The Basis of Reincarnation

By Ketut Suardana

For The Bali Times


“Ale gawe ale ketemu, hayu gawe hayu kepanggih” is a Balinese saying that loosely translates as, “When you perform bad deeds, bad things will happen to you; if you perform good acts,  only good things will come your way.” This is the essence of karma. It is the direct result of the way you have lived your life on earth and determines your reincarnation.

The Atman (Soul) is attached to the body, which is attracted to the material world and other extraneous elements. It is an intangible spirit and its attraction blinds the soul, thus losing its true character and, therefore, creating confusion.

Until such time, the Atman is not one with God and is influenced by Trikona (birth, life, death). Balinese call this cyclical return of a soul to live another life in a new body Punabhawa (reincarnation), Penitisan or Samsara (suffering).

To understand what reincarnation is all about we must delve into the many facets of Balinese religious beliefs. We call it Panca Srada.


  1. Belief in God/Sang Hyang Widhi – the belief in the existence of God, who has four powers/Chadu Sakti:

* Wibhu Sakti (omnipresence) – the spirit of God is in every form of life and is everywhere, the nucleus of the human spirit. The human body is the temple of God. However, human kindness, activities and ignorance are outside the purview of his control.

* Prabhu Sakti (King of Kings) – the One who controls the Universe as the Creator, Protector and Destroyer.

* Jnana Sakti (all knowing) – He knows everything that happens in this life, whether it’s Sekala or Nishkala (the Seen and the Unseen).

* Karya Sakti (can do all things) – He has complete power over this life and no power can stop Him. He is Time. He can destroy this life anytime he wants because He is Maha Karya.

  1. Belief in Atman (Soul) – This is the smallest entity that exists in the Universe that gives life to living things. The Vedas tell us the difference between the Atman and the body is that they are both separate entities connected as a whole. The body being a temporary vessel while the Atman is eternal. The Bhagavad Gita says, “Know thou that by which all this pervaded is indestructible. Of this immutable being, no one can bring about destruction.”

We are born with certain characteristics, like kindness, anger, laziness, intelligence etc. The character of the soul and body is not the same because the soul has come from Brahman.

Some characteristics of the Atman:

1.       Antarjyotih – the perfect one.

2.       Achodhya – invincible.

3.       Adahya – cannot be burned.

4.       Akledya – cannot be dried by the wind.

5.       Acesyah – never wet by water.

6.       Nitya – eternal

7.       Sarwah Gath – can be everywhere.

8.       Staanu – can be in all places at the same time.

9.       Acala – forever in motion.

10.    Sanatana – always the same.

11.    Awyakta – created itself.

12.    Acintya – unfathomable.

13.    Awikara – never changes, always perfect.

  1. Belief in Karmapahala – the law of action and reaction.
  2. Belief in reincarnation (Punabhawa) – unification with God through a cyclical process of birth, life and death.
  3. Belief in Moksah (unification with God) – unity with God.


*     *     *     *     *


How do we end reincarnation and attain Moksah?

Reincarnation is the direct result of living an incomplete past or present life in terms of doing good or bad things. Until such time as we can purify our lives to do only good things, we will continue to be reborn again and again and again. It is like a distillation process which only after many layers of lives do we achieve Moksah, a union with God.

There are five steps:

1.        Understanding Shruti (the voice of God) by learning about religion, which means to crystallise a comprehension of the world in which we live. Fighting spiritual ignorance and apathy because the knowledge of Dharma is the pathway to true enlightenment.

2.        Understanding Smerti (the source of the highest law) on how to be in union with God through parents and the balance of harmony in our lives: the truth of our soul, culture and ethics. Dharma affects the soul and culture has an impact on the body. This is an intricate, ongoing process of drawing on various aspects of our lives, focusing on the belief in an omnipresent God. This brings comprehension of the intangible i.e. our Atman.

3.        Sila – by following Shruti and Smerti we can achieve a level of consistency of an honourable life whereby people around would look to us for guidance in all worldly and spiritual matters. This level is known as Budhiman. Even when this stage is reached, we still need a guru to enhance our level of knowledge. Example: Lord Ram, in spite of his spirituality, looked to his teacher, the great Agastya, and others to increase his understanding of the realities he faced.

4.        Acara (Good traditions) – the Hindu Holy book Manava Dharma Sastra informs us of the religious traditions that have been followed from generation to generation. These traditions may change from time to time and, therefore, are not constrained.

5.        Atman Astuti (Satisfaction of the Soul) – in the Upanishads (Hindu scriptures), Atman is prana, the life force, the spirit that resides in us. However, to keep the Atman free of all things bad, we need to live a moral, ethical and spiritual life.

What’s the relationship between karma and reincarnation?

To put it simply, karma is the cause and effect of our actions in past and present lives. The cumulative effect results in the number of reincarnations we need to go through before we attain Moksah.

Good Karma will increase the quality of life in the next reincarnation, thereby reducing the number of reincarnations we need to go through before attaining oneness with God. It is said that a normal person goes through 770 reincarnations while Gautama went through 500 reincarnations before becoming the Buddha.

In Bali when the umbilical cord of a newly born baby falls off, the family members take this small piece wrapped in white cloth, in an offering to the special holy man who has the ability to determine the incarnation or Numadi of the child. In our daughter Dewi’s case, the priest claimed she is the reincarnation of my mother, Ni Ketut Mugeleg, and gave us a detailed explanation of her character. The child is only ever a reincarnation of a member of the paternal line. Amongst the children, we have reincarnations of various members and many generations of my family, from artists to farmers.

      The Blessed Lord (Krishna) said: “Many are My lives that are past, and thine also, O Arjuna; all of them I know but thou knowest not, O Paramtapa (Arjuna).” – Bhagavad Gita


Semoga damai di bumi, damai di hati, damai di langit

Peace on earth, peace in your heart, peace in the sky

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