Taoism believes in reincarnation. In
the teachings of Tao of Heaven,
reincarnation is one of the main reasons why we have to stop it
otherwise sufferings of birth and rebirth cannot end. When there is no
birth, then there is no death. In order to stop this non-stop cycle, the
step is to be initiated with Tao so that one will know how to practise
and finally transcend and stop reincarnation. Below is an article from
TA Chew Home Page
Reincarnation is the belief that when one dies,
one's body decomposes, but something of oneself is reborn in another
body. It is the belief that one has lived before and will live again in
another body after death. The bodies one passes in and out of need not
be human. One may have been a Doberman in a past life, and one may be a
mite or a carrot in a future life. Some tribes avoid eating certain
animals because they believe that the souls of their ancestors dwell in
those animals. A man could even become his own daughter by dying before
she is born and then entering her body at birth.
The belief in past lives used to be mainly a
belief in Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, but now is a
central tenet of much woo-woo
like dianetics and
channeling. In those
ancient Eastern religions, reincarnation was not considered a good
thing, but a bad thing. To achieve the state of ultimate bliss (nirvana)
is to escape from the wheel of rebirth. In most, if not all, ancient
religions with a belief in reincarnation, the soul entering a body is
seen as a metaphysical demotion, a sullying and impure rite of passage.
In New Age religions, however, being born again seems to be a kind of
perverse goal. Prepare yourself in this life for who or what you want to
come back as in the next life. Belief in past lives also opens the door
for New Age therapies such as
past life regression therapy, which seeks the causes of today's
psychological problems in the experiences of previous lives.
L. Ron Hubbard, author of
the founder of Scientology, introduced his own version of reincarnation
into his new religion. According to Hubbard, past lives need auditing to
get at the root of one's "troubles." He also claims that "Dianetics gave
impetus to Bridey Murphy"
and that some scientologists have been dogs and other animals in
previous lives ("A Note on Past Lives" in
The Rediscovery of the
Human Soul). According to Hubbard, "It has only been in
Scientology that the mechanics of death have been thoroughly
understood." What happens in death is this: the Thetan (spirit) finds
itself without a body (which has died) and then it goes looking for a
new body. Thetans "will hang around people. They will see a woman who is
pregnant and follow her down the street." Then, the Thetan will slip
into the newborn "usually...two or three minutes after the delivery of a
child from the mother. A Thetan usually picks it up about the time the
baby takes its first gasp." How Hubbard knows this is never revealed.
Channeling, like past life regression, is distinct
from reincarnation, even though it is based on the same essential
concept: death does not put an end to the entirety of one's being. In
classical reincarnation, something of the consciousness of the deceased
somehow enters a new body but as that body grows only one unified
consciousness persists through time. Channeling might be called
temporary intermittent past life invasion because there is a coming
and going of the past life entity, which always remains distinct from
the present self-conscious being. For example,
JZ Knight claims that in
1977 the spirit of a Cro-Magnon warrior who once lived in Atlantis took
over her body in order to pass on bits of wisdom he'd picked up over the
centuries. Knight seems to be carrying on the work of Jane Roberts and
Robert Butts, who in 1972 hit the market with
Seth Speaks. Knight, Roberts, and Butts are indebted to
Edgar Cayce, who claimed to
be in touch with many of his past lives. One would think that channeling
might muck things up a bit. After all, if various spirits from the past
can enter any body at any time without destroying the present person, it
is possible that when one remembers a past life it is actually someone
else's life one is remembering.
From a philosophical point of view, reincarnation
poses some interesting problems. What is it that is reincarnated?
Presumably, it is the soul
that is reincarnated, but what is the soul? A disembodied consciousness?
Reincarnation does seem to offer an explanation
for some strange phenomena such as the ability of some people to regress
to a past life under hypnosis.
Also, we might explain child prodigies by claiming that unlike
most cases of reincarnation where the soul has to more or less start
from scratch, the child prodigy somehow gets a soul with great carryover
from a previous life, giving it a decided advantage over the rest of us.
Reincarnation could explain why bad things happen to good people and why
good things happen to bad people: they are being rewarded or punished
for actions in past lives (karma).
One could explain déjà vu
experiences by claiming that they are
memories of past lives.
Dreams could be
interpreted as a kind of soul travel and soul memory. However, past life
regression and déjà vu experiences are best explained as the recalling
of events from this life, not some past life. Dreams and child
prodigies are best explained in terms of brain structures and
genetically inheritable traits and processes. And since bad things also
happen to bad people and good things also happen to good people, the
most reasonable belief is that there is no design to the distribution of
good and bad happening to people.
Finally, since there is no way to tell the
difference between a baby with a soul that will go to heaven or hell, a
baby with a soul that has been around before in other bodies, and a baby
with no soul at all, it follows that the idea of a soul adds nothing to
our concept of a human being. Applying
Occam's razor, both the idea
of reincarnation and the idea of an immortal soul that will go to heaven
or hell are equally unnecessary.