Reincarnation is one of those ideas that seems to have to travelled around the world and convinced a huge number of people in its reality. There are many extremely convincing and fascinating stories but none that seem to have gained the scientific ‘seal of approval’ to more reincarnation from a religious idea to a scientific fact. So can reincarnation be real?
The idea of reincarnation is a central principle of the Indian religions and has also been incorporated into a number of faiths including Spiritism and Theosophy. It is also known in concept in tribal societies from Siberia to West Africa and from North America to Australia. It is not a part of the Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam but some groups of these religions have come to adopt it to their beliefs, notably modern Kabbalah followers, the Cathars the Druze and the Rosicrucian’s.
No-one is totally sure where and when the idea of reincarnation first entered the awareness of mankind but even going back to the early civilisation of India, including the Indus Valley cities, there is evidence it was known. Both the Druids of the ancient Celts and ancient Greeks spoke of the idea, though there were difference in the details of the concept.
Today, there are more than 75 million people around the world who say they believe in reincarnation, including around 24% of all Americans. One survey suggested as many as one in ten people have a memory they associate with a past life. Those who study religion suggest that part of the appeal of reincarnation is potential to do better – what you failed on in this life, you can improve on in the next one. It makes the universe seem more merciful and forgiving than the starker idea of heaven and hell.
Unfortunately, the central reason that reincarnation is often dismissed by people is the large number of fakes, scams and charlatans that seem to be drawn to the subject. From those claiming to have been royalty in another life to those who claim to ‘help’ people discover their past personalities, the subject has been laced with fraud and this keeps many people away.
Despite this, a team at the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia (UVA) have been collecting stories for 45 years from people who claim to remember their past lives. And even a short search on the internet can produce a number of convincing and interesting case studies.
One such story, detailed on paranormal.about.com, discusses a young boy who was not yet two years old but turned to his father and told him he had changed his father’s diaper when he, the father, had been two. The father was shocked by this but put it out of his mind, thinking he had misheard. However, this wasn’t the end to the boy’s precocious observations.
Over the next few months, the couple came to realise that their son believed he was actually his own grandfather. When quizzing him about how he came back, he said he had come through a portal, a strange word for a two year old to use correctly. When asked, he also said he had a sister who had been turned into a fish by some ‘bad guys’. The grandfather had indeed had a sister who had been murdered 60 years ago, her body found floating in San Francisco Bay.
Finally, when asked how he died, the boy jerked and slapped the top of his head as if in pain – his grandfather had died the year before he was born from a cerebral haemorrhage.
In fact, the largest group who provide these fascinating stories of previous lives are children and theirs are perhaps more believable as they cannot research on the internet or visit records offices to collect background information. Often these children can provide information such as the names of relatives, occupations and relationships as well as expressing emotions and thoughts that were completely out of context for their age and location.
One of the foremost authors on the subject, Dr Ian Stevenson, had accumulated over 2,600 examples over a 40-year period similar to the story above. And in many cases, the stories the children provide can be checked and verified from records and even from living relatives of the people.
What conclusive proof will convince the scientific community on the theory of reincarnation is not yet clear but for those of a less stringent mind, there is definitely something to the wealth of stories. I suppose we are only really going to know when we die ourselves, and see if we can remember reading about reincarnation when we wake again.