What is it, where does it come from, and is it any good? ]
|Summary: a theory built on ignorance
The doctrine of reincarnation was not developed until around 600 BC. However, it does contains some truths that traditional Christianity has lost. For example, it teaches of a pre-existence - a doctrine that was taught by the early church, but was declared a heresy in AD 533. So, reincarnation can sometimes be a stepping stone for someone seeking greater truths. But it is ONLY a stepping stone. Like a stepping stone, it must eventually be left behind.
"Three doctrines lie at the foundation of belief in reincarnation.
- First, the pre-existence of the "soul" of man;
- second, the indestructibility of the "soul" of man after death; and,
- third, the possibility of constant development of the pre-existent, eternal "soul."
These are all necessary doctrines to the thinking mind. They are supported by divine revelation. But, in the explanations and applications of these truths, the proponents of reincarnation have failed dismally, and have shown how the semblance of truth, becoming untruth, may lead men into vast fields of deception."
- John A. Widtsoe, in "Evidences and Reconciliations"
|How the theory was invented|
What is reincarnation?
Reincarnation is also known as "the transmigration of souls." In brief, it teaches that after we die, we are re-born on the earth once again. Each time we come back, we increase or reduce our balance of good works (karma), and learn a little more. When we have become sufficiently advanced, according to this theory, we escape the cycle of death and rebirth and achieve a state called "nirvana."
The ORIGINAL truths
Right from the beginning, the scriptures teach the truth about death. The first person we know much about (apart from Adam) is Abraham. Abraham lived about 2000 BC. The version of his story that is in the Bible was copied down at about the time of Moses, 1400 BC. We learn from Abraham that death means (a) joining our ancestors in another place, and (b) keeping the same identity.
- God referred to his death as "going to his fathers" (Genesis 15:15). Note that Abraham had left the land of his ancestors (Ur), and was buried in a different country (Canaan). So "going to his fathers" does not refer to going to the family tomb.
- The same verse also indicates that Abraham's fathers were somewhere else, a place of the dead. If he had believed in reincarnation, his fathers would have been all around him, reincarnated on the earth.
- Note also the importance of finding an appropriate tomb, and of embalming the body. Abraham did not consider his body to be just one of many temporary homes, as reincarnation teaches. He saw it as something that he wanted to keep.
- The same teachings are seen throughout Genesis. For example, when Jacob (Israel) saw he was going to die, obtaining the right burial became extremely important (see Genesis 48-49). Then, before he died he blessed his children and foretold what would happen to their descendants. Why bother doing this if Jacob himself was going to be there in person to help them through the centuries?
The later Bible books add more detail about the after-life, particularly about the final judgment, when everyone will be judged and the world as we know it will end. They also teach of the Second Coming of Christ and of his millennial reign on this earth. All these things are literal, and not just symbolic of life now. For example:
Hebrews 9:27: "And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment. . ."(NASB).
2 Corinthians 5:10: "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad." (NASB)
How truths become lost
Although the prophets taught the truth in plainness, the Bible teaches that the prophets were always rejected. When people reject the prophets, they usually claim to be still following them. They choose some aspect of religion that they like, and reject the rest. Because different people like different things, the church usually splinters into many different parts.
For how this happened with Christianity, see a history of Christianity, and who speaks for Christianity?
A similar thing happened with the eastern religions, as they drifted away from the teachings of Adam, Noah, and Abraham.
When reincarnation was invented
"In Eastern religious thought and philosophy, belief in transmigration seems not to have been part of the most ancient religious beliefs of the Aryan conquerors of India; it appears first in doctrinal form in the Indian religious and philosophical collection of the Upanishads." - Encarta, 1995
"The most fully articulated doctrine of transmigration is found in HINDUISM. It does not appear in the earliest Hindu scriptures (the Rig Veda) but was developed at a later period in the UPANISHADS (c.600 BC)." - Grolier encyclopedia 1995
So the theory of reincarnation was invented quite recently (by Biblical standards).
Why did they start to believe in reincarnation?
When we look at what the prophets have revealed about the gospel of Jesus Christ, it is easy to see why people invented reincarnation:
- We lived before we were born. Someone who does not understand the gospel may assume that this refers to life on this earth.
- Eternal progression. This is a fundamental concept of the gospel, yet is lost in many religions.
