Transmigration of Souls

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The doctrines of the transmigration of souls, teaches that the same soul inhabits in succession the bodies of different beings, both men and animals. The Greek philosophical term is “Metempsychosis,” meaning the belief that after death the soul passes into another human or animal body.
In Taoism, reincarnation is used to describe the transmigration of souls and in the book, “Journeys to the Underworld,” there are 10 Tribunals of punishments in the Underworld. When a human being dies, his soul will face judgement there and if found sinful, the soul will then have to pass through all the Tribunals, to be punished according to the magnitude of his sins, and then to the Tenth Tribunal to await retribution. In this Tenth Tribunal, there is a section where there are Eight Departments and the Departments will determine what sort of reincarnation the soul will have to undergo.
This is what the Head (Emperor) of the Tenth Tribunal “Zhuan Lun Wang” said about the Eight Departments and its functions before a soul is reborn as follows:
1st – Verification Department
2nd – Virtuous Acts Investigation Department
3rd – Magnitude of Sins Department
4th – Love and Hatred Department 
5th – Life-Span Department
6th – Allocation of Family Relationship Department
7th – Reward and Punishment Department
8th – Evidence of Rebirth Department
We will now go into detail about the function of each Department:
1] Verification Department
After a soul has served his sentence, i.e. gone through the various types of punishment, from the First Tribunal right through the Tenth Tribunal, he will have to face this Verification Department which, after having been fully satisfied that he had already been punished, will then only allow him to be reborn. If the investigation reveals that any item of punishment has not been served or missed out, the sinful soul will have to be sent back to the respective Tribunal to serve his term.
2] Virtuous Acts Investigation Department
In this Department, the extent or any of the virtuous acts done by a soul will be investigated or assessed so that, when he is reborn, his reward, by way of good luck, etc, can be accorded to him. If it is found that, when he was alive, he had accumulated virtues, on rebirth he will be sent to a good or lucky family as a male child and when he grows up, he will not have to suffer but will be “on easy street”; later, when he advances in life, he will be rich or be bestowed with honours, etc; or will become an officer of high rank. There will be no need to suffer. Alternatively, on rebirth he will climb up the ladder of success through his own efforts; or be reborn to a wealthy family to enjoy the accumulated wealth of the ancestors, to be showered with honour as well as wealth; or if the soul is to be reborn a female, she will ultimately be married to a good husband and have luck and be happy always, or her children will be illustrious, wealthy and attain honour and fame; or she will be reborn to a wealthy family and have nothing to worry about money matters. All these rewards are as recompense for the meritorious deeds performed and accumulated by the soul on his/her previous life on Earth. These awards dished out are the duties and responsibilities of this Department.
3] Magnitude of Sins Department
This Department will investigate what sins a Soul had committed when alive on Earth – to judge whether a sin was light or heavy, minor or serious.
A] If he had done some small good deeds and had never committed grave sins, he will be reborn with just enough to eat and wear, and will get protection from parents; husband/wife relationship will be normal, the children will take care of him.
B] If his merits and demerits balance even, on rebirth he will have enough to eat and wear, family will be O.K; husband/wife relationship will be O.K; and he will be surrounded by children, but he will have to slog for his living. If he does not work he will starve, unlike some people who can enjoy life without doing any work.
C] If one had no merits whatsoever, but had accumulated a string of demerits, on rebirth he will meet with many difficulties in life. Although he/she may be well provided for, yet there is bound to be widow-hood/widower-hood (one partner will die early, living only one partner); or the family circle (parents, brothers/sisters, children) will be broken early.
D] In the case of one who had committed grave sins when alive, he will be reborn a deformed pauper with some form of disability – dumb, blind, lame, deaf, etc.
E] In the case of those who discarded the:
a) Five human relationships; husband/wife; brother/sister; parents/children; friendship; and loyalty to country,
b) Eight Virtues; filial piety; brotherly love; loyalty to country; trustworthiness; courtesy; righteousness; chastity; and shame,
and particularly, in the case of a woman soul, where there are three degrees of dependence to be observed, namely, first upon her father, then her husband, and later upon her children,
and also Four Virtues:
1) right behavior
2) proper speech
3) proper demeanor, and
4) proper employment
they will be regarded as having committed grave sins and will be reborn as beast, e.g. born via the female womb, born through eggs, born as sea creatures, born as worms. This is known as retaliatory recompense. All these punishments are the responsibilities of this Magnitude of Sins Department.
4] Love and Hatred Department
