|Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries||Oriental religions|
Does Reincarnation exist?
A widespread religious teaching – of the past and the present – is the teaching regarding reincarnation. According to this teaching, when someone dies, their soul moves into another body with a new personality, in which they live a new life.
There are many versions to this teaching, amongst various religions. The most familiar version is the Buddhist one, which believes that the soul’s final objective is to escape from the interminable cycle of continuous incarnations, in order to attain Nirvana – the state of……non-existence!
Others believe that reincarnation occurs from person to person, while others, that it occurs only between intelligent beings (humans-angels-gods), and also others, that it occurs to animals, plants, or even minerals!
In the West, the teaching of reincarnation is encountered chiefly in the miscellaneous “New Age” currents. Here, it usually appears in a more “Westernized” version, i.e., that he objective of reincarnation is progress and a rebirth into a higher life form, and not an eventual disappearance….
The aforementioned teachings are not only foreign, but also entirely incompatible with Christian teaching. The teaching on reincarnation – albeit in varying forms – usually teaches that personality is something that changes from one reincarnation to another, and is even absorbed by a faceless divinity and vanishes, like a drop in an ocean.
This, however, is contrary to the Christian faith, where, both God and every single person have their individual personality, which is preserved forever, and everyone continues to recognize himself or herself as the specific person.
In Christianity, the teaching regarding the resurrection says that the person who dies will again acquire a body, it will live again with the particular personal characteristics that it had before its death, thus recognizing itself.
Let’s take a brief look at the problems that the reincarnation theory contains. To begin with, we shall examine the necessity of developing such a theory, which is none other than the attempt to explain evil and to satisfy man’s sense of justice.
Every human remains ecstatic, at the injustice of our world. Human suffering walks hand-in-hand with the suffering of the rest of creation, and every one of us has wept at the sight of images of misery and injustice. Why is this? What is the deeper meaning? Well, if the only life that exists is the one we see and live, then absolutely everything is unfair and futile. Who is going to compensate every person that dies unfairly? Who is going to reciprocate the injustice of those who -albeit injurious- nevertheless continue to live and die happily?
Questions such as these appear to receive a shallow answer in the reincarnation doctrine, by people who have never heard the Christian teaching on the existence of evil.
Apparently, when a wronged human dies, his next reincarnation is governed by the law of Karma, which ordains that in a forthcoming reincarnation, the wronged person will be rewarded, while the one who wronged him will take back the injustice that he did. Thus, the wronged person will become a superior creature or a blissful person and the one who wronged him will become a beggar or a malicious, bloodthirsty animal. In this way, man’s sense of justice is satisfied and suffering doesn’t loom as heavy.
But are these theories logical? Let’s take a closer look.
According to this teaching, if someone is wronged, well, that’s his karma, because in a previous life he was a bad person!
But if that is the case, then the idea of injustice doesn’t exist, so it is appropriate that he be wronged! He is simply getting what he deserves! Human pain should not be treated with pity, nor should there be any attempts to help that person! The beggar and the sick should not be offered any alms, but on the contrary, they should be blamed as the ones responsible for their wretched condition, since they must have been evil persons in their previous lifetimes! Every person should thus accept his fate: without complaining, and without any attempts to improve his (current) life, because he deserves to pay for the injustices of another lifetime, which –by the way – he doesn’t remember (!!!)
There is yet another inconsistency here, in the reincarnation theory. If someone doesn’t remember his previous life, why should he be punished? What’s the use? It is the same as beating your child, without the child knowing the reason for the beating! Or, just accusing it of being a bad child, but without the child knowing what it is accused of!
Punishment has a meaning, only in the context of reform and not as a mere reciprocation! If karma simply reciprocates, then it is not a fair, but a purely vindictive law. The reciprocation of karma would have been meaningful, only if one could remember his previous lives and would thus know the reason for his punishment, so that he would not repeat it.
But even so, someone might say, man could act carefully, in order to evolve into higher reincarnations until his soul acquired enough experience to become one with divinity!
