“I won’t pick it up. I am a Sharma.” With these words, young Gopal Gupta angrily broke the dinner glasses his parents had asked him to remove from the table. Gopal was outraged that he, as a member of the wealthy, upper-class Sharma family, should be engaged in the menial task of clearing off a dining table. Of course, Gopal’s parents had no idea that they were engaging a Sharma in clearing the table; they simply thought of Gopal as their two-and-a-half-year-old son.
Thus unfolded one of the numerous cases reported by Professor Ian Stevenson of the University of Virginia. Stevenson has published a series of books (Stevenson, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1980, 1983, 1987, 1997) in which he describes his extensive research work during the last thirty years. Stevenson reports cases in which a child gives specific details about a person he claims to have been in his previous life and Stevenson has done careful research in an attempt to verify these details. The information in these cases is not obtained by hypnosis; the children spontaneously describe their experiences. In addition to the books cited above, please also see the following websites:
The case of Gopal Gupta is typical. He was born in Delhi, India on 26 August 1956, the son of S.P. Gupta and his wife Omvati Gupta. The incident mentioned above occurred when Gopal was approximately two and a half years old. Gopal startled everyone by this outburst of anger and his unprecedented claim to be a member of a strange family. During the next few years, Gopal provided various details of what he claimed was his previous life as a man named Shaktipal Sharma who had lived in another city called Mathura, which is 160 kilometers away from Delhi where Gopal and his parents were living at the time (Shaktipal Sharma died in 1948). These details included the following information (Stevenson, 1975, p.82-95): He and his two brothers had owned a company called Sukh Shancharak that sold medicines. The company maintained a showroom. He owned a large house and had many servants to take away dishes and eating utensils. The Sharmas owned a number of large houses including one with a garden outside the town. He owned a car (it was very unusual to own a car in India in the 1930s). He went to college in a car. His employees were happy because he gave them wine. His younger brother married a woman from Assam. One day there had been shooting between the brothers.
According to Stevenson (1975, p.74-75), during the time Gopal was revealing this knowledge (from 1959 to 1964), neither Gopal nor his parents had ever been in Mathura. S.P. Gupta did not set foot in Mathura until 1964, and Gopal and his mother did not go there until March 1965. In his interview with Stevenson, Gopal’s father said that his family had no contact with the Sharma family prior to the development of the case. Similarly, the Sharmas told Stevenson that there had been no contact between their family and the Gupta family before the case.
As a general operating rule in his investigation of these cases, Stevenson interviews a number of knowledgeable persons in an attempt to establish that the information reported by the child was not acquired through normal means of communication. He is especially alert for any evidence of contact between the two families before the development of the case.
In the case of Gopal Gupta, Stevenson interviewed the following persons in Delhi:
1. Gopal Gupta
2. Gopal’s father (S. P. Gupta)
3. Gopal’s mother (Omvati Gupta)
4. Jwala Prasad (a building contractor who was a friend of S. P. Gupta)
5. B. B. Das (a friend of S. P. Gupta)
6. Chandra Kumari Devi Shastri (one of Shaktipal Sharma’s older sisters)
7. M. D. Shastri (Chandra Kumari Devi’s husband)
8. Chandra Kanta Devi Sharma (another of Shaktipal Sharma’s older sisters)
9. R. S. Sharma (Chandra Kanta Devi’s husband)
10. Chaman Lal Kapoor (a friend of K. B. Pathak)
11. R. C. Chaturvedi (a friend of Chaman Lal Kapoor)
12. Prabha Chaturvedi (R. C. Chaturvedi’s wife)
In Mathura, Stevenson interviewed:
13. Vishwapal Sharma (Shaktipal Sharma’s older brother)
14. Satyawati Sharma (Vishwapal Sharma’s wife)
15. Kirtipal Sharma (Shaktipal Sharma’s oldest son)
16. Subhadra Devi Sharma (Shaktipal Sharma’s widow)
17. Asha Sharma (Shaktipal Sharma’s niece by marriage)
18. K. B. Pathak (sales manager of the Sukh Shancharak Company)
19. R. A. Haryana (a friend of Shaktipal Sharma)
In 1964, Gopal’s father drove from Delhi (where he was living) to Mathura to attend a religious festival. While in Mathura, he decided to try to verify some of the things his son had been saying. He found that there was in fact a company called Sukh Shancharak that sold medicines and that it was owned by three Sharma brothers, the youngest of whom, named Brijendrapal, had shot and killed his older brother named Shaktipal Sharma in 1948. S.P. Gupta told the company’s sales manager (K. B. Pathak) about some of the things Gopal had said. Mr. Pathak was impressed with the accuracy of Gopal’s statements; he wrote down S.P. Gupta’s name and address and gave them to Subhadra Devi Sharma, Shaktipal Sharma’s widow. The Sharmas were curious about what Gopal was saying, so they asked one of their friends in Delhi (Chaman Lal Kapoor) to inquire further into the matter. In November 1964, Kapoor wrote to Pathak confirming what Gopal had been saying.
Thereafter, Subhadra Devi Sharma and Chandra Kanta Devi Sharma (one of Shaktipal Sharma’s older sisters) visited the Gupta family at their home in the Krishna Nagar section of Delhi. S.P. Gupta told Stevenson that Gopal correctly stated Chandra Kanta Devi Sharma’s relationship to Shaktipal Sharma when she asked Gopal to say who she was, but Stevenson (1975, p.88) also mentioned that Chandra Kanta Devi did not remember this event. Stevenson (1975, p.88-89) said that Gopal recognized Subhadra Devi, but he also mentioned that there was a possibility that Gopal could have overheard Chandra Kanta Devi’s son telling S.P. Gupta who Subhadra Devi was. Thus there is some doubt regarding the value of these two recognitions.
During this visit, Gopal was friendly towards Chandra Kanta Devi Sharma but cold and impolite to Subhadra Devi Sharma. For example, when the two women were leaving the Gupta residence, Gopal said good-bye to Chandra Kanta Devi but he did not say good-bye to Subhadra Devi. Gopal’s father asked Gopal why he was so cold towards Subhadra Devi, and Gopal replied that he was angry at Subhadra Devi because she had refused to lend him money when he requested it. Shaktipal Sharma had requested money from his wife to try to pacify his younger brother Brijendrapal, but Subhadra Devi had refused. Gopal remembered this event in the life of Shaktipal Sharma. Later, when Gopal’s father was visiting Subhadra Devi in Mathura, he told her about Gopal’s memories of Shaktipal Sharma’s attempt to borrow money from her before he was murdered. Upon hearing this, Subhadra Devi fainted. She was astonished that Gopal knew about such an intimate affair. Stevenson noted: “The details of this had certainly never appeared in any newspaper or been otherwise spread around publicly” (Stevenson, 1975, p.102). Gopal’s revelation of this event in the life of Shaktipal Sharma took place before Gopal’s first visit to Mathura in March 1965.
In January 1965, Vishwapal Sharma (Shaktipal Sharma’s older brother) and his wife Satyawati came to the Gupta residence in Krishna Nagar, Delhi. While they were sitting in their car in front of the house, Gopal came out of the house and correctly stated their relationship to Shaktipal Sharma. Later, when Stevenson interviewed Vishwapal Sharma and his wife, they directly confirmed Gopal’s recognition of them.
