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The concept of reincarnation, also called transmigration of souls, holds that after physical death, some critical part of a person's personality or spirit is reborn in a different body. This is a central tenet of Hinduism, Jainism, and African religions, as well as other religions and philosophies.

The concept of rebirth, although often thought as similar to reincarnation, differs drastically and is exclusive to Buddhism. Hindus believe that the soul, or atman is what is preserved from one life to the next. Buddhists on the other hand express what they call anatta, or the non-existence of any unchanging permanent substance. The person is an aggregative whole of psycho-physical components that separate upon death. However, when they separate, they normally cause, if karmic energies are still present, a new aggregate to be formed, and thus rebirth is carried out.

Although reincarnation shares certain common features across these belief systems - a continuation of the self usually associated with some karmic task - there are often differing descriptions of the actual mechanism by which reincarnation occurs, as well as the details of what aspect of the person is being continued.

Reincarnation has a history in western culture as well. Some ancient Greek philosophers believed in reincarnation; see for example Plato's Phaedo and The Republic. Pythagoras was probably the first Greek philosopher to advance the idea. Many Gnostic groups believed in reincarnation. Toward the Light is an example of a contemporary work originating in the western world, which very detailed accounts for reincarnation.

Table of contents
1 Evidence of reincarnation
2 References
3 External Links

Cycle of death and rebirth

In vedic religions, liberation from samsara, the cycle of death and rebirth, is considered the ultimate goal of earthly existance. This is known as Moksha in Hinduism and Jainism, and as Nirvana in Buddhism.

The Gnostics also believed that the material body was evil, and that they would be better off if they could eventually avoid having their 'good' souls reincarnated in 'evil' bodies.

Similarily, Scientology holds that the people of earth have been brainwashed into believing that they cannot exist without a physical body, and that the resulting fear of death and compulsive need to reincarnate immediately after death are responsible of much of their misery.

Reincarnation doctrine in Western religions

Aside from the religions mentioned above, there are other groups who believe in reincarnation as well. In Christianity for instance, the great majority of Christian groups deny reincarnartion, but some sects, such as the Liberal Catholic Church, include the concept of reincarnation in their doctrine. Some Hasidic Jews also include this doctrine.

Today belief in reincarnation is widespread in New Age and Neopagan circles. It is an important tenet of Theosophy, and central to Spiritism, founded by Allan Kardec.

The Church of Scientology's Sea Org[?] has been known to issue employment contracts with a duration of one million years and a clause specifically stipulating that the contractual obligations continue after death.

Evidence of reincarnation

Although anecdotal evidence abounds, the scientific evidence for reincarnation is currently fairly weak. The most detailed collections of personal reports in favor of reincarnation have been published by Dr. Ian Stevenson[?] in works such as Reincarnation and Biology: A Contribution to the Etiology of Birthmarks and Birth Defects, which documents thousands of detailed cases where claims of injuries received in past lives sometimes correlate with atyptical physical birthmarks or birth defects. Perhaps the most significant anecdotal evidence in this regard is the phenomenon of young children spontaneously sharing what appear to be memories of past lives, a phenomenon which has been reported even in cultures that do not hold to a belief in reincarnation. Upon investigating these claims, Stevenson and others have identified individuals who had died a few years before the child was born who seem to meet the descriptions the children provided. In the most compelling cases, autopsy photographs reveal that the deceased individuals have fatal injuries that correspond to the unusual marks or birth defects of the child; for example, marks on the chest and back of a child line up precisely with the bullet entry and exit wounds on the body of an individual who has been shot. However, Stevenson cautions that such evidence is suggestive of reincarnation, but that more research must be conducted.

Skeptics such as Paul Edwards[?] have analyzed many of these and other anecdotal accounts, and claim that further research into the individuals involved provides sufficient background to weaken the conclusion that these cases are credible examples of reincarnation.

Critics who claim that reincarnation is impossible often espouse the alternate theory that a large number of mental phenomena such as memory and ability are already accounted for by physiological processes; and may point to moral and practical inconsistencies in the various theories of reincarnation. To the materialistic mind, Occam's Razor would then seem to dictate that the critical view is to be preferred, as it demands no extraordinary new evidence beyond what is already known to science.

A more skeptical view is that without solid evidence showing that reincarnation exists (regardless of the current state of science), the theory of reincarnation cannot be considered to be a valid scientific theory regarding the real world. Some skeptics explain the abundance of claims of evidence for reincarnation to originate from selective thinking[?] and the psychological phenomena of false memories that often result from one's own belief system and basic fears, and thus cannot be accounted as empirical evidence[?].

See also: Karma, Metempsychosis


  • Ian Stevenson, Reincarnation and Biology: A Contribution to the Etiology of Birthmarks and Birth Defects ISBN 0275952835
  • Paul Edwards, Reincarnation: A Critical Examination ISBN 1573929212

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