Reincarnation: Pros And Cons
Reincarnation is an inherent part of several (mainly Eastern) philosophical traditions like Buddhism (Buddha: "I have run through a course of many births looking for the maker of this dwelling and finding him not; painful is birth again and again.Now are you seen, O, builder of the house; you will not build the house again. All your rafters are broken; your ridge-pole is destroyed; the mind set on the attainment of nirvana has attained the extinction of desires.[Dhammapada XI. Jaravagga /Old Age/ 153,154]), Taoism and so-called Hinduism (the proper name is Vedic dharma or sanatana dharma). Here it finds its greatest and deepest elaboration and therefore this article is based solely on Vedic sources, mainly Bhagavad-gita (BG) and Bhagavata Purana (BhP), also known as Srimad Bhagavatam. As a side source is used the Bible (D-R or KJV).
Vedic tradition is based on the revealed knowledge (sabda), which has the power to change the life of listeners and liberate them from the dictate of mind and senses (contrary to an ordinary sound). It is self-evident and it does not need confirmation by other means, just like a food is fully capable to appease a hunger.
This knowledge was written down in scriptures called sruti (four Vedas - Rg, Sama, Yajur, Atharva, and related scriptures like Upanisads), smrti (Puranas, Itihasas - Mahabharata, Ramayana) and others. It is transferred by a succession of spiritual masters and disciples (parampara) which assures its intact preservation:
iti susruma purvesam ye nas tad vyacacaksire
"We heard this knowledge from ancient teachers in age-old tradition, who explained it to us." (Kena Upanisad 1.3-4)
Other main sources of knowledge - sense perception (pratyaksa) and logical analysis (anumana) - are imperfect and cannot reveal the higher reality.
Vedic education starts where Western science and philosophy ends - by understanding the difference between a living and a dead body.
Reincarnation fits into the scheme of nature and cosmos characterized by constant cyclic changes. So even without any higher knowledge one can conclude that this human life is not all in all. Reincarnation, a part and parcel of Vedic paradigm, used to be accepted all over the ancient world. This suggests a broad Vedic influence in the distant past. In the ancient Greece there were still philosophies similar to Vedic ones, which incorporate reincarnation (Plato, Pythagoras).
This paradigm was, however, challenged by Abrahamic traditions, which largely (with exceptions) deny the existence the living being (jiva, or atma) outside the body and by denying its pre-existence they claim that it is created at conception. It is, therefore, seen not as a part of the spiritual, but of the material world. Their view of human life and universe is linear - there is one birth, or creation, and one death, or destruction. These are preceded and succeeded by eternity. This lead to a paradigm collision, result of which permanently influenced the whole Western civilization.
Most of attacks against reincarnation came from early Church Fathers. They directed their criticism mainly at Plato and Pythagoras. Usually they could not understand how could a human being become an animal and thus lose one's developed intellect. Unfortunately, they often replace their lack of counterarguments by vulgarity (e.g. Gregory of Nyssa, "The Making of Man" 28:3; Basil the Great, "Six Days Work" 8:2; or Lactantius, "Epitome of the Divine Institutes" 36).
Today these attacks continue but as before they are characterized by incomplete or wrong understanding of reincarnation. Although they employ logic and scripture (Bible), at best they refute only a strawman created from various misconceptions of reincarnation.
Here is a list of arguments against karma and reincarnation with their refutation based on logic and Vedic scriptures.
3.1. What is the sense in being punished for actions we do not remember? (Irenaeus etc.)
Church Father Justin Martyr (2nd c. AD) in his dialogue with Trypho the Jew, ch. 4, mentions reincarnation of men into animals. Trypho disagrees but his counterargument - that those punished in this way do not remember their guilt and therefore such punishment has no meaning - is purely subjective because sometimes the conscious memory of past lives (janma-anusmrti) is retained (see below). Generally, however, it is not preserved, so this argument is at hand.
BhP 3.31.20,23,24 says that this forgetfulness is caused by maya right after birth. We forget even things from our present life and if we would remember everything from the past it would lead to a mental collapse.
