JANUARY :: We share more of our favourite haunted locations, further frightening experiences, and some possible fascinating evidence of the paranormal.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Recycled Souls :: Reincarnation, Rebirth & Past-lives as Life After Death

The Buddhist Wheel of Life is a pictorial
representation of the Buddhist belief in the
cycle of birth and rebirth.

"For those who remember their past lives, rebirth is a clear experience. However, most ordinary beings forget their past lives as they go through the process of death, intermediate state and rebirth." - Dalai Lama
During our recent summer/winter hiatus from G&G, I had the most vivid, frightening dream. It was a dream that hijacked another, mundane, meaningless dream. A dream that could constitute a nightmare. In this dream I had been a man, running for my life on a cold, lonely beach at dawn, pursued by a frightening enemy. Just as the morning sun began to creep above the horizon, I suffered my fate - slaughtered by an organised band of twenty or so Vikings.

I woke from this dream at the moment of my death. I had never dreamt of this before, and Vikings have never constituted a specific historical interest of mine, so to dream of them in such a vivid, frightening manner seems to me rather random.

Just like the dreams I've had since early childhood, where I am laid out on a table, my stomach sliced open and disembowelled. The pain and the horror of the event is so overpowering that everything else in the dream is irrelevant. What matters in this dream is not who I am or what I may have done to deserve such a punishment. The purpose is to relive the pain and the horror of it, over and over again.
I'm certainly not the only person on the planet to be haunted by dreams that seem to relive a moment from a life that is so far removed from my own that it leaves behind a plethora of questions, mostly about life, and death, and life-after-death.

Have I had fleeting glimpses of a previous existence, or are these dreams merely fantastical imaginings conjured by an over-active brain?
Once-upon-a-time, I would never have considered the possibility of a past-life. I was brought up to believe that death brings with it a patient wait for Judgement Day, upon which my one-and-only existence would be scrutinised, and my one-and-only eternal soul either ascended into Heaven or damned to the fiery pits of Hell. I had one chance to get it "right"; stuff it up and I'd be paying for it for the rest of forever.

But, of course, life experience has taught me that neither life, nor death, are quite so simple. A belief in reincarnation, of being repeatedly reborn into new skin and a new experience, has been the cornerstone religious belief of millions of people for thousands of years. Who am I to say it is wrong, without first truly considering its possibility?


"Carnate" means "of flesh", so to "reincarnate" is to "re-enter the flesh".

The two major religions in the modern world that believe in reincarnation, rebirth and past-lives are Hinduism and Buddhism. However, these beliefs, whilst similar, are not identical.

Hinduism is the oldest religion in India: Five thousand years and counting. It is still practised today, by over 80% of the population. A belief in reincarnation is at the core of Hinduism, wherein the soul is eternal and reincarnated many times, as human, animal or plant. Each existence provides the opportunity for experience, and therefore to evolve spiritually. Reincarnation ends only when the soul has no further lessons to learn, at which point it "graduates" from physical birth.

The Himalayan Academy defines it thus:

"At death the soul leaves the physical body. But the soul does not die. It lives on in a subtle body called the astral body. The astral body exists in the nonphysical dimension called the astral plane, which is also the world we are in during our dreams at night when we sleep. Here we continue to have experiences until we are reborn again in another physical body as a baby. Each reincarnating soul chooses a home and a family which can best fulfill its next step of learning and maturation. After many lifetimes of following dharma, the soul is fully matured in love, wisdom and knowledge of God. There is no longer a need for physical birth, for all lessons have been learned, all karmas fulfilled. That soul is then liberated, freed from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth."

Hindus believe in previous lives regardless of whether or not they are remembered - some remember, but most do not. The importance is not in the remembering; it's the undisputed knowledge that one has lived before and the current existence in which they find themselves offers important lessons to be learned. Each life, or existence, is one step closer to spiritual fulfilment; one cannot go "backwards" on their journey.

The Buddhist belief in reincarnation is somewhat different. In fact, some Buddhists argue that reincarnation in and of itself is not a Buddhist principle at all, since Buddha did not teach it. However, the idea of being "reborn" is a powerful aid in the Buddhist teachings, as it gives cause for its students to heed their lessons - a form of social control, if you like. The Rev. Takashi Tsuji, a Jodo Shinshu priest, described it as follows:

"Fear of birth into the animal world must have frightened many people from acting like animals in this life. If we take this teaching literally today we are confused because we cannot understand it rationally...A parable, when taken literally, does not make sense to the modern mind. Therefore we must learn to differentiate the parables and myths from actuality."

