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Reincarnation from a Western Medical Perspective: Past Life Regression Therapy Research (I)

September 14, 2002 |   By a Dafa Disciple

Eastern and Western thought differ greatly and are culturally driven. Although the general populace of Western countries does not talk about reincarnation much, it is studied in great detail by Western researchers. At the same time, Eastern cultures embrace the concept of reincarnation and embody it in their culture. However, whether one has an Eastern or a Western mindset there is still much to learn about gaining and losing virtue and the relationship of karma as told through the concepts of reincarnation. This paper explores Eastern thought about reincarnation, Western research on Past Life Regression Therapy, and the teachings of Mr. Li Hongzhi.

Reincarnation permeates Chinese culture. It is discussed by various scholars and is ingrained in the psyche of the Chinese people. This belief reflects in attitude, behavior, outlook, and interactions of the Chinese people in regards to relationships, personal beliefs, and philosophical and religious wisdoms. The theme of reincarnation is even represented in artistry, such as in poems and songs. It is often metaphorically compared with the winds in springtime and the rains in autumn. At times, the populace speaks of it with such passion that it becomes slightly overrated. It is also unimportant whether one sees it as overrated or miraculous. To the present day Chinese, it represents continuity, survival, and spiritual sustenance, and it is the foundation for the morality of the nation. The beliefs behind reincarnation weave through the national consciousness and everyone listens to it without ill intent, and finds no harm in the subject. Philosophically, reincarnation sustains the soul of the people and teaches the importance of virtue. Did Mr. Li Hongzhi, the founder of Falun Dafa not state in his writings that virtue gained in one life will bring fortune and happiness in the next life, and virtue lost will bring tribulations during this or the next life? Did Mr. Li not also tell us that in the olden days people talked about virtue lost or gained for future generations? Doesn't the cultivator of an orthodox Fa understand that, for a cultivator, virtue gained is the foundation to increase cultivation energy? Can one not learn from Mr. Li's writings that an ordinary being that is virtuous, may gain great fortune or a high-level position in the next life?

People who lived through the Cultural Revolution have forgotten these concepts. But, at the same time it is again gaining acceptance among the Chinese populace, so many from the older generation are reminding the younger ones of the importance of gaining and losing virtue. Also, due to the ease in which one can intermingle with other nationalities, by traveling or reading about other cultures, the Chinese people know that reincarnation is not a concept that is widely accepted among Christians and those of Western origin. What is most astounding is that in North America, where concepts are greatly influenced by the scientific way of life and where reincarnation is not something discussed among the general populace, medical research about the phenomenon of reincarnation has been ongoing for a number of years. Throughout the Western hemisphere, it is widely accepted for universities and regional organizations to conduct parapsychological research. There are presently five Universities studying paranormal subjects, i.e., Princeton University (USA), the University of Edinburgh (Great Britain), the University of Amsterdam (the Netherlands), the University of Freiburg (Germany) and the University of Virginia (USA). Many students have gained Ph.D.s through their research in related subject matter, and the academic face of psychical research is constantly changing. These researchers have found ample proof that reincarnation is not a myth and have convincingly stated that reincarnation is a true state of human existence. Thus, people's minds are changing and can begin to accept with much more ease those truths which cannot be seen with the human eye or perceived with the human senses. Doesn't Mr. Li state, "Humankind will make a leap forward if it can take a fresh look at itself and the universe, changing its rigid mindset." (Zhuan Falun) Such changes are happening and the human mind is opening in other directions rather than solely being dictated by the rigidities of today's science.

Reincarnation studies are a type of medical/parapsychology research which generally fall under the qualitative research method. Such research has no formulated hypotheses, though hypotheses may emerge while conducting the study. Purposive samples are selected rather than random samples, and the sample sizes are generally relatively small. The results are mainly presented in words that emphasize the understanding of the purposive sample study. It is, however, a subjective study and characterized by the researchers' awareness of the biases which might affect the collection and interpretation of the data. The reincarnation research efforts that we have studied fall generally into two categories. The first category consists of children who remember a past life or lives and the second category is of patients who have a past life or lives recalled through hypnosis in regression therapy sessions.

Dr. Ian Stevenson, M.D., Professor of Research at the University of Virginia, Department of Psychiatric Medicine, Division of Personality Studies (DOPS), is a leading researcher in the subject of reincarnation. The DOPS research was made possible through an endowment of an Eminent Scholars Chair and a large bequest from the estate of the late Priscilla Woolfan. DOPS states that its "main purpose is the scientific investigation of phenomena that suggest that currently accepted scientific assumptions and theories about the nature of mind or consciousness and its relationship to matter may be erroneous. Examples of such phenomena, sometimes called paranormal, include claimed memories of previous lives and the like." This statement clearly agrees with much of what Mr. Li has written and spoken about. Doesn't Mr. Li state, "In order to explore this domain, humankind must fundamentally change its conventional thinking." (Zhuan Falun) Is such research not a step in the right direction?

