The Enigma of Reincarnation
Posted on 04 April 2011, 15:27
For those who have accepted the strong evidence that consciousness survives death and lives on in another realm of existence, there remains a major debate. It is the enigma of reincarnation. Outside of organized Western religions, most people accepting survival seem to believe in reincarnation. However, there is a fair percentage rejecting it.
Many spirit communicators – those speaking through mediums – have said that they have discovered that reincarnation is for real. Moreover, compelling evidence in favor of reincarnation has come to us through credible researchers, such as Dr. Ian Stevenson (Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation) and Dr. Brian Weiss (Many Lives, Many Masters).
On the other hand, intriguing books by Rosemary Brown (Unfinished Symphonies), Suzy Smith (The Book of James) and Betty Eadie (Embraced By The Light) further repudiate reincarnation, at least in the way most people think of it. “Reincarnation, as usually understood, does not really happen,” the spirit of the great composer Franz Liszt purportedly told Brown. “The truth is subtly different from the teachings of a reincarnationist on earth.”
In A Course in Miracles we read: “In the ultimate sense, reincarnation is impossible. There is no past or future, and the idea of rebirth into a body has no meaning either once or many times.”
Thus, there seems to be strong evidence for reincarnation but, at the same time, seemingly credible mystics and spirit communicators have said that it is not so. The conflict can easily lead one to reject all revelation coming to us through mediums, near-death experiencers, and past-life studies.
One possible explanation is that we do not become “all-knowing” when we cross over, and spirits in the lower spheres still believe as they believed when alive in the flesh. It is said that on the third sphere, often referred to as Summerland, many people still practice the religions they practiced on earth, and their beliefs remain the same. If they didn’t believe in reincarnation, they continue to disbelieve in it. If they believed in reincarnation, they continue to believe in it.
Most spirit communication apparently comes from the lower spheres because the spirits there are closer in vibration to those of us on the earth plane. The more one advances in the spirit world, the more difficult it is for him or her to communicate because of the difference in vibrational frequency.
When William Stainton Moses, one of the most credible mediums of the late 19th Century, asked Imperator, the name adopted by an apparently advanced spirit, about reincarnation, he was told that only the most advanced Intelligences are able to discourse on that subject and that it is not given to the lower ranks of the spiritual hierarchy to know. “There are still mysteries, we are fain to confess, into which it is not well that man should penetrate,” Imperator cautioned. “One of such mysteries is the ultimate development and destiny of spirits. Whether in the eternal counsels of the Supreme it may be deemed well that a particular spirit should or should not be again incarnated in a material form is a question than none can answer, for none can know, not even the spirit’s own guides. What is wise and well will be done…There are other aspects of the question which, in the exercise of our discretion, we withhold; the time is not yet come for them. Spirits cannot be expected to know all abstruse mysteries, and those who profess to do so give the best proof of their falsity.”
Imperator, who claimed to be on the seventh sphere, said that it was necessary for him to relay messages to Moses through spirits on lower spheres because of the difference in vibration.
Another possible explanation is one of definition or semantics. “You will find that the higher the ascent in the spiritual scale, the more recognition is there that there is reincarnation,” Silver Birch, another apparently advanced spirit communicated through the trance mediumship of Maurice Barbanell, “but not in the facile form that is so often propounded.”
Silver Birch explained that the individual personality on earth is a small part of the individuality to which he or she belongs. He likened it to a diamond with its many facets, pointing out that the personality on earth is but one facet of the diamond. “what you express on earth is but an infinitesimal fraction of the individuality to which you belong. Thus there are what you call ‘group souls,’ a single unity with facets which have spiritual relationships that incarnate at different times, at different places, for the purpose of equipping the larger soul for its work.”
Silver Birch also likened the soul to an iceberg in which one small portion is manifesting and the greater portion not manifesting. He apparently was referring to what others have called the “Higher Self,” the “Greater Self,” or the “Oversoul.” Trying to explain reincarnation to humans, Silver Birch added, is like trying to explain the color of the sky to someone who has been blind from birth.
