Fr. ANTHONY ALEVIZOPOULOS
Dr. of Theology - Dr. of Philosophy
Refuting the Dogma of Reincarnation
The Foundation of Reincarnation
If we want to determine the premise of reincarnation, we need to make reference to its dogma that every person, according to their innermost self, is eternal and subject to the eternal law of cause and effect, called karma. This law pushes the person into consecutive births after each death. A basic cause which makes up the 'fuel', so to speak, for the continuous movement of this wheel of deaths and births is a person's attachments and desires in connection with external reality. Each and every thought, word or deed returns to that person during his new incarnation. His new life composes a living movie, and he is now called to be like a perfect actor to reenact this 'drama' on the new screen.
According to this concept, a basic aim becomes the passage through all the hardship and experiences corresponding to the accumulated karma and the effort put into restricting these activities and attachments, so that new karma accumulation can be avoided.
A final objective is one's 'liberation' not only from death but from life as well.
In contrast, the 'western version' of reincarnation views this belief as potential for a better, future life on earth, as a course leading to continuous greater advances of development, reaching the level of a super-being.
Both perceptions on reincarnation are based on the holistic theory of the world, forming an anti-Christian worldview.
According to the Christian faith, man is not uncreated and eternal, but a creation: not a result of God's substance, but the fruit of divine will and love. In the Old Testament the distinction between the Maker and his creations is underlined, between the human and the rest of creation. Only the human being is made 'in God's image'. His position in God's world is a position of authority, which according to God's plan translates into a position of responsibility and love on man's part towards all of God's creation.
There is no single 'evolutionary scale' between the human and the rest of beings. The human as 'according to the image' of the personal God, who is a communion of persons, meaning freedom and love, is not determined according to blind laws, but he himself participates in determining his course. Following God's plan and God's path in respect to human existence and the meaning of his life, he remains in communion with God and becomes a bearer of God's benefaction.
Man was created as a psychosomatic entity from the beginning; his body is not evaluated negatively but is a blessing. This is why man's hope rests not in 'liberation' from the body, but the resurrection, imperishability and immortality of the body.
If we accept the view that life inside the body is a fall and a state of punishment, with the aim of instructing the soul, this creates for the faithful person, who accepts the Scriptures as divine revelation, interpretative deadlocks.
The Holy Scriptures tell us that God made man as a psychosomatic entity and gave him His blessing and the commandment to be fruitful and multiply and 'fill' all the earth. If this life inside the body is a 'curse', God would not bless man. It would not be God's will for man to be fruitful and multiply and fill the world with 'cursed' beings.
If again, we assume that Adam, in a state of pre-existence sinned, and that is why he was incarnated ― to be punished and instructed ― then why should the same thing happen to all the other souls, and how could the protoplasts 'multiply' as psychosomatic entities, actually taking this multiplication as a blessing? If Adam sinned, then only he should become incarnate and not all people.
But the Scriptures mention that God placed man in paradise and not in a 'state of hell'. The place that God gave man as a residence was a place of 'delight' and not punishment. That is why man is called to serve God's paradise, preserve it and not eliminate his relation with it (Gen. 2:15).
The Holy Scriptures underline that punishment for man is not life in the body, but exactly the contrary. God warned man that his biological life would end if he sinned but not so if he remained faithful. If this life was a result of 'karma' and a negative stance of man in the state of a spiritual being, then sinners should live and the righteous should die, since this life would be considered a curse and not being released from life.
Denial of Salvation in Christ
The dogma of karma and reincarnation nullifies the mystery of salvation in Christ. The incarnation of the Son and Word of God constitutes the foundation of the Church and is linked with the mystery of man's salvation (Math. 16:17-18, 1 Tim. 3:16). His 'taking on' the whole person, not only the soul but also the body, constitutes the manifestation of God's glory (John 1:14, Hebrews 1:1-3). It cannot be considered negative. But these grounds for salvation are cancelled when we accept the beliefs of karma and reincarnation.
Christ conquered death, not through the liberation from the body, but through the resurrection and incorruptibility of the body. This change in a person's life does not come through continuous births and deaths, but 'in a moment', during Christ's second coming. For the Christian, there are no repeated judgements, which define the 'quality' of a new life each time, but only one biological life and only one judgement, which will take place in front of Christ's judgement seat. In front of the eternal Judge man will stand not only as a soul but also as a body, to answer for his deeds, which occurred by way of this body.
