There are numerous ideas, theories and concepts related to the question of whether or not we are reborn in some form or another after the death of the body. Some of these ideas hold that the life we live here is simply a single lifetime with nothing preceding it, and nothing following. Others hold that the life has no lives preceding it, and after death we are then transported to a paradise of heaven, or a punishment of hell, or some kind of limbo of purgatory. For some, the after death state is “permanent”; while for others it is an interregnum preparatory to a re-entry into the world.
Among the theories that believe in a recurrent series of births, there are also many viewpoints and a diverse terminology. Sri Aurobindo discusses some of these terms and the concepts behind them: “In former times the doctrine used to pass in Europe under the grotesque name of transmigration which brought with it to the Western mind the humorous image of the soul of Pythagoras migrating, a haphazard bird of passage, from the human form divine into the body of a guinea-pig or an ass.”
Alternatively, “The philosophical appreciation of the theory expressed itself in the admirable but rather unmanageable Greek word, metempsychosis, which means the insouling of a new body by the same psychic individual.”
“Reincarnation is the now popular term, but the idea in the word leans to the gross or external view of the fact and begs many questions.”
Sri Aurobindo’s own preference was to use the term “rebirth”, “…for it renders the sense of the wide, colourless, but sufficient Sanskrit term, punarjanma, “again-birth,” and commits us to nothing but the fundamental idea which is the essence and life of the doctrine.”
Sri Aurobindo, Rebirth and Karma, Section I, Chapter 1, Rebirth, pg. 3