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It is not generally known to the average westerner that reincarnation has a good deal of hard evidence to support it, and that the evidence is frequently more impressive than many people are aware. It's equally true that there are serious problems with much of the evidence as well, which is why it has proven so difficult to prove reincarnation to the satisfaction of the secular community. As such, it is important we consider each idea carefully before making up our mind, for it would be as big a mistake to blindly embrace reincarnation without carefully examining the arguments against it as it would be to presumptuously ignore the evidence and declare it all utter nonsense.
As always, I will try to be as objective in presenting this material as possible and leave it to the reader to determine if my efforts at providing a balanced treatment of the pros and cons around this subject are successful. The material contained here is taken from my book Mystery of Reincarnation (Llewellyn International, May, 2005) and is copyrighted. I value your input to this complex issue and welcome all correspondence. Just click on the e-mail me button at the top of the page to send me your thoughts and questions. I promise to do my best to return all honest queries and respond to any constructive criticism.
Past Life Memories in Children
Perhaps the strongest and best documented evidence in support of reincarnation comes from the work of Dr. Ian Stevenson, a Virginia psychiatrist of impeccable credentials, who began studying cases of conscious past life memories in children in the late fifties. Since then, Dr. Stevenson has collected almost 3,000 cases of childrenmost of them between four and ten years of agewho were allegedly able to recall having lived past lives, complete with names, dates and even the villages in which they believe they previously lived. Many were able to instantly identify members of their 'former' family and were even often able to recount 'pet names' and intricate details of their previous lives with uncanny accuracy. Additionally, many of the children Stevenson studied could even recount how they had died in their previous life, providing details of their death with a degree of certainty and knowledge inexplicable for a child.
What's most impressive about these memories is that these children had not been hypnotized or 'regressed' into remembering previous lives, but had exhibited conscious memories of past lives spontaneously from a very early age. In fact, Dr. Stevenson specifically made it a point to ignore past life memories acquired through hypnosis precisely because he considered them unreliable and fantasy prone. While children are, of course, capable of fantasizing as well, what impressed Dr. Stevenson was the wealth of personal and often intimate details the children were able to recountdetails he thought it unlikely a child would be either likely to imagine or learn from an adult. Children were simply not capable of retaining anything like the vast amount of information his subjects frequently providedeven after lengthy coachingnor were their stories consistent with the type of imaginary stories children are famous for.
Even more impressive than the sheer quantity of detail the children could provide was the fact that much of it proved to be verifiable. Names often (though not always) proved to be accurate and, in most cases, turned out to be those of complete strangers who had died just prior to the child's birth. They correctly recalled former spouses, siblings, parents and even children they had parented in their previous incarnation, and were able to describe the home they had lived in with remarkable accuracy though they had never been within fifty miles of the spot during their present life. In a few cases, the children identified so strongly with their past life that they insisted on being called by their former name and even felt alienated from their present family, preferring (and, in some instances, becoming clearly upset when not permitted) to spend more time with their 'previous' family. While these memories and inclinations tended to fade after a few years and disappear almost completely by adolescence, they remain among the best evidence for reincarnation to date.
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One of the more interesting and, potentially, solid evidences suggestive of reincarnation, also came from Dr. Stevenson's research. During the course of his travels he noticed that occasionally some of the children he investigated revealed marks on their bodies that precisely corresponded with the fatal wounds they claim their previous personality had suffered at the time of their death. For instance, one of Dr. Stevenson's subjects, an eleven year old Turkish boy, recounted having been accidentally shot in the head with a shotgun by a neighbor in a previous incarnation. Remarkably, the boy was born with a badly deformed right ear that closely mimicked the wounds the deceased man had received, a fact later confirmed by medical records and photographs Dr. Stevenson was able to obtain from local authorities during his investigation (Click here to see this photo with description). And this was by no means an unusual case; Dr. Stevenson recounted scores of similar cases, some in which toes and fingersand in a few cases, even entire limbsthat had been lost in a previous incarnation were missing in the current incarnation, as well as even more startling instances in which there were multiple birthmarks that closely resembled the precise wounds received by the past life subject. In one case, he even found matching entrance and exit wounds in a subject that closely corresponded to those of the previous personality who had died from a gunshot wound to the head. Of course, the chances of such perfectly matching marks occurring naturally even once are astronomical, and Dr. Stevenson had a number of such cases on record.
