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OBJECTIONS to REINCARNATION Q&A PAGE
There are many objections to reincarnation that are often raised by skeptics, which is as it should be. Some are fairly superficial, but some are excellent points of contention that need to be honestly answered. As such, I'm including this section to give the reader a fair opportunity to consider the objections and difficulties reincarnation raises. Hopefully you will find this helpful in making up your mind for yourself whether reincarnation seems a viable post-mortem possibility, or whether it remains nothing more than just a curious but baseless idea.
to reincarnation generally fall into two basic categories: rational/scientific
and religious/ethical. Objections based purely and solidly in empirical evidence
and rationalism appeal to the intellect, and are generally directed towards
an audience that is largely secular (or even atheistic) in orientation. Those
based on religious/ethical objections, in contrast, appeal to those who may
accept the idea of the supernatural but find reincarnation to be a threator,
at very least, a challengeto their own beliefs.
Within which category one finds their most compelling arguments is largely a matter of one's world view. Of course, someone who approaches the question from a decidedly secular/rationalist perspective may also be attracted to some of the ethical arguments against it, while others who find reincarnation to be in conflict with their tightly held religious beliefs may also appeal to reason and scientific objections to bolster their case; yet even then they will generally still remain loyal to one perspective over the other.
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.)
it fairly easy to hoax a past life memory?
Probably the first thought that crosses most people's minds then when a good case of apparent past life recall appears is that the subject is simply making the whole thing up and, considering the cunning with which some people operate, the value of a good joke, and the access to information we have available to us today, such a possibility must always be carefully considered. It is not difficult to imagine a person searching the internet and libraries in an effort to create a plausible past life memory. A Civil War buff, for instance, could fairly easily obtain enough information from that time to recreate a very convincing past life persona. Their knowledge of the era, if extensive enough, would provide them with plenty of authenticating details to 'flesh out' their performance, while a careful perusing of historical records would permit them to weave together a verifiable and plausible trail for a researcher to follow.
That there are individuals who are perfectly capable and perhaps even willing to pull this off is without a doubt true, though it remains to be seen how doing so would be particularly beneficial. Of course, there are those for whom the mere success of their prank would be reward enough, but if financial gain or fame were the motives, it is a risky path towards either. Past life accounts, after all, are not uncommon and even the best of them rarely get a person noticed on a national level. Unless one was to write a best-selling book or get a Hollywood studio to make a movie from their story, the chances of realizing significant financial gain off the fable would be minimal. Additionally, if the story did manage to reach a national audience, the scrutiny that would be suddenly directed upon the hoax (and the hoaxer) would be intense and most likely be found out. How this might impact the hoaxer legally, professionally, or financially would remain to be seen but, at the very minimum, the potential damage to a person's reputation could well be extensive and irreparable.
Aside from the would-be hoaxers motives and risks of being exposed as a fraud is the ability of the hoaxer to fool those who deal with past-life regression on a daily basis to consider. Any competent regression therapist should be able to differentiate a fabricated past life memory from an authentic one, regardless of the amount of detail the subject may provide. Genuine past-life memories differ from fantasies and hoaxes in that the subject usually exhibits a distinct change in personality, with often marked differences in temperament, intellectual capacity, world view, and even emotion. In some of the strongest regression cases, the subject not only is capable of relating details of a past life, but often expresses the very emotions they felt at the time. Such vivid memories are frequently unsettling (even to the therapist) and would be difficult to mimic convincingly by anyone but a professional actor. Additionally, authentic past life memories often contain more subtle and intimate details than one could reasonably cull from written materials and records. Pet names, geographic sites that have since been renamed, archaic or obsolete language no longer in contemporary use, and other seemingly 'minor' details are common-and are the kind of details a hoaxer would be hard pressed to duplicate. And, finally, authentic past life memories lack the sheer volume of 'data' a hoaxer would reveal; subjects, for instance, frequently cannot recall entire segments of their past life though they may be able to recall some elements with remarkable clarity (much the same way most people's memories work in real life.) Additionally, the memories are not given in any particular order, may be disjointed or incomplete, and often contain superfluous, redundant and even mundane information. Hoaxers, in contrast, usually recount information in a more orderly fashion common to what one would expect from someone reciting information and details from rote memory; dates and places may be correct, for example, but lack the kind of subtle details that give them authenticity. Their carefully studied and rehearsed 'memories' may be too complete to be plausible; the human mind in reality works in a far less orderly or accurate manner. In effect, it is the very gaps in the recalled memory that gives a past life memory it's plausibility. As such, that a person could convince a seasoned therapist (as well as a meticulous investigator) of a contrived tale is remote, though not out of the question. And, of course, there is always the possibility that the therapist, investigator and subject are all in on the hoax, but that would be another matter (and no more likely to succeed either; the more people involved in a conspiracy, the greater its chances of being exposed.)
