We Only Live Once – I

Most religions have strong beliefs and outlooks about the concept of rebirth and reincarnation. Er. Dr. Ramiyar Karanjia enlightens us about this concept with regard to our Zoroastrian religious philosophy and beliefs, in an thought-provoking two-part series.


PT: Does the concept of rebirth exist in our Zarathushti religion? Why do some Zoroastrians feel that a departed soul has returned to the family when there is a new birth in the family?

Dr. Ramiyar: The idea of re-birth or re-incarnation is the belief that after a person’s death, the soul of that person invariably comes back to earth taking the body of another human being, in order to fulfil its karmic debts, especially to pay for its sins. It’s an integral part of Hindu philosophy.

However re-incarnation is not part of the mainstream Zoroastrian religious philosophy. Many Zoroastrians, however feel that a departed soul has returned to the family when there is a new birth in the family. The idea of rebirth helps alleviate harsh realities of life, like death, and hence is believed by many people. The teaching of re-birth is the easiest way to explain misfortunes of life, and the most convenient way to respond to unanswerable existential questions about life, death and destiny.

PT: How and why is reincarnation not compatible with Zoroastrian religious philosophy?

Dr. Ramiyar: The Zoroastrian philosophy explains the misfortunes of life and questions about life and death in a different manner. In order to understand these answers, one has to understand and accept the Zoroastrian concept of good and evil, which includes the nature of good and evil. The phenomenon of re-birth or re-incarnation in a certain limited manner may be a reality in nature. It may be a possibility after certain types of death, but not an eventuality after all deaths in general. Within the phenomenon itself there are several possibilities, like transmigration and differences in gestation period between two lives. Reincarnation is not compatible with Zoroastrian religious philosophy and world view in general as it is not compatible with the following teachings of the religion:

  1. Remembrance of departed souls since times immemorial, irrespective of the number of years after death.
  2. Linear   nature   of   Zoroastrian   cosmogony   as   against   Hindu philosophy’s cyclical   nature.  According to Zoroastrian cosmogony there is only one beginning and end of the world.
  3. The   idea   of   heaven,   hell   and purgatory and gradual progress of   the   soul is   not consistent with the idea of reincarnation.
  4. Zoroastrian   souls   have   to   pass   through   two   judgements   after   death.   The   first judgement is immediately after death after which the soul gets its place in heaven, hell or purgatory. The second judgement is to take place at the end of time. This idea of two judgements is also inconsistent with the idea of reincarnation.
  5. The Zoroastrian apocalyptic teaching of tan-e-pasen is also inconsistent with the idea of reincarnation. Tan-e-pasen means that after the end of time, the soul will get the spiritual constituents of the physical body, and will appear as the person looked in his youth. If a person has led several lives, this teaching would not make sense.
    Moreover, none of the Zoroastrian texts mention anything about rebirth. In books like

Ardaviraf Nameh and Hadokht Yasht, which deal exclusively with the state of soul after death, no mention whatsoever of re-incarnation exists. These books only talk of heaven, hell and purgatory.
There are some philosophies within Zoroastrian religion, like Ilm-e-Kshnoom, the mystic Zoroastrian school of thought, which believe this teaching to be part of the Zoroastrian religion. Dasturji Khurshedji Dabu also subscribed to the belief of re-incarnation, most probably because he was sympathetic towards the Theosophical system of philosophy. The Zoroastrian schools of thoughts which subscribe to the religious philosophy of reincarnation quote indirect evidences from Zoroastrian texts to support their contention. However mainstream Zoroastrian scholars have explained both these references in a different way.

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