Reincarnation in Hinduism: How Does This Cycle Work?

Updated June 28, 2021
Hindu Buddha Statue

Reincarnation is a central concept in many world faiths including Hinduism. In the Hindu religion, living multiple lives matures of the soul over hundreds or even thousands of lifetimes. Hindu reincarnation is a cycle of birth, death, and rebirth called samsara. By going through this cycle, souls learn life lessons and integrate those lessons into their true self. Through a series of incarnations, humans continue to develop until they reach spiritual self-realization or enlightenment.

Law of Karma and Reincarnation in Hinduism

Karma is the belief that positive or negative actions and thoughts will produce corresponding positive or negative consequences. The law of karma affects both the physical and spiritual world, and the consequences of positive or negative karma may develop in this life or in a future incarnation.

Hindus believe no matter how insignificant, every thought, feeling, and action projects outward from the self and then returns with an equally positive or negative impact. To advance, the person must resolve negative karma from previous lives while working to create positive karma in the current life.


According to the beliefs of Hindu reincarnation, the term atman refers to the spiritual essence of a human being. The atman is the true self and connects the human to the cosmos, or Supreme Being. The personality as you know it is an illusion, and only through the realization of your atman can you end the cycle of reincarnation and reconnect with the Supreme Being.

Four Goals of Life

The four goals of life, or purusharthas, are an important part of Hindu reincarnation. Pursuing these four goals results in life experience, suffering, and knowledge. It is only by achieving each of these goals you can truly understand your need for liberation.


Dharma (virtue) is the foundation of life and the combination of discipline and spiritual law. Following a dharmic path means doing what is spiritually, morally, and ethically right for the self, others and the universe in general. Good dharma is necessary to obtain good karma in future lives.


Artha (wealth) is one of the four primary goals of Hinduism. To be wealthy and successful is an important part of Hindu reincarnation because it enables the person to help others and the community as a whole. It is important to use wealth and power for selfless reasons and not for selfish reasons.


Kama (pleasure) pertains to the enjoyment of aesthetics, such as music, dance, art, and drama. Kama may also refer to sexual pleasure. It is spiritually beneficial to engage in activities that bring pleasure, provided those activities do not stray from the path of dharma.


Mokshais the release from life. To obtain moksha, the person must attempt to live without material possessions, wealth, and other worldly things. Moksha also requires considerable contemplation to realize the true self.

Transmigration and Reverse Reincarnation

An alternative perspective of Hindu reincarnation, transmigration, involves the belief souls reincarnate through mineral, vegetable, and animal forms before taking human form. Once in human form, it becomes possible for the soul to transform into an angelic state. Some Hindus also believe souls may regress, or reverse reincarnate, from human form back into animal form.

Reincarnation and Suicide

Successful Hindu reincarnation depends upon a natural death. Suicide is very damaging to a soul's karma, resulting in a series of lesser births and karmic trials. Hastening death through euthanasia or artificially prolonging life with medications, intravenous feeding, or mechanical assistance interferes with the natural timing of death and negatively affects karma.

Negative and Positive Karma and Reincarnation

It is important to note, however, that intent greatly affects karmic consequences. Placement on life support temporarily, as part of a treatment regimen, does not result in negative karma. Moreover, turning off life-support devices to allow a natural death is not euthanasia and does not affect Hindu reincarnation. Only the hastening or prevention of natural death affects karma and the Hindu reincarnation process.

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Reincarnation in Hinduism: How Does This Cycle Work?