Past Life Regression is a common interest among spiritual seekers and meta-physicians across the board. Today, thousands of people have gone under hypnosis for the chance to remember any hidden memory that may lie deep within the subconscious mind waiting to be re-discovered. Books like” Many Lives, Many Masters”, by Brian Weiss, a true story of a prominent psychiatrist and his young patient, describe a life changing experience with past life memories while under hypnosis. “Soul Survivor”, another favorite, describes the naturally recalled experiences of a six year old boy, James Leininger, who recalls, in detail, the earlier life (almost 60 years prior) of World War II fighter pilot, James Hudson. Although hypnosis is not considered 100% reliable in proving reincarnation is real, it may be interesting to discover that beyond the common lay-person’s archived memoirs of their past life experience, some of the most prominent teachers and respected men throughout the ages have either experienced or believed in past life, prompting many of us to continue pondering the subject.
Popular books recently printed on hundreds of case studies can be found in Michael Newton’s “Journey of Souls” yet earlier 20th century researchers like Edgar Cayce (1877-1945) pioneered an undaunted interest in the subject. Reincarnation was the focus of many of the Edgar Cayce’s psychic dissertations, called ‘readings’ as early as 1911. According to the Association of Research and Enlightenment, it was not until 1923 that Cayce’s work relating to reincarnation was explored further. Edgar Cayce, known as “the sleeping prophet” was one of the world’s most respected psychic healer and researcher. Not only did he recall his own past life, he had documented evidence of approximately 2,500 people that had past life memories. Edgar Cayce saw that the idea of reincarnation could be useful to understand the consequences of previous choices and to know that each individual is ultimately responsible for shaping and creating his or her life in the present.
So what exactly is Reincarnation? Reincarnation is the concept that the soul (individualized spirit), after biological death, begins a new life in a new body, for the purpose of spiritual growth and soul development. According to Adi Shankarachaya , (exponent of Sanatana Dharma), we are trapped in the cycle of birth and death as a result of ignorance (unawareness) of the true nature of existence. This ignorance leads to ego-consciousness, grounding one in desire to be born, due to ‘attachments’ formed in his/her life. This desire for material things is what draws our soul back again toward the earth (due to the law of attraction – like attracts like). Furthermore, the laws of Karma – laws of action, (you reap what you sow) may determine the type/quality of life to which you are born. After multiple years of dissatisfaction, the person may finally seek a spiritual practice with the intention to disengage any future desire to return, while focusing more on liberation (moksha) and freedom from attachment to material things. This concept of reincarnation is common among the eastern Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism), as well as other eastern religions. Recent studies show it is becoming more common among Westerners as well, including students of esoteric philosophies such as Kabbalah and the Gnostic and Esoteric Christian view.
The Buddhist concept of reincarnation bears a slight difference to the traditional Hindu teachings partly due to the varied interpretations of the word “Atman”, usually translated as “soul”. It is still apparent that The Buddha taught about rebirth, but it is beyond the scope of this article to try to explain in detail the subtle differences and extensive variations of opinion.
Although some scholars may disagree, reincarnation is mentioned in texts as old as the Rig Veda (possibly 3,000 years ago or longer). As pointed out by Yogi Baba Prem, Yogacharya, and Vedic expert, in his article “Reincarnation in the Vedas”, Yogi Baba Prem asserts that while the Vedas do not address reincarnation literally with a specific word; the Vedas do reference what could only be viewed as references to reincarnation. He quotes the Rig Veda as follows:
“a ta etu mana punah kratve dakshaya jivase,
Jyok ca suryam drishe” —Rig Veda 10.4.57.4
“May your spirit return again to perform pure acts for exercising strength, and to
Live long to see the sun.”
Likewise he quotes the Yajur Veda (Shukla) as a more direct reference to reincarnation. This verse
“savita te shridebhyah prthivyam lokamicchatu
tasmai yujyant Amustriyah – Yajur Veda 35.2”
“The sun God grants bodies in different births, according to your deeds, providing a happy
or unhappy place on this earth. May radiant beams prove helpful to you.”
References to reincarnation are also seen in the Bible’s New Testament although often disregarded or overlooked. Scholars are now beginning to agree that Jesus may have believed that humans reincarnate (reborn with attachments) or incarnate (born or reborn without attachment). Although the subject of the next quote, John the Baptist, later denies being Elijah, he probably didn’t remember his past life, as most of us don’t remember or he simply didn’t want to cause an uproar. Never the less, it is a controversial statement argued among scholars for many years:
“And his disciples asked him, ‘Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first’? Jesus answered, saying to them, ‘Elijah will come first, so that everything might be fulfilled. But I say to you, Elijah has already come, and they did not know him, and they did to him whatever they pleased. Thus also the Son of man is bound to suffer from them.’ Then the disciples understood that what he had told them was about John the Baptist.” –Matt 17:12-13
It is likely that Jesus’s teachings were given in order to unite human soul with God/ Divine Spirit; putting an end to the cycle of birth and death. This does not negate, but broadens, the meaning of Salvation (similar to the eastern ‘Moksha’), or total union with the Divine.
Perhaps our curiosity about past lives will continue over time, never really knowing, for sure, if we had lived a prior life. Yet, due to the shared experiences of others, more people can begin to take a closer look at being responsible for their own lives and design ways to support a brighter future in this body — or the next – just in case.