BhP 3.26.30 says that memory (smrti) is an aspect of intelligence (buddhi), which is a part of subtle material or astral body (linga sarira). It gradually moves from one gross material body (sthula sarira) to another. Our experience is stored in subtle material body in the form of records or imprints (samskaras). Wrong action from our past we subconsciously recognize thanks to Paramatma (localized aspect of God in heart enabling memory and forgetfulness) and feel in the form of guilt. This tends to prevent another wrong action of the same nature. Paramatma shows what is right and what is wrong even to those who don't know scriptures. Thus character is also a sort of unconscious memory. (Srila Prabhupada defined character as a result of gunas's acting. Sattvic character according to him means to avoid the four sinful activities.) More noble people already learned their lessons in previous lives. This is a personal evolution. Geniality can be understood as its one extreme form.
Full recognition of right and wrong we experience at the time of death under the supervision of higher authorities - devas and Paramatma. This is also confirmed by modern NDEs.
Second argument of Nyaya philosophy for the existence of God (i.e. existence of various beings in various situations in this world) suggests the need of continuity of reincarnation (BhP 4.29) to assure justice.
How karma molds our body can be understood by this analogy: If we take our gross material body as a tree and a subtle material body as its root, then if the tree is cut (death), the root survives and a new tree can sprout from it; if the original tree was subjected to any negative influence like radiation (negative karma), the new tree will also be harmed.
In some cases the conscious memory of past lives is preserved. Such persons are called jati-smara ("those remembering their previous birth"). As examples can serve Narada Muni, BhP 1.6.4 etc.; Maharaja Bharata, BhP 5.8.27, 5.12.15; Maharaja Indradyumna, BhP 8.4.11-12; Asamanjasa, BhP 9.8.15-16; Maharaja Nrga, BhP 10.63 etc. This ability comes from Paramatma, the supreme witness directing the karma dispensation and reincarnation directly and indirectly (through deva Yama).
This experience should open our eyes and bring us to search for the cause of suffering. Previous life can be ascertained by regressions, advanced astrology (both are imperfect, belonging to anumana), one's purified consciousness with the help of Paramatma, thanks to liberated, saintly persons who can read others' samskaras, or with the help of dharma-sastras which describe specific karmic reactions for specific sins. Ignorance of law (dharma) is no excuse.
More important than study of one's previous lives is to "play with cards in one's hand", or live the best way in this life, without being attached to the past which cannot be changed. Bhakti-yoga helps to recover our original, immaterial body (svarupa) in God's realm (Vaikuntha-loka).
3.2. Situation in the world, and especially in India, gets worse and worse, so there is no alleged elevation of reincarnated beings.
The improvement happens gradually, slowly and on a personal level. Current state of the world reflects the situation of Kali-yuga, the last of four cosmic ages, characteristic by the greatest decline of dharma. At the end of this age, after some 427,000 years, things will be much worse. We should therefore feel some urgency regarding our return home, back to Godhead.
3.3. Reincarnation leads to falldowns of jivas.
This is true only for those in human bodies, not following scripture and not trying to improve one's material or spiritual position. On the other hand, jivas in sub-human forms automatically ascend to higher forms until they reach civilized human bodies and can utilize their free will.
3.4. Sati rite suggests the husband and wife stay together in the afterlife.
Husband and wife leave for higher planets (svarga-, pitri-loka) and stay there as long as their pious credits allow. Then they have to return (reincarnate) back to the earth (BG 9.21) without any assurance of rebirth together.
3.5. Sraddha rite assures the person to stay in higher realms without reincarnating.
Also Yama-loka (Pitri-loka) is sometimes described as an eternal abode. They reincarnate after periods of various length which can be prolonged by offering the sraddha. Eternal stay up there would be theoretically possible if sraddha would be offered eternally. Although followers of Vedic dharma can go to svarga-loka (heavenly abodes which themselves are not eternal, Psalm 101(102):26-27), their stay there must end latest at the destruction of the universe. There are also partial destructions which include svarga at the end of kalpa.