Sometime thereafter, but before Gopal’s first visit to Mathura in March 1965, Chandra Kumari Devi Shastri (another one of Shaktipal Sharma’s sisters) invited Gopal and his parents to the wedding of her son in Delhi. Gopal and his father attended the wedding. S. P. Gupta told Stevenson that on this occasion Gopal spontaneously recognized Brijendrapal Sharma, Shaktipal Sharma’s younger brother and murderer. Stevenson also said that Vishwapal Sharma told him that he (Vishwapal Sharma) and his wife had also attended this wedding and that his wife had overheard a conversation between Gopal and his father in which Gopal said: “That man who is disguised [referring to Brijendrapal's beard] shot at me” (Stevenson, 1975, p.91). It turns out that Brijendrapal Sharma did not grow a beard until after the death of Shaktipal Sharma.
As mentioned before, Gopal visited Mathura for the first time in March 1965. In Mathura, Gopal was able to find Shaktipal Sharma’s house. Stevenson reported that he personally examined this terrain in 1969 when he visited Mathura and could find no obvious clues that would have helped Gopal to find Shaktipal Sharma’s house. Stevenson (1975, p.81) also noted that Gopal could not have received subtle suggestions from his father or the other men accompanying him that would have helped in finding the house, since at that time none of these men knew where Shaktipal Sharma had lived.
In Mathura, Gopal was able to recognize photographs of Shaktipal Sharma and persons related to him. Kirtipal Sharma told Stevenson that someone showed Gopal a picture of R. A. Haryana and asked Gopal who it was. Gopal said “Haryana” (Stevenson, 1975, p. 92). Mr. Haryana was one of Shaktipal Sharma’s friends from college days. S. P. Gupta told Stevenson that when Gopal entered Shaktipal Sharma’s house he saw a photograph of Shaktipal Sharma and declared “This is my photograph” (Stevenson, 1975, p. 92). Kirtipal Sharma told Stevenson that Subhadra Devi Sharma pointed to a photograph of Shaktipal Sharma’s father and asked Gopal who it was. Gopal said “This is my father’s photograph” (Stevenson, 1975, p. 93). Stevenson remarked that Gopal’s ability in this regard and other evidence had such a strong effect on some of the members of the Sharma family that they were moved to tears (Stevenson, 1975, p.102).
When Gopal was in Mathura, he said that Shaktipal Sharma had the unusual habit of keeping financial records in his personal diary. Stevenson said that a number of persons, including Mr. Haryana, heard Gopal make this remark. When Mr. Haryana told Vishwapal Sharma about it, Vishwapal immediately knew that it was correct since he had had a very close relationship with his younger brother, Shaktipal Sharma. Vishwapal Sharma told Stevenson that Shaktipal Sharma had in fact kept financial records in his personal diary. Stevenson considered the oddness of this habit and Gopal’s knowledge of it to be an important item in this case.
Gopal’s claim to be Shaktipal Sharma reborn was of interest to a number of persons in Mathura, since Shaktipal Sharma had been a prominent figure there. The case was covered by a number of newspapers, and thus Dr. Jamuna Prasad learned of it and told Dr. Stevenson about it. In 1969, Stevenson began his interviews of people involved in this case.
Gopal’s Strong Identification with Shaktipal Sharma
According to Stevenson, when Gopal was between the ages of two and nine years old he often exhibited behavior indicating that he considered himself to be Shaktipal Sharma. It turns out that Shaktipal Sharma belonged to the Brahmana caste. In the Indian social system, the Brahmana caste is considered the highest caste. The Guptas, on the other hand, belong to an inferior caste known as Banias. Brahmanas generally refuse to use or even touch eating utensils that have been used by the members of lower castes. When he was young, Gopal repeatedly told his family members (the Guptas) that he is a Brahmana and “he refused to touch eating utensils used by anyone except his father. … He would not drink milk from a cup anyone else had used, even, in this case, his father” (Stevenson, 1975, p.99).
Gopal sometimes complained about the poor living conditions in the Gupta residence and compared it unfavorably with the large house that he said he owned as Shaktipal Sharma. Gopal was reluctant to do menial housework: he claimed that he had many servants to do this type of work.
As mentioned earlier, when Subhadra Devi Sharma visited Gopal in Delhi, he treated her very coldly. This is appropriate behavior for Shaktipal Sharma since, as mentioned earlier, he was angry at his wife shortly before he was murdered.
When Gopal arrived at Shaktipal Sharma’s house in Mathura, he said: “This is my house.” When he was inside, he said: “This is my living room.” At one point Gopal saw Shaktipal Sharma’s piano and touched it, for which he was reproached. Gopal responded by saying: “Why should I not touch it? It belongs to me” (Stevenson, 1975, p.97).
The Sharmas Were Impressed
Stevenson mentioned that Gopal was unable to recognize several persons who were well known to Shaktipal Sharma, such as K. B. Pathak who was employed by the Sukh Shancharak Company for four years before Shaktipal Sharma was murdered. Nevertheless, the members of the Sharma family and other informants in Mathura were impressed by the accuracy of most of Gopal’s memories and his ability to recognize certain photographs, especially those of Shaktipal Sharma in which his face is not visible. The Sharmas were particularly impressed by Gopal’s knowledge of Shaktipal Sharma’s attempt to borrow money from his wife before he was murdered (Stevenson, 1987, p.56). Stevenson noted: “Shaktipal Sharma’s older sister, Chandra Kanta Devi Sharma, found herself calling Gopal ‘Shakti’, a strong indication that she regarded him as her brother reborn. Vishwapal Sharma, Shaktipal Sharma’s older brother, was similarly convinced, from the evidence he had seen himself and what he had learned from others, that Gopal was his deceased brother reborn. And Shaktipal Sharma’s old friend from college days, R. A. Haryana, expressed the opinion that Gopal was Shaktipal Sharma reborn. So did Shaktipal Sharma’s niece by marriage, Asha Sharma, who witnessed in Mathura Gopal’s ability to find his way from Shaktipal Sharma’s house to the Sukh Shancharak company and then to point out the correct locations of the murderer and victim at the time Shaktipal Sharma’s brother shot him” (Stevenson, 1975, p.102).
This last item has a special feature. When Gopal was in the process of pointing out the locations of the murderer and victim, several members of the Sharma family were present who knew the actual locations and, in order to test Gopal, deliberately tried to mislead him by trying to get him to point to the wrong places. Gopal passed the test, however, by remaining resolute in his identification of the correct locations. It is conceivable that an observant person could have received a clue as to the location of Shaktipal Sharma at the time he was shot due to the fact that there were new tiles there (the old ones had blood stains and had therefore been removed for inspection by the police). But this would not be sufficient to enable one to correctly point out the position of Brijendrapal when he fired the gun.
Interpretations for the Case of Gopal Gupta
How are we to interpret this case? Did Gopal overhear adults discussing the life and murder of Shaktipal Sharma in sufficient detail? There are at least three reasons why this is highly unlikely:
(1) Although Shaktipal Sharma was an important man in Mathura, he was a person of no significance in Delhi.
(2) Gopal was living in Delhi when he first began to describe Shaktipal Sharma’s life and murder. Delhi newspaper accounts would not have contained all the details revealed by Gopal, and thus the adults whom Gopal might have overheard could not have known these details.
(3) Eleven years elapsed between the death of Shaktipal Sharma in 1948 and Gopal’s first outburst in 1959 at around age two-and-a-half. Thus even if people in Delhi were acquainted with the life and murder of Shaktipal Sharma in 1948, it is hard to believe that they would still be talking about them eleven years later.
