Non-Indic Theories of Rebirth

Gananath Obeyesekere

in Imagining Karma

Published by University of California Press

Published in print November 2002 | ISBN: 9780520232204
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520936300 | DOI:
Non-Indic Theories of Rebirth

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This chapter presents descriptions of rebirth beliefs from small-scale societies found in different parts of the world. It provides the reader with a feeling for the richness, range, and spread of these eschatologies. In the context of West Africa, reincarnation is the entry of the soul from the world of the ancestors back to the earthly lineage structure, rather than a complex of beliefs intrinsically related to ancestors. Every society that believes in rebirth believes that only a fraction of those reborn can remember their previous earthly life persona. They assume that each infant is in fact the reincarnation of a dead kinsperson. This is quite unusual from the perspective of Buddhist societies, where it is rare that the past-life persona can be identified. Animals are often perceived as material embodiments of spirit animals who act as helpers and guardian spirits of those who seek them. There are different forms of naming, some virtually synonymous with reincarnation, such that a baby is given the name of a person who is the reincarnated ancestor.

Keywords: rebirth; eschatologies; small-scale societies; reincarnation; spirit animals; Buddhist societies; reincarnated ancestor

Chapter.  23606 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Buddhism

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