This state of 'new creation', of incorruptibility, is lived by the Christian already in this life during the Holy Eucharist. The teaching of reincarnation, which regards the body negatively, not only nullifies the Christian's hope in Christ but also the meaning of divine worship, the primary purpose of the Holy Eucharist.
Pedagogy Requires the Feeling of Responsibility
The dogma of karma and reincarnation interprets this life's negative situations with acts which took place in a supposed previous life. For those acts, man is called to punishment, so as to erase his 'karma' and his attachments, aiming at complete 'liberation'.
But man is not conscious of this fact. He does not remember those deeds that supposedly 'drove' him to a new reincarnation and to those difficulties he is now going through. He does not remember committing those deeds, for which he is supposedly being punished. When we accept that man is punished for things he is unable to remember, the significance of 'pedagogy' is abolished. When there is no memory, then punishment does not have an educative end. It could be a result of a blind law, which nonetheless rejects the existence of a God, who directs the course of history, who is a communion of persons ― that is, freedom and love.
'Gospel' of the Serpent
According to the Christian faith, man is not autonomous. He is by nature 'according to the image of God', and therefore, communion and love defines the person's life and corresponds to his real nature. However, man was made autonomous, following the serpent's advice, that is, a 'different gospel'.
The teachings of karma and reincarnation are another expression of that same 'gospel', not of the gospel of freedom and love in Christ.
The changes that take place within a person and the 'evolutions', as they are perceived by the followers of this dogma, occur without contact with the absolute existence, without communion with a personal God, Who is love. Man becomes completely autonomous. He is not conscious of the existence of a God, which can intervene in his life. He does not seek a god outside of himself. When he is happy, he attributes this happiness to himself and is confined within himself. When he is unhappy, he is led into passiveness; he does not seek a way out. Nor does he seek help from anyone outside of himself.
He who believes in karma and reincarnation sinks into his misery and does not hope. He does not seek a God, nor anyone from his surroundings. He is expected to passively accept his state without 'attachment'. He cannot experience faith and gratitude for God's presence in his life. Even if he refers to 'a law of grace', it is aimed at mechanistic and automatic consequences of a blind law, and this is why he is called on to act without internal involvement, without 'attachment', as he claims. Nevertheless, man is by nature a communion of persons. This is why the complete loneliness in which the dogma of karma and reincarnation immerses its believer constitutes an 'unnatural' state.
On the contrary, the Christian believer accepts with gratitude all states in life and seeks a solution that is external to himself. He seeks God's face and the communion of love with Him. This gives him a deeper meaning in life. He feels that God does not abandon him and resides close to him, even if he faces negative situations. For the believer, sorrows and pain hold a deeper meaning. There are no unchangeable situations for him in life, an unalterable 'destiny', which is determined through a blind law. A person's will and God's grace can alter the spiritual state and life of that person. A Christian does not face anything passively but responsibly and with awareness of God's presence in his life. The Christian has undoubtedly abandoned the path of being distant and autonomous and follows the path of the 'new creation' in Christ, that is, the path of gratitude, love and hope.
The dogma of the pre-existence of the soul and of reincarnation has been condemned by the Church as foreign to the Christian faith. Still there are guruistic, neognostic, theosophic, occult groups which claim that the dogma of karma and reincarnation was an integral part of Christ's teachings and of the first Church.
These views rely on occult sources and are a result of parapsychological and spiritual practices and 'experimentation'. This means that they are the fruit of religious convictions from a sphere outside Christianity.
The occultists project examples of 'memory' and use 'recollection' techniques. But if they do not concern situations which can be interpreted in a different way or cases of conscious deceit, we still find ourselves in front of 'phenomena' and 'testimonies' that are of no scientific, but only religious value. In order for them to be accepted, one must abandon the spiritual sphere of Christian faith and move to the sphere of Asian spirituality.
Even people within the sphere of orthodox hinduism, who believe in reincarnation, when referring to the phenomena of so-called 'spontaneous memory', underline that they pertain to 'demonic seizures', meaning demonic states.