Finally, there is the question of past-life memories in children. While it is conceivable that an adult might have the ability and motive to concoct a plausible past-life memory, the possibility that a five year old could create a credible or sustainable hoax is outside the realm of serious consideration. Even children who are fantasy-prone lack the cunning to create a plausible story purely from their imagination, nor would they likely be capable of providing verifiable details to support their story. While it is possible that an adult could coerce the child into recounting a past life memory and even provide the child with enough convincing details to fool an investigator, the chances that such collusion would not be eventually uncovered (or the child eventually 'break' and confess their culpability) is extremely high. Competent past life investigators not only rely on a multitude of witnesses and evidences to corroborate a story, but check the backgrounds and reputations of those involved in the investigation as well, precisely in an effort to determine how reliable those witnesses, family members, and 'associates' might be. Like a police investigation, even the smallest inconsistencies are enough to set off warning bells, especially among those who approach such stories with a degree of skepticism in the first place. Of course, such collusion could be unintentional, but if so that should make it even easier to uncover, since the 'perpetrator' in this instance is unaware of the problem and so less inclined to hide their culpability. Still, such unintentional fraud is always a possibility and must be taken into account by the competent investigator.
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past life memories simply one's imagination or fantasies?
Those who challenge reincarnationist accounts seldom imply that a story is intentionally hoaxed. Instead, it is more commonly suggested the subjects are unintentionally (or unconsciously) creating these stories out of their imagination and passing them off to both themselves and their therapist as past-life memories. In effect, they are victims of their own self-delusion and/or the inadvertent efforts of the therapist to induce or cultivate such memories.
The hypothesis works in one of two ways. In one scenario a patient curious about his or her past livesand obviously already a believer in reincarnation-seeks out a regression therapist in an effort to uncover their presumed past. Not surprisingly, once under hypnosis the subject, likely drawing from a vast storehouse of images stored in their subconscious, 'create' a seemingly plausible past-life adventure which, again not surprisingly, happens to correlate well with their preconceived ideas about who they believe they were in a past life. Their belief in reincarnation, combined with their own vivid and likely under-appreciated imagination, work in unison to provide the believer with the proof they have been seeking, and so ultimately validate their beliefs. It is simply a matter, then, of the imagination creating what the mind wants (or, perhaps, needs) to find fulfillment and self-acceptance.
The other hypothesis maintains that while the subject may be genuinely ambivalent about the question of reincarnation (although it begs the question as to why they would seek out a regression therapist in the first place) and so have no preconceived ideas about an alleged past life, they create a past-life memory in any case in an effort to either bring some 'color' to their otherwise ordinary life or please the hypnotist by giving him or her 'what they want.' This works from the assumption that most people are eager to please their hypnotist/therapist or, at least, do what they ask even if it means creating a plausible past life memory from scratch. In cases where the therapist is a strong believer in reincarnation and eager to obtain evidence to support his or her belief, there is also the possibility that the therapist himself may be unconsciously leading or 'coaching' the subject into remembering a 'past life.' As such, the therapist may ask leading questions or inadvertently fill in details in his or her zeal to prove reincarnation to be true while the patient, perhaps sensing the therapist's enthusiasm and excitement, simply paints the picture they sense the therapist wants to see. It is a case, then, of the reincarnationist making the data fit their hypothesis rather than seeing if it supports the hypothesis naturally.
Of course, all of these points are valid considerations; that there are people who possess what is known as a 'fantasy prone' personality is undeniable and undoubtedly there are many examples of people unconsciously creating a past life out of their imagination and overanxious therapists trying to prove reincarnation is true, but this theory doesn't take into account one very important point. It fails to address the issue of what does one do with the often verifiable information that comes out of these episodes? Certainly, if one were merely imagining specific details of a past life that had no basis in fact, there should be no such thing as corroborating evidence. For example, if one is convinced they were once a tailor by the name of Rothenthal and that they lived on 3rd avenue in Baltimore during the 1890s, and then, upon further research, it turned out that the information proved to be entirely correct, that would be difficult to explain away as pure fantasy. It might be dismissed as dumb luck or a remarkable coincidence (or it might be suggested the subject had done some historical grave digging) but it would still not diminish its significance. A make-believe story must, by its very nature, be a random collection of thoughts and ideas unlikely to contain more than a trace of historical accuracy. Certainly, it should not contain information that is verifiably true. The fact that many do, then, is important.
Yet what of the 'misses?' If accurate information supports the contention that a memory may be authentic, couldn't the opposite argumentthat erroneous information suggests a memory is a fantasyalso be made? While that seems a fair question, it fails to take a few points into account. First, regardless of how much erroneous information a past life account may contain, the fact that it contains any verifiably accurate informationespecially of a very specific and detailed nature not easily obtained without considerable digging into historical archiveshas to be taken into account. In other words, the 'hits'being so difficult to achieveshould logically carry more weight than the common 'misses' and so be carefully considered into the equation when determining the authenticity of a past-life memory.
Secondly, it should be remembered that a past-life personality is still a flawed human consciousness, capable of error, exaggeration, and even lying just as all human beings are. Therefore, we can't assume that a past-life persona is going to be innerrantly accurate or even necessarily honest in everything it recalls. Past life personalities may remember things incorrectly or incompletely and may be just as guilty of recounting things the way they saw them rather than the way they really weremuch the same way the still living frequently do.
Finally, it must be considered that past life memories are being told from the perspective of the current personality. As such, it would be remarkable (and, perhaps, even a bit suspicious) if some degradation of memory did not occur during the transfer of information. This would also, by the way, account for why modern rather than archaic phraseology is sometimes used and why few people speak the language of their past life persona; the past-life persona is being 'filtered' through a modern brain, with its own vocabulary, language skills, and limitations, and so complete and unfettered access to the previous personality may not be possible.
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verifiable past life memories be evidence of cryptomnesia (forgotten memories)?
