Reincarnation: The Basics
Updated June 1, 2003
Kelly had always had a fear of heights. This was not your ordinary, garden variety style of acrophobia. Kelly’s fears were much more specific. Flying in airplanes, for example, never bothered her, nor did she have any compunction about a tour of a wire‑enclosed observation deck of the Empire State building. Kelly even lived on the fourth floor of her apartment building, complete with an often used balcony.
On the other hand, Kelly’s balcony was enclosed by a heavy concrete railing. Take away the artificial walls which kept the open space at a distance and which afforded a convenient handhold in “emergencies,” and Kelly would feel more than a queasiness; Kelly would become abnormally worried about falling to her death.
Her phobia had never ruled her life, but it did on occasion provide her with an embarrassing moment or two. There was the time she and her fiancé, Frank, stopped off at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The Black Canyon is a sheer‑walled canyon in the San Juan Mountains of western Colorado, formed (obviously enough) by the Gunnison River. The river has cut nearly-vertical walls of several thousand feet and exposed rock from virtually every geologic time period from the present back to and including pre‑Cambrian strata.
At the first stop along the canyon’s rim, Kelly and Frank hopped out of their car to walk out on a small finger of rock to an observation area neatly provided by the National Park Service. Frank strolled ahead with complete abandon and eager anticipation. Kelly was much more aware to the possible dangers, however remote they might have been.
At first her attitude was merely cautious. Then she found herself reaching for the bare comfort of a low ledge of rock—anything to keep her in touch with good old terra firma. By the time she reached the observation area, she was nearly crawling. Still five feet from the precipice, she sat down on a very solid and hopefully very secure rock. She had begun to sweat profusely.
A small boy, the offspring of another family, arrived at about that moment. Young and eager, he ran down the path to the observation area, while his parents followed along unconcerned. When the youngster leaped up on the rock ledge to look down into the canyon, Kelly very nearly swallowed her heart. She was certain that the boy was about to take his first and only flying lesson. Reaching out toward the boy, Kelly croaked out an unintelligible warning. The youngster never noticed her, but her fiancé of only two months did!
Frank was a nice fellow, but he couldn’t help but laugh at his petrified sweetheart. She did, in fact, look rather absurd as she hung on to her rock. Seeing Frank watching her, Kelly realized how she must look. She quickly became aware of her perspiration, her apparent weakness and her complete inability to talk (much less, laugh it off). She knew she looked to be the prize fool of all time. And in front of Frank! It was blatantly obvious to her rational mind that there was no danger, and yet she was weakened and very nearly ill simply due to the proximity of the canyon’s vertical walls.
Suffice it to say that Frank became very gallant and Kelly became very embarrassed. By the time she was back in the safety of her car, she had made up her mind to do something about her “idiotic phobia.”
Kelly decided not to go to a psychiatrist -- she figured she was not that crazy... at least, not yet. But she had to do something, if only to encourage Frank to stop his occasional “cute” smiles. So she went to a hypnotherapist.
Kelly’s therapist was very understanding. He smiled reassuringly as she described her ordeal. Then using a hypnotic regression technique, he asked Kelly to go back to a time that was important to Kelly’s fear of heights. Immediately, Kelly visualized a stark peak against a background of low‑lying clouds. The peak was only a few hundred feet higher than her own vantage point, but on all sides of the mountain, vertical cliffs fell a thousand feet to a rampaging river below.
In her visualization, Kelly was running down the path atop a ridge that connected her village to the mountain’s peak. In her hypnotic state, she sensed a panic; not for herself, but for someone else. She scrambled furiously up the switchback path leading to the peak’s summit. She began breathing hard from the exertion and running, despite the fact she was accustomed to high altitude breathing.
