The Mystery of Reincarnation

By Nagaraj, Anil; Nanjegowda, Raveesh et al. | Indian Journal of Psychiatry, January 2013 | Go to article overview

The Mystery of Reincarnation


Nagaraj, Anil, Nanjegowda, Raveesh, Purushothama, S., Indian Journal of Psychiatry


Byline: Anil. Nagaraj, Raveesh. Nanjegowda, S. Purushothama

One of the mysteries puzzling human mind since the origin of mankind is the concept of "reincarnation" which literally means "to take on the flesh again." As the civilizations evolved, beliefs got discriminated and disseminated into various religions. The major division manifested was "East" and "West." The eastern religions being more philosophical and less analytical, have accepted reincarnation. However, the different eastern religions like Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism have differed in their faith on rebirth. Further, the Islam as well as the most dominant religion of the world, Christianity, having its origin in the west, have largely denied reincarnation, though some sub-sects still show interest in it. Also many mystic and esoteric schools like theosophical society have their unique description on rebirth. This article describes reincarnation as perceived by various religions and new religious movements as well as some research evidence.

Introduction

One of the mysteries puzzling human mind since the origin of mankind is the concept of "reincarnation." It is derived from Latin and literally means "to take on the flesh again," in other words, "to take on the fleshy (physical) body." Discussion of the subject appears in the philosophical traditions of India and Greece from about the 6 [sup]th century BC. What exactly is reincarnation? It simply means that we leave one life and go into another; it is all for the sole purpose of soul development and spiritual growth. The soul may take the form of human, animal, or plant depending on the moral quality of the previous life's actions. This doctrine is a central tenet of the Indian and Greek religions. However, reincarnation implies that the person remains essentially the same, while occupying a new body. Reincarnation is also known by other terms like "rebirth," "metempsychosis" (Greek word), "transmigration" (English equivalent of metempsychosis), "disambiguation," "palingenesis" and so on. [sup][1],[2]

A biochemist or doctor would tell us that the individual cells in our body have a limited life span - from days to weeks, and a few years. Using sophisticated Carbon-14 dating methods, Dr. Frisen and his team of stem cells researchers in the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden, found that the average age of cells in an adult body would be between 7 and 10 years. Considering this sober evidence, we can understand that as we age, our bodily cells are replaced regularly. Hence, we have a constantly changing body. However, our consciousness, of who we are, remains unchanging. Our identification of ourselves, "the I Consciousness" factor remains constant and unchanging. Even though we may develop changes in our likes and dislikes and thinking over the years, we always know who we are in the sense of personal continuity or personal "beingness." Similarly, "I" - our consciousness is unchanging or immortal, and travels through many changing bodies in time. This is the rational explanation of reincarnation. [sup][3] We shall now try to understand what different religions have to say about it?

Hinduism

Reincarnation is the religious or philosophical belief that the soul or spirit, after biological death, begins a new life in a new body that may be human, animal or spiritual depending on the moral quality of the previous life's actions. The entire universal process, that gives rise to the cycle of death and rebirth, governed by karma, is referred to as " Samsara ." "Karma" is action, which may be good or bad. Based on the type of karma one does, he chooses his subsequent birth. For example, if one has done lot of divine service and has a desire to do more service at the time of death, his soul chooses a family that is supportive for his desire, for rebirth. According to Hinduism, even Devas (Gods) may also die and be born again. But here the term "reincarnation" is not strictly applicable. …

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