I want to focus on how similiar resurrection and reincarnation are and what we can learn about ourselves from them both.
Lets examine what they both mean. Resurrection means you die and later you are brought back to life with a new body. I say new body because obviously you won't have the same atoms you had before.
Reincarnation means you die and later you live again in a new body. The difference is that in this case you are born as a baby and live out your life. In a resurrection the assumption is you are raised "fully grown."
In either case we can draw a conclusion. Whatever makes you who you are is not a body! It is something that can have more than one body. In the case of resurrection a minimum of two. The term used, regardless of the religion, is soul.
Lets examine the 4 common views of the soul.
1. We are born, we die, thats it. This is the common athiest view. No preexistence before birth and no awareness after death. Please note I am carefully picking my words. I specifically said awareness after death. Not life after death. There is a huge difference and I will point out later why. In this atheist view, the soul and body are the same thing.
There is no resurrection or reincarnation.
2. There is no preexistence before birth. A soul begins existence at conception/birth and when you die you have no awareness until you are resurrected. If you achive eternal life great, if not you are thrown into the lake of fire and become annihilated and cease to have awareness. In this view, life and awareness are the same thing. Death means non-awareness. This is a non-mainstream view of some Christians and Jews. There is no reincarnation only a resurrection.
3. There is no preexistence before birth. A soul begins existence at conception/birth and at death it continues awareness either in hell or heaven until resurrected to judgement. After judgment it either spends eternity in hell or has eternal life. In either case, once the soul exists it never ceases to be aware. Death is defined in this case as being separated from God. This is the common Christian view. There is no reincarnation but there is a resurrection.
4. A soul is eternal and has always existed. There is preexistence before birth. After death the soul journeys in the realm of the dead until reborn. Regardless of whether the soul is alive, (in a body,) or dead, (out of a body,) it is aware. During death it exists in a dream state until reincarnated. Karma determines whether the soul is later reincarnated in a good life or a bad life. The purpose of reincarnation is to work through karma until eternal life can be achieved, (Hinduism) or one can achieve Nirvana, (Buddhism) which means to be free of the birth and death cycle. There are reincarnations but there is no resurrection. Another view is that resurrection is another word for reincarnation. The endlessly reincarnated, always existing soul, is a view common in eastern religions; (Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism)
These are the four major ways the soul is viewed. I would like to briefly share the reasoning behind these views.
1. Soul = Body. This is a view that focuses only on the physical and there is no spiritual viewpoint. This is the athiest or reductionist view. It needs the least amount of exposition. You live, you die, that's it.
2. Awareness = Life. This view is primarily derived from two scriptures in the Bible. Ecclesiastes 9:4-6 For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Matthew 10:27-29 And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
3. Death = Separation from God but the soul has no preexistence. This view derives from a combination of scripture and history. The view that death is separation from God comes from the view, that if the soul is destined to be in hell, it endures eternal torment. Revelation 20:9-11 And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever. The Christian view that the soul has no preexistence or that there is no reincarnation of the soul goes back to the 6th century. THE FIFTH ECUMENICAL COUNCIL THE SECOND COUNCIL OF CONSTANTINOPLE A.D. 553 IF anyone asserts the fabulous pre-existence of souls, and shall assert the monstrous restoration which follows from it: let him be anathema. Before this council, reincarnation was a common held belief among Christians. For a detailed history leading up to the 5th Council see:
Christian Reincarnation: The Long Forgotten Doctrine
4. Soul = Awareness and Death is defined as separation from a body. This view derives its primary authority from the Bhagavad-Gita where Arjuna is instructed by Krishna: "Never have I not existed, nor you, nor these kings; and never in the future shall we cease to exist. Just as the embodied self enters childhood, youth, and old age, so does it enter another body; this does not confound a steadfast man. ... Our bodies are known to end, but the embodied self is enduring, indestructible, and immeasurable ... It is not born, it does not die; having been it will never not be; unborn, enduring, constant, and primordial, it is not killed when the body is killed. ... As a man discards worn-out clothes to put on new and different ones, so the embodied self discards its worn-out bodies to take on new ones. (Bhagavad-Gita: portions of The Second Teaching - translator Barbara Stoler Miller)
Early Christians, before Constantine took over the religion, had a much different view of the soul and its relationship to God than mainstream Christianity does today. It viewed the soul as having a past history with God and was destined to rejoin God in the future, and that Christ came as an example of how we accomplish this task and to make make it possible in an all new way for us to achieve our union with God. In many ways this teaching wasn't that much different than what Buddha taught concerning the soul and its relationship with the Absolute. Christ taught we must be reborn in the spirit and Buddha taught we must transcend this world and our attachment to it.
