Only one of us was Cleopatra
"Can you prove it?" I was challenged recently by a professed atheist ("well, agnostic, anyway") who seemed to assume that reincarnation and religion are inseparable. I readily acknowledged that, as far as I knew, reincarnation had not yet been proved. My atheist friend was disappointed (a beloved friend had recently died and...), he persisted: "Why do you believe in reincarnation? It is 1985, how does this idea fit in?"
It struck me then that so often we call in the great men and women to back up our arguments: ‘So-and-so states...’ But it is a curious and illogical business this; at times we are pleased to refer to what Goethe or Schopenhauer etc thought on some point we wish to make, but will with equal equanimity dismiss as absurd anything else ‘so-and so’ has to say which may change our view of things. The list of famous people who subscribed to the doctrine of rebirth is endless and stretches from the earliest times to the present.
The idea itself — the doctrine of reincarnation — is extraordinarily persistent. It is as immortal as one of its traditional symbols, the phoenix bird; when suppressed, it goes underground or apparently vanishes only to appear elsewhere. Naturally, it undergoes various changes and is sometimes somewhat distorted. Despite its difficult history in the West, the central idea of the soul’s cyclic involvement in a material form has persisted. The doctrine of metempsychosis (same thing as rebirth only the word is longer) is often considered to be a purely religious idea, and that therefore to investigate it or have any experience of possible proof necessitates an approach through religion. This may be the case and in the East certainly holds true for millions of people of various faiths. But many thousands of people have arrived at an acceptance of the notion of rebirth from their own experience or that of people close to them.
The shelves of most book shops are full of books about reincarnation. The standard and quality of the contents vary greatly and the books are more or less reliable sources of accurate information. Two facts are striking: the idea exerts a deep fascination and, to judge from the increasing number of such books, is becoming more popular, and it is personal experience which is convincing people who might otherwise never have considered the idea. Personal experience? Memories of past lives seem to come in any number of ways. Very young pre-school children often give consistent and sometimes verifiable specific information about previous lives. These accounts of the very young cannot be explained away as cryptomnesia — one of the experts’ usual objections. The parents of such children are generally convinced, because of their children’s insistence and from their own investigations, that the children, at least, have lived before. Many go on to draw the conclusion that reincarnation may well be a part of existence.
It is interesting to note that most children who remember previous lives gradually forget them. This is probably as it should be; though forgotten, these early recollections leave the person — unhindered by memories of the past — with a sense of the immortality of an inner self, making easier the identification with that self as opposed to the personality. Such memories may also contribute towards an untroubled attitude to death. Forgetting earlier lives enables the person to move ahead into the aims and potentials of the present life, unhampered by preoccupations of the past.
Egyptian Temple Dancer
Many people experience persistent images from the past, from different times and places. They may find that they have always had an affinity with certain countries, music, style of architecture, mental attitudes etc. But we must be careful here since so much of our subliminal life can so easily be rubbishy, romantic-novel imaginings. The "I was an Egyptian Temple dancer" syndrome is far too prevalent for comfort.
Regression under hypnosis and post-hypnotic recall of previous incarnations is providing the material for many books on the subject. Experiments using hypnosis are set up to gather and examine past life recall. (See the books of Helen Wambach — Life before Death etc) Participants in these experiments were generally convinced that they had genuine experience of a previous life and also often of a period between the last life and the present one.
Personally, I do not believe that all hypnotic regression or post-hypnotic recall is reliable. It may be that subject A was able to see his past life, but B might have seen either the life of another, or imposed his own fantasy and so created a past life. We have at present no dependable measure of the validity of these accounts. This approach, through medicine (see articles on near death experiences), and science (see article by George Meek on ‘Communication with the Dead’ in Share International Vol 1, No 7) is valuable in that it is serving to divorce this area of life from a purely religious realm and it affords modern Western people the opportunity to investigate and consider reincarnation and its implications.
It seems reasonable to suppose that rebirth cannot be proved true until the existence of the soul has been proved. (According to the Master DK the French could have the great privilege of scientifically proving the soul’s existence. See The Destiny of the Nations by Alice Bailey, Lucis Press. Allez-y, La France!) Most people in the West who believe in reincarnation have probably arrived at an intuitive conviction of its reality and have no need of proof.
A common charge on the part of sceptics goes something like this: "You need to believe in reincarnation because you fear death; you cannot conceive of your own non-existence; it is a crutch for the weak." All of these charges are more than likely true in many cases. But in many instances it is more a question of accepting or knowing something to be fact, than of believing. To many the theory of rebirth as a part of a process of evolution is mentally satisfying — it makes sense. The idea too of the impersonal working out of a law — that of cause and effect — makes more sense than, on the one hand, injustice and meaninglessness, and on the other, hellfire, judgement and damnation. In a sense, living with the idea of reincarnation can be downright uncomfortable — you know that you are responsible for starting up a chain of events which will make your immediate future and will shape future lives. No easy option there.
Now that psychology and medical science are giving us access to the past the emphasis must surely be on the present and future; not so much a question of who or where I was, but what I am doing now and how it will make my future. We can assume that in general our past lives were no more amazing or wonderful than our present, though we can be fairly sure that from the soul’s point of view the future can only be an improvement on the present. Only one of us was Cleopatra. Be consoled by the fact that none of us is about to turn into a mosquito or a moose.
If you have prejudices prepare to shed them: most men have been women and, women men; Jews have been Gentiles; Protestants, Catholics; many British have been Indian and vice versa; many Germans were Jews and Jews Germans. Whites have been blacks, atheists have been religious devotees, Democrats, Republicans... This wonderfully entangled, intertwinedness of life (the inexorable, exceeding fine grindings of the law of karma), for me, serves to underscore the Oneness of our existence. In this fact is the promise of solutions. We are each other, and while personalities come and go, life persists. It is comforting to be able to say "the problem is ours not theirs" —the problems, weaknesses and triumphs belong to humanity as a whole.
Benjamin Creme, the chief editor of Share International, lectures throughout the world on the emergence of Maitreya -- the World Teacher -- and His group, the Masters of Wisdom. Click here to see Mr. Creme's upcoming lecture venues or here to listen to his previous talks located on this site.