The transmigration of souls is also called reincarnation, and it is closely linked to the idea of karma. Reincarnation and karma are both religious concepts of Hinduism and Buddhism, though certain aspects of both differ based on the religious tradition. The transmigration of souls is the belief that, after death, the soul or spirit migrates to another physical or metaphysical state.
Transmigration depends on karma, the belief that one’s actions in life, good and bad and morally ambiguous, when taken as a whole and weighed in the balance, will determine the nature of one’s next existence. There are typically thought to be four types of existence: the human kingdom, the animal/plant kingdom, the infernal kingdom, and the celestial kingdom. The infernal kingdom is similar to the Christian idea of hell or the Catholic concept of purgatory—a place of torment and punishment or cleansing, and the celestial kingdom mirrors the Christian heaven—a place of bliss and reward. The idea of karma is that, if a person lives a good life, he will go to a “higher” plane of existence and, if the sum of his acts in life is negative, he will descend to a “lower” plane.
The transmigration of souls, reincarnation, and similar concepts are common in many cultures around the world, and these beliefs have had a powerful impact on their societies. The caste system in India, for example, is a direct result of the belief in karma. Those born poor, in the lowest caste, must remain in that caste in order to be purged of the bad karma that landed them there in the first place. They exist in poverty, without chance for a better life, trying to live a good life in the hope that their next existence will be better. Even if their next existence is better, it will likely be many lifetimes before the celestial kingdom can be attained.
The idea of the transmigration of souls contains a grain of truth. According to the Bible, a person’s soul does “migrate” to another state after death; however, the Bible specifies that this only happens once, and then the person is judged by God and sent either to heaven or hell (Hebrews 9:27). There is no second chance to get to heaven and no transmigration to another body.
According to the concept of karma and the transmigration of the soul, there is no Savior. Judgment is impersonal and cold, is based on the sum of one’s actions, and there is no forgiveness. According to the Bible, Jesus Christ offers forgiveness and heaven to anyone, rich or poor, no matter what bad or good actions they have done (1 Timothy 1:12–14). Righteousness is a gift, and salvation comes by the power of God to those who have faith in what Christ has done (Romans 1:16). The Christian gospel takes the focus off of man’s achievements and places the burden of salvation on God’s shoulders.
The gospel message is humbling but also freeing, as we see that even the best, most moral person cannot achieve the perfection that is necessary to dwell in God’s presence (1 Timothy 6:16; Isaiah 33:14; Hebrews 12:29). God wants us with Him, so He provides the Way (John 14:6). Sadly, too many refuse to take this free gift, instead making the futile attempt to reach heaven by good actions. False religious beliefs like the transmigration of souls and karma encourage millions onto the wrong path.