The History of Reincarnation – I
By Rajeev Dalvi
Does life begin with birth and end with death? Have we lived before? Such questions are normally identified with religions of the East, where the life of man is known to endure not only from the cradle to the grave, but through millions of ages, and acceptance of the idea of rebirth is nearly universal. We earlier discussed that the concept of reincarnation is not a ‘belief system’. It is a fact of life. Whether someone believes it or not, is of no consequence to the fact itself. Is reincarnation believed in only in the East or is it dominant in the West too? It would be made clear by the following statement. Arthur Schopenhauer, the great nineteenth-century German philosopher, once observed, “Were an Asiatic to ask me for a definition of Europe, I would be forced to answer him: It is that part of the world which is haunted by the incredible delusion that man was created out of nothing, and that his present birth is his first entrance into life.” This was spoken by the great nineteenth century German philosopher.
Indeed, the dominant ideology of the West, material science, has for several centuries stifled any serious or widespread interest in the preexistence and survival of consciousness beyond the present body. But throughout Western history, there have always been thinkers who have understood and affirmed the immortality of consciousness and transmigration of the soul. And a multitude of philosophers, authors, artists, scientists, and politicians have given the idea thoughtful consideration. But somehow these renowned professionals have not been able to convince the masses as also themselves about this mystery of rebirth. After all that has been said and done, reincarnation still remains a mystery to most people in the West. This fact itself is a great mystery, considering the simplicity of the phenomenon of reincarnation.
Part I – Ancient Greece
Among the ancient Greeks, Socrates, Pythagoras, and Plato may be numbered among those who made reincarnation an integral part of their teachings. At the end of his life, Socrates said, “I am confident that there truly is such a thing as living again, that the living spring from the dead.” Pythagoras claimed he could remember his past lives, and Plato presented detailed accounts of reincarnation in his major works. Briefly, he held that the pure soul falls from the plane of absolute reality because of sensual desire and then takes on a physical body. First, the fallen souls take birth in human forms, the highest of which is that of the philosopher, who strives for higher knowledge. If his knowledge becomes perfect, the philosopher can return to an eternal existence. But if he becomes hopelessly entangled in material desires, he descends into the animal species of life. Plato believed that gluttons and drunkards may become asses in future lives, violent and unjust people may take birth as wolves and hawks, and blind followers of social convention may become bees or ants. After some time, the soul again attains the human form and another chance to achieve liberation. Some scholars believe that Plato and other early Greek philosophers derived knowledge of reincarnation from mystery religions like Orphism, or from India.
This is how people in the West looked at this concept of reincarnation. Most scientists often came to conclusions, which always had a term called ‘The Missing Link.’ So who is responsible for solving this problem? People look up to India for such answers. And India in return exports loads of confusion. This confusion is the result of concocting simple philosophies according to one’s own personal agendas. As you read further, you will understand how simple it is to logically and scientifically convince oneself about this system of reincarnation which has been very cleverly set up by Nature.
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