3.6. Devas are dispensers of justice, not impersonal karma.
Karma presents infallible justice. It is a part of a system designed and maintained by the Supreme Person, so there is no question of it being impersonal. BhP 3.31.1 says "karmana daiva-netrena" - Karma is supervised by the Lord Paramatma in the heart. In BhP 7.9.41 Prahlada Maharaja begs the Lord for mercy to remove the karma. According to BhP 5.26.6, 6.1-2, Yama is its dispenser directly empowered by the Lord.
3.7. Atma is impersonal but the soul preserves the attributes of personhood.
Atma (jiva) is personal, individual particle of God and in its conditioned state it accumulates karma because it has free will.
"Soul" is actually a very vague term. Man does not cease to exist at death (this idea is found among some followers of Abrahamic traditions), it is a person, jiva, in human body who simply changes bodies and suffers/enjoys one's own karma, not only in the physical body but also in the subtle body, between two incarnations. Personal attributes belong to the jiva and are manifested through subtle and gross body. They do not depend on the gross body though.
3.8. Doctrine of karma leads to passivity and nihilism.
Resignation and submission to karma is wrong. Jiva should "make the best out of a bad bargain", or "play with the cards in one's hand" regardless of if he knows why he suffers or not (though it may help him to understand his position). Those who know should mercifully help him spiritually (lack of compassion is also an ignorance). This is not interfering with his karma but a part of a higher plan.
People do not react to bad karma in an unified manner, the negative reaction (revenge) is due to ignorance. They will sooner or later "wake up" after being punished many times and try to get out of the "vicious circle" of karma. Such people are receptors of God's mercy and turn to Him. Only a few percent of people are 'incorrigible criminals' - those with demoniac nature (atheists and God-haters).
Suicide is not a way out but brings severe karmic punishments. Fasting to death is the only karma-free suicide but not the way to liberation - this is the taking shelter in God (saranam).
3.9. Reincarnation means a growth/conservation of evil.
Evil (adharma) grows with time in each yuga and Kali-yuga is the worst in this regard. But there are also other factors in play: ajnata-sukrti (unknowingly performed pious acts related to God and His servants), saintly people working against it in various ways (they have an important role in enabling others to do ajnata-sukrti), God's plan (includes everything; the special plan in this Kali-yuga is the sankirtana movement).
3.10. Reincarnation means an endless cycle of punishments.
Dharma is the criteria if the next person will be punished or not. There are persons entrusted with the dispensation of law - ksatriyas (on earth level), devas (on cosmic level) and ultimately God. Thus a policeman killing a criminal does not get bad karma, neither judge etc. provided they acted according to dharma, God's law. Here we face a problem of man-made laws which often do not correspond with dharma.
Revenge is against dharma and brings bad karma.
Right understanding of reincarnation does not lead to an idea that "Hitler, Stalin etc. did the right thing by murdering so many people because it was their karma anyway".
Nonviolence (ahimsa) is generally in harmony with dharma, animal killing is adharma (butchers are not forced to kill, not being the authorized dispensers of karma). But absolute ahimsa under any circumstances is also against dharma - ksatriyas have to oppose the growth of adharma.
3.11. Reincarnation has no definite beginning. Wherefrom the karma needed for the first incarnation came?
The first incarnation is caused by a misuse of one's free will by voluntary leaving the Lord. Thus one enters the material world where Maya devi arranges for the first body (that of Brahma). The context is seen in the Vedic Planetarium.
3.12. Reincarnation affects negatively morality.
This could be true only if it is misunderstood as the only factor to consider. But there are also dharma which defines what is right and wrong and the law of karma based on it.
Mechanical understanding of karma as unchangeable fate is wrong - there is a parallel action of karma and free will at any moment and moreover spiritual grace can change any karma (miraculous cures etc.)
Claim of "amorality proposed by Krishna in the BG" is a complete misunderstanding. Krishna restores dharma by removing the demons - this is clear from the context of the Mahabharata.