Finally she reached the top, but only to see her lover, a “prince of her people,” being thrown from the mountain top. Her lover made no sound, as if he were oblivious to the danger. The scream came from Kelly, startling the two behemoths who had so casually thrown a prince to his death. (Her scream startled her therapist as well.) The killers quickly ran to her, grabbed her by either arm, and virtually by reflex, carried her to the ledge. Shocked and horrified at her lover’s death, she forgot her own danger. Then suddenly, she too, was thrown into space and to the river below.
Kelly had visualized “her death.” The therapist was only slightly surprised, while Kelly was stunned. Once out of the hypnosis, she could only exclaim, “What was that!?”
The therapist smiled as he answered her, “You recalled a past life in which you were murdered by being thrown into a vast canyon. It was that memory of your “death” that affected you when you found yourself in a similar environment at the Black Canyon.”
Kelly raised an eyebrow. “Are you serious? That was another life? It’s not some childhood trauma?”
“A childhood trauma was certainly a possibility. But think about it. If a near brush with death when you were a child could traumatize the mind, wouldn’t a terrifying and very real death traumatize it even more, and thus be more lasting in your memories?”
“But death is the end!”
“It is of that life, but the memories and trauma from it, you are carrying today.”
Was he kidding? Aren’t past lives just a figment of the imagination? Aren’t they something from “reincarnation?”
Certainly there are those who would have us believe that “You only go around once in life, so you have to grab all the gusto you can.” For the recipients of such sage advice and who find gusto‑grabbing to be potentially one of the lesser rewards of heaven, there is an alternative. Perhaps instead of a single tenure of one life to live on this earth, each of us has (or will have) many lives. As a result, each and every one of us will have a whole slew of opportunities to reach, grab, or otherwise attempt to acquire the gusto. (Assuming of course, you’re into gusto‑grabbing.)
The most fundamental aspect of reincarnation is the belief that a single soul will be incarnated in more than one body. By definition, reincarnation is the doctrine of the soul incarnating or reappearing after death in another and different bodily form. Furthermore, this rebirth of the soul in another body can occur numerous times (some believe reincarnation can involve hundreds, if not thousands, of different lives).
To the western mind reincarnation is often thought of as a product of certain eastern religions such as Hinduism or Buddhism. While reincarnation may be considered to be an essential part of these religions, it is not necessary to accept any of the other tenets of these religions in order to believe in reincarnation. As a matter of fact, it should be noted that reincarnation has a long and honorable history in Christianity, Judaism and Islam, as well as the eastern religions. These religious connections and implications will be discussed in Chapter II. Suffice it to say for now, any acceptance of reincarnation as a realistic or factual possibility carries with it NO obligation to accept any established religion, cult or spiritual standard. Reincarnation is a theory, which may be considered separately as an independent and alternative way of thinking about life and death.
Deja vu is typically defined in the dictionary as: "The illusion that one has previously had an experience that is actually new to them.'
[One can question why the dictionary used the word, “illusion”, as opposed to “feeling” or “sense”. “Illusion” , of course, implies the feeling cannot be real, whereas “feeling makes no judgement either way.]
In either case, deja vu is the case where typically a person finds himself, for the first time, in a place s/he recognizes. S/he might remember specific streets, landmarks or buildings; but s/he is equally certain that s/he has never been there.
At least, not in this life.
For example, consider a hypothetical American mathematician, wandering around the lesser known parts of Budapest and finding herself familiar with his surroundings. With no previous visits to Budapest, Hungary, or even Europe, with no Hungarian ancestry in her background, and with no previous interests in either Budapest, Hungary or goulash, the woman is amazed to find a particular house with which she feels an immediate and intimate familiarity; a home she senses she grew up in, but one in which she is certain, she has never before seen in this lifetime. How can she explain to her very logical mind, her strange but apparently strong feelings of attachment?
If reincarnation is a reality, then the explanation for the mathematician could be simply that she lived a prior life in Budapest, Hungary. The explanation is simple and to the point.
