Is there good evidence for reincarnation? Researchers say yes.
HAVE YOU LIVED BEFORE? The concept of reincarnation -- that our souls may experience many lifetimes over centuries, maybe even thousands of years -- has been present in virtually every culture since ancient times. The Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and Aztecs all believed in the "transmigration of souls" from one body to another after death. It's a fundamental precept of Hinduism.
Although reincarnation is not a part of official Christian doctrine, many Christians believe in it or at least accept its possibility. (Jesus, it is believed, was reincarnated three days after his crucifixion.) That's not at all surprising; the idea that after death we can live again as another person -- maybe as the opposite sex or in a completely different station in life -- is intriguing and, for many people, highly appealing.
Is there any truth to it, however? Is reincarnation just an idea, a fantasy? Or is there real evidence to support it? Here's some of the best evidence available, gathered by researchers who, in some cases, have devoted their lives to the subject. Examine it, then decide for yourself.
PAST LIFE REGRESSION HYPNOSIS
The practice of reaching past lives through hypnosis is controversial, primarily because hypnosis is not a reliable tool. Hypnosis can certainly help reach the unconscious mind, but the information found there is not reliable as truth. It has been shown that the practice can create false memories. That doesn't mean, however, that regression hypnosis should be dismissed out of hand. If the past life information can be verified through research, the case for reincarnation can be considered more seriously.
The most famous case of past life regression through hypnosis is that of Ruth Simmons. In 1952, her therapist, Morey Bernstein, took her back past the point of her birth. Suddenly, Ruth began to speak with an Irish accent and claimed that her name was Bridey Murphy, who lived in 19th century Belfast, Ireland. Ruth recalled many details of her life as Bridey, but, unfortunately, attempts to find out if Ms. Murphy really existed were unsuccessful. There was, however, some indirect evidence for the truth of her story: under hypnosis, Bridey mentioned the names of two grocers in Belfast from whom she bought food, Mr. Farr and John Carrigan. A Belfast librarian found a city directory for 1865-1866 that listed both men as grocers. Her story was told both in a book by Bernstein and in a 1956 movie, The Search for Bridey Murphy.
ILLNESSES AND PHYSICAL AILMENTS
Do you have a life-long illness or physical pain that you cannot account for? Their roots could be in some past life trauma, some researchers suspect.
In "Have We Really Lived Before?", Michael C. Pollack, Ph.D., CCHT describes his lower back pain, which grew steadily worse over the years and limited his activities. He believes he found out a possible reason during a series of past life therapy sessions: "I discovered that I had lived at least three prior lifetimes in which I had been killed by being knifed or speared in the low back. After processing and healing the past life experiences my back began to heal."
Research conducted by Nicola Dexter, a past life therapist, has discovered correlations between illnesses and past lives in some of her patients, including: a bulimia sufferer who swallowed salt water in a previous life; a fear of indoor heights caused by carving the ceiling of a church and being killed by falling to the floor; a persistent problem in the shoulder and the arm area having been caused by participating in a tug of war which injured the same arm; a fear of razors and shaving was found to have its root cause in another lifetime where the client had chopped off someone's fingers with a sword and then as retribution had his entire hand cut off.
PHOBIAS AND NIGHTMARES
Where does seemingly irrational fear come from? Fear of heights, fear of water, of flying? Many of us have normal reservations about such things, but some people have fears so great that they become debilitating. And some fears are completely baffling -- a fear of carpets, for example. Where do such fears come from? The answer, of course, can be psychologically complex, but researchers think that in some cases there might be a connection to a previous life.
At "Healing Past Lives through Dreams", author J.D. tells of his claustrophobia and a tendency to panic when his arms and legs were confined or restricted in any way. He believes that a dream of a past life uncovered a trauma from a past life that explained this fear. "One night in the dream state I found myself hovering over a disturbing scene," he writes. "It was a town in fifteenth-century Spain, and a frightened man was being hog-tied by a small jeering crowd. He had expressed beliefs contrary to the church. Some local ruffians, with the blessing of the church officials, were eager to administer justice. The men bound the heretic hand and foot, then wrapped him very tightly in a blanket. The crowd carried him to an abandoned stone building, shoved him into a dark corner under the floor, and left him to die. I realized with horror the man was me."