A Clever Fraud by Gopal’s Parents?
Stevenson mentioned that he is alert for evidence of fraud in the cases he studies, and in the case of Gopal Gupta he found none. But let us consider the possibility that Gopal’s parents faked the case. If Gopal’s parents were strongly motivated and willing to do the needed research in Mathura, it is possible that they could have amassed a considerable amount of information about the life and murder of Shaktipal Sharma since he was a prominent person in Mathura.
But the question is, could Gopal’s parents have discovered all the details reported by Gopal? Consider, for example, that Asha Sharma (Shaktipal Sharma’s niece) told Stevenson that she was personally present when Gopal correctly identified the place where Brijendrapal Sharma stood when he fired the bullet that killed Shaktipal Sharma, although there were no clues that could have helped Gopal in finding the correct place and an attempt was made to deliberately mislead him by persons who knew this place. Moreover, Shaktipal Sharma’s son, Kirtipal Sharma, told Stevenson that he was also present when Gopal did this. Did the Guptas somehow induce Asha Sharma and Kirtipal Sharma to lie to Dr. Stevenson? What could the Guptas have offered the Sharmas? It is important to remember that the Sharmas were wealthy, and the Guptas were poor. Moreover, the Sharmas were from the Brahmana caste whereas the Guptas belonged to the inferior Banias caste. The huge socio-economic differences between the Sharmas and the Guptas make it very unlikely that a friendship could have ever developed between the two families. It thus seems extremely unlikely that the Guptas could have induced the Sharmas to take part in a fraud. What benefit could the Sharmas have derived by falsely establishing some ordinary boy (Gopal Gupta) as Shaktipal Sharma reborn? Stevenson mentioned that he was unable to detect any desire among Indians to convert Westerners to a belief in reincarnation. Thus, there appears to be absolutely no motive on the part of the Sharmas to engage in fraudulently establishing Gopal as Shaktipal Sharma reborn. How, then, can we explain Gopal’s identification of the correct location where Brijendrapal stood when he fired the gun?
Perhaps the most impressive item in this case is that Shaktipal Sharma’s widow Subhadra Devi fainted when she heard about Gopal’s memories of her husband’s efforts to borrow money from her before his murder. Since this was a private affair between Shaktipal Sharma and his wife and not the kind of thing that would have been reported by the newspapers, Gopal’s parents could not have learned of it without becoming close friends of the Sharmas.
Thus, it is extremely unlikely that Gopal’s parents could have faked the whole case. The same is true for the better among Stevenson’s other cases (see Stevenson, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1980, 1983, 1987, 1997), since these cases are very similar to the case of Gopal Gupta. In these cases, the child has greatly impressed members of the previous personality’s family by demonstrating knowledge of private affairs of the previous personality that would be very difficult to obtain by normal means of communication. Thus, fraud by the child’s parents is highly unlikely. To explain these cases in terms of normal means of communication, we would have to imagine a fraud involving both the family of the child and the family of the person he claims to have been in his previous life. But when we examine these cases, we find no motive for such fraud. Most of Stevenson’s cases are among villagers in places like West Africa, India, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Alaska, Syria, Turkey and Lebanon. In these places, a person gains little or no fame by reporting that his child is a deceased person reborn, since cases in which a child claims to remember a previous life are very common (Stevenson, 1980, p.13; 1987, p.147). Also, according to Stevenson, these people have no desire to convert Westerners to a belief in reincarnation. In cases in which the child’s family is poor and the previous personality’s family is rich, a skeptic might argue that the whole case is a fraud by the child’s parents with the motive to extract money from the rich family. But the problem is that there is no reason for the rich family to take part in the fraud, and hence we can not explain how the hoaxers could have obtained the knowledge the child exhibited of private affairs of the previous personality. Thus, it appears that we can eliminate fraud as an explanation for Stevenson’s better cases, and we shall now move on to consider other explanations beginning with extrasensory perception.
Extrasensory Perception (ESP)
There are two observations suggesting that ESP is not the best explanation for cases such as that of Gopal Gupta:
(1) As described earlier, when Gopal was between the ages of two and nine years old, he often exhibited behavior indicating that he considered himself to be Shaktipal Sharma. Gopal did not report that he was using ESP to acquire information about Shaktipal Sharma; Gopal experienced himself to be Shaktipal Sharma. Dr. Stevenson emphasized that such identification is a typical feature of his cases. The children do not claim that they are getting information about the previous personality by ESP: in each case the child claims that he is the previous personality. In many cases the children exhibit strong emotional responses appropriate for the previous personality, such as crying in happiness when meeting a person loved by the previous personality, or being angry at persons who were hated by the previous personality, or recoiling in fear when seeing the murderer of the previous personality. In well-documented cases of ESP, the person who receives information by ESP does not become illusioned in such a way that he falsely identifies himself as the person about whom he receives the information (see Appendix A and Gloor, 1969; Vasiliev, 1966; Stanley, 1909; Sidgewick, 1891-1892). Although a child might want to identify with exceptionally powerful or attractive adults, there is no reason to believe that a child would want to identify with the ordinary persons who constitute the majority of previous personalities reported by Stevenson.
(2) The children do not exhibit independent ESP ability. Stevenson mentioned that he asked hundreds of parents about ESP ability in their children and, in the vast majority of cases, there was none (Stevenson, 1987, p.155).
Thus, it seems that ESP is not the best interpretation for these cases. Let us therefore consider three other interpretations:
(1) Intermittent influence by the previous personality on the mind of a child.
(2) Possession (the previous personality has taken over the body of the child and either overwhelmed and silenced the original owner of the body, or forced him to leave it).
(3) Reincarnation (the conscious self, after departing from his dying body, takes up residence in a new physical body; he is the first resident in this body).
If we accept any of these three interpretations, we are implicitly accepting the idea that the previous personality is different from his physical body and can operate independently of it, since his physical body is by that time dead and decaying.
Intermittent Influence by the Previous Personality on the Mind of a Child
It would be very frightening to be intermittently influenced by another person. A child being influenced in this way would almost certainly tell his parents about it. Yet none of the children in Stevenson’s cases report being sometimes influenced by the previous personality. From a very young age each child reports that he is the previous personality. Thus, we must reject the hypothesis of intermittent influence as an explanation for Stevenson’s cases.
Stevenson has hundreds of cases in which there are distinctive birthmarks or birth defects on the body of a child that are very similar to wounds or scars on the body of the person he claims to have been in his previous life. In many cases, the wounds or scars on the body of the previous personality were acquired during life as a result of surgery or were inflicted at the time of death. Stevenson has numerous cases in which a child claims to remember having been shot or stabbed (as the cause of death of the body of the previous personality) and there is a birthmark on the body of the child in the same place and having the same shape as the fatal wound inflicted on the body of the previous personality. The fact that the marks are present on the child at the time of his birth and not acquired later implies that the previous personality entered the child’s body before it was born. A kind of possession in which the invading person enters the child’s body before birth is practically the same as reincarnation. The only difference is that in possession there would have already been a conscious self in the embryo, whereas in reincarnation the previous personality is the first conscious self to inhabit the embryo.