- The prophets refer to pre-mortal birth, mortal birth, being born again by baptism, and then resurrection. There are additional stages such as the post-mortal spirit world. It is easy to see how someone who was not paying attention could come away with the idea of multiple lives.
- The prophets teach of eternal progression in the family unit. We can be blessed with increasing families in the eternities. This is sometimes referred to as "eternal lives." (Doctrine and Covenants 132:24, 55). No doubt this leads to some confusion on the back pews.
- Those who do not hear of Christ in this life will get the chance in the next life. This does NOT apply to those who have the chance here but reject it, but it is very tempting. We want to believe that, even if we are evil here, it's O.K., because we can be good "some other time" instead.
- Finally, if we misunderstand, we may think that eternal punishment means literal torture for eternities, rather than as a vivid symbol of how it feels to have missed our chances here. If we misunderstand the truth about "hell," we may reject the whole idea and look for an alternative belief. Reincarnation is a very convenient alternative.
|If you believe in
reincarnation, you need to be a Mormon
Even though Mormons don't believe in reincarnation. Want to know why?
Most believers in reincarnation say it doesn't matter which church you join
According to the general theory, it is your good works that count - your karma - not your religion.
But Christianity says you have to be a Christian!
Jesus was pretty clear about this - he is the only way.
So it makes sense to be a Christian
That way you are covered, whichever one is right. Plus you are extra safe. Reincarnation says you can afford to mess up this life, because you will get another chance. But Christianity says this is the only chance you get. So it makes sense to get this life right and not gamble with your soul.
And it makes even more sense to be a Mormon
But you need a church that teaches about the pre-existence, and stresses the importance of good works. Plus, there will come a time when you want to know for sure, to have a personal testimony. You will want to know the doctrine in more detail, from someone with authority. And that is why being a Mormon is the only choice.
And when it comes time to discard some of your old reincarnation ideas, don't worry! The teachers of reincarnation (especially Zen Buddhists) will tell you that you should not have been desiring them anyway. :-)
|Reincarnation: Good and bad|
Nobody can agree on exactly what it means.
There is no shortage of gurus and teachers. They will all tell you the secrets of reincarnation. Each will sound convincing. But they disagree and contradict each other. And there is no final, ultimate source of information. No single prophet who can give the final word.
Reincarnation is explained in most detail by the Hindu religion. And what does the Hindu religion teach? Nobody can agree! The position is summed up by religioustolerance.org - a non-denominational web site that compares different religions:
"Hinduism is derived from the Persian word for Indian. It differs from Christianity and other Western religions in that it does not have a single founder, a specific theological system, a single system of morality, or religious organization."
In other words, "Hindu" meant "whatever all the different groups in India happen to believe." India is composed of hundreds or thousands of different shades of belief. There is no single source or structure, no single system of either belief or practice - in short, no agreement.
The evidence is very weak.
The evidence for reincarnation is as follows:
- Some people feel it makes more sense than, for example, traditional Christianity.
- There is plenty of evidence for some kind of pre-existence.
- The spirit testifies of the truth of eternal progression - it just feels right
- Many people feel they can remember past lives.
- Many different religions teach it.
- People seem to be able to support it from the Bible.
We should look very closely at the evidence. Our eternal future depends on it.
- We can accept there are problems with traditional Christianity (and we can find solutions) without believing in reincarnation.
- We can believe in the pre-existence without believing in reincarnation.
- Eternal progression is taught even more clearly elsewhere.
- Recovered memories are easily explained by psychological features, plus the fact of a pre-existence.
- Although it is popular, it is a relatively recent theory.
- The alleged Bible proofs have a lot of problems when you look closer.
In the words of one fairly sympathetic critic:
"Having said this I do not want to look down on a doctrine which has been held by so many human beings. Obviously there is much about it that is highly attractive to the human spirit--and it does have a lot more to say for itself than Naturalism. As C.S. Lewis pointed out, there are really only two religious choices: Hinduism or Christianity. And the only question is not, 'which is most attractive,' but 'which is true?'"
What is good about reincarnation?
Reincarnation points out many problems with traditional Christianity:
- Modern denial of any life before birth
- Modern denial of eternal progression
- Doctrines that make God unjust - such as condemning those who, through no fault of their own, did not hear about Christ.
