Monday, September 10, 2012

Proving reincarnation


Michiel Hegener is a Dutch journalist who has kept his personal memories of reincarnation to himself for many years. He immediately sensed , and is now in a position to confirm from his own and his interviewees’ experience, that openly expressing a belief in reincarnation can damage one’s career. His book Leven op herhaling (in Dutch: “Living in repeat mode”) started as a journalistic search into the truth of reincarnation which the leading Rotterdam daily NRC refused to publish.

The writer looks at the existing proof for reincarnation. This proof is mainly the spontaneous testimony of children, the testimony of adults brought into trance by regression therapists, and the procedures of the Tibetan Tulkus and others who consciously deal with reincarnation. He does not hesitate to map out their weak points, but concludes nonetheless that what remains is still very persuasive: memories from past lives are a fact, and reincarnation is this fact’s most credible explanation.



Persuasive proof is for instance provided by the case of James Feininger, an American child of Christian parents who at first set out to disprove his reincarnation “fantasies”. He reported many facts, which were all verified, about the life of fighter pilot James Huston, shot down by the Japanese in World War 2. His parents Bruce and Andrea Feininger devoted the book Soul Survivor to the long and tortuous process of verification and their conversion to reincarnation belief. Many cases of children reporting past lives have been studied by Ian Stevenson and his successor Jim Tucker, and by the Indian woman researcher Satwant Pasricha. Adult cases of regression have been tested and largely or fully verified by the Australian researcher Peter Ramster, such as the case of the Australian housewife Gwen McDonald who reports having lived in 18th-century Britain, by the Icelandic researcher Elendur Haraldsson, and a few others. US police inspector Robert Snow documented how he discovered and fully verified how he lived in the 19th century as the painter Carroll Beckwith.

No two people remember the same life, which would have been an argument against reincarnation and for a lesser paranormal explanation such as telepathy. Two large samples of adults both show an almost equal division of past lives as man or as woman, which is an argument for their testimonies’ veracity.



The writer also cites some Tulkus (consciously reincarnating Lamas) such as  Gyalwang Karmapa, Dutch regression therapist Lowie de Bie, and researcher Titus Rivas. Finally, he crosses swords with the skeptics Steve Hales (student of reincarnation researcher Robert Almeder) and Rob Nanninga.

In particular, he reports rather negatively on an article on reincarnation research by the leading Dutch skeptic Rob Nanninga. Skeptics have this knee-jerk reaction of alleging fraud. They are paranoids living in a world full of deceivers eager for money. Indeed, they are very money-oriented. They will say, for instance, about natural diets that “they don’t make you lighter, except your wallet”. From my experience in the New Age world, I have found there are far more deluded people than outright frauds, who don’t believe what they say but make others believe it. At any rate, the allegation of fraud is a serious affair, and should only be made if you can provide positive proof, not as an automatic alternative when a real explanation of unexplained facts is lacking.

But the good side of the hostile attitude of the skeptics and of the Western establishment is that nothing but the best evidence is good enough. The sloppy evidence common among internet Hindus, who claim to have “proven” reincarnation where it turns out that from their armchairs they have only argued that it is more rational and just than Christianity’s eternal afterlife (which plays upon the fond expectation that the world is just after all), will not do. Here, the anomalies are so strong that a explanation other than reincarnation becomes very unlikely. The interpretation of a karmic connection between lives, already disputed and practically undiscussed in this book, is much harder to prove, and is at any rate very different from the mere fact that we reincarnate. The Hindu-Buddhist belief in karmic reincarnation is now perhaps the best-known version of the reincarnation theory in the West, but is by no means universal. Some peoples believe that reincarnation is desirable, not something that must be ended (as Buddhists believe), or that it is simply a fact of life.

One thing that strikes me, as an Orientalist and decennia-long student of Hindu-Buddhist traditions involving reincarnation, is that this book, like every regression therapist or reincarnation researcher that I have heard lecture or with whom I have talked, treats reincarnation without encountering any fact that points to karma. There seems to be a continuity between lives, e.g. birthmarks are at the spot where the earlier incarnation suffered wounds, and an obvious tendency is reported to be reborn in roughly the same neighbourhood, family or circumstances. But there seems to be no evidence of reward or punishment, of being born blind as a punishment for past sins.

There is only little reference to existing ethnic beliefs about reincarnation. The Tibetan Tulkus are merely cited for their practice of “recognizing” new incarnations, not for their doctrines. Even the selection of interesting cases strongly discriminates against people from nations that already have a widespread belief in reincarnation. This is done on purpose: the numerous cases reported in India would be shot down by skeptics as cases of encouragement by the environment, which applauds recognized cases of reincarnations as prestigious or at least as welcome. In the West, and especially in atheist, Muslim and militantly Christian circles, claims of reincarnation are resolutely disbelieved, so cases are reported which were actually discovered by people who were at first out to disprove reincarnation.



