Reincarnation is a philosophical belief taught by many of the world religions. It is the notion that the soul survives the death of the body and begins a new life in a new body. The new life depends on the moral deeds of the soul in the previous life. It is as if our physical bodies are clothes that have to be discarded for new ones when they are worn out. Reincarnation is derived from two Latin words, “re” meaning again and “incarnare” which literally means “entering the flesh”. “Metempsychosis” is the Greek equivalent word that corresponds roughly in meaning with reincarnation which connotes life after death, thereby emphasizing the continuity of the soul and not the flesh.
This has engaged the attention of great philosophers through the ages. From Pythagoras through Empedocles, Plato, Plotinus, down to the contemporary period, different views on reincarnation exist. In this research an examination of the concept will be made to examine its metaphysical principle of explanation in Yoruba thought.
Reincarnation literally means to come back to earthly life. It also means the cycle of successive rebirths. A version of it has it that it is the belief that while the spirit of the deceased lives in the spiritual world, some of his physical and other traits are manifested in his grand children or close relatives. For Egbe, reincarnation is the process of rebirth of a person into the world to pay for his bad deeds until such a person is perfected. The new-born baby is sometimes believed to possess some of the essential features of the departed grandfather or elderly relation, and sometimes births are believed to possess more or less similar characteristics. It is believed that the reincarnated person can take on a new destiny especially if things were bad for him in the previous existence. The doctrine of reincarnation is sometimes distinguished from the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, which means that the identity, the consciousness or the memory of the individual persists after death. It is also different from the doctrine of transfiguration, which is the belief that the soul of the departed assumes a new body of another person, an animal or any other creature.
Although there are many forms of reincarnation, the most common which spring from Hinduism and Buddhism are based on the inviolable law of Karma. Under the law of Karma, what one sows in this life will certainly be reaped. Every action in this life has a consequence in this life or in the next.
Apart from the Eastern religions, the belief in reincarnation is also dominant in the Western world. About one out of four Americans are said to believe in reincarnation. Although the Bible and Orthodox Christian belief reject reincarnation, about one in five who attends church regularly also believes in reincarnation.
Reincarnation has a long history. The view of many is that the original source of the belief appears to be the Hindu Vedas. The form in which it is found in Buddhism, Jainism and Siklism seems to have been derived from these. Some Western forms may have arisen from Greek philosophy without some direct influence from eastern source, beginning with Pythagoreanism. Pythagoras, Plato and Plotinus all believed that the soul or spirit was eternal and could not be destroyed.
Several reasons are given to explain the belief in reincarnation. The first reason is based on the general belief in the immorality of the soul. Plato’s main reason for believing in immorality of the soul is that he considered the immaterial part of every human being to be indestructible. For him, the soul existed prior to entering the human body, and it continues to exist after we die. The second reason for the belief in reincarnation starts from evidence from psychological research. Practices like regression through hypnosis has helped to explain some feelings (e.g. fear, depression. Unwantedness) that the patient cannot explain.