The cycle of birth, death and rebirth; the total pattern of successive earthly lives experienced by a soul. A term similar to punarjanma (reincarnation), but with broader connotations.reincarnation: "Re-entering the flesh." Punarjanma; metempsychosis. The process wherein souls take on a physical body through the birth process.
Reincarnation is one of the fundamental principles of Hindu spiritual insight, shared by the mystical schools of nearly all religions, including Jainism, Sikhism, Buddhism (and even by Christianity until it was cast out by the Nicene Council in 787). It is against the backdrop of this principle of the soul"s enjoying many lives that other aspects of Hinduism can be understood. It is a repetitive cycle, known as punarjanma, which originates in the subtle plane (Antarloka), the realm in which souls live between births and return to after death. Here they are assisted in readjusting to the "in-between" world and eventually prepared for yet another birth.
The quality and nature of the birth depends on the merit or demerit of their past actions (karma) and on the needs of their unique pattern of development and experience (dharma). The mother, the father and the soul together create a new body for the soul. At the moment of conception, the soul connects with and is irrevocably bound to the embryo. As soon as the egg is fertilized, the process of human life begins. It is during the mid-term of pregnancy that the full humanness of the fetus is achieved and the soul fully inhabits the new body, a stage which is acknowledged when the child begins to move and kick within the mother"s womb. (Tirumantiram, 460: "There in the pregnant womb, the soul lay in primordial quiescence [turiya] state. From that state, Maya [or Prakriti] and Her tribe aroused it and conferred consciousness and maya"s evolutes eight- desires and the rest. Thus say scriptures holy and true."
Finally, at birth the soul emerges into earth consciousness, veiled of all memory of past lives and the inner worlds. The cycle of reincarnation ends when karma has been resolved and the Self God (Parasiva) has been realized. This condition of release is called moksha. Then the soul continues to evolve and mature, but without the need to return to physical existence. How many earthly births must one have to attain the unattainable? Many thousands to be sure, hastened by righteous living, tapas, austerities on all levels, penance and good deeds in abundance.