FAQ: Reincarnation



To understand reincarnation, we need to understand the nature of our mind, and how our body and mind are separate entities.

If we understand the nature of the mind, we can understand the existence of past and future lives.
~ About Reincarnation

Common questions about the concept of reincarnation

If people have lived previous lives, wouldn't they remember them?
When a child is in its your mother's womb, or is a one-year-old, it is not in a fit state to remember anything long term - so whether we like it or not, it actually makes sense that most adults can't remember anything from before a very young age, let alone from before this life.

Having said that, there have always been some people who have claimed to remember past lives. Many are children, who may lose such memories before they reach adulthood, while others get spontaneous glimpses into their past because a specific event triggers the memory. Such memories are as mysterious as any other unexplained (or psychic) abilities. Unfortunately such people often keep these memories to themselves - for fear of ridicule. If people are open to the idea, and approach the subject with people in an appropriate way, it can be surprising how many people you do meet who have experienced some kind of past life memory. There are also plenty of books on the subject and some very compelling cases indeed.

Regression therapy is yet another tool to delve into the deepest recesses of our memories and many skeptical hypnotherapists have conceded in the face of mounting evidence.

Why do so many people into reincarnation seem to remember being someone famous?
Statistically, this is simply not the case. Many researchers have logged thousands of cases of reported past life memories and most of them describe being fairly ordinary types of people - mothers, soldiers, etc. Many past life experiences have been submitted to this web site and the vast majority describe past life scenes of very ordinary people.

So where does this misconception come from? Possibly because the thousands of mundane past life memories are seldom worthy of note, while much attention is often given to the memories of being someone significant.

Having said that, there are definitely some people who claim to have been a famous person in a past life, but because past life memories can be so sketchy and history can often be so poorly and often inaccurately recorded insofar as the private lives of such people go, many cases appear inconclusive to the outsider.

If there's only a fixed number of souls, how has the world population increased?
This is often heard from people who don't believe in reincarnation. First, if people don't believe in reincarnation, why would they believe in a limited number of souls? And one has to ask such people why they really expect that there is a limit to life within in the universe. However having said that, it is interesting to note that as man's population has increased, the animal kingdom has gradually been decimated - and that is where some mystics say human souls gradually evolve upwards from. (Note the most plentiful forms of life on the planet are insects, and think of the amount of forest humankind has destroyed since the dawn of civilization.) Also of note, highly advanced Yogis state that life exists on many other places in the unlimited expanse of the universe, in which case the planet Earth would be only one of many places for souls to inhabit.

So after we die, there's no eternal heaven?
Why not? Modern mystics describe a very pleasant area of the spirit (or "astral") realms where souls can seemingly relax for as long as they like. And supposedly some people stay there for hundreds of years. However for most of us, we easily become bored if we're not doing new things and accepting new challenges, so presumably that may be the impetus for a lot of us to soon move on and then the cycle starts over again.

Isn't reincarnation heresy if you're a Christian?
For a Catholic, yes it is as the notion of pre-existence of the soul has been anathematised by the Vatican. However at one time it was also heresy to believe that the earth wasn't the centre of the universe and Galileo was put under house arrest until his death in 1642 because of his heretical views - views which have since been accepted worldwide.
What it comes down to is that the Christian Church is comprised of humans and, like all things human, is most certainly fallible. It has changed its mind many times on various matters over the course of history and no doubt will do so in the future. It often requires extraordinary humans to go against the status quo in pursuit of what they perceive to be the truth.

Won't I have to stop being a Christian if I believe in reincarnation?
Not at all. Religion is a personal thing and so is belief. No two theologians ever have exactly the same views on everything! Jesus didn't preach against reincarnation - in fact many believe that some of his statements actively endorsed the concept, especially when he said that John the Baptist was in fact Elijah.