- Doctrines that make God evil - by torturing unbelievers for eternity. (The true doctrine is that it only FEELS like fire and brimstone when we realize what we have missed. See 2 Nephi 9:16, Mosiah 3:27, Alma 12:17. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.357: "A man is his own tormenter and his own condemner. Hence the saying, They shall go into the lake that burns with fire and brimstone. The torment of disappointment in the mind of man is as exquisite as a lake burning with fire and brimstone. I say, so is the torment of man." Physically, the afterlife for unbelievers is still glorious. See Doctrine and Covenants 76.)
Many other such problems are apparently solved by a belief in reincarnation. However, they are solved more effectively by the restored gospel.
What is bad about reincarnation?
As a Mormon, I am concerned that reincarnation allows people to make excuses. If we believe in reincarnation, we do not need to try so hard in this life, because if we mess up then we get another chance. (But that is not true! We do not get another chance!) Also, I see reincarnation used as an excuse for not helping those who are suffering (as they have earned their suffering and need to experience it for their karma). Finally, it seems to be a grand attempt to push God out of the equation. Of course, others do not see it as I do. So, instead of looking at ethical issues, let us look at the philosophy behind reincarnation. Can it make sense?
|Important: This is not intended as an attack on Hinduism, because I do not understand it enough to be so bold. I am simply explaining why it does not make sense or appeal to me. Perhaps someone else would see it differently.|
Reincarnation does not clearly explain why our spirits were created in the first place, or how, or when, or even what they are. When was the first incarnation? As a rock? As an atom in the gas cloud that formed the earth?
Everyone has their opinion (and several people have told me theirs), but who can say for certain?
The fundamentals do not make sense to me
Perhaps I am unusually stupid, or brainwashed by western culture or something. But reincarnation just does not make sense to me. I have read various teachers' explanations (see below) and it makes even less sense than before.
Why should we spend so long in physical bodies - even a thousand or a million lifetimes - if we do not ultimately need them? Whatever we need as a spirit can be learned as a spirit.
If we begin as part of the great universal spirit, and end as part of the great universal spirit, what is the point of what went on in between? Whatever we know at the end, we knew it at the beginning anyway.
As one critic of Hinduism put it, "Since the creator and the creation are one and the same, creation (including man) has no real or separate existence. This tends to downplay the value of the individual and seems to leave creation without a clearly defined purpose."
What is the point in an individual learning anything, if when he has succeeded he then ceases to exist as an individual? As the Mercian Order of St. George puts it, "Once the spirit has reached the higher state of progression, and settles on the Mental Plane, it starts to lose its individual identity and there is no further need for reincarnation to undergo the tests of the material world." When we merge with "something else," this "something" else already knows everything, so we are not helping it any. We are also not helping ourselves, because any concept of "ourselves" has then been lost. So what is the point in learning?
We might also ask, what can be learned in a thousand lifetimes that cannot be learned in just one? A single lifetime is able to make us aware of pleasure, pain, hope, confusion, death, parenthood - pretty much everything, it would seem. As hedonists soon discover, no matter how far you go for new experiences, everything is pretty much the same.
This is especially limiting when we realize that our physical bodies are doomed to be stuck on this earth. So a whole universe of experience (literally) is denied to us through reincarnation.
One answer is that our purpose is tied up with "karma" - we have to balance our bad acts with our good acts. But unfortunately, the whole of life is one big cost. We eat, we breathe, we consume, we restrict others' freedom. It is very difficult to give more than we take. Even when we seem to do good - such as by being a great leader - we rely on the organization and efforts of others. Each life we just end up more and more in debt.
|Why should I trust it? Even the gurus seem confused!|
Whenever you have an important question, different gurus will give different answers. This does not give me any confidence in what they say.
1. Where can I turn for help?
Let us ask a guru
Who can I turn to for advice? What about perhaps the west's most famous teacher of reincarnation - Edgar Cayce.
According to "Intimates Through Time (Edgar Cayce's Mysteries of Reincarnation)" by Jess Stearn, Cayce showed that many people have very detailed memories of past lives. Recovering past lives seems to be a relatively simple process of using hypnotism (for example). So why doesn't every reincarnationist tell us how easy it is? And why do they never remember the language they spoke - Atlantean, Persian, Aramaic, etc.?