Reality of reincarnation supports responsibility in life (by understanding that sins lead to suffering, rejection of escapism, hedonism and powermongering which are outgrowths from the one-life paradigm gotten rid of God), sense of continuity and unflinching position while facing negative conditions (present situation is a result of one's own actions), empowerment (by understanding interaction of karma and free will) and respect for all life (living beings including those in subhuman forms are seen as children of God). This is often not seen in traditions with the linear paradigm.
3.13. Demons produce reincarnation proofs to contradict Christianity.
No doubt there are demoniac forces trying to suppress dharma in genuine religious teachings. But Vedic scriptures have three checks to prevent this: guru (spiritual master), sastra (revealed scripture) and sadhu (spiritual practitioner) must be in accord. Any deviation is easily exposed.
We also see that realizations of advanced sadhus from various spiritual traditions are remarkably similar. They develop similar qualities like humility, purity, self-control etc. in exact opposition to the demoniac nature. If the Vedic sages would also be demons or under demoniac influence, they would not cast demons out as Jesus did (Matthew 12:24-28) by their spiritual power and the power of the holy name of Lord. This and other things connected with the Lord effectively repel negative beings.
Scripture means the Bible here. To understand the position of the Bible in comparison to the Vedic scriptures we can use several criteria.
One is the three guna criteria used in Tattva-sandarbha to classify Vedic scriptures. Roughly it could be called a rajasika sastra although there are also parts of more sattvic and tamasic nature. Regarding sambandha-abhidheya-prayojana criteria, prayojana tattva (the goal, or jiva's relationship with God in His abode and the activity in liberated state) is conspicuous by its absence. As for karma-jnana-bhakti marga criteria, we see prevalent karma, some jnana, and bhakti mainly in Gospels and Song of Solomon. Contents generally pertain to upadharma (ethics preliminary to dharma) and religious rules (dharma). The most spiritually advanced part is Gospels where hints to suddha-bhakti can be found (Mark 12:30-31, Jesus' first commandment).
4.1. No texts in the Bible or Church history teach reincarnation.
There is an opinion that some texts or their parts were taken out of the canon by the Church or even destroyed. (Prof. Nestle - Introduction to the Textual Criticism of the Greek Testament, Rev. G.J.R. Ousley - The Gospel of the Holy Twelve, etc.).
If we take as a basis transcripts of New Testament texts extant on papyri from the 2nd century as we find them in every critical edition of the Greek original, there is no trace of censorship. This would have to happen latest at the beginning of the 2nd century when the Church controlled only minority of texts and always only locally.
This can be taken as a valid objection. Bible, however, does not mention many other facts about material or spiritual world. Still there are interesting passages in this regard:
For if a man at any time shall rise, and persecute thee, and seek thy life, the soul of my lord shall be kept, as in the bundle of the living, with the Lord thy God: but the souls of thy enemies shall be whirled, as with the violence and whirling of a sling. (1 Samuel 25:29)
This text is quoted in Zohar III, 99b. (Harry Sperlin and Maurice Simon, trans., The Zohar, vol. 1–5. London-New York: Soncino Press, 1984.): "Many are the worlds through which they [the souls] revolve, and each revolution is wondrous in many hidden ways. But men neither know nor are they able to perceive these things! Nor do they know how the souls roll about 'like a stone inside a sling' (I Sam. XXV, 29)."
Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust. "Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth. (Psalm 104:29-30)
All these died according to faith, not having received the promises but beholding them afar off and saluting them and confessing that they are pilgrims and strangers on the earth. (Hebrews 11:13-16)
For they that say these things do signify that they seek a country.
And truly, if they had been mindful of that from whence they came out, they had doubtless, time to return.
But now they desire a better, that is to say, a heavenly country. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city."
Reincarnation seems to be an accepted fact in Jesus' time. John 9:1-3: "And as [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man which was blind from [his] birth. "And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? "Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him." [i.e. Jesus could cure him.] Jesus therefore did not refute karma and reincarnation chastising his disciples for such beliefs although he had a very good chance.
There are Bible quotes used to support reincarnation in the Bible which are not relevant. They usually appear in texts from New Age scene known for its lack of intellectual rigor.