There would still be many unanswered questions, such as: OK for man. But when an evil person is reincarnated into an evil beast, then how will it rise to higher reincarnations? Won’t the evil animal be reincarnated in turn into something worse?
So, let’s assume that all creatures are parts of the omniscient God (as eastern philosophy tells us); If that Supreme Being is omniscient, then why does it need to be divided into so many pieces that will need to acquire experiences and then return them to It? If the Supreme Being is omniscient, then what need does it have for experiences?
If beings do not remain individual persons, but lose their personalities, what, finally, does all this fuss and bother of multiple reincarnations serve, if they return to the nothingness of Nirvana?
And if the absolute One –from which all beings supposedly originated- is indeed the highest level of evolution, then where did evil beings originate? They should have originated from something evil! Something with such a high degree of evolution cannot possibly do anything evil!
And where did germs and worms originate? Surely it is not possible to say that a worm has a benevolent or a malevolent soul! From what did they become reincarnated? And with what good deeds will they progress?
Finally, if karma is that which leads someone into being reincarnated into something good or bad, then karma is the true culprit of injustice in the world! Karma is to blame for everything that happens to someone, and not the person who wronged him, since the wronged and the wrongdoer are mere pawns in a pre-defined performance, based on certain “moral” laws!
Thus, karma is seen as the sublime modulator of the universe –superior even to that absolute One, obliged to compose or decompose itself into other beings, based on the law of karma.
But then, if karma is the ultimate power and cause in the universe, then karma must be the Creator, and it must necessarily be intelligent and just, and not a blind force and the unjust culprit for every hardship!
Then, the absolute One is neither omniscient, nor the first cause, and is subject to limitations or changes on account of karma’s law, and cannot be beyond space and time and hence uncreated (as it is allegedly is).
So, if all this is wrong, how are ‘past life recollections’ with the help of hypnotism explained?
It is a fact, that many believe in reincarnation, not for its philosophical parity, but because they may have simply witnessed one such “recollection”, or, they may have heard about someone who “remembered” events from another’s life without having lived those events or having met that person. But, when there is an alternative reply that explains the workings of a phenomenon, it is wrong to accept a theory such as reincarnation, which contains so many contradictions.
Let’s examine three such alternative explanations.
The first is that there exists a certain psychic bond between people, since they share a common nature. Thus, under certain conditions (such as hypnotism), a person can tap memories from someone else’s life and recall them as his own, without this necessarily signifying that he had personally lived those events in another lifetime.
The second is that in our universe there are other dimensions that are not perceptible. Thus, again, under certain conditions, one could have the potential to see occurrences and events in other points of place and time; something that is taken to mean that those events were actually experienced by that same person.
The third one finally (and the most likely explanation, in the author’s opinion) is that spiritual beings -with self-serving motives for the propagation of the reincarnation theory- subject the hypnotized person to impressions of things that happened to someone else, in other times, in order to convince participants that reincarnation exists. At least some of us, who have observed cases of such “recollections”, formed this impression from the things that the hypnotized subject said, about a “someone” who came to him.
But for those seeking to believe by experience, we remind them of the innumerable experiences of Christians who had contact with deceased persons that recognized themselves or with the living Christ Himself, and who reassured them about the reality of resurrection and the falsity of reincarnation.
Following the summary of the problems with this mistaken theory, let us take a brief look at the Christian viewpoint on the problem of evil and how it is solved without any problems, within the framework of Christianity.
Evil is the cause of our own choices as free creatures. Naturally, not everything ends in this unfair lifetime. Today’s injustices will be vindicated, when, during the resurrection, each one of us receives the body we deserve, according to God’s fair judgment, depending on how we have lived our life. Each one of us will be an individual person and will remember full well what we have done.
Then, during the resurrection, every person will continue to exist as a person, in a community of love between persons, united with the personal, omnipotent God of the universe and not end up a faceless droplet in some faceless Nirvana.
We recommend the excellent book by Father Anthony Alevizopoulos: “Reincarnation or Resurrection? And the problem of evil”, from which we borrowed elements for this article.
Translation by A.N.
Article published in English on: 1-9-2005.
Last update: 1-9-2005.