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The belief that an individual human soul passes through a succession of lives. The idea of reincarnation had its origin in northern India (c. 1000 - 800 BC). Western views of reincarnation popular today are modifications of the ancient theory of transmigration of souls (sometimes called metempsychosis), which holds that the soul may be incarnated not only in human bodies but also in animals and plants. The Western version of transmigration has been redefined to limit cyclic rebirths taking place in human form only.

The concept of reincarnation first appeared in the early Hindu scriptures (Upanishads). It has always been an integral part of classical Buddhism. Reincarnational thinking characterized some Greek philosophers, including Pythagoras and Plato. Because of the influence of the first century Greek mystery religions, the Gnostics, and the Roman Stoics, the theory of transmigration, or reincarnation, became firmly established as a Western as well as Eastern doctrine.

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Closely associated with the notion of reincarnation cycles in the Eastern concept of Karma. The law of karma asserts that the evil deeds of past lives relate to the present life, and that one's present actions have implications for future lives. Essentially karma is the law of cause and effect, of action followed by reaction. In the Orient the belief in karma has resulted in a basically pessimistic view of life. Human existence is often a dreary, endless cycle of pain, suffering, and rebirth. Karmic reincarnation does not resolve the problem of evil. It requires self salvation leading to ultimate liberation from the wheel of rebirth. The concepts of divine forgiveness and mercy are absent.

The modern Western expression of reincarnation emerged during the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century and was revived by such nineteenth century occultic movements as Theosophy, founded by the influential Madame H P Blavatsky. This westernized version of reincarnation was later popularized by such psychics as Edgar Cayce, Helen Wambach, and Jeanne Dixon. Unlike Eastern proponents of reincarnation, Western reincarnationists stress a more optimistic view of life, holding out the hope of more and better lives.

The ultimate objective of all reincarnation is to fuse with "ultimate reality," to merge with God, to become God. All reincarnation teachings are based on a monistic, mystical - occult world view that promotes the essential divinity of humanity, denies the notion of a sovereign personal God, and offers the promise of esoteric wisdom.

Biblical Christianity, in contrast to reincarnational teaching, emphasize grace, atonement, and forgiveness for fallen humanity through the once - for - all death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Christian's disavowal of reincarnation is anchored in the biblical assertion that "man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment" (Heb. 9:27).

R M Enroth
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

M Albrecht, Reincarnation: A Christian Appraisal; R A Morey, Reincarnation and Christianity; P J Swihart, Reincarnation, Edgar Cayce and the Bible.

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

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