But if this explanation is insufficiently logical to our arithmetic specialist, she might turn to other possibilities. One alternative answer is precognition, the ability of someone to foresee an event or activity. Unfortunately, precognition, is generally no more acceptable to modern science than reincarnation. Modern psychology, finding neither the idea of reincarnation nor precognition acceptable, has instead coined its own neurological term by which it can explain the phenomenon. This is a clever tactic, inasmuch as naming something always tends to take the mystery out of it. Maybe.
Some psychologists describe the phenomenon of recognizing a place or person without ever previously having seen it as the “Ah ha” problem. These psychologists theorize that the perceived information is traveling through different neurological pathways; an introhemispheric synchronicity, in which the subconscious mind sees something just prior to the conscious mind seeing it. Then when the conscious mind does see it, it is recognized as familiar because it is “remembered” by the subconscious. Unfortunately, from an objective viewpoint, it is arguable that this explanation may actually be more esoteric than the idea of reincarnation.
In another instance a young Nebraskan on her first sailing trip, becomes unaccountably proficient at getting her “sea legs,” hoisting the mainsail, and accomplishing other seafaring tasks, as if she had done this many times before. It becomes even more incredible as she realizes she knows how to do things she has never done before, nor even known of before. Everyone else naturally makes the assumption that she’s been sailing many times and has been less than forthright in describing herself as a rank amateur. But Miss Nebraska knows better, and those abilities she can’t account for as learned in her lifetime, lead her to the feeling of having done all of this before.... Perhaps in another lifetime?
Wooooo! Spooky! So how does one explain it? The dictionary terms the feeling deja vu and then quickly moves on to the next word, “deject.” For the average person, however, merely giving a name to a strong and unsettling feeling is seldom sufficient to alleviate the feeling -- Webster not withstanding. Accordingly, it seems reasonable to consider other explanations.
Reincarnation would suggest that Miss Nebraska had perhaps been a sailor in a past life. The mystery is thus solved. Very simple.
However, for those not willing to admit to reincarnation and having no other ideas to explain Miss Nebraska’s apparent skills and knowledge, these skeptics will often take the position that Miss Nebraska is not what she claims. Again, a rather simple answer, i.e. the lady’s lying.
Skepticism is certainly not to be easily dismissed. Hopefully it can be tempered with an open mind, but the right to question must be retained at all times. Thus it is entirely reasonable to doubt the veracity of both Miss Nebraska and our mathematician. Unfortunately for the detractors of reincarnation, skepticism is less defensible where very young children are involved.
In one case, as a young girl first learned to talk, she began to tell about her life as Fred Thompson, the wife of Mary and the father of three children. Her parents’ reactions were understandably skeptical, until the young girl described her death in a motorcycle accident in such vivid detail that the parents were forced to take her seriously. The fact the girl was also unusually afraid of motorcycles, only strengthened her parents’ interest.
Subsequent investigation allowed the parents and independent researchers to take the young girl to Fred Thompson’s hometown in an effort to verify or dismiss the apparent evidence. The girl was, in fact, able to take them to Fred Thompson’s former home, and there everyone met Fred's mother. Even the very skeptical Mrs. Thompson eventually accepted the young girl’s story and became convinced the three‑year‑old was indeed the reincarnation of her son, who had died in a motorcycle accident.
The cause for skepticism is dealt a heavy blow in this case. The forthrightness of a three‑year‑old girl is simply harder to discredit. While it is, of course, plausible for the parents to have concocted some nefarious scheme in which to prove something (reincarnation or whatever), their motives for doing so are not readily apparent. Even in the event the parents did attempt to perpetrate some form of fraud, it would be difficult to train a three‑year‑old girl to maintain the “act” that she did, in front of trained and skeptical investigators.
Into the Unknown, a book published by Reader’s Digest, notes that:
“There are constants in the field, elements that occur with near universality and suggest to some researchers that the body of reincarnative lore, even without conclusive proof or a good chance of obtaining it, reflects common human experience and thus cannot be ignored. Such recurring features include the extremely early age (two to four years) at which many subjects express their feelings about apparent past lives, the age (five to eight years) at which they tend to stop such communications, and the intensity of memories related to the death of the alleged previous personality.”