In Matthew 11:14 Jesus said, "And if you are willing to accept it, [John the Baptist] is the Elijah who was to come." This does not mean that John the Baptist was a reincarnation of Elijah. Luke 1:17 tells that the ministry of John the Baptist was carried out "in the spirit and power of Elijah." Moreover, John the Baptist, when asked if he was Elijah, flatly answered, "No." (John 1:21).
Likewise, in John 3:3 Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." The context clearly shows that Jesus was referring to a spiritual rebirth (3:5-6).
2 Kings 2:11 says that Elijah was taken up into heaven in his own body and Matthew 17:3 mentions that Elijah appeared together with Jesus and Moses on the mountain.
There are also quotes used to debunk the notion of reincarnation.
Job 16:22: "When a few years are come, then I shall go the way whence I shall not return." On the other hand, Job 1:21 suggests otherwise: "And said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." This passage is, however, not very clear and differs in various translations.
Hebrews 9:27 tells that "man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment." General Christian view is that man is a compact being (who really dies only once), not a transcendent immortal entity inhabiting various bodies in succession although Paul in several passages speaks about presence or absence from a body. 2 Corinthians 5:8 is one such case. It is used to prove that at death the Christian immediately goes into the presence of the Lord, not into another body. This is, however, not at all obvious from the quote.
4.2. The stay in hell is eternal (Matthew 18:8, 25:41,46, 2 Thessalonians 1:9, Jude 1:6 etc.).
The word often translated as 'eternal' is 'olam' in Hebrew and 'aionios' in koine Greek. Rabbis generally considered the stay in Gehenna temporary.
"The conception of eternity, in the Semitic languages, is that of a long duration and series of ages." (Rev. J. S. Blunt - Dictionary of Theology)
"'Tis notoriously known," says Bishop Rust, "that the Jews, whether writing in Hebrew or Greek, do by olam (the Hebrew word corresponding to aion), and aion mean any remarkable period and duration, whether it be of life, or dispensation, or polity." "The word aion is never used in Scripture, or anywhere else, in the sense of endlessness (vulgarly called eternity, it always meant, both in Scripture and out, a period of time; else how could it have a plural - how could you talk of the aeons and aeons of aeons as the Scripture does? (Charles Kingsley)
Aionios, an an adjective from "aion" (an age, a period of time, often of indefinite length) means "of the age," "age-long," "aeonian." It could be used as 'everlasting' in relation to God but not in the primary meaning. In the Greek version of the Old Testament (the Septuagint) - in common use among the Jews in Jesus's time and from which He and the Apostles usually quoted, and whose authority, therefore, should be decisive on this point - these terms are repeatedly applied to things that have long ceased to exist. Thus the Aronic priesthood is said to be "everlasting" (Num. 25:13). The land of Canaan is given as an "everlasting" possession, and "for ever" (Gen. 17:8, 13:15). In Deut. 23:3, "for ever" is distinctly made an equivalent to "even to the tenth generation." In Lam. 5:19, "for ever and ever" is the equivalent of from "generation to generation." The inhabitants of Palestine are to be bondsmen "for ever" (Lev. 25:46). In Num. 18:19, the heave offerings of the holy things are a covenant "for ever." Caleb obtains his inheritance "for ever" (Josh. 14:9). And David's seed is to endure "for ever," his throne "for ever," his house "for ever;" nay, the passover is to endure "for ever;" and in Isaiah 32:14, the forts and towers shall be "dens for ever, until the spirit be poured upon us." So in Jude 7, Sodom and Gomorrah are said to be suffering the vengeance of eternal (aeonian) fire, i.e., their temporal overthrow by fire, for they have a definite promise of final restoration (Ez. 16:55).
IF aionios is used in the sense of 'eternal', there are following
1 - How can aion have a plural?
2 - How came such phrases to be used as those repeatedly occurring in Bible, where aion is added to aion, if aion is of itself infinite?
