Past Life Evidence and Research

ReincarnationA 2003 Harris poll cites 27% of Americans believe in reincarnation, which, at that time, was about seventy-five million people. Other surveys bring that number as high as 50%. Studies in England have proven consistent with the 27%, and that number has been steadily rising during the past fifty years. Belief in reincarnation has been espoused and written about by the Egyptians and Greeks, to the Buddhists and the Hindus. Famous people throughout history have been avid believers in it, including Aristotle, Plato, Julius Caesar, Leonardo da Vinci, Shakespeare, Benjamin Franklin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Leo Tolstoy, Henry David Thoreau, Albert Einstein, Walt Whitman, Thomas Edison, Carl Jung, just to name a few.

The book I most recommend is now considered a “metaphysical classic”, Many Lives, Many Masters by Dr. Brian Weiss. While this is not based on research, it is the true story of a client of his, Catherine, who spontaneously slipped into a past life when Dr. Weiss gave her the suggestion under hypnosis to go back to the root cause of her phobia. The book chronicles her path of physical healing as she visited numerous past lives, as well as Dr. Weiss’ change of belief toward reincarnation and healing. What made this book extraordinary is that neither Catherine nor Dr. Weiss believed in past lives, nor did they really want to. At one point, Masters begin talking through Catherine and telling Dr. Weiss information about his private life, the death of his infant son, that he knew his client had no information about. I highly recommend this book because of the skeptical nature of both client and therapist, their own journeys toward healing, and the extraordinary results attained through past life regression. Dr. Weiss has numerous books and CDs and an extensive training program.

Another book I enjoy is by Jenny Cockell, Across TIme and Death. This is her true story of finding her past life home and children. As a young child in England, she was plagued with dreams of a town named Malahide, a home, and leaving behind her five children. As this information and knowing continued to grow within her, she followed the clues to the Irish village which she had been drawing maps of earlier in her life. She located information about her former self, as well as her children. In her previous life, she had died in childbirth, leaving young children behind. Through a journalist as a go-between, she contacts them and is able to reunite with a couple of them. They were on various talk shows, along with Dr. Weiss, when the book was published in the late 90s.

In 1967, working at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Dr. Ian Stevenson founded the department that conducts survival research, including near-death experiences, out-of-body experiences, visions of deathbed apparitions, after-death communication and reincarnation. During the past forty years, Stevenson has been in charge of researching over twenty-five hundred cases of children from all over the world who remember past lives with such detail that the prior life family can be contacted for verification. In many cases, these children recognize specific members of their former family by name, remembering details of that family life as well as their death.

Tom Shroder’s book, Old Souls: The Scientific Evidence for Past Lives, follows his own ten-year skeptical journey and his travels with Dr. Stevenson on his final international trips to Lebanon and India as well as Virginia. He had the unique opportunity to observe first-hand Stevenson’s field research, calling back on people he had interviewed up to 30 years previously to find out how the past life recall as a child had affected their lives. Shroder’s skepticism makes it a fascinating book that delves into the idea of “proof” of past lives in the face of overwhelming evidence using scientific research tools on detailed past life recall. Sadly, Dr. Stevenson died early in 2007 in his late 80s.

In the Fall 2006 magazine What Is Enlightenment? Carter Phipps writes about being struck by the sheer quantity of evidence that has been painstakingly gathered since Stevenson began his field research in the early sixties. “I simply had no idea, prior to beginning this article, that such a formidable body of scientific research had been conducted, and at a major American university no less. Individually, the stores are striking and convincing, and many simply defy prosaic explanations. Indeed, the explanations that immediately come to mind – fraud, fantasy, faulty memories, wishful thinking on the part of the parents – do not readily apply to a significant number of these cases. The stories have been carefully researched, and family members and friends have been interviewed. Taken as a whole, these files constitute what is probably the single best collection of evidence for reincarnation on the planet today. What may be a matter of faith for billions of people around the world has been, for the last forty years in this small office, a matter of empirical study.”

When Phipps questioned whether their studies prove the case for reincarnation, Dr. Jim Tucker, a prominent researcher, stated that, “We certainly don’t use the word proof, because these are not cases that are done under tight laboratory conditions where you can rule out everything.” Ian Stevenson has said that reincarnation is the best explanation, but not the only one, for the strongest cases. They provide evidence. But they are not proof.

Carol Bowman, author of Children’s Past Lives: How Past-Life Memories Affect Your Child, found several qualities that were consistently present when children related past lives to her. Generally, children begin spontaneously talking about past lives around the age of three, soon after they learn to talk, and then grow out of it around seven or eight, as they move into their next level of development. In her research, Bowman found that children spoke in matter-of-fact tones, almost adult-like, rather than in their normal child-like manner. The details and facts of the stories they told remained consistent with consecutive sessions, rather than changing in a fantasy manner each time. They had knowledge well beyond their experience, able to explain complex life issues far beyond their limited years. When they spoke of their deaths, they were able to calmly relate even violent or traumatic scenes. As mentioned above, phobias they have in this life made sense based on their past life experiences. It’s interesting to study children’s cases because they are too young to have knowledge of many of the facts and details they report.

A major statistical analysis research project on adults with past life regressions was conducted by Dr. Helen Wambach. Beginning in the late 1960s, Dr. Wambach conducted a 10-year survey of past life recollections under hypnosis among 1,088 subjects. She collected the information by holding full-day workshops of about a dozen people each in which she led them on a four-stage journey. For historical accuracy, she asked specific questions about the time periods and daily lives in which people lived, including social status, race, gender, clothing, utensils, money, eating habits, housing and other similar daily living details.

After careful analysis of the data, Dr. Wambach concluded that the information collected under hypnosis was, with respect to historical records available to her, “amazingly accurate” with the exception of 11 subjects. Of those eleven subjects, nine gave information that deviated only slightly from the historical time frame. Thus, only 1% of those in the study were found to be historically inaccurate.

What made this research so significant is that, regardless of the percentage of men and women in the regression sessions, the gender of their reported past lives remained consistent at 50.6% and 49.4%. This number is consistent with the best projections of the global gender distribution throughout history. Her book, Life Before Life, describes her research.

What makes this research study even more amazing is that Dr. Wambach did not set out to prove reincarnation, rather she wanted to debunk reincarnation. She had spontaneously slipped into her own past life experience during a visit to a Quaker center. As she confronted herself with what she had experienced, she began asking if all of us have buried memories of other times that are genuine. She was confused, even cynical about the validity of reincarnation, but decided to continue with her research as she found what she believed to be truthful data among the vast amount of data collected.

So while researchers do not use the word proof because of the problems inherent with people’s memories and subjectivity, those in the field refer to past life recall as suggestive, supportive, and evidence of lives lived prior to this current life.