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Life after Death
By Deepaknar Mukhopadhyay
Belief in reincarnation is as old as the hills.

Followers of almost all ancient religions all over the world strongly believed that people returned to life after death and among them were the Hindus, Buddhists, Druids, Gauls, Greeks, many Jewish groups and even the early Christians. Reincarnation became a taboo for the Christians only after the Second Council of Constantinople in 553 ad. Since then, the Church has developed a strong anti-reincarnation stand.

Among the early believers, the most vocal supporter was the Greek philosopher Plato. He had specially referred to the experience of a Greek warrior, Er the Pamphylian, who was fatally injured in a battle but came back to life before cremation. According to him, each soul was given a choice to select the form and type of life for the next birth and nobody was responsible for the choice. After the selection, the souls had to drink water from a river flowing through the Plains of Forgetfulness, so that they could forget everything pertaining to their past lives. Then like shooting stars they came down to start their new lives.

There seems to be a fundamental difference between the Platonian and the Hindu-Buddhist concept. While Plato stresses on free choice, the Indian school insists that rebirth is decided strictly according to the Karma. The Orientals also believe that a man does not necessarily be reborn as a human being he can be an animal, even a plant. Manu-Samhita says the killer of a Brahmin will be reborn an ass, a drunkard a bird that lives on dung, while other sinners will become hyenas, rodents and other abominable creatures. The Westerners, however, believe that once a human always a human. Out of the two, the Karma theory definitely sounds more logical, for if there is a choice, everybody will opt for becoming Dhirubhai Ambani, Sachin Tendulkar or Hema Malini; nobody would like to become a destitute, an orphan or a cripple. The choice factor might be there, but it cannot overrule the Karmic parameter of individual.

Again, the Karma of the individual is instrumental for deciding how long his soul will remain in the outer world. In some cases, it returns quite fast, in others it has to wait for even centuries. There are certain souls who do not have to return at all, but they come back on their own to help other people. The Buddhists call them Bodhisatvas. Tibetans believe that the Bodhisatva called Abalokiteswara is the Dalai Lama. Only such advanced souls can remember their previous lives.

However, people who believe in the free option theory got some encouragement from the unusual research done by a psychiatrist Dr Helen Wambach. In the mid-70s, she hypnotised 750 people all over the American continent, and commanded them to go back to their status before they were born and also to relive their birth experiences. During this hypnotic state, she asked them some questions, like: Did you choose to be born?; Did anyone help in your choice?; If yes, who?; Why did you choose the 20th century to be born?; Did you choose your sex?; Did you know your parents-to-be?; If so, what was the relationship?; Were you aware of other people whom you should know during your lifetime?

Dr Wambach left a five second gap between each question. After the last question, she brought them back to waking reality, with a command to remember all the answers, and hand them over paper and pencil to write down whatever answers had flashed through their subconscious. Let us pick up one answer at random: `Yes, I chose to be born. Someone did help me choose and it seemed to be some voice that I trusted greatly. It was kind, helpful and wise... I choose this period to be born because it is a great period of change where people need stability within themselves. I am supposed to help them somehow. I did choose to become a male because it is good for my work and I enjoy that sex-role. My mother was my wife in a past life, my father was my son. I got some faint flashes of mates and lovers, but nothing clear.

In the final analysis, 81% of Dr Wambach s subjects state that they have chosen to be born while the remaining 19% feel they either resisted it or they were not consulted. As one of them put it, `it was like a tour planned by a travel agent and one had to accept it. In most cases, a group of counsellors advised the spirits about their next birth. They were either friends and relatives from previous births or even total strangers somebody remembered an old man with a long beard who acted like a big boss. The counsellors adopted different tactics with different individuals; one spirit, not too keen to be reborn was shown his mother-to-be down below, and he liked the woman so much that he immediately agreed to be her son. It is interesting that very few of the subjects 0.1% to be precise ever felt the presence of God or any other religious figure in this process.

A fascinating aspect of the research is the study of human relationship that emerges through various births. Eighty-seven per cent of the subjects admit that their parents, friends or lovers were known to them in their previous births. The relationships are so varied that it is not possible to draw any general inference. One subject even says he wanted to be the son of his jailer of previous birth, who used to whip him everyday. Like love, hatred is also a strong bond.