3 - How come such phrases as for the "aion" or aions and BEYOND? (ton aiona kai ep aiona kai eti: eis tous aionas kai eti. - See Sept. Ex. 15:18; Dan. 12:3; Micah 4:5.)
4 - How is it that we repeatedly read of the end of the aion? (Matt. 13:39,40,49; 24:3; 28:20; I Cor. 10:11; Heb. 9:26.)
5 - If aion be infinite, why is it applied over and over to what is strictly finite? e.g. Mark 4:19; Acts 3:21; Rom. 12:2; I Cor. 1:20, 2:20, 2:6, 3:18, 10:11, etc.
Here is a detailed study of the use of aionios and here are all Biblical references to aion. For more see: Ilaria Ramelli, David Konstan, Terms for Eternity: aiônios and aidios in Classical and Christian Texts. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2007. (a review)
So if we translate "aion" as "yuga" or "kalpa", there is at once a harmony with Vedic version.
BG 1.43 (narake niyatam) and BhP 8.19.35 (nistham narake) also mention the possibility of eternal stay in hell as a threat. From the point of view of the sufferer (who experiences a different time scale than on this earth) it may look like that. BhP 5.26.37, however, says that after the punishment in hell the jiva is reborn on earth.
Luke 16:19-31 indicates that unbelievers at death go to a place of suffering, not into another body. This is not contradicting the Vedic version (BhP 5.26.37).
One cannot escape from hell, but must be released by Yama or the Lord (as by chanting His holy name, BhP 9.4.62)
The Catholic doctrine of Purgatory has never defined 'where' the state of purgation happens but there is a tradition from the mystical experiences of the saints that soul's purgation may in fact happen on this earth. Souls in purgation have been seen by the saints like St. Odran (AD 563) of Iona (Hebrides), who after being buried for some time as a human sacrifice, said that he had a look into an afterlife and claimed: "The saved are not forever happy, the damned are not forever lost." He was buried again as a heretic...
Catholic tradition has roots in both Platonism and in Jewish
tradition, both of which taught (teach) forms of reincarnation.
Orthodox (Hasidim) and esoteric (Kabbala) Jews still teach it (calling
it 'gilgul', analogical to Greek trochos, wheel, in James 3:6) although they don't stress it very much,
giving more priority to the life 'here and now'.
Jews in the Maccabean Era made offerings for the souls of their dead just like the Vaishnavas. This Maccabean practice is the scriptural support for Catholic doctrine of Purgatory.
Catholics are free to believe whatever does not contradict dogmatic revelation. Thus a significant number of Catholics (a recent poll showed over 50% of European Catholics including many Catholic leaders) believe in some kind of reincarnation as a matter of 'private revelation' or understanding and this is ok with the Church. As long as this belief does not involve contradiction of divine revelation it is not a problem.
4.3 Reincarnation negates the sacrifice of Christ's death on the cross for all our sins/karma.
Not really. Christ's sacrifice liberates those who accept Him and follow Him (He bluntly rejects lip-servers in Matt. 7:16 and onward). Others are on 'their own', in samsara but they get another such chance when another avatar comes (see 4.4.).
4.4. Bible teaches a general resurrection at the end of the world. When people resurrect from the dead, which body and personality from their multiples lives will they be?
Zohar states that out of many only the last body — the one that has been firmly planted and took root and prospered — will come to life: "The Holy One will thus in the future raise the dead to life again, and the good principle will prevail in the world and the Evil One will vanish from the world, as already said, and the previous bodies will be as though they never had been." (Zohar II, 131a.)
'Dead' is everyone who is under the grip of death, i.e. in samsara. Jesus confirms this in Luke 9:60 - 'Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.' When an avatar (at least Sri Rama, Sri Krsna and Sri Caitanya who are mentioned in Caitanya Caritamrta 3.78-92) comes, He liberates all living beings in the universe present at that time. At the end of this world (i.e. Kali yuga) when the Lord comes as the 'Rider on the white horse', in Vedic tradition known Sri Kalki (and under other names in many other traditions), those qualified are liberated and attain their spiritual nature called svarupa, unrelated to their material bodies in samsara. Svarupa is attainable also by bhakti sadhana joined with kripa (mercy), not by one's effort only.