Cryptomnesiaalso referred to as hidden, repressed, or forgotten memoriesis the phenomena in which individuals may acquire a bit of informationperhaps from a book, a movie, or even through a conversationat some point in the distant past and then completely forget it, only to recall it years or even decades later under hypnosis. Such intimate knowledge, then, can easily be used by the subconscious to paint a credible and historically accurate past life 'memory' and convince others (and themselves) that they did, in fact, have a past life.
But there is a two-fold problem with the theoryat least insofar as explaining away all past life memories. The first is that it is frequently difficult to prove cryptomnesia; how does one 'prove' what books one read or movies they watched as an eight-year old? Since it is nearly impossible to locate the 'source material' for most forgotten memories, the assumption that a past-life memory is based on a movie or book must remain purely speculative. Additionally, what are we to make of those cases in which there is no apparent source for the recalled details, or those instances in which the recounted past-life proves to be mundane or commonplace? Even mediocre fiction, after all, usually has some interesting characters or curious plot-twists to enliven the story; who writes epics about ordinary and largely uneventful lives?
Additionally, why do we not see past-live fantasies gleaned from other types of literature such as science fiction or fantasy? Undoubtedly many people have read H.G. Wells or J.R.R. Tolkien yet I have never encountered a case in which a person recalled under hypnosis being a crewman onboard Captain Nemo's Nautilus or having been a resident of Middle Earth. If cryptomnesia is the source for all past-life memories, we should find as many genres of false memories as their are genres of fiction, yet such is not the case. It seems that cryptomnesia only occurs when historical novels are read; apparently other types of fiction are simply not susceptible to it.
Of course, the source for hidden or forgotten memories need not be a book or television program; it can be something as simple as snippets of an overheard conversations or a forgotten story told around a campfire, which are what supposedly fuels the most intimately detailed and picturesque memories subjects often recount. Yet there are a lot of 'ifs' involved with this explanation. If a relative or acquaintance existed who actually had a particular experience and if they were prone to talking about it and if a child was privy to such conversations and if the details of the past life memory were similar to those contained in the story then, yes, cryptomnesia is probably the best explanation. But what if none of these factors are evident? Would cryptomnesia still remain the best answer?
That cryptomnesia occurs and does account for a percentage of past-life memories is undeniable. That it explains them all is not only a stretch, but more difficult to believe than the theory it is attempting to disprove. There is simply too much information revealed that can be verified only after the most extensive searches are undertaken for cryptomnesia to be the only answer. Only a tiny fraction of everything that has actually happened in history has ever found its way into either the written record or into the plot lines of novels and movies to serve as source material for a forgotten memory; to imagine otherwise is subjective assumption taken to its most extreme.
Finally, there is the case of Stevenson's children to account for. How could children as young as five years of age recount details of a past life-details told not under hypnosis but quite consciously-from books and movies, especially when the subject of their past life were often neighbors who lived only a few miles away? Unless there is active or inadvertent collusion between the current and 'past' familya question we have already looked at in detail earlierit is difficult to imagine what might serve as the source for such 'hidden' memories. This is especially true when one considers that these children are often illiterate and live in conditions in which television is unknown and, further, began discussing their past lives almost as soon as they were able to talk. Cryptomnesia may be a valid explanation for some hypnotically-induced adult past life memories, but it is simply too much of a stretch to apply it to very young children growing up in under-privileged environments. It simply doesn't stand up to logic.
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we have lived before, then why don't we remember our past lives?
Certainly, it seems that if reincarnation is to have any value in developing us spiritually, it would seem that recalling our past lives would be imperative; otherwise, what value is there in the hard lessons learned in a past life if we can no longer recall them? For that matter, doesn't the entire process become an obscene waste of time if we end up repeating the same mistakes because we don't remember having made them before?
In a way, this is a valid point, but it fails to understand precisely what reincarnation is trying to do. The purpose of reincarnating is not to simply recall our past errors so that we might avoid making the same mistake again, but to grow spirituallyeven if making the same mistakes over again are a part of that growth process. As such, it may be actually necessary we forget our past livesalong with both their mistakes and successesso that we may once again acquire a platform upon which to experience life anew. Were we to recall our past lives in perfect clarity, we would not be experiencing a new life but merely continuing a previous incarnation in a new body. As such, it is important to the process that each time we reincarnate, our memory and, for that matter, our previous personality in totowith all its idiosyncrasies, quirks, mannerisms, knowledge, perceptions, and a life-time of memories and experiencesdisappear. Much like a chalkboard is erased at the end of each school day in order to prepare for the next day's lessons, so too our 'chalkboard' must be wiped clean so we may start our new lessons afresh.
Additionally, consider for a moment how problematic past-life memories have proven to be to those people who claim to experience them. Often they are traumatic memories that require psychiatric counseling to overcome, and they often prove an impediment in other ways to those who suffer from a type of 'post-rebirth syndrome.' This is why pre-incarnate or past life memories are generally bad; they prevent one from moving towards spiritual maturity until and unless they first deal with their past life trauma, and this process can be time consuming. In such instances then, a past life memory has become a hindrance to the growth process and can, in fact, stop it completely if not purged from the conscious memory. The problem, then, lies not in failing to recall past life memories, but in failing to extricate our psyche of all of them.