Possession does not seem to be the best explanation for the numerous cases in which the child clearly expresses his surprise or dissatisfaction with his new environment. Examples of this are the following. When a two-year-old Turkish boy named Celal Kapan first began to speak, practically his first statement was: “What am I doing here? I was at the port” (Stevenson, 1987, p. 105). He claimed that in his previous life he was a dock worker and he had fallen asleep in the cargo hold of a ship which was being loaded. He was killed when a large oil drum was unknowingly dropped on him. He felt he fell asleep in an adult body and woke up in the body of a baby.
The children in Stevenson’s cases often act, and as far as possible speak, like adults who have been unfairly imprisoned in children’s bodies.
Stevenson (1987, p.100) reported a case in which the mother of a deceased boy dreamed that her son came to her and told her: “Help! I have got myself in a poor family. Come and rescue me.” From the dream she received enough information to identify a family that had a child with memories of the life of her deceased son. It seems that her deceased son was born in a family with much less money than he wanted.
Although in some of Stevenson’s cases the child is pleased with the circumstances of his new life, in many cases the child is terribly disappointed and repeatedly complains about the impoverished condition or low-class habits of his new family (Stevenson, 1987, p.119). An Indian boy named Bishen Chand Kapoor, who claimed that he was a very wealthy man in his previous life, contemptuously rejected the clothes his poor parents offered him. He said that such clothes were so inferior that he would not have given them even to his servants, not to mention wearing them himself (Stevenson, 1987, p.116). Gopal Gupta contemptuously compared the Gupta residence with the large house he had owned as Shaktipal Sharma. In many cases the child rejects his parents, saying “you are not my real parents” and demands to be taken to another town where his “real” parents (the parents of the previous personality) live (Stevenson, 1987, p.118). A child’s repeated criticism of his new family often gets him into trouble with the members of this family.
The above evidence seems inconsistent with the standard scenario of possession in which a discarnate person selects the body he wants and forcibly overwhelms its occupant. Instead, the evidence suggests reincarnation.
Reincarnation seems to be the best interpretation for most of Stevenson’s cases since it explains: (1) the knowledge the child has of the previous personality; (2) the child’s unusual behavior (unusual for his family but perfectly appropriate for the previous personality); (3) the child’s subjective experience (he claims that he is the previous personality and that he has somehow been put into a new body); (4) distinctive birthmarks on the body of the child that are very similar to wounds or scars on the body of the previous personality.
The Frequency of Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation
The idea that reincarnation is a natural process that all conscious selves undergo when their physical bodies die is supported by Stevenson’s statements that it is easy to find persons who claim to remember a previous life in certain places such as West Africa, India, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Syria, Turkey, Lebanon and the northwestern part of North America (Stevenson 1980, p.13; 1987, p.93). Stevenson said that in these places he has received so many reports of possible cases that he simply does not have enough time to investigate them all. It is important to note that cases of the reincarnation type are found not only in southeast Asia, but all over the world. Stevenson said: “Fortunately, many new cases are available, and as I mentioned in the General Introduction to this series, I should have no difficulty whatever in indicating places in several countries where an investigator can easily find more cases of this type than he could possibly study” (Stevenson, 1980, p.351).
Stevenson mentioned that he has also found and investigated many cases of the reincarnation type in the other parts of North America and Europe. The lesser frequency of reported cases in these countries is due to the fact that many parents ignore or suppress such cases, and hence they can not come to the attention of investigators like Dr. Stevenson (Stevenson, 1987, p.93-94).
Other Scientists Find Evidence For Reincarnation
Careful studies by other scientists have uncovered dozens of cases similar to those reported by Stevenson. See, for example, Pasricha (1990, 1992, 1998), Mills (1989, 1990), Haraldsson (1991, 1997), and Keil (1996).
Distinctive Birthmarks Related to the Previous Life
In 1945 a full-blooded Tlingit Indian named Victor Vincent informed a young friend of his, Mrs. Chotkin, that he will die soon and be reborn as her son (the Tlingit Indians are native American Indians who now reside in Alaska). He expressed the desire that in his next life as her son he would not stutter as he did in this life. He pulled up his shirt and showed her a highly distinctive scar on his back that was the result of a surgical operation performed several years earlier. It was undoubtedly the result of an operation because the small round holes of the stitches were visible. He also showed her a scar on the right side of his nose (near the eye) that was the result of a surgical operation there.
He informed her that in his next life as her son he will have the same marks on his body in the same places, and thereby she will be able to recognize him as Victor Vincent reborn.
A year later he died. Approximately eighteen months thereafter Mrs. Chotkin gave birth to a boy whom she named Corliss Chotkin, Jr. (after his father). She told Stevenson that on the body of Corliss at the time of his birth were the same marks in the same places as had been on the body of Victor Vincent.
In 1962 Stevenson visited Alaska and personally examined the marks on the body of Corliss (who was 15 years old at that time). Stevenson reported that the mark on Corliss’ nose was not very characteristic of the scar of a surgical operation. But Stevenson was strongly impressed by the marks on Corliss’ back, which he described as follows: “The mark on the back of Corliss was much more characteristic of an operative scar. It was located about eight inches below the shoulder line and two inches to the right of the midline. It was heavily pigmented and raised. It extended about one inch in length and a quarter inch in width. Along its margins one could still easily discern several small round marks outside the main scar. Four of these on one side lined up like the stitch wounds of surgical operations. On the other side the alignment was less definite” (Stevenson, 1974, p.260).
Stevenson reported that Mrs. Chotkin is the daughter of Victor Vincent’s sister. Could the marks on the body of Corliss be the result of genetic information passed down from Victor Vincent? According to modern biology this is impossible because surgical marks acquired during one’s life can not be encoded in the DNA of one’s germ cells. Biologists strongly assert that the only means whereby characteristics can be passed on to one’s progeny is the expression of encoded information in the DNA of the germ cells. They do not recognize any evidence that characteristics acquired during one’s life can be passed on to one’s progeny. Moreover, there was no line of descent from Victor Vincent to Mrs. Chotkin. It is also worth noting that Mrs. Chotkin told Stevenson that no one else in their family had any marks in the places of those on the body of Corliss.
Stevenson tried to obtain independent corroborating evidence for the marks on Victor Vincent’s body. He discovered that in 1938 Victor Vincent was admitted to the U. S. Public Health Service Hospital in Seattle where his right tear sac was removed in a surgical operation. The scar produced by this operation would be in exactly the place that Mrs. Chotkin said she saw a scar on the right side of Victor Vincent’s nose. Thus, Mrs. Chotkin’s testimony is corroborated on this point at least. But the mark on the nose of Corliss when he was examined by Stevenson in 1962 was not very characteristic of an operation scar. Hence the mark on the nose is not sufficient by itself to build a very strong case for the reincarnation of Victor Vincent as Corliss Chotkin, Jr. According to Stevenson, the mark on Corliss’ back was much more impressive but, although Stevenson tried, he was not able to obtain independent corroboration of its presence on Victor Vincent’s back. But Stevenson (1987, p.101) said that he has hundreds of cases of distinctive birthmarks on the bodies of children claiming reincarnation, and in about thirty cases he has obtained independent corroboration (in the form of medical records or autopsies) of similar marks on the body of the previous personality. These are described in Stevenson (1997).
