Reincarnation: Echoes of the Soul
Many people in our modern times have what they describe as memories of having lived past lives. Remembering a past life has a potential profound healing effect on one’s health, relationships, life work, spiritual understanding and sense of Self. A past life memory can also be an opening for one’s spiritual evolution and growth. I know because I have remembered many of my own past life experiences and I have facilitated thousands of people, while they were in a hypnotic state, as they remembered their past lives.
Both spiritual traditions, Hinduism and Buddhism, have versions of reincarnation in their theologies. In both traditions there is a belief that the soul is eternal and that it takes different forms throughout the process of birth, death and rebirth. In each tradition there is a belief that the incarnate form and life experiences one has is the effect of past lives. The concept of Karma, cause and effect, is also universal to these traditions. It is interesting to me that in the class readings reincarnation is never addressed as a part of the spiritual precepts or beliefs. In both spiritual traditions reincarnation is a basic component of the theology. The ultimate expression of spiritual growth is moving beyond the cycles of death and rebirth, to a state of re-emergence with the divine.
In this paper I will discuss the concept of reincarnation from two spiritual traditions: Hinduism, and Buddhism. I will weave into the discussion the phenomenology of personal experiences from my thirty-plus years of experience as a psychotherapist who specializes in past life regression therapy, and as a client of past life therapy. And I will discuss how doing regression therapy can assist the spiritual practice of people who follow the spiritual paths of Hinduism and Buddhism.
Sacred Hindu texts use the term atman to refer to the spiritual essence of a human being. The atman is one’s true self because it connects each individual soul to one Source or Supreme Reality – Brahman. In Hinduism life is a journey, which takes each individual soul back to the oneness of Brahman from which everything is born. On this journey we human beings tend to forget the truth of who we are: we tend to fall into samsara the seemingly never-ending cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Humans are destined to reincarnate over and over again until our atman, or spiritual essence as a human being, can remember that we are Brahman. Lifetimes give us on-going opportunities to reach a state of awareness called moksha or liberation. We can only reach this state by realizing that we are not our personalities and simply material beings. We must follow a path of dharma, a path or moral and ethical conduct to become one with spirit.
The Hindu perspective on reincarnation also includes the concept of transmigration of the movement of the soul from mineral, vegetable and animal forms before becoming human. After going through the many human forms to samsara the soul evolved to become angelic. Some Hindus believe that transmigration can also be reversed: that the human soul can also become animal in its next life if the soul needs to experience the karma of de-evolving. (Dury, p. 14)
The Hindu practices follow the teachings in the Vedas which are believed to have been composed between 1200 BCE and 1000 BCE. (Cole, p. 103) The Bhagavad-Gita, a Vedic text, is the story of prince Arjuna and his charioteer Krishna, who it turns out is the reincarnation of the supreme God, Vishnu, the Lord of the Universe. In the Gita, Krishna explains how spiritual knowledge is attained. Knowledge is attained through the playing out of karma, living out one’s dharma, or spiritual duty, and through the perfection of one’s soul and learning through reincarnation. The experience of life and all of its teachings is so vast that it is unlikely that in one lifetime the soul can move into perfection.
The concepts of Karma and reincarnation are woven throughout the Bhagavad-Gita and are more than dogma to Hindus. In an article that appeared in India’s Illustrated Weekly, (September 26, 1971) is the statement, “Karma and reincarnation are to them [Hindus] more than dogma, they are like the air that they breathe. And Hindus cannot help themselves feeling that they are a part of a cosmic scheme that is perpetually in a whirl. As Krishna says in the Gita, ‘All worlds up to that of Brahma are subject to rebirth again and again.’” (Cranston and Williams, p. 233)
In past life regression therapy a client has the opportunity to directly experience the effects of karma or cause and effect in one’s own present and past lives. Through the life stories that unfold and through the associated state in the body, time and place of the past life, the client experiences direct emotions, sensations and soul awareness of the “how’s” and “why’s” of the past life in relation to current circumstances in one’s present life.