The other reason we cannot recall our past lives is more prosaic: we are no more capable of remembering the precise details of a past life than we are to recall many of the details of our present life with any clarity. In essence, human beings simply aren't very good at retaining easily recalled long-term memories; instead, the bulk of our life experiences are filed away in some dark recess of the brain where they can only be accessed through hypnosis or brought back to conscious recall by some external stimulus. Additionally, the farther back in time the memory is, the more difficult it is to recall-especially with any degree of accuracy-until, in most people, it fades from the conscious mind entirely. If this is true of our present life, then, how much more so will it be true of an even more distant past life-especially if that life was rather ordinary and forgettable to begin with?
Finally, there is also the idea that while we may not retain conscious memories of a past life, we are still retaining the underlying lessons those past life experiences taught us. For instance, we may not recall the process by which we acquired our patience, but we retain the benefit of that process in this lifetime regardless. Past life experiences, while absent from our current consciousness, are retained on a deeper 'soul level' where they can be carried over from one incarnation to another. Though the specific details of each past life lesson may be lost, it's only because they aren't important; it is the end result that reincarnation is interested in, not the process by which we get there.
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do so many people remember being Napoleon or some other famous person in the
Another widely held and casually assumed belief among opponents of reincarnation is the idea that most people who believe they lived before profess to have been Napoleon or Joan of Arc or some other noted figure in history. Others have even remembered a past life lived on Atlantis or on other planets, thus suggesting that many of these 'memories' are nothing more than fantasies held by eccentric and, in some cases, unstable personalities. Not surprisingly, this has proven over the years to be one of the most formidable objections to reincarnation-not because it's true, but because it so effectively ridicules the idea that people who might be tempted to entertain the notion are quickly cowed into silence.
The truth of the matter, however, is that anyone who has bothered to look into the vast number of cases of people professing past-life memories will find very few instances of individuals claiming other than rather ordinary and even mundane previous lives. Most recall lives lived as homemakers, merchants, farmers, servants, soldiers or some other usually unspectacular occupation, and while occasionally someone will make claims that are a bit exotic such as that they were once a 17th century Russian ballerina or a Medieval count, these cases are rare (as well as subject to how one defines 'exotic.' ) Some even claim to have engaged in criminal activity or prostitution in a past life-embarrassing occupations few people would be likely to invent to impress others. For the most part, however, the bulk of documented past life cases rarely include subjects who suggest they were anything out of the ordinary in their past incarnations. For example, of the 1,088 past life cases recorded by Dr. Helen Wambach in her demographic studies, she recounted only one in which the subject claimed a somewhat famous past life persona (one woman had a memory-among several she recounted-of having been the 15th President of the United States, James Buchanan. Whether this qualifies as a particularly famous person I leave for the reader to decide.) It's also interesting to note that even people who are relatively famous in their lifetime rarely claim to have lived noteworthy past lives. Charles Lindbergh, Henry Ford, and Benjamin Franklin all professed a belief in reincarnation, yet none recounted having been anyone famous in a previous incarnation. Even the colorful Second World War General George S. Patton, though a firm believer in reincarnation, never claimed to be a famous military leader in the past even though he might have had the pedigree to substantiate such a claim.
In any case, even if a small percentage of past-life memories turn out to be entirely fallacious and the product of an over anxious imagination, that should be no reason to dismiss the entire concept in toto. Every religious, philosophical, or political movement has its 'fringe' element, and the occasional colorful character who claims to be the reincarnation of Napoleon no more disproves reincarnation than the psychotic who claims to be Jesus Christ has successfully disproven Christianity. The objective researcher looks at the best cases of previous life recall to determine the validity of reincarnations claims, not the most questionable ones.
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do people always seem to reincarnate into similar cultures?
The fact that Hindus frequently recall past lives as a Hindu and westerners commonly recall past lives lived in similar western cultures would seem to challenge the idea that reincarnation is an objective reality, for if reincarnation were a fact our past lives should reflect a multitude of different cultures and backgrounds and not be so narrowly confined within the context of our current cultural perceptions
This appears, at least on the surface, to be a powerful obstacle to the concept in that it clearly suggests that past life memoriesbeing so culturally similarare simply fantasies or confabulations created within the confines of an individual's own understanding and cultural awareness. In other words, an African tribesman may not recall a past life lived in Tahiti largely because he has no idea such a place even exists, and so is forced to confine his 'memories' within the parameters of his very small frame of reference.
This would seem to be a problem at first glance, but once all the data and some careful thought is put into it, the objection is not as formidable as first it seems. First, it should be noted that while many past life memories do appear to be culturally consistent, this is not always the case; many people do recall lives lived in foreign and exotic environments decidedly unique to their own, forcing us to account for these 'anomalies' if all past life recall is purely culturally induced fantasy. Second, most past life regressions deal with only the most recent past lives; seldom is the subject sent back to even earlier incarnations where cultural 'drift' may be more evident. And, third, even if a soul does seem to stay within the confines of a particular venue, is that really so inconsistent with the human tendency to stick with what is comfortable?
This might sound like an easy out, but when one takes personal choice within the rebirth process into consideration and factors in a particular person's level of spiritual maturity, it is not unreasonable to imagine that a soulespecially an immature or 'young' soulmay opt to repeatedly reincarnate into a society it is already familiar with. As such, when a Hindu dies, his or her soul may be most comfortable reincarnating as a Hindu once again simply because that particular soul finds doing so to be easier than starting over in a new and alien culture. Then, once it eventually matures spiritually, it may be more willing (or compelled) to widen its horizons and try something new. Could this mean the more knowledgeable or 'worldly' we become the greater our choices in choosing the venue for our next incarnation becomes? Such is an intriguing possibility.
