Mystery of Past Life Recall |Cases of Reincarnation | India|

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Mystery of Past Life Recall |Cases of Reincarnation | India|

Under hypnosis, numerous people recall the details of previous lives, even to the point of taking on the personalities of their former selves – and speaking in foreign languages!

In 1824, a nine-year-old boy named Katsugoro, the son of a Japanese farmer, told his sister that he believed he had a past life. According to his story, which is one of the earliest cases of past life recall on record, the boy vividly recalled that he had been the son of another farmer in another village and had died from the effects of smallpox in 1810.

Katsugoro could remember dozens of specific events about his past life, including details about his family and the village where they lived, even though Katsugoro had never been there. He even remembered the time of his death, his burial and the time he spent before being reborn. The facts he related were subsequently verified by an investigation.

Past life recall is one of the most fascinating areas of unexplained human phenomena. As yet, science has been unable to prove or disprove its genuineness. Even many who have investigated claims of past life recall are unsure whether it is an historical recollection due to reincarnation or is a construction of information somehow received by the subconscious. Either possibility is remarkable. And like many areas of the paranormal, there is a propensity for fraud that the serious investigator must watch out for. It’s important to be skeptical about such extraordinary claims, but the stories are nonetheless intriguing.

Past life recall generally comes about spontaneously, more often with children than adults.

Those who support the idea of reincarnation believe this is because children are closer to their past lives and that their minds have not been clouded or “written over” by their present lives. Adults who experience past life recall often do so as the result of some extraordinary experience, such as hypnosis, lucid dreaming or even a blow to the head.

Here are some outstanding cases:

  • VIRGINIA TIGHE / BRIDEY MURPHY

Perhaps the most famous case of past life recall is that of Virginia Tighe who recalled her past life as Bridey Murphy. Virginia was the wife of a Virginia businessman in Pueblo, Colorado. While under hypnosis in 1952, she told Morey Bernstein, her therapist, that over 100 years ago she was an Irish woman named Bridget Murphy who went by the nickname of Bridey. During their sessions together, Bernstein marveled at detailed conversations with Bridey, who spoke with a pronounced Irish brogue and spoke extensively of her life in 19th century Ireland. When Bernstein published his book about the case, The Search for Bridey Murphy in 1956, it became famous around the world and sparked an excited interest in the possibility of reincarnation.

Over six sessions, Virginia revealed many details about Bridey’s life, including her birth date in 1798, her childhood amid a Protestant family in the city of Cork, her marriage to Sean Brian Joseph McCarthy and even her own death at the age of 60 in 1858. As Bridey, she provided numerous specifics, such as names, dates, places, events, shops and songs – things Virginia was always surprised about when she awoke from the hypnosis. But could these details be verified? The results of many investigations were mixed. Much of what Bridey said was consistent with the time and place, and it seemed inconceivable that someone who had never been to Ireland could provide so many details with such confidence.

However, journalists could find no historical record of Bridey Murphy – not her birth, her family, her marriage, nor her death. Believers supposed that this was merely due to the poor recordkeeping of the time. But critics discovered inconsistencies in Bridey’s speech and also learned that Virginia had grown up near – and had known well – an Irish woman named Bridle Corkell, and that she was quite likely the inspiration for “Bridey Murphy.” There are flaws with this theory, too, however, keeping the case of Bridey Murphy an intriguing mystery.

  • MONICA / JOHN WAINWRIGHT

In 1986, a woman known by the pseudonym “Monica” underwent hypnosis by psychotherapist Dr. Garrett Oppenheim. Monica believed she discovered a previous existence as a man named John Ralph Wainwright who lived in the southwestern U.S. She knew that John grew up in Wisconsin, Arizona and had vague memories of brothers and sisters. As a young man he became a deputy sheriff and married the daughter of a bank president. According the Monica’s “memory,” John was killed in the line of duty – shot by three men he had once sent to jail – and died on July 7, 1907

  • SUJITH / SAMMY

Born in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), Sujith was barely old enough to speak when he began to tell his family of a previous life as a man named Sammy. Sammy, he said, had lived eight miles to the south in the village of Gorakana. Sujith told of Sammy’s life as a railroad worker and as a dealer of a bootleg whiskey called arrack. After an argument with his wife, Maggie, Sammy stormed out of his house and got drunk, and while walking along a busy highway was struck by a truck and killed.

Young Sujith often demanded to be taken to Gorakana and had an abnormal taste for cigarettes and arrack.