It is Fred Thompson’s case and others like it that for many scientists makes the subject of reincarnation fraught with difficulty. One might always explain any of our three cases mentioned above as reincarnation, or simply dismiss them as a lack of memory or honesty on someone’s part. From a scientific point of view, however, the better solution would be to conduct an experiment to determine which answer is more justified.
Unfortunately, the evidence of Miss Nebraska’s seafaring skills, our mathematician’s familiarity with Budapest, or a young girl’s memories of a motorcycle accident fall under the category of irreproducible results, and, for science, evidence or experimental results that cannot be reproduced by others are invariably suspect. For the most part they are simply ignored.
Because deja vu is inherently a one‑time event, proving its reality by scientific means is more than just a challenging task, it is a virtually impossible one.
The inexplicable does not end with deja vu. If we carry memories from a past life, is it not possible to carry a great deal more? Could we carry over skills or knowledge from a previous life, as well?
Consider, for example, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the world famous eighteenth century composer. At the age of four he wrote a piano concerto, a sonata and several minuets. His compositions were anything but simple, but were nevertheless technically accurate. Think about that for a moment....four years old! By the age of seven, he had composed a full length opera. So what has your child been doing lately?
How does one explain Mozart’s genius, particularly at such an early age? Genetics? Do we carry genes that determine how well we can compose or play the piano or violin. Do genes carry the “blueprints” via DNA for a myriad of other talents? Or is there a source of intelligence, skills and knowledge, from which someone like Mozart can tap?
Reincarnation might suggest Mozart in a prior life was a musician and a composer. This type of reasoning would say that Mozart had already accomplished much of the necessary groundwork for his skills and his genius and when he was born Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, he was well primed to begin work at a very early age.
Hey! that was easy! Reincarnation thus explains or offers a theory to justify this musical phenomenon. It may or may not be true, but the theory does have more appeal than to simply dismiss the existence of this child prodigy by merely saying he (or she) had been blessed with innate genius or natural ability. Why, for example, should anyone be “blessed” prior to her or his birth?
Xenoglossy is the term given to the utterance of a language unknown to the speaker.
The term seems somewhat superfluous, if we quite rationally reject the idea of someone conversing in a language s/he doesn’t know. Unfortunately for our rationality, we are now routinely presented with subjects reliving past lives under hypnosis and speaking in foreign languages -- languages of which they have (allegedly) no knowledge in this lifetime. To further emphasize the inexplicable, some of the languages are now so rare that it takes an exhaustive effort just to find someone (scholar or linguist dealing in very rare languages) to interpret.
Joel Whitton and Joe Fisher, in their book, Life Between Life, state that:
“Over the past one hundred years, xenoglossy has been generally considered to suggest the outpouring of subconscious memory. Cases have been examined by eminent parapsychological researchers ranging from William James to Dr. Ian Stevenson. The growing incidence of past‑life therapy since the early 1970s has produced numerous examples of trance subjects holding forth in foreign tongues to which they have not been exposed in the current life. The range of such hypnotic diction is vast and includes modern European languages, ancient Chinese, and even jungle dialects.”
Perhaps we can challenge such claims by pointing out that extant languages can often be learned very quickly with modern techniques. Furthermore, any interpretation of the long dead languages spoken by subjects may be suspect because the experts are often not accustomed to hearing the language. For example, how many people regularly converse in Old Norse, the language of the Vikings and the precursor to modern Icelandic? Come to think of it, how many people regularly converse in modern Icelandic?
Unfortunately for such doubters, we also have examples of xenography, the writing of a language unknown to the “author.” One of Dr. Whitton’s subjects, for example, while reliving a life in seventh century Mesopotamia, was able to put down on paper what amounted to doodles, which upon close examination was interpreted as an authentic representation of the long‑dead language called Sassanid Pahlavi, which was used in Mesopotamia between A.D. 226 and 651 and which bears no relation to modern Iranian languages.