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In the late 1960's psychologist, Dr. Helen Wambach (1932-1985) began a series of experiments that dealt with the demographic consistency of past-life memories. Intrigued by several personal experiences she had encountered in dealing with patients who had described previous lives while under hypnosis and curious to know if there was more to it than simple imagination, this gave her the idea that it might be interesting to compare such information with anthropological, sociological, and archeological studies made of the cultures they mentioned to see if there were any demographic consistency in their recounted memories. For instance, if gender and social class ratios proved to be inconsistent with what anthropologists and sociologists had already estimated them to have been, that would demonstrate her subjects were either making up stories or inadvertently fantasizing. If, on the other hand, there proved to be a correlation with the known demographic data, that would bring significant weight to the idea that human beings continue to live on through the mechanism of multiple rebirths, for the only other possibilitythat literally thousands of subjects had innocently and spontaneously manufactured demographically accurate past life memories from their imaginationwas statistically and logically untenable.
With this goal in mind, she began regressing volunteers into remembering past lives and then carefully recording the specifics from each experience. Interviewing just over 1,000 subjects over a ten year period, she asked each person about their gender, race, economic status and other often mundane specifics of their daily past lives as they recalled them in 500 B.C, the 1st century A.D., 500 A.D. and 1500 A.D. What Dr. Wambach's data found was that the information she obtained proved to be remarkably consistent with what demographers know of the ancient past. For instance, as the majority of Dr. Wambach's subjects were women (by about a 3-to-1 ratio) and working from the premise that most people would be unlikely to imagine themselves to have been a member of the opposite sex, there should have been a disproportionately higher number of individuals remembering themselves to have been females rather than males in a past life. Instead, she was surprised to find a large number of women remembering past lives as a man (along with a smaller number of men remembering past lives as women) that when tallied resulted in a biologically accurate 50/50 ratio of men to women throughout every time period recorded. If these 'memories' were based upon pure imagination, such a consistent male/female ratio should be impossible to achieve, suggesting a high number of authentic past life memories existed within her sampling.
Additionally, social classes proved to be not only remarkably consistent, but also in line with demographic studies. Dr. Wambach had her subjects recount whether they were poor, middle class, or upper class in a previous life, presuming that a disproportionate number of subjects would opt for more interesting or affluent lives, which would strongly suggest the 'memories' were manufactured. To her surprise, however, most subjects recalled having lived rather ordinary and even drab lives, often in desperate poverty. In fact, fewer than 10 percent of her subjects recalled living an upper class lifestyle, and about a quarter to a third recalled being artisans or merchants (middle class) in a previous incarnation, which corresponded very closely to sociological studies from the various periods in history she covered. Her data, then, on top of demonstrating an inexplicable consistency when compared to accepted scientific expectations, also destroyed the commonly held notion that most people recall living past lives as famous or wealthy people (the Napoleon syndrome.)
Other details proved to be accurate as well. Subjects frequently described architecture, clothing styles and even the coinage in use that was consistent with what archeologists know of the past. Even mundane details such as types of footwear used, eating utensils, primary diet and the methods used to cook their fooddetails a would-be hoaxer would be unlikely to considerwere also consistent with the known historical record. Additionally, racial distribution and ratios proved to be correct as well, demonstrating again that either one of the most wide-spread and carefully maintained hoaxes was afoot, or that just maybe people really do live more than one life. No other explanation seemed plausible.