Sjuth’s family had never been to Gorakana and hadn’t known anyone that fit Sammy’s description, yet, being Buddhists, were believers in reincarnation and therefore not completely surprised by the boy’s story.

Investigations, including one conducted by a professor of psychiatry from the University of Virginia, confirmed as many as 60 of the details of the life of Sammy Fernando who indeed had lived and died (six months before Sujith’s birth) just as Sujith had said. When Sujith was introduced to Sammy’s family, he surprised them with his familiarity with them and his knowledge of their pet names. This is one of the strongest cases of reincarnation on record.

  • DREAM RECALL

Hypnosis isn’t the only method by which past lives are recalled. A Britsh woman was distressed by a recurring dream in which she, as a child, and another child with whom she was playing, fell from a high gallery in their home to their deaths.

She vividly remembered the black and white checked marble floor on which they died. She repeated the dream to several of her friends. Sometime later, the woman was visiting an old house that had a reputation for being haunted. With its black and white marble floor, the house immediately was recognized by the woman as the scene of the deaths in her dreams.

She subsequently learned that a small brother and sister really had fallen to their deaths in the house. Was she recalling a past life, or had she somehow psychically tuned in to this dramatic history?

  • GRAHAM HUXTABLE / ARNALL BLOXHAM

Another fascinating case of past life regression took place in Wales where Graham Huxtable, a mild-mannered swimming instructor, was placed under hypnosis by hypnotist Arnall Bloxham. In a trance, Huxtable not just recalled a past life, he seemed to actually become a man named Ben, a boisterous gunner on an 18th century British frigate called Aggie. While inhabited by the personality of Ben, Huxtable would call out orders to the men on the ship in a heavy accent and use obscure nautical terminology. He even relived every moment of a battle in which he eventually suffered an injury to his leg.

Bloxham had difficulty bringing Huxtable out of trance, but when he did, the man complained of a pain in his leg. And when Bloxham replayed a recording of the session, Huxtable was astonished at what he heard, recalling nothing of his experience under the trance. Although experts could verify the terms and language that “Ben” used, they could not find records of a ship named Aggie nor of the ship’s captain he had named. Past life recall… or a case of multiple personality?

  • T.E. / JENSEN JACOBY

In 1958, a woman who in this case was identified only as T.E., underwent hypnosis by her husband, a medical doctor and experimenter with past life regression. Once in a trance state, T.E.’s voice deepened to one that was distinctly male and she declared in broken English that she was a farmer named Jensen Jacoby who lived in the 17th century. T.E.’s speech was peppered with Swedish words, a language that she and her husband swore she did not know. After six hypnotic sessions, T.E. was talking exclusively in Swedish, even conversing fluently with several Swedish persons that her husband had brought in to witness the phenomenon. These native Swedes confirmed that she was speaking a somewhat archaic form of Swedish that would have been spoken at the time Jensen said he had lived.

These are just a few of the more well-known examples of past life recall. Those who practice past life regression therapy today claim that it has certain benefits. They say it can shed light on present life personal issues and relationships and can even help to heal the wounds suffered in a past life.

Reincarnation has also been one of the central tenets of many Eastern religions, and one can return to this existence in a new physical form, whether it is human, animal or even vegetable. The form one takes, it is believed, is determined by the law of karma – that the higher or lower form one takes is due to one’s behavior in the previous life. The concept of past lives is also one of the beliefs of L. Ron Hubbard’s Scientology, which states that “past lives are suppressed by the painfulness of the memory of those former existences. To restore the memory of one’s whole existence, it is necessary to bring one up to being able to confront such experiences.”

FAMOUS BELIEVERS IN PAST LIVES

  • General George S. Patton believed that he had been a soldier in many previous lives, including in the service of Alexander the Great.
  • Benjamin Franklin may have been professing his belief in reincarnation when he wrote that he would return “in a new and more elegant edition, revised and corrected by the author.”
  • Thomas Edison and Henry Ford were contemporaries and both professed believers in past lives.
  • Edgar Cayce, the American psychic, believed that he was a resident of Atlantis in one previous life.