The group-soul concept had earlier been advanced by the discarnate Frederic Myers through the mediumship of Geraldine Cummins. “When I was on earth, I belonged to a group-soul, but its branches and the spirit – which might be compared to the roots – were in the invisible,” Myers, one of the pioneers of psychical research before his death in 1901, communicated. “Now, if you would understand psychic evolution, this group-soul must be studied and understood. For instance, it explains many of the difficulties that people will assure you can be removed only by the doctrine of reincarnation. You may think my statement frivolous, but the fact that we do appear on earth to be paying for the sins of another life is, in a certain sense, true. It is our life and yet not our life. In other words, a soul belonging to the group of which I am a part lived that previous life which built up for me the framework of my earthly life, lived it before I had passed through the gates of birth.”
Myers further explained that the group soul might contain twenty souls, a hundred, or a thousand. “The number varies,” he said. “It is different for each man. But what the Buddhist would call the karma I had brought with me from a previous life is, very frequently, not that of my life, but of the life of a soul that preceded me by many years on earth and left for me the pattern which made my life. I, too, wove a pattern for another of my group during my earthly career.
Myers added that the Buddhist’s idea of rebirth, of man’s continual return to earth, is but a half-truth. “And often half a truth is more inaccurate than an entire misstatement. I shall not live again on earth, but a new soul, one who will join our group, will shortly enter into the pattern or karma I have woven for him on earth.”
Myers likened the soul to a spectator caught within the spell of some drama outside of its actual life, perceiving all the consequences of acts, moods, and thoughts of a kindred soul. He further pointed out that there are an infinite variety of conditions in the invisible world and that he made no claim to being infallible. He called it a “general rule” based on what he had learned and experienced on the Other Side.
In 1918, even before the communications by Myers, Liszt, and Silver Birch, a spirit entity identifying himself as Johannes of Glastonbury, a monk who had lived from 1497 to 1533, communicated by means of automatic writing a number of messages to Frederick Bligh Bond, the director of excavations at Glastonbury Abbey, concerning the layout of the abbey grounds in his day. Johannes alluded to a group soul when it was suggested by another spirit entity that Johannes might be “earthbound” and his recollection colored somewhat by “clinging to vanished dreams.” In fractured English, Johannes responded: “Why cling I to that which is not? It is I, and it is not I, butt parte of me which dwelleth in the past is bound to that which my carnal soul loved and called home these many years. Yet, I, Johannes, amm of many partes, and ye better parte doeth other things – Laus, Laus Deo – only that part which remembreth clingeth like memory to what it seeth yet.”
Communicating through Helen Greaves, Frances Banks, an Anglican nun when on the earth plane, said that she used to believe that there were souls with whom we had been in contact with in other incarnations and to whom we owed karmic debts or who owed us reparations for wrong inflicted. “What I believed may still be true in part, but now I realize that those souls who attract us are part of ourselves,” she communicated through Helen Greaves. “They belong to the same Group, the same Spiritual family, the same Group Soul. Their connection with us is deeper and far more permanent than mere earth contacts could make it. They may be part of the same Spirit as that Spirit is itself part of the Great Spirit, the great Company of Divinity, far beyond our comprehension, the Company of Heaven, the Co-Creators, the Divine and Beautiful Sons of God.”
In his 1939 book, Reincarnation for Everyman, author Shaw Desmond states that there are two approaches to reincarnation – the “terrestrial” and the “celestial.” The former view has the individual returning again and again as the same man, while the latter view has man “solely as spirit and his temporary inhabitancy of the physical body as but a tiny projection of the Greater Self, Thus, it may be that those mystics and spirits who have rejected reincarnation were rejecting it in the terrestrial sense but not in the celestial. “Think of an atom,” Liszt told Brown. “It is made up of protons and neutrons which all go to make up the nucleus surrounded by electrons. That is what a soul is like. These separate parts are held together in the nucleus, but the parts can be isolated. And it is the isolated parts of the nucleus of the soul so to speak which can manifest as various personalities in your world. These are what the reincarnationalist calls different incarnations – but they all belong to one soul which can choose which particular part of the soul it wishes to manifest.”