Although Dr Wambach's work is impressive, we cannot reject outright the Karma theory. She does not reveal anything about her subjects their background, education, or lifestyle. Most are volunteers who heard about her `hypnotic workshop' and wanted to join it. From their datasheets, it is clear that they are well-educated people with a healthy interest in paranormal matters. It is possible that most of them were aware of the Western theory of self option in rebirth and that might have influenced their subconscious. Dr Wambach herself admitted that some of them might have been influenced by Dr Raymond Moody s international bestseller Life after life as some of their pre-birth experiences are surprisingly similar to some post-death syndromes recorded by Dr Moody. It is interesting that Dr Wambach s book, published just two years after Dr Moody s work, is titled Life before life.

I think, the most significant point about Dr Wambach s work is that in the last quarter of the 20th century, a practising psychiatrist of the western hemisphere has accepted reincarnation as a basis for scientific research. Caught in the crossfire of religious disapproval and scientific disbelief, reincarnation was slowly relegated to mythology. Only during the 60s, there was a serious attempt to dust away the cobwebs gathered around it. Credit must go to Dr lan Stevenson for his pathbreaking work, Twenty cases suggestive of reincarnation. (1966). Please note the shadow of doubt in the title itself, but even today, the book remains a classic. Dr Hemendra Banerjee s work on parapsychology got him international recognition.

Both Stevenson and Banerjee put painstaking research behind each case and turned up with cast-iron evidence. A textbook example is the Swarnalata episode. (A detailed account of the case was recently published in The Pioneer.) An almost identical instance was provided by a Delhi girl Shanti, who declared in her childhood that she happened to be the wife of Kedarnath Pandey of Mathura. She was so assertive that her people took her to Mathura, where she not only correctly identified her erstwhile relatives but even dug out a tin box where she used to keep her savings. Till some years ago, Shanti Devi was teaching in a school in East Delhi, but I have somehow lost track of her. Another illustration from their India file is a slightly eerie story of a boy, Jasbir Singh. The boy died of smallpox at the age of three, but unexpectedly came back to life just before the cremation. After some time, the family noticed some personality changes in that little boy. One day, he announced that he was a Brahmin from a nearby village and would, therefore, not touch the food cooked by his family as they were from a lower caste! He was taken to that village and was soon identified as Shobha Ram, a man who died of smallpox at the same time with Jasbir, although Jasbir vehemently alleged that he was poisoned. But it was obvious that the boy knew all about Shobha Ram and his family. It seems to be a borderline case between possession and reincarnation.

No discussion on reincarnation is complete without mentioning Tibet, because there the concept of rebirth is accepted as a biological truth like life and death. Every major Lama or abbot will leave clear-cut instructions before death to his disciples about where to find his reincarnation ( Tulku in Tibetan) after he passes away. The process of locating the Tulku is an extremely interesting one, which has been described by Anagarika Govinda, a German scholar who had spent many years in Tibet and became a Lama. He was a direct disciple of Tome Geshe Rimpoche, an illustrious Lama who was fourth in the hierarchy after the Dalai Lama. After he passed away in 1936, the search for the Tulku started. The Great Oracle of Nachung was consulted and it came out with the description of the town where he was reborn. This was followed by details of the house where he was living, the child s age and even the age of his parents.

After going through all details, the disciples concluded the place to be Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim. So, a delegation of monks landed there and soon they came across the house as described by the Oracle. The house belonged to Enche Kazi, a respected Sikkimese nobleman; he had a four-year-old son. The moment the monks entered the garden even before they had knocked the door the boy went to his father and told him that his people had come to take him back to his monastery! The monks then entered and subjected him to a familiarity test: they displayed a whole range of religious items like bells and rosaries and the boy without any error picked up only those items belonging to and actually used by Lama Rimpoche. After this demonstration, the heart-broken father the moter had died at childbirth had to allow his young son to go with the Lamas. As soon as they entered the monastery, Lama Rimpoche s pet dog came running and greeted him with great happiness.

One might even ask Govinda, a blue-blooded rational German, what made him believe in reincarnation. His answer is simple: For myself, rebirth is neither a theory nor a belief, but an experience. What is this experience?