I suppose that there are explanations for these things, but I am a little doubtful when I read some other things that Cayce taught. Now I realize that prophets are often misquoted - even Jesus was accused (for example) of saying he could rebuild the Jerusalem temple in three days. So one or two apparently strange statements can be ignored. But it seems like Edgar Cayce made a number of major predictions that have simply not come true. For example, "The Book of Predictions" (published in 1981) lists a number of earthquakes, wars, and major disasters and changes that were supposed to happen by the year 2000. So far, none of them has occurred. Perhaps he was misquoted? But so far, as a guru, Edgar Cayce does not fill me with confidence.
O.K. let us ask a different guru
Religioustolerance.org reports an exciting guru, under the title "prophecies to come true in 1999":
"Hon-Ming Chen has founded God's Salvation Church in Texas. The group believes that a nuclear war will destroy parts of Earth in 1999. They have identified a nine-year old boy as the 'Jesus of the East,' a reincarnation of Jesus Christ. They believe that if they can link him up with the 'Jesus of the West' then 100 million lives will be spared. The second Jesus is supposed to live in Vancouver, BC, look like Abraham Lincoln, and have been born in late 1969. Their search to date has been unsuccessful."
Er - any other gurus out there?
I have seen other gurus who place their predictions a little further in the future, and are wise enough to make them vague. But why should I believe any of them? These other two must have seemed very convincing to their followers. Why will another one be any better?
One of the clearer explanations of reincarnation comes from "Division Theory," the idea that the spirit comes in two parts. This at least tries to be based on scholarship. It is a brave and noble attempt to make sense out of confusion; but like all the other attempts it soon becomes vague and meaningless. For example, it rests on four pillars:
"1. The Netherworld: All over the world, in every land and every era, human beings have arrived at the conclusion that the experience of the afterlife contains or includes or occurs within a heavenly or hell-like netherworld." This is true, but the descriptions are usually vague. Even within a single tradition, different people have widely different views. So, a million different theories could fit in with this fact.
"2. Reincarnation: All over the world, in every land and every era, human beings have arrived at the conclusion that reincarnation also occurs after death." This is simply not true. Christianity, for example, dominated many "lands and eras," but declares reincarnation to be false. Most of the other examples can easily be explained as references to the pre-existence, or by attempts to explain the pre-existence by (wrongly) assuming it takes place on this world.
"3. Binary/Dividing Soul Traditions: All over the world, human beings have arrived at the conclusion that human beings are composed of two separate and distinguishable components, calling them the soul and spirit, the head and heart, the conscious and unconscious, the ba and ka, the sun and moon, and on and on, each culture having its own words. Within many of these traditions, the two parts of humanity's binary soul are said to split apart at death, each going off to a different afterlife experience." This is so vague as to be meaningless. It even applies to the chocolate bar I am eating! The wrapper goes to one place, while the chocolate goes to another - to be reincarnated as part of my body...
"4. Modern science has, after a century, arrived at some degree of agreement as to the natural characteristics of the conscious and unconscious. These innate characteristics, as it turns out, are precisely those necessary for the conscious to experience a reincarnation-type experience after death..." Even if this were true, the theories of science are consistent with many possible explanations. "Division theory" is, at best, no better than any other.
Are there many different routes to God?
I often read that, to the believer in reincarnation there are many routes to heaven. But how can this be? For example, Jesus said that no one gets to heaven except through him. This is pretty blunt. The New Testament, and all the prophets before and since (insofar as we have all their writings) confirm this.
Example 1: Christianity and Buddhism
According to the article on Buddhism at religioustolerance.org:
"Buddhism is a religion which shares few concepts with Christianity. For example, they do not believe in a transcendent or immanent or any other type of God or Gods, the need for a personal savior, the power of prayer, eternal life in a heaven or hell after death, etc. They do believe in reincarnation: the concept that one must go through many cycles of birth, living, and death. After many such cycles, if a person releases their attachment to desire and the self, they can attain Nirvana."
So how can any other route be true if Christianity is true? Yet reincarnationists routinely quote the Bible for support.
Example 2: Jainism and Buddhism
Perhaps Christianity is the odd one out? Perhaps the eastern religions are all basically the same? What about Buddhism versus Jainism, for example? Surely not much difference here? That is what I thought - until I read this from the introduction to Dr. Jagdishchandra Jain's book 'The Jain Way Of Life':
"The principal differences between the two religions can be noted as follows:
- According to Buddhism, nothing really is permanent in this universe, and that everything changes from moment to moment. According to Jainism, change and permanence are both real. Jains believe that the doctrine of non-eternalism or momentariness is one-sided.