When Frederick Bligh Bond asked another of the Glastonbury spirits, a more fluent speaking one, about reincarnation, the spirit replied: “You understand not reincarnation, nor can we explain. What in you reincarnates, do you think? How can you find words? Blind gropers after immutable facts, which are not of your sphere of experience.”
Personally, I am content to view reincarnation as I view God – beyond my comprehension. It is enough to know that consciousness survives physical death and lives on in a progressive spirit world.
Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.
Claudio, Sat 26 Aug, 10:22
Having free will, we can choose our way of life both before being incarnated and after. What’s the difference?
I hope peoples lives are guided too.
p.s. To be clear, by ‘reincarnation theory’ I meant the popular ideas around it. Reincarnation or incarnation into a physical body happens once so I think it can happen again, but like you said, I don’t know how/why. The many people who believe in reincarnation disagree over the specifics too, I have no idea and just choose to disagree with those who think they know.
And I hate some theories like the “contract” or “karma” ideas. The assumption that people agree to their life events before being born, or the assumption that their actions in a past life justify their current problems. It makes people complacent.
Karma can be real but only as a weak force in life. And some events may be predetermined but you can change them. But those are just theories, I’m not sure of any unproven explanations and I think we’re at least here to effect others positively… That makes sense to me..!
soh, Fri 25 Aug, 22:44
Mike, BTW I totally agree with you, just would add that if God (as all Religion say) is infinite Love, Justice, etc. He couldn’t give us “lucky” or “unlucky” lives. Reincarnation allow us to think that we all have BOTH possibilities, balancing all our multiples existences.
Claudio, Thu 24 Aug, 21:45
Much L, L& Serenity.
I hope you are right, because I don’t like the idea of reincarnating again; however, the evidence in favor of reincarnation is overwhelming. Proof is subjective and the evidence may not amount to proof for you, but it does for many. It certainly makes more sense than one-life only. Perhaps you are a nihilist and don’t believe in survival at all. If, however, you believe in the one-life only teaching of orthodox Christianity, how do you explain that one person may die as a child and go to “heaven,” while another person lives to age 80 and takes his or her chances? Would a just and fair God allow luck to be the most important factor? See the story of Jed and Ned from my book “The Afterlife Revealed” below.
After many years of murdering, raping, plundering, and pillaging with malice and forethought, twin brothers Jed and Ned were finally stopped by the police. Jed was shot and killed instantly, while Ned was apprehended and sent to prison for life. During his confinement, Ned “found” God and repented.
Jed and Ned are fictional characters created here to examine divine justice as perceived by biblical orthodoxy. The predominant view is that Jed faces eternal torment in hell, while Ned has been “saved” and will experience everlasting bliss in heaven, assuming, of course, that he found the “right” God and showed proper remorse.
One “school” holds that both Jed and Ned will “sleep” until some far-off Judgment Day when their moldering bodies will be restored and raised from their graves so that they can then receive appropriate sentences imposed by God or a high tribunal. Another school has them being judged soon after death and occupying their new environments almost immediately, although with Catholics there is an intermediate state called purgatory in which sins must be purged before one is allowed entrance to heaven. Purgatory is purportedly as bad as hell but not eternal.
In between those two views, there is one in which there is something of “double judgment.” The soul is judged soon after death and sent to what might be called a staging area while awaiting a final judgment on the day or resurrection. Exactly how the second judgment differs from the first judgment no religious authority seems to know. Simon Tugwell, an Oxford theologian, suggests that this double judgment is a fundamental ambiguity and an embarrassment to the Christians who accept it, but may be so only because humans are unable to comprehend the timelessness of the afterlife.
