Punarjanman: (Sanskrit: पुनर्जन्मन्) means "rebirth, transmigration" [1]

Sautrantika: Some schools conclude that karma continues to exist and adhere to the person until it works out its consequences. For the Sautrantika school, each act "perfumes" the individual or "plants a seed" that later germinates [1]

Sikhism: teaches a doctrine of reincarnation based on the Hindu view but in addition holds that, after the Last Judgment, souls—which have been reincarnated in several existences—will be absorbed in God [1]

Tibetan Buddhism: stresses state of mind at the time of death. To die with a peaceful mind will stimulate a virtuous seed and a fortunate rebirth; a disturbed mind will stimulate a non-virtuous seed and an unfortunate rebirth [1]:

  • Uttarādhyayana-sūtra 3.3–4 states: The jīva or the soul is sometimes born in the world of gods, sometimes in hell. Sometimes it acquires the body of a demon; all this happens on account of its karma. This jīva sometimes takes birth as a worm, as an insect or as an ant. The text further states (32.7): Karma is the root of birth and death. The souls bound by karma go round and round in the cycle of existence

  • Actions and emotions in the current lifetime affect future incarnations depending on the nature of the particular karma. For example, a good and virtuous life indicates a latent desire to experience good and virtuous themes of life. Therefore, such a person attracts karma that ensures that his future births will allow him to experience and manifest his virtues and good feelings unhindered. In this case, he may take birth in heaven or in a prosperous and virtuous human family. On the other hand, a person who has indulged in immoral deeds, or with a cruel disposition, indicates a latent desire to experience cruel themes of life. As a natural consequence, he will attract karma which will ensure that he is reincarnated in hell, or in lower life forms, to enable his soul to experience the cruel themes of life.

  • There is no retribution, judgment or reward involved but a natural consequences of the choices in life made either knowingly or unknowingly. Hence, whatever suffering or pleasure that a soul may be experiencing in its present life is on account of choices that it has made in the past. As a result of this doctrine, Jainism attributes supreme importance to pure thinking and moral behavior

  • Jain texts postulate four gatis, that is states-of-existence or birth-categories, within which the soul transmigrates. The four gatis are: deva (demi-golds), manuṣya (humans), nāraki (hell beings) and tiryañca (animals, plants and micro-organisms). The four gatis have four corresponding realms or habitation levels in the vertically tiered Jain universe: demi-gods occupy the higher levels where the heavens are situated; humans, plants and animals occupy the middle levels; and hellish beings occupy the lower levels where seven hells are situated

  • Single-sensed souls, however, called nigoda, and element-bodied souls pervade all tiers of this universe. Nigodas are souls at the bottom end of the existential hierarchy. They are so tiny and undifferentiated, that they lack even individual bodies, living in colonies. According to Jain texts, this infinity of nigodas can also be found in plant tissues, root vegetables and animal bodies. Depending on its karma, a soul transmigrates and reincarnates within the scope of this cosmology of destinies. The four main destinies are further divided into sub-categories and still smaller sub-sub-categories. In all, Jain texts speak of a cycle of 8.4 million birth destinies in which souls find themselves again and again as they cycle within samsara

  • God has no role to play in an individual's destiny; one's personal destiny is not seen as a consequence of any system of reward or punishment, but rather as a result of its own personal karma. A text from a volume of the ancient Jain canon, Bhagvati sūtra 8.9.9, links specific states of existence to specific karmas. Violent deeds, killing of creatures having five sense organs, eating fish, and so on, lead to rebirth in hell. Deception, fraud and falsehood lead to rebirth in the animal and vegetable world. Kindness, compassion and humble character result in human birth; while austerities and the making and keeping of vows lead to rebirth in heaven

  • Each soul is thus responsible for its own predicament, as well as its own salvation. Accumulated karma represent a sum total of all unfulfilled desires, attachments and aspirations of a soul. It enables the soul to experience the various themes of the lives that it desires to experience. Hence a soul may transmigrate from one life form to another for countless of years, taking with it the karma that it has earned, until it finds conditions that bring about the required fruits. In certain philosophies, heavens and hells are often viewed as places for eternal salvation or eternal damnation for good and bad deeds. But according to Jainism, such places, including the earth are simply the places which allow the soul to experience its unfulfilled karma

  • Reflects a belief in an eternal and transmigrating life principle (jiva) that is akin to an individual soul—holds that karma is a fine particulate substance that settles upon the jiva according to the deeds that a person does. Thus, the burden of the old karma is added to the new karma that is acquired during the next existence until the jiva frees itself by religious disciplines, especially by ahimsa (“nonviolence”), and rises to the place of liberated jivas at the top of the universe

Taoism: Documents from as early as the Han Dynasty claimed that Lao Tzu appeared on earth as different persons in different times beginning in the legendary era of Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors. The (ca. 3rd century BC) Chuang Tzu states: "Birth is not a beginning; death is not an end. There is existence without limitation; there is continuity without a starting-point. Existence without limitation is Space. Continuity without a starting point is Time. There is birth, there is death, there is issuing forth, there is entering in" [1].