An example is from my own regression therapy work. I grew up with a physically and emotionally abusive alcoholic mother. By the time I was an adolescent I had given up on getting my mothering needs met by her and I lived with resentment and hate. I rejected my mother with the same passion I felt with which she rejected me until I accessed a past life memory when my mother was a child and I was her stepmother. I had the image and sensation of being angry and resentful toward my stepdaughter and beating her as she crouched in a corner. I experienced that I beat her often and that I was relentlessly emotionally cruel to her. I had the realization that in my current life my mother and I carried the soul memory of the past relationship and that karmically we were balancing out the drama by reversing the roles. This experience explained to me so clearly why I was the one, out of four daughters, that she abused. In an instant not only did I understand the cause and effect of her abuse, but I also came to a place of forgiveness of my mother this lifetime and for myself in the past. Our relationship changed dramatically after this regression. The hate and resentment were gone. I was able to accept her, and my relationship with her, with more compassion. Understanding the karma between my mother and myself supported my ability to accept what is and to come to a place of peace and healing. I have no way of knowing to what degree this healing of my relationship with my mother has supported my spiritual evolution. I do know, however, that in this lifetime I feel more able to be present with what is and I felt less reactive and judgmental where my mother is concerned. I have also committed to the dharma of helping others to come to a more accepting and compassionate place in their lives through understanding the “why me?” of the difficult situations in their lives. When one comes to the karma of the “why me?” as it is related to the past life connection to current life effects, awareness shifts and healing takes place. Past life regression work can help one do the spiritual work of Chanda in the Hindu tradition: “This is the wholesome desire of chanda - to be free, the desire to relieve suffering, to be healthy, to promote well-being.” Past life regression therapy brings into the current life the spiritual practice of liberation, and basic self-esteem and equality with others.
Reincarnation is also a basic part of the theology in the Buddhist tradition. The Buddha, Siddhartha, at his moment of enlightenment, saw all of his past incarnations as he looked into his reflection in the river. One effect of enlightenment is that the wheels of karma are broken and one no longer must reincarnate to perfect one’s Being. (Matt, p. 115) A Boddhisattva, however, is one who reaches enlightenment or Nirvana and chooses to incarnate to assist all others incarnated in reaching nirvana through teaching how one can release suffering and attachment. Reaching perfection is the goal of Buddhists and perfection is reached by incarnating over and over again to experience and learn how to let go of all attachment and suffering created by the mind. The schools of Mahayana and Zen Buddhism hold the belief in personal reincarnation and those who practice these forms of Buddhism are focused on stopping the karmic pull that bring us back into a body in human form.
The original Buddhist scriptures, known as the Pali Canon, were recorded several hundred years after Buddha’s death. The most celebrated of these is the Dhammapada. Here Buddha plainly speaks of two selves within the human being, the lesser self and the greater self, the former being perishable and the later enduring from life to life. Here is a selection from the Dhammapada: “I call him Brahmana [a true Brahman] who has destroyed his doubts by knowledge and had plumbed the depth of the Eternal….Him I call a Brahmana who knows the mystery of death and rebirth of all beings, who knows his former lives, who is a sage of perfect knowledge and who has accomplished all that needs to be accomplished.” (Freedman, p. 4)
In the Diamond Sutra the opening paragraph refers to a past life of the Buddha when he was born a king’s son and his raging father cut the infant into pieces:
When the king of Kalinga cut my flesh from every limb, at that time I had no perception of self, of being a soul, or a person. And why? If at that time I had had a perception of self, I would have had a perception of ill-will…With my super-knowledge I recall that in the past I have for five hundred births led the life of a sage devoted to patience. (Cranston. 79)
In the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism the Dalai Lama is chosen because of his ability to remember certain objects and spiritual teaching from a prior lifetime as a Dalai Lama. He is put to tests to prove the authenticity of his reincarnational heritage before he is accepted into the role as the new Dalai Lama. His ability to remember is a sign of his advanced spiritual state. The Tibetan Buddhists want to honor the past learning’s and wisdom of their spiritual leader; he can pick up where he left off in a prior lifetime.
Bradford Smith of Colombia University writes:
When the previous Dalai Lama dies, wise men who had gone to seek the new holy one, had found a little boy who recognized things that had belonged to his predecessor and could pick them out unerringly from among similar objects…So here is a religion where an infant is born obscurely, recognized by wise men and worshipped: where a holy man prophesies that he will return from the dead…In Tibetan Buddhism, with its firm faith in the rebirth of the soul, not only of the Dalai Lamas, but of all, and of a progress based upon behavior during past lives, this impulse is dramatically present. (Cranston, p. 99)
The Dalai Lama speaks of the effects of Karma and reincarnation in a poignant way in a discussion of the sad state of Tibet, where suffering has been inflicted upon the people, and where the Chinese are attempting to stamp out every vestige of Buddhism. One may wonder how the Dalai Lama views all this in the light of reincarnation. An answer is given in an interview with the Lama, as reported in the New York Times (November 12, 1967):
As a Buddhist, he said that he believes that the present events are determined by intricate sets of causes stretching back into the previous lives of those who are affected by them. “Thus,” he said, “it was only an ‘outward appearance’ that the Tibetans were suffering today because of the Chinese aggression. The aggression must have come because we did something bad.” “Similarly,” he went on, “it is only an ‘outward appearance’ that Chinese rule in Tibet is now permanent. The chain of causes that will eventually undermine it must already be lengthening, even if it cannot be seen.” “Cause and effect, cause and effect, cause and effect,” he said cheerfully in English, his fingers darting in the air to join the links of an imaginary chain. “There will certainly be change.” (Cranston, p. 101)
Past life therapy is a spiritual process through which you can remember the Self and the truth of who you are as a spiritual being. Through direct experiences of emotions, body sensations and events one can come to a profound understanding and acceptance of the way it is. One has a direct experience of karma and the bigger picture of the spiritual lessons that come through the process of karmic experiences of cause and effect.