4.5. Council of Constantinople rejected pre-existence of souls, and thus, by implication, the reincarnation. The whole reincarnational worldview is against Scripture.
It was not the Fifth Ecumenical Council in AD 553, as often mentioned, but local Home Synod of Constantinople (AD 544-6) held to condemn Origen's teachings, pre-existence being one of them. Emperor Justinian required the bishops to condemn the doctrine of universal restoration. He especially urged Mennas to anathematize the doctrine "that wicked men and devils will at length be discharged from their torments, and re-established in their original state."
The half-heathen emperor held to the idea of endless misery, for he not only defends, but defines the doctrine. He does not merely say, "We believe in aionion kolasin," for that was just what Origen himself taught. Nor does he say "the word aionion has been misunderstood; it denotes endless duration," as he would have said, had there been such a disagreement. But, writing in Greek he says: "The holy church of Christ teaches an endless aeonian (ateleutetos aionios) life to the righteous, and endless (ateleutetos) punishment to the wicked." If he supposed aionios denoted endless duration, he would not have added the stronger word to it. The fact that he qualified it by ateleutetos, demonstrated that as late as the sixth century the former word did not signify endless duration.
Justinian need only to have consulted his contemporary, Olympiodorus, who wrote on this very subject, to vindicate his language. In his commentary on the Meteorologica of Aristotle, 8 he says: "Do not suppose that the soul is punished for endless ages () in Tartarus. Very properly the soul is not punished to gratify the revenge of the divinity, but for the sake of healing. But we say that the soul is punished for an aeonian period, calling its life, and its allotted period of punishment, its aeon."
The synod voted fifteen canons, not one of which condemns universal restoration despite emperor's effort. The first canon reads thus:
"If anyone asserts the fabulous pre-existence of souls, and the monstrous restitution which follows from it, let him be anathema."
It is confirmed in the fourteenth anathema where the Church condemns also monism (advaita) closely related to it:
"If anyone says that there will be a single unity of all rational beings, their substances and individualities being taken away together with their bodies, and also that there will be an identity of cognition as also of persons, and that in the fabulous restitution they will only be naked even as they had existed in that pre-existence which they insanely introduced, let him be anathema."
From the practical point of view reincarnation and karma were abolished since they were being misused under the influence of Gnostic monism in a way the Nazis misused them in modern times for the oppression based on caste/birth/class (slavery), sex (women), and age (elderly, children, killing defective unborn ones, etc.). Relationship of monistic Gnosticism to devotional Christianity was like that of Shankara's advaita to devotional Vaishnavism. It was a major opposing ideology which the Church strived to overcome for centuries but never fully succeded. Later it became one of the sources of New Age. Knowing this historical background we can understand the strong reaction against the book and movie "Da Vinci Code" presenting old Gnostic views.
The whole issue was obviously more a political and practical than a theological one. Pre-existence is, however, accepted in Jeremiah 1:5 and Ephesians 1:4. Revelation 3:12 says: "Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out." [Who returns to the kingdom of God shall never leave it. This is also taught by the BG 8.15,16,21, 15.4,6.]
We have tried to present as many objections to reincarnation as possible. If we are supplied with others, they will be added here. Thank you for your cooperation.
Other answers to Christians (en, cz)
Four Schools of Buddhism refuted by Vedanta-sutra
Dying, Yamaraja and Yamadutas
Vedic Planetarium - human level
Connections - Christianity
Reincarnation references (world religions and modern thinkers and researchers)
Reincarnation research with particular examples
Yonassan Gershom: books on reincarnation among Jews
Reincarnation, past life evidence, Part 1
Reincarnation, past life story of James Leininger
3-Year-Old Remembers Past Life, Identifies Murderer and Location of Body
Reincarnation, past life story of Luke Ruehlman
First hint of 'life after death' in biggest ever scientific study
Reincarnation in America (42 min video)
Piglet born with Human head in Guatemala!
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