Japanese Zen: reincarnation is accepted by some, but rejected by others.

A distinction can be drawn between "folk Zen", as in the Zen practiced by devotional lay people, and "philosophical Zen".

Folk Zen generally accepts the various supernatural elements of Buddhism such as rebirth.

Philosophical Zen, however, places more emphasis on the present moment [1]

Buddhism: According to various Buddhist scriptures, Gautama Buddha believed in the existence of an afterlife in another world and in reincarnation [1]:

  • Since there actually is another world (any world other than the present human one, i.e. different rebirth realms), one who holds the view 'there is no other world' has wrong view — Buddha, Majjhima Nikaya i.402, Apannaka Sutta, Translated by Peter Harvey

  • The Buddha also asserted that karma influences rebirth, and that the cycles of repeated births and deaths are endless

  • Before the birth of Buddha, ancient Indian scholars had developed competing theories of afterlife, including the materialistic school such as Charvaka, which posited that death is the end, there is no afterlife, no soul, no rebirth, no karma, and they described death to be a state where a living being is completely annihilated, dissolved. Buddha rejected this theory, adopted the alternate existing theories on rebirth, criticizing the materialistic schools that denied rebirth and karma, states Damien Keown. Such beliefs are inappropriate and dangerous, stated Buddha, because such annihilationism views encourage moral irresponsibility and material hedonism; he tied moral responsibility to rebirth

Jainism: 17th century cloth painting depicting seven levels of Jain hell according to Jain cosmology. Left panel depicts the demi-god and his animal vehicle presiding over the each hell [1]:

  • In Jainism, the reincarnation doctrine, along with its theories of Saṃsāra and Karma, are central to its theological foundations, as evidenced by the extensive literature on it in the major sects of Jainism, and their pioneering ideas on these topics from the earliest times of the Jaina tradition. Reincarnation in contemporary Jainism traditions is the belief that the worldly life is characterized by continuous rebirths and suffering in various realms of existence

  • Karma forms a central and fundamental part of Jain faith, being intricately connected to other of its philosophical concepts like transmigration, reincarnation, liberation, non-violence (ahiṃsā) and non-attachment, among others. Actions are seen to have consequences: some immediate, some delayed, even into future incarnations. So the doctrine of karma is not considered simply in relation to one life-time, but also in relation to both future incarnations and past lives.

Hinduism: The body dies, assert Hindu traditions, but not the soul, which they assume to be the eternal reality, indestructible and bliss [1]:

  • Everything and all existence is believed to be connected and cyclical in Hinduism, all living beings composed of two things, the soul and the body or matter. Atman does not change and cannot change by its innate nature in the Hindu belief. In contrast, the body and personality, can change, constantly changes, is born and dies. Current karma impacts the future circumstances in this life, as well as the future forms and realms of lives. Good intent and actions lead to good future, bad intent and actions lead to bad future, impacting how one reincarnates, in the Hindu view of existence

  • Hindus believe the self or soul (atman) repeatedly takes on a physical body, until moksha
  • There is no permanent heaven or hell in Hinduism. In the afterlife, based on one's karma, the soul is reborn as another being in heaven, hell, or a living being on earth (human, animal). Gods too die once their past karmic merit runs out, as do those in hell, and they return getting another chance on earth. This reincarnation continues, endlessly in cycles, until one embarks on a spiritual pursuit, realizes self-knowledge, and thereby gains mokṣa, the final release out of the reincarnation cycles. This release is believed to be a state of utter bliss, which Hindu traditions believe is either related or identical to Brahman, the unchanging reality that existed before the creation of universe, continues to exist, and shall exist after the universe ends

  • The Upanishads, part of the scriptures of the Hindu traditions, primarily focus on the liberation from reincarnation. The Bhagavad Gita discusses various paths to liberation. The Upanishads, states Harold Coward, offer a "very optimistic view regarding the perfectibility of human nature", and the goal of human effort in these texts is a continuous journey to self-perfection and self-knowledge so as to end Saṃsāra – the endless cycle of rebirth and redeath. The aim of spiritual quest in the Upanishadic traditions is find the true self within and to know one's soul, a state that it believes leads to blissful state of freedom, moksha