In his book Someone Else's Yesterday, Jeffrey J. Keene theorizes that a person in this life can strongly resemble the person he or she was in a previous life. Keene, an Assistant Fire Chief who lives in Westport, Connecticut, believes he is the reincarnation of John B. Gordon, a Confederate General of the Army of Northern Virginia, who died on January 9 1904. As evidence, he offers photos of himself and the general -- and, indeed, there is a striking resemblance. Beyond physical similarities, Keene says that "they think alike, look alike and even share facial scars. Their lives are so intertwined that they appear to be one."
Another case is that of artist Peter Teekamp, who believes he could be the reincarnation of artist Paul Gauguin. Here, too, there is a physical resemblence and similarities in their work as well.
CHILDREN'S SPONTANEOUS RECALL AND SPECIAL KNOWLEDGE
Many small children who claim to recall past lives express thoughts, describe specific actions and environments, and even know foreign languages -- none of which they could know or have learned from their present experiences. Many cases like this are documented in Carol Bowman's Children's Past Lives:
Eighteen-month-old Elsbeth had never spoken a complete sentence. But one evening, as her mother was bathing her, Elsbeth spoke up and gave her mother a shock. "I'm going to take my vows," she told her mother. Taken aback, she questioned the baby girl about her queer statement. "I'm not Elsbeth now," the child replied. "I'm Rose, but I'm going to be Sister Teresa Gregory." She later described her nun's habit in detail as well as her daily chores at the convent.
When little Tommy was about five years old, a button from his pants had popped off. When his mother didn't sew it back on right away, Tommy found her needle and thread and did the job himself. "[He] sewed that button on so expertly that I couldn't believe it," his mother said. "I had never taught him to sew and he had never even seen me do it." When she asked how he knew how to do that, Tommy relied, "Well, we used to do it on my ship all of the time." He then related details of his previous life as a sailor.
Can past lives be proved by comparing the handwriting of a living person and the deceased person he or she claims to have been? Indian researcher Vikram Raj Singh Chauhan believes so. Chauhan has undertaken a study of this possibility, and his findings have been received favorably at the National Conference of Forensic Scientists at Bundelkhand University, Jhansi.
A six-year-old boy named Taranjit Singh from the village of Alluna Miana, India, claimed since he was two that he had been a person named Satnam Singh. This other boy had lived in the village of Chakkchela, Taranjit insisted, and even knew Satnam's father's name. He had been killed while riding his bike home from school. An investigation verified the many details Taranjit knew of his previous life as Satnam. But the clincher was that their handwriting -- a trait experts know is as distinct as fingerprints -- was virtually identical.
BIRTHMARKS AND BIRTH DEFECTS
Dr. Ian Stevenson, head of the Department of Psychiatric Medicine at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, Charlottesville, Virginia, is one of the foremost researchers and authors on the subject of reincarnation and past lives. In 1993, he wrote a paper entitled "Birthmarks and Birth Defects Corresponding to Wounds on Deceased Persons" as possible physical evidence for past lives. "Among 895 cases of children who claimed to remember a previous life (or were thought by adults to have had a previous life)," Stevenson writes, "birthmarks and/or birth defects attributed to the previous life were reported in 309 (35%) of the subjects. The birthmark or birth defect of the child was said to correspond to a wound (usually fatal) or other mark on the deceased person whose life the child said it remembered."
But could any of these cases be verified?
In one fascinating case, an Indian boy claimed to remember the life of a man named Maha Ram, who was killed with a shotgun fired at close range. This boy had an array of birthmarks in the center of his chest that looked like they could possibly correspond to a shotgun blast. So the story was checked out. Indeed, there was a man named Maha Ram who was killed by a shotgun blast to the chest. An autopsy report recorded the man's chest wounds -- which corresponded directly with the boy's birthmarks.
A man from Thailand claimed that when he was a child he had distinct memories of a past life -- as his own paternal uncle. This man had a large scar-like birthmark on the back of his head. His uncle, it turns out, died from a severe knife wound to that very part of his head.
Is it really possible that the life we are living now, isn't the only one that we have lived?