But reincarnation is a core belief in many Buddhist societies. Take for example the Sinhalese, the Buddhist majority in Sri Lanka. The hierarchal construction of their society deems men to be greater than woman - physically, mentally, and spiritually. Therefore, a Sinhalese woman's defining aim is to ensure she adheres to the social constructs of her society, so that she may be "reborn" as a man, which will bring her one step closer to spiritual enlightenment.

Buddhism is also the major religion in Tibet, and the Dalai Lama writes quite extensively on the subject of reincarnation, stating that if there is no reincarnation then "we would also have to accept that the world and its inhabitants come about without causes and conditions".
It is interesting to note that belief in past and future lives was already present amongst the indigenous peoples of Tibet when Buddhism first arrived to the region, so perhaps it is not such a surprise that reincarnation plays an important role in the Buddhist life they have since adopted.
However, the evidence of past-lives in the form of remembering them is not limited to people who identify as being Buddhist, or Hindu.

"The world just doesn't work as we think or assume it does. The cases I have examined don't come under a normal explanation of how we perceive the world." - Dr Jim Tucker, M.D.
In 2004, the parents of James Leininger came out with claims that their young son had vivid memories of his past-life as a WWII fighter pilot by the name of James M. Huston Jr., who was shot down over the Pacific by the Japanese in 1945. They claimed that from an early age their son would wake from terrifying nightmares, screaming that a plane was on fire and he couldn't get out. Young James took to writing his name as "James 3", and seemed to have knowledge about the workings of military aircraft far beyond his years.
The story of James Leninger has become one of the most compelling and fascinating claims of reincarnation in modern times. Born and raised in the USA to successful, professional parents, his life could not be more different from the Hindus of India, or the Buddhists of Tibet, and yet here he was, a child of pre-school years, displaying evidence of having lived before his present life.
But James' story isn't exactly unique; in fact, in recent years there have been a number of children who claim to remember their previous lives as somebody else. Investigations have been made, and books written on the subject, such as Thomas Shroder's Old Souls and Dr Jim Tucker's Return to Life. Whilst not entirely convincing, they do present a fascinating argument for further investigation into past-life claims, particularly outside of communities and religions that already harbour such a belief.
Not everyone has the fortune (or misfortune, depending on one's perspective) to remember a past-life and death; however, there are means by which the unenlightened can apparently retrieve the details of their previous existences. 
Hypnotic past-life regression is a popular method through which one may be able to discover and relive a past-life. This service is offered by certain hypnotherapists and psychologists as a means to assist in the relief of emotional stress and trauma suffered by their clients, something that may have been brought about by the experiences of a past-life, and/or death.

Meditation and psychic readings may also reveal the details of a past-life, such as in the form of a specialised Tarot Reading.
There is also the possibility that dreams are a means through which our past-lives are revealed to us. Therefore, dream interpretation and the practice of lucid dreaming may also be powerful tools in unlocking the secrets of a prior life. 
Whilst I don't necessarily believe my dreams of Vikings and violent death are past-lives being revealed to me via the mechanics of REM sleep, I do find it a fascinating possibility, one that I am curious to explore further. I mean, who wouldn't? Life is so fleeting, painfully short, and I can appreciate that there is comfort in believing there has been much before, and yet even more still to come.

Do you believe in reincarnation and/or past-lives as a form of Life After death? Why, or why not?

Curious to discover more? Try these useful and fascinating links:
Alliance of Religions and Conservation: What do Hindus believe?
Kauai's Hindu Monastry
The Wheel of Life: An Illustrated Journey through the Bhavachakra
The Wheel of Life: Samsara, Birth, Rebirth, Liberation
Reincarnation in Buddhism: What Buddha didn't teach
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet: Reincarnation
Parents think boy is reincarnated pilot
10 Interesting Cases of Supposed Reincarnation
New book reveals children who believe they have been reincarnated
Eckankar: Reincarnation and past-lives
My Psychic: How to remember past-lives
wikiHow: How to Remember your past-lives
And these books:
A Celebration of Demons: Exorcism and the Aesthetics of Healing in Sri Lanka by Bruce Kapferer
Return to Life by Jim Tucker
Old Souls by Thomas Shroder

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