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can people who are recounting a past life know what year it is?
One phenomena that frequently crops up within past life recessions is what I call the 'time recall challenge.' Basically, it asks the question of how a past-life personality can recall with such certainty the year in which it finds itself, especially if it is remembering a life lived in a culture that used a different calendar or it lived in B.C.E. times. In effect, a person recalling a lifetime lived in Baghdad in the 8th century shouldn't know they were living in the 8th century, especially since Muslims use an entirely different means of marking the years (based upon the prophet Mohammed) while the 8th century is essentially a Christian-based measuring system which became internationally recognized and adopted only recently. This problem is even more pronounced when we deal with people who recall lives from an even more distant time when each culture maintained a myriad of measuring systems to gage the date.
This, again, could be a fatal blow to the reincarnationist until we take into account that when one speaks with a past persona, they are doing so through the filter of the modern persona. In other words, while my past life personality may not know what the year 200 A.D. means, my current personality does, making it fairly simple to provide the past persona with a modern time meter. Therefore, if a hypnotist regresses a patient back to the distant past and asks what year it is, and they reply "300 B.C." that is merely the modern intellect (with, perhaps, help from the resident soul using some sort of universally understood time meter) answering. In effect, the year is 'calculated' by the modern intellect to approximate the past persona's time frame by applying modern knowledge about the past to affix a likely date. This also, incidentally, may explain why a personality claiming to be an 8th century Arab speaks only modern English and why the 12th century Indian girl can't name certain items common to her culture but foreign to our own; the past life personality is being filtered through the current personality and so is forced to work within its limited vocabulary and understanding. In effect, the past-life personality may not come through as strongly as it might because it is so 'watered down' by the current personality that much of the richness and individuality of the past life persona is lost. Past life regression is not a 'natural' process, and so we shouldn't be surprised if it is far from flawless.
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can people have so many past lives when there are more people in the world today
than ever before?
One objection often raised by skeptics of reincarnation is the question of world population and how it relates to the potential pool of souls available to be reincarnated. With a world population approaching seven billion there are far more people alive today than there has ever been before. In fact, it is a common belief that there are presently more people residing on this planet than have existed throughout the course of human history! Yet if past-life regressions reveal that people have had multiple past lives, then where did this population of souls come from? There simply weren't enough people/souls around in the past to account for the staggering number of people/souls alive today and since more people are born each year than die, the question naturally arises as to how one can account for the fact that more souls are coming into the world than are departing it. This argument has proven to be a successful stumbling block to many and appears to be a potent argument against reincarnation until one looks at the issue in depth as well as takes the time to do the math, at which point they will soon discover that the objection is based on a number of false premises.
The first incorrect assumption is that one is reincarnated immediately after death, whereas most literature on the subject suggests an interval of time passes between incarnations, with periods that that may range from weeks to years or even centuries! Like comets, we may all have 'orbits' ranging from short to very long duration indeed, all dependent upon our pace of spiritual development and experiential desires.
The second erroneous assumption is that it presupposes the number of souls in existence at any given point in time to be a fixed number. However, the fact is there is no way of knowing how many individual souls exist. Considering the immensity of the universewith its billions of galaxies each containing billions of stars (many of which probably possess planets with sentient beings like ourselves)the total number of souls could be, for all practical matters, infinite. In fact, we might even speculate that the nearly seven billion people alive on this planet today may in fact constitute only a tiny fraction of the total number of souls in existence.
The third incorrect assumption is that new souls cannot or are not being created. Why this is presumed is curious, however, for there simply is no particularly compelling reason that new souls can't come into existence (or 'wink out' of existence, for that matter.) After all, souls have to emanate from somewhere and at some point in linear time to begin their spiritual journey. In fact, such an idea corresponds neatly to the teaching within reincarnation that suggests there are both 'young' and 'old' souls as well as that there are other souls returning to the Creator once they have 'completed their journey' or reached full maturity. As such, from a purely linear perspective, souls may be emanating from the Creator while others are returning to it at the same instance as part of an immense, eternally ongoing process.
Another false premise is the assumption that all people have past lives. While it seems that past life memories are common, very few people have ever been regressed to reveal past lives. As such, there is no way of knowing if a particular person has had a hundred, a dozen, one or no past lives at all. In fact, if we work from the premise that there are newly emerging souls coming into physicality all the time, it would make sense that some and, perhaps, many people alive on earth today are on their maiden incarnation and so would have no past lives on their 'spiritual résumé.'
The final and most egregious assumption is the belief that there really are more people alive today than have existed throughout human historya belief that has taken on an air of scientific authority but is, in fact, little more than an oft-repeated but utterly fallacious urban legend. In actuality, when the numbers are properly 'crunched' we find that the vast number of people currently residing on this planet today constitute only a tiny fraction of all the humans who have ever lived.
Unfortunately, population statistics are notoriously difficult to quantify due to a number of factors such as infant mortality rates, life expectancy, wars, famine and disease and, as such, any numbers that might be used must be considered educated guesses at best. It is also entirely possible that population estimates from the distant past may be badly underestimated, as there is very little data to go by. The fact is that gauging prehistoric population levels is pure guesswork based entirely on certain presumptions about the ancient past (such as no advanced prehistoric civilizations such as Atlantis.) In any case, even if we stick with the most conservative estimates, according to some experts (relevent link) and using the United Nations' own estimates, the number of human beings that have existed throughout history may be many times higher than the current number alive on our planet today.