This Department decides whether a person, on rebirth, will have gratitude or will take revenge. If a person, who had good deeds done to him by others, dies, his soul will still remember the past good deeds, and when the time comes for him to be reborn, this Department will make him have gratitude, so that he can repay for the good deeds he had previously received. If, when alive, he had been insulted, maltreated, or oppressed by others, after death his soul will still retain hatred, and when about to be reborn, this Department will make him take revenge on those who had previously done him wrong. In case a female, (who when alive had been wronged by a male) dies with deep anger and hatred, her soul when due for rebirth can refuse to be reborn as a human being, but can prefer to remain a revengeful ghost so that she can go to Earth and cause sudden death or “Unexpected calamity” to the male person by way of revenge. If this Department, after due investigation, is satisfied with her request to remain a revengeful ghost, the request will be entertained. All these are the duties of this Department thereby proving the wisdom of the English idioms: “One good turn deserves another”; Repay kindness with Kindness”; “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”.
5] Life-Span Department
This Department decides on the life-span of a person to be reborn – whether he/she should have a long life or a short life. On Earth, there are persons, noble and wealthy, who enjoy long life. There are also noble and wealthy persons who die at an early age. There are poor and humble people with long life, and other poor and humble persons who have short life. Also there are others who die of vexation, agony, drowning; some soon after birth, some a short life after living, some a few years later. Again there are others who are fated to be law breakers whose death is decided by Government authorities; and others who die through murder, and so on and so forth. All these deaths are the result of some fatal calamity. But there are others who are destined to die of unnatural or accidental death.
6] Allocation of Family Relationship Department
This Department allocates the various duties and responsibilities of members of a family, viz: parents/children, husband/wife, brothers/sisters. On Earth, some children are born filial, some are disobedient; some marry good natured partners, some marry unfaithful partners or less understanding partners. All these allocations in a family are the result of cause and effect. For example, Mr A in his previous life gave financial assistance to Mr B and when Mr B died he was still indebted to Mr A because in his life-time he did not, or was not able to settle with Mr A. When in Hades, it was found that Mr B was not a very sinful person when alive, on being reborn; he was sentenced, according to the regulation of Hades, to be a son of Mr A so that he could be a filial son and so repay his new father Mr A. This is called “repayment of previous debt”. Another example is: Mr C when alive cheated Mr D by various confidence tricks, or by using authority to get money. Mr D was much worried about being thus cheated, and subsequently died. In Hades, he lodged a complaint against Mr C. The authorities in Hades decided that Mr D should be reborn a son of Mr C and subsequently when grown up, to be proud, extravagant, profligate and idle, thereby squandering Mr C’s property. This is called “debt demanding child”. Similarly, in a relationship of husband and wife where some men are lucky to marry good wives, while others are unlucky to marry bad wives. This is casual relationship. What we did in precious life, we have to repay in the next life. No one can escape from this settlement of previous actions. These allocations are the duties and responsibilities of this Department.
7] Reward and Punishment Department
This Department is in charge of deciding what classification of metempsychosis (transmigration of the soul, after death, to another body) a soul should be reborn. If a person when alive; did many charitable deeds, he will be reborn into a family having a history of many generations of nobility and wealth. Those who were evil will be reborn into families having history of poverty and suffering in several generations. Those who were very sinful will be reborn as beasts or animals for generations, after which they will be reborn as human beings, or be reborn forever as worms, insects, fish, etc. This is sure, and no one can escape from this fatal calamity. Nevertheless, there is yet a glimmer of hope because, if a wealthy person who suddenly becomes sinful, or a poor person who does a lot of good deeds, dies, this Department will punish or reward the soul, as the case may be, on rebirth. If a Deity called “Santai Bei Dou Shen” has any complaint, or ‘Shang Di” has any order, these will be looked upon into by this Department and due punishment awarded accordingly, on rebirth. These are the duties of this Department.
8] Evidence of Rebirth Department
This Department will issue evidence that a soul has the right to be reborn into the various human categories, eg; if a person is to reborn as an officer, he will be given an authorization letter; if a scholar, a pen; if a farmer, a hoe; if an artisan, a workman’s tool; on the other hand, if an animal, bird, etc, the soul will be given skin and fur, or feathers, or scales, etc. Only with this evidence can a soul be allowed rebirth. These are the responsibilities of this Department.    
What others say about Metempsychosis

The doctrine of transmigration is not found in the oldest of the sacred books of India, viz., the Rig-Veda; but in the later works it appears as an uncontested dogma, and as such it has been received by the two great religions of India.

