What is Reincarnation?

Picture Copyright Bhaktivedanta Book Trust

“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, the soul similarly accepts new
material bodies, giving up old and useless ones.” – Bhagavad-gita, 2.22

In his recent book Adventures in Immortality, George Gallup, Jr. reports that one out of every four Americans believes that within each person there exist a soul, which survives the death of the body and is then reborn in another body. This is reincarnation.

Unfortunately, the ideas that many people have about reincarnation ( technically known as transmigration of the soul) are generally based on sensationalistic tabloids and books. But the incomplete and sometimes inaccurate information found in such publications does not give us truly satisfying answers to life’s ultimate question: “What happens after death?”

In their search for answers to these types of questions, many people are turning to India’s ancient Vedic literatures. These are the oldest writings on earth; they present the most complete and systematic explanation of reincarnation known in human history. The most fundamental information about reincarnation appears in the Bhagavad-gita As It Is, the quintessence of Vedic knowledge.

According to the Bhagavad-gita, there exist in the universe a total of 8,400,000 species of life, including varieties of microbes, fish, plants, insects, reptiles, birds, animals, and humans. At the time of death the soul moves from one body into a new one.

In the Bhagavad-gita it is explained, “Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state of being he will attain without fail ( in his next life ).” In other words, our lifetime experiences and thoughts make an impression on the mind and the composite of these impressions constitute our final thoughts at death.

The change of body can also be observed, even in the span of one lifetime. As our bodies transform from babyhood to childhood, childhood to youth, youth to adulthood, all the molecules in our bodies, medical science confirms, are regularly replaced. Yet throughout these bodily changes, the conscious self within the body remains the same. The Bhagavad-gita states, “As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death.”

“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body from boyhood
to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death.
A sober person is not bewildered by such a change.” – Bhagavad-gita, 2.13

Our present body is a result of a series actions and reactions experienced in this life and previous lives. This law of nature is known in Sanskrit as the law of karma, which means simply stated: every action has a reaction. One who acts righteously receives good results in the next life, and one who acts in an evil way has to experience adverse reactions in the next birth.

Human beings are the only species subject to this law of karma, because only the human is endowed with higher intelligence. The Vedas explain that lower life forms are under the control of nature and their instincts, and therefore, not held responsible for their activities.

In the human form form of life, however, the soul can free itself from the cycle of reincarnation if it becomes self-realized. Therefore, the soul inhabiting a human body stands at a critical crossroads.

By understanding the principles of reincarnation as explained in the Bhagavad-gita, we, as living souls, can become free from repeated birth and death; and the Vedas instruct us how we can resume our natural constitutional position in the eternal spiritual world of knowledge and bliss.