Prejudices and Phobias
What about intuition? Is it, in part, based upon information or beliefs from a former existence? Have you ever met anyone whom you instantly disliked? Reincarnation would suggest that perhaps you had met this soul in a former lifetime and had had experiences with them that were not pleasant. (Like, for example, they ran you through with a sword.) Modern science would probably say you met in this life, and because of the disagreeable nature of the meeting, you blocked it out of your mind. Alternatively, modern science might think that you were just being obnoxious or anti-social.
Clearly prejudices and phobias are often carried throughout one’s life. But could they be carried as well from life to life? And is this perhaps, at least in some cases, a better explanation? For example, does a person with acrophobia have this irrational fear of heights because of having fallen to her death in an earlier lifetime? Does the person suffering from severe claustrophia have a skeleton in the closet from a past life, one who perhaps suffered a traumatic event related to being closed in or buried alive?
Dr. Edith Fiore, a practicing psychologist, has often asked her patients to recall previous events that were causing present symptoms. These recollections under hypnosis have resulted in the removal of many of the symptoms. Dr. Fiore has now become convinced that many problems have their roots in past lives. In her own words:
“I have found past‑life regression consistently helpful, often resulting in immediate remission of chronic symptoms that do not return, even after months and years.
"I now find that almost all patients with chronic weight excess of ten pounds or more have had a lifetime in which they either starved to death or suffered food deprivation for long periods.... Cravings for particular foods have also been traced back to past lives.”
Dr. Fiore has found the causes of phobias, fears and even aversions to be rooted in a traumatic event of a previous life. Fear of the dark, insomnia, headaches, pains, disorders and some forms of physical weakness have been traced back to a past life. “Some recurring nightmares and pleasant dreams are actually flashbacks to experiences in a previous life.”
Reincarnation thus gives the simpler answer. A particular fear or phobia often derives from a traumatic experience and, in some cases, the experience was during a past life. Modern psychology, on the other hand, suggests that a forgotten childhood experience was the ultimate cause of the phobia.
It’s undeniably true that people often suppress traumatic events and simply forget things that have happened in this lifetime. This ability of the brain to prevent the recall of such unpleasantness, is actually a basic part of one’s survival instinct. Unfortunately, not all phobias ever find a cause in this life despite a massive amount of psychological counseling and searching. Perhaps more importantly, there are some recollections or prejudices that do not carry with them the strong motivation to forget, or in other words, there is no attached trauma.
For example, have you ever enjoyed the warmth and comfort of a fireplace? If you’re a typical American, you will probably have sought out the opportunity to relax with a roaring fire either in a fireplace or on a recreational outing. Have you ever wondered why?
That may sound silly. But if one objectively considers the advantages and disadvantages of a fireplace, one is inevitably led to the realization that there are few if any advantages. In other words, there are no reasons for our emotional attachment to fireplaces! As a system for warmth or heating, it cannot compare with modern heating methods. Fireplaces cause pollution, ignite occasional fires in the wrong places, and generally create a mess from ashes, wayward embers, wood leavings and the like. So what’s the appeal? Why do people not only enjoy fireplaces, but relish them to the point of paying a considerable amount of money and putting up with a great deal of inconvenience in order to have them?
If reincarnation is a reality, then it is quite reasonable to assume that in previous lives we have enjoyed the warmth and light of a fireplace—not to mention the relative safety from animal predators. In fact, this enjoyment might be more likened to a question of dire need and/or survival. In prior lives the roaring fire may have been one of the most important aspects of surviving in a cold world. Is it any wonder that such memories might make the presence of a roaring fire more than just a case of nostalgia or weird behavior?
Reincarnation, therefore, explains a great deal concerning our mental and emotional ties to the realities of our current lives. There may be alternative explanations to these diverse events and feelings, and in some cases these alternatives to reincarnation may make more sense. But equally true is the fact that many occurrences and emotional responses are not easily explained without recourse to reincarnation.