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Past Life Memories
A fourth type of evidence for reincarnation and the best knownand controversialare those memories of a past life acquired through hypnotism that produce verifiable details. Subjects are able to sometimes recall extremely specific and precise personal details of their past lives such as full names, place of residence, occupations, names of spouses and family members, and other pertinent details of an alleged past life (sometimes even to the precise street and address at which they previously resided.) Unfortunately, while most of these cases prove to be imbued with enough detail to make them plausible as past life memories, none has proven to be irrefutable proof of reincarnation. There are always a few erroneous details thrown in among the verifiable facts to cast doubt on their authenticity, and so while they remain good evidence for reincarnation, they must always remain just outside of the veil of provability.
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(Inexplicable Use of a Foreign Language)
One of the more interestingand uncommonevidences for reincarnation remains those handful of well documented cases in which people reliving a past-life suddenly begin speaking in a language (usually only while under hypnosis) they do not know. Sometimes it can be as simple as a few foreign words or phrases or, in a some instances, as complex as an entire, fluent conversation being carried out in a language the subject is not even aware exists. In some of the most credible and compelling cases of xenoglossia recorded, the subject may not only speak in a foreign language, but may even use an archaic version of it that has not been in regular usage for centuries, making it extremely unlikely to be a fantasy, a hoax, or a case of cryptomnesia (forgotten memories.) As such, a good case of xenoglossia remains one of the more compelling evidences for reincarnation, but as they are so rare they have not generated enough hard data to allow researchers to come to any conclusions.
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Another phenomena which might be pointed to as possible evidence of reincarnation is that of savants and child prodigies, those rare individuals who possess some remarkable gift or ability far beyond what is either natural or explainable.
Savants differ from prodigies in that they are individuals born with severe physical impediments (such as blindness) and/or extreme mental retardation, but who still possess some unique and often astonishing talent that utterly defies logic. For instance, a severely retarded man who, for all practical purposes, lives a life that approximates that of a seven year old, may possess the ability to perfectly replicate any piece of piano music after hearing it played only once, an ability well beyond not only hisbut most people'scapacity to even learn. Such cases are frequently explained away as prenatal brain damage being overcompensated by the undamaged parts of the brain, resulting in a sometimes greatly enhanced ability to perform some unique and frequently astonishing skill. This may well be the case too, since such skills that savants possess are rareif not nonexistentin the 'natural' world, making it difficult to see how they might be evidence of a past life talent resurfacing in a present incarnation. As such, savants do not, in my opinion, appear to present a very strong case for reincarnation.
A prodigy, however, is a different story. A prodigy differs from a savant in the respect that from all outward appearances they appear as very normal children who just happen to have a seemingly inherent ability to learn a particular skill at a greatly accelerated pace. Good examples of prodigies include the German composer Mozart, who was able to compose simple arrangements of music at the age of four and compose entire symphonies by adolescence, and the 17th century mathematician Blaise Pascal, who managed to outline a new geometric system by the age of 11. (NOTE: I've recently come across a perfect modern example of this phenomenon in a British child named Kieron Williamson, who started painting watercolors at the age of six that experts agree are far too advanced and sophisticated to have been done by a child. Evidence of a past life experience as a professional watercolorists or mere chance? Check out samples of his work at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1203226/Pictured-Incredible-watercolour-paintings-boy-aged-just-SIX.html and decide for yourself.)
Unlike the savant, however, the prodigy isn't born with the ability to write music or understand the complexities of geometry; they must still learn it the same way everyone else does. The difference is the speed at which they learn and their capacity to grasp the material so easily. Many have demonstrated an ability to digest years of material in a matter of months and master a particular discipline years ahead of their peers. While modern science attributes these rare gifts to simple brain chemistry, which is fine as far as it goes, it fails to ask the question of why their brains are wired differently than other peoples or, precisely, in which way they are differently wired. Is it some genetic mutation or a one-in-a-million mix of DNA (and if so, why does it not seem to similarly effect their normal siblings?) Or could it be that these special people possess their remarkable ability because they have done it all before? In effect, could the child who shows a special gift for geometry have been a mathematics professor in a previous life? Was Mozart able to accomplish his amazing feats of music because, precisely as he claimed, he had been a musician many times before?
