What is Reincarnation?

What is Reincarnation?

In its basic sense, reincarnation means to be born once more in the flesh (Latin re=again, +in + caro=flesh). It is the view that human beings are physically born not just once, but many times. This is the general understanding of all those who use this word.

Reincarnation may mean:

  • being born as human beings only (e.g., views of theosophists)
  • being born also as non-humans, especially animals, or even plants (e.g., Buddhists and Hindus)

There are three more terms that are used interchangeably with the word reincarnation:

Metempsychosis. This word comes from Greek writings (meta=beyond, after + en=in + psyche=soul) that refers to the transfer of souls to another body, either human or animal. It was the term used in the writings of Plato and other Greek writers.

Transmigration. A term similar to reincarnation and usually includes being born into animal bodies.

Rebirth. This term has a particular meaning in Buddhism that differs somewhat from the common understanding of reincarnation. While Buddhism believes in reincarnation, they think that there is no substantive transfer of any soul from one life to another. This is on account of the doctrine of anatma or anatta, which denies the existence of any enduring self-identity or soul. The analogy used is a candle that lights another candle. There is no real transfer of anything, but the other candle is lit up. Not all Buddhist sects however agree about the meaning of rebirth. Thus the Yogacara school of Buddhism teaches the existence of a storehouse of consciousness called alaya vijnana that explanation of continuity of memory and consciousness. The Pudgalavada sect posited a personality or pudgala that transfers from one life to another.