There is no Continuation in the Life of Personality
The followers of reincarnation claim that on the path to 'liberation' there exists an intermediate state in the 'cosmic spheres' of the spiritual world. In this state, the personality of the previous life is dissolved and disappears before the soul is reborn into a new body. However, if the soul completely rejects its previous earthly personality, then, when it returns to life in a new reincarnation, it does not involve the same being, but another.
So with reincarnation there is no continuity between successive lives. The destruction and disintegration of personality of every human after death does not differ so much from the atheistic conviction regarding man's extinction. In reality, the only thing that gets reincarnated is karma that is broken away from the body. This conviction has as a consequence that the being, who receives a new body, does not have, and cannot have any memory of a former existence, so that it can then achieve correction of its life and perfection during the coming lives.
Consequently, it is possible that 'momentarily' the reincarnation theory satisfies some, offering an explanation for injustice and inequality, but in essence, it does not solve the problem, since man's personality dissolves and the being that is reincarnated does not have the required memory of those crimes for which it is being asked to pay. M. Albrecht brings up as an example the case of Joseph Stalin. The reincarnation of this dictator could suffer for Stalin's terrible crimes, without retaining any memory that indicates to him that he is Joseph Stalin. Besides, there is no indication that it is possible to ensure the 'evolution' of Stalin's new reincarnation; he could just as well increase his 'bad karma', instead of living a life that would drive him into 'evolution' into a new reincarnation.
But since one's personality dissolves and there is no ontological connection between the two beings, the possibility of 'another chance' proves ungrounded.
The 'Cosmic Game'
According to the views of the Theosophical Society, faith in divine providence leads the Church into desertion. To regain lost ground, the Christian Church needs to replace this faith with the belief of karma and reincarnation, which completely satisfies the evolved intelligence of modern man, argues Cooper.
But this belief constitutes a religious conviction which 'exceeds' any possibility of guarantee in the human intellect. This is accepted in the areas of guruistic – occult groups that preach reincarnation as a 'key solution' for man's and the world's existential problems.
The teacher of the 'harmonious life', following guru Sai Baba's steps, referring to 'the creation of the world' and the soul's 'involvement' in karmic relations and 'tendencies', writes:
“The question comes to mind as how this cosmic game got started. How and why was the first samskara (impression or tendency) developed.” “The origin of the universe has been a question which has enticed the human mind into reflection ever since we've existed on this planet.” (Robert Najemy, Universal Philosophy, p.142,90).
Najemy makes reference to various religious groups, which each “offers their own creation stories”, but that are “beyond the capacity of our limited mind to understand” (Universal Philosophy, p. 90). The teacher of 'harmonious life' presents as his own answer the belief in reincarnation:
“The idea is that the spirit, for some reason, has separated from its perfect eternal state of union with God and is experiencing life in the physical world. Although the Spirit, in reality, remains perfect in its union with God, its projection on the earth plane, that is, the soul in the incarnated body, loses its awareness of that divine state. The soul then begins to experience and experiment with the physical world by entering into physical vehicles.
“At first the soul could manifest itself only through very simple vehicles such as one-celled organisms like amoebas. Eventually as the soul has more and more contact with the physical world, through repeated birth and death of these various simple forms of life, it gradually develops the ability to incarnate into more advanced physical vehicles, such as plants, fish, insects, animals, primates and finally human beings”. (Robert Najemy, The Mystical Circle of Life, p. 140-141).
How is it possible for the soul, which is a 'projection' and 'reflection' of the Absolute, to lose consciousness of its godly state and start wandering about in the material world, to obtain something that evidently it did not have, the experience of matter? How is it possible for the perfect Spirit to be 'trapped' in matter? How and why did it have to be firstly reincarnated into 'inferior entities', such as is the amoeba, before it begun the 'evolutionary course' upwards? Wouldn't it be more natural to pass through in a contrary stream towards the bottom, from a manifested spirit to be embodied into the entity of man and then to fall further down, to become humanoid, animal, fish, plant, amoeba, mineral, since it 'desired' to experience all levels of matter?
