Your Many Past Lives
Birth is not a beginning; death is not an end.
Chuang Tzu (369?286? b.c.e.)
My husband and I went on a camping trip last summer. We had never done anything like it before, and I found it hard to fall asleep outdoors under the stars. It was beautiful lying there in my husband's arms, but once he fell asleep I'd lie there for hours, half expecting an attack at any moment. Three days into the vacation I managed to fall asleep in the middle of the night and dreamt that I was a young American Indian boy lost in the same area we were camping in. I could feel the young boy's nervousness and fear as he struggled to find food and make his way home. He lay on the ground at night, just as I was doing, and he wasn't able to sleep either as he was aware of every sound and movement. He seemed to think he was being followed or pursued, and all day long he kept looking behind him. He did this day after day. Eventually, it all got to be too much for him and he began to run. He caught his foot in the root of a tree and fell, breaking a leg. He couldn't move, and he lay on the ground waiting for death. When I woke up, I was sweating and my heart was racing. I'm convinced that I was that boy. It was far too vivid and real to be a dream."
"All my life I've had this strange feeling of forboding, as if something bad is about to happen. Last year I visited Athens for the first time and when I went to the Parthenon the feeling totally overcame me. I collapsed onto the steps, tears rolling down my face. People came up and asked if they could help, but there was nothing I could tell them. All I know is that I had been there before. Not in this lifetime, but in another life. Something bad happened to me in the Parthenon and visiting it again released all of those feelings I've always had. Since that day I've been totally free of them. I'm not sure if I really want to find out what happened in that past life."
"My brothers and sisters learned to swim easily, but I was always terrified of water. It made my father furious as we were a boating family and spent all our vacations either on or beside the ocean. When I was thirteen my parents took me to a hypnotist for nail-biting. While there, I spontaneously regressed to a past life on a small Pacific island. It was a good life, and we made our living catching fish. One day we were racing home ahead of a storm, but got caught up in it. I fell overboard, and even though I was a strong swimmer, I drowned. I had never given reincarnation a thought until then. The hypnotist explained it all to me, but I never told my parents about it as it seemed so strange. The weirdest part was that my wife in that past life is my mother in this life. That confused me for years."
Have you ever wondered about your past lives? Many people do. For some this interest is sparked by a vague, faint memory they have of something that happened in the past. For others it's a desire to know more about themselveswhere they have been and where they are going. No matter what your reasons may be, you can successfully explore your own past lives.
People have believed in the concept of reincarnation for thousands of years. Belief in reincarnation is universal too. People in Asia, the Americas, Africa, Australasia, and Europe all believe that death is not the end, and that we will be reborn into another body.
In the East reincarnation has always been taken for granted. It is an essential part of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. It was not originally part of Shintoism, but once Buddhism reached Japan in the twelfth century it gradually became part of the belief system there. Reincarnation is not part of Islamic beliefs but the Sufi sect does accept the concept of rebirth.
The ancient Egyptians buried magic spells with the deceased to enable them to be reborn in whatever form they chose. In Greece in the sixth century b.c.e., the Orphic cult taught that we are all part evil and part divine. And as we progress through different incarnations we learn to eliminate the evil side of our natures and ultimately become divine. At this stage, of course, the cycle of rebirth is complete.1
The ideas of the Orphics were later adopted by Pythagoras and became an integral part of his philosophy. Pythagoras was able to recall his previous lives. Iamblichus, in his Life of Pythagoras, wrote, "What Pythagoras wished to indicate by all these particulars was that he knew the former lives he had lived, which enabled him to bring providential attention to others and remind them of their former existences."2 Pythagoras remembered lives as the Trojan warrior Euphorbus, as the prophet Hermotimus who was burned to death by his rivals, as the Cypriot fisherman Pyrrhus, as a prostitute in Phoenicia, a peasant in Thrace, and the wife of a shopkeeper in Thrace.3
Socrates, too, believed in reincarnation strongly. He is believed to have spent the last morning of his life thinking about how the soul existed before someone was born and will continue to live after the physical body has died. Socrates used philosophy to analyze human life, which is where his most famous saying"Know thyself"comes from. His original ideas about the soul are still being discussed today.
Socrates' most famous pupil, Plato, was a firm believer in reincarnation and wrote, "Know that if you become worse you will go to the worse souls, or if better to the better, and in every succession of life and death you will do and suffer what like may fitly suffer at the hands of like."4 Plato's ideas on reincarnation had a profound effect on Western philosophy that is still present today.
Later still, Greek Gnosticism adopted the concept of reincarnation. It played an important role in early Christian beliefs. In the second century c.e., Clement of Alexandria wrote that we developed through a process of many incarnations. Origen, one of the most important theologians of the day, agreed with him.
A number of passages in the Bible appear to take the concept of reincarnation for granted. In Matthew 11:1315 Jesus tells his disciples who John the Baptist had been in a previous life: "For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." This statement is confirmed in Matthew 17:12 where Jesus says, "But I say unto you, that Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them." On another occasion Jesus asked his disciples, "Who do men say that I the Son of man am?" The reply was, "Some say that thou art John the Baptist; some Elias; and others Jeremias, or one of the prophets" (Matthew 16:1314).
The disciples make another reference to reincarnation when they ask Jesus about a man who had been blind from birth: "And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?" (John 9:2). Obviously, it would have been impossible for this man to have sinned before he was born, unless he had sinned in a previous life. Interestingly, Jesus does not rebuke his disciples for thinking in this way: "Jesus answered, 'Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents, but that the works of God should be made manifest in him'" (John 9:3).
Unfortunately, in 553 c.e. the Council of Constantinople declared that reincarnation was a heretical doctrine. The Christian Church immediately renounced the concept of reincarnation and forced its believers underground. Reincarnation was again considered heretical by both the Council of Lyons in 1274 and the Council of Florence in 1493. Anyone believing in reincarnation risked being burned at the stake.
Despite this, belief in reincarnation did not disappear. Possibly the most famous of these underground sects were the Cathars who were destroyed by the Inquisition. Interestingly, the only references to reincarnation in the Bible are favorable ones.5
During the Renaissance in Europe there was an upsurge of interest in the ideas of Pythagoras, the Kabbalah, and Platonism. Leonardo da Vinci was one of many people who accepted the concept of reincarnation. His Notebooks include several passages expressing his belief that the soul was eternal. Also, when Giordano Bruno was found guilty of heresy and was to be put to death in 1600, he told the Inquisition, "I have held and hold souls to be immortal. . . . Since the soul is not found without body and yet is not body, it may be in one body or in another, and pass from body
The concept of reincarnation can be found in the Jewish Kabbalah7 and the Zohar.8 There are also numerous mentions of reincarnation in the Indian Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads, and the references to it in the Islamic Koran are favorable ones.9 In Buddhism the ultimate aim is to be freed from the endless cycle of rebirth and to achieve nirvana. In fact, the concept of reincarnation, or a variant of it, can be found in the traditions of most people throughout the world.
Interest in reincarnation grew steadily throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine wrote on the subject in America.
At the same time Voltaire, Victor Hugo, George Sand, and Gustave Flaubert in France, Johann von Goethe, Immanuel Kant, and Gotthold Lessing in Germany, and David Hume and Alexander Pope in England were educating the public about it in Europe.
The modern-day revival of interest in reincarnation began with the work of the Theosophical Society. The Theosophical Society was intended to be a universal brotherhood that promoted the study of comparative religion, philosophy, and science, and investigated the unexplained laws in nature. Today, the society promotes no specific dogmas, but tends to accept the reality of reincarnation and karma. The Theosophical Society was founded in 1875 b...