  • The Bhagavad Gita states: Just as in the body childhood, adulthood and old age happen to an embodied being. So also he (the embodied being) acquires another body. The wise one is not deluded about this – (2:13)

  • As, after casting away worn out garments, a man later takes new ones. So after casting away worn out bodies, the embodied Self encounters other new ones – (2:22)

  • When an embodied being transcends, these three qualities which are the source of the body. Released from birth, death, old age and pain, he attains immortality – (14:20)

  • There are internal differences within Hindu traditions on reincarnation and the state of moksha. For example, the dualistic devotional traditions such as Madhvacharya's Dvaita Vedanta tradition of Hinduism champion a theistic premise, assert that human soul and Brahman are different, loving devotion to Brahman (god Vishnu in Madhvacharya's theology) is the means to release from Samsara, it is the grace of God which leads to moksha, and spiritual liberation is achievable only in after-life (videhamukti). The nondualistic traditions such as Adi Shankara's Advaita Vedanta tradition of Hinduism champion a monistic premise, asserting that the individual human soul and Brahman are identical, only ignorance, impulsiveness and inertia leads to suffering through Saṃsāra, in reality they are no dualities, meditation and self-knowledge is the path to liberation, the realization that one's soul is identical to Brahman is moksha, and spiritual liberation is achievable in this life (jivanmukti)


μετεμψύχωσις - metempsychosis

εμπψχωύν - empsykhoun

παλιγγενεσία - palingenesia

גלגול הנשמות - gilgul neshamot

पुनर्जन्मन् - punarjanman


  • The Buddha introduced the concept that there is no permanent self (soul), and this central concept in Buddhism is called anattā. Major contemporary Buddhist traditions such as Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions accept the teachings of Buddha. These teachings assert there is rebirth, there is no permanent self and no irreducible ātman (soul) moving from life to another and tying these lives together, there is impermanence, that all compounded things such as living beings are aggregates dissolve at death, but every being reincarnates. The rebirth cycles continue endlessly, states Buddhism, and it is a source of Dukkha (suffering, pain), but this reincarnation and Dukkha cycle can be stopped through nirvana. The anattā doctrine of Buddhism is a contrast to Hinduism, the latter asserting that "soul exists, it is involved in rebirth, and it is through this soul that everything is connected"

  • Different traditions within Buddhism have offered different theories on what reincarnates and how reincarnation happens. One theory suggests that it occurs through consciousness (Pali: samvattanika-viññana) or stream of consciousness (Pali: viññana-sotam, Sanskrit: vijñāna-srotām, vijñāna-santāna, or citta-santāna) upon death, which reincarnates into a new aggregation. This process, states this theory, is similar to the flame of a dying candle lighting up another. The consciousness in the newly born being is neither identical to nor entirely different from that in the deceased but the two form a causal continuum or stream in this Buddhist theory. Transmigration is influenced by a being's past karma (kamma). The root cause of rebirth, states Buddhism, is the abiding of consciousness in ignorance (Pali: avijja, Sanskrit: avidya) about the nature of reality, and when this ignorance is uprooted, rebirth ceases

  • Buddhist traditions also vary in their mechanistic details on rebirth. Theravada Buddhists assert that rebirth is immediate while the Tibetan schools hold to the notion of a bardo (intermediate state) that can last up to 49 days. The bardo rebirth concept of Tibetan Buddhism, along with yidam, developed independently in Tibet without Indian influence, and involves 42 peaceful deities, and 58 wrathful deities. These ideas led to mechanistic maps on karma and what form of rebirth one takes after death, discussed in texts such as The Tibetan Book of the Dead. The major Buddhist traditions accept that the reincarnation of a being depends on the past karma and merit (demerit) accumulated, and that there are six realms of existence in which the rebirth may occur after each death

  • Although Buddhism denies the existence of an unchanging, substantial soul or self—as against the notion of the atman it teaches the concept of anatman (Pali: anatta; “non-self”)—it holds to a belief in the transmigration of the karma that is accumulated by an individual in life. The individual is a composition of five ever-changing psycho-physical elements and states, or skandhas (“bundles”)—i.e., form, sensations, perceptions, impulses, and consciousness—and terminates with death. The karma of the deceased, however, persists and becomes a vijnana (“germ of consciousness”) in the womb of a mother. The vijnana is that aspect of consciousness that is reborn in a new individual. By gaining a state of complete passiveness through discipline and meditation, one can achieve nirvana, the state of the extinction of desires and liberation (moksha) from bondage to samsara by karma

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