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Rebirth In Hinduism - Meaning - Importance

The concept of rebirth in Hinduism is known as punarbhava. The term punarbhava is a combination of two words, punah (again) and bhava (birth). This concept of death and rebirth is explained in all major systems of Hindu philosophy. As per the major schools of thought this conception is corollary to the law of karma.

Rebirth Explained In Hinduism

A commonly encountered question is whether man exists after death or not.

Hinduism firmly believes that the atman within the body is immortal and that it never perishes.

But from death to death, it travels by the force of its own karma, born of delusion.

The atma is tossed from one birth to another and one state of atma to another, like a weaver’s shuttle moving without cessation.

After death, only the physical body gets disintegrated, according to this law. Each individual self has another subtle body, consisting of the sense and mind. It survives death and is the bearer of character. At the time of death, this subtle body, which is the vehicle of the mind and character, departs and gathers unto itself a new body. It actually carries with it the weight of all actions, thoughts, and impressions constituting each life. These impressions determine one’s tendencies at birth. This migration of the self into a series of bodies is called samsara or bhavacakra. It goes on until the cycle of karma is broken and the self attains release.

Karma And Rebirth In Hinduism

According to the law of karma, based on the universal law of causation, every atma must reap the fruits of his/her action, good or bad, right or wrong.

The agent is responsible for his own good or bad deeds and of their consequences.

The result of a person’s actions may not appear in one life. In order to reap the result of past deeds, he has to take birth again. Thus, the doctrine of karma presupposes rebirth or transmigration.

Every action does not yield its result immediately. The unerring law of karma takes its own time to bring out the fruits of action. To enjoy the fruits of action, the self takes a series of births until all consequences of all actions are exhausted and liberation is attained.

If men were to have only one life, and the rationale of law runs, there would be no moral justification for the tremendous disparities and undeserved suffering evidently seen in the society.

The difference of disposition found between one individual and another, even at birth, must be due to their respective pas karmas.

Past karmas imply past births.

According to the law of karma, which works as the law of conservation of energy, there is no loss of the effect of work done and there is no happening of events to a person except as the result of his own work.

It is observed that all our actions do not bear fruit in the same life. Therefore, there must be another birth to enjoy or suffer the residual consequences of karmas. Thus the death of the body is not an end of the life. To experience the fruits of its own actions, the self transmigrates to another body with the help of the subtle body.

Encyclopedia of Hinduism Volume VIII – page 306-7 – IHRF
Karma and Creativity (1986) Christopher Chapple – State University of New York Press
Foundations of Hinduism (1993) Y S Shastri – Yogeshwar Prakashan Ahmedabad
Salient Features of Hinduism (1994) – Yogeshwar Prakashan Ahmedabad