Long before he developed his Tibetan connection, Govinda, in his twenties, was living in the Island of Capri. One day, some of his friends invited him to attend a seance. Out of idle curiosity, Govinda asked about his past life, the spirit came out with a Latin name. Nobody had heard this name before. Only Govinda vaguely knew that it was the pen name of a German writer who died some years ago. He had come across the name in a bibliography.

After a few days, Govinda showed a short story which he had written some years ago to a friend who was well-versed in German literature. After reading it, the friend was very surprised and he asked Govinda if he had read the works of the German writer who used a Latin pseudonym he found many similarities.

Govinda was taken aback. He got hold of the works of the German author and found that his short story was virtually a part of an unfinished novel of that author, the novel that he could not complete because of his death. Some of the passages were identical and Govinda felt that not only the language, but his emotions, his innermost feelings were reflected in the writings of the other man. Later, Govinda found out that both of them were inmates in the same sanatorium and somebody even told him that they looked alike!

A secondary evidence of reincarnation is the example of child prodigies. We sometimes come across incidents of children achieving something unbelievable the legendary exploits of Mozart for example, or that of Jean Cardiac who knew six languages before the age of six. There is on record a famous case of a child who spoke only a few hours after his birth, knew the Bible by the age of two, mastered history, Latin and French by three, and correctly predicted his own death at four! No amount of human excellence can explain these events. It seems these children brought with them all their knowledge and expertise of previous existence.

The detractors of reincarnation theory often point out that most of rebirth cases are recorded in India and Tibet where people believe in the concept; fewer cases are reported from the land of unbelievers. This does not seem to be true after the publication of Dr Wambach experiments; we can round off this article with the personal experiences of another psychiatrist from the other side of the Atlantic.

Dr Arthur Guirdham is a well-known British specialist on psychiatry with many years of practice. For some inexplicable reason, he always felt attracted to an obsolete 13th century religious sect called the Cathars. The Cathars refused to accept Christianity and were massacred by the Church near Toulouse in France. The doctor had strong feelings of deja vu whenever he visited that area. (The feeling of deja vu, of being somewhere for the second time when actually it is the first visit, is often found to be a secondary evidence of reincarnation). He also had a recurring nightmare; he was lying on the ground while a tall man was approaching him menacingly. He could not explain this nightmare by any means. In 1962, a woman patient came to him and he was amazed to find that she was also having an identical nightmare. After she disclosed it, the nightmares stopped. During the therapy, the lady confessed that she had been seeing the doctor in her dreams since the 1940s. Her dreams are invariably centered around her life in the 13th century when she, a young peasant girl, met a young Cathar priest Koger De Grissoles, and they fell in love. They lived together happily but not forever; the persecution started, they were arrested, the priest died in prison and the girl was burnt alive. She claimed Dr Guirdham was Roger.

This seems to be a Hindi movie in the Madhumati-Milan-Mehbooba gharana lovers who met tragic end return after 700 years as doctor and patient! But there is a minor problem. In her dreams, which she saw in the 40s, she saw in great details the background and lifestyle of the Cathars in the 13th century. Those details were documentarily proved only in the late 60s. And the lady was neither a historian nor a sociologist. So it is not easy to dismiss the story outright.

But this was not the end of Dr Guirdham s Cathars connections. Even before this incident, he had a woman patient who came because she could not understand why two strange words, the words with which she had nothing to do, with, were continuously repeated in her head `Albigensian' and `Raymonds'. Dr Guirdham was again puzzled because Albigenses; was another name of the Cathars and Raymonds was the Count of Toulouse who ordered the massacre of the sect. The same patient also saw nightmares of being burnt alive and being hit on the back by a torch in fact, she had a birthmark on her back which had a burnt look. In this way, Guirdham went on meeting more people who were somehow related to the Cathars. This led him to his theory that a group of people who were Cathars in the 13th century were born together in various places during the last two thousand years.

Dr Guirdham s books were published around 1970 and as expected got much flak and derisive laughter, but it may not sound so strange now.

There is only a basic difference between 1970 and 1979, the year of publication of Dr Wambach s book, as I have already pointed out: Dr Guirdham had to retire from practice and give up consultancy work before writing his books, because he knew his professional reputation would be damaged beyond repair, while Dr Wambach could still practice and reveal her studies.

Nothing could possibly illustrate better the gradual, though grudging, acceptance of the basic tenets of reincarnation.



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