Michael Tymn, Thu 24 Aug, 20:56
In the case of Jed and Ned and countless others, it seems that luck is a big factor in determining one’s salvation, or destiny in the afterlife, irrespective of which of the belief systems he or she subscribes to. Clearly, Jed was the unlucky one in catching the bullet, while Ned lucked out by avoiding the bullet. When orthodox leaders are asked to explain why God allows luck to play a part in one’s ultimate destiny, the scripted answer is that we are incapable of understanding or knowing God’s ways. In the great scheme of things, justice prevails, they assert with great conviction, even if we are unable to comprehend it.
Claudio, Thu 24 Aug, 18:47
I can agree with you that reincarnation theory can help us to put our mind at peace, but there are a lot of proofs about it, high chances that it’s for real.
May be you hadn’t read Dr. Stevenson’s research:
High Spirits say that we do reincarnate, but also that’s not as common as we usually think, more it’s not mandatory and it’s possible that we live many parallel lives in different places because time does not exist in the higher levels.
I deny the unproven theory of reincarnation because I don’t think it makes sense… The biggest theories we ever came up with are probably all wrong but you know what? - they give us peace and satisfy our mind for now.
I thought up of many reasons reincarnation may not be true, I can’t list them all. I’m not saying incarnation is impossible, it happened at least once (maybe it happens whenever you wake up from a dream, if you left the body during sleep or had an OBE or NDE - you reincarnated.)
Anyway, the comment would be too helpful and full of content if I gave my reasoning.
soh, Thu 24 Aug, 17:03
You say: “Thank you for your comments. You may very well be right about linear reincarnation. I hope not, though, as I don’t want to do this again.”
I recommend “self-enquiry” as taught by the sage Ramana Maharshi in his pamphlet “Who Am I?”. And if that’s too complciated, read Edward Muzika (a modern teacher of self-enquiry) “Hunting the I: Expanded Version). It’s basically the easiest and fastest way for “enlightenment”, goes deeper than the causal subtle or astral bodies
If you get so-called “enlightenment” (or whatever you call it) then you’ll at least know you won’t NEED to reincarnate again, if personal reincarnation happens. But I would think it doesn’t, it’s way more complicated as this article suggests, and “enlightenment” is not the meaning of life in my opinion.
Help, Wed 10 May, 04:34
So interesting. Thank you. I once was skeptical about reincarnation but had my own profound experience. Woke one morning and had to buy a drum. It was months later when I read you can meditate with a drum. Tried this and saw myself as an American Indian woman performing a ceremony of sorts with an American Indian Man.
There is much we cannot comprehend accept that we are here to “learn how to become more spiritual” in the words of Redcloud. (afterlife entity) Life goes on in one way or another and it behoves us to grow in wisdom and understanding in this life… perhaps with the view to making it easier for the oversoul. For others who may be directly linked to our lives.
We are to grow in grace. It takes work and dedication and an open mind. A discerning mind.
Anne Dalton, Mon 25 Apr, 19:43
The Glastonbury spirit who said “....blind gropers after immutable facts, which are not of your sphere of experience”, in my opinion said it all.
George Barker, Sat 16 Apr, 06:23
The only thing we can know for sure from the evidence is that there is an
The rest is beyond our comprehension. The afterlife inhabitants admit that a true description of things there would need concepts and celestial semantics to which our minds are insensitive.
So our preconceptions of what we will see there one day soon will be very inaccurate!
Timms your book,“The Articulate Dead”, is magnificent!
As a child from a very early age I was able to see hear and feel normally unseen people and energies, I have always felt this is a one time journey in this world,but we journey many many times in the world of spirit,it makes perfect sense to me that we are connected to group souls but individuals at the same time, it is and always has been my belief that spirit,souls can commune with incarnate beings “us” in such a close proximal way that we may be lead to believe we were them in a past life, I conclude from my years of experience and spiritual work that, we are connected to eachother through the spirit within but are also seperate within our personality,reason and logic, through free will and the action of self we arrive at our destination,“spirit world” and take up our pool source position in accordance to how we have lived. In spirit we move forward and progress…only returning to earth as spirit form to help others or provide evidence of life after death “survival” continuous existance,,,not reincarnation..I have had much evidence to support my inner understandings…blessed be xx
Shirley-Anne, Fri 15 Apr, 14:17
Hello, Titus, good to see your comments here!
