Religious Studies 23 (1):41-57 (1987)
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Traditional Western conceptions of immortality characteristically presume that we come into existence at a particular time , live out our earthly span and then die. According to some, our death may then be followed by a deathless post-mortem existence. In other words, it is assumed that we are born only once and die only once; and that – at least on some accounts – we are future-sempiternal creatures. The Western secular tradition affirms at least ; the Western religious tradition – Christianity, Judaism, Islam – generally affirms both and . The Indian tradition, however, typically denies both and . That is, it maintains both that we all have pre-existed beginninglessly, and that we have lived many times before and must live many times again in this world. The Indian picture, then, is that we have died and been reborn innumerable times previous to this life and we will be reborn many times in the future. This is sometimes called the Indian belief in reincarnation. The difficulty with this usage is that the term ‘reincarnation’ suggests a belief in an immortal soul that transmigrates or reincarnates. However Buddhism, while affirming rebirth, specifically denies the existence of an eternal soul. Thus the term ‘rebirth’ is preferable for referring to the generally espoused Indian doctrine



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Roy Perrett
Australian National University

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