Tibetan monks rejoice at finding the next Dali Lama in a village in India.
A six-year-old Scottish boy talks endlessly about his old family, house, and dog in a town 300 kilometres away from where he lives. His desperate parents track down the house right where he said it was.
A six-year-old American boy dreams repeatedly of a fiery airplane crash and points out on a map the place where his plane was shot down. Investigation leads to the confirmation of details in the boy’s story.
The phenomenon involved in each of these cases is, of course, reincarnation. For three billion people around the world, reincarnation is a no-brainer. After death and some time spent in the afterlife, the soul is reborn – usually in a human body but sometimes, the body of an animal or even an inanimate object such as a stone – to continue its evolution on the earth plane.
Some form of reincarnation is part of the doctrine in numerous religions including
Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Taoism, Orthodox Judaism and some forms of Christian Gnosticism. Many African tribes, Native Americans and Inuits also believe the dead are reborn, often in the same family the deceased person left behind.
The classical Greek philosophers Pythagoras, Plato, and Socrates apparently taught that the soul returns after death in a new body. In The Republic, Socrates wrote, “. . . The choice of the souls was in most cases based on their experience of a previous life . . .”
Hindus believe that, depending on the life it led in its previous incarnation, the soul will be born again to an easier or more challenging situation. The ancient Hindu text known as the Bhagavad-Gita says, “. . . As a man, casting off old clothes, puts on others and new ones, so the embodied (self) casting off old bodies, goes to others and new ones . . .”
Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (37 – 100 C.E.) wrote in his Wars of the Jews, “. . . (the Pharisees) say that all souls are incorruptible, but that the souls of good men only are removed into other bodies . . .”
One of the most controversial passages in the Holy Bible may be John 9:1 – 3: “And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was blind since birth?”
Reincarnation has itself been reborn in modern popular culture, with a plethora of short stories, novels, and memorable movies including The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (1975), Heaven Can Wait (1978), Fluke (1995), and What Dreams May Come (1998).
The subject is finally undergoing some scientific study. British researcher Ian Lawton has collected an impressive amount of information through past-life regression (hypnosis) that seems to point to reincarnation. Canadian psychiatrist Ian Stevenson (1918 – 2007) was the founder of a research group at the University of Virginia known as the Division of Perceptual Studies. The division has become well-known for studying cases of children who seem to spontaneously recall past lives. In some cases, these children show a distinct phobia, birth mark or physical defect corresponding to wounds or other marks on the deceased person whose life the child claims to remember. Lawton, Stevenson, and others have published numerous thought-provoking books, and although none of this proves the reality of reincarnation, it does make one wonder: who or what have I been in the past?