(1) Brahmanism

In Brahmanism, we find the doctrine of world-cycles, of annihilations and restorations destined to recur at enormous intervals of time; and of this general movement the fortunes of the soul are but an incident. At the same time, transmigrations are determined by moral worth. Every act has its award in some future life. By irreversible law, evil deeds beget unhappiness, sooner or later; these, indeed, are nothing else but the slowly-ripened fruit of conduct, which every man must eat. Thus they explain the anomalies of experience presented in the misfortunes of the good and the prosperity of the wicked: each is "eating the fruit of his past actions ", actions done perhaps in some far-remote existence. Such a belief may tend to patience and resignation in present suffering, but it has s distinctly unpleasant effect upon the Brahmanical out-look on the future. A pious Brahman cannot assure himself of happiness in his next incarnation; there may be the penalty of great unknown sin still to be faced. Beatitude is union with Brahma and emancipation from the series of births, but no degree of actual holiness can guarantee this, since one is always exposed to the danger of being thrown back either by sin past or sin to come, the fruit of which will have to be eaten, and so on, we might be tempted to imagine, ad infinitum. Hence a great fear of re-incarnation prevails.

(2) Buddhism

Brahminism is bound up with caste, and is therefore strongly aristocratic, insisting much on innate superiorities. Buddhism, on the contrary, cuts through caste-divisions and asserts the paramount importance of "works", of individual effort, though always with a background of fatalism which the denial of a personal Providence entails. According to the Buddhist doctrine, the ambition to rise to the summit of existence must infallibly be fulfilled; and the mission of Gautama was to teach the way to its attainment, i.e., to Buddhaship and Nirvana. It is only through a long series of existences that this consummation can be reached. Gautama himself had as many as five hundred and fifty transmigrations in various forms of life.

The characteristic feature in Buddhistic metempsychosis is the doctrine of Karma, which is a subtle substitute for the conception of personal continuity. According to this view it is not the concrete individuality of the soul that survives, and migrates into a new life, but only the karma, or action, i.e., the sum of the man's deeds, his merits, the ethical resultant of his previous life, its total value, stripped of its former individuation, which is regarded as accidental. As the karma is greater or less, so will the next transmigration be a promotion or a degradation. At times the degradation may be so extreme that karma is embodied in an inanimate form, as in the case of Gautama's disciple who, for negligence in his master's service, was reduced after death to the form of a broomstick.

Later Jewish Teaching

The notion of soul-wandering is familiar to the Jewish Rabbins. They distinguish two kinds of transmigrations,

  • Gilgul Neshameth, in which the soul was tied down to a life-tenancy of a single body:
  • Ibbur, in which souls may inhabit bodies by temporary possession without passing through birth and death.
Josephus tells us that transmigration was a doctrine of the Pharisees, who taught that the righteous should be allowed to return to life, while the wicked were to be doomed to eternal imprisonment. It was their gloomy conception of Sheol, like the gloomy Greek conception of Hades, that forced them to this shift for a compensation to virtue. On the other hand, some of the Talmudists invoke endless transmigration as a penalty for crime. The descriptions of the soul's journeys over land and sea are elaborated with a wealth of imagination, frequently verging on the grotesque. The retributive purpose was rigorously maintained. "If a man hath committed one sin more than his good works, he is condemned to transformation into some shape of lower life." Not only so, but if his guilt had been extreme, he might be doomed to an inanimate existence. The following is a sample of what awaits the "guiltiest of the guilty". "The dark tormentors rush after them with goads and whips of fire; their chase is ceaseless; they hunt them from the plain to the mountain, from the mountain to the river, from the river to the ocean, from the ocean round the circle of the earth. Thus, the tormented fly in terror, and the tormentors follow in vengeance until the time decreed is done. Then the doomed sink into dust and ashes. Another beginning of existence, the commencement of a second trial, awaits them. They become clay, they take the nature of the stone and the mineral; they are water, fire, air; they roll in the thunder; they float in the cloud; they rush in the whirlwind. They change again; they enter into the shapes of the vegetable tribes; they live in the shrub, the flower, the tree. Ages on ages pass. Another change comes. They enter into the shape of the beast, the bird, the fish, the insect. . . . Then at last they are suffered to enter into the rank of human beings once more." After still further probations in various grades of human life, the soul will at length come to inhabit a child of Israel. If in this state it should fall again, it is lost eternally.