- The Buddhists deny the existence of a permanent soul. They propose that it is an aggregate of mental states, known as the stream of consciousness. According to the Jains, the soul is eternal by nature, and manifests itself taking on the form of the respective body.
- According to the Buddhists, NIRVANA or emancipation is absolute extinction or annihilation of individual existence or of all desires and passions. According to the Jains, NIRVANA is an eternal state of absolute blessedness of soul, characterized by infinite vision, knowledge and energy.
- Buddha refused to answer questions related to metaphysics such as whether the world is eternal or not, whether the soul and body are identical or different, and whether the soul exists after death or not. Mahaveer expressed definite views about world, soul and transmigration.
- In Buddhism, ascetic practices are not essential for reaching the ultimate goal. Buddha envisages the Middle Path, exhorting his disciples to avoid the two extremes, the pursuit of desires and pleasures, and that of pain and hardship. Jainism lays more stress on asceticism than does Buddhism as can be noticed in the ascetic life of Mahaveer.
- Buddhist doctrines were permeated by occult (TANTRIC) practices. Jainism has remained, for most part, free from such practices."
The only way that all roads lead to God is if all knowledge is meaningless. So why bother reading, thinking, or experiencing anything?
Example 3: Sikhs and Hindus
I recently found a web page (based on an essay by: Sumer Singh Chauhan) that tried to show that Sikhs and Hindus are generally the same. I was almost convinced, until I read the last part, a little note by the person who posted the message:
"The article deals with a lot of issues. It also shows the author's extreme ignorance of the Sikh faith. He has used terminology without making an effort to know the subtle differences in its usage in the two religious faiths."
So, as in Christianity, it seems that 'small' differences really do matter.
2. What do they say this life is for?
So vague as to be meaningless
Because so many different religions believe in reincarnation, nobody can agree on its significance. When people attempt to find what all these religions have in common, they have to be very vague. For example, from one site:
"All the Religious Prophets and Masters seem to have at least a few similar common threads in their messages. One being that Gods Kingdom is not of This World... Another being, that Transcendence over the baser desires and instincts of This World is not only desirable, but necessary... Also, The Moral codes of ethics and conduct are basically the same in most Religions."
This would also apply to humanists, atheists, communists - just about anyone except perhaps the most extreme hedonists!
What is this "nirvana" we are heading for? A future enjoyment? Or a present emptiness?
"Involving a release from samsara, or bondage to physical desire and pain, nirvana in Hinduism can only be achieved by a complete cessation of the cycle of death and rebirth. In Buddhism, by contrast, nirvana refers to the cooling, or blowing out, of the passions, especially the extinction of the selfish passions, a state of enlightenment that can be achieved either in this life, through spiritual or physical exercises, or after death." - Grolier, 1995: Nirvana
Can we purify our souls away from this life?
Reincarnation seems to teach that we can only progress while in a physical body. Yet I read that (from "The Process of Reincarnation" by Paddina Cole): "After death we find ourselves conscious and active in that part of the unseen regions surrounding the Earth which some call the astral world. Here we may live, entering into the interesting activities of that world, keeping in touch with our friends and getting rid of the impurities which may have crept into our character during our life on Earth."
You will forgive me if I seem a little confused.
Does anyone even agree on how it works?
Do you get a choice in where you are born?
One web site devoted to reincarnation states:
"I would like to go a bit farther and ask: "why did I choose to be born when I did, where I did? Did I have any role to play in deciding the kind of life style I wanted to adopt as a living being? In other words, why did I choose a human form? Was it going to serve any specific purpose? I don't know. But I have no regrets."
Another ("The Mercian Order of St.George") states:
"The return to a material experience on the Earth Plane is by choice. Before deciding upon reincarnation, the spirit, with the help of guides and helpers, decides upon what sort of life it wishes to live to gain further experience for spiritual development. It is able to choose its parents and everything is determined by the individual before once again returning to the Earth Plane."
Do you get to visit higher realms while here?
According to many reincarnationists, you can visit other planets via "astral travel," but you cannot visit higher realms until you escape the cycle of reincarnation. But some disagree. For example, according to religioustolerance.org on EckankarTM:
"[While here] A person is capable of exploring other planes of existence, through Soul Travel. Unlike 'Astral Projection,' which is taught by other spiritual traditions, Soul Travel is not limited to the Astral Plane; it allows you to go further and explore any of the God worlds."
