PM5473: Reincarnation or Rebirth

For anyone who believes in reincarnation or rebirth, I must ask the following questions:
  • Can someone be reborn only in this universe, or also other parallel universes?
  • Can someone only be reborn into the future (i.e. after their death), or also backward in time? Or even into the present? (Could I be reborn as my brother or sister, or as my mother or father?)
  • Must the succession of births be one to one, or could it also be one to many or many to one or many to many? Might I be reborn as multiple lives, not successively, but simultaneously? If I have past lives, need they all be successive, or might some or all of them be simultaneous?
  • If there are other universes into which I might be born, might those universes divide or branch (for example, as in the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics?)
I have never met a Hindu or Buddhist or so on who really addressed these four questions well. There is some awareness of some of them, but I wouldn't say even when present the awareness is particular strong or central. But these are key questions which must be addressed.

For, are not the following possible accounts of rebirth or reincarnation:
  • everyone is reborn as everyone else, successively - so every person who lives or has ever lived or shall live is either a past or future life of myself, or both (the latter in the case of circular time)
  • every is reborn as everyone else, simultaneously - so every person who lives or has ever lived or shall live is both an immediate past and an immediate future life of myself
I think both these accounts contain much truth. The problem they pose for traditional Buddhism or Hinduism, however, is with the whole idea of karma - I should be good because if I do I will have a good rebirth. But, if everyone is reborn as everyone else, then really how good I am has no impact on how I will be reborn. Even if I make the whole world a better place, I may not thereby have any better rebirth - what if I am reincarnated backward in time, to a time when the world was even worse? So rebirth or reincarnation can no longer be used to 'scare' or 'bribe' people into doing what is desired.

That is not to say that there could be no concept of karma. If everyone is reborn as everyone else, then everyone has everyone's karma. But, a common idea of karma is that it is stored up, and may not be entirely spent in one life - in some sense, there is a sort of selection, possibly random, of which parts of the store of karma will be used in each life. So, in the same way, everyone could have everyone else's karma, but the karma one receives in any one life is a random selection of that store of karma. And indeed, it seems that everyone's life is a consequence of everyone else's life, so indeed everyone is building up karma to be expended upon everyone else.