How far these and such like descriptions were really believed, how far they were conscious fable, is difficult to determine. That there was a fairly widespread belief in the doctrine of pre-existence in some form, seems likely enough.

Christian Ages

St. Jerome tells us that metempsychosis was a secret doctrine of certain sectaries in his day, but it was too evidently opposed to the Catholic doctrine of Redemption ever to obtain a settled footing. It was held, however, in a Platonic form by the Gnostics, and was so taught by Origen in his great work, Peri archon. Bodily existence, according to Origen, is a penal and unnatural condition, a punishment for sin committed in a previous state of bliss, the grossness of the sin being the measure of the fall. Another effect of that sin is inequality; all were created equal. He speaks only of rational creatures, viz., men and demons, the two classes of the fallen. He does not seem to have considered it necessary to extend his theory to include lower forms of life. Punishment for sin done in the body is not vindictive or eternal, but temporal and remedial. Indeed, Origen's theory excludes both eternal punishment and eternal bliss; for the soul which has been restored at last to union with God will again infallibly decline from its high state through satiety of the good, and be again relegated to material existence; and so on through endless cycles of apostasy, banishment, and return (see ORIGEN). The Manichaeans (q. v.) combine metempsychosis with belief in eternal punishment. After death, the sinner is thrust into the place of punishment till partially cleansed. He is then reclaimed to the light and given another trial in this world. If after ten such experiments he is still unfit for bliss he is condemned forever. The Manichaean system of metempsychosis was extremely consistent and thorough-going; St. Augustine in his "De Moribus Manichaeorum" ridicules the absurd observances to which it gave rise. For traces of the doctrine in the Middle Ages see articles on the Albigensians and the Cathari. These sects inherited many of the cardinal doctrines of Manichaeanism, and may be considered, in fact, as Neo-Manichaeans.

Advocates of metempsychosis have not been wanting in modern times, but there is none who speaks with much conviction. The greatest name is Lessing, and his critical mind seems to have been chiefly attracted to the doctrine by its illustrious history, the neglect into which it had fallen, and the inconclusiveness of the arguments used against it. It was also maintained by Fourier in France and Soame Jenyns in England. Leibnitz and others have maintained that all souls were created from the beginning of the world; but this does not involve migrations.

What other website says about Metempsychosis


In India this doctrine was thoroughly established from ancient times. While metempsychosis was not established in the older sections of the Vedas, it was explicated first in the Upanishads (c. 1000 BC - AD 4), which are philosophico-mystic texts held to be the essence of the Vedas.

The idea that the soul reincarnates is intricately linked to karma, whose first explication was also seen in the Hindu books of the Upanishads. The idea is that individual souls, jiva-atmas pass from one plane of existence and carry with them samskaras (impressions) from former states of being. These karmic agglomerations on the soul are taken to the next life and result in a causally-determined state of being. In some schools of Hinduism liberation from samsara, the cycle of death and rebirth, is considered the ultimate goal of earthly existence. This is known as Moksha, mahasamadhi (or nirvana) in Hinduism. Other Bhakti traditions assert that liberation from samsara is merely the begginning of real spiritual life and beyond nirvana activities still continue, but that they are no longer of a worldly nature. Both sides agree on the pheomenom of reincarnation itself.

Buddhism and Vedanta (in particular Advaita Vedanta) further promoted the notion of nirvana following the advent of the great Hindu sage Adi Shankaracharya. The idea that stilling one's karmas (actions) and becoming at one, harmonious, with all would free one, ultimately, from reincarnation, became a central tenet of Hinduism. It displaced more complex Puranic systems positing the gradual progression of a soul through 8,400,000 (sometimes more) lives until eventual awakening. Instead, it relied more on the idea of self-growth and enlightenment through Yoga. Buddhism differed in that it felt there was no soul to reincarnate and developed an elaborate complex of metaphysical explanations for temporary states of ego to explain rebirth.