Years ago a man came to see me to do a past-life regression around his lack of ambition and success in the field of music. The minute he walked into my office I was struck with a deep and profound recognition of him. This man is now my husband of many years. Through out our life and spiritual work together, I have come to understand so much about our connection and our karma.
In a past life we shared in Ancient Egypt, Paul, my husband now, was a man of spiritual responsibility. He was to watch over the Priestess virgins who were to be sacrificed whenever a pharaoh died. The Priestess spirits would accompany the dead pharaohs into the afterlife to protect them and care for them. I was chosen to be sacrificed. He chose me to die because I was the most evolved of the priestesses. This choice infuriated me. We had fallen in love and I wanted to be free to be in relationship with him. This was not possible, since I was a well-guarded virgin priestess. I was furious that he would choose his spiritual responsibility to sacrifice the highest priestess over our personal love and that I was the victim of a spiritual ritual that I knew was based on superstition, not on the reality of the power of love. When I died I was angry at the stupidity of personal religious sacrifices when I knew that love was the most important healing force in the universe.
Well, in this lifetime we get to be together to explore personal and spiritual love. I feel that Paul is very dedicated to exploring the experience of personal and spiritual love with me. And I am exploring more lessons about personal sacrifice: what it is, and when it feels appropriate and inappropriate. We have both moved beyond religious dogma and adopting external authority where our spiritual life is concerned, and we both are involved with the dharma of supporting others in being in relationship with their own spiritual power. We are consciously working on freeing ourselves from the karmic wheel that keeps us caught up in the suffering and entrapment of mind.
As stated by the Buddhist scholar Bassui Tokusho:
If you would free yourself of the sufferings of samsara [rebirth], you must learn the direct way to become a Buddha. This way is no other than the realization of your own Mind. Now what is this Mind? It is the true nature of all sentient beings - that which existed before our parents were born and hence before our own birth, which presently exists, unchangeable and eternal. So it is one’s Face before one’s parents were born…When we are born it is not newly created, and when we die it does not perish. It has no distinction of male or female, nor has it any coloration good or bad. It cannot be compared to anything, so it is called Buddha nature….
Should your yearning be too weak to lead you to this state in your present life time, you will undoubtedly gain Self-realization easily in the next, provided you are still engaged in this questioning at death, just as yesterday’s work half done was finished easily today. (Cranston, p. 89-90)
Past life therapy is a tool that will support the soul’s spiritual work in moving towards finishing… in moving towards one’s Buddha hood, today. Past life therapy can give one the direct understanding and experience of cause and effect and can help one to more consciously choose thoughts and actions that will support the lessening of personal and planetary suffering. Through doing the work of past-life therapy one can realize more fully that we are all Buddhas in the process of Self-realization.
Buddism and Taoism and Indigenous Religions, Volume I, Hana Matt, no information.
Hinduism, W. Owen Cole and V.P. (Hemant) Kanitkar, Hodder and Stoughton, Ltd., London, UK, 1995.
Hunduism, Hana Matt, no information.
Reincarnation: The Phoenix Fire Mystery, Sylvia Cranston, Theosophical University Press, Pasadena, CA, 1977.
Reincarnation: A New Horizon in Science, Religion and Society, Sylvia Cranston and Carey Williams, Theosophical University Press, Pasadena, CA, 1993.
Reincarnation, Nevill Drury, Barnes and Noble Books, Singapore, 2002.
Soul Echoes: The Healing Power of Past-Life Therapy, Thelma Freedman, PhD, Citadel Press, New York, NY, 2002.
Spirit Releasement Therapy, William Baldwin, Headline Books, Inc, Terra Alta, WV, 1992.
Holly Holmes-Meredith is a Doctor of Ministry and a licensed Marriage family Therapist who trains hypnotherapists at HCH Institute in Lafayette CA. Learn more about hypnosis and its many therapeutic uses by reading her other blogs on Past life Therapy, Spirit Releasement Therapy, Manifesting your dreams and more.
Visit www.HypnotherapyTraining.com to learn about HCH Institute and its California state approved and registered certification trainings and classes for personal growth in hypnotherapy, energy therapy and parapsychological studies. And listen to her pod cast and samples of Holly's Hypnosis CDs which are available on-line.