Reincarnation – the soul being reborn in one or more successive existences – is a crucial belief in Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, Wicca, New Age groups, Eckankar, Rosicrucians and other religious minorities. It’s a subject that is frequently romanticised in alternative spirituality books, music, movies and public lectures.
A survey shows that one-third of Europeans believe in reincarnation, with Lithuania having the highest (44%) and Germany the lowest (12%). A Barna survey also indicates that a quarter of Christians in the US believe in reincarnation.
In Hinduism, reincarnation (samsara) is a migration of the soul in successive cycles through which it is reborn as human, animal or plant life forms. In contrast, Buddhism does not believe in soul migration, as Buddhism: An Illustrative Guide notes, it views reincarnation as “a suffering-laden cycle of life death and rebirth without beginning or end.”
Jainism believes it’s a passage of the soul (or atman) through cycles of rebirth, and depending on the karma, a soul can be reborn in heaven, hell or earthly realm.
In Yoruba religion, a component of the departed soul is said to return to earth in form of a guardian (ori) while the other remains in heaven. This idea reflects in some Yoruba names given to persons e.g Yetunde (“mother has returned”), Babatunde (“father has returned”) etc.
The Blind Law of Karma
In Eastern religions, reincarnation is not seen as all bright and sunny. In Hindu thought, the world is seen as a place of terror, suffering and pain – like an evil forest – from which mankind should escape.
But in Western pagan spirituality, these “negative” talk about suffering and pain is bad for marketing, so they adhere to a convenient form of reincarnation – one which blends with Western ideals of hedonism and exploration of potentials. So, while the East teaches that one can return to earth in a lower form as a bug or maggot, the West teaches “progressive” reincarnation, that humans will always return to earth as humans or higher forms.
Karma, the universal law of cause and effect, regulates all natural existence and human experiences. The word “karma” comes from the Sanskrit root words meaning “to do,” “what is done” and “a deed,” and its function is to reward people for every past deed, thought and word with future good or suffering.
But the rewards for all thoughts, deeds and words are too many for one lifetime, so a person must return again to pay off his karmic debts. This is where the “warm fuzzies” of reincarnation wear off.
For example, if a husband beats his wife, he has accrued a negative karma, so in the next life, he must return as a woman beaten by her husband to work off bad karma. Since her husband too has generated a bad karma by abusing her, he will also have to return in the next life as a woman to be beaten by her husband and on and on it must go until the scales of karma are balanced.
Or, if a person murders a fellow, he must be reborn as a victim of murder, after all, there’s no forgiveness in karma. This indicates that karma and reincarnation, perpetuate evil and sin rather than providing a solution to them.
In the Eastern versions, a person’s soul must undergo rebirth until he reaches a state of perfection or liberation (moksha) and becomes united with the divine or universe. In Buddhist belief, he ceases to exist or goes into nothingness (nirvana).
In Western versions, with each rebirth, a soul gradually evolves upward by learning his lessons until he reaches the pinnacle of perfection as an “ascended master” or a super-human being. Essentially, he may have to be reborn in each race, status, gender or zodiac sign in order to evolve. That means a person will probably have at least 10,000 years to attain his goal!
Oskar Benhardt, a 20th century adept, wrote: “Through an Eternal Law, you are burdened with an irrevocable obligation to make atonement which you can never cast upon others … your thoughts, words or deeds can be redeemed by no one but yourself” (The Grail Message, Vol. 1, 43).
There are two problems here. First, the law of karma can’t be “eternal” since this earth isn’t eternal. It has a beginning and definitely has an end. Second, in this system, you are obligated to make atonement for yourself and also redeem yourself from bad karma. In karma, there is no sin and consequently, no Saviour or Redeemer, so how can this self-atonement and self-redemption be achieved? Opinions vary.
Hindus seek “liberation” through ethical living and meditative practices such as yoga. Buddhists observe yamas or niyamas (truthfulness, non-stealing or non-violence). The Jains adhere to asceticism while Sikhs claim it’s by devotion to God and good works. Most agree that Ahimsa is the key. Ahimsa literally means “compassion” or “harmlessness.”
