“The report of my death was an exaggeration.” – Mark Twain
In relation to the end of the previous Part 2 of this essay, the Catholic Church of course now denies that anything about reincarnation ever took place during these historic periods, and that reincarnation has never held any standing with the church. I leave that up to you to believe or feel what you will. So let’s move on.
Actually, in the 20th century the concept of reincarnation evolved somewhat from the more traditional Eastern version. In the east the notion of reincarnation has been looked upon in a more negative way. By having to incarnate again, one has failed to achieve the spiritual goals needed to be free of the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Having to come back and suffer the consequences of the physical is looked upon as a type of failure.
Through the efforts of Theosophy, several ‘progressive’ Eastern gurus, and the New Age movement, reincarnation has gone from being a torment man must suffer to being a positive, eternal growth progression that the soul embarks on towards higher levels of spiritual existence. Classical Eastern spirituality actually rejects the notion that such personal elements are involved in this whole cycle. However, that element was influenced by this Westernized thought process. Obviously, reincarnation has yet to be proved to the satisfaction of any mainstream science, as absolute proof is probably impossible to attain.
Probably the most extensive scientific research into reincarnation was conducted by the psychiatrist Dr. Ian Stevenson in the 1960’s. When he found that traditional psychiatric remedies were too restrictive and didn’t help his patients, he became interested in spontaneous past life recall. Over a number of years he interviewed over 4,000 children from all over the world who claimed they had memories of past life incidents. His work was published in several psychiatric journals in the 1970’s, and his meticulous research methods shook up the traditional academic and medical world from its skeptical complacency. It was one of the first times that an established scientist with reputation had produced some viable evidence for reincarnation.
He found that most past memories occur between the ages of two and four, but fade between five and eight. Many reported violent deaths, and had birthmarks or deformities that related to how they died. A number of their mothers reported having dreams in which they knew their child was a reincarnation. The child usually had skills or abilities that had not been taught or learned. Usually they had phobias that related to how they had previously died. Most had very vivid accounts of specific events that had happened to them.
Even so, it seems that there can be no absolute proof of reincarnation, but also none against it. Besides, how many of our spiritual and religious beliefs have ever been proved? However, it’s obvious the whole concept of reincarnation is very complex and has continually evolved over time. Now whether that’s because we’ve been learning more, or because we’ve grown more creative in our beliefs, I’m not sure. Anyway, I have compiled some highlights of current schools of thought:
1) There seem to be five main ways that people remember past lives; through hypnosis, dreams, deep meditation, triggered recall (an event-triggered waking dream) or spontaneous recall (a waking dream surfacing from nowhere).
2) There seem to be four main ways that past lives affect a person’s current life; a) unexplained physical afflictions with no evident cause, b) recurring dreams or nightmares of the same events, c) a strong, inexplicable interest in a particular time period, place or event, or d) irrational fears or phobias, which are usually tied around an event that caused their death.
3) Personality traits are carried over from life to life, but are also continuously growing, evolving and being added to our collection of individual traits.
4) Several factors influence the whole reincarnation process; attachments or patterns, individual choices, lessons to be learned, experiences desired or a mission to be accomplished.
5) There seems to be a wide variance in the time period between lives, starting from just a few months to several centuries. Some feel if a person reincarnates too soon without learning or reflecting about their previous life, that they may jump into physical life because of a previous desire they didn’t unattach themselves from; such as alcohol, drugs, sex, money, power, etc, and that these cravings and appetites have become endless traps they must clear themselves of.
6) Physical life may be the best and fastest way to learn certain lessons, thus we come back for more, until we get it right and can graduate from this series of lessons in this spiritual school.
7) Reincarnation is not a way to avoid responsibility, but a way to correct our mistakes and grow in the process.
8) Through the law of karma, we reap what we sow, and what we do to others will then later be done to us.
9) Even though most people do not remember past lives, scores of people throughout history believe they have. There are several theories as to why not everyone remembers their past lives. It may be because we are focused on this life in the here and now and not the past. Or possibly it’s built in not to remember much, because of the excess “emotional baggage” that we’d have to deal with and the complications that would cause. Or maybe we are supposed to remember, but there is a flaw in the system. Or maybe the part of us that reincarnates does not carry that memory with us when we come back, but resides somewhere on the other side, or dies with the body at death. Or finally, maybe all the memories are just subliminally under the surface waiting for us to figure out how to retrieve them.
10) There are several ways to try and develop your ability to remember past lives. Past life regression, usually through hypnosis is one, but many have reported this as unreliable, either because of unprofessional people, or believe it just taps into subconscious desires and is difficult to prove. Some people go to psychics, but that is probably even more unreliable. The best way is probably a method of deep meditation, in which you can relax and get in touch with the innerscape of your being, allowing the process to happen gradually over time, not in some kind of immediate flashing, triggered series of events.
The idea of reincarnation is certainly a very intriguing and complicated system of how could life work, however you may choose to view it. If this process is the law of the spiritual worlds, there certainly is no reason for us to fear death. For we have already experienced it many times before, and we are still here.
I do feel that the overriding attitude to take with this is not to concern ourselves too much with it. If it is, it is. If it isn’t, it isn’t. What we believe, feel or think will not change that reality.
Anyway, what we should actually concern ourselves with is living in the here and now, to create the best and fullest life we can. Certainly the past can affect us in the present, and we should deal with it when it does have too much influence on our present life. But it is gone and we should not live there. If we live focused, strong and happy in the present, our future should be bright and secure, and hopefully full of promising adventure.
So, to finally finish this up, one of the main underlying themes of our new film project “One Hand Clapping” involves the possibility of our lives’ continuity, this broad and hard-to-prove (and hard-to-disprove) concept of reincarnation. We hope you can enjoy this journey with us as we develop this project to compete fruition.