Stevenson mentioned that he has many cases in which a child reported that he was violently murdered (usually by shooting or stabbing) in his previous life, and the child has on his body a birthmark of the same shape and in the same place as the fatal wound in his previous life. Stevenson wrote (1987, p.101): “Birthmarks and birth defects related to the previous personality seem to me to provide some of the strongest evidence in favor of reincarnation as the best interpretation for the cases. They are objectively observable (I have photographed several hundred of them), and for most of them the only serious alternative explanation that I can think of is a psychic force on the part of the baby’s mother that influences the body of the embryo or fetus within her. However, this explanation, which is itself almost as mind stretching (for the average Westerner) as reincarnation, can be firmly excluded in about twelve cases in which the child’s mother and father had never heard of the identified previous personality until after the child’s birth.”
As mentioned earlier, Mrs. Chotkin named her son Corliss and, as is natural for a mother, tried to make him say this name when he was asked what his name is. One day when Corliss was thirteen months old and his mother was trying to get him to say his name, instead of saying the name “Corliss” her son greatly surprised her by saying “Don’t you know me? I’m Kahkody” (Stevenson, 1974, p.260). Kahkody was the tribal Tlingit Indian name of Victor Vincent, and Corliss pronounced it with a very good Tlingit accent. Corliss identified strongly with Victor Vincent and was able to spontaneously recognize a number of people that Victor Vincent had known. Stevenson (1974, p.261) said that when Corliss was two years old he recognized Victor Vincent’s son named William. Corliss spontaneously saw him on the street and said: “There is William, my son.” Corliss also spontaneously recognized (when he was two years old) a stepdaughter of Victor Vincent. He saw her at the docks of Sitka and correctly named her “Susie” (Sitka is the name of the city in Alaska where Corliss was living at the time). At that time he was being pushed by his mother along the street in a carriage. Stevenson said that Corliss exhibited great excitement when he saw her; so much so that he was jumping up and down. He said: “There is my Susie.” Corliss also hugged her with great affection and said her Tlingit Indian name. Corliss recognized Susie before his mother had noticed her. Stevenson mentioned that Mrs. Chotkin did not go to the docks with the intention of meeting Susie. In a similar way Corliss, when he was three years old, spontaneously recognized and named the widow of Victor Vincent. He recognized her in a crowd of people before Mrs. Chotkin had seen her. He correctly named her “Rose.” Stevenson reported that Corliss also recognized a number of other people that Victor Vincent had known.
Dr. Stevenson (1974, p.261-262) said that Corliss was able to provide a detailed account of certain events that had occurred in the life of Victor Vincent. Mrs. Chotkin believes that Corliss could not have known these details by ordinary means. One day Corliss related an experience of Victor Vincent when he was out on a fishing trip. The engine of Victor Vincent’s boat had broken down and he was helpless in one of the numerous and hazardous channels of southeastern Alaska. Victor Vincent wanted to attract the attention of any ships that might happen to pass by but he thought that most crews would not take much notice of an ordinary Tlingit fisherman. It turns out that he happened to be a part-time worker for the Salvation Army and he had with him a Salvation Army uniform. He put on this uniform and rowed in a small boat to attract the attention of a passing ship named the North Star. He asked some of the crew members to deliver a message for him. Mrs. Chotkin heard this story directly from Victor Vincent himself when he was alive. She was sure that Corliss had not heard the story from her or her husband before he told it to them that one day.
On another occasion Mrs. Chotkin and Corliss were at the house that was previously owned by Mrs. Chotkin and her family during the life of Victor Vincent. Corliss pointed to a room in the house and said that he (as Victor Vincent) and his wife slept in this room when they visited the Chotkins. This statement is impressive since at the time Corliss was visiting the house, it had been reorganized and was being used for purposes other than an ordinary residential house. None of the rooms in it were recognizable as bedrooms. But the room that Corliss pointed to had in fact been occupied by Victor Vincent and his wife when they had visited the Chotkins. Mrs. Chotkin told Dr. Stevenson that certain behavior patterns of Corliss closely resembled those of Victor Vincent. She mentioned that Corliss combed his hair forward over his forehead in the same way that Victor Vincent had done, although she had tried to train Corliss to comb his hair in exactly the opposite manner.
As mentioned earlier, Victor Vincent stuttered severely and told Mrs. Chotkin a year before his death that he hoped that he would stutter less in his next life as her son. Corliss also stuttered severely when he was young until he received speech therapy when he was around ten years old. Victor Vincent was a very religious Christian. When Corliss was young, he also expressed similar devoutness. Victor Vincent was very fond of handling boats and living on the water. Corliss had the same interest. Both Victor Vincent and Corliss were left-handed.
Could this case be a clever fraud by Mrs. Chotkin? According to Stevenson, there was no obvious motive for fraud, no evidence of fraud, and no evidence that Mrs. Chotkin was exploiting the case for her benefit in the community. In fact, according to Stevenson, Corliss Chotkin, Jr.’s sister and a number of other witnesses interviewed by Stevenson did not even know that Mrs. Chotkin believes that Corliss is Victor Vincent reborn! Mrs. Chotkin apparently spoke to practically no one about the case. One would think that if Mrs. Chotkin were exploiting the case for personal gain, her belief that Corliss is Victor Vincent reborn would be more widely propagated in the community.
Stevenson (1987, p.98) said that in many cases a relative of the child has a dream in which the previous personality announces his intention or desire to reincarnate. For example, shortly before Corliss Chotkin, Jr. was born, Mrs. Chotkin’s aunt dreamed that Victor Vincent will take birth in the Chotkin family. Stevenson said: “Mrs. Chotkin is certain she did not tell her aunt about Victor Vincent’s prediction of his return before she heard from her aunt about this dream” (Stevenson, 1974, p.261).
Change of Ownership
Dr. Stevenson (1974, p.34-52) reported an unusual case from India in which a three-year-old boy named Jasbir was so severely afflicted by smallpox that his father Sri Girdhari Lal Jat was convinced that he had died. In fact, he was so convinced of this that he was preparing to bury the dead body of his son. It happened to be night at that time so he decided to wait until morning to bury it. Before the burial, however, Jasbir’s father noticed faint signs of life in his son’s body, and gradually the body recovered completely. But when the body had recovered, it displayed a personality that was completely different from the former one. Now Jasbir claimed that he was the son of Shankar of Vehedi (a village that is approximately 30 kilometers away from Rasulpur, the village where Sri Girdhari Lal Jat lived) and expressed the desire to return to Vehedi. He claimed that he was a Brahmana, and he obstinately refused to eat any food at the house of his father, since Sri Girdhari Lal Jat belonged to a lower caste (his refusal to eat can not have been due to disease since his body had recovered completely by then). He was so strongly determined in this matter that he fasted. This fasting would have surely resulted in death if a Brahmana lady had not happened to learn of it and kindly began cooking food according to the Brahmana standard. Such food was acceptable to Jasbir. For nearly two years he maintained his refusal to eat food cooked by non-Brahmanas. It is inconceivable that a three-year-old child would, for a period of years, refuse to eat for no other reason than the food is prepared by one class of persons instead of another. Such discrimination and determination are only found in adults. Thus, this discrimination strongly supports the hypothesis that the conscious self that was originally in the body of Jasbir had departed and a different conscious self, that of a discriminating adult Brahmana, now resides in Jasbir’s body.
Another piece of information that supports this hypothesis is Stevenson’s report that, before being afflicted with smallpox, Jasbir was interested in toys and play just like an ordinary boy of three years old, but afterwards he no longer had any interest in such things. It is hard to imagine that a small boy would have no interest in playing with toys, and it is even harder to imagine that he would also be so terribly concerned about which caste the people belong to who cook for him, especially since he did not care about this before the smallpox affliction. After this affliction Jasbir seems to have thought of himself as an adult; he repeatedly mentioned that he has a wife and children.
