How is the concept of rebirth or reincarnation handled in Hinduism?
- Does it occur?
- Will everyone be reborn?
- Are people always reborn as people?
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How is the concept of rebirth or reincarnation handled in Hinduism?
Yes, it does. As per Bhagavad Gita:
jātasya hi dhruvo mṛtyur dhruvaṁ janma mṛtasya ca [BG- 2.27]
- Death is certain after birth and birth is certain after death.
No, not every one will reborn. One who attains liberation (merges in the absolute or attains God) will not reborn. So the Gita says:
mām upetya tu kaunteya punar janma na vidyate [BG - 8.16]
- But after attaining Me, O son of Kunti, rebirth doesn't take place.
Not necessarily. Depending upon karma a jivatma (spirit) may reborn in the body of other animals. As per Shrimad Bhgagavatam:
bhūtāni tais tair nija-yoni-karmabhir
bhavanti kāle na bhavanti sarvaśaḥ [SB - 7.2.41]
In course of time every being receives a material body as per his corresponding actions.
So also says the Upanishad:
sa viśvarūpastriguṇastrivartmā prāṇādhipaḥ saṃcarati svakarmabhiḥ [Sve. Up. - 5.7]
Taking all forms under the influence of threefold nature (goodness, passion and ignorance) taking threefold paths (dharma, adharma, knowledge) the self wanders about due to his own actions.
Yes, rebirth or reincarnation occur in Hinduism. To answer your sub-questions:
Reincarnation is the phenomenon where the immortal soul is continuously born and reborn in any one of 8,400,000 life-forms until it attains moksha.
The ãtmã is characterized by unchanging truth, consciousness, and bliss. The ãtmã is formless and has always been bound by a kãran sharir (causal body). This causal body is not a body in the physical sense. It is simply an accumulation of the sanskãrs (impressions of past karmas). The pure ãtmã together with this kãran sharir is known as the jiva.
Because the jiva is formless in nature, without a physical and subtle body, it is unable to enjoy or suffer the fruits of its karmas, nor can it endeavor to attain God. So, out of compassion, God grants the formless jiva a physical and subtle body according to its karmas. Then, just as we cast off old clothes for new, the jiva casts off its old body for a new one – given to it by God according to its karmas. Hindu scriptures explain that the jiva attains the bodies of 8.4 million life forms in rotation and in them, experiences happiness and misery according to its karmas. It is only possible to attain ultimate liberation through the human body. In the Vachanãmrut [Bhugol-Khagol], while explaining the importance of this rare and priceless human birth, Bhagwan Swaminarayan says,
A jiva squanders its human body, which it receives after 35,000,000 prãkrut-pralays (i.e. 10,886,400,000,000,000,000,000 human years), for the sake of vain worldly pleasures, and by the refuge of a false guru. Consequently, it has to suffer the torments of Yam and the agonies of the pits of narak. Moreover, it receives another human birth in a place where liberation is attainable only after passing through the sufferings of the cycle of 8.4 million life forms, i.e. after another 35,000,000 prãkrut-pralays. This is the interval before one receives a human birth again.
Therefore, O brother, having understood this today, and having sought the refuge of the Sadguru Sant – the granter of liberation – and having kept your body, indriyas and antahkaran in accordance with his wish, strive for the benefit of your ãtmã and reach the abode of God. If you do not realise this fact today and waste this human body, which is instrumental in attaining liberation, you will have to wait for the aforementioned time before you receive another chance like this. Only after such suffering, and only at the end of that interval will you receive another opportunity to attain liberation, and that too if you strive for it. If you do not, you will not attain liberation. This is a fundamental principle. The wise should ponder over this.
One with exceptionally good karmas, having attained some form of contact with God or the God-realized Sãdhu, maybe released from having to undertake birth within the cycle of 8.4 million life forms. Instead, he would continue to take human births until, offering devotion to God, he earns the pleasure of God or the God-realised Sãdhu and attains moksha.
Source: BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha FAQs
In short, yes. Hinduism defines a concept of karma which is loosely the same as karma as it is known in the English speaking world.
A person's (or being) actions have a direct and indirect effect on their karma. Think of it like a credit score, only more complex. At a high level, there are 3 dimensions or energy levels that count towards your karma - sattwa, rajas and tamas. Based on each action, inaction or behavior you score on these 3 scales. Sattwa is said to be what one should aim for as it includes all the good qualities and powers - good as in good in a general betterment-of-human-life sense. The gunas are not be confused with positive, negative and neutral as sattva which you might think is neutral doesn't count if you remain neutral in some scenarios. (Aka Dante's quote).
(See Bhagavad Gita chapters 14, 17, 18 on understanding the different modes.)
As long as you score on rajas and tamas, no matter how you do on sattwa, you are doomed to be reborn.
Edit: As cheenbabes pointed out in the comments, as long as you score on ANY gunas you cannot have Moksha. However, sattwa is the most ideal level for life on Earth.