Effects of Past‑Life Regressions
In addition to countless case studies of various people knowing things not learned in this lifetime, many others have discovered past lives under hypnosis. In many cases these discoveries have been totally unexpected.
Consider, for example, the case of Ernie Meadows. Ernie had an unaccountable fear of heights, as well as a strong but equally irrational fear of rainstorms. His phobias were strong enough to justify psychological counseling. The therapist assumed the possibility of an early childhood, traumatic experience that could account for these problems and attempted to regress Ernie to his early years in an effort to uncover the source of the problem. Such regressions are common and are typically done with the use of hypnosis.
One aspect of a person under hypnosis is that the subject tends to take anything the therapist says in a very literal fashion. If, for example, a therapist instructed the subject to: “Call me Friday” the subject might well turn to the therapist and say, “You’re Friday.” If a subject was regressed to the time when he was ten years old, and then told to go further back to an important rainy day, that subject might go much further back.
As it turned out, this was Ernie’s case, and the therapist suddenly found Ernie talking as if he were someone else, living in the past century and involved in repairing a cathedral in France. It was a windy and rainy day, and it was necessary for Ernie to leave the safety of the cathedral and venture out on its wet and slippery roof in order to make an emergency repair. Not only did Ernie remember the events, but over the course of several therapy sessions, Ernie literally relived the moments when he slipped on the wet roof and fell to his death.
The noteworthy factor of this case was that the experiencing of the fatal incident under hypnosis was sufficiently real in Ernie’s mind that, thereafter, his fear of heights and rainstorms virtually disappeared. In effect the therapist had regressed Ernie in psychological counseling’s normal fashion to relive a traumatic event in order to alleviate a current fear. The therapy worked. But in the process, the therapist was confronted with Ernie having lived a prior life, instead of the expected childhood trauma.
Kelly’s case, with which we began this chapter, had similar results. After several sessions with her hypnotherapist, Kelly’s fear of heights slowly disappeared. To make this fact clear, she took Frank back to the Black Canyon, strode boldly up to that same observation spot and, standing with one foot on the rock ledge, serenely looked out over the magnificent view. She looked much like a victorious mountain climber. Frank, needless to say, was thoroughly impressed. And maybe even a little convinced.
Does this prove reincarnation? No. Kelly may have had a much more traumatic event in her childhood and her mind subconsciously fabricated the prior life in order to avoid reliving the childhood trauma. It’s hard to imagine how the childhood experience could have been more traumatic than dying in a sudden and homicidal fall, but one should never sell the mind short of its ability to protect itself.
On the other hand, the past lives Kelly and Ernie remembered, may very well have been true. This possibility is given credence by the fact that literally thousands of other people have been regressed to past lives (sometimes inadvertently and sometimes intentionally), and in the process of reliving experiences from the past, have come to grips with today’s previously unresolved problems, phobias, and prejudices. Such cases have been recorded by numerous therapists who find reincarnation a bitter pill to swallow, but who continue to utilize the method of past‑life regression simply because it cures the patient. In their view, the reality of past lives may be in question, but the therapeutic method is not.
Dr. Ian Stevenson of the University of Virginia, in his book, Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation, has found numerous cases of death in a previous life by violent means. According to Dr. Stevenson, such cases may lead to a desire for revenge within the same society and place where the previous life had been lived. Dr. Stevenson has also noted that genetics alone cannot explain some specifically located birthmarks, but that reincarnation, might. As many as 200 birthmarks found on subjects’ bodies have been examined by Doctor Stevenson, who has suggested that these birthmarks are where fatal wounds had been inflicted in the previous life to which the subjects seem to remember.
There are many traumas which might result in psychological problems after the fact, but clearly, violent death would be high on the list of major and/or intense ones.
