Reincarnation best describes the concept where the soul or spirit, after the death of the body, is believed to return to live in a new human body, or, in some traditions, either as a human being, animal or plant.
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.
The idea was also fundamental to some Greek philosophersas well as other religions, such as Druidism, and later on, Spiritism, Theosophy, and Eckankar. It is also found in many tribal societies around the world, in places such as Siberia, West Africa, North America, and Australia.
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, the Druze and the Rosicrucians.
The historical relations between these sects and the beliefs about reincarnation that were characteristic of the Neoplatonism, Orphism,Hermeticism, Manicheanism and Gnosticism of the Roman era, as well as the Indian religions, is unclear.
In recent decades, many Europeans and North Americans have developed an interest in reincarnation.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 many have stated like Carl Sagan that more reincarnation research is needed.
The origins of the notion of reincarnation are obscure. They apparently date to the Iron Age (around 1200 BCE). Discussion of the subject appears in the philosophical traditions of India and Greece from about the 6th century BCE. 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.
The ideas associated with reincarnation may have arisen independently in different regions, or they might have spread as a result of cultural contact. Proponents of cultural transmission have looked for links between Iron Age Celtic, Greek and Vedic philosophy and religion,some[who?] even suggesting that belief in reincarnation was present in Proto-Indo-European religion.[dubious – discuss] In ancient European, Iranian and Indian agricultural cultures, the life cycles of birth, death, and rebirth were recoginized as a replica of natural agricultural cycles.
Early Jainism, Hinduism and Buddhism
Patrick Olivelle asserts that the origin of the concept of the cycle of birth and death, the concept of samsara, and the concept of liberation in the Indian tradition, were in part the creation of the non-Vedic Shramana tradition. Another possibility are the prehistoric Dravidian traditions of South India. Some scholars suggest that the idea is original to the Buddha.
In Jainism, the soul and matter are considered eternal, uncreated and perpetual. There is a constant interplay between the two, resulting in bewildering cosmic manifestations in material, psychic and emotional spheres around us. This led to the theories of transmigration and rebirth. Changes but not total annihilation of spirit and matter is the basic postulate of Jain philosophy. The life as we know now, after death therefore moves on to another form of life based on the merits and demerits it accumulated in its current life. The path to becoming a supreme soul is to practice non-violence and be truthful.
In Hinduism, the holy book Rigveda, the oldest extant Indo-Aryan text, numerous references are made to rebirths, although it portrays reincarnation as "redeaths" (punarmrtyu). One verse reads "Each death repeats the death of the primordial man (purusa), which was also the first sacrifice" (RV 10:90).Another excerpt from the Rig Veda states (Book 10 Part 02, Hymn XVI):
"Burn him not up, nor quite consume him, Agni: let not his body or his skin be scattered. O Jatavedas, when thou hast matured him, then send him on his way unto the Fathers... let thy fierce flame, thy glowing splendour, burn him With thine auspicious forms, o Jatavedas, bear this man to the region of the pious... Again, O Agni, to the Fathers send him who, offered in thee, goes with our oblations. Wearing new life let him increase his offspring: let him rejoin a body, Jatavedas."
Indian discussion of reincarnation enters the historical record from about the 6th century BCE, with the development of the Advaita Vedanta tradition in the early Upanishads (around the middle of the first millennium BCE), Gautama Buddha (623-543 BCE) as well as Mahavira, the 24th Tirthankara of Jainism.
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.
The later Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which incorporated elements of Buddhist thought, give similar instructions on how to attain the ability.The Buddha reportedly warned that this experience can be misleading and should be interpreted with care.
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.