Consider that modern manhomo sapien sapienis generally thought to have emerged on the planet around 50,000 years ago (some anthropologists place that date even further back to nearly 100,000 years ago.) Using the more conservative estimate, however, and using a minimalist approach to population growth by starting with just 2 people 50,000 years ago, it is estimated that it took almost 40,000 years for the world's population to reach 5 million (during which time over a billion people lived and died as well.) That number grew exponentially, however, as civilization took hold until by 1 AD the world's population likely stood at around 300 million, a rate that was to remain relatively constant for the next 15 centuries. It finally reached 1 billion inhabitants early in the nineteenth century, and 2 billion a century after that, until it finally stands at its present population of around 6.5 billion today. In order to achieve such a population growth rate requires a birth rate of around 80 births per 1,000 (before the first century A.D.) and about 60 births per 1,000 after that period (up to around the eighteenth century), and 30 births per 1,000 since then. Taken together, then, we find that, conservatively speaking, over 100 billion people may have been born on planet Earth since Homo Sapiens first appeared, meaning that our current population of 6.5 billion constitutes less than a tenth of that total. As such, the 'pool' of available souls are well within the capabilities of historic versus modern birth numbers. Even if we consign all souls to an exclusively Earthly venue within which to incarnate and further presuppose that there are no new souls being created (or migrating from other planets), we have no problems coming up with a sufficient 'soul pool' to permit every human being alive today to have reincarnated potentially dozens of times. As such, the 'population dilemma' which is frequently touted as reincarnation's 'Achilles Heel' is, in fact, no dilemma at all, but simply the result of faulty assumptions and poor math skills.
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reincarnation is true, why isn't the world a better place by now?
If souls are slowly moving towards 'enlightenment' in each incarnationthe skeptic may well askshouldn't the world be a significantly better place by now? After all, if we gain new insight and wisdom through each incarnation, shouldn't there be a positive cumulative effect upon the entire planet? Yet we see a world of war and hatred and the potential for great misery just as we have throughout human history, so how is reincarnation helping and, indeed, is it helping at all?
That many people perceive the world to be growing increasingly worse is, of course, a matter of personal opinion. Judging the spiritual state of a particular culture or society is highly subjective, so determining whether our culture is more or less spiritually advanced when compared to its past is often a matter of personal perspective. Additionally, we also tend to see things within the limited context of the recent past and so remain largely ignorant of what things were really like in the 'good old days.' However, a look at the broad scope of history (beyond just the last century) can be enlightening and, in many ways, provide some reason for hope.
That there are still multitudes who live out their lives in grinding poverty and hopelessness is undeniable, but then poverty, deprivation, and want has always been a part of the human equation. The question we need to ask ourselves is not whether there is still hunger and poverty, but whether the percentage of people who live in these conditions is the same, greater, or less than it was a century ago? Or two centuries ago? Or a thousand years ago? Clearly, the percentage of human beings living in poverty is going down (if not the actual numbers, at least proportionally) while the world is seeing the birth of a small but growing middle class emerging in even the traditionally poorest countries. This is a fairly recent innovation in the human condition and, I think, a positive and important one.
Consider also that human justice has improved considerably, even over the last century. Slavery is nowhere legal on the planet today and, for the most part, people cannot be worked to death, beaten, or summarily executed for some petty crime as their ancestors often were. Even more significant is the fact that children can no longer be forced to work twelve hour days in dangerous working conditions as they were as recently as 1900. Of course, there are exceptions: child labor laws are sometimes lax in third-world countries and exploitation by the wealthy is still common (and, in places, prevalent) but the point is that such behavior, when exposed, is routinely prosecuted, whereas a century ago such behavior was common, expected, and tolerated. While still far from realizing a utopian world, it would be difficult to maintain that humanity is not collectively becoming increasingly aware of the rights of all human beings and so less willing to exploit the weak for the benefit of the wealthy as it once was. While admittedly in many ways we are a still very brutal planet but one mindless act away from exterminating ourselves, we are at the same time far less tolerant of those who diminish the value of human life, rape the environment, or practice injustice. Perhaps this is the result of numerous incarnations, or maybe it's simply that we're naturally-albeit slowly-advancing as a species (or perhaps it's a case of the one leading to the other.) Whichever the cause, the case for increasing spirituality and enlightenment on a political, social and religious level around the world can be denied only if one insists on keeping both eyes firmly shut.
Finally, for all we know humanity may still be in its spiritual infancy. Just as we see growth of a kind when comparing ourselves to the world of a thousand years ago, perhaps we will be surprised by how far we have evolved when we look back at today from the year 3000. Reincarnation's value to society is gradual and often imperceptible in the short term. It is akin to a slow but steady infusion of clean water into a filthy pool; the cleansing effect may not be obvious for a very long time, but one day the last of the impurities will be fully flushed out and humanity will at last be able to look upon its reflection in the water with pride.
