Reincarnation Facts and Resources

What is Reincarnation?

Reincarnation is the concept that souls are continuously reborn in different bodies at different times and places. Many belief systems around the world embrace reincarnation, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, and a variety of New Age religions. Each religion professes different beliefs about the cause and purpose of reincarnation, but some facts remain consistent. In most every case, reincarnation is a natural and very important part of the development of a soul; it is the process of struggling against some negative force, such as desire or karma, toward a higher state of being; and it applies to all human beings, if not all living creatures.

What do metempsychosis, the cycle of rebirth, and transmigration of the soul mean? Where do they come from?

Metempsychosis, also known as the transmigration of the soul, is a concept from ancient Greek philosophy. It refers to the journey of the soul from one incarnation (fleshly host) to the next. The soul is released from the body by death and exists briefly in a pure spiritual state before returning to a new body. The cycle of rebirth refers to the continuous process of transmigration and rebirth that attends the history of every soul. Plato is considered the “father” of these beliefs in Western thought; however, they are prominent in many Eastern religious systems.

About Reincarnation: Site offering information, background, anecdotes, evidence, and other content about reincarnation from the Buddhist perspective.

Karma and Reincarnation: Information about reincarnation from the Hindu perspective and its relationship to the concept of karma.

Plato: Phaedrus: Brief definition of metempsychosis and its origins in Greek thought.

Is there any evidence of reincarnation?

Reincarnation, like anything that takes place after death, is very difficult to study. The evidence of reincarnation comes from the study of incidents where people seem to remember places or people from a distant past. There is also déjà vu and the phenomenon of “old souls” – that is, people (including children) who conduct themselves with an aura of wisdom far beyond their years. Past-life regression therapy, including hypnosis and other methods, has purportedly been used to uncover memories and hidden psychological dynamics related to past lives. Purely scientific evidence is more scant. Some believers point to the laws of thermodynamics, which state that energy – perhaps even the energies of which a soul is made – can neither be created or destroyed, but must remain constant. Understood this way, the idea may support reincarnation.

Reincarnation Teachings: Information from the website of the International Kadampa Buddhist Union.

Reincarnation: Brief discussion from internationally known psychic and medium Sylvia Browne.

How can I know if my significant other and I knew each other in a past life?

Intuition helps here. If you and your significant other seem drawn to one another in a way that is uniquely compelling – beyond even “love at first sight” – and seem to “know” each other far longer than you have in this life, this may be considered a sign that you have met before. Lovers who have been together in previous lives are said to be harmonious and share an unspoken understanding. Their personalities tend to complement and complete one another, though they are not immune to the normal problems of relationships. Be aware that loves in past lives may have been stormy and troubled, and that being re-acquainted with a past lover is no guarantee of “perfect” happiness.

Past Life Center: Information on past life research and past life regression with a focus on children who claim to recall past lives.

Vedanta Society of Southern California: Reincarnation: Information on reincarnation, its aspects and meaning in the Vedantic tradition.

How can events or memories from a past life affect people in this life?

Past-life memories are considered to have a variety of effects on the present, both positive and negative. Positive past experiences can help draw a person to places, people, and activities that are fulfilling and enlightening to them. Negative past experiences can lead to aversions and phobias that seem to have no cause in the present life. Intense experiences of either sort can lead to disturbances and “sensitivities” such as dreams about past lives, déjà vu, and other kinds of intuitive phenomena.

Karma and Reincarnation in Hinduism: Another view on reincarnation in the Hindu faith.

On Reincarnation: Information about reincarnation in the Jewish mystical tradition.

If people have lived previous lives, why can't they remember?

Most belief systems draw important distinctions between the body and soul, and between the eternal part of the spirit that continues to reincarnate and the identity or ego that is experienced in each incarnation. The physical body is discarded and the ego identity is “forgotten” in the period of pure spiritual existence between incarnations. Through exercises like meditation and prayer, the next incarnation is able to connect with the soul and previous incarnations. This can take a very long time.

The Reincarnation of Souls: Article from a rabbi further discussing reincarnation in Judaism.

Reincarnation and Christianity: Detailed exploration of whether belief in reincarnation is compatible with Christianity.

Does this mean if you believe in reincarnation you can't believe in Heaven?

No. Belief in reincarnation and belief in Heaven can exist side-by-side. For example, in Buddhism, the cycle of reincarnation ends with the attainment of nirvana, a state of bliss that ends all suffering. There is much discussion about whether beliefs similar to reincarnation were held by early Christians, for whom a belief in Heaven was most definitely central to spiritual identity. Heaven can be seen as the end result of the cycle of reincarnation, one form perfect bliss may take.

Reincarnation and Past Lives: Articles on learning about past lives and their relevance to present existence.

Reincarnation, Esalen Center for Theory and Research: Scholarly discussion of alternative interpretations of reincarnation theory.

How many people believe in reincarnation?

It is impossible to know precisely, but millions of people worldwide identify themselves with belief systems in which reincarnation plays a part. This includes over 300 million Buddhists, 800 million Hindus, at least one million adherents of New Age religions, and several million others, as well as many whose beliefs are held privately. Overall, it is reasonable to estimate that about a quarter of the world’s population believes in reincarnation in some form.

