Revised January 18, 2020
One needs to look at the mounting evidence without any preconceived ideas. There is no plausible way to explain these accounts from a purely “materialistic” point of view, i.e., that consciousness arises from inert matter.
- Here is a video of a recent discussion on Western research on children’s past lives, Near Death Experiences, etc:
The late Professor Ian Stevenson at the University of Virginia conducted over 20 years of research on the authenticity of rebirth accounts, which is being continued by Professor Jim Tucker.
- Several books about rebirth have been written by these two professors. A good book is “Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation” by Ian Stevenson. By the way, Professor Stevenson became a Buddhist later on in his life presumably because of his studies (see, “Rebirth as Doctrine and Experience” by Francis Story (2003); first edition 1975). He mentions this in the introduction he wrote to this book by Francis Story; I have scanned that introduction: “Introduction to “Rebirth by Francis Story – Ian Stevenson“.
Here is a video that discusses the work of the late Dr. Ian Stevenson, Dr. Jim Tucker, and colleagues at the University of Virginia:
In their book, “Soul Survivor: The Reincarnation of a World War II Fighter Pilot”, by Bruce and Andrea Leininger detail the amazing story of their son’s recount of a past life, mentioned in the above video. Here is an ABC News report on the story:
Here is another story of the rebirth of a Civil War General:
Here is a three-year-old chanting Buddhist suttas (and doing a very good job). Can a three-year-old memorize such complex lines of suttas?
- Also see the post, “Boy Who Remembered Pāli Suttas for 1500 Years.” This is a true story about a boy (Dhammaruwan) who recited complex and lengthy Pāli suttas at five years of age, that sounded very different from current chantings. Furthermore, he remembers accounts of his previous life 1500 years ago, when he accompanied the famous Buddhaghosa on his trip to Sri Lanka.
Another piece of evidence comes from child prodigies. Here is the story about Jake Barnett from a 60 Minutes report:
Evidence for Rebirth Much Stronger Than Perceived
1. Many people say that direct “proof” for rebirth cannot be given; it is actually the other way around. If one’s memories are in the brain (as science believes), then all those memories will be lost when one dies. There is no “physical connection” between the brains of those involved in the rebirth stories.
- Therefore, even if just one of those rebirth accounts can be proven to be true, then there is no way to explain that in any way other than rebirth. How can the brain in this life recall memories from the brain in a previous life?
- If there is a connection between two lives that lived in two geographical locations (also separated by time), there is no explanation for that in current science, i.e., no way to make a connection between the DNA of those two “persons”. A purely materialistic view cannot explain it.
- Recent findings in science show that matter in different locations are entangled at a fundamental level; see, “Quantum Entanglement – We Are All Connected“. Also, “a living being just goes from one physical body to another”; see, “Who Reincarnates? – Concept of a Lifestream“.
2. Also, it is by having this presumption of rebirth that all of the seeming anomalies and inequalities of life can be explained; see, “Vagaries of Life and the Way to Seek Good Rebirths“.
- And how could we ever explain the birth of such prodigies as Jeremy Bentham, who already in his fourth year could read and write Latin and Greek? John Stuart Mill, who at the age of three read Greek and at the age of six wrote a history of Rome? Babington Macaulay, who in his sixth year wrote a compendium of world history? Beethoven, who gave public concerts when he was seven; or Mozart, who already before his sixth year had written musical compositions? Voltaire, who read the fables of Lafontaine when he was three years old?
- Does it not seem infinitely more probable that all these prodigies and geniuses, who in many cases came from illiterate parents, had already in previous births laid the foundations for their extraordinary faculties?
Here is a list of child prodigies from Wikipedia. You will recognize many of the names:
Here is the link to Wikipedia article on child prodigies:
Healing with Hypnosis
The late Dr. Richard Feynman was skeptical about the claims in hypnosis studies until he subjected himself to hypnosis in two different occasions. In both instances, he verified for himself that if done correctly hypnosis works. He describes these two cases in his book, “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” (1985), pp. 66-68.
- Therefore, hypnosis provides yet another set of “supporting material”. There are many cases of people remembering past lives when hypnotized. It is hard to evaluate the validity of most such cases.
- However, there is a branch of hypnosis that uses it as therapy. Some people seem to have “phobias” based on a horrific event from a past life. They cannot figure out why they have these phobias, but when a hypnotist brings out that experience, they become cured. Here is a 20/20 documentary of three such cases, where they vouch for the authenticity of the therapy sessions:
There are hundreds of youtube videos on rebirth stories and also many on child prodigies and hypnosis-based curing of certain ailments.