Stevenson noted that many of the child-subjects of his cases act like an adult who has been unfairly imprisoned in the body of a child. For example, a Thai boy named Bongkuch Promsin startled postpubertal ladies by making lecherous advances towards them although he was only a small boy at the time (he ignored girls who were his own age) (Stevenson, 1987, p.70).
Stevenson (1974, p.39) reported that Sri Girdhari Lal Jat had said that when Jasbir began to speak after his recovery from smallpox he used a different set of words for familiar objects than he had used before his illness. For example, he would say “haveli” instead of “hilli” for a house, and “kapra” instead of “latta” for clothes. The words “haveli” and “kapra” are used by the higher classes (including the Brahmanas) whereas “hilli” and “latta” are used by the lower classes (such as the Jats). Thus, after recovering, Jasbir no longer spoke like Sri Girdhari Lal Jat but instead he spoke like Sobha Ram (a Brahmana). The conscious self in the body of Jasbir told Sri Girdhari Lal Jat about further details of his life in Vehedi before he entered the body of Jasbir. He said that on one occasion he was attending a wedding procession and he ate some poisoned sweets given to him by a man to whom he had lent money and who did not want to repay him. The poisoned sweets caused him to fall from a cart on which he was riding. He struck his head and died.
Sri Girdhari Lal Jat informed Dr. Stevenson that he tried to suppress information about Jasbir’s strange behavior and his claim to be a Brahmana from Vehedi now inhabiting the body of Jasbir. But the cooking for Jasbir according to Brahmana standards was known to the Brahmanas of Rasulpur. One of them named Srimati Shyamo, a native of Rasulpur, had married a man from Vehedi named Sri Ravi Dutt Sukla and was living with him in Vehedi. Once every few years she would return to Rasulpur. She informed the members of the Tyagi family in Vehedi about Jasbir’s behavior and statements. Jasbir’s statements about his former life in Vehedi and his death were remarkably similar to the life and death of one of the sons (named Sobha Ram) of Sri Shankar Lal Tyagi (a Brahmana living in Vehedi). Sobha Ram had died when he was 22 years old in the manner described earlier by Jasbir. He died in May of 1954, which was also around the time when Jasbir was severely afflicted with smallpox (and after recovering, manifested the remarkable change of personality).
As mentioned before, after recovering Jasbir claimed that he was the son of Shankar of Vehedi. Sobha Ram’s father and other family members came to visit Jasbir in Rasulpur, and Jasbir recognized them and correctly stated their relationship to Sobha Ram. Then Jasbir went to Vehedi for the first time in his life. In Vehedi, Jasbir was able to correctly lead the way from the railway station to Sobha Ram’s house. Jasbir was also able to correctly lead the way from Sri Ravi Dutt Sukla’s house to Sobha Ram’s house (a different route). According to Stevenson (1974, p.36), Jasbir remained in Vehedi for a few days and showed the Tyagi family and other residents of Vehedi that he had extensive knowledge of the Tyagi family. Jasbir was very happy in Vehedi and wanted to remain there. He had no desire to return to Rasulpur where he felt lonely and isolated. After returning to Rasulpur, Jasbir would occasionally visit Vehedi.
In the summer of 1961, Stevenson visited both Rasulpur and Vehedi and interviewed thirteen witnesses of the case. He returned in 1964 and restudied the case with new translators. At this time he interviewed most of the previous witnesses and some new ones. He said that these witnesses provided a consistent account of the main facts in the case. The members of both families (the Tyagis and the Jats) testified that there had been absolutely no contact between the two families before the development of the case. Both Vehedi and Rasulpur are tiny villages that are only accessible by dirt roads. There is no main road connecting them and almost no communication between them.
Stevenson felt that there was no reason to doubt that the people he interviewed in this case were speaking the truth, and hence there was no opportunity for Jasbir to obtain the knowledge he had about Sobha Ram, Vehedi and the Tyagi family by normal means (using the ordinary physical senses). He therefore concluded that this case is best explained as the departure of the conscious self that had formerly inhabited the body of Jasbir and the entrance into Jasbir’s body of the conscious self that had formerly resided in the body of Sobha Ram.
Functioning Without a Physical Body
Dr. Stevenson reported a number of cases in which the conscious self existed for days, weeks and even years without a physical body and acquired information by transcorporal senses. (Transcorporal senses refer to senses that are different from those of the physical body and able to function independently of it.) For example, the conscious self in the body of Jasbir informed Dr. Stevenson that after his former physical body (the body of Sobha Ram) had been poisoned and had died, he left that body and was existing temporarily in a discarnate condition. While in this condition, he said that he met another discarnate conscious self who he called a “sadhu” (wise man). The sadhu somehow knew that the body of Jasbir was not inhabited at that time, and the sadhu advised the conscious self that was formerly in the body of Sobha Ram to enter the body of Jasbir. Years after this event had occurred, Jasbir told Dr. Stevenson that he still sometimes was able to communicate with this sadhu who described events that later actually occurred (precognition).
A Thai boy named Bongkuch Promsin claimed that in his previous life he was a Laotian man named Chamrat who was stabbed to death (Stevenson, 1987, p.68). After the murder, the conscious self that had resided in the body of Chamrat remained in a discarnate state for seven years (he stayed near a bamboo tree in the vicinity of the murder). One rainy day the discarnate Chamrat saw Bongkuch’s father and accompanied him home on a bus. Bongkuch’s father later told Stevenson that he happened to visit Hua Tanon (the place where Chamrat was murdered) shortly before his wife became pregnant with Bongkuch. Bongkuch’s father said that the day he went to Hua Tanon was in fact a rainy day.
An Indian boy named Veer Singh said that after the death of his previous body (Som Dutt’s body) he, as a discarnate conscious self, remained near Som Dutt’s family and observed their activities. Veer Singh said that he accompanied members of this family who left the house at night and went out alone. Stevenson said that Som Dutt’s mother had a dream in which Som Dutt told her that he had accompanied his brother a number of times when his brother had surreptitiously left the house at night to attend local fairs. When this brother was asked, he admitted that he was in fact attending local fairs at night, but no one in the family knew about it until Som Dutt’s mother had this dream. Stevenson added that Veer Singh also knew about other private family affairs that took place after Som Dutt’s death and before Veer Singh was born, including the fact that the family bought a camel, they were involved in a lawsuit, and several children were born during this time period (Stevenson, 1987, p.110).
The persons who reported seeing things in the discarnate state could not have been using physical eyes. Thus, the above evidence supports the hypothesis that the conscious self is inherently transcorporal and possesses transcorporal senses. Although these persons got a glimpse into their transcorporal nature, they were unwilling to explore it further due to strong attachment to ordinary physical existence. For those who are not so strongly attached, the process of Krishna consciousness (which is described in books such as the Bhagavad-Gita) allows each one of us to discover, explore and systematically develop the superhuman, transcorporal potential of human beings.
Common Questions about Reincarnation
Questions that are often asked are: (1) Since the human population has steadily increased during the last few hundred years, the number of conscious selves associated with human bodies must also have increased. Where did the extra conscious selves come from? (2) If reincarnation is actually true, why doesn’t everyone remember at least one of his previous lives? (3) Does everyone reincarnate or only certain persons? (4) For those who do reincarnate, does the cycle of birth, death and rebirth ever come to an end? (5) What happens to persons who do not reincarnate? These important questions are dealt with later in this article.