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Past life recall as modern proof for reincarnation

Past-life recall as modern proof for reincarnation

Hypnotic regression as proof for reincarnation

Spontaneous past-life recall by children as proof for reincarnation 

Metaphysical reasons for rejecting past-life recall experiences as proofs for reincarnation

Many people who accept reincarnation in the West today claim that it can be scientifically proven. They usually ground their belief on past-life recall experiences, which represent the ability of certain persons to recall facts of alleged previous lives. This phenomenon occurs under two distinct forms. One is observed while regressing certain persons beyond the date of birth. The other is produced by some children who spontaneously remember a previous life identity, amazing their neighbors with specific details that match those of the life of a deceased person. Could these experiences really be proofs for reincarnation?

Hypnotic regression as proof for reincarnation

Hypnosis can be defined as a method of inducing an altered state of consciousness, which causes a person to become very receptive to the hypnotist’s suggestions. This method has been used in psychoanalysis for treating psychic diseases by evoking the painful events which caused them in the past (especially during childhood) and then by transmitting suggestions meant to heal them. Although there are some encouraging results in using it as a psychiatric therapy, it is a fact that hypnosis can mix fantasy with real memories. In deep states of hypnosis, some subjects have had out-of-body experiences and claimed to have traveled in mysterious spiritual realms. Others have had a mystical experience of oneness with the universe.

Hypnotic regression started to be used as a past-life recall method in 1952, when Ruth Simmons from Colorado, USA, was regressed “back in time” beyond the date of her birth. Suddenly she started to talk using a specific Irish accent, claiming that her name was Bridey Murphy and that she lived in Ireland in the year 1890. The few details she produced seemed to describe accurately the Irish society of the late 19th century. It was therefore believed that a scientific proof for reincarnation had been found. As a result, a growing number of hypnotists started to use the method in order to get information about alleged previous lives of their patients. Recently the method has gained a scientific aura, being used as therapy for releasing patients’ fears and explaining certain personality tendencies as results of past-life experiences. By simply being asked to go back in time beyond the date of their birth and describe their impressions, some patients tell impressive stories in which some characteristics match those of past and distant cultures of human history. They usually adopt a totally different personality, with a changed voice, behavior and facial expression. All the information they produce is the result of a dialog between the therapist and his patient, in which the questions have to be easy and clear in order to get a proper answer. Since the information they produce couldn’t have been normally learned during their lifespan, it is supposed that they really recall past lives. However, this conclusion raises some difficulties, as there are other possibilities to explain how the “novelties” are produced, without accepting the past-life recall hypothesis.

An intriguing aspect of the testimonies recorded under hypnosis is the fact that they depend heavily on the already existing data in current historic knowledge. In many cases, although the information corresponds to generally acknowledged historical data, further archaeological discoveries contradict them, casting serious doubts on the veracity of “past lives.” Ian Wilson, another important researcher of this phenomenon, describes several such cases in his book Reincarnation (p. 88-90). One of them refers to a person who lived during the reign of the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses III. Instead of indicating the name No for the capital city, he used the name Thebes, given by the Greeks much later. Moreover, a true ancient Egyptian could not have known the pharaoh’s name by a number, as the numbering of pharaohs was adopted by Victorian Egyptologists during the 19th century. Another fault was mentioning the use of the sestertius coin, which was introduced by the Romans a thousand years later. Another case reported Vikings making a landfall in North America in the 11th century. According to the description, they were wearing helmets with horns. In recent years, however, scholars have proved that this idea is false, as Vikings in fact wore conic, close-fitting caps. Horned helmets were worn only in religious ceremonies by individuals of high rank. This and other cases prove that past-life recall experiences depend heavily on the historical knowledge existing at the time the hypnotic regression was performed, and are often contradicted by later discoveries.

Another compromising factor in getting true “past-life stories” is the preparation the patient undergoes before hypnosis. One is informed about its purpose, which induces in him or her a high expectancy state. The conscious desire to know the content of “previous lives” undoubtedly influences the response under hypnosis.

Another possible explanation of testimonies from alleged previous lives is given by psychiatry. The phenomenon of multiple personality is known as dissociative personality disorder. It causes somebody to exchange in a short period of time up to twenty distinct personalities, as if playing successive roles. These contradicting personalities have different mentalities, behaviors, voices and even sexes than the real person.

From a psychiatrist’s point of view, past-life testimonies may be the result of inducing dissociative personality disorder through hypnosis. This has actually happened in several cases of schizophrenia. Used to uncover covert personalities and reintegrate them with the main personality.