From a scientific point of view, past‑life regressions seem to offer a potential test of reincarnation. If it is possible to regress someone to a past life, would it not be possible for that person to provide information on that past life, which could then be verified by other means? Furthermore, if the person regressed did not have access in this life to the evidence that was used to verify the information gained from the past life regression, couldn’t this be used as proof!?
This method of “proving reincarnation” has been the subject of numerous books, scholarly papers, discussions, and debates. If one is to believe the proponents on either side of the question, the answer has been conclusively concluded innumerable times. Particular case histories have been exhaustively examined from both points of view and, inevitably, opposite results have been obtained. Proponents have searched for conclusive cases which are beyond reasonable doubt, and opponents have continued to try to pick apart those cases with meticulous glee.
One such contrary view is that of Jonathan Venn, who in his article, “Hypnosis and the Reincarnation Hypothesis: A Critical Review and Intensive Case Study”, challenged the reincarnation idea. His objections to the large number of published case reports were that few had been exhaustively researched, few were based on extensive hypnotic interviews, and that few authors had reported negative as well as positive findings. Instead, Dr. Venn conducted 60 hypnotic interviews with a single subject, and concluded that modern psychological arguments were entirely sufficient for the particular case under review. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending upon your point of view), his negative finding in one case does not contradict reincarnation as a reasonable explanation in other cases.
Considering the amount of data and information recounted by persons undergoing hypnotic regressions, it would appear that the sheer volume of data would strongly support reincarnation. At the same time, there does not appear to exist in any past life documentation, conclusive evidence which cannot often be accounted for by some form of deceit or tricks of the mind, which are as yet not fully understood. Dr. Stevenson, after examining over 1,600 claims of past lives, has concluded that conclusive evidence for or against the theory of reincarnation will never be obtained. In his view, all cases have some flaws in them, but that the improving quality of the cumulative amount of evidence would certainly suggest reincarnation as a viable theory.
Interestingly enough, the entire method of proving reincarnation with the use of past life regression may be seriously flawed. If we assume the case where a person undergoing a past life regression divulges information that no one could possibly have known before, does this prove reincarnation? Of course not. Reincarnation may turn out to be the simplest explanation, but it will almost certainly not be the only possible one. There is no assurance, for example, that a person describing in detail a past life on earth, is in fact the reincarnation of that past life; the person may not be remembering, but rather obtaining the life information from another source -- albeit the method of obtaining information from this other source may be, in and of itself, rather exotic. More on this later.
Similarly, if a case is demonstrated to be outright fraud, such a negative will have no effect in disproving reincarnation. That case will simply be written off and all the other cases will have to be considered on each case’s individual merits. Thus, the reality or fantasy of past‑life “memories” will not prove reincarnation one way or the other.
Populations, Past and Present
It has been noted by some opponents of reincarnation that whenever someone is regressed (hypnotically or otherwise) in an attempt to discover if they have any past lives, they invariably do. In fact virtually all of these people have a multitude of past lives. Is this perhaps a flaw in the theory? Are there enough past lives in our history to account for all the memories in current lives? In other words, are there enough former lives to go around?
Estimates of the number of former persons in recorded history places the number at 113 billion ± a billion. According to the Atlantic (April 1987 issue), the breakdown is approximately.
Given that there are some five billion souls currently on the planet (as of 1986), and allowing for a turnover time in the most recently departed, we might come to the conclusion that, on average, the players on the stage now could each have had 23 prior lives. This would appear sufficient for most souls. However, 10 of these lives would have been lived prior to 6000 BC, leaving only about 13 lives each during recorded history. Since 1650 AD, we would appear to have only 4 or 5 past lives available for every person now living on the planet. Is this enough?
Perhaps. But it is important to realize the numbers quoted above are based on a simple mathematical formula and do not adequately account for worldwide catastrophes (such as the Black Plague of the middle ages). More importantly, they do not account at all for the possibility of past lives in Atlantis, Lemuria, Lyonnesse, Atland and other lost, vanished, or possibly mythical lands. If these lands existed , then the population figures quoted above may require being revised upward. But not by much—probably not more than an extra billion or two of past lives.