Five Lectures on Reincarnation from Swami Abhedananda: Full text from a renowned Hindu teacher who lived 1866-1939.

Did the Church Suppress Reincarnation?: Cited article providing evidence for reincarnation beliefs in the doctrine of early Christianity.

Do people who have been reincarnated look like their past selves?

Some modern researchers do believe that consistent facial features are a sign of reincarnation. With this in mind, one should remember that a person’s national origin, gender, and other factors that affect physical appearance are wont to be radically different from one life to the next. Characteristics of the spirit and personality are thought much more likely to be related from one reincarnation to the next – for example, interests and "natural" talents.

Reincarnation: On the relationship between dharma, karma, and reincarnation. Also links to Reincarnation is Making a Comeback, a book-length text on New Age beliefs that includes chapters on reincarnation itself.

Research Papers on Reincarnation and Past Lives: Bibliography of academic research relating to reincarnation.

Do people reincarnate as animals and vice-versa?

There is a variety of opinions on this matter. Some belief systems hold that human souls are unique and that the cycle of rebirth applies only to human beings. Others maintain that this cycle begins with the simplest forms of life on Earth and progresses to the first human reincarnation only after much time has passed. In some interpretations, reincarnating as an animal can be a reward or a punishment, while in others, being human throughout incarnations is an important part of the process of a soul’s development.

Reincarnation Belief in Europe: Statistics and information on the level of belief in reincarnation in various European countries.

A Basic Buddhism Guide: Answers questions about transmigration and animal reincarnation, among others, in Buddhism.

How long do people spend between incarnations?

It is generally agreed that the passage of time for the soul is not comparable to the passage of time for embodied people. A person may be reborn immediately after death, or may appear in a new form many years later. Some modern authorities on reincarnation tend strongly to the opinion that reincarnation is almost instant, but accounts from those who believe they recall past lives do not make this clear.

What is Reincarnation?: Brief article from Theosophy, February 1928.

Approaches to Reincarnation Research in Western Countries: Overview of the history of scientific inquiry into reincarnation in the western world, beginning in 1882.

Why can't everyone remember their past lives?

In theory, anyone can remember past lives with enough effort. However, there may be many reasons for an inability to remember past lives. In this lifetime, one may have inhibiting beliefs that make it difficult to access these memories. In the past, one may have experienced events that would be harmful to recall at present and must wait until more experiences from this life have been gathered. There may be specific people, places, or events that will help to trigger past memories, but that have not yet been encountered. Recalling past lives tends to be a challenge for almost everyone.

International Association for Regression Research and Therapies: International organization aimed at promoting and collecting empirical research on past life regression and developing therapies to promote past life recall.

Return of the Revolutionaries: A website discussing research and information pertaining to a book that presents the case for reincarnation, from a member of the IARRT. Includes a variety of reincarnation “case studies.”

Does everyone just keep reincarnating forever?

Reincarnation does come to an end. Virtually all belief systems associated with reincarnation assert that the purpose of reincarnation is growth and spiritual development, culminating in a higher state of being beyond the cycle of reincarnation. Details vary, but it is believed this state is completely different and separate from reincarnation and its sufferings. Therefore, reincarnation does not continue forever – only until the soul reaches a certain level of enlightenment, impossible to describe or understand fully in earthly terms.

Reincarnation Question and Answer: A variety of sources from Hinduism are used to answer specific questions about reincarnation.

The Question of Reincarnation: Reincarnation primer from the First Spiritual Temple, a Spiritual Christian church founded in 1883.

What views do major religions and philosophies take on reincarnation?

Reincarnation has a major role in many world religions. It is a central tenet of the beliefs of Hindus and Buddhists worldwide. It is also a part of Jainism, Sikhism, Taosim, and other religions. Though orthodox currents of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam generally reject the idea of reincarnation, Sufi Muslims, as well as esoteric groups within Judaism and some Christian communities, do entertain the possibility.

Reincarnation Western-Style: An article from Faith & Reason discussing different strands of belief in reincarnation from a contrarian perspective.

Jainism: An introduction to the Jainist religion, including discussion of reincarnation.

Division of Perceptual Studies: Department of the University of Virginia that studies phenomena including reincarnation, near-death experiences, out-of-body experiences, and others.

Who are some prominent people who accepted reincarnation and/or appeared to recall past lives?

One of the most famous proponents of reincarnation is the Dalai Lama, the leader of Tibetan Buddhists. Traditionally, the Dalai Lama has been selected through a series of tests that help to establish that he is the reincarnation of a previous Dalai Lama. However, there are many other famous believers in reincarnation. Toward the end of his life, the writings of Thomas Edison disclose a clear belief in reincarnation. Henry Ford and Gen. George S. Patton also recorded their beliefs in reincarnation. Reincarnation is strongly associated with the thought of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, and the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, and others. George Harrison of The Beatles also affirmed his belief in reincarnation.

Reincarnation: Chapter from the book A Textbook of Theosophy published in 1912.

Taoism: Article from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Taoism, explaining the belief system and comparing its doctrines on reincarnation to Buddhism.

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