I don’t know if mankind would ever be in a position to determine whether incarnation runs in linear or non-linear ways - or in a way we just can’t conceive of. I do know that I become surprised at times, when I am researching my past life works, how many times I run across an idea my past persona had that seems completely tied to the events and mindset of my present times, which makes me wonder how the time flow really operates.
I am working on a think piece right now which gives a way of resolving the disagreements between ideas that rise up out of different personal realities, something that mystics are really good at constructing but those inner realities don’t always make sense to others. I’m with Titus about channeling; I’m not comfortable with that concept, even though I know it happens. As a medium I have had the unpleasant experience of something trying to work through me, and I don’t like it. I have seen presentations of channeling that were flat out dishonest. Reports of ideas being channeled and therefore coming from a higher plane don’t impress me unless the information makes good common sense.
I don’t think individual entities ever become all knowing or that a single individual ever has completely uniform ideas of reality and non-reality. Perceptions change and our realities adjust with those changes. What we go through from life experience to life experience, whether we are talking about one life or many lives, feeds the knowledge of the overall universal consciousness we are just parts of. The whole may know everything, but the parts are moved to learn more by pursuing the mysteries we can never quite lose.
Sandra Lynn Sparks, Thu 14 Apr, 18:47
Thank you for your comments and support. Your site appears to be a very dynamic one. I wish I could read Italian. I have not recently come across any Italian speaking people who don’t also speak English, but if I do I will certainly refer them to your site. Keep up the good work.
Michael Tymn, Sat 9 Apr, 02:31
What a great analysis. I found Jane Robert’s Seth Speaks to provide one way to reconcile the confusion over reincarnation. Seth states that there are fragment personalities of the soul/consciousness that exist in non-time and are non-local. Linear reincarnation beliefs are a result of incarnates assuming time is linear and objects/people are localized in existence. Instead, various incarnations exist simultaneously in a matrix or web. Non-time and non-locality are also accepted concepts in quantum physics with evidence provided by the behavior of subatomic particles that also act as waves simultaneously (i.e. being everywhere at once).
Elaine Heiby, Sat 9 Apr, 01:19
Beautiful article, Mike! It matches well with Bruce Moen’s ( http://www.afterlife-knowledge.com/) researches on the Afterlife. Yes, reincarnation is a big mistery, but we DO KNOW that it does exist in a way or another! Please know, that if you need to publish my translations of your articles in italian language, that they’re at your disposal on my site (http://www.ampupage.it). I’ll be happy to send you all of them by mail. Even if I don’t know if there are in your Land some italians guys, I’m sure they’re quite everywhere!
Claudio, Fri 8 Apr, 04:08
Go on with your great job, we OUGHT to tell the truth to the world!
Best regards and italian ABBRACCI (HUGS) .
Amos, I think Lurancy Vennum was more a case of possession or overshadowing than it was of reincarnation. Lurancy (“Rancy”) was a year old when Mary Roff, who purportedly took over Rancy’s body, died in 1865. A very large percentage, if not nearly all, of reincarnation cases can be explained by possession or “overshadowing.” Stevenson recognized this. The birthmark aspect mentioned by NBT may be in conflict with the possession/overshadowing hypothesis, but not necessarily. As Myers communicated, there seems to be a difference between “individuality” and “personality.”
It is often suggested that because of the non-local time aspect, we are living many lives at the same “time.” That seems to tie in more with what Myers, Silver Birch, and the others have said about the group soul or “oversoul.” As I wrote, it is beyond my comprehension.