There is, however, one important statistic that does not require a belief in ancient, fabled lands. Dr. Helen Wambach, in conducting 1,088 past life regressions (into well‑established historical periods) has discovered that the described past lives accurately reflect current estimates of components of the world’s population. Men and women, for example, were equally represented even when there were unequal numbers of male and female subjects being regressed. Socioeconomic data also corresponded to actual populations. Here, only 10 percent of past lives described were from the upper‑class, whereas 60 to 77 percent (depending upon the century being described) were of lower‑class peoples, and in large numbers, farmers. Descriptions of the middle‑class varied, increasing as the centuries passed and the world as a whole became more prosperous.
The number of Dr. Wambach’s past life reports in specific time periods also reflected the gradual growth of the world’s population. The growth of the world’s population included only about 300 million from the time of Christ to the year 1000 AD. Thereafter the population varied considerably up and down, until 1750 when the population reached about 800 million. By 1800, the population had reached the one billion mark. Since that time the world’s population has increased dramatically:
It is particularly noteworthy that Dr. Wambach’s past life reports reflected this growth. In her study, past lives in the sixteenth century were twice as numerous as those in the first century, past lives in the 1800s were double those in the 1500s and those in the twentieth century were four times as numerous as in the nineteenth century. Such numbers accurately reflect the growth of the world’s population over these centuries.
If Dr. Wambach’s numbers are accurate, this correlation between population growth and recalled past lives could be very important. Combined with the socioeconomic statistics, this evidence is very compelling. We would indeed have to bury our heads in the sand to dismiss these statistics by assuming that the subjects were merely imagining the alleged past lives.
Burden of Proof
Some have argued that since reincarnation cannot be proved, it therefore should not be considered as a viable theory. Such a view is also flawed,as there is no reason, a priori, to assume a single life is more likely than multiple lives. To quote Voltaire: “It is no more surprising to be born twice than to be born once.” If we consider the number of the world’s people who accept without question the concept of reincarnation, it would appear that the burden of proof should be placed on those people who insist that only a single life is available to us all. That proof is likely to be far more difficult.
In our discussions above, reincarnation has often been the simpler explanation for various phenomena. The simplicity of the explanation may not appear to carry much weight, but in the history of science the vastly complicated theories have usually been wrong. The Ptolemaic system of cycles and epicycles is a good example of a complicated system being supplanted by the comparatively simple relationship which describes Issac Newton’s gravitational theory. Consequently the simple explanation has some appeal. Whether or not it is the correct explanation is still up for grabs.
Pros and Cons
Carl Jung, the Swiss psychotherapist and co‑founder with Sigmund Freud of 20th century psychiatry has noted the real problems of our time tend to be that doctrinarism and rationalism pretend to have all the answers, when in truth, our present, limited view is only approximate.
All too often, opponents of reincarnation have retreated behind the shield of doctrinarism to justify their positions, while proponents of reincarnation have seldom critically reviewed much of the alleged documentation on the subject. There is, for example, a noteworthy and strong tendency for the proponents of reincarnation to lovingly accept whatever comes down the pike and to avoid asking possibly embarrassing or discourteous questions of fact and credibility. This laissez faire attitude probably derives from the fact that these same proponents have seen so many incredible things they believe to be true, that nothing seems beyond imagination or credibility. Such an attitude can be thought of as the opposite of doctrinarism: gullibility. Neither position is all that defensible.
We might, however, close this chapter with an observation from Dr. Werhner Von Braun, one of Germany’s (and following the war, one of the United States’) greatest rocket and space scientists. Dr. Von Braun has noted that nothing simply disappears, rather it is transformed. And that if this is true of nature, then it makes sense that it would also apply to the human soul. In this manner, Dr. Von Braun has reached the conclusion that our spiritual existence continues even after death.
Chapter Two: The True Believers
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