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The Afterlife

Home | Near Death Experiences | Immortality | Reincarnation | Around the World


Many systems of belief incorporate ideas about reincarnation. The popular view of reincarnation is that after a person dies, the spirit of that person is reborn in another body. The body is seen as a temporary dwelling, from which some spiritual essence escapes at death. The spirit or soul is then often described as undergoing some form of readjustment, reappraisal, perhaps including judgement. Aspects of the previous life, or lives will carry over into the next existence.

Some people believe that the spirit can be reborn into animal or even insect form, perhaps as a result of the person not having lived a good existence in their last life. Others believe that the soul can only be born into another person. In some religions, reincarnation is only a stage that the soul must undergo before attaining release from the endless circle of death and rebirth.

Psychic researchers link reincarnation with other paranormal phenomena such as astral projection, apparitions, near-death experiences, mediumship but such categories, if they support the concept to certain extent, are even more uncertain.



Many people claim to be able to recall events from their last lives, and a thriving business has developed to assist people to "rediscover" previous existences.

Some evidence for reincarnation comes from cases where individuals under hypnosis produce memories from what might be taken as a prior lifetime. These memories come through with a vividness of emotion and detail very much like early childhood memories. Often the reincarnation dramas seem to explain important characteristics in the subject's psychological makeup. This type of testimony is very interesting from a psychodynamic point of view. However, it cannot constitute acceptable evidence for reincarnation until it is shown that the descriptions match actual life-histories which are unknown to the subject.

A large number of case reports have been published, but few of these cases were researched exhaustively. Most “hypnotic regressions to past lives" could then be explained in a more conventional way :


  • Suggestion, role-playing, loss of inhibition
  • Dissociation (including cryptomnesia), and desire to please the hypnotist.
  • Postcognition.
  • Spirit possession.


Cases of “awaken” children

The cases which are coming under serious scientific scrutiny are typically those in which a small child, two to four years old, begins talking to the parents about another lifetime. Generally, the parents will dismiss such talk as nonsense -- even in cultures where reincarnation is believed to occur. However, the child may persist and even insist upon visiting the community of his former residence. If the child supplies many details the parents may initiate an inquiry. Ideally at this stage, a scientific investigator is introduced to the scene. Careful records are made of all the child's statements. Verification can then begin by visiting the indicated community. If a family exists meeting the child's descriptions of his former household, the investigator can arrange for the two families to visit. Tests are then arranged to determine if the child can recognize places, objects, and people. Often it seems these memories are lost as the child grows older.

Among thousands of reports that have been investigated so far, some very strange facts appear that cannot be discounted. As an example, the case of Swarnlata Mishra is instructive.

On March 2, 1948, Swarnlata was born the daughter of the district school inspector in Chhatarpur, Madya Pradesh, India. At the age of three and a half, while on a trip with her father passing through the town of Katni, she made a number of strange remarks about her house in this village. The Mishra family had never lived closer than 100 miles from this town. Later she described to friends and family further details of a previous life. Her family name, she claimed, had been Pathak. She also performed unusual dances and songs which she had had no opportunity to learn.

At the age of ten Swarnlata recognized a new family acquaintance, the wife of a college professor, as a friend in her former lifetime. Several months later, this case was brought to the attention of Sri H. N. Banerjee, of the Department of Parapsychology, University of Rajasthan, Jaipur. He interviewed the Mishra family; then, guided by Swarnlata's statements, he located the house of the Pathak family in Katni. Banerjee found that Swarnlata's statements seemed to fit the life history of Biya, a daughter of the Pathak family and deceased wife of Sri Chintamini Panday. She had died in 1939.

In the summer of 1959, the Pathak family and Biya's married relatives visited the Mishra family in Chhatarpur. Swarnlata was able to recognize and identify them. She refused to identify strangers who had been brought along to confuse her. Later Swarnlata was taken to Katni and the neighboring towns. There she recognized additional people and places, commenting on changes which had been made since Biya's death. Unfortunately Sri Banerjee was not present during these reunions.

It was not until the summer of 1961 that Dr. Ian Stevenson, an eminent psychiatrist and psychical researcher from the University of Virginia, visited the two families and attempted to verify the authenticity of the case.

Stevenson determined that of 49 statements made by Swarnlata only two were found to be incorrect. She accurately described the details of Biya's house and neighborhood as they were before 1939. She described the details of Biya's disease and death as well as the doctor who treated her. She was able to recall intimate incidents known only to a few individuals. For example, she knew Sri Ciantimini Pandey had taken 1200 ruples from a box in which Biya had kept money. He admitted this, when questioned, and stated no one but Biya could have known of the incident. She accurately identified former friends, relatives, and servants in spite of the efforts of the witnesses to deny her statements or mislead her. Most of the recognitions were given in a way which obliged Swarnlata to provide a name or state a relationship. It was not a case of asking, "Am I your son?" but rather, "Tell me who I am."

Perhaps because of her family's tolerance, Swarnlata's impressions of Biya's life have not faded. In fact, Swarnlata continues to visit Biya's brothers and children and shows great affection for them. Remarkably she continues to act as an older sister to the Pathak brother--men forty years older than her. Furthermore, the Pathak family was rather westernized and did not believe in reincarnation before their encounter with Swarnlata.

Swarnlata also talked about another intermediate life as a child named Kamlesh in Sylket, Bengal, where she died at the age of nine. While this claim has not been verified in detail, many of her statements were found to correlate with the local geography. Her songs and dances were also verified as Bengali, although she had lived all her life only among Hindi speaking people.

If one rules out the possibility of fraud in such cases -- and there are many which are as evidential as this one--one might assume a child like Swarnlata was recalling the memories of stories which she had overheard during her very early childhood or infancy. The other explanation -- as with mediumship -- involves ESP along with a remarkable skill for impersonation.

copyright @ 2006 by DCPI