From Latin meaning "to be made flesh again"
The earliest mention of reincarnation dates back to India when the concept of reincarnation is first recorded in the Upanishads (India’s oldest spiritual texts c. 800 B.C.E.), composed in Sanskrit.
Some Ancient Greek philosophers entertained the concept of reincarnation. Among them, Socrates, Pythagoras, and Plato made reincarnation an integral part of their teachings. At the end of his life, Socrates said, "I am confident that there truly is such a thing as living again, and that living springs from the dead." Pythagoras put forth the idea that he could remember his past lives. Further, Plato presented detailed accounts of reincarnation in his major works.
"Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning to its course. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again...What has been again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 1:4-9)
Generations die and consequently return through the process of reincarnation.
"And as he was passing by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who has sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?" Jesus answered, 'Neither has this man sinned, nor his parents, but the works of God were to be made manifest in him.'" (John 9:1)
This begs the question of how could he have sinned to be BORN blind? Did he sin in a past life?
"For all the prophets and the law have prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who was to come." (Matthew 11:13-14)
"And the disciples asked him, saying, 'Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?' But he answered them and said, 'Elijah indeed is to come and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also, shall the Son of Man suffer at their hand.' Then the disciples understood that he had spoken of John the Baptist." (Matthew 17:10-13)
It is understood that John the Baptist was the reincarnation of Elijah. The biblical Elijah was taken up to Heaven in a chariot of fire in the Old Testament. Additionally, the reincarnation of Elijah had been foretold in the Old Testament.
"Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord." (Malachi 4:5)
11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Luke 1:11-17 The Angel Gabriel
"This is the one ... there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.... And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who was to come. He who has ears, let him hear." (Matthew 11:11-15).
The gnostic texts are a group of 52 religious texts discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945. Considered the secret gospels, they cover numerous beliefs and legends surrounding the life of Jesus Christ. Some of these gospels differ from the current edited version of the biblical New Testament. However, according to these texts, there was a prevailing belief in reincarnation during the time period.
"Watch and pray that you may not be born in the flesh, but that you may leave the bitter bondage of this life." (Book of Thomas the Contender)
“All people have drunk the water of forgetfulness and exist in a state of ignorance. Some are able to overcome ignorance through the Spirit of life that descends upon them. These souls "will be saved and will become perfect," that is, escape the round of rebirth.” (Secret Book of John)
"This soul needs to follow another soul in whom the Spirit of life dwells, because she is saved through the Spirit. Then she will never be thrust into flesh again." (Secret Book of John)
The Dalai Lama
Since the omniscient Gedun Gyatso was documented and confirmed as the reincarnation of Gedun Drub in the fifteenth century and the Gaden Phodrang Labrang (the Dalai Lama’s institution) was established, succeeding reincarnations have also been recognized. The third reincarnation in the line, Sonam Gyatso, was given the title of the Dalai Lama. The Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso, instituted the Gaden Phodrang Government in 1642. Therefore, becoming the spiritual and political head of Tibet. For over six hundred years since Gedun Drub, a series of reincarnations have been recognized in the lineage of the Dalai Lama.
In order to accept reincarnation or the reality of Tulkus, it is necessary to also accept the existence of past and future lives. Sentient beings come to this present life from their previous lives and experience rebirth again after death. Ancient Indian spiritual traditions and schools of philosophy accept this kind of continuous rebirth.
Generally, Buddhists believe that there is no beginning to birth. Once humans achieve liberation from the cycle of existence through overcoming karma and destructive emotions, then the cycle ends. Therefore, Buddhists believe that there is an end to being reborn as a result of karma and destructive emotions.
Reincarnation - the "revolving" of souls through a succession of lives, or "gilgulim" - is an integral part of Jewish belief. But this teaching has always been around. The existence is firmly rooted in source-verses within traditional rabbinic works such as the Talmud.
Within Judaic tradition, the concept of Gilgul is one of transmigration of souls. The Hebrew word gilgul means cycle or wheel therefore representing reincarnation. Such ideas blend with Jewish mysticism and the Kabbalah. These ideas encompass a wider philosophy regarding spiritual bodies and each individual’s purpose in the physical world.