We see that the belief in reincarnation does not at all satisfy the 'evolved mind of contemporary man'. In this Robert Najemy also agrees. He writes:
“Because our conceptual ability and language are limited by the concepts of time and space, there is no way we can understand the final truth about creation with words or the rational mind. The answer to this question lies within the higher mind which is able to transcend time and space and realize the answer through direct experience of the process of creation itself. That answer is, of course, incommunicable as our language does not offer the necessary terminology”. (Universal Philosophy, p. 90)
The 'mind' belongs to the 'world of dualism', says Najemy. So, to arrive at an 'experienced' answer to the problem of creation, we must 'overcome' the world of 'dualism'. “However, even if once you have experienced the answer, you cannot communicate it because it is beyond duality and beyond the comprehension of the mind. Accepting that it has started in some way...” (Universal Philosophy, p. 142-143).
That which the 'harmonious life' offers as an answer to the problem of how the first 'impression or tendency' (karma) developed, and of how the soul lost 'consciousness of its godly state', constitutes a religious view, which belongs within the sphere of Asian perception, external to the Christian sphere. This is how this religious view is expressed:
“The stance of Universal Philosophy is that creation is not an event that took place millions of years ago but rather a process that is eternally happening every second.” ... “There is a void, an infinite non-physical, unchanging, unmanifest Reality from which creation is constantly being projected somewhat in the way that an image is projected onto a screen by a projector.” (Universal Philosophy, p. 90)
A similar religious approach is attempted by so-called 'Esoteric Christianity'. According to the 'Esoteric Orthodoxy' of Boris Mouravvief “Orthodox Tradition teaches that the Universe was created by a sacrifice of God...God's sacrifice is Self-limitation by manifestation.” “...life in the Universe is nothing but a perpetual process of creation in every domain, on every plane, and at every step.” (Boris Mouravieff, Gnosis, Volume 1-Exoteric Cycle, p. 70,75)
D. Dorizas of 'Esoteric Christianity' expresses this referring to man's purpose in life: “You will be able to be diffused in the same way within forms and within the Formless and Non-manifested Essence, that exists and governs the Infinite Universes. A purpose and aim is to become Exhalation, and exhalation is the Word. And the Word is Flow, which is continuously recycled and perpetually transmits consecutively in a movement and vibrations so fast, that it seems not to palpitate or vibrate. When you become Exhalation, the Word, the Endless Flow of the Universe, you will be absorbed into the Formless, unifying with the Formless, but without losing the possibility to manifest yourself in Infinite ways...” (D. Dorizas, 2001, p. 84 [translated from Greek text]).
These beliefs move externally to Christian faith, are anti-Christian teachings, which project absolute monism and the cyclical outlook of history, meaning a pointless 'cosmic game':
“Although this physical creation is in a constant rhythmic process of creation and destruction, this Ultimate Reality (as Spirit or Consciousness) cannot be created or destroyed. All of creation alternates between expansion, manifestation and contraction then back into the latent unmanifest state. Just as we have the rhythmic cycles of night and day, summer and winter, we have the cycles of creation and reabsorption of the universe back into the Unmanifest.” (Universal Philosophy, p. 91)
This endless 'cosmic game' of continuous alternation between 'expansion towards manifestation' and 'contraction towards absence, into a latent unmanifest state', the continuous recycling of all, cannot possibly provide us with a satisfactory answer to the question for a deeper meaning of life. It's a religious view that does not offer solutions but leads to dead ends. It sinks a person into an endless loneliness.
Based on this perception, man is indeed doomed to loneliness. He is deserted to his 'destiny' helpless. Nobody can change his fate, not himself, nor another person, not even God. He has substituted Divine Love and Divine Providence with karmic plans, which define events in his life just like episodes of a movie, which are projected from a machine onto a screen. In the end, what is written in the movie will be screened, irrespectively of how philanthropic or horrific the scenes of the 'movie' are which are played in each life.
According to the perception of the teachers of reincarnation, one must not even try to change the 'scenario' of his life. But even if he did try, it would be in vain, as the 'movie' will be played in any case. What one is called to do is to 'play his part' without 'identification [with things]' and without 'attachment'. It does not matter what the role is, if it is the role of a robber or of that being robbed, a criminal or a victim!
