The Secret of Past Lives: Belief of Western Philosophers in Rebirth

Published: 10.08.2017

Whatever the western philosophers have said on the basis of their experience and their reflections, it seems to support the idea of rebirth. Plato is the forerunner. In his treatise he has clearly said 'the population is numbered'. The soul is not 'created' at the time of birth. To think it is created at the time of birth brings in its wake many problems.

Greek philosophers too discussed reincarnation. Pythagoras has discussed it at length. Professor Burnet is in no doubt that Pythagoras taught belief in rebirth has substantiated the fact that Pythagoras has imparted the idea of rebirth. Empedocles (492-432 BCE) has mentioned that Pythagoras used to discuss such matters with persons who could recall the incidents of twenty previous generations. This clarified that there is previous birth. If a man can recall what he was twenty generations ago, then it is clear that his experiences are real and must be believed. In Greek philosophy, the Socratic method of enquiry is significant. He believed that without believing in reincarnation one cannot justify the immortality of soul. Socrates, the famous founder of Greek philosophy, felt that even from the perspective of morality, the theory of reincarnation is important.

In his famous book, 'The Divine Education of the Human Race' Gothold Ephraim Lessing (German writer and publicist of the 18lh century) says: '... progress of man cannot happen in one life. It has to move on and progress further.' Basically, if the existence of the soul is accepted, the rest follows automatically. In any discussion on past lives or rebirth acceptance of a previous existence is essential for only if something had existed can it be born again! Only if one accepts the existence of the soul in the past can one proceed with this argument. Only if there has been a past life, can there be one in the future too.

Closer to our times, some twenty editions of a book titled, 'After Death' have been published in many languages. There a very sensitive episode of a girl named Julia is narrated. Julia was a beautiful and vivacious girl. She had many friends. She would often tell them that even if she died, she would keep in touch with them. Suddenly, she died on 12th December, 1891. Her soul seemed to be searching for her friends. All her friends said that Julia's soul seems to be very close to them. Julia's soul would feel unhappy for she could not be reciprocated with the senses of touch, feel, or vision. Many such incidents have been reported in India. Here are two incidents worth relating:

Mr. Brij Kishore Verma was a Homeopath. He lived in Baheda in Darbhanga district in Bihar. A girl was born in his family. She was named Kumkum. She was quite attached to her grandmother Shrimati Gangavati Verma. One day as she was giving chivra (beaten rice flakes) to the children, Kumkum all of a sudden told her grandmother that she too used to give chivra to her children. She also said that she lived in Urdu Bazaar of Darbhanga district. Family members used to enjoy her talks which seemed a figment of imagination. She used to answer to any question with an assertion. After some time her parents got worried. They could not understand how they could train a child of three and a half or four years to speak or answer in a polite manner.

There was a fair in Baheda. Kumkum's mother dressed in a new sari and wore a gold chain with locket. Kumkum also wore a new frock. On seeing her mother's chain Kumkum compared hers to that one and said that her chain was shinier. "I shall also wear jewels. I will take out money from the cash box and meet my daughters-in-law." Thus she started throwing tantrums. Quite often she would wish to meet her sons and daughters-in-law of her previous birth. Finally Dr. Brij Kishore Verma consulted a special officer of Darbhanga district and his close friend Pandit Harish Chandra Mishra. But were not able to find any solution to this problem.

But Pandit Mishra believed that this must be concerned with the incidents of previous birth. He asked Kumkum about the details. Kumkum gradually recalled that there was a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva opposite her house in Urdu Bazaar. She used to go daily to pray there. Her sister poisoned her. When Pandit asked her how to locate her house, she clearly said that there was a cinema hall behind her house.

Dr. Verma with the help of Pandit were able to locate the house without any difficulty. The head of the family Misri Lai (who was the son of Kumkum in her previous birth) showed a pond close to the house. He said that the pond was prepared during his mother's lifetime. Neighbours said that she had a serpent as a pet which had lost its tail.

She used to take care of it. She was a religious person who would take food only after performing puja to Lord Shiva in the temple.

The famous scholar Dr. Ian Stevenson studied Kumkum's case and found it to be cogent. At that time he was travelling to different countries including India in search of truth and rationale behind the concept of rebirth. He had already tried to collect such incidents from various other countries. Dr. Stevenson said that a man is born with the same traits and characteristics that remain till the time of death. Such incidents are happening all over the world. For some time people kept it as a secret, embarrassed that it may lead to misinterpretation. But now that scientists are trying to understand this phenomenon of rebirth, it is being accepted as a certainty and can no longer be disproved outright. Gradually people have come to terms that there is something as previous birth and rebirth. This is not a baseless belief but is the presentation of a principle that instills faith in a continuous and long life and destroys the fear and dejection that comes with the thought of death. Those who wish to ascend to immortality, they continue to be good and noble and progressively move on since they believe that death is only a pause and not the end. Such a positive attitude encourages people to keep going till there is pause, death.

Dr. Ian Stevenson, Director of Department of Psychiatry, is a forerunner in research regarding the concept of previous birth. He has written a book titled "Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation". The ancestors of Red Indians who live close to North West coast of America had migrated from Asia some thousands of years ago. One of them was able to narrate his past life and at the same he could foretell his future life also. It turned out to be right!

