Cassie Rodenberg Producer, TreeHugger
Reincarnation, when the soul comes back to life, after death, in a newborn body, dates back to the Iron Age, around 1200 B.C. Philosophical roots rise from ancient Greece and India and were adopted early in the Eastern religions of Buddhism and Jainism. Later when Buddhism spread to Asia, Chinese Taoists adopted the belief.
In Hinduism’s ancient writings, called Vedic hymns, it was thought that humans continued to exist after death as a whole person, and the idea of reincarnation wasn’t yet formed. So early Hinduism believed in a limited heavenly existence instead of a return to an earthly entity. However, around 9th century B.C. in Hinduism’s Brahmana writings, the religion explored new ideas: depending on one’s deeds and sacrifices performed in life, after death a person could have a limited period of immortality in a heavenly afterlife. After this period of heavenly immortality (and enjoying the rewards of living a good life), one has a second death in the immortal realm and returns to an earthly form. Later, in the Upanishads, writing explored reincarnation (samsara) as a way to reap benefits for good deeds.
Buddhists, while subscribing to the notion of reincarnation, do not believe that a permanent self reincarnates from one life to the next. In Buddhist philosophy, a person’s inner “self” is always changing and transforming, and thus, a consciousness isn’t permanent. In Buddhism, reincarnation is looked upon as karma, but not an entity, passing from one life to the next. This is similar to one candle lighting another without having a substance of its own. Also, in this thought, it is exceptionally rare for a person to be reincarnated as a human being once again. The odds of such an occurrence are said to be about one in five million times the age of the universe.
In modern times, Western thought sees reincarnation as the soul’s eternal progression to higher planes of spiritual knowledge and understanding, a more mild version of Eastern doctrine.
The belief in reincarnation dates back many centuries ago arguably to India, subsequently traveling through Asia and to the Mediterranean. The Greek philosopher Plato taught that the soul existed in peace and harmony among the heavens, yet fell to Earth in human form when it sinned. To return to the heavens, the soul had to be purified through reincarnation. Hindus believe that souls on Earth are trapped in a cycle of birth, death and reincarnation, each striving for the ultimate spiritual goal, or moksha, that will break the cycle. Similarly, Buddhists believe enlightenment, achieved through meditation, will end the cycle of reincarnation. This spiritual state is known as Nirvana.(Thinkstock)
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