What World Religions Teach

By E. G. Parrinder | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
HINDUISM: (3) REBIRTH, RENUNCIATION, AND REFORM

REBIRTH

Rebirth, or reincarnation, passing from one life on earth to another, transmigration of the soul--this is a fundamental belief of most Indian religions. "To be born here and to die here, to die here and to be born elsewhere, to be born there and to die there, this is the round of existence." Yet this belief does not appear in the hymns of the Rig Veda, and it seems to be an ancient Indus belief which reappeared after centuries. When it appears in the Upanishads the Brahmins are said to be ignorant of this teaching, and they are instructed by the warrior caste. "How is it that the world after death is not full with people who have died? Do you know how men return again?" Then it is said that after death the souls rise to the moon and celestial regions, until the fruit of their deeds is worked out; then they return in rain which becomes food which people eat, and so they enter human bodies again.1

The idea of rebirth is strange to the West, though Plat o taught it in a story at the end of his Republic where souls chose their future life before being reborn on earth. But in India this idea became very popular. As a caterpillar gathers itself up before passing on to another leaf, so does the soul; or it is like a snake leaving its old skin behind but continuing to live in another. But very popular is the metaphor of a circle, for the soul goes round and round in endless existences. It is often said that Semitic and Christian religions are linear, believing in progress and history, rising from a low point to a climax in perfection; whereas

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1
Chandogya Upanishad, 5, 3 f.

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