Reincarnation, which literally refers “to be made flesh again”, is a doctrine or metaphysical principle that states an essential part of a corporeal being survives death and perseveres through cosmic cycles of return. The vital measure of the consciousness, that we will refer to as Soul – the higher or divine spark of spiritual essence – is bound to physical or dimensional manifestations where a dynamic essence of the consciousness is maintained and developed through individual personifications in successive experiences. The concept is a theosophical one without restriction from any one religious viewpoint and is therefore derived from numerous sources.
Belief in reincarnation expresses some diverse ancient roots, yet remains a doctrine found within the majority of Indian religious traditions, such as Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism. The concept has historical roots through ancient Greek philosophers, Pagan rites of passage, the New Age movement, followers of spirituality, practitioners of certain African traditions, and partisans of esoteric philosophies such as Kabbalah, Sufism, Gnosticism and Christianity. Some of these traditions are ridiculed as being heretical or constructs of apostasy even though the historical verification of rebirth has survived for thousands of years and can be stated to illuminate biblical premise in teachings presented by The Christ, where a level of all religions are contained in Christianity. Therefore, Christianity cannot be viewed as being distinct in regard to older religious precepts.
The concept of reincarnation – karma, samsara, moksha- was historically developed in India by non-Aryan people outside of the caste system whose spiritual ideas greatly influenced later Indian religious thought. The doctrine of transmigration is therefore non-aryan, accepted by non-vedics like Ajivikism, Jainism and Buddhism. The Indo-aryans borrowed the theory of rebirth by association, with the aboriginal inhabitants of India, where Jainism and non-vedics accepted the doctrine of rebirth as supreme supposition. (Masih, p.37) Buddhism and Jainism continued the tradition, and the early Upanishadic movement was influenced by it. [Werner; 1989] Reincarnation was adopted from this religious culture by Brahmin orthodoxy, and wrote down scriptures containing these ideas in the early Upanishads. [Flood; 1996]
According to Buddhism, the concept is beyond any offered through other teachings. The concept is consistent to defining a sequence of related lives enduring over many ages, inhibited by two core Buddhist concepts: anattā, that there is no diminishing ātman or “self” tying these lives together; and anicca, that all compounded things are subject to dissolution, including all the components of the human person and personality. At the death of one personality a new one comes into being, much as the flame of a dying candle can serve to light the flame of another. [Tucker; 2005] By this notion, there is no enduring or static identity and there is no transmigration in the strict sense. Buddhism teaches that what is reborn is not the person – that one moment unfolds into another and that this momentum persists, even after death. This is a faded concept than the usual notion of reincarnation, reflecting the Buddhist concept of personality existing without a “soul”. Buddhism never rejected samsara – the process of rebirth – suggesting that it occurs across several spheres of existence. Instead, it is extremely rare to be reborn in the instantaneous subsequent life as a human (The Five Precepts). However, Tibetan Buddhists do believe that a newborn child may be the rebirth of some important departed Lama.
According to Hinduism, the soul (atman) is immortal, while the physical body is only subject to birth and death. The Bhagavad Gita states that: “Worn-out garments are shed by the body; Worn-out bodies are shed by the dweller within the body. New bodies are donned by the dweller, like garments. [Bhagavad Gita II. 22] The notion that the soul of any conscious entity – including animals – reincarnates is intricately linked to karma. Karma literally translates as “action” or “conflict”, as the summation of one’s experience(s) into the force that determines the next incarnation; a cycle that is relative to samsara.
Hinduism teaches that the Soul is reborn on account of desire: a person desires to be born because he or she wants to enjoy worldly pleasures, which can be enjoyed only through a body. [Bhagavad Gita XVI. 8-20] Hinduism does not stipulate that worldly pleasure is ‘sinful’ as much as the experiences will never bring lasting peace (ānanda). According to the Hindu sage, Adi Shankaracharya (788CE-820CE), the world – as we ordinarily perceive it – is a dream, fleeting and illusory; to be ensnared in samsara is a result of ignorance of the true nature of existence.