It means you must live your entire life without ever harming any living thing, especially because they all have the spark of “divine spiritual energy” in them. Thus, hurting them brings bad karma. Ahimsa has an extraordinary status in the ethical philosophy of Jainism. Jains take a solemn vow never to hurt any life form with words, deeds or thoughts.
To avoid stepping on an insect, they don’t go out at night and when they walk, they carry a little broom with which they sweep the ground. They live a strict vegetarian diet, eating nuts and fruits which they say, are freely given by the trees. They don’t eat honey – that’s violence to bees – and they also wear masks covering their mouths to prevent them from breathing in or ingesting a microbe. Some Jains don’t even farm because it could kill or injure insects or worms!
This sort of lifestyle may be quaint, but if anyone is going to make it in the karma game, the Jains are. Others who sweetly teach reincarnation but are not emulating them are just hypocrites. The irrationality of this belief becomes obvious when, for instance, you are in a situation when you have to protect your life or that of your family (like in a war), ahimsa flies right out of the window.
And lest anyone put some hope in this folly, our body’s immune system attacks and kills millions of microbes every day, so, the karma debt is beyond what any man can pay. This is where the truth and logic of the Bible shine brightly: “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in [God’s] sight by observing the law” (Rom. 3:20).
No amount of right actions will save us from eternal doom because “our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Is. 64:6). “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). God’s gift of eternal life is free of charge and we neither pay for it nor work to earn it. It’s simply received by faith in Jesus Christ.
Fatalism, Memory and Justice
There’s another problematic outcome of karma: fatalism. It’s asserted that the law of karma cannot be limited to the sphere of human conduct. By karma, the sun, moon and planets keep their appointed courses, the tides rise and fall, the winds blow and all animate creatures pass through all the stages of their life from birth to death (Edgar Thompson, The Word of the Cross to Hindus, 1956, 102).
In other words, whatever will happen has already been fixed by karma. If a ship carrying passengers sinks in the ocean or hundreds of children die in a gas explosion, that’s their karma. In this system, one’s karma (or higher self) – instead of God – is the judge. It judges your actions daily and tells your future what reward you deserve.
That is, you make your own policies, keep your policies and enforce them, ergo – you are your own judge. That was what Oskar Benhardt painted in rainbow colours in his Grail Message. Whatever happens to you is what karma or your “higher self” decides is the best for you.
Now, try to imagine the influence of this belief on cultures that have embraced it. If you see a starving woman with a sick child scavenging on the trash dump of Mantola, don’t you dare help her! She is working out karma. If you take her in, give her a good meal, treat her child and give her a good job, she will just have to return in another lifetime and become a scavenger with a sick child all over again.
So the beggars, destitute and invalids in some Asian countries are left that way because to help them is to interfere in their karma. This is why these regions didn’t have hospitals or charity organizations until Christian missionaries set foot there.
From the reincarnationist’s view, the 2012 gang rape in New Delhi was karma. Perhaps Jyoti Singh’s “higher self” had decreed that she would be raped on that day, so preventing the crime would have messed up her karma. The World Trade Centre attack was karma too, since the “higher selves” of those 2,977 victims simply worked together with the “higher selves” of the 19 plane hijackers.
The 2008 earthquake in China which claimed 69,195 lives must have been karma too, after all, death is just a “transition.” You see, if we are just puppets on a playground playing out an unchangeable script, then we have no purpose in life. If we are just here to get recycled into another form like paper, then life is meaningless.
Now, if we have all lived before, why do we not remember? Most people live and die without knowing about their past lives or what they are supposed to be “paying back.” A school of thought says that souls of the dead drink from “the river of forgetfulness” before they are reborn but their past memories can be recovered through occult meditation or mediumship.
This entails expending so much time, energy and money to know one’s previous lives or pay off karma. In some climes, “seekers” sit in lotus position for weeks, literally doing nothing, with all their bodily needs being cared for by others. Must we go into a permanent state of catatonia to know our “past lives”?