Among the implications of reincarnation are a far greater attention to children’s rights. We are our children or grandchildren. Thus, children should not be given lifelong bodily interventions such as circumcision. They should not be forced into a religion. Of course, if reincarnation is recognized as a fact, it will be very harmful for the religions that deny it. So, this research has an inherent bias against Christianity and Islam, unless it concludes negatively.

Meanwhile, the belief in reincarnation should also stimulate interreligious tolerance. Those against whom we now fight on the streets (or otherwise hate), might be a community to which we once belonged ourselves. In India, 19 cases of reincarnation in a sample of 387 turned out to have changed religion between lives. But again, such a scenario is anything but religiously neutral: it confirms a widespread (though not a defining) Hindu belief and refutes the official Muslim position.

Another implication is ecology. We must leave the earth in good condition to future generations, because we ourselves are the future generations. A related issue is animal welfare, to whom Hindus and Jains pay so much attention:. That cow you see on the streets, or in the meadow, may (at least according to some reincarnation researchers) be the temporary abode of a soul normally incarnated in humans.

The writer is inclined to the oft-heard position that we shall never fully know, but that is to be doubted. Isaac Newton formulated the law of gravity, which became just another line in textbooks, then died in 1727. Two centuries later, people were applying his finding by flying in airplanes. Later, they set foot on the moon, and now satellites form an important and irreplaceable part of our telecommunications. If reincarnation proves to be true, our gaining of knowledge will be accelerated by more generous funding (the main problem so far) and a larger focus on this line of research. Even without those, we will soon investigate such questions as: what is the relationship between successive lives (maybe there is karma after all)? Is reincarnation in non-human life forms possible? What is the beginning of this cycle and how does it end? Know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.  


Michiel Hegener: Leven op herhaling. Bewijzen voor reïncarnatie, Ten Have 2012.


Unknown said...

Having grown up here in the U.S. I never took reincarnation seriously. I considered it total nonsense used by circus freaks to cheat gullible people out of their money. Only later in life did I start to read books on the topic (James Van Praagh, John Edward, Dr. Brian Weiss, etc.) and change my opinion. For quite some time now, I realized that the evidence for life after death and reincarnation was substantial and I consider it a fact and not something I "believe".

Once I took a matter-of-fact attitude towards it, I started to become annoyed by those who consider it a matter of faith or blind belief. I consider it unfinished business to move reincarnation out of the realm of 'pseudo-science' and firmly into a 'science'. That will require investment of money and time and also the need for uniform testing of professionals involved in the field and global standards. As long as hardcore Abrahamics (Christians/Muslims) and Dogmatic Atheists have more power and/or media influence, these changes will not occur.

- Niraj Mohanka
Boston, MA

Toki Nakamura said...

There are theories on the transmigration of the soul by Plato.

But personally, today we are not ready to expand our consciousness and research on the subject, there's too much hate and intolerance in the world.

This is my site which features past life test for fun purposes, check it out if you'd like.

Past Life Tests

Rita Narayanan said...

more than Hindu stories of reincarnation, the whole monastic ethos of Tibetan tulkus was thoroughly fascinating.

Perhaps becuase until yesterday Tibet seemed to be like one huge monastery :)

One huge problem with human memory based on vision what is real and a creation of illusion. But the whole matter of the inequity of birth and cicumstance is often explained by karma and reincarrnation.

But even the Druze and some other Middle Eastern sects believe in similar theories.

Once again my grateful thanks to Mr Elst for sharing his scholarly work with all of us!

Unknown said...

I am interested in knowing whether Professor Elst relates reincarnation to past karma or does he too believe in reincarnation without that being, in no way, related to karma?

अश्वमित्रः said...

I'm skeptical about the lack of evidence for an element of karma. Karma as it is really likely to operate would be virtually undetectable within the limits of just two lifetimes. The popular idea of karma (on the level of "I must have separated a cow from her calf in a past life and that is why I am now being separated from my son") can only be a crude representation of what actually happens, especially because karma is unlikely to be "moral" in the human sense: in the cosmic scheme of things, even the worst human crimes, even genocide, may not register as a mark on the debit side of an individual's karma. I know that there are texts that debate this issue of how moral karma is, but I don't know those texts. It would be very interesting to hear from those who know that debate.

अश्वमित्रः said...

One thing about even the Indian conception of reincarnation that suggests that it is grounded in reality is the fact that its element of wish fulfulment is quite weak, as compared to the concept of heaven in India and elsewhere. Growing up Baptist Christian, I learned that after death the saved will live forever in heaven where they will also find their loved ones. In other words, earthly life in effect never ends, and the individual is immortal. But I find that even unlearned Hindus (of the Brahmin community into which I married, the only Hindu community I really know) accept the quite grim and unconsoling version of rebirth found in Sanskrit texts: the reincarnated being, while carrying the physical and mental impressions of the karma of past lives, does not consciously remember those past lives (unless he is born with or attains to extraordinary spiritual insight, in which he is not attached to his past lives anyway); even if you met other reincarnated beings whom you knew in past lives, you won't remember that you knew them. None of this does much to alleviate the individual's terror of extinction and separation from his loved ones. So insofar as this vision of reincarnation has evidently not been constructed with the intention of alleviating that terror, it has a feeling of truth about it.