The behavior of others towards him is also a result of 'karmic stipulations'. The same applies to relations formed with one's relatives, school, profession. The 'roles' change continuously from life to life. In one life one is a mother, in another one is a father, in the next a spouse, in another they afflict him, torture him, treat him unjustly, rob him, lead him into wretchedness and death. Under no circumstances is there the element of responsibility for one's fellow human or the concept of injustice. There is no God-lawgiver, who institutes ethical laws and calls on man to follow God's path, who will lead him into the fulfillment of the meaning of man's life, according to God's will. Man is only subject to karma's blind law and will not have to explain himself to anybody for his actions. He is submerged in complete loneliness.
What is important is not what one does, but if he does it with 'attachment' or without identifying with what he does. It does not matter if his action is considered good or bad, but if he feels it is helping him in happiness and 'evolution'. “We want to see what’s useful for our evolution and not get caught up in concepts of sin, guilt” (Universal Philosophy, p. 207). For teachers of absolute monism, every action, regardless of whether it's considered good or bad, “is equally an expression of the one Universal Consciousness and thus, each deserves the same respect and love independent of what he or she does or does not do on the external levels.” (Universal Philosophy, p. 71)
If someone is strong, and considers it 'useful' to oppress someone weak, he may do it, 'without attachment'. If someone else is weak and is oppressed, he must also endure 'without attachment' or 'empathy'. Both deserve the same love and respect, regardless of whether they are oppressors or oppressed. Nobody wrongs anybody. The ones who perceive things differently are moving in the level of 'dualism' and are at a low evolutionary level. This is the theoretical foundation of ethics based on reincarnation.
There is no injustice in reality. The ones who 'do us injustice' as we think, are only carriers of actions that, according to the 'scenario' of our life's movie, must take place, for our evolution's sake! If we endure without protesting, we will have learned our 'lesson' and in a future life we will advance in evolution! (self-evolution).
It becomes obvious that the precept of karma and reincarnation does not lead to the development of man's personality, but to its destruction; it does not nurture relations of mutual responsibility and love between people, but the maggot of egocentrism. This faith does not know mercy and threatens the pillars of our whole society and civilization.
The belief of karma and reincarnation means a reversal in the evaluation of our society. Any form of sociability is negatively evaluated, because the aim is not the development of society in all its expressions, but abstinence from every active and essential participation in social relations. Every such participation and relation is considered 'empathy' or 'attachment', which creates 'karma', and leads a person to be bound to the endless wheel of samsara, to the continuous 'torture' of successive births and deaths. This 'cosmic game', in which man also takes part, does not at all make sense.
Nobody doubts that each person has the right to make his religious choice, to keep his faith in the resurrection and hope in Christ or to become a follower of reincarnation. But this choice must take place freely. That is why, one must realize that both of these are incompatible with each other. One cannot believe in reincarnation without denying the hope of resurrection. He cannot say, “I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come” (The Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed), and at the same time confess belief in karma and reincarnation.
For these beliefs to be taught as Christian, using Christian terminology and using the Holy Scriptures, is a pitiable error ‒ if, of course, this does not occur on purpose ‒ otherwise it is dishonest. Either way, it causes confusion and prevents unsuspecting people from having a free choice.
If someone wishes to choose to believe in reincarnation, they must beforehand know that apart from the fact that this path is anti-Christian, they are not led to a 'better life' or to the 'development of man's abilities'. Because the final aim, according to the principle of karma and reincarnation is not a better life, but the termination of life, the 'absorption' into an impersonal 'Universal Reality'.
On the contrary, the Christian faith, according to which God, out of love, created the world and created man 'according to His image and to His likeness', not as a result of His divine substance, but His divine will and freedom. It offers an answer to the question of creation and deeper meaning in man's life. This meaning does not end in an 'absorption' of a person into the 'Universal Reality', but into his participation in God's life 'in Jesus Christ', with the eternal communion of love with the Holy Trinity (for more information, please see our book The Orthodox Church: Faith-Worship-Life, Preveza 1991).
Fr. ANTHONY ALEVIZOPOULOS
Dr. Of Theology - Dr. Of Philosophy
REINCARNATION OR RESURRECTION: AN ORTHODOX OUTLOOK ON EVIL
Translation by: Holy Monastery of Pantokrator
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