I read a book published by the Hare Krishna Society on this subject in 2008. The author says if a woman is thinking of her husband before death, she will return as a man. If she was thinking of a pig, she would return as a pig. I would like to ask: what about persons who reincarnate as cactus plants or mealy bugs, do they also remember their past lives and work off their karma?
How can karma or reincarnation be a “learning experience” if rewards and punishments are meted out to people who have no conscious knowledge of why they are being rewarded or punished? If a 10 year old girl dies of cancer for being Adolf Hitler in her previous life, but never knows that fact, is this a gesture of justice? What lesson did her cancer teach her about her past life if she couldn’t remember it?
How do we learn our lessons if we are never told our mistakes? Why do the gods or the universe (or whatever!) punish people for bad deeds in their past lives which they don’t know? Is it not sadism to put people through misery while withholding the very knowledge they need to solve it? Is this just? Is this sane? Even from a human standpoint, reincarnation is senseless.
“Proofs” of Reincarnation?
Some people have claimed to remember their “past lives” through hypnosis, but in the court of law, memories recovered via hypnosis are not scientifically reliable. Dr. Ian Stevenson, has published case studies of 2,500 children who claimed to have remembered their past lives over a period of 40 years.
Keith Augustine reviewed this in The Case Against Immortality, stating that “the vast majority of Stevenson’s cases come from countries where religious belief in reincarnation is strong, and rarely elsewhere, [which] seems to indicate that cultural conditioning (rather than reincarnation) generate claims of spontaneous past life memories.”
A true scientific experiment must eliminate all other variables except the control, but since Stevenson’s works (and other “testimonies”) haven’t done this, then these children must have obtained their information, however accurate, from demon spirits which have been in existence for ages.
Buddhist sage, Dalai Lama boasted: “If science can disprove reincarnation, Tibetan Buddhism would abandon reincarnation.” Of course, science has disproved several ancient beliefs, but they are seldom given up.
Reincarnation is invalidated even by demography. The world population in 1350 was near 370 million, but as of March 2016, it is 7.4 billion and it’s estimated to increase to 11.2 billion by 2100. If we are all being recycled, why is the human population increasing exponentially? Where are all the new babies coming from? Or how did 200 souls emerge from one corresponding soul from 8 centuries ago?
To affirm the existence of a Creator creating new spirits totally negates the pantheist worldview. We are told reincarnation results in human upward evolution, but where is the evidence for this?
Apart from progress in science and technology, can we say humanity has made any significant progress in the last two centuries? Think of the two bloody world wars in the 20th century and the crises currently brewing in several nations of the world. We boast of medical breakthroughs, only for more deadly diseases to strike the earth. We invent satellites, computers and split atoms, only for human depravity, deception and wickedness to rise to another level.
Mankind has not evolved. In fact, if reincarnation is true, India and Nepal, with their arcane spirituality and traditions, should have been the most civilized utopia nations on earth by now. But if what we see happening there today are the ideals of reincarnation, then it’s truly lamentable.
Reincarnation in the Bible?
Some people claim John the Baptist in the Bible was a reincarnation of Elijah. But when John was asked “Are you Elijah?” He answered “no.” (Jn. 1:21). His office was similar to that of Elijah in the scale of repentance (Mal. 4:5-6). Elijah didn’t die and certainly didn’t reincarnate.
John 9:1-3 doesn’t support reincarnation either because Jesus said: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned.” The Bible is clear: “People die once, and after that they are judged” (Heb. 9:27).
The Bible teaches resurrection instead of reincarnation and we have a reliable evidence of Jesus Christ who died and rose again. He didn’t reincarnate. What proof do reincarnationists have for their belief? Their “higher selves”? some mystical books? spirit guides? vivid memories? These are not proofs.
Rather than making us run on the treadmill of karma for centuries till we get it right, the true God offers complete forgiveness and salvation by faith in Jesus Christ (John 5:24). Reincarnation is an amoral and hopeless lie. It neither atones man’s sins nor redeems him from evil.