Rita Narayanan said...

the qs of karma

its not just cosmic even in the larger sense of the family the debt might have to be paid by the extended family.

even though I am not a scholar i know we relate to karma simply but the question is complex, judgement is always weighed in terms of the society one lives in.

It is even more difficult to explore the rational in real terms today because our sensibilities are all broken, our idea of Hindu in real terms is more provincial(our caste, language area of family etc) which radically differs.

then we are dispersed and constantly make opportunistic bargains with our environment so to weigh ones life is very difficult.

having reflected greatly on my life in deep measure- I can safely say no spiritual guru today can help a person with the inner self only we can do so. Too much information and material both old and new has to be contended with to even begin.

Karthikrajan said...

[The writer is inclined to the oft-heard position that we shall never fully know, but that is to be doubted.]
Doubt ? Without doubt, sir, it is near to impossible. Understanding ‘life’ (hence rebirth , reincarnation, moksha etc.) is same as understanding the term ‘energy’ which is same as understanding the ultimate truth called ‘god/gods’. To do this we have to understand just two physical aspects : Zero and Infinity, because life seems to appear out of nowhere (zero) and disappear into everywhere (infinite cosmos above us) Scientists investigating zero created a stir recently with the discovery of ‘god particle’ or boson, but nothing has been concluded as yet. Let us discuss infinity. Can we ever reach the boundary walls of this universe? Before that let us find out if, within a generation, we have the means at all to reach the nearest star which is 4 light years away. What is a light year? If we travel at the speed of light (3 lakh km/second) it will take 4 years to reach this star. The max speed reached by any spacecraft, with the aid of gravitational pull of various planets, is only 30km/sec. We need a 10,000 fold increase in speed to reach this star in 4 years. If not wait 10,000 x 4 = 40,000 years to reach it !!. Scientists and engineer s have given up the idea that speeds beyond 30km/sec. can be achieved with current technology, and they don’t foresee any rapid strides in technology in the near future. It is a fact that newton’s theories created a revolution after 2 centuries. But that was the age when telecom was nil, and very few people were involved in scientific research. Today it is vastly different. Looks like scientific ideas and inventions have reached a saturation. No further progress is possible unless something dramatic turns up like understanding einstein’s space-time relationship. The vedhic wisecracks also seem to have given up the idea. They could realize the power of the human mind , which no other organism seems to have, but not that this mind is capable of understanding life. To them gods/life is the ultimate truth after which there would be nothing new for humans to understand. The universe might as well self-destruct and start re-assembling again. The wheel goes full circle !! (Kaal chakra).

Capt. Ajit Vadakayil said...


people who know the subject of past life regression know the meaning of cellular memory.

charaka in 4200 BC, did past life regression and vaccination using leeches , knowing the science of cellular memory.

punch into google search


by the way , something about your next post--

eckhart lifted whole sale from vedas and upanishads.

capt ajit vadakayil

Ashish said...

I was the ardent disbeliever in the idea of Reincarnation.

Being myself a born Hindu , even then it looked stupid to me.

But now , it is proving to be true , to my utter disbelief.

Recently , the foremost Artificial General Intelligence Researcher & leading Cognitive Science thinker , Ben Goertzel has conceded Reincarnation to be true.

The Morphic fields is the reason he has given

Venkat Raman said...

I for one thought any discussion on reincarnation would be incomplete without mentioning the contributions of Edgar Cacey, considered a prophet. He was an ardent Protestant but suddenly acquired this power to "see" people's past lives. He himself used to be a physician in a previous birth. In the current birth even though he was not a doctor, he could provide surprising remedies to hopelessly ill people.

Unlike your view sir, he definitely links reincarnations to Karma. He didn't know this term, but pronounced it in his trance. Most of the cases he dealt with are well documented.

Just don't give up on this "Hindu-Buddhistic" angle, yet.

Golden Reed said...

Ananda K. Coomaraswamy has discussed the various positions that Vedic texts seem to take on the rebirth topic. While the Samhitas and Brahmanas appear to say that there are 3 "births" to every man - first, his natural birth, second, his son's birth, and third his grandson's birth, the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad seems to propose a more general theory, saying "tam vidyaa-karmaNI samanvaarabhete" (his learning & works follow him from this body to the next). AKC feels that this theory is in reality not the rebirth of the personality, but only the transmigration of the Self with subtle tendencies.