After many cycles one becomes disenchanted by the limited happiness that worldly pleasures offer. At some point the soul seeks higher development that can only be attained through spiritual or mystical experiences. By such measures, through physical experiences, one realizes their divine nature – that the greater ‘self’ is the eternal Soul rather than a physical form or psyche and that all desires for the pleasures of the world eventually vanish, since they will seem insipid compared to spiritual ānanda. When all desire vanishes, the entity will not incarnate anymore. [Rinehart; 2004]
When the cycle of rebirth comes to an end one is said to have attained moksha, or salvation from samsara. [Werner; 1994] Where ‘moksha’ implies the cessation of worldly desires and freedom from rebirth the definition of salvation depends on individual principles. Followers of the Advaita Vedanta school (associated with Jnana Yoga) believe that they will spend eternity absorbed in the perfect peace and happiness that comes with the realization that all existence is One (Brahman), and that the immortal soul is part of that existence.
In the Hermetica, a Graeco-Egyptian series of writings on cosmology and spirituality attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, otherwise noted as Thoth, the doctrine of reincarnation is central. Considered as the Egyptian ‘lord of the moon’, as well as many other aspects attributed to Ra/Re, Thoth is analogous of astral cycles. The Moon not only provides light at night, allowing time to still be measured without the sun, its phases and prominence give it significant importance in ancient astrological sciences. The cycles of the moon offered organization to much of Egyptian civil and religious rituals and seasons. Consequently, Thoth is entitled as a god of wisdom and magic, being analytical to the measurement and regulation of cyclic-time. It is the dimensional quality of these aspects that associates this god with independent cycles of time that reincarnation so avidly denotes.
Among the ancient Greeks, including Socrates, Pythagoras, and Plato, the concept of reincarnation is doctrine, where several ancient sources affirm that Pythagoras remembered his past lives (Reincarnation: Socrates to Salinger). According to Plato’s fictionalized dialogue Phaedo, he writes; “I am confident that there truly is such a thing as living again and that the living spring from the dead.” However, Xenophon (ca. 431–355BC), another informant on Socrates, never mentions this philosophers belief in reincarnation. Plato presented detailed accounts of reincarnation in his major works. It may be questioned whether Plato’s accounts, such as the Myth of Er, which also contain many fabulous details irrelevant to reincarnation – were intended to be taken literally. Marsilio Ficino (Platonic Theology 17.3-4) argued that Plato’s references to reincarnation were intended allegorically.
Part of the historical misconception within the political struggle exploded in the First Counsel of Nicaea in AD325 when Emperor Constantine decided to endorse Christianity as the authoritative religion of the Roman Empire. This continues with the Second Counsel of Constantinople in AD553, advocated by Emperor Justinian, where reincarnation, as Metempsychosis [GK: Transmigration of the Soul], was declared anathema. Noteworthy, then, are the works of Origen of Alexandria (AD185-AD254). Origen managed to survive the suppression of Septimus Severus and Maximin the Thracian, though he did not survive the persecution of Decius, one of the worst and most widespread oppressors of the belief.
Origen supported the doctrine of transmigration of the soul, as did Tertullian, Rufinus, Clement of Alexandria, Nemesius, Synesius, Hilary and Gregory of Nyssa; all noted in the early investiture of Christian Apologetics. The latter wrote: “It is a necessity of nature that the soul becomes purified in repeated lives.” Rufinus assured Anastasius in a letter that the “belief in repeated lives was a matter of common knowledge among the church fathers and had always been imparted to the initiated as an ancient tradition.” Jerome wrote in a letter to Demetrius, that among the early Christians the doctrine of reincarnation had been passed on to the elect as an esoteric tradition. Osthagen established that in the minds of the leaders of the early Christian Churches the doctrine of reincarnation was taken for granted, until a change developed around AD540.
At the Council of Constantinople, led by the emperor Justinian, the doctrine of Origen was condemned in AD538, at his instigation. Justinian had every reason to fear a retributive life, as his own persecutions were brutal. He completely dominated the church and threw the pope into prison. In AD543, Pope Vigilius confirmed the excommunication Justinian imposed on Origen, as one who had supported the doctrine; doing so under great pressure from within the church itself. In spite of such measures, where truth did not count, the doctrine remained traditional into the middle ages. Free thought was relentlessly persecuted to the death of many an honorable soul, simply because the church can’t be out decreed. The early church fathers loathed the idea of ‘repeated’ lives since it destroyed their ideal of forcing religiosity on individuals in the present.
