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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Transmigration of the Soul

Transmigration of the soul (sometimes given simply as Transmigration) is a philosophy of reincarnation incorporating the specific belief that after death, the soul of a living being is then transferred (or transmigrates) into another living form and thus takes birth again.

The philosophy of transmigration is often connected with a belief that the karma (or, the actions) of the soul in one life (or, more generally, a series of past lives) determines the future existence.

It is a belief found within Hindu traditions (such as Yoga, Vaishnavism, and Jainism), Greek philosophy, animism, theosophy, anthroposophy, Wicca, and other theological systems, including Kabballa and a number of minority Christian groups.

Some psychic mediums of a variety of religious persuasions (from Wiccan all the way to Christian) and some Spiritualists believe in transmigration of the soul but hold that reincarnation is an anomaly if it occurs at all.

Transmigration in Hinduism and Buddhism

As the believed nature of the soul (jiva or atman) has a significant impact on any philosophy concerning transmigration, there are a number of significant differences between both Hindu and Buddhist versions as well as minor differences within the varied Hindu and Buddhist traditions themselves. In general, the Hindu sense is different from the Buddhist sense because, in Hinduism, a soul is both immutable and eternal, but in many schools of Buddhism the soul is believed to be susceptible to change, and thus the character of a soul from a previous life is imprinted on the new one.

"Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be. As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change". (Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2, texts 12-13)

Platonism, transmigration, and "innate knowledge"

The transmigration of souls, or metempsychosis, is a concept which underpins Plato's ideas concerning innate knowledge. Plato may have incorporated this concept from two Greek religious groups that preceded him: the Pythagoreans or the Orphics. Plato taught that "all learning is but recollection" because we have innate knowledge of universal ideas (e.g., everywhere, a triangle has 3 sides - hence its universality) from the past experiences of our immortal soul. This soul, according to Platonic thought, once separated from the body, spends an indeterminate amount of time in "formland" and then assumes another body. Therefore, according to Plato, we need only recall our buried memories to manifest innate knowledge.

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