Anybody who understands the life and teachings of Buddha would have to re-examine their view on the subject of the soul.
The Buddha taught that the self (or soul) was an illusion. But what many fail to realize is that until the illusion is seen for what it is, the cycle of birth and death continues. Just because the soul is an illusion doesn't mean there are not rebirths and deaths. Contrary, it is the failure to see the past the illusion of self that traps one in samsara (the cycle of births and death). Until one breaks free from samsara there continues to be the illusion of a soul. It may sound like I'm splitting hairs but it is important to understand the subtleties of Buddha's teachings. Even Buddha remembered his past lives back when he was still under the illusion of self. This post won't deal in depth with the ramifications of the doctrine of the illusion of self, but suffice it to say it is a key to understanding why Christ came to this earth to die for our sins. See:
The Sabbath and the Buddha
For the Hindu perspective of this see:
The Cosmic Dance of Shiva
For a peek into what the illusion of self means from a Christian view I point you to what is known in Christian Church history as the "Mystery of God in Humanity." See:
Mystery of God in Humanity
The primary premise of the controversy in Christianity that erupted back in the 4th century A.D. is based on the simple concept that our souls had their beginnings with God and were destined to become one with God again. This also led to what became known as the Arian controversy. Our separateness from God is an illusion perpetuated by Satan (called Mara in Buddhist theology.) Satan/Mara works ceaselessly to deceive you into thinking you are separate from God and to withhold from you your destiny to be one with God again.
Surah, 2, Verse 28: "How disbelieve ye in Allah when ye were dead and He gave life to you. Then He will give you death, then life again, and then unto Him ye will return."
So what does Buddha's life tell us about the soul and past lives? Buddha was able to recount stories of his past lives. He achieved retro-cognitive powers. Here is one of his past life stories.
"In days gone by there was a wicked king who used to extort from his subjects all he could get; and he ordered one of his officers to lay the lash on a man of eminence. The officer little thinking of the pain he inflicted upon others, obeyed; but when the victim of the king's wrath begged for mercy, he felt compassion and laid the whip lightly upon him. Now the king was reborn as Devadatta, who was abandoned by all his followers, because they were no longer willing to stand his severity and he died miserable and full of penitence. The officer is the sick bhikkhu, who having often given offence to his brethren in the vihara was left without assistance in his distress. The eminent man, however, who was unjustly beaten and begged for mercy was the Bodhisatta; he has been reborn as the Tathagata. It is now the lot of the Tathagata to help the wretched officer as he had mercy on him."
See Gospel of Buddha: The Sick Bhikkhu
The Buddha's remembrance of thousands of past lives during the first watch of the night he achieved omnipotent enlightenment gave rise to a vast body of Buddhist literature, in many versions, called the Jatakas or Tales of the Buddha's Past Lives. The Pali Jatakas record 357 past lives as a human, 66 as a god, and 123 as an animal. For Buddhists, the biography of the Buddha consists of not one but many lives.
The Jatakas is a collection of "birth stories" detailing many of the previous lives of the Buddha. Buddha Shakyamuni spent many lifetimes in the six realms of transmigration. His lives as the monkey king, elephant king, deer king, and goose king are examples of lives spent in the realm of animals.
