By Mike Willis
A television drama features a man and woman who have an almost magnetic attraction for each other. Each person experiences de javu, as only television drama can depict. Later the couple learns, through some mystic that each is the reincarnation of a spirit that existed years ago. They are so attracted to each other because they were lovers in their previous cycle of life. Romantics love the story, although it is filled with pagan concepts of life.
A few years ago, an autobiographical TV mini-series by Shirley Maclaine entitled “Out on a Limb,” taught the concept of reincarnation. In some respects she became the leading spokesperson for the concept of reincarnation. In response, F. LaGard Smith wrote a book entitled Out on a Broken Limb that identified the religious errors of reincarnation. As eastern religions invade the United States, it is important for us to understand what the doctrine of reincarnation is and how it contradicts the revealed word of God in the Bible.
What Is “Reincarnation”?
Reincarnation is defined as “the supposed translation of the soul after death into another substance or body than that which it occupied before” (McClintock & Strong, Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature X:524). Sometimes reincarnation is referred to as the transmigration of souls.
McClintock and Strong continue, “So long, therefore, as the soul has not attained the condition of purity, it must be born again after the dissolution of the body to which it was allied: and the degree of its impurity at one of these various deaths determines the existence which it will assume in a subsequent life” (Ibid. 525).
John B. Noss wrote about reincarnation as follows: “In its Indo-Aryan form it runs like this: the soul of a man who dies does not, except in the single case of one who at death returns into indistinguishable oneness with Brahman, pass into a permanent state of being in heaven or hell or elsewhere; the soul, rather, is reborn into another existence that will terminate in due time and necessitate yet another birth. Rebirth follows rebirth, with the one exception named, in an endless chain. The successive births are not likely to be on the same plane of being. Rebirth may occur for a finite period of time in any of the series of heavens or hells, or upon earth in any of the forms of life, vegetable, animal, or human. It may thus be either higher or lower than the present or any past existence. A man of low social status now may be reborn as a rajah or a Brahmin, or which is more likely, as an out-caste, or even as an animal, a beetle, worm, vegetable, or soul in hell” (Man’s Religions 106-107).
Everett L. Cattel made these comments about reincarnation:
Two other essential concepts are the doctrines of karma (works) and transmigration. The laws of moral action are immutable. Wrong actions inevitably produce punishment, and good actions their reward. This is inescapable in an almost fatalistic sense, and to talk of forgiveness or the canceling of sin is completely unrealistic and does injustice to the noble moral law of cause and effect essential in the universe. Whatever of ill one bears in this life is the product of wrong action in a previous existence, and life’s blessings come from the good that was done. Our works set off reactions as cause and effect and they must work them-selves out to the bitter end. Salvation consists, not of having this canceled or interfered with, but through doing enough good gradually to evolve toward the highest, where one may then experience the enlightenment that we are essentially God. In Him there are no distinctions, even of good and evil, and thus one escapes from the ceaseless round of rebirths (“Hinduism,” Religions in a Changing World, Howard F. Vos, editor, 200).
Hence, reincarnation is not an isolated little idea that may be innocently accepted. Reincarnation is one doctrine in a non-Christian, pagan philosophy of life (Hinduism). It is part of a non-Christian religion that is full of idolatry and many false beliefs. It is tied to its own concept of works (karma) and its own concept of salvation (nirvana).
The Law of Karma
F. LaGard Smith wrote about the law of karma that governs reincarnation, “The doctrine of karma teaches that each soul is working its way to perfection by overcoming imperfections in previous lives. Based upon the clearly accurate observation that no one in this present life is perfect, it is correctly assumed that a person cannot, on his own, reach perfection in a single lifetime. The fallacious conclusion is then drawn that it must take many lifetimes in order for each soul to achieve that goal” (Out on a Broken Limb 71).
Understanding karma is essential to a proper under-standing of reincarnation. Karma teaches these two things: (a) The soul can evolve upward toward perfection until it finally reaches Nirvana (the merging of the soul with the universal soul or universe). (b) This soul can evolve downward. As the soul travels its cycle of re-birth, it evolves upward or downward based on whether one did good or evil in his lifetime. The logical consequences of accepting karma and reincarnation are important.
Souls are not confined to human bodies. Souls inhabit every life form. A mouse has a soul of someone who has not progressed very highly on the way to nirvana, or who because of some great wickedness suffered a regression. That mouse you killed with D-con may have been your grandfather or that spider you kill may be your mother-in-law reincarnated. You can understand why scrupulous Hindu ascetics sweep the path in front of them as they walk lest they step on some animal and kill it.
The Law of Karma and the Indian Caste System The Hindu society in which reincarnation has thrived is a strict caste society. It is defined and defended by the law of karma and the reincarnation of souls. During the period around 500 B.C., the caste system was gradually developed. Over the years it evolved into these following five ranks: (a) Brahmins, (b) Kshatriyas, (c) Vaisyas; (d) Shudras. The last group (e) is the “out-castes,” the untouchables. These were the dregs of society, unclean and without any hope of ever rising on the social scale. Over the centuries, these five groups have fissured into many sub-castes, each forbidding intermarriage with the other. Note how the caste system is tied to the religious doctrine of karma, according to Noss:
When the caste system was linked up with the Law of Karma, the inequalities of life had at once a simple and comprehensive explanation. The existence of caste in the social structures immediately acquired a kind of moral justification. If a man was born a Shudra, it was because he had sinned in previous existence and deserved no better lot. A Brahmin, on the other hand, had every right to exalt his position and prerogatives; by good deeds in previous existences he had merited his present high station. . . . The social consequences of the moral justification of caste was apparent in another direction. Any attempt to level up the inequalities of society and lay a broader basis for social justice and reward now became either impious or morally wrong-headed. To question the operations of the Law of Karma, as fixing the just retribution for deeds in former lives, became the rankest of heresies (Noss 108).
You can understand why one reaches the conclusion that the law of karma and reincarnation are not harmless little doctrines for the rich and idle to play with. Here are some of the consequences of the law of karma.
1. The law of karma leads to fatalism. A person must accept his human condition because it is the repayment of how his soul lived in a previous existence. If he is in a lower caste in India, he should accept it rather than trying to improve his station in life. In contrast, the Scriptures teach human initiative: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might” (Eccl. 9:10).
2. The law of karma teaches a faulty responsibility for one’s actions. Every wrong deed will be accounted for, but not before the Judge of all the earth (Rom. 14:12; 2 Cor. 5:10). Rather, it will be accounted for in the next cycle of the soul’s existence. A person yet to be born will reap what you sow.
3. The law of karma is a form of legalism. “Salvation” (defined as reaching nirvana) is attained through works. There is no concept of forgiveness. In contrast, Paul wrote, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). “Salvation” through works is the concept behind reincarnation and the law of karma.
Guardian of Truth XXXIX: 1 p. 2
January 5, 1995