Whatever the scriptures may present, and the argument for verses inclusive to the list continues to expand, the Bible itself seems ineffective for analytical consideration. Where the Nag-Hamadi and the general view of Gnostic scripture don’t seem to sway the reader one way or the other, the idea that Jesus revealed teachings on reincarnation is not denied. The texts make no direct claim to reincarnation but, they do offer a uniform dualism that presents the soul as being of ‘feminine’ design, such that a one sided (positive/negative) force cannot birth life, nor resolve the contest of the soul over evil. It offers insight on subjects that the church avoids, that best remain left to one’s own making lest this study step beyond the scope of these pages.
Madame Blavatsky (1831-1891) claimed the Gnostics as vanguards in the occult movement. She affirmed that deep within every religion ran a secret doctrine that has never been without representatives in any age or country; with the esoteric traditions of the Gnostics rooted in Christian doctrine. “It is the intense and cruel desire to crush out the last vestige of the old philosophies by perverting their meaning; for fear that their own dogmas should not be rightly fathered on them, which impel the Catholic Church to carry on such a systematic persecution in regard to Gnostics”. Most esoteric movements since her day have had to battle the implanted thinking of her influence and now profess a more defined understanding and appeal to an ‘under-ground’ yet pervasive ‘gnosis’ rather than to the ancient historical sects (Nag Hamadi Library; Afterword by Richard Smith). The originating Gnostics have never been given the chance to defend their historical view, and the loss of hundreds of texts over the ages has left us with little to work with, although the knowledge of their day remains viable and distinct.
Edgar Cayce (1877-1945), noted as America’s Sleeping Prophet, mentioned a number of lifetimes to The Christ consciousness, initiated in Amilius of Atlantis, following with; Adam, Enoch and Melchizedek, Joshua, Joseph/Asaph, Zend (father of Zoroaster), possibly David and several others. [Reading 364-8] The Melchizedek reference fits the statement made in Psalms 11:4-5, John 8:53-59 (v.58) and Hebrews 5:7-10. The tie between Abram and Melchizedek is found in Genesis 14:17-24. The interesting point here is that it fits the Kabbalic precept of having a ‘divine presence’ within the earth in every age, lest the universal ‘code of creation’ collapse in on itself. It’s also noteworthy that the ‘age’ of disorder spoken of by Christ [Matthew 24:1-14] was to come after the so called ‘tribulation’ (v.10-14), viewed herein as the time of Nero [Revelations 13:18 — Gematria; 666 = Nron Ksr/Nero Caesar], and that we are awaiting our own resolution to finalize the last days of a broken humanity. From the days just before Nero towards the fall of Rome to Christianity are described in Revelation 17:9-14.
Melchizedek was known as the King of Salem, a reference to ‘peace’; that is the olden name of Jerusalem (Foundation of Peace). On the 10th of August, in AD70 — the 9th of Av — in Jewish reckoning, the very anniversary of the King of Babylon burning the Temple in 586BC, it is burned again. Titus took the city, shortly after Nero commits suicide on June 9th, AD68, after a failed conspiracy against him by his own supporters (the ‘beast’ struck in the head that lived ‘for a short time’. Revelation 13:11-18, 17:10). Even though history recounts this simply as religious persecution, it also reveals the necessity of cyclic fortune. The Christ is mentioned as being a “high priest” in the order/cycle of Melchizedek [Hebrews 5:1-7, 7:1-28], therefore introducing his appearance as the later portion of this cycle – where ‘change’ was necessary. The Edgar Cayce readings present more than one personage to this cycle, set in the House of David – symbolic of the human cycle itself – suggesting the definitive nature of humanity and creation. Of other importance, is the concept that the Book of Job is an account of ‘mankind’, and not just one individual, and that certain cyclic natures of the Soul are expressed therein.
In many ways, this is distinctive of yin/yang consciousness and energy that is cyclic and reflective in opposites that simply define order and chaos as being parallel and unified in their foundational aspects set in creation. If such notions appear significant, then why has reincarnation been so historically refuted? And how did the concept become such a religious concern? Typically, we fear what is unknown and rampant, arguing over ideals that one has never defined nor understood – better to argue than admit to not knowing – where ego stands in the image and the shadow equally.
God is a consciousness, as an energy that is neither well defined nor perceived, and yet our spiritual growth is dependent on being responsive to the Creator. The most vital aspect of growth is one of resolution, questioning the very meaning and motive of the answer itself. One has to question creation in order to comprehend the intellect of a creator. And one has to respond regardless of the answer that emerges from within, for where else can one meet the highest ‘image’ of their own ‘reflection’?