Thus we come to another possible explanation of past-life recall. In parapsychology it is called channeling – the phenomenon of transmitting information generated by spiritual entities which are external to our world. They act through certain persons called mediums while they are in altered states of consciousness. The annihilation of normal consciousness through hypnosis creates optimal conditions for contacting such external entities, who can present themselves as personalities of one’s past lives. The only reason for rejecting this hypothesis is the presumption that the entity which is communicating through the medium has no reason to lie when it claims to be a former personality and not an external spirit.

In conclusion, the only criterion left for establishing the veracity of “past-life recall” is our faith in the hypnotist and his reincarnationist interpretation.

Spontaneous past-life recall by children as proof for reincarnation

Another category of experiences credited as proofs for reincarnation are cases of children, almost all under the age of 10, who spontaneously recall events of alleged past lives and insist that they are someone else who lived in the past. The details they mention concerning places, persons and happenings of the past, about which they could not normally know anything, prove to be true when investigations are performed in the indicated area. The extensive research of Dr. Ian Stevenson and his books on this topic are well known. Although the cases of spontaneous past-life recall by children are much fewer than testimonies produced under hypnosis, they seem to be more convincing. The cases of the Indian girls Swarnlata and Shanti Devi are two of the most famous. At the ages of 3 (Swarnlata) and 4 (Shanti Devi) they both started to claim that they had lived previous lives as wives and mothers of two children, in a distant village. The most astounding element is that they mentioned specific facts about their alleged previous lives that have been verified by investigators. Imagine the scene: A married woman with several children dies and after four years a little girl knocks at the door and introduces herself as the deceased mother and wife. Emotional disturbances often develop in such cases. Stevenson comments: “These children become embroiled in divided loyalties. In many cases children have rejected their parents, saying they are not their real parents and have often started down the road toward their so-called real homes. In other cases, they insist on being reunited with their former husbands, wives, or children. One Indian boy was passionately attached to the woman he said had been his former mistress and was trying to get her back, causing himself and her real distress” (Omni Magazine 10(4):76 (1988)).

However, such stories can be explained in an alternative way, not necessarily as proof for reincarnation. There is the possibility that these children are contacting external spirits through channeling. In this case the medium would be the child, without necessarily being conscious of it. But since children lack the skills of mediums, a particular kind of channeling is required in their case. It is called possession of these children by external spiritual entities. In such cases the human person is forced to transmit the messages of a spirit without having any conscious contribution to the whole process. Spiritual possession as explanation for past-life recall by children is suggested by the fact that almost all such cases are produced by children who manifest them between the ages of two and five, when their spiritual discernment is almost nonexistent. As the children grow up, the entities lose their power of influence upon them, which could explain why the past-life memories are lost after the age of 10.

Cases that confirm the possession hypothesis are instances in which the possessing spirit enters the child’s body a long time after he was born, and then produces a past-life recall experience which interferes with the already present personality of the child. There are enough such cases described in literature. Here is a brief description of two mentioned by Ian Stevenson, in his book Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation:

First, there is the case of an Indian boy named Jasbir, aged three and a half, who was very ill and lapsed into a coma which his family temporarily mistook for death. He revived a few hours later, and after several weeks displayed a completely transformed behavior, claiming to be a Brahmin named Sobha Ram, who died in an accident while he (Jasbir) was sick. Since Sobha Ram died when Jasbir was already three and a half years old, his “past-life recall” obviously cannot be a proof of reincarnation. More than that, the “reincarnation” of Ram’s soul must have taken place even before he had physically died, according to the timing of his accident and the illness of Jasbir. For the previous 3.5 years both persons lived physically in nearby villages. While speaking through Jasbir, the “reincarnated Mr. Ram” said that he was advised by a saint to take cover in Jasbir’s body. As a result, at a certain moment there were present two personalities in Jasbir’s body: the one of the child and the one of Mr. Ram. This suggests that it cannot be a case of reincarnation, but rather a possession of Jasbir’s body by the so-called spirit of Mr. Ram.

Second, there is the case of Lurancy Vennum, a one-year-old girl who began to display the personality of Mary Roff when she (Mary Roff) died. This situation lasted several months, while Mary Roff claimed to have occupied the vacated body of the little girl. After this period Mary Roff departed and Lurancy Vennum resumed control. The overlapping of personalities and messages displayed during that period are strong indications of possession, excluding any possibility of reincarnation. Ian Stevenson admits in his book that “other cases of the present group of 20 cases may be instances of similar ‘possessing influences’ in which the previous personality just happened to die well before the birth of the present personality’s body” (p. 381).