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one can always come back and 'do it all over again,' doesn't reincarnation encourage
The common objection that since we have many lifetimes within which to develop ourselves spiritually, why not just wait until the next incarnation to do the necessary work of spiritual enlightenment may be a valid one, but it is no more valid within the context of reincarnation than it is within life in general. Reincarnation is no more an encouragement toward spiritual apathy and laziness than is the misplaced belief that one can always 'get right with God' later in this life after they've 'had their fun.' In effect, if a person will delay learning their spiritual lessons in this lifetime, they will not evolve spiritually regardless of whether they believe in reincarnation or not. They will remain, by their own choice, in a spiritually primitive state not because reincarnation encourages it but because apathy is the truest reflection of what spiritual state that person is already in.
On the other hand, it can be argued that spiritual growth occurs in every life regardless of how 'lazy' or 'unevolved' one may appear to be. Since spiritual growth is an ongoing process, even those incarnations we judgeby our human standardsto be 'failures' may, in fact, be an important part of the growth process. For that matter, the soul may choose to experience what we might consider a 'wasted' incarnation precisely so it may learn from that experience and so advance in the next incarnation because of it. Even within the most hardened criminal's life, we can't always be certain what's occurring on a spiritual level, but must trust that process itself knows what it is doing. For all we know the soul may be setting the stage for a tremendous growth spurt to be realized in the next incarnation, a spurt which might be made possible only by experiencing the world from the confines of a prison cell in this incarnation.
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reincarnation allow one to escape justice?
The idea that all humans must be held to account for their earthly life, with the deeds of each person being carefully weighed and measured in an effort to determine their final estate for all eternity, is common to all western faiths and is a core belief within Christianity and Islam. As such, it isn't surprising that so many westerners perceive reincarnation, then, as simply a means of avoiding being held responsible for their earthly crimes. This demonstrates, however, a certain ignorance on the part of anti-reincarnationists, as well as a tendency to assume much.
Reincarnation does not disagree with the concept of judgment per se, but while the western world sees it as a singleeven historicalevent, reincarnationists see judgment as a repeating (and, in some ways, ongoing) and necessary part of the growth process. Additionally, while western religious concepts of the judgment is generally seen as punitive in nature, reincarnation sees these between incarnation 'reviews' as essentially instructive; it is a time when the soul judges itself in order to determine what it needs to experience in the next incarnation in order to continue its forward progress. While this self assessment can be unpleasant (as is always confronting one's own flaws and errorseven in this life) it is not designed to punish, but to simply point out where a soul has digressed from the inherent law of love so it may 'repent'that is, 'change course'and find its way back to its own divine nature.
But doesn't such a process make a mockery of justice, as well as render our evil acts on Earth meaningless if they do not have permanent consequences? What of those that have committed heinous crimes while in the body? Surely justice is not served if their sins are merely 'pointed out' and they are allowed to return to the flesh once again?
While a very human response, it is not a divine one. Justice is not served by condemning a soul to eternal torment. Reincarnation does not seek to punish, find fault, hold accountable or otherwise condemn a soul for its own ignorant foolishness and selfishness, but instead heal it. It is humans that demand the celestial scales of justice be balanced through retribution, not the Divine. Reincarnation sees those people we would call 'wicked' as being 'soul sick' and, as such, it would seek only to heal such a wounded soul, not punish it further. Such a soul is already in agony; there is no purpose served in prolonging its pain and it is outside the venue of a truly loving God to do so in any case. Reincarnation is about restoration of the human spirit, not retribution for the actions of an injured and lost soul.
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reincarnation essentially 'rob' one of going to heaven?
Similar to the objection that reincarnation permits one to avoid judgment and punishment is the complaint that it deprives one of going to Heaven as well, and since an eternity in Paradise (however one defines this magical realm) is the great hope and promise of many religions, it appears that reincarnation 'robs' one of their heavenly reward by 'making them' return to the fleshand sometimes to a very unfortunate and difficult life at that. As such, it is asked, wouldn't an eternity in Heaven be preferable to multiple rebirths into this world, with all the trials and tribulations such frequently entails?
The problem with this objection is that it perceives Heaven as a 'place' that one 'goes' to enjoy eternal bliss. In actuality, however, Heaven is not a place one goes but a state of being that one realizes. In effect, all souls live in Heaven eternally; it is only our misconceptions, limitations, and illusions about the world around us that keeps us from experiencing it as such.
On a purely practical level, the reincarnationist would also question the value of an eternal Heaven to spiritual growth. After all, if one spends eternity in a state of perfect peace without a worry in the world, what are they really experiencing? Without challenges to overcome, Heaven becomes a sort of beautiful seaside resort. While such would be a wonderful environment in which to rest or recover from some terrible trauma, eventually it would take on a mind-numbing sameness that would result in the soul becoming increasingly restless. Life is about experiencing the vast range of human dramas and growing closer towards realizing the divinity that lives in each of us; it is not about resting forever in some beautiful garden. Just as is true with any ideal vacation spot, it is the temporary nature of Heaven that makes it heavenly. In effect, while Heaven might be a nice place to visit, one wouldn't want to live there.
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reincarnation's teaching that one must be punished in this life for the sins
of a past life unjust?
The idea that reincarnation is an oppressive belief system is a common objection deeply held within western cultures. In many people's eyes, the idea that millions of innocent people could be doomed to live out their lives in abject poverty or blind from birth as a result of some evil committed in a previous lifetime is the epitome of inequality and a damning indictment of the entire concept, and it is often rejected on that basis alone.
