts of baqa (immortality) and fanaa (self-annihilation) evolved as parallels to reincarnation theories. However, orthodox forms of both religions have rejected reincarnation.

Modern Reincarnation Research

With ancient Indian texts being translated in Europe in the 19th century, alongside renewed Western interest in Eastern philosophies during the era of Theosophy, reincarnation re-entered global discourse. Several independent researchers have since contributed much empirical evidence on this subject:

Psychiatrist Ian Stevenson’s extensive work at University of Virginia’s Division of Perceptual Studies gathered over 3000 case studies of young children who exhibited accurate memories of past lives. Many cases were verified by investigation.

Jim Tucker, continuing Stevenson’s legacy, has scientifically investigated hundreds of American cases substantiating children’s memories of verifiable identities from past lives.

Erlendur Haraldsson, parapsychologist, added over 1000 Icelandic cases with similar past-life memories often verified through records.

Researchers like Satwant Pasricha and Sanjeev Kumar have published nearly 600 cases on Indian children with spontaneously recalled past-life memories from all parts of the country.

Studies on past-life memories induced through hypnosis or past-life regression therapy conducted by Brian Weiss, Michael Newton and others add further weight to the possibility of reincarnation.

These dedicated researchers have amassed irrefutable data showing young children often recall accurate details about personalities who lived and passed away decades before they were born. Key details like names, occupations, family relationships, cause of death and birthmarks are regularly found to match real deceased persons’ records.

While skeptics argue alternative explanations, taken cumulatively the consistency of cases provides strong supportive evidence for reincarnation. Advanced yogis and spiritual masters have also offered philosophical and mystical perspectives on reincarnation from direct cognition of spiritual truths. Combined, modern research lends credibility to ancient reincarnation doctrines that humankind has yet to fully comprehend.

Conclusion

From its origins in Eastern religious thought down the centuries, the law of reincarnation has endured as a profound spiritual concept seeking to explain the riddle of existence. While facing opposition from certain mainstream creeds,