Should You Believe in Reincarnation?
THE Greek philosopher Plato connected falling in love with the idea of reincarnation. He believed that after the death of the body, the soul, being immortal, migrates to what has been called the “realm of the pure forms.” Bodiless, it remains there for some time, contemplating the forms. When it is later reincarnated into another body, the soul subconsciously remembers and yearns for the realm of forms. According to Plato, people fall in love because they see in their beloved the ideal form of beauty they vaguely remember and seek.
Identifying the Source and the Basis
The teaching of reincarnation requires that the soul be immortal. The origin of reincarnation, then, must be traced to those peoples or nations that held such a belief. On this basis, some think that it originated in ancient Egypt. Others hold that it got started in old Babylonia. To create prestige for the Babylonian religion, its priesthood advanced the doctrine of transmigration of the soul. They could thus claim that their religious heroes were reincarnations of notable, though long dead, ancestors.
It was in India, however, that belief in reincarnation came to full bloom. The Hindu sages were grappling with the universal problems of evil and of suffering among humans. ‘How can these be harmonized with the concept of a righteous Creator?’ they asked. They tried to resolve the conflict between God’s righteousness and the unforeseen calamities and inequalities in the world. In time, they devised “the law of karma,” the law of cause and effect—‘whatever a man sows, that shall he reap.’ They worked out a detailed ‘balance sheet’ whereby merits and demerits in one life are rewarded or punished in the next.
“Karma” simply means “action.” A Hindu is said to have good karma if he conforms to social and religious norms and bad karma if he does not. His action, or karma, determines his future in each successive rebirth. “All men are born with a blueprint of character, mainly prepared by their actions in previous lives, though their physical traits are determined by heredity,” says philosopher Nikhilananda. “A man is [thus] an architect of his own fate, the builder of his own destiny.” The ultimate goal, however, is to be liberated from this cycle of transmigration and be united with Brahman—the ultimate reality. This, it is believed, is achieved by striving for socially acceptable behavior and special Hindu knowledge.
The teaching of reincarnation thus uses as its foundation the doctrine of the immortality of the soul and builds on it using the law of karma. Let us see what God’s inspired Word, the Bible, has to say regarding these ideas.
Is the Soul Immortal?
To answer this question, let us turn to the highest authority on the subject—the inspired Word of the Creator. In the very first book of the Bible, Genesis, we learn the accurate meaning of “soul.” Regarding the creation of the first man, Adam, the Bible says: “Jehovah God proceeded to form the man out of dust from the ground and to blow into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man came to be a living soul.” (Genesis 2:7) Clearly, the soul is not what a man has but what he is. The Hebrew word used here for soul is neʹphesh. It occurs some 700 times in the Bible, and it never refers to a separate and ethereal part of a human but always to something tangible and physical.—Job 6:7; Psalm 35:13; 107:9; 119:28.
What happens to the soul at death? Consider what happened to Adam at his death. When he sinned, God told him: “You [will] return to the ground, for out of it you were taken. For dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:19) Think of what that means. Before God created him from the dust, Adam did not exist. After his death, Adam returned to the same state of nonexistence.
Simply stated, the Bible teaches that death is the opposite of life. At Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10, we read: “The living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all, neither do they anymore have wages, because the remembrance of them has been forgotten. All that your hand finds to do, do with your very power, for there is no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom in Sheol, the place to which you are going.”
This means that the dead are unable to do or feel anything. They no longer have any thoughts, nor do they remember anything. The psalmist states: “Do not put your trust in nobles, nor in the son of earthling man, to whom no salvation belongs. His spirit goes out, he goes back to his ground; in that day his thoughts do perish.”—Psalm 146:3, 4.
The Bible clearly shows that at death the soul does not move on to another body, but it dies. “The soul that is sinning—it itself will die,” the Bible emphatically states. (Ezekiel 18:4, 20; Acts 3:23; Revelation 16:3) Thus, the doctrine of the immortality of the soul—the very foundation of the theory of reincarnation—does not find any support in the Scriptures. Without it, the theory collapses. What, then, explains the suffering we see in the world?
Why Do People Suffer?
The underlying reason for human suffering is the imperfection that we all inherit from sinful Adam. “Through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned,” says the Bible. (Romans 5:12) Being born from Adam, all of us get sick, grow old, and die.—Psalm 41:1, 3; Philippians 2:25-27.
