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Reincarnation is the belief that when one dies, one's body decomposes, but something of oneself is reborn in another body. It is the belief that one has lived before and will live again in another body after death. The bodies one passes in and out of need not be human. One may have been a dog in a past life, and one may be a mite or a carrot in a future life. Some tribes avoid eating certain animals because they believe that the souls of their ancestors dwell in those animals. A man could even become his own daughter by dying before she is born and then entering her body at birth.
The belief in past lives used to be mainly a belief in Hinduism and Buddhism. In these religions, reincarnation was not considered a good thing, but a bad thing. To achieve the state of ultimate bliss (Moksha or nirvana) is to escape from the wheel of rebirth. In most, if not all, ancient religions with a belief in reincarnation, the soul entering a body is seen as a metaphysical demotion, a sullying and impure rite of passage. Prepare yourself in this life for who or what you want to come back as in the next life.
In classical reincarnation, something of the consciousness of the deceased somehow enters a new body but as that body grows only one unified consciousness persists through time. From a philosophical point of view, reincarnation poses some interesting problems. What is it that is reincarnated? Presumably, it is the soul that is reincarnated, but what is the soul? A disembodied consciousness?
Reincarnation does seem to offer an explanation for some strange phenomena such as the ability of some people to regress to a past life under hypnosis. Also, we might explain child prodigies by claiming that unlike most cases of reincarnation where the soul has to more or less start from scratch, the child prodigy somehow gets a soul with great carryover from a previous life, giving it a decided advantage over the rest of us. Reincarnation could explain why bad things happen to good people and why good things happen to bad people: they are being rewarded or punished for actions in past lives (karma).
Child prodigies can best explained in terms of brain structures and genetically inheritable traits and processes. Stories, especially stories from children, that claim knowledge of a past life, abound. Finally, since there is no way to tell the difference between a baby with a soul that will go to heaven or hell, a baby with a soul that has been around before in other bodies, and a baby with no soul at all, it follows that the idea of a soul adds nothing to our concept of a human being. The idea of reincarnation and the idea of an immortal soul that will go to heaven or hell are equally unnecessary.
Belief in past lives also opens the door for recent therapies such as past life regression therapy, which seeks the causes of today's psychological problems in the experiences of previous lives.
Past life regression (PLR) is the alleged journeying into one's past lives while hypnotized. While it is true that many patients recall past lives, it is highly probable that their memories are false memories. The memories are from experiences in this life, pure products of the imagination, intentional or unintentional suggestions from the hypnotist.
As a method of healing, it must be apparent even to the most superficial of therapists that there are great dangers in encouraging patients to create delusions. Some false memories may be harmless, but others can be devastating. They can increase a person's suffering, as well as destroy loving relationships with family members. The care with which hypnosis should be used seems obvious.
There are at least two attractive features of past life regression. Since therapists charge by the hour, the need to explore centuries instead of years will greatly extend the length of time a patient will need to be "treated," thereby increasing the cost of therapy. Secondly, the therapist and patient can usually speculate wildly without much fear of being contradicted by the facts. However, this can backfire if anyone bothers to investigate the matter. However, past life regression and strange (déjà vu) experiences are best explained as the recalling of events from this life, not some past life.
Bhagvad Geeta strongly advocates reincarnation and theory of Karma though it has been refuted by many scholars. Karma is a law in Hinduism which maintains that every act done, no matter how insignificant, will eventually return to the doer with equal impact. Good will be returned with good; evil with evil. Since Hindus believe in reincarnation, karma knows no simple birth/death boundaries. If good or evil befall you, it is because of something you did in this or a previous lifetime.
Karma is sometimes referred to as a "moral law of cause and effect." Karma is both an encouragement to do good and to avoid evil, as well as an explanation for whatever good or evil befalls a person.
On one level, karma serves to explain why good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. The injustices of the world, the seeming random distribution of good and evil, are only apparent. In reality, everybody is getting what he or she deserves. Even the child brutalized by drugged adults deserves the horror. The mentally ill, the retarded, the homosexuals, and the millions of Jews killed by the Nazis deserved it for evil they must have done in the past. The slave beaten to within a breath of death deserved it, if not for what he did today, then for what he did in some previous lifetime. Likewise for the rape victim. She is just getting what she deserves. All suffering is deserved, according to the law of karma.
Let's say someone kills someone . . . at a bank machine.... It could be two things. It could be, the person who committed the crime used their free will to do that. Or this might sound weird, but it could have been a karmic situation where that person who was murdered had to be paid back for murdering the other person in a previous incarnation. Sometimes Hindus argue that when a person does evil, they are acting freely. And when a person suffers evil, it is because of some evil freely done by that person in the past.
If Karma Theory is right then it is karma, not free will, that leads people to kill one another. We may as well dismantle our ethical and criminal justice systems. Everybody is just playing out his or her karma. Nobody is really good or evil. Nobody is really responsible for anything they do. We're all just karmic pawns doing a dance with destiny.
Why would such an amoral principle such as karma be paraded forth as if it explained the ultimate justice of an indifferent universe? Because, Karma Theory advocates that we are on this earth to learn lessons. This is our schoolroom here. . . .We must go through certain lessons in order to grow. According to this theory, life on earth is actually life in purgatory. We are here working out our sins, evolving our souls, burning off some karma.
These are the same feeble reasons given for the existence of evil in a world allegedly created by an Omnipotent, All-Good God. Karma as understood to make life trivial, a mere working out of a metaphysical "law" which reduces all humans to dehumanized creatures, devoid of morality and responsibility, mere causes and effects in a pointless system. Karma does not allow that the evil which befalls you may be undeserved.
Karma is a law for sheep. We should not wonder that the shepherds advocate it. It is a law for the passive, for those who will not disturb the status quo, who will accept whatever evil is done as "natural" and inevitable. Karma is a law for slaves, for the vanquished. Hindus ever wonder did the first beings have karma?