Actually, what the westerner is railing against is not reincarnation per se, but one element of it known as 'karma'. Among the world's nearly one billion Hindus, it is generally believed that a person accumulates both positive and negative karma within each lifetime. However, unless the positive karma (often referred to as dharma) offsets the accumulated moral debt, it is thought necessary that one be born into a more trying and difficult life than the preceding one in an effort to 'balance' their negative karma and offset a seemingly perpetual sin debt. The greatest example of this injustice is seen within India's caste system, where one's caste (or social/economic status) is determined by how much negative karma one has to work off, with those possessing greater moral debts being born into a progressively lower social strata than those with less debt to purge. The result is the creation of a socio-economic system that effectively 'freezes' one into a particular social strata from which they are to 'work off' their sin debt, keeping millions trapped in squalor and poverty until their karmic debt is paid off. Since one's station in life, then, is a reflection of their last incarnation, no effort has traditionally been made to redress these inequities or improve the lives of those in the lower castes, resulting in a vastly unequal and frequently cruel and unjust society. It is this system, which has been in place for almost three thousand years, that is often pointed to by opponents of reincarnation as evidence of the teaching's detrimental effect and, by implication, proof of its inferiority to western religious concepts.
Of course, this socially unjust system does nothing to either prove or disprove the validity of reincarnation. What it does demonstrate, however, is humanities' propensity towards using religion to justify and perpetuate inequality and protect social privilege. Even the institution of slavery was maintained for centuries by appealing to certain religious dogmas and traditions. As such, before we in the west point a finger at the inherent injustice of India's caste system we should look carefully at the class distinctions evident within our own societies first. While the caste system may be a result of errant religious beliefs, is it any worse than the natural tendency within all countries to consign individuals from birth to a lower economic class because of political, racial, gender, religious or economic distinctions? Yet few people hold western religious concepts responsible for these injustices nor do they suggest that such inequalities are evidence that a particular faith structure is false; therefore, why is reincarnation condemned because of a single erroneous belief about it?
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reincarnation invalidate all religions?
This objection works from the premise that if reincarnation is true, it doesn't seem to matter what religion or belief system one embraces since one is fated to reincarnate into another bodyand, with it, probably another faith structure as wellanyway. Therefore, the question could be asked, what value is there in affirming any particular belief system?
While it's true reincarnation doesn't require one to adhere to any particular faith or creed for it to work, that's not to say religion doesn't remain an important element of the process. Since the purpose of reincarnation is to evolve spiritually, those religions that affirm and enhance one's spirituality are of vital importance to that goal. Multiple rebirths allows one the opportunity to learn from many different traditions, thereby pulling from each those elements most needed at that point for spiritual development. To completely eliminate religion, then, is to retard the work of the soul.
The other point to consider is that spiritual development can proceed and, in fact, does naturally, even outside the context of an established religious belief. Therefore, even a compassionate atheist can move towards higher spiritual ground-albeit unconsciously. Religious belief is not required for spiritual growth to take place (though it is frequently helpful); the soul may even choose to practice its own inherent moral code completely independent of all religious trappings so it might understand morality in an entirely different context. Spiritual growth is often a mysterious and complex process that frequently lies well beyond our capacity to understand.
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reincarnation deny the teachings of the Bible, the Koran, and other religious
To most people in the west, the fact that reincarnation is not clearly taught in their sacred writings is tantamount to denying that it exists. Therefore, if the Bible, the Koran, or any other 'holy book' is silent on the subject, in some people's way of thinking it seems foolish to consider it at all and outright heretical to embrace it.
First, because a particular religious text does not address a specific issue does not mean the subject is nonexistent or false. Neither the Bible nor the Koran, for instance, say a word about human cloning, abortion, or euthanasia, yet that doesn't mean these subjects are not serious moral and ethical dilemmas that face us today. Holy books are products of their era and environment and can't be expected to contain everything there is to know. Second, it can be arguedsuccessfully, I thinkthat holy writings that may have referred to reincarnation have been subsequently suppressed or destroyed over the centuries because some ancient religious leaders couldn't accept the idea. There is good evidence, for example, to support the idea that early Christianity may have had a strong reincarnationist vein running through it that was later repressed and declared heretical. Therefore, one can never be certain if a book is silent on the subject of reincarnation because it does not believe it, or whether it simply didn't survive its opposition to make it into the official canon.
Secondly, western religious texts might be silent on the subject not because it is a heretical belief, but simply because it wasn't important to what the religious writers were trying to say. It could be as simple a matter as the concept being omitted because the ancient prophets were not interested in the last life or the next one, but only in this one! Reincarnation, then, may have been considered a distraction to their basic message which was meant to help people in the here and now achieve spiritual growth, and so was left out as irrelevant and redundant (especially if presented within a culture in which the concept was already accepted.)
Finally, it should be realized that even though reincarnation is not taught by western religion, reincarnationists generally do not discount the validity of these ancient texts. Spiritual growth uses all paths and so finds useful spiritual information contained within all holy books, as well as taught by all the great spiritual teachers. As such, reincarnationists generally affirm the truth behind all ancient wisdom writings while insisting that none of them are exclusively true.
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Obviously, the issue of reincarnation raises as many questions as it answers and requires more than just a cursory examination to get to the bottom of it. While brief, hopefully these answers should be sufficient to demonstrate why it is embraced by literally billions of people around the world today.
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