Further, the Creator’s inexorable moral law states: “Do not be misled: God is not one to be mocked. For whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap; because he who is sowing with a view to his flesh will reap corruption from his flesh.” (Galatians 6:7, 8) Thus, a promiscuous life-style may lead to emotional distress, unwanted pregnancies, and sexually transmitted diseases. “An astonishing 30 percent of fatal cancers [in the United States] can be blamed primarily on smoking, and an equal number on lifestyle, especially dietary practices and lack of exercise,” says the magazine Scientific American. Some disasters that cause suffering are a legacy of man’s mismanagement of earth’s resources.—Compare Revelation 11:18.
Yes, man is to blame for much of his misery. Since the soul is not immortal, however, the law of ‘reaping what you sow’ cannot be used to connect human suffering to a karma—deeds of a supposed previous life. “He who has died has been acquitted from his sin,” states the Bible. (Romans 6:7, 23) Thus the fruitage of sin is not carried over to a life after death.
Satan the Devil also causes much suffering. In fact, this world is dominated by Satan. (1 John 5:19) And as Jesus Christ foretold, His disciples would be ‘objects of hatred by all people on account of his name.’ (Matthew 10:22) As a result, the righteous often face more problems than the wicked do.
In this world some events happen for which the causes are not readily evident. The fastest runner may stumble and lose the race. A mighty army may go down in defeat before inferior forces. A wise man may be unable to get a good job and may therefore suffer hunger. People with excellent understanding of business management may, because of circumstances, be unable to put their knowledge to work and thus find themselves in poverty. Knowledgeable individuals may incur the wrath of those in authority and come to be in disfavor. Why is this so? “Because time and unforeseen occurrence befall them all,” answers wise King Solomon.—Ecclesiastes 9:11.
Suffering was mankind’s lot long before Hindu sages tried to explain why it exists. But is there hope of a better future? And what promise does the Bible hold for the dead?
A Peaceful Future
The Creator has promised that soon he will bring an end to the present world society that is under Satan’s control. (Proverbs 2:21, 22; Daniel 2:44) A righteous new human society—“a new earth”—will then be a reality. (2 Peter 3:13) At that time “no resident will say: ‘I am sick.’” (Isaiah 33:24) Even the agony of death will be done away with, for God “will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.”—Revelation 21:4.
Regarding the inhabitants of God’s promised new world, the psalmist foretold: “The righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it.” (Psalm 37:29) Moreover, the meek ones “will indeed find their exquisite delight in the abundance of peace.”—Psalm 37:11.
Mukundbhai, mentioned in the preceding article, has fallen asleep in death without knowing the wonderful promises of God. But millions who have died without knowing God have the prospect of being awakened in such a peaceful new world, for the Bible promises: “There is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.”—Acts 24:15; Luke 23:43.
The word “resurrection” is here translated from the Greek word a·naʹsta·sis, which literally means “a standing up again.” Resurrection thus involves a reactivating of the life pattern of the individual.
The Creator of heaven and earth is infinite in wisdom. (Job 12:13) Remembering the life patterns of dead ones is not a problem for him. (Compare Isaiah 40:26.) Jehovah God also abounds in love. (1 John 4:8) Hence, he can use his perfect memory, not to punish the dead for the bad they have done, but to bring them back to life on a paradise earth with the personality they had before they died.
For millions like Mukundbhai, a resurrection will mean being with their loved ones again. But imagine what it can mean for those who are living now. Take, for example, Mukundbhai’s son, who has come to know the wonderful truth about God and his purposes. How comforting it is for him to know that his father is not trapped in an almost endless cycle of rebirths, each surrounded by wickedness and suffering! He is simply asleep in death, awaiting a resurrection. How thrilling it is for him to contemplate the possibility of one day sharing with his father what he himself has learned from the Bible!
It is God’s will that “all sorts of men should be saved and come to an accurate knowledge of truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3, 4) Now is the time to learn how you, along with millions of others already doing God’s will, can live forever on a paradise earth.—John 17:3.
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“Time and unforeseen occurrence befall them all.”—Ecclesiastes 9:11
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God’s Personality and the Law of Karma
“The law of Karma,” explained Mohandas K. Gandhi, “is inexorable and impossible of evasion. There is thus hardly any need for God to interfere. He laid down the law and, as it were, retired.” Gandhi found this disturbing.
On the other hand, the resurrection promise reveals that God has a deep interest in his creation. To bring a dead one back to life on a paradise earth, God has to know and remember everything about that person. God indeed cares for each one of us.—1 Peter 5:6, 7.
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The Hindu wheel of life
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God’s Word teaches resurrection