Hindus are known to believe in the idea of reincarnation. A common misconception is that reincarnation only refers to the idea that a sinful person comes back in their next life as a rat or a tiger or some lower animal. Reincarnation actually means the soul accepts a material body and that after death, the current body is discarded and the soul enters a new one.
In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna says,
“For the soul, there is no birth or death. The soul has never not existed in the past, nor it will it cease to exist in the future.” (BG 2.20)
The soul is eternal, but our material bodies aren’t. We have accepted our current bodies due to our past karma. Birth, death, old age, and disease are guaranteed for the body. At the time of death, we give up our present body and accept a new one based on our karma.
We have knowledge of reincarnation based on our own life experience. Our bodies are constantly changing. We started off as a fetus in our mother’s womb, then we went through infancy, childhood, adulthood, etc. Throughout this time, our soul hasn’t changed, but our body has. Krishna also says in the Gita,
“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. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (BG 2.13)
We may not remember all the details of our childhood, but we can understand through authority, the word of our mother and father, that we indeed were once infants. In the same way, we previously existed in different bodies in previous births, but we don’t remember them. Lord Krishna tells Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita,
“Many, many births both you and I have passed. I can remember all of them, but you cannot, O subduer of the enemy!” (BG 4.5)
So simply because we don’t remember our previous live doesn’t mean that we didn’t previously exist.
The idea of reincarnation isn’t exclusive to the Vedas. Though the “official” doctrines of other faiths may deny reincarnation today, references to it can be found in early Christianity and Judaism. Origen, a third century Christian theologian, wrote,
“By some inclination toward evil, certain souls … come into bodies, first of men; then through their association with the irrational passions, after the allotted span of human life, they are changed into beasts, from which they sink to the level of … plants. From this condition they rise again through the same stages and are restored to their heavenly place.”
Jesus also hinted in the Bible that John the Baptist was a reincarnation of the prophet Elias.
The most important thing to understand about reincarnation is that it can be stopped. Lord Krishna tells us that thinking of Him at the time of death will stop the perpetual cycle of birth and death.
“One who, at the time of death, fixes his life air between the eyebrows, and in full devotion engages himself in remembering the Supreme Lord, will certainly attain to the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” (BG 8.10)
The best way to assure that we think of God at the time of our death is to practice thinking about Him today, and the best way to practice is to constantly chant the Maha-mantra “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare.”