Is it possible that a lifetime of learning can somehow survive death and manifest itself in the next incarnation? While far from conclusive, it is an intriguing idea.
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Have you ever had the strange feeling that you're repeating an experience you're certain you've never had before, or entered a building that seems strangely familiar to you, though you know for a fact you've never been there before? If so, you have experienced what is referred to as déjà vuthe phenomenon of repeating an event or having inexplicable knowledge of a place you've never previously visited.
To some people, such experiences are considered evidence of a past lifean 'echo' or ill-defined memory that has somehow survived the rebirthing process to be inadvertently 'triggered' by some event in the present. It can be as simple as a subtle sense that you've had a particular conversation or experience before or as extraordinary as knowing the precise layout of a building or even an entire town that one has never visited before.
Science insists such experiences are simply a coincidental similarity between a present and a similar but forgotten past experience. For example, one may feel a special familiarity with a house they have never visited before not because they lived there in a previous life, but because they have at one time or another visited a similar home that unconsciously reminds them of this one. And how many of us have not from time to time had a conversation that we've long since forgotten that is inadvertently repeated in the present? Memory is a tricky affair that is capable of playing all kinds of pranks on the mind.
However, this possible solution does little to explain the sheer amount of detail that is sometimes recalled in the best cases of déjà vu. Even a similarity of places or events cannot explain, for instance, how a person can correctly name and describe the maze of streets that lie just ahead in a small village they are visiting for the first time, nor does it seem to comfortably account for how a person can recall the precise layout of a home they had never visited before with unerring exactitude. A similarity with places or things experienced in the past can go only so far; at some point the odds against correctly guessing the street layout of a city or the location of various rooms within a sprawling mansion becomes astronomical. Reincarnation, in such cases, must be considered at least a plausible possibility.
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While most dreams are triggered by events in our present life and seem to be the subconscious's way of processing important information we might not be aware of in our conscious world, once in awhile an individual may have a dream that seems unique and strangely different or 'out of place.' They may dream they are living in the distant past, interacting with people they do not know and generally dealing with some obscure situation they are thoroughly unfamiliar with. Such dreams, in being so completely detached from the subject's present or 'normal' world and largely inexplicable, are sometimes pointed to as echoes or memories of a past life manifesting themselves in the present.
While an intriguing idea and one not at all inconsistent with what one might expect were reincarnation true, dreams probably constitute some of the weakest evidence in support of reincarnation. They are usually too vague and lack verifiable specifics to be of any empirical value, and so do not constitute good evidence for reincarnation. Occasionally, however, a few dreams are sufficiently specific and detailed enough that the images in them can be verified, though such cases are exceedingly rare and problematic.
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Most people are aware of the often vast differences in personality evident among even the closest siblings. But what is it that determines our personalities? Why are some of us naturally more patient than others, or why do some of us enjoy reading while others would never consider cracking a book? Further, why are some of us drawn to museums and art galleries while others are drawn with equal passion to shopping malls and sporting events?
Behaviorists tell us this is all due in part to genetics, in part to the environment each child grows up in, and in part to the result of the personal experiences each child has had that, while perhaps very similar to each sibling, are still uniquely their own. In other words, even though siblings may live in very similar environments, they have different experiences that shape their individual personalities in distinct, one-of-a-kind ways. Then, as they mature into adulthood, these individual traits become set and a fully formed but unique adult personality is the result. And yet, why does it appear that children often emerge from the womb with very different and distinct characteristicscharacteristics which emerge long before the child is old enough to experience anything that could conceivably shape their personality? Additionally, many child psychologists claim that a child's basic personality is often 'set' by the age of four but, if so, how exactly are later experiences 'molding' the future personality?