Out of body Experiences with Verifiable Details
Dr. Michael Sabom was a Professor of Medicine in the Division of Cardiology at the Medical School of the Emory University and a staff physician at the Atlanta VA Medical Center in Atlanta, Georgia, during the time that he studied autoscopic experiences. In a typical autoscopic experience, a person reports that he comes out of his physical body and observes it from a viewpoint outside of it. In the beginning of his study, Dr. Sabom thought that these so-called autoscopic experiences are nothing more than imagination. But after interviewing dozens of people over a period of five years, he concluded that there is something more than imagination at work in these reports.
Why did he change his mind? As a practicing cardiologist, Dr. Sabom had daily access to people who had suffered cardiac arrest (a life-threatening situation in which the heart stops pumping). Dozens of people told Dr. Sabom that they had had an autoscopic experience during their cardiac arrest and had observed medical personnel attempting to revive their physical bodies using a procedure called cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Some people said that they could not only see but also hear what the medics were saying. The people said that they were not seeing and hearing with the senses of the physical body, but with a completely different kind of senses which can function independently of the physical senses. In particular, when they were seeing what the medical personnel were doing, they were seeing from a viewpoint above the physical body looking down on it.
Skeptics say that these people were either hallucinating or deliberately lying. The hypothesis of lying loses force when we consider the special trick that Sabom used in interviewing the patients. Dr. Sabom (1982, p.9) said that he approached each patient privately and acted as if he were conducting a routine medical examination involving standard questions for patients recovering from cardiac arrest. Thus the patients did not know in advance that Dr. Sabom intended to ask them about anything unusual that they might have experienced during CPR. Dr. Sabom was a regular member of the hospital, a staff physician. Thus when he was walking through the halls, no one suspected that anything unusual was going on. He was not like an outsider coming in on a special mission, which would have alerted the patients that something unusual was going on. It is important to note that Dr. Sabom approached them: they did not approach him to tell him about an experience they had had. Dr. Sabom would just walk into a room and begin asking questions right on the spot. The patients did not know that Sabom was going to ask them about out-of-body experiences. If we are to believe that the patients deliberately lied to Sabom, then we would have to believe that they all of a sudden made up an elaborate out-of-body lie on the spot with no advance warning. It is hard to believe that a person would do this. Thus there appears to have been no atmosphere of sensationalism or trying to advertise publicly some new mystical experience with the aim of attracting attention.
Most of the people Dr. Sabom interviewed were just ordinary people such as automobile mechanics and security guards who were not overly educated or overly sophisticated. Dr. Sabom approached each patient as if conducting an ordinary medical interview and, after a series of routine questions about his physical recovery, Sabom asked him if he had experienced anything unusual during his CPR. At this point some patients simply said that they were unconscious during the CPR and could not remember anything. But other patients looked cautiously at Dr. Sabom to make sure that he was not an undercover psychiatrist and then said something like: “I did have a very unusual experience but if I told you about it, you would think I am crazy.” The people hesitated to reveal their experiences because they were afraid that Dr. Sabom would consider them insane. Dr. Sabom would then say that he was genuinely interested in any experience they had during CPR as a matter of scientific interest. After reassuring themselves that Dr. Sabom would not consider them hopelessly deranged, the people would then reveal how they had come out of their physical bodies and observed the body from a viewpoint outside it. According to Dr. Sabom’s report, the people were not trying to advertise their experience; on the contrary, they were trying to hide it. Thus, the usual motives for lying do not seem to be at work in these cases.
Dr. Sabom mentioned that after a while it became known to other doctors that he was conducting a study on autoscopic experiences and then people began to approach him to tell him about experiences they had had. The honesty of these people is more difficult to evaluate than that of the patients who were privately approached by Dr. Sabom with no knowledge in advance of his intentions. My discussion throughout this article is therefore based on Sabom’s privately-approached cases. Let us assume, then, that the people in these privately-approached cases (who claimed to have observed their own resuscitations from outside their bodies) did not deliberately lie to Dr. Sabom.
But could these people have been hallucinating? Skeptics suggest that a person may take refuge in fantasy to avoid acknowledging the unpleasant fact that he is dying. But Dr. Sabom (1982, p.86) noted that persons claiming to have had an autoscopic experience during CPR (called “group 1″) gave a much more accurate description of the general procedure of in-hospital CPR than persons who, although having had a cardiac arrest, did not report an autoscopic experience during their CPR (called “group 2″). This is significant because Dr. Sabom specifically said that the members of both of these groups had similar prior knowledge of CPR technique (in fact, group 2 was deliberately selected by Sabom as a control group to test how much prior general knowledge of CPR a typical cardiac patient has).
Since the members of both groups had the same background knowledge of CPR, we expect that the members of both groups should have given equally accurate descriptions. But they did not. In fact, Sabom said that 80% of the members of group 2 made at least one major error in their description of in-hospital CPR whereas none of the members of group 1 made such errors. Group 2 members made such big mistakes as saying, for example, that the doctor delivered a sharp blow to the solar plexus to try to get the patient’s heart beating again, or that the doctor used mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to provide oxygen to the patient (this is almost never done in a hospital since in the hospital there are far better means available for oxygenating a patient).
But Dr. Sabom was very impressed with the accuracy of the descriptions given by the members of group 1. For example, Sabom (1982, p.91) said the following about one description: “His description is extremely accurate in portraying the appearance of both the technique of CPR and the proper sequence in which this technique is performed-i.e., chest thump, external cardiac massage, airway insertion, administration of medications and defibrillation.” A defibrillation is an electric shock applied to the chest in an attempt to start the heart again. Sabom said that, at the time he interviewed this man, the man did not possess more than a layman’s knowledge of medicine and the man had never seen CPR on television. This man said that during his resuscitation he saw (from a point above his physical body looking down) that the medics delivered two defibrillations to his chest. Dr. Sabom then consulted the medical record which was written by the doctors who actually performed the resuscitation. This record also stated that two defibrillations had been delivered. It is important to note that the number of defibrillations varies from one patient to the next depending on the medical circumstances. Sabom (1982, p.90) said that in this case the man had not been allowed to see his medical record.
In summary, the fact that group 1 descriptions of CPR are far more accurate than group 2 descriptions led Sabom to reject the hypothesis that the group 1 descriptions are simply hallucinations. Dr. Sabom believed that the hypothesis that the living being is able to leave his physical body and function independently of it explains both the subjective experience of the patients he interviewed as well as the accuracy of their autoscopic observations during their resuscitations. Furthermore, reports in which a person sees and hears without using the senses of his physical body support the hypothesis that the living being has transcorporal senses. Many people told Sabom that when they were having their out-of-body experience, they directly realized that they were different from their physical body which is just a shell or machine that they customarily inhabit. The out-of-body experience was so profound that it made a permanent change in their world-view.
One might suggest that ESP is a better explanation for these cases than out-of-body experiences. But the ESP hypothesis ignores the fact that again and again people reported seeing from a viewpoint outside of their physical bodies. The viewpoint outside indicates that the living being has departed from his physical body. Sabom’s reports suggest that each one of us is fundamentally different from his or her physical body and possesses a superhuman, transcorporal body with transcorporal senses.
