Do You Believe in Reincarnation?
“DO YOU remember the neighbor girl you were in love with when you were growing up here in India?” wrote Mukundbhai to his son, a university student in the United States. “She is going to be married in a few weeks. I thought you ought to know.”
Why did the father share this news with his son? After all, Mukundbhai put an end to that teenage romance in no uncertain terms years ago. Besides, the son had been in the States pursuing higher education for six years. He had not been in touch with the girl during that time, and Mukundbhai knew that.
Why, then, the concern? It was shown because Mukundbhai believed in reincarnation, or rebirth.* If by chance the childhood attraction between the two had been due to their being partners in previous lives, it would be cruel to keep them apart now that they were of marriageable age. Mukundbhai just wanted to make his son aware of the situation before the girl became someone else’s wife in this life.
Consider another case. A four-year-old girl had had several agonizing stays in a hospital in Mumbai, India. Her problem was a defective valve in her heart. Her well-to-do parents could not bear to see the child suffer. But they reasoned: “We have to accept it. She must have done something in her previous life to deserve this.”
Belief in reincarnation plays an important role in the lives of millions in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, and other religions originating in India. Experiences in life—from falling in love to intense suffering—are considered consequences of deeds committed in a previous life or lives.
Many in Western lands also have a fascination with the doctrine of reincarnation. American actress Shirley MacLaine professes to believe in it. Writer Laurel Phelan of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, claims to have memories of 50 past lives. In a 1994 Gallup poll conducted for CNN/USA Today, more than 270 of 1,016 adults professed to believe in reincarnation. Belief in reincarnation is also a part of the New Age movement. But what evidence supports this belief?
“Memories of a previous life!” say believers in reincarnation. Consequently, when three-year-old Ratana in Bangkok began to have “memories of her past life as a religious woman who died in her 60s,” most observers accepted her case as valid proof of reincarnation.
Skepticism abounds, however. And other explanations of memories attributed to previous lives are possible.* In his book Hinduism: Its Meaning for the Liberation of the Spirit, Hindu philosopher Nikhilananda says that ‘experiences after death cannot be demonstrated by reason.’ Yet he asserts that “the doctrine of rebirth is more probable than improbable.”
But does the Bible support this teaching? And what hope for the dead does the inspired Word of God offer?
“Reincarnation,” says The New Encyclopædia Britannica, means “rebirth of the soul in one or more successive existences, which may be human, animal, or, in some instances, vegetable.” The term “rebirth” is also used to describe this phenomenon, but the word “reincarnation” is commonly accepted. Several dictionaries of Indian languages use the words interchangeably.
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Is she being punished for sins committed in a previous life?