Is There Evidence of Reincarnation?

Portrait of young boy (4-5) wearing traditional Indian outfit, holding present
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Have you lived before? The idea that our souls live through many lifetimes over the centuries is known as reincarnation. It has been part of virtually every culture since ancient times. The Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Aztecs all believed in the "transmigration of souls" from one body to another after death. Reincarnation is also a fundamental concept of Hinduism.

Although it is not a part of official Christian doctrine, many Christians believe in reincarnation or at least accept its possibility. Jesus, it is believed, was resurrected three days after his crucifixion. The idea that we can live again after death as another person, as a member of the opposite sex or in a completely different station in life, is intriguing and, for many people, highly appealing.

But is reincarnation just an idea, or is there real evidence to support it? Many researchers have tackled this question—and their results are surprising.

Past Life Regression Hypnosis

The practice of reaching past lives through hypnosis is controversial, primarily because hypnosis is not a reliable tool. It can certainly help researchers access the unconscious mind, but the information found there should not be taken as truth. For example, it has been shown that hypnosis can create false memories. That doesn't mean, however, that regression hypnosis should be dismissed out of hand. If information from a "past life" can be verified through research, then the case for reincarnation becomes more compelling.

The most famous case of past life regression through hypnosis is that of Ruth Simmons. In 1952, her therapist, Morey Bernstein, encouraged her to travel in her mind back to a time before her birth. Suddenly, Ruth began to speak with an Irish accent and claimed that her name was Bridey Murphy, who lived in 19th-century Belfast, Ireland. Ruth recalled many details of her life as Bridey, but attempts to find out if Ms. Murphy actually existed were unfortunately unsuccessful. There was, however, some indirect evidence for the truth of her story. Under hypnosis, Bridey mentioned the names of two grocers in Belfast from whom she had bought food, Mr. Farr and John Carrigan. A Belfast librarian found a city directory for 1865-1866 that listed both men as grocers. Simmons' story was told both in a book by Bernstein and in a 1956 movie, "The Search for Bridey Murphy."

Unusual Illnesses and Physical Ailments

Do you have a lifelong illness or physical pain that you cannot account for? It may be the result of some past life trauma, some researchers suggest.

In "Have We Really Lived Before?," Dr. Michael C. Pollack describes his lower back pain, which grew steadily worse over the years and limited his activities. He believes he found a possible explanation for the pain during a series of past life therapy sessions: "I discovered that I had lived at least three prior lifetimes in which I had been killed by being knifed or speared in the low back. After processing and healing the past life experiences, my back began to heal."

Research conducted by Nicola Dexter, a past life therapist, has discovered correlations between some of her patients' illnesses and their past lives. She found, for example, a case of bulimia caused by swallowing salt water in a previous life; a persistent pain in the shoulder and arm caused by participating, in a past life, in a dangerous game of tug-of-war; and a fear of razors and shaving that was the result of the sufferer having had his hand cut off in a previous life.

Phobias and Nightmares

Where does seemingly irrational fear come from? Fear of heights, fear of water, fear of flying? Many of us have normal reservations about such things, but some people have fears so great that they become debilitating. And some fears are completely baffling—a fear of carpets, for example. Where do such fears come from? The answer, of course, can be psychologically complex, but researchers think that in some cases there might be a connection to experiences from previous lifetimes.

In "Healing Past Lives Through Dreams," author J.D. writes about his claustrophobia, which includes a tendency to panic whenever his arms or legs are confined or restricted. He believes that a dream of a past life uncovered a trauma that explains his fear. "One night in the dream state I found myself hovering over a disturbing scene," he writes. "It was a town in 15th-century Spain, and a frightened man was being hog-tied by a small jeering crowd. He had expressed beliefs contrary to the church. Some local ruffians, with the blessing of the church officials, were eager to administer justice. The men bound the heretic hand and foot, then wrapped him very tightly in a blanket. The crowd carried him to an abandoned stone building, shoved him into a dark corner under the floor, and left him to die. I realized with horror the man was me."

Physical Resemblances

In his book ​"Someone Else's Yesterday," Jeffrey J. Keene theorizes that a person in this life may strongly resemble the person he or she was in a previous life. Keene, an Assistant Fire Chief who lives in Westport, Connecticut, believes he is the reincarnation of John B. Gordon, a Confederate General of the Army of Northern Virginia, who died on January 9, 1904. As evidence, he offers photos of himself and the general. There is a striking resemblance. Beyond sharing physical similarities, Keene says that individuals and their past incarnations often "think alike, look alike and even share facial scars. Their lives are so intertwined that they appear to be one."

Another case of such resemblance is that of artist Peter Teekamp, who believes he may be the reincarnation of artist Paul Gauguin. Here, too, there is a physical resemblance, along with similarities between the two painters' work.

Children's Spontaneous Recall and Special Knowledge

Many small children who claim to recall past lives also express knowledge that could not have come from their own experiences. Such cases are documented in Carol Bowman's "Children's Past Lives":

"Eighteen-month-old Elsbeth had never spoken a complete sentence. But one evening, as her mother was bathing her, Elsbeth spoke up and gave her mother a shock. 'I'm going to take my vows,' she told her mother. Taken aback, she questioned the baby girl about her queer statement. 'I'm not Elsbeth now,' the child replied. 'I'm Rose, but I'm going to be Sister Teresa Gregory.'"

Identical Handwriting

Can proof of past lives be demonstrated by comparing the handwriting of a living person to that of the deceased person he or she claims to have been? Indian researcher Vikram Raj Singh Chauhan believes so. Chauhan's findings have been received favorably at the National Conference of Forensic Scientists at Bundelkhand University, Jhansi.

A six-year-old boy named Taranjit Singh from the village of Alluna Miana, India, claimed since he was two that he had previously been a person named Satnam Singh. This other boy had lived in the village of Chakkchela, Taranjit insisted, and Taranjit even knew Satnam's father's name. Satnam had been killed while riding his bike home from school. An investigation verified the many details Taranjit knew about Satnam's life. But the clincher was that their handwriting, a trait experts know is as distinct as a fingerprint, was virtually identical.

Matching Birthmarks and Birth Defects

Dr. Ian Stevenson, head of the Department of Psychiatric Medicine at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, was one of the foremost researchers on the subject of reincarnation and past lives. In 1993, he wrote a paper entitled "Birthmarks and Birth Defects Corresponding to Wounds on Deceased Persons," which described possible physical evidence for past lives. "Among 895 cases of children who claimed to remember a previous life (or were thought by adults to have had a previous life)," Stevenson writes, "birthmarks and/or birth defects attributed to the previous life were reported in 309 (35 percent) of the subjects. The birthmark or birth defect of the child was said to correspond to a wound (usually fatal) or other mark on the deceased person whose life the child said it remembered."

But could any of these cases be verified?

In one fascinating case, an Indian boy claimed to remember the life of a man named Maha Ram, who was killed by a shotgun fired at close range. The boy had an array of birthmarks in the center of his chest that looked like they might correspond to a shotgun blast. So the story was investigated. Indeed, there was a man named Maha Ram who was killed by a shotgun blast to the chest. An autopsy report recorded the man's chest wounds, which corresponded directly with the boy's birthmarks.

In another case, a man from Thailand claimed that when he was a child he had distinct memories of a past life as his own paternal uncle. This man had a large scar-like birthmark on the back of his head. His uncle, it turned out, died from a severe knife wound to the same area.

Dr. Stevenson documented a number of cases like these, many of which he could verify through medical records.