Isn't it the devil's doctrine?
Well, for people who believe the devil exists, what would the devil conceivably have to gain from people believing in reincarnation? It doesn't give people a reason to run amok, or to stop being nice to each other. In fact, if people accept the concept of karma which is inextricably linked with reincarnation in most philosophies and religions, there is a definite incentive to do as many good deeds - and as little harm - as possible.

Conversely, reincarnation is taught by the majority of the most holy and ancient religions in the world - which also espouse the same peaceful values and virtues as does, say, Christianity.

How many people believe in reincarnation?
Statistics world-wide are difficult to obtain, but in the US the Gallup Organization made a survey in October 2001 of Americans' belief in psychic and paranormal phenomena. For this survey, they asked adults 18 and over amongst other things if they believed in "Reincarnation, that is, the rebirth of the soul in a new body after death". In the results, 25% said they did believe in reincarnation, 20% didn't know, 54% didn't believe in it and 1% had no opinion. Belief was only slightly higher among males than females, while it varied significantly between age groups: belief amongst 28-29 year-olds was at 25%, 30-49 year-olds were at 22%, while people 50 and over were at 28%.

Common questions about how reincarnation might work

This section attempts to give answers to frequent questions about how reincarnation might work by referencing various reincarnational theories and schools of thought. While all could be said to be speculative - as there is no way for anyone but the greatest mystics to verify this - the ideas are still interesting and worthy of mention.

Are people supposed to look like their past life self?
There is a theory that many people physically should resemble their past life self. While this might seem at first to be impossible in terms of changing race or sex between incarnations, there are many human features which vary in fairly similar ways across all races and sexes. For example. a high or low forehead, fine or coarse features, thick or thin eyebrows, high cheekbones, etc.

While this would be unlikely to be an absolute rule, there are interesting cases people have put on the web such as the case of General John B. Gordon/Jeffrey Keene.

Do people reincarnate as animals and vice-versa?
Judging from the details of large numbers of past life memories, it appears fairly unlikely that people reincarnate as animals or vice versa very often at all. If human souls did evolve from animal souls, it would seem that by far the majority of humans today had made this transition many, many lives ago. And as people who remember past lives seem to only remember human ones - even back to ancient times - it seems very likely that once a soul is in a human body, it will stay returning to human bodies as a general rule.

If people remember a past life as a foreigner, why can't they remember their past life language?
For an example, let's take the case of General George S. Patton who was fairly open about having what he strongly believed were past life memories. If Patton remembered his previous life as a Roman soldier, why wasn't his Latin better?

First of all, in his poem "Through a Glass Darkly", he openly admits that he had only fleeting memories of his past lives. He remembers being a Roman soldier and some flashes from that lifetime but he didn't remembered the lifetime with any great general clarity. In fact, he even admits that he can't remember exactly which battles he fought in many cases when he writes "I cannot name my battles, For the visions are not clear, Yet, I see the twisted faces / And I feel the rending spear." So he could recall some of the most memorable and often traumatic moments for himself as a human being, but many technical points - which can confuse many old soldiers - often eluded him. So I think perhaps we can forgive him for not being better at Latin.

Further to this - even when we ourselves think of a memory from decades ago, we find that words are often the first thing to be forgotten. We remember the gist of what was said, but how often can we remember the exact words used? It's mainly the strong emotions, the sights, the smells and tastes which are etched strongly on our memories. The names, places and dates and other facts however are many times hotly debated. So it seems to be with past life memories.

A good example of how memories can remain but language can be completely lost comes to mind. Many immigrants who spend decades out of their country often forget their mother tongue completely if they have nobody to share it with. A BBC documentary aired in the 1990s where a Ukrainian man - who had spent the 40 or more years after the war in England - finally returned to Russia to visit his home town again. He had relied completely on English over those 40 years, but assumed his native language would return to him once he returned home. In the end, he was sadly mistaken and needed the services of a translator at all times. He would still of course remember many, many incidents from his early life, but no longer much of the language which had been used.

So from there it doesn't seem surprising then that most people who have past life memories - which are usually extremely brief and vivid "flashes" triggered at different times in their life quite outside their control - do not have any residual ability in the language of their perceived past life culture.