Let's ask a native American
Maybe I'm asking the wrong people. When I read New Age materials, I get the impression that Native Americans really know where it's at. They have a better understanding than most. So let's ask them. This is from "NATIVE AMERICAN SPIRITUALITY" at religioustolerance.org:
"Eastern Subarctic, Eastern Woodlands, Plains and Southwest Cultures:
"Afterlife: In general, Native religions have no precise belief about life after death. Some believe in reincarnation, with a person being reborn either as a human or animal after death. Others believe that humans return as ghosts, or that people go to an other world. Others believe that nothing definitely can be known about one's fate after this life. Combinations of belief are common."
3. How do you know it is true?
It feels good?
Of course it does! It includes a number of truths (along with the errors). For more about how we can know something for sure, click here.
One piece of evidence is the memory of past lives. I am prepared to accept that an individual may be able to remember the occasional glimpse from the pre-existence. But some of the methods - hypnotizing people, for example, are the same methods used in "Recovered Memory Therapy" (RMT). As religioustolerance.org says: "Professional organizations have realized that recovered memories can often be false - memories of events that never happened. They urged caution. However tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of clients became convinced that they had been sexually abused as children. Many destroyed their families of origin with accusations. This hoax appears to have peaked and is now in rapid decline. Many ex-patients are suing their former therapists for damages and winning massive settlements. This hoax has left a major trail of devastated individuals and families."
The teachings of scripture
Sometimes a teacher of reincarnation will refer to Bible scriptures. But none of the arguments I have seen are very convincing, and most are simply nonsense. Even if they seemed to make sense, so what? Anyone can make any position seem reasonable with enough practice - it is a basic skill of rhetoric. Where is the authority to say "thus saith the Lord"?
For numerous examples of these arguments, click here.
4. How easy is it to achieve Nirvana?
Does it take thousands of lifetimes?
According to the Mercian Order of St.George:
"This growth does not come about rapidly; it can take many thousands of lives on Earth. Throughout this growth there are many reincarnations onto the Earth Plane."
I read this often. I have heard it said that it even took Jesus 1000 lifetimes. Yet other groups, such as Scientologists, teach that you can escape from reincarnation in just one lifetime.
Can it be done in just 13 years?
According to the article on Jainism at religioustolerance.org:
"Jainism traces its roots to a succession of 24 Jinas ("those who overcome", or conqueror) in ancient East India. The first Jina is traditionally believed to have been a giant who lived 8.4 million years ago. The most recent and last Jina was Vardhamana (a.k.a. Mahavira, "The Great Hero"). He was born in 550 BCE and was the founder of the Jain community. He attained enlightenment after 13 years of deprivation."
The difference seems hard to explain. And this is a very important issue. If I thought I could get a shortcut to heaven, I might choose to live my life in a very different way.
Can it be achieved in one minute?
I have read descriptions of Zen Buddhism that suggest nirvana is available immediately, at any time, as soon as we cease to desire. Other texts, from many traditions, suggest you can get a short-cut to nirvana by dying in the right way.
From "World Scripture, A Comparative Anthology Of Sacred Texts" (Editor, Andrew Wilson):
"The religions of the world are nearly unanimous in describing another, less comfortable event: the individual undergoes a judgment where he must review his life with unsparing honesty. Yet even at that crucial moment the dying person may, by focusing his mind on God and accepting the Light that seems to embrace him, leap to a higher realm. Thus texts like the Tibetan Book of the Dead and the Bhagavad Gita give counsel on the way to assure a safe passage. Jainism, above all, emphasizes the importance of control in the transition from this life to the next by the ideal of Sallekhana, the holy death, which is attained by the aspirant as he exerts himself in fasting and meditation.
Bhagavad Gita 8.5-13: This teaches that one's prayer and attitude at the time of death is all-important for the soul's subsequent journey. Regardless of the quality of one's life, just remembering God at the time of death can lead to liberation.