Third, there is the case of a Buddhist monk, Chaokhun Rajsuthajarn, who was born a day before the death of Nai Leng, the personality he claimed to have been in his previous life. Stevenson commented in an interview: “I studied this case with much care but couldn’t find an explanation for the discrepancy” (Omni Magazine 10(4):76 (1988)).

Spirit influence could also explain another “proof” for reincarnation that is becoming increasingly popular: the correspondence between wounds that caused a person to die or other kinds of scars and birthmarks on children who are seen as being the reincarnation of that particular person. Not that a spirit influence could induce such physical abnormalities, but it could “suggest” a special origin to those who are born naturally with birthmarks and birth defects, especially in cultures where most physical and behavioral peculiarities are attributed to happenings in past lives (Southern Asia, the Druze in Lebanon, or Indians in North America). In the Western world birthmarks often are taken as a starting point in one’s quest for finding his or her ‘true’ identity. As there is an increasing interest in reincarnation, the interpretation of birthmarks is often channeled towards acceptance of previous lives and as a personal proof of it.

A further indication for interpreting spontaneous past-life recall experiences by children is the fact that they are culturally dependent. Most cases are reported in India and other South Asian countries, where reincarnation is fully accepted. The Asian cases are always richer in details than the Western ones. Western children who have such experiences give only poor details that could permit verification. When checking some verifiable details is possible, they usually turn out to be past experiences of other members of the family. Cultural conditioning certainly plays an important role in these phenomena.

In the conclusion of his research, Ian Stevenson admitts in his book Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation that the cases he studied, as the very title indicates, are only suggesting reincarnation and cannot be considered proofs for it.


Metaphysical reasons for rejecting past-life recall experiences as proofs for reincarnation

Even if hypnotic regression and spontaneous recall of past lives by children were free of any contradiction, there still would be another major argument against their veracity: According to the classic doctrine of reincarnation, the entity which reincarnates is the impersonal self (atman or purusha), accompanied by the subtle body. Any psycho-mental element that defines personhood does not belong to the self or to the subtle body, and therefore ceases to exist at physical death. Memory is such an element. It acts only inside the limits of a physical life and vanishes at death. If things were different, if memory could pass to further lives through reincarnation, it could establish the veracity of reincarnation in less problematic ways.

The vehicle that carries the psychic impressions from one life to another is said to be the subtle body (sukshma sharira in Vedanta) or the karmic deposit (karmashaya in Samkhya-Yoga). Although some say that this vehicle acts as a kind of unconscious memory of previous lives, it cannot represent a third ontological category (different from both the self and the psycho-mental realm), which could play the role of a carrier of personal memory from one life to another. As mentioned in the previous article, the subtle body stores hidden tendencies or impressions (samskara) imprinted by karma that act as seeds which generate future behavior and personal character. This kind of deposit merely serves as a mechanism for adjusting the effects of karma in one’s life. According to Samkhya and Yoga it dictates in an impersonal and mechanical manner the new birth, the length of life and the experiences that must accompany it. Karma represents an impersonal and mechanical law which functions with mathematical precision, so it cannot justify one’s state at a certain moment. One cannot know his or her own karma, but only speculate what it could be, based on actual situations in life.

One’s karmic debts could at best be imagined intuitively. For instance, it is supposed that a man who was murdered took his just reward for a murder he committed himself in a previous life. Past-life recall experiences do not provide any information about the “sins” one committed in a previous life, but only lead one to draw conclusions from when he or she allegedly was a victim or a simple observer of life. These kinds of experiences do not attempt to prove the justice of karma, but only that past lives are real. In other words, the “recalled” scenarios do not indicate which facts of the previous life produced the present incarnation, but only try to prove that we lived previous lives, that reincarnation is true and has to be acknowledged.

Because of the metaphysical difficulties mentioned above, most Eastern masters do not consider experiences of past-life recall as valid proofs for reincarnation. At the time Stevenson was carrying out his studies among Indian children who remembered previous lives, he met an Indian swami of the Ramakrishna order. He commented on these cases: “Yes [reincarnation] is true, but it does not make any difference, because we in India have all believed in reincarnation and have accepted it as a fact, and yet it has made no difference. We have as many rogues and villains in India as you have in the West” (Venture Inward Magazine, September/October, 1995). These stories are appreciated mostly by Westerners, probably as a result of misunderstanding the original doctrine of reincarnation and also because of their pseudo-scientific outlook. A more important argument for reincarnation in the East has another nature and will be analyzed next.


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