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What is Reincarnation?
Although sometimes referred to as the Transmigration of Souls, the term Reincarnation should not be confused with the Theory of Transmigration, which suggests that some individuals return to life in the body of a lower animal, even insect as punishment for sins committed during their previous life. This theory was developed by undeveloped races and is strongly disputed by true believers in reincarnation and has no place in their doctrine.
The Basic Doctrine of Reincarnation
Although there are several schools of Reincarnation, the one consistent underlying belief is that the soul or immaterial part of man returns to life in a new and different body after dying. This return to living form is preceded by a period of rest (depending on past reincarnations), and the return is always to the body of a new, unborn infant. The person continues then to grow and live in this new body, their past experiences contributing to their new character or personality. This rebirth is governed by the Law of Attraction - the belief that "like attracts like" – the basis for the theory of Karma and the Bible proverb that “Man will reap what he sows.” In accordance with this law, the rebirth will occur in a body and circumstances deserved by the individuals past actions. Likewise, the soul will be born to parents bound to it by their own past actions. This is the basic doctrine held by the most intelligent of adherents to reincarnation.
Many peoples around the world believe in reincarnation, in both western and eastern cultures. Over the course of history the popularity of the reincarnation theory has risen and died out only to rise again. Generations who were fervent believers at one time cooled on the topic, only for their descendants to ignite interest once again. Reincarnation in this aspect is an excellent example of its own doctrine!
E.D.Walker on Reincarnation
The teachings of reincarnation are most beautifully described by the English Writer E.D.Walker. He writes, "Reincarnation teaches that the soul enters this life, not as a fresh creation, but after a long course of previous existences on this earth and elsewhere, in which it acquired its present inhering peculiarities, and that it is on the way to future transformations which the soul is now shaping. It claims that infancy brings to earth, not a blank scroll for the beginning of an earthly record, nor a mere cohesion of atomic forces into a brief personality, soon to dissolve again into the elements, but that it is inscribed with ancestral histories, some like the present scene, most of them unlike it and stretching back into the remotest past. These inscriptions are generally undecipherable, save as revealed in their moulding influence upon the new career; but like the invisible photographic images made by the sun of all it sees, when they are properly developed in the laboratory of consciousness they will be distinctly displayed”.
Origin of Reincarnation
Belief in reincarnation has never completely faded from the human race. In some cultures the theory burns as bright as it always has, and generally speaking, the twenty-first century has experienced a major revival of belief in the subject. When you consider the vast numbers of Hindus and other Eastern cultures that tenaciously hold to their fervent belief in it, and the masses of those in the western world who have begun to flock to its teachings while searching for spiritual answers, it is estimated that close to sixty percent of the world's population believe in reincarnation to some extent. It is a very alive and vigorous doctrine which many devotees believe is set to play a major role in Western history over the course of the next fifty to a hundred years.
When one looks at how the doctrine has ebbed and flowed among ancient peoples over the course of history, it is indeed an interesting journey. Though it is hard to pinpoint exactly where or when belief in reincarnation originated, different theories have been put forward by different writers over the years, and include India, Egypt, and even the lost city of Atlantis. Some proponents such as William Walker Atkinson, an early twentieth century author and influential and important figure in the early days of the New Thought Movement, believe that it did not originate with any specific culture at any specific place or time, but only when man was intellectually developed enough to consider the possibility of something living after death.
Buddhist Doctrine of Reincarnation
The Three Phases of Reincarnation
Every culture around the world believes in a “ghost”, some immaterial aspect of an individual that survives death. It is this fundamental belief in ghosts that forms the basis of reincarnation. The idea behind reincarnation is that this ghost somehow, at sometime, eventually finds a new earthly body to inhabit. This is the beginning of the reincarnation doctrine begins. Thus, the first phase of reincarnation is death.
Belief in the second phase of reincarnation is based in the theory that if the “ghost” is determined to seek out a new body to live in on earth, it must have lived before, experiencing life and thus desiring it again. Extending the theory, it is evident that if the ghost knows what to do, it must have a long string of lives behind it.
The third phase of reincarnation lies in the belief that the next life is contingent on actions performed or deeds left undone in the previous life. These beliefs are very much intuitive to all human beings, though occultists attach the additional idea that man has received instruction from more advanced life forms that have moved on to higher planes of existence and are now believed to be the Teachers, Adepts, and Masters of folklore and mythology. Regardless of the explanation or reasons it is evident that man has come to believe in something immaterial that survives death, has lived before in other bodies, and wants to live again.
Reincarnation Beliefs Around the World
The archaeologist Sebastiano Soldi published an interesting and informative group of works that deal with the beliefs of ancient peoples. He ha shown through fragments of their carvings and sculpture that, not only is there a universal belief in the “ghost” among them, but a continuing idea that said “ghost” would return to the scene of its former activities, eventually advancing to the idea that it would be reborn in a new body.
The earliest explorers in Africa returned with reports of evidence of a belief in reincarnation among the African tribes of old, as did early American explorers after encountering Native American tribes, beliefs which exist until today. In different parts of the world, primitive tribes are known to place the bodies of their dead infants by the side of the road in order to have a clear view of pregnant women who may pass by. The belief in a complex soul by many of these primitive tribes is akin to the beliefs of advanced cultures such as the Chinese, Egyptians, and Hindus.
In Fiji the islanders believe in both a black soul that dies and disintegrates along with the body, and a white soul that wanders for awhile as a ghost before finding a new body through which to be reborn. Natives of Greenland also have a two-soul belief system; an astral soul that can leave the body during sleep, but which withers and dies after the body disintegrates, and a second soul that survives death and is reborn again at a later date.
Whatever one personally believes, it can not be ignored that the doctrine of reincarnation runs deep in a multitude of cultures from around the world. It can be found in both primitive societies and advanced ones, as well as in the legends of the Lost City of Atlantis. Even in those cultures in which reincarnation is not especially prevalent or accepted, there lie traces of the doctrine in some form.
Reincarnation and the Law of Karma: A Study of the Old-New World-Doctrine of Rebirth, and Spiritual Cause and Effect
Author: William Walker Atkinson