Reincarnation and Rebirth

Key Terms:

Reincarnation – literally to ‘become flesh again’. This means coming back to life in a new body. Hindus believe in reincarnation as detailed below.

Resurrection – to come back to life in the same body, much as Jesus is supposed to have done after his crucifixion. Muslims and Evangelical Christians believe in resurrection.

Rebirth – to be ‘born again’. Often this is used to refer to Buddhist view that a life force or energy carries on into the ‘next life’ but no personal identity or part of ‘you’ carries on.


Hindu views are governed by the cycle of SAMSARA (the cycle of life, death and rebirth). When you die, your body rots away and your soul moves on and is reincarnated into a new body. Whether this is a better or worse life than before is governed by the law of KHARMA. If you live a good life (follow your DHARMA (duty)) then you gain kharma and come back as something closer to MOKSHA (release from samsara). If you break your dharma and live a bad life you will come back as something worse, or further away from moksha.

For example, a SHUDRA (the peasant caste (VARNA) in Hinduism) has a dharma that tells them they must work hard and obey their master. If they do this they will gain kharma. If they do not, they will lose kharma. Thus a Shudra who works hard may be reincarnated as a VAISHIYA (merchant caste) or something higher up the scale. If they do not work hard they may come back as an animal, or something lower down the scale.

In order for this to be possible it must be true that your soul can leave your body, survive your death and move into a new body. There are some PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTIONS about this – see Dualism and Materialism.


Technically, Buddhists don’t believe in life after death. One of the primary beliefs of Buddhism is ANATTA, or no self. There is no immortal soul, no identity that passes from one life to the next. Instead there is only an ever-mixing and re-mixing pool of life energy. When you die your energy re-joins this pool and is REBORN in the form of another life with no memory of the life before. It might be said that there is no life after death here, you do not survive your death at all! There are exceptions to this in some forms of Buddhism!


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