The incident took place in 1949. William George Senior was the leader of fishermen. One day he told his son and daughter-in-law that if I am reborn I shall be born as your son. You see some of the identification marks on my body. If these marks of identification are found in your son then think that I am born as your son. A few years hence, while he went fishing his boat overturned and he got drowned and after some time his daughter-in-law gave birth to a son. He was named George Junior. As the boy grew up he was not only physically like his grandfather but even his traits of character were like those of his grandfather. There were more examples that testify the similarities. George Senior was once hurt while playing basketball and after that he used to limp. Similarly George Junior also used to walk with a limp. As the grandfather used to alert people from going to certain places and showed anger so did George Junior. He was as good at fishing as his grandfather was. He used to be as social as his grandfather was with his relatives and friends. Just before death George Senior gave his gold watch to his son. The moment George Junior saw it he claimed as his own. He wanted to have it and quite often quarrelled with his father. He had an attraction for the watch till he was eleven. Once he progressed towards adulthood all his attachments which were strong till then started fading away. Ian Stevenson had examined and experimented on this boy and again he conducted the research on him in his youth.

According to his research he has drawn certain conclusions regarding the interim period between death and rebirth. It has been observed that the period is varied in different places. In Turkey it is nine months, in Sri Lanka it is 21 months, in India it is 45 months and in Alaska it is 48 months. Those who die a violent death or die due to war/invasion, such people are reborn soon and they are reborn to take vengeance. Such incidents of rebirth are 40% in Sri Lanka and India, 80% in Lebanon and Syria. There is change in gender in rebirth. Such traits are found between the age of 2 and 4 and between 5 and 8 years these traits completely fade away.

Before establishing the theory of rebirth Dr. Ian Stevenson studied nearly 1600 people. He has scientifically proved the concept of rebirth by different kinds of tests and examples. He has scientifically proved that a 'child prodigy' also confirms that this is due to the traits that one carries from previous birth. This also upholds the belief that one is born according to 'Karma' of one's previous birth.

Professor C.J. Ducas (Brown University) has published a research paper titled 'The Doctrine of Incarnation in the History of Thought'. This research work has highlighted number of incidents from the prehistoric times to modern times that deal with the concept of rebirth. It includes the celebrated case of Edgar Casey whose claims led to wide dissemination of the theory of rebirth in America. Casey had claimed that he would compile all the cases of reincarnation right from the time of the Bible down to the present era. The available evidences have so far not been able to conclusively prove the rebirth theory on the touchstone of modern scientific parameters. But the growing number of supportive cases is definitely buttressing the belief in its validity. Presently two factors are considered responsible for a person's personality make-up: One is heredity or genetic factor; the other is environmental influence.

A third factor is now strongly indicated by the principle of Karmaphala or the result of actions performed in one birth.

The famous psychologist Carl G. Jung was once travelling in Africa. This was his first visit to the country. He saw an aborigine standing on a hillock. Instantly he had an uncanny feeling that the place was his motherland in some earlier life on earth and that the person was standing there for thousands of years and waiting for him. This sensation grew stronger upon his entering the village. He felt that he was very well familiar with its every nook and corner. Psychologists call this phenomenon Deja vu. Jung himself explains it as Reincarnation of the immemory zone.

William Chapman White has written about an incident in his book which is as follows:

Mrs. and Mr. Brelorn visited Bombay from the U.S. for the first time. They felt as if they were familiar with the place while walking in a street. Mr. Brelorn said, 'There is an Afghan church at the next turn and when we go further we will come across Delai Road.' The lady laughed and said, "You had probably come here earlier that is why you are able to identify the places." On hearing this Mr. Brelorn was taken aback and wondered why he was feeling at home and knew each and every place. Once he reached Malabar hills he saw a guard near a Banyan tree and asked him if there was an old building. He said it had been there and he knew because his father had been working there but that had been demolished some 90 years back. That house had belonged to a Bhann family. The moment he heard this he reminded his wife that they have named their son as Bhann Brelorn. They were totally surprised at this coincidence.

National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience, Bengaluru, has in its study has given 45 pointers in which there is ample evidence to prove the theory of rebirth. During this study there were 200 cases, most of them were from U.P., Rajasthan, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh. 50% of the people said that they died unnatural deaths. All those people who remembered their past birth were less than 10 years old. At least one third of them were girls.

Where will be one reborn depends on how good and how noble one had been before death envelops one. It depends on one's attitude. Just as a butterfly searches for a flower but a mosquito prefers to be in dirt and dust, similarly man's attitude decides what he would like to be. That is how when one is reborn one looks for a suitable place or environment according to his attitude which we call as karma in Indian philosophy.


Title: The Secret of Past Lives
Authors: Muni Kishan Lal
Publisher: B. Jain Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
Edition: 2017

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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Anger
  2. Bengaluru
  3. Bihar
  4. Body
  5. Bombay
  6. Environment
  7. Fear
  8. Karma
  9. Kishore
  10. Madhya Pradesh
  11. Mishra
  12. Pandit
  13. Plato
  14. Pradesh
  15. Puja
  16. Punjab
  17. Pythagoras
  18. Rajasthan
  19. Socrates
  20. Soul
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