Since according to Buddhism there is no permanent and unchanging soul there is no metempsychosis in the strict sense. However, Buddhism never rejected samsara, the process of rebirth or reincarnation; there is debate, however, over what is transmitted between lives.

See also: Rebirth (Buddhist)

In spite of the doctrinal beliefs against the idea of a soul, Tibetan Buddhists do believe that a new-born child may be the reincarnation of someone departed. In Tibetan Buddhism the soul of an important lama (like the Dalai Lama) is supposed to pass into an infant born nine months after his decease.

The Buddha has this to say on reincarnation. Kutadanta continued: "Thou believest, O Master, that beings are reborn; that they migrate in the evolution of life; and that subject to the law of karma we must reap what we sow. Yet thou teachest the non-existence of the soul! Thy disciples praise utter self-extinction as the highest bliss of Nirvana. If I am merely a combination of the sankharas, my existence will cease when I die. If I am merely a compound of sensations and ideas and desires, wither can I go at the dissolution of the body?" [7] Said the Blessed One: "O Brahman, thou art religious and earnest. Thou art seriously concerned about thy soul. Yet is thy work in vain because thou art lacking in the one thing that is needful. [8] "There is rebirth of character, but no transmigration of a self. Thy thought-forms reappear, but there is no egoentity transferred. The stanza uttered by a teacher is reborn in the scholar who repeats the words. [9]


See also the article Scientology beliefs and practices
Scientology is another new religion that accepts past lives.
Scientology holds that all beings are truly immortal, although in a variety of levels of awareness. In Scientology, and without karma or personal wisdom, a person's own actions, reactions, decisions, and the rest are sufficient to ensure a great deal of adventure, boredom, and strife, along with all the combinations of problems that can be experienced in life. In this context, a lack of personal responsibility and other factors can act together to create something that is similar to karma in other belief systems. Scientology does not focus on the doctrine of karma as commonly believed (i.e. a mechanism of divine justice). The term karma is not generally used.

The first writings in Scientology regarding past lives date from around 1951 and slightly earlier. The controversy brought the subject to public awareness, and was followed by such cases (not related to Scientology) as Bridey Murphy in 1952

Much of the controversy involving Scientology arises from the logical extension of the concept of past lives to what is effectively eternity. In this context, past lives not only take place prior to Earth, but also in non-Earth civilizations, and even in universes prior to this one, where conditions and rules of existence can be different. One could even have past lives in civilizations where advanced technology was common and/or routine. Thus a person who once lived in a world destroyed by nuclear war could become upset living in a world where nuclear power has been re-discovered.

Scientology does not look to Theosophical writings for explanations on the system of past lives, or for a cosmology. Scientology does not assume that beings in the between life area necessarily have the best interests of the individual at heart (it varies), and that the path to increased awareness is not a guaranteed thing.

Scientology also holds that people are composite beings, in that there is a body awareness which can have recalls in parallel to the genetic line. This entity is separate and distinctly different from the spirit, called a thetan in Scientology. Scientology procedures exist to address this body level awareness, although primary consideration is given to the liberation of the Spirit.

Scientology does not consider the lack of awareness of past lives to be a good thing. It attributes the general amnesia of past lives to a variety of causes, including, but not limited to, pain, unconsciusness, lack of personal responsibility, and even the decision to forget what had just transpired.

Evidence of Reincarnation

The most detailed collections of personal reports in favor of reincarnation have been published by Dr. Ian Stevenson in works such as Reincarnation and Biology: A Contribution to the Etiology of Birthmarks and Birth Defects, which documents thousands of detailed cases where claims of injuries received in past lives sometimes correlate with atyptical physical birthmarks or birth defects.

Perhaps the most significant anecdotal evidence in this regard is the phenomenon of young children spontaneously sharing what appear to be memories of past lives, a phenomenon which has been reported even in cultures that do not hold to a belief in reincarnation. Upon investigating these claims, Stevenson and others have identified individuals who had died a few years before the child was born who seem to meet the descriptions the children provided.

In the most compelling cases, autopsy photographs reveal that the deceased individuals have fatal injuries that correspond to the unusual marks or birth defects of the child; for example, marks on the chest and back of a child line up precisely with the bullet entry and exit wounds on the body of an individual who has been shot.

However, Stevenson cautions that such evidence is suggestive of reincarnation, but that more research must be conducted.