The Buddha also has incarnated many times in the realm of humans. One time, after Sundari, the courtesan, made a defamatory accusation against him, the Buddha explained how actions from a previous life can effect the shaping of events in one's present life.
The Buddha said, "Many lives ago in the past, in a city called Varanasi, there lived a man by the name of Pure Eyes (Vimalanetra) who was in the performing arts business of acting and singing (equivalent to today's actor). "At that time, there was a beautiful woman by the name of Deer Form. Pure Eyes and Deer Form entered into a sexual liaison with each other.
"Since Deer Form was a very wealthy lady, Pure Eyes later murdered her for her money and buried her body in the house of a realized spiritual cultivator by the name of Joyful and Spontaneous Solitary-buddha.
"Joyful and Spontaneous Solitary-buddha was mistaken to be the murderer. He was tied to the back of a donkey and publicly paraded through the streets. "Just as Joyful and Spontaneous Solitary-buddha was about to be executed by arrow, Pure Eyes gave in to his conscience and confessed the crime to the prosecutor. A new investigation established Pure Eyes' guilt.
"Pure Eyes was executed by arrow and then beheaded.
The Buddha is our greatest authority on rebirth. On the very night of his enlightenment, during the first watch, the Buddha developed retro-cognitive knowledge which enabled him to read his past lives. "I recalled," he declares, "My varied lot in former existences follows: first one life, then two lives, then three, four, five, ten, then a hundred, a thousand, a hundred watch the Buddha, with clairvoyant vision he perceived beings disappearing from one state of existence and reappearing in another. He beheld the "base and the noble, the beautiful and the ugly, the happy and the miserable, passing according to their deeds."'
These are the very first utterances of the Buddha regarding the question of rebirth. The textual references conclusively prove that the Buddha did not borrow this stern truth of rebirth from any existing source, but spoke from personal knowledge, a knowledge which was super-normal, developed when he achieved enlightenment and which could be developed by others as well. In his first paean of joy, the Buddha says: "Through many a birth wandered I, seeking the builder of this house. Sorrow full indeed is birth again and again."
In the Dhammacakka Sutta, his very first discourse, the Buddha, commenting on the second noble truth, states: "This very raving is that which leads to rebirth." The Buddha concludes this discourse with the words: "This is my last birth. Now there is no more rebirth." The Majjima Nikaya relates that when the Buddha, out of, compassion for beings, surveyed the world with his Buddha-vision before he decided to teach the Dhamma, he perceived beings, who, with fear, view evil and a world beyond.
In several discourses the Buddha clearly states that beings, having done evil, are, after death, born in woeful states, and beings having done good, are born in blissful states.
Besides the very interesting Jataka stories, which deal with his previous lives and which are of ethical importance, the Majjhima Nikaya and the Anguttara Nikaya make incidental references to some of the past lives of the Buddha.
In the Ghatikara Sutta the Buddha relates to the Venerable Ananda that he was born as Jotipala, in the time of the Buddha Kassapa, his immediate predecessor. The Anathapindikovada Sutta describes a nocturnal visit of Anathapindika to the Buddha, immediately after his rebirth as a Deva. In the Anguttara Nikaya,' the Buddha alludes to a past birth as Pacetana the wheelwright. In the samyutta Nikaya the Buddha cites the names of some Buddha's who preceded him. An unusual direct reference to departed ones appears in the Parinibbana Sutta. The Venerable Ananda desired to know from the Buddha the future state of several persons who had died in a particular village. The Buddha patiently described their destinies. Such instances could easily be multiplied from the Tipitaka to show that the Buddha did expound the doctrine of rebirth as a verifiable truth." Following the Buddha's instructions, his disciples also developed this retro-cognitive knowledge and were able to read a limited, though vast, number of their past lives.
I hope this helps your understanding of the soul from an inter-religious perspective.
So if reincarnation is based on truth, why do we need a resurrection?
See: The Big Picture, The Plan of God