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Hinduism has taught reincarnation for many thousands of years. Sikhism, which derives from Hinduism and Islam, also accepts reincarnation (many passages in the Granth teach this doctrine).

  • The Chandogya Upanishad 5.10.8 reads, “... those who are of pleasant conduct here—the prospect is, indeed, that they will enter a pleasant womb, either the womb of a Brahman, or the womb of a Kshatriya, or the womb of a Vaisya. But those who are of a stinking conduct here—the prospect is, indeed, that they will enter a stinking womb of a dog, or the womb of a swine, or the womb of an outcast.”
  • Kaushitaki Upanishad 12 teaches reincarnation "... either as a worm, or as a moth, or as a fish, or as a bird, or as a lion, or as a wild boar, or as a snake, or as a tiger, or as a person, or as some other in this or that condition, he is born again here according to his deeds, according to his knowledge."
  • Status and the body you inhabit in the next life (canine, porcine, or “untouchable”) depend on your conduct in the present life. Karma (actions) determine the level at which you are reborn.
  • Eventually all souls “graduate” until atman (soul) becomes one with paramatman (the world soul).
    • Individual existence then disappears.
    • And that means communal existence disappears, too. But we were created for community. Reincarnation ultimately negates the social dimension of humanity.

John the Baptist reincarnated?

  • In Matthew 17 Jesus says John the Baptist was the Elijah to come, yet in John 1:21 the Baptist denies it. Is this because Malachi only speaks of a prophet to come "in the spirit of Elijah," not Elijah himself?
  • Was John's denial a way to steer his disciples away from the idea of an actual reincarnation? Yes, I think so. Many expected Elijah to return to the earth literally, and this notion persists in Jewish tradition even today, with the empty seat left for him at the Seder Supper. John does come in the spirit (and clothing) of Elijah, his ninth century BC counterpart (Malachi 3-4; Matthew 11, 16; see also 1 Kings 17-19), though he wasn’t literally Elijah (John 1:21).
  • Elijah appeared along with Moses at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17, Mark 9, Luke 9), so how could he have he been "reincarnated" as John the Baptist? Worse for those advocating reincarnation, the classic belief requires the rebirth of a dead person, yet
    • Elijah never died (2 Kings 2:1-11).
    • Thus there is no biblical basis for importing the popular eastern idea of reincarnation into Christianity, at least not based on the case of John the Baptist.

Conclusion

  • The scriptures do not allow reincarnation. See Hebrews 9:27, Job 7:9-10.
  • Reincarnation does not take seriously the biblical view of humanity as "spirit, soul, and body" (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
  • Eastern reincarnation is something to be escaped, not desired. In contrast, in the West, where it has become fashionable to espouse reincarnation, this is viewed as something positive: a chance to start over. Probably few westerners have any idea about the real source of the idea, or why no one would desire the doleful cycles of reincarnation who really comprehended the doctrine.
  • Reincarnation it is ultimately part of an impersonal worldview.
  • To be fair, "Contrary to the popular stereotype of past lives fostered by the tabloid press, the vast majority of past lives are not those of Egyptian princesses or wives of Henry VIII. Most of the lives that are reported are barely identifiable within the known framework of history. We encounter African tribesmen, nomadic hunters, nameless slaves, Middle Easter traders, anonymous medieval peasants, and so on, from all times and places; often they can barely name their chieftain or lord, let alone place themselves upon some totally irrelevant time map of European or ancient history." (Roger J. Woolger, Other Lives, Other Selves: A Jungian Psychotherapist Discovers Past Lives [New York: Doubleday, 1987], 37-38)
  • If you appreciated this podcast, you will definitely want to listen to Reincarnation II, by Sten Johannesson of Denmark.