However, under hypnosis this can be a much different matter. One famous example of someone who, when hypnotized, could speak a language to a level he had not achieved and with a dialect he could not have known, was of film actor Glenn Ford - who spoke 17th century French while regressed to a past life.

What factors decide where people are born in their next incarnation?
This is a common question for people to ask, and the answers can only be speculative at best. One common idea rules that a person in their next incarnation will be thrown together with the people they were most emotionally attached to - either by love (including friendship) or by hate. This would be a good incentive for people to never actually hate anyone they don't like, so that fate would hopefully not throw them together again. So a person may in some instances be reborn in a country where the people they are closest to have ended up. As to whether this is by their own choosing, who can say. Note that there is no reason to suppose that with such a theory, these emotional chains would not also work with favorite pets, physical locations, nations, etc.

We can also look at various examples for ideas. In one case, a man who claims to have been a German soldier in the First World War remembered in that lifetime seeing a poster advertising emigration to Canada and thinking that this could be a nice idea. He now lives in Canada, thereby giving some credence to the idea that one's own wishes may determine the place of rebirth.

How long are people supposed to spend between incarnations?
Looking at what people who remember a past life have to say, this would seem to be very variable. Some people claim to have been reborn in less than a year of their previous death, while others seem to take many years or even possibly decades to return. One reason for this in conventional mystical thinking is that a person who has passed on might want to spend many years as a "guide" or "guardian angel" for someone - perhaps a loved one. Also some lives are said to be so traumatic that a person's spirit might take a while to recuperate from it. Or the person might want to spend time with other loved ones in the astral realms before returning. Again it is speculative here, but it seems a little unlikely from what is reported that everybody would reincarnate immediately as some cultures suppose - or conversely take 1000 years between incarnations, as some mystical fraternities once stated.

Why can't everyone remember their past lives?
If everyone could remember their past lives then there would be some serious problems. For example, if a person were murdered, they might go looking for revenge on their killer - or worse still, as everyone else would remember them from their past lives, they might find themselves being held to account for all their previous crimes/debts/etc. As well as this, people would be tormented by every unpleasant memory they had from countless previous lives. Forgetfulness even within a lifetime is very important therapeutically as it allows us to let go of the many painful situations which occur. As the saying goes: "Time heals all wounds". Forgetfulness between lives would allow us to start afresh as it were, without too much emotional baggage hanging over from the last visit. However with spiritual advancement would come the possibility of regaining access to those past lives, creating the challenge to deal with and understand the soul's path up to that point.

Does everyone just keep reincarnating forever?
If Paramanhansa Yoganada's book "Autobiography of a Yogi" is to be taken at face value, then the cycle of reincarnation can definitely be broken. His guru's guru, Lahiri Mahasaya, was said to have finally broken out of the cycle of rebirth by breaking free of the bonds of karma (see chapter 34). Perhaps this level of spiritual achievement is not even necessary to break the cycle for some, and possibly desire to exist somewhere else is simply enough. Of note, most religions which contain reincarnation usually see it as a limited cycle which doesn't go on forever - perhaps ending when the soul has fulfilled certain requirements.

Why does nobody I know seem to have past life memories?
It may seem odd that reincarnation is talked about and is a more commonly held idea than many people might think, but most people never hear first hand about anyone's insights into their past lives. While having a past life memory appears statistically not to happen to the majority of people, there are many people who do have such experiences. However these experiences are often seen as being intensely personal and too easily a cause for embarrassment or mockery from people who don't believe in such things. Hence the vast majority of people who have past life memories do not tend to share them with friends or coworkers. Having said that, once the subject crops up in conversation in an informal atmosphere it can be surprising what people will tell you if they are assured that you are open-minded and they are not going to be scoffed at.r hypnosis a subject has not only recounted details from what appears to be a previous life, but also spoken a foreign language of which they claimed to have little or no previous knowledge.

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