One of the most fascinating, speculated and controversial mysteries is the mystery of whether the phenomenon of what we call as reincarnation is real or not. Many cases of reincarnation keep coming to the limelight and seek to challenge the notion that death is the end of life!
Reincarnation literally means ''to come again in the flesh'' . It proposes that soul or spirit begins a new life in a new body after biological death. Though it is a major feature of Hinduism and Buddhism. It is also held by Pagan religions like Druidism, Spiritism, Eckankar,etc and also by many tribal societies and belief systems all over the world with variant views. A recent poll suggested that 25% Americans believed in reincarnation!
Hinduism relate reincarnation with law of karma and retribution. It believes that our present life and state is the consequences of our actions in previous life. Buddhism uses term 'rebirth' in place of 'reincarnation' which implies continuation of life without personal identity. It preaches that cycle of life and rebirth continues till materialistic desires are extinguished and enlightenment is achieved. Each school of thought vary in how ultimate deliverance (moksha) from reincarnation cycle can be achieved.
Let us go through some of the interesting cases of reincarnation to better understand the phenomenon.
James Leininger was obsessed with airplanes since the age of 2 years. Initially he used to tell his parents different names of various warplanes and various parts of the vehicle which fascinated his parents. Then he began to tell about his life as James M. Huston Jr. He told that he was a fighter pilot and his plane was shot down during the second world war. On investigation it was found that person with said name does exist. When sister of the killed pilot was contacted, she confirmed that the details of her brother as told by young James are true!
Gopal, a three year old kid from Delhi spoke about his previous life in Mathura. He claimed that he had a medical company and he was shot dead by his brother. All the details provided by Gopal including the name of his company were found to be true!
Swarnalata Mishra, a three year old girl (born in 1948, studied by Ian Stevenson) was travelling with her father across town Katni (Madhya Pradesh, India) 100 miles away from her home. Suddenly she pointed towards a road leading to her house and gave details of the house. She said that her name was Biya Pathak and she died due to pain in throat. She also mentioned the name of the doctor who treated her. When she was made to meet the family she immediately recognized her brother (she called him by his pet name), husband and son from the previous birth. She also told her past life husband that he had kept Rs 1200 in a box which was a private information between husband wife. It was amazing how a young girl from so far away could tell so many things that were found to be true.
Leading reincarnation researcher Ian Stevenson who has conducted more than 3000 case studies during his life time suggest that memories related to reincarnation usually occur between ages three to seven years and then fade away. He found that vast majority of cases involved people who had violent or untimely death.
Various evidences that support the reincarnation concept are as discussed below.
Matching scars and birthmarks are one of the most astounding physical evidences for reincarnation. About 35% cases studied by Stevenson had birthmarks or birth defects. Very often these birthmarks are astonishingly similar to the injuries or wound sustained in previous birth. For example matching scars has been found in the same places where victim was shot or stabbed in the previous birth. However skeptics say that similarity is not the proof of sameness!
Xenoglossy (ability of the person to speak a language he has never learned) is another evidence in which person begin to speak the language that he spoke in previous life. Skeptics claim that young children can learn words and phrases of foreign languages from outside sources (e.g. media). However child's intonation related to a particular dialect and culture and fluency of the language is difficult to explain.
Past life regression is a hypnotic technique in which subject is hypnotized and questions regarding his previous life are asked. Under hypnosis, subjects give detailed and vivid description of their previous lives. However the accuracy of the facts attained through hypnotism remains questionable because during hypnotism human memory is subject to distortions and the line between reality and fantasy is blurred. Though it increases the recall, it also increases errors. Therefore this method can only suggest the possibility of reincarnation and cannot conclusively prove it.
Deja vu is the feeling that you have been to a place before or you have performed exactly the same event before. Proponents of reincarnation suggest that this is due to the visions from the previous life. However alternative explanations to this phenomenon exists. Some researchers believe that sometimes data from the eye reaches the brain with a delay and gives us the feeling that we have seen this before. Another explanation suggest that we confuse a present event in the conscious mind with a similar past event in the subconscious mind which creates the impression that we have seen this before.
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As of now we can not conclusively say whether reincarnation is a genuine phenomenon or not. Though science refute the existence of any such thing, some scientists believe it is phenomenon worth doing research. Carl Sagan wrote that 'reincarnation research has some experimental support, however dubious and inconclusive' and felt that further research in this field was warranted. As our scientific community further explores the question, instances of reincarnation will keep astonishing us and will continue to challenge the very question of life and death!