Direct Perception of the Conscious Self
One might raise the question that if we are actually transcorporal all the time, why does each person identify with his physical body? According to Vaisnava philosophy, an exceedingly subtle energy known as ahankara bewilders each embodied conscious self and causes him to falsely identify himself as his physical body. (Vaishnavas are strongly monotheistic saints who use the sanskrit name Krishna to refer to God. Brahma, Siva, Indra, Ganesh and Durga etc are not God; they are empowered servants of God.) Regardless of the type of body it may be, whether human, cat, dog or whatever, ahankara causes the conscious self to identify with that body. Even a cockroach scurrying about on the floor is very attentive to maintain his physical existence and exceedingly afraid if anyone threatens to extinguish it. This is all due to ahankara. By practicing Krishna consciousness, one gradually dissolves ahankara. When ahankara is completely dissolved away, one is freed from false identification with his physical body. At this point, one’s natural transcorporal senses are awakened, and one is able to directly perceive his and other living entities’ transcorporal nature as well as his constitutional relationship with Krishna. This stage of existence is called self-realization. A self-realized person is able to directly perceive the conscious self in all bodies, even in plant bodies and cockroach bodies.
Persons who are unable to use their inherent, transcorporal senses are unable to directly perceive their transcorporal nature and the transcorporal nature of Krishna. Such persons might claim that the realizations of self-realized persons are nothing more than imagination. But a group of self-realized persons can discuss their perceptions of the self and Krishna among themselves and feel confident that they are all seeing the same real phenomena in the same way that a group of seeing persons can discuss among themselves their perceptions of a sunset and feel confident that they are all seeing the same real phenomena. Persons blind from birth who are listening to this discussion about the sunset might conclude that the seeing persons are all in illusion, but the seeing persons are confident that they are seeing something real. Clearly, it would be unjustified for a blind person to declare that all the seeing persons are in illusion and have concocted something they call a sunset. The blind person is simply not able to perceive the phenomena being discussed by the seeing persons. He can not justifiably say whether such phenomena exist. He can only say that he himself is unable to perceive these phenomena. Similarly, it would be unjustified for a person who is unable to use his transcorporal senses to declare that the self and Krishna do not exist. All that he can honestly say is that he himself is unable to directly perceive the self and Krishna.
Some people object that to practice Krishna consciousness, one must have blind faith in the existence of the self and a supeam being like Krishna/God. Actually, however, one is not required to have any more blind faith than one would when embarking on the study of a science like physics. In the beginning of your study of physics, the textbooks and teachers ask you to accept the existence of many things of which you have no experience, such as electrons, protons, etc. If you challenge the physics professor that he is asking you to accept these things on blind faith, he will say that you should accept these things not on blind faith but as useful working concepts, and he will give you a series of experiments to verify these things. The same is true in Krishna Consciousness; there are experiments that enable you to directly verify the existence of the self and Krishna.
The Subtle Body
According to the Vedas, ahankara is one component of what is called the “subtle body”. The subtle body consists of ahankara (false ego as described above), buddhi (the intelligence), and manas (the mind). Ahankara, buddhi and manas are not simply names for complex systems of biochemical reactions in the brain. Ahankara, buddhi and manas are actual subtle elements that function independently of the physical brain. The subtle body is retained after the physical body is destroyed. The subtle body accompanies the conscious self in his journey to his next physical body. In fact, the subtle body accompanies the conscious self continuously throughout all his physical incarnations until, in one incarnation, the conscious self makes the choice to seriously engages in the process of Krishna consciousness and begins the process of dissolving the subtle body. When the subtle body is completely dissolved away, he is a self-realized person. The conscious self does not actually need ahankara, buddhi and manas since he always has his own real ego, intelligence and mind. Ahankara, buddhi and manas are only required when the conscious self desires to forget his real transcendental nature and wants to absorb himself in physical pursuits. In such a case, ahankara, buddhi and manas suppress but not obliterate the real ego, mind and intelligence of the conscious self. The term transcorporal refers to an entity that is different from the physical body and can function independently of it. Thus, transcorporal can be used to refer to the combination of the subtle body and the conscious self. But the term transcendental refers only to conscious entities, such as the individual conscious self and the Universal Conscious Self, Krishna, the supreme personality.
The Cause and Dynamics of Reincarnation
Common questions about reincarnation include: (1) Since the human population has steadily increased during the last few hundred years, the number of conscious selves associated with human bodies must also have increased. Where did the extra conscious selves come from? (2) If reincarnation is actually true, why doesn’t everyone remember at least one of his previous lives? (3) Does everyone reincarnate or only certain persons? (4) For those who do reincarnate, does the cycle of birth, death and rebirth ever come to an end? (5) What happens to persons who do not reincarnate?
Vaishnava philosophy provides answers to these questions. These answers are not dogmatic statements, since they can be verified by practicing Krishna consciousness. The answer to the first question is that the conscious self resides not only in human bodies but in lesser bodies, including even bacteria. Thus, the total number of conscious selves is enormous. Conscious selves in less than human bodies are elevated step by step through a sequence of such bodies until they reach the human form. Thus, the human population can vary considerably over time.
The answers to the remaining questions are as follows. Most conscious selves in physical bodies do not want to acknowledge their transcorporal nature and their constitutional relationship with Krishna. This is why they now reside in physical bodies and are covered by ahankara, which causes them to forget their real nature. Krishna covers those who want to be covered and awakens those who want to be awakened. This is why many people do not remember their previous lives. If a person does not want to realize his transcorporal nature and his relationship with Krishna, he remains attached to his physical body and so desires another physical body after death. This desire results in his getting another physical body. Thus, the individual conscious self continues to get physical bodies one after another until he finally renounces his attachment to them. A person who is addicted to physical pleasures naturally wants to continue to enjoy such pleasures. Such a person certainly desires another physical body after the death of his present one, and therefore he gets another physical body.
It is difficult to give up desires for physical enjoyment without experiencing a higher pleasure. Vaishnavas maintain that if a person reawakens his natural, loving relationship with Krishna, he experiences such a higher pleasure. He then no longer desires to have a physical body. After death, he does not get another physical body. He gets a transcendental body with which to engage in transcendental loving relationships with Krishna and other self-realized conscious selves. Actually, there is no difference between the transcendental body and the conscious self, such as there is between the transcendental self and the body. We are the transcendental self and are simply using this body as a vehicle to experience material desires. When the conscious self perfectly realizes his loving relationship with Krishna, the self takes a transcendental form appropriate for the particular kind of relationship he has with Krishna.
It is not lightly that we use the word transcendental. The transcendental body is not composed of electrons, quarks or any of the other fundamental particles of modern physics. The transcendental body is not subject to any of the physical laws. It literally transcends everything in the physical world, and so the use of the word transcendental is fully justified in describing this body. The transcendental body is far superior to the physical body, since it is not subject to deterioration, disease, old age or death. The transcendental body is equipped with superhuman senses of perception and faculties of action. The body of a human being is a severe limitation for the conscious self. But the transcendental body is a perfect vehicle for the conscious self. In order to please Krishna the supreme being to the highest degree, a self-realized person sometimes voluntarily accepts a physical body so as to disseminate transcendental knowledge in the physical world (such as Srila Prabhupada did or other great saintly persons have). Since he does not identify with his physical body, he is not at all attached to it. He uses it as an instrument for the upliftment of all humankind, not as a vehicle to fulfill his sensory desires.