One's life's purpose is to attain Moksha and escape the world of birth and death. The concept of Moksha itself is deep and involves the Brahman which is a different topic altogether.
Spiritual evolution in the Vedas states that beings begin at lower life forms such as insects and work their way up through reincarnation through the bodies of plants, birds, animals, and finally humans. The belief that "once a human, always a human" is not supported by Vedic philosophy. One reason for this is verse 8.6 of the Bhagavad Gita:
Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, O son of Kuntī, that state he will attain without fail.
This implies that if one receives the next body in order to suit the consciousness at the moment of death. In other words, if your desires can be more easily fulfilled in the body of a dog, you may receive that next body.
One example is the story of Jada Bharata in Srimad Bhagavatam . In summary, King Bharata, although very highly advanced in spiritual practice, became attached to a deer, and because of thinking intensely of the deer when he died, he took his next birth in a deer body.
Definitely. There are literally hundreds of verses in Upanishads and also verses in Bhagavad Gita that clearly and categorically support reincarnation. Not only that, actually the very concept of reincarnation was developed by Hindus! Later it was adopted by other Indic religions like Jainism and Buddhism with some modifications.
Hinduism believes that during the death of the body, atman collects itself and carries with it the mind and its latent tendencies that becomes the seed of the next life. In support of this view, I am quoting the following verses from Brihadaranyaka Upanishad [BU].
"Now as a caterpillar, when it has come to the end of a blade of grass, in taking the next step draws itself together towards it, just so this soul in taking the next step strikes down this body, dispels its ignorance and draws itself together [for making the transition]." BU - 4.4.3
"As a goldsmith, taking a piece of gold, reduces it to another newer and more beautiful form, just so this soul, striking down this body and dispelling its ignorance, makes for itself another newer and more beautiful form like that either of the fathers, or of the Gandharvas, or of the gods, or of Prajapati, or of Brahma, or of other beings." BU-4.4.4
"... According as one acts, according as one conducts himself, so does he become. The doer of good becomes good. The doer of evil becomes evil. One becomes virtuous by virtuous action, bad by bad action." BU - 4.4.5
"On this point, there is this verse- Where one's mind is attached - the inner self Goes thereto with action, being attached to it alone. Obtaining the end of his action, Whatever he does in this world, He comes again from that world To this world of action." BU- 4.4.6
These are the verses from Bhagavad Gita [BG] that support reincarnation.
"Even as a person casts off worn-out clothes and puts on others that are new, so the embodied Self casts off worn-out bodies and enters into others that are new." BG 2.22
"For to that which is born, death is certain, and to that which is dead, birth is certain. Therefore you should not grieve over the unavoidable." BG - 2.27
An attempt at a more scientific explanation..
If you have seen entropy theory, it says that energy moves from a less chaotic state to a more chaotic state. There is a mutation of energy, and materials from low entropy to high entropy all the time. This is described in detail in Roger Penrose's - Emperor of the New mind.
Back to Hinduism, it believes in the concept of Pancha Bhoota. That is, the human body is composed of these 5 elements, and therefore must obey chemical and physical laws of the universe. and also we must be having physical properties and chemical properties.
Ancient sages have tried to classify our property also in the form of Zodiac signs, and interestingly, the theory, classifies all of us humans into Earth, Sun, Water, and Air signs, which is actually from the same concept of Pancha Bhootas.
More interestingly, there is this concept of Low entropy and High entropy sun signs.. For example, Aries is a Low entropy sign (Initiating), and Leo is a higher entropy sign(Fixed), and Saggitarius is (Mutating), which is highest entropy..
Now, if you look at Fire signs, all the zodiac is trying to tell is Aries(Fuel) -> Leo (Fire) -> Saggitarius (Light).
Or in other words, the transformation of energy from low entropy to high entropy is described within the realm of our birth and death.
So, if energy, matter, transform from low entropy to high entropy, and they continue to live in the transformed high entropy form within the universe, why cant, we humans, who are also formed from the same materials, and therefore subject to the same laws of energy transformation, be also be around in the universe in a higher state of entropy for ever.
So, we can postulate that humans transform into newer lives and there is this concept of karma after death.
But, this whole theory only explains that our material body continues to be in this universe for ever in some form or the other.. But our consciousness ?? Where does it go after death. ? Hinduism postulates that consciousness does not have birth or death. It continues.. So, probably, the consciousness is recycled from one person to another person ? Is that what these texts are trying to say.. Hope we find this out some day.
Research indicate there is life after death. “There is no conclusive evidence to prove that there is reincarnation. But 68% of 500 hundred odd people with rebirth symptoms remembered their past”, According to Dr. Satwant K. Pasricha (1998) of the National Institute of MentalHealth and Neuroscience, Bangalore, India.
I have also past life knowledge. My Guru of past life His Holiness Maharaj Sahab, the 3rd Guru of Radhasoami Faith REVEALED to me that I was Sarkar Sahab, the 4th Guru of Radhasoami Faith in my previous birth.