Reincarnation – Buddhism vs. Hinduism

1 January 2017

While the general concept is present in a number of religions, there are also significant differences between the various belief systems, namely Hinduism and Buddhism. In Hinduism, it is believed that an enduring soul survives after death, spends a variable amount of time in another realm, and then becomes associated with a new body. Rebirth into the opposite sex or, under certain circumstances, into a nonhuman animal form is considered possible. Hinduism includes the concept of karma, the idea that the conditions into which one is born are determined by one’s conduct in various previous lives.

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The law of karma works neutrally and it inexorably metes out the results of one’s actions, rebirth after rebirth, known as samsara. There are countless living beings and countless levels of rebirth from those in the hells to plants, animals, humans, and gods. It is believed that evil karma may bring rebirth at lower levels, and good karma may bring rebirth at higher human levels or even as a god or goddess. After much spiritual practice, and a person finally realizes his or her own divine nature, all desire for the pleasures of the world will vanish, and the person will cease to be reborn.

The person is said to have attained moksha, or salvation from samsara. It is essentially when they “wake up” to the nature of reality. The Buddhist concept of reincarnation, more commonly called rebirth, differs significantly from the Hindu belief in that there is no unchanging soul, spirit, or eternal self to reincarnate; there is no enduring entity that persists from one life to the next. The Buddha described reincarnation as lighting successive candles using the flame of the preceding candle. Although each flame is casually connected to the one that came before it, it is not the same flame.

When one personality dies, a new one comes into being. Buddhism teaches that what is reborn is not the person but that one moment gives rise to another and that this momentum continues even after death. Instead of a fixed entity, what is reborn is a “stream of consciousness,” whose quality has been conditioned by karma. It is similar to Hinduism in that karma determines the circumstances of subsequent lives, so there is continuity between personalities but not persistence of identity. Circumstances of rebirth are not seen as rewards or punishments from a controlling God but are the natural results of various good deeds and misdeeds.

The cycle of rebirths involves suffering and continues until all cravings are lost and nirvana is achieved. The basic difference between Hinduism and Buddhism is this. Hindus believe in an external existence of self which can eventually merge into a greater self, and Buddhists believe that the self is ultimately transitory, and its elimination is freedom from material existence which is suffering. They are quite different approaches, yet the practices, such as meditation, chanting, and self-discipline, and effects, such as happiness and serenity, are very similar.

Both realize that life seen through the bodily senses is not the ultimate reality which is transcendent to the material world. Both also have a belief in karma. Being a Christian, the idea of reincarnation is pretty foreign and a little frightening. I have gotten so used to the idea of having one life that I cannot imagine what it is like to know you are going to be reborn, and possibly as an animal. In a way, I feel like Hindus and Buddhists take their religion more seriously since there main goal is to achieve moksha/nirvana, and to do so they have to live several undesirable lives.

I am sure I would be on my best behavior too if I knew I could be reborn as something awful. It seems like they worship a lot more often and suffer until the end of their rebirths, where as Christians usually just worship once a week and seem to enjoy life more; they do no focus on suffering as much as they know they only have one life. I respect the idea and both religions, but I just have a hard time grasping the concept. In Christianity, reincarnation is typically rejected and there is only one life. Based on Jesus’s teachings, Christians believe that God created human beings to live eternally in fellowship with him.

The future includes the resurrection of all people, a judgment, and eternal life in either heaven or hell. Christians believe there will be a judgment where everyone’s life will be evaluated. Those who depend on Christ for salvation can be assured that they will pass this judgment. The Bible states that there are two different outcomes for eternal life: heaven and hell. They are described using terms that seem metaphorical: a city built of gold in heaven, a lake of fire for hell. While Hindus and Buddhists believe in reincarnation, karma, and liberation, Christian’s believe in death, resurrection, and judgment.

Man only has one earthly life and death, and when he dies his spirit will be reunited with his body. Men often do not receive fair or just rewards for their lives. Instead, when Jesus returns, He will judge all men and declare our eternal rewards on the basis of our lives, good or bad. The concept of reincarnation seems to offer one of the most attractive explanations of humanity’s origin and destiny. The idea of many deaths and rebirths is an interesting one, but a very strong belief in many religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism.

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