“The Future of an Illusion”, he argues that people seek religion because they have certain psychological needs, or wishes, that they seek to have fulﬁlled. He gives two key reasons why people are religious: “1) it [religion] helps us cope with the terrors of nature, including the fact that we will surely die someday; and, 2) it helps us cope with the repression laid on us by civilization.” (Secular Humanism, pg.3) This essay will brieﬂy explain why Freud’s theory does explain the psychological origins and utility of the relatively new religious ideas of reincarnation, the law of karma, the problem of samsara, and the solution of spiritual liberation in the late Vedic period. In the late Vedic period, new religious ideas, including the concept of reincarnation and
the law of karma, developed. The basic idea of reincarnation and karma, according to the
Upanisads, is that “a person will experience the consequences of his or her prior actions through the process of reincarnation: if one’s actions are good, one will obtain a favorable rebirth; and if one’s actions are bad, one will get a lousy rebirth.” (Hinduism, pg.33). Reincarnation is a continuation of the life cycle that does not end, meaning a person will be reborn to a good or bad state continuously, according to that person's karma, or actions in the present life.
Looking at this issue from Freud’s perspective, we can fairly agree that this idea of
reincarnation and the law of karma could be part of humanity's wish-fulﬁllment to continue living life without it ending. Freud can argue here that reincarnation fulﬁlls a psychological need in the sense that it helps people to live their lives in hope that their lives will never end.
Reincarnation would put an end to the fear of death because the person would know that the full life cycle was not complete at death and new chances for a better life would be possible. Freud
might say that humans tend to fear death and hate the idea of a life that has an end, but through belief in reincarnation, these fears are alleviated. This belief will allow people to live forever without ever having their lives come to an end.
Freud’s idea of wish-fulﬁllment would ﬁt perfectly with this relationship between
reincarnation and karma. If the psychological need for this cycle is one’s wish to live forever, then there is utility in the belief in reincarnation. Freud has mentioned in one of his works on religion, “The Future of Illusion” that “Society does not work if people run around doing whatever the hell they feel like--civilization, by deﬁnition, must have rules and prohibitions, and must enforce them” (Secular Humanism, pg.5). If Vedic society could control people by convincing them to live quiet lives of conformity so that they would have good karma, then these religious ideas have an outstanding impact on people’s actions and behaviours.
The law of karma encompasses “all the actions a person commits, sacriﬁcial or
otherwise” (Hinduism, pg33). People who follow this cycle will be reborn according to their actions. Therefore, society says, in effect, “Let's tell people if they do good, they will be reborn into something good, and this way, at the same time, we can have a better society”. This factor is the utilization of the cycle of reincarnation and the law of karma. “[When it comes to reincarnation], people here whose behaviour is pleasant can expect to enter a pleasant womb, like that of a woman of the Brahmin, the ksatriyaa, or the vaisya class. But people of foul behaviour can expect to enter a foul womb, like that of a dog, a pig or an outcast woman”.(Chandogya