So how do we explain personality then? Do we explain it in terms of chemical reactions in the brain, environmental factors, or even genetic proclivities? Or, as some reincarnationists believe, could our basic personality be set even before we are born? Are we, in fact, simply a reflection of our soul's own basic personality, reflecting its attributes and characteristics through each new incarnation?
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Interests, and Obsessions
In the same vein, then, could our hobbies and interests also be an 'echo' from a previous incarnation? For example, if one was an artist in a past life, might they not be drawn towards expressing themselves through drawing and painting in this life as well? Is a Civil War buff simply pursuing a new interest or is he in some ways still clinging to a past incarnation in which he was a participant in that war? Even if we have no conscious memory of that past persona, might not our present personality and hobbies be a modern reflection of that individual's experiences and interests?
Reincarnation, while not the only possible answer, must at least be considered, especially in those cases where one develops a hobby or interest that seems quite out of the ordinary. Is a boy growing up in land-locked Iowa, for example, who develops a fascination for eighteenth century schooners despite having no nautical background, responding to some unknown stimulus, or could it be a response to a past life lived as a crewman on an eighteenth century schooner that has remained deeply imbedded within him? It's unknown how much of our past we might retain into our present, albeit in the most subtle and subconscious ways, but it's entirely possible that our past may be far more tied into our present (and, by extension, our future) than we can begin to imagine.
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Phobiasthose unusual and often overwhelming fears of things that do not constitute a genuine danger to usis a common phenomenon almost everyone has experienced at one time or another. How one acquires a phobia is a well understood process; they are the result of some trauma or event from one's past (often childhood) that manifests itself in later life as a phobia. But what of those phobias that seem to develop without an accompanying trauma? For example, a therapist may find that a man who complains of an irrational fear of water has never experienced a near drowning (and may, in fact, never have been near water in his life) but has been terrified of drowning for as long as he can remember. Past life regression therapists, however, frequently discover that while a person may not recall almost drowning in his present life, they frequently do recall drowning in a previous onean event which terrified him to such a degree that they've managed to bring that trauma into their current incarnation. Once so identified, in many cases recovery can be surprisingly quick and complete, allowing the patient to return to a normal life far faster than might have been the case with more conventional therapies. Even the medical community agrees that such therapies are an effective means of dealing with severe, unexplained phobias, though they generally dismiss reincarnation as a viable explanation. However, whether reincarnation exists or not, the very belief that it does seems to have curative powers, which is a remarkable admission in any event.
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and Transgender Tendencies
Until fairly recently it was assumed that homosexual behavior was a freely chosen lifestyle choice that could be resisted with sufficient willpower, but evidence has subsequently shown just the opposite to be true. According to recent studies, approximately 2-3% of the population develop or realize an almost exclusively homosexual orientation from adolescence, while other studies further suggest that the proclivity towards same sex attraction may also have a genetic link. Yet what would cause such a proclivity, especially considering the negative consequences such a life-style 'choice' has traditionally incurred in some societies? Is it a question of environment and upbringing, or is it entirely a matter of biology?
Or could there be another factor involved? What if the underlying cause of homosexuality is neither environmental nor genetic, but is instead the result of a previous opposite sex incarnation? Since regression therapy frequently encounter cases of men remembering having been a woman in their immediate past lifeand woman of having been mencould cross-gender reincarnation have a more profound impact than might seem immediately evident? In essence, are homosexuals (and bisexuals and transgender individuals in general) 'trapped' in some ways in the 'wrong' body, as some have actually complained?
Perhaps in so closely identifying with their previous gender, they find it difficult to adjust to their 'new' gender and so retain many of the characteristics they possessed in their last incarnation. As such, a man may be attracted to other men because on some level he still retains feminine proclivities from his past life (despite the degree of masculinity he may possess in other areas of his present life). While far from irrefutable evidence for reincarnation, does it not answer a few questions rather nicely?
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