What is Reincarnation?
An anglicized word of Latin derivation, meaning "reinfleshment," the coming again into a human body of an excarnate human soul. The repetitive reimbodiment of the reincarnating human ego in vehicles of human flesh — this being a special case of the general doctrine of reimbodiment. This general doctrine of reimbodiment applies not solely to man, but to all centers of consciousness whatsoever, or to all monads whatsoever — wheresoever they may be on the evolutionary ladder of life, and whatsoever may be their particular developmental grade thereon.
The meaning of this general doctrine is very simple indeed. It is as follows: every life-consciousness-center, in other words, every monad or monadic essence, reincorporates itself repeatedly in various vehicles or bodies, to use the popular word. These bodies may be spiritual, or they may be physical, or they may be of a nature intermediate between these two, i.e., ethereal. This rule of nature, which applies to all monads without exception, takes place in all the different realms of the visible and invisible universe, and on all its different planes, and in all its different worlds.
There are eight words used in the theosophical philosophy in connection with reimbodiment, which are not all synonymous, although some of these eight words have almost the same specific meaning. They are: preexistence, rebirth, reimbodiment, palingenesis, metensomatosis, metempsychosis, transmigration, reincarnation (see under each word for definition). Of these eight words, four only may be said to contain the four different basic ideas of the general doctrine of reimbodiment, and these four are preexistence, reimbodiment, metempsychosis, and transmigration.
In no case is the word reincarnation identical with any of the other seven words, though of course it has grounds of strong similarity with them all, as for instance with preexistence, because obviously the entity preexists before it reincarnates; and on the same grounds it is similar to rebirth, reimbodiment, and metensomatosis.
The meaning of the word reincarnation differs specifically from rebirth in this, that the latter word simply means rebirth in human bodies of flesh on this earth; while the former term also contains the implication, tacit if not expressed, of possible incarnations in flesh by entities which have finished their earthly pilgrimage or evolution, but who can and sometimes do return to this earth in order to incarnate for the purpose of aiding their less evolved brothers.