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.
4/25/17: 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 a 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?
Another piece of evidence comes from child prodigies. Here is the story about Jake Barnett from a 60 Minutes report:
1. Many people say that direct “proof” for rebirth cannot be given; it is actually the other way around: If someone can convince oneself that just one of those rebirth accounts MUST BE TRUE, then there is no way to explain it by any other way.
- 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. There is a way one could actually recollect one’s own past lives going back to many lives. This is possible by developing the fourth jhana and then cultivating extrasensory powers; see, “Power of the Human Mind – Anariya or Mundane Jhanas“.
3. However, when one attains the Arahant stage, certain “extrasensory powers” are gained; the ability to “see” previous lives (pubbe nivasanussati nana) is one of them.
4. 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; or John Stuart Mill, who at the age of three read Greek and at the age of six wrote a history of Rome; or Babington Macaulay, who in his sixth year wrote a compendium of world history; or Beethoven, who gave public concerts when he was seven; or Mozart, who already before his sixth year had written musical compositions; or 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 Hypnosys
The late Dr. Richard Feynman was sceptical 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.
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 reports on Out-of-Body Experiences (OBE) and Near-Death Experiences (NDE) that not only support rebirth, but also are consistent with the concept of a “manomaya kaya”; see, “Manomaya Kaya and Physical Body” and other related posts.
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 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 a 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 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 an existence is not the same as a “jathi” or a birth; see, “Patiicca Samuppada – “Pati+ichcha”+”Sama+uppada”“, and subsequent posts. A living being, upon exhausting the kammic energy for one existence, grabs hold of another strong kammic potential for the next existence. If the energy of that kammic potential is large, the being may be reborn many times in that existence until that kammic energy is exhausted (life span of a certain existence is limited; maximum of 120 years for a human, about 20 years for dog, etc.).
3. Thus, if one has done a highly meritorious deed, and at some point in sansara 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 manomaya kaya (also called gandhabbaya) leaves the dead body and waits until a suitable womb is ready; see, “Manomaya Kaya and Physical Body“. In this case, the gandhabbaya may carry the physical resemblance to the next life, including scars of any significant wounds, birth marks, 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 Samuppada, it is “upadana paccaya bhavo“, i.e., grasping or craving (upadana) that leads to existence (bhava): for example, existence as a dog. That existence (bhava) may have enough kammic energy to support several repeated births as a dog. Therefore, once a given bhava or existence is grasped, the next step of “bhava paccaya jati“, will lead to repeated births as a dog until that kammic energy is exhausted; see, “Bhava and Jati – 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, and the resulting gandhabbaya that comes out will be quite different. For example, if a human has exhausted the kammic energy for that human existence (bhava) and a kammic seed for a bhava (existence) of an elephant is grasped, then the gandhabbaya that results will have the “imprint” for an elephant, and will find an elephant womb to be born in the next life.
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 the nature works.
Next, “The Four Stages in Attaining Nibbana“, …………….