As a child I spent most of my free time playing outdoors. Oftentimes my friends and I would play games of make believe, where we would each pretend to be a character from the past. For instance, if we were playing cowboys and indians my friends might have been Jesse James, Wyatt Earp, or the Cisco Kid, and I might have been Geronimo or Cochise. It was somewhere in that time frame that I first heard about the concept of reincarnation, and for whatever reason I believed in it right away. It simply rang true to me from the moment I heard it.
Reincarnation is the belief that our soul returns to the earth plane again and again until it becomes perfect and reunites with its Source. Some believe we can be a human in one life and an animal in the next. Others believe that we progress from form to form and once we have moved on to the human level we never return to the animal level. The Bhagavad Gita says:
“Just as you throw out used clothes and put on other clothes, new clothes, the Self discards its used bodies and puts on others that are new.” (2:22)*
Recent polls show that about 27 percent of Americans believe in reincarnation, although some polls put the figure as high as 40 percent. This figure is up from polls taken back in the ‘60s and ‘70s when the New Age movement really began to take hold. Back then the figure was around 20 percent. Interestingly, many polls show that about 55 percent of Americans believe in an afterlife, but only half of them believe in reincarnation.
As someone who spends a great deal of his time around the spiritual community, most of whom believe in the concept of reincarnation, I find the 27 percent figure to be surprisingly low. The figure is obviously higher in other countries where the concept is taught by the area’s religion. For instance, in India the belief in reincarnation and karma are major tenets of the Hindu religion.
It may surprise you to know that belief in reincarnation was also a fundamental part of the Christian religion during the time that Jesus walked the earth. This is shown in the Bible when Jesus asked his followers who they thought that he was. Some of them said Elias (Elijah), some said Jeremias (Jeremiah), while others said one of the other prophets (Matt 16:14). Obviously they thought he was reincarnated from a previous time. Jesus had already proclaimed to many of his followers that John the Baptist was the reincarnation of Elias (Matt 11:11-14).
In A.D. 451 the Council at Chalcedon reinforced the church’s belief in reincarnation as a major tenet of the Christian faith. Among those agreeing to this were Roman Catholics. However, reincarnation was removed as a tenet of the Roman church in A.D. 553 at the Second Council of Constantinople by the Emperor Justinian, who was attempting to bring all of his empire under one belief system. The punishment for believing in reincarnation was death. Ever since then the Catholic Church has denied the existence of reincarnation.
Testimony of Reincarnation
Stories of reincarnation can be extremely fascinating. Many of you may have heard the story of James Leininger, which first broke in 2004. At age 2 he began having memories of a past life. Once he learned to speak he told his parents that he was a fighter pilot in WW II. He was fascinated by airplanes yet had horrific nightmares about a plane crash. By the time he reached age 6, James had named the aircraft carrier he had been stationed on, the type of plane that he flew, and the name of a fellow pilot who had witnessed him being shot down. Eventually his parents found the pilot, who verified James’ story, and they even found his sister from that past life. After meeting James, the girl believed that he was in fact the reincarnation of her former brother. Eventually James met some of his fellow pilots from the carrier. He knew them all by name.
I have heard many interesting stories of reincarnation that come from India. For instance, in 1926 a young girl was born in Delhi. Her name was Shanti, and when she was 7 years old she told her parents that she had lived a previous life in the town of Muttra. She described her life in great detail, claiming she had been married and had three children.
Unfortunately, she had passed away giving birth to the third child. A few years later a man came to their home for the first time, and Shanti claimed that the man was her husband’s cousin from her past life. The man did come from Muttra, and he did have a cousin whose wife had died in childbirth. The parent’s had the husband visit the home without telling their daughter, and immediately upon seeing him she rushed into his arms. Shanti was then taken to Muttra, where she was able to identify places and people from her former life. She picked out other relatives and even spoke the local dialect despite never having encountered it in her current life. The only person from her former life she couldn’t identify was her third child—whom she had never seen.
Can reincarnation be the explanation for child prodigies?
How is it that Mozart began composing at age 5, performed for royalty a year later, and at age 8 wrote his first symphony? Chopin was another composer who had two completed works by the time he was 7. Picasso began painting almost before he could talk. H.P. Lovecraft wrote complex poetry at age six. William Sidis had written four books and was fluent in eight languages by the time he was 7, and two years later he gave a lecture at Harvard.
More recently, Akrit Jaswal became India’s youngest university student and surgeon ever. He performed his first operation at age 7. Gregory Smith enrolled in university at age 10 and founded an advocacy group for peace and human rights. In 2002, at age 12, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (losing to Jimmy Carter). Then there is Kim Ung-yong, recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as having the world’s highest I.Q. He entered university as a physics student at age THREE, and four years later NASA invited him to study in the United States.
Were these just really smart children, or did they bring memories and talents of a past life with them into their next life? Everyone must come to their own conclusion. As for me, I couldn’t even spell physics when I was three, so I’m choosing the reincarnation route.
Reincarnation can be a fabulous topic to daydream about, and there are many fine past-life regressionists in the area if you want to take it a step further. In the end, however, we must heed the advice of the Buddha. While he claimed to have experienced his former lives, he cautioned the monks he taught not to become too preoccupied by them. We came here for a purpose, and the life we are living now is the one we need to concentrate on.
*Bhagavad Gita, A New Translation, by Stephen Mitchell, Harmony Books, NY, copyright 2000.
Barry Homan is the author of Whispers Through Time, a novel about reincarnation and soul mates. For more information visit his website at www.barryhoman.com.