Following books are also good reads:
- “Many Lives, Many Masters”, by Brian Weiss (1988).
- “Many Mansions: The Edgar Cayce Story on Reincarnation”, by Gina Cerminara (1988).
- “Children’s Past Lives: How Past Life Memories Affect Your Child” by Carol Bowman (1998)
- “Return to Life: Extraordinary Cases of Children Who Remember Past Lives”, Jim B. Tucker (2013).
OBE and NDE Studies
There is an ever-growing number of reports of Out-of-Body Experiences (OBE) and Near-Death Experiences (NDE) that not only support rebirth but also are consistent with the concept of a “manōmaya kāya“; see, “Manomaya Kaya and Out-of-Body Experience (OBE)” and other related posts.
Here is a popular youtube video on presentation of a physician on Near-Death Experiences:
There are many youtube videos, but here are three recent books on these two subjects:
- “Consciousness Beyond Life”, by Pim van Lommel (2010) gives detailed accounts of case studies by a renowned cardiologist.
- “Brain Wars” by Mario Beauregard (2012) is a book by a scientist on NDE, OBE, and the mind-body problem in general.
- “Dying to be Me: My Journey from Cancer, to Near Death, to True Healing”, by Anita Moorjani (2012) is a personal story of a cancer survivor who had been diagnosed to die within a few weeks but had an “unexplainable recovery” within days during which time she had an out-of-body experience.
1. Some of you may be wondering whether there is an inconsistency here. I have repeatedly mentioned that the Buddha clearly stated that it is extremely rare to be born a human. Yet, from the above rebirth case studies it appears that people have been born in the human realm in successive lives. If it is so hard to attain a human birth, how can this be?
2. There is nothing inconsistent. The key problem here is another misinterpretation. “Bhava” or existence is not the same as a “jāti” or a birth; see, “Bhava and Jāti – States of Existence and Births Therein“.
- A living being, upon exhausting the kammic energy for one existence, grabs hold of another strong kammic potential for the next existence. A human existence (bhava) can last thousands of years. Yet, each human birth (jāti) lasts only about 100 years. Therefore, there can be many births (jāti) within human existence (bhava.)
- In between successive human births, that human lives in para loka with just the “mental body” or manōmaya kāya. Another word for that entity is gandhabba. The concept of gandhabba is explained in simple terms at, “Ghost 1990 Movie – Good Depiction of Gandhabba Concept.”
- The same is true for the animal realm. The life of a dog is less than 20 years, but a “dog bhava” can last thousands or more years.
3. Thus, if one has done a highly meritorious deed, and at some point in samsāra (rebirth process) latches on to that “kamma seed” (see, “Sankhara, Kamma, Kamma Beeja, Kamma Vipaka“), that energy may be able to sustain that existence for many rebirths.
- In these cases, when physical death occurs BEFORE exhausting the energy of the kamma seed, the manōmaya kāya (also called gandhabba) leaves the dead body and waits until a suitable womb is ready; see, “Manomaya Kaya (Gandhabba) and the Physical Body“. In this case, the gandhabba may carry the physical resemblance to the next life, including scars of any significant wounds, birthmarks, etc.
- When rebirth takes place there, the new physical body could have many resemblances to the old body. In many rebirth cases, such physical resemblances have been confirmed (as in the case of the civil war general in one of the above videos).
4. In summary, it is important to remember that in Paticca Samuppāda, it is “upādāna paccayā bhavo“, i.e., grasping or craving (upādāna) that leads to existence (bhava): for example, existence as a dog.
- That existence (bhava) may have enough kammic energy to support many repeated births as a dog. Therefore, once a given bhava or existence is grasped, the next step of “bhava paccayā jati“, will lead to repeated births as a dog until that kammic energy is exhausted; see, “Bhava and Jāti – States of Existence and Births Therein“.
5. On the other hand, if the kammic energy for that “bhava” has run out by the time death occurs, then a new “bhava” will be grasped at the death moment.
- For example, a human may exhaust the kammic energy for that human existence (bhava) and grasp a kammic seed for a bhava (existence) of an elephant. In that case, an “elephant gandhabba” will come out of the dead body of the human. Then it will stay in that “mental body” until a matching “elephant womb” appears. That means the mother elephant needs to have gati similar to this new elephant.
6. It may be difficult to grasp these concepts initially. One needs to look up the links given and may need to go back several layers to grasp these ideas. It is not possible to explain everything in one post. Buddha Dhamma can be very deep if one wants to really comprehend how nature works.
You may want to read the posts in the section on “Origin of Life.”