As far as the “all-knowing” part, I don’t think there is any question about that. Numerous credible communicators have repeated over and over again that when we transition we awaken not knowing amy more than we did when we gave up the ghost.
Michael Tymn, Thu 7 Apr, 13:26
For me channeling is any type of mediumship that primarily aims at getting messages from higher beings. Regardless of whether this happens through automatic writing, trance mediumship or physical mediumship.
I hope that clarifies it.
Titus Rivas, Thu 7 Apr, 12:46
Stevenson’s research, especially the birthmark/birth defect cases, seems to be powerful evidence for reincarnation.
A child starting when he begins to speak makes a number of specific statements and elicits behaviors, phobias and philias, likes and dislikes, which all identify him/herself as a particular deceased person. Further, the two families had no knowledge of each other before the case developed. Then it turns out that there is a close correspondence between the killing wounds on the deceased person, and prominent rare birthmarks/birth defects on the child. In some cases there are even two correlating birthmarks, for instance one larger and one smaller correctly corresponding to the entry and exit bullet wounds. The case studies have great authenticity - Stevenson always exhaustively investigated the cases and ruled out alternative explanations—for instance that the child had somehow discovered or been exposed to the information in a normal way or that the witnesses were lying to him or to themselves, combined with just chance coincidence for the birthmarks.
Remembering previous lives seems to happen mainly when the death was relatively recent and violent. They occur all over the world, but there are many more cases reported in South Asia, especially India though not so many in Bengal. Why such differences based on culture - why are there so few cases of children remembering previous lives in America and Europe? At least, some sort of strong paranormal effect is going on, but the best most simple explanation seems to be reincarnation. “Super psi” explanations seem to be rather labored and more unlikely. For instance that the developing fetus somehow latches onto floating memory information (or the Akashic Records) which is all that is left from the previous personality, and then this information imprints itself so deeply that the death wound birthmarks are formed in the fetus.
nbtruthman, Wed 6 Apr, 02:52
Another great article, thanks!
I especially liked the final paragraph ...
Richard, Tue 5 Apr, 21:47
Thank you for your comments. You may very well be right about linear reincarnation. I hope not, though, as I don’t want to do this again.
I would not classify the mediumship of Maurice Barbanell (Silver Birch)or Stainton Moses (Imperator) as “channeling,” although it is a matter of definition. Channeling seems to be a “New Age” term dealing primarily with automatic writing. Barbanell and Moses were trance mediums, although some of what Moses produced could be classified as automatic writing. Both Silver Birch and Imperator make so much more sense than what comes through “channelers.” Everything they have to say appeals to reason and what they had to say fills volumes.
Keith, I recall the Blavatsky comments coming through Mrs. Wickland. Thanks for reminding me.
Loes, Thank you for your interest.
Michael Tymn, Tue 5 Apr, 12:46
Well, interesting overview Michael. I think that some people have difficulty letting go of the idea of themselves as a physical being and their concept of reincarnation is closer to the concept of resurrection. That is, perhaps they think of themselves as looking a certain way, e.g., male, white, English and not as a spirit temporarily occupying a physical form of some kind (many kinds perhaps). For such individuals the “terrestrial” concept of reincarnation may make sense. I think Stevenson’s cases are very good examples and though not strictly a reincarnation case, Lurancy Vennum “The Watseka Wonder” is a unexplained example of a spirit coming back to a physical form for a short period of time—-a kind of reincarnation if you will. The many current-day reports by children of having lived a past life are very convincing to me also. Your comment that “One possible explanation is that we do not become “all-knowing” when we cross over, and spirits in the lower spheres still believe as they believed when alive in the flesh.” I think, may be true.
If we, that is—-some of us, do reincarnate, then in the spirit world we are a sum of our parts and our “real” self is not just who we are now but an amalgam, or “oversoul” of all we have ever been. According to Shakespeare “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players having their exits and their entrances.” (He put exits first and then entrances next. Probably not meaningful but interesting to think about.)
Amos Oliver doyle, Tue 5 Apr, 05:35
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