Acarangasutra 1.7.6: Sallekhana means to fast oneself to death while in the complete control of the passions through meditation and in full mindfulness. Such a holy death leads to Nirvana or to rebirth in the celestial realms. Lay people and monks alike may aspire to the holy death when the body has begun to deteriorate in old age or from a terminal illness. Then, under proper supervision and according to established ritual, they make an end that is at the same time a moment of purity, free of passion or delusion. Cf. Uttaradhyayana Sutra 4.7, p. 741; Gittin 57b, p. 886."
I wish someone would make up their mind! If I get this one idea wrong, I could waste a thousand lifetimes (literally)! Of course, if the whole edifice of reincarnation is wrong, I would only waste one lifetime. But I would have a very long time to regret it.
5. Why would anyone want it?
The loss of Identity
My identity is defined by my relationships and by my body. But in reincarnation, both are meaningless. My mother could also be my daughter. My father could also be my son. If I died while my wife was pregnant, I could be my own son. What kind of relationships would mean anything? But it gets worse.
Annihilation - or just emptiness?
"Nirvana (Sanskrit, 'extinguishing'), in Indian religious philosophy, a transcendent state free from suffering and individual phenomenal existence, an ultimate religious goal most frequently identified with Buddhism. The word is derived from a verb meaning to become cool, or to blow out, as in the extinguishing of a candle. The connotation is that only in nirvana are the flames of lust, hatred, greed, and ignorance extinguished. With the attainment of nirvana, the otherwise endless cycle of rebirths is broken. Its nature has been much debated in Western scholarship, some scholars maintaining that it involves total annihilation and others interpreting it as eternal bliss. Both views are problematic, for nirvana is ultimately indescribable and can only be known directly. Mahayana Buddhists in East Asia interpret nirvana not as an external goal, but as one's own innermost nature, which needs only to be recognized. They speak of it as Buddhahood, suchness, and emptiness."- "Nirvana," Encarta 1995
My innermost nature is for individual survival as part of a family relationship. Reincarnation denies this and offers me emptiness in return.
Does it even make the world a better place?
As noted above, reincarnation (as a system of ethics) is so all-encompassing as to be meaningless. So let us instead look at the major flavor of reincarnation - Hinduism. To be fair, Hindus are known as very tolerant of others (though some Moslems may disagree). But other aspects are more troublesome.
Not facing up to what is necessary and good
Maybe I am being too picky. If a belief in reincarnation makes you a good person, why should I complain?
Perhaps I am wrong, but believers in reincarnation seem less interested in improving this present world than others. A sign of this is the belief in having monks, very common amongst eastern religions (and also, to an extent, among Christianity in the Dark Ages). Monks are people who reject the ordinary life of the world (marriage, work, public life, etc.) and the good things of the world (enjoyment of God-ordained pleasures). Any system that encourages this attitude had better have some VERY good reasons.
"Along with meditation, many monks use mortification as a tool to reach perfection. Mortification literally means 'making dead.' For monasticism it refers to certain practices that de-emphasize the physical and emphasize the spiritual. Among them are fasting and punishing the body in various painful ways. Sometimes meditation is accompanied by physical exercise. Practices such as these have remained common in Central and East Asia, but they have diminished in Christianity since the end of the Middle Ages." - Comptons' encyclopedia, "monks"
Encouraging some bad practices
I cannot claim to be an expert in Hinduism, but the most obvious result to western eyes has been the caste system.
"Each follower of Hinduism belonged to one of the thousands of Jats (communities) that existed in India. The Jats were grouped into four Varna (social castes), plus a fifth group called the "untouchables" ... [who] worked in what are considered polluting jobs. They were untouchable by the four castes; in some areas of the country, even a contact with their shadow by a member of the Varnas was considered polluting." - religioustolerance.org
Since reincarnation teaches that you are born where you need to be, it seems fair to assume that poor people are supposed to be poor. It would thus be wrong to help someone escape the class he was born into. This system is so evil that the Indian government itself made it illegal in 1949, and is still trying to stamp it out. (There is evidence that the caste system, like the western class system, existed long before reincarnation was invented, but in the early times it was possible to move between castes).
To be fair, apostate Christianity has also had monks, and has supported wicked practices. But two "wrongs" do not make a "right." I reject them both.
Well, that's about it. I did not intend this to come out as an attack on anyone's belief. I do believe that reincarnation can be a useful stepping stone to the truth. But if you stop and stay on the stepping stone, you are forever stuck in the middle of the river.
The bottom line
Reincarnationists say that the purpose of life is to escape from reincarnation. I would tend to agree.