Dr. Ian Stevenson's research efforts focus on scientific proof of parapsychological events, such as reincarnation. Dr. Stevenson has traveled the world for over thirty-seven years to investigate, document, collect, test, and verify cases of people, mainly children, who remember "past lives, and who had birthmarks or birth defects that corresponded to wounds, usually fatal, on the person whose life was remembered." Dr. Stevenson, now in his eighties, collected thousands of records of children aging from two to seven years old who reside in the Middle East, Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Surprisingly, it was found that memories of past lives often fade around the age of seven. The children will speak spontaneously of previous lives, want to be taken back "home," long for mothers and husbands from another life, and often show signs of a phobia that is unusual for the current respective family or not explainable by current life events. In addition, they know things that they could not have learned or heard about during their present life. Amazingly, the children's statement can be verified with real life or death events in many cases. Dr. Stevenson writes, "Often, these children speak of people and events from previous lives - not vague lives of centuries ago, but lives of specific, identifiable individuals, who are often completely unknown to the child's family and live in a different town or a different part or another country." However, some children also seem to recall prior lives that happened decades ago. Most amazingly, Dr. Stevenson found children who could speak other languages. Each event was carefully recorded, meticulously researched and verified by Dr. Stevenson's committee. Dr. Stevenson published a number of books in which he recorded many of these interesting findings, such as: Children Who Remember Previous Lives: A Question of Reincarnation, Reincarnation and Biology: A Contribution to the Etiology of Birthmarks and Birth Defects, Where Reincarnation and Biology Intersect, and Cases of the Reincarnation Type; Volumes I (India), II (Sri Lanka), IV (Lebanon and Turkey) and IV (Thailand and Burma). In his book on Birthmarks, Dr. Stevenson reported on more than 200 cases. The children described in detail their deaths in previous lives, such as being killed by a bullet or pierced by a sharp instrument. "The birthmarks often corresponded to wounds or other marks on the deceased person whose life the child remembered." Professor Stevenson was able to find the related post mortem medical reports and could thus confirm the accuracy of the respective child's recollection.

The other type of research, mentioned earlier is based on an individual being hypnotized by a psychotherapists, so as to recall memories of previous lives. Actually, "hypnotize" does not describe the process for recalling prior lives. It is in reality an advanced technique called "Past Life Regression Therapy (PRL)." Under PRL the subject does not fall asleep and the brain waves are different from those under a sleeping condition. Furthermore, with respect to brain waves, some psychotherapists can induce the subject to be in a different conscious state than under the traditional hypnotic condition. This condition is more analogous to the meditative tranquil state reached by practitioners in the Buddha or Dao schools of cultivation. It is known that under the condition of focused consciousness, the subjects can contact their deeper consciousness. They can then experience the past, while the present consciousness remains active. They can even remember prior lives from centuries ago. We wish to note that PRL is a highly controversial subject and one finds heated arguments for and against it in the scientific community. David Quigley states that he found in his academic and experimental research with PRL "huge volumes of data that would prove to any legitimate scientist that many "past life" memories are based on real historic people and events." Then he quotes Helen Wambach's seminal research work (Reliving Past Lives), Marge Rieder's Mission to Marlboro and Ian Stevenson's 30-case study of reincarnation. He then continues with "Those who continue to deny this may present themselves as scientific; in reality, they are trapped in an irrational dogma, comparable to the beliefs of those church "scholars" in the 16th Century who maintained their belief in an earth-centered solar system."

Dr. Brian Weiss, M.D., traditional psychotherapist, graduate of Columbia University and Yale Medical School and Chairman Emeritus of Psychiatry at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami, is probably one of the most well known researchers using PRL. After graduating from Yale, he lectured at Pittsburgh University and Miami University. During the eighties, when he took office as Chairman Emeritus of Psychiatry at Mount Sinai Medical Center, Dr Weiss had already published more than forty scholarly papers. As a scholar of formal education, he did not pay any attention to parapsychology. He had no knowledge of, and, was not in the least interested in reincarnation. Dr. Weiss's first book, Many Lives, Many Masters sold two million copies, and was translated into more than twenty languages. The Chinese version is known as Previous Existence, This Life and was very well received in Taiwan. The abstract to this book states that "Psychiatry and metaphysics blend together in ... who was once firmly entrenched in a clinical approach to psychiatry, finds himself reluctantly drawn into past-life therapy when a hypnotized client suddenly reveals details of her previous lives...... introduces spirit guides who have been her soul therapists in between lives...."

Dr. Weiss reveals in his book Many Lives, Many Masters the history of one of his patients, Catherine, who was about thirty years of age at the time of therapy. She came to his office with acute symptoms that included panic attacks and anxiety. One year of traditional psychotherapy from Dr. Weiss did nothing to relieve the problems. She was claustrophobic and yet refused any medication. Reluctantly, Catherine finally agreed to hypnotherapy. Dr Weiss felt that Catherine's condition could be related to repressed memories from her childhood. He believed that if Catherine could recall these events under hypnosis it might cure her problems and free her from those memories. She might recover fully from her illness. Though Catherine did recall some bad memories from her childhood, she still did not recover. Therefore, Dr Weiss decided to regress her further back in her childhood. During one of the therapy sessions when Catherine was in a hypnotic state, Dr. Weiss said to her: "Go back to the time when your symptoms first appeared." Dr. Weiss did not expect what happened next. Catherine said, "I see a flight of white steps leading to a building with pillars. The front is very spacious, with no porch. I am wearing a long skirt, a kind of robe made of rough cloth. My blonde hair is plaited." Dr. Weiss could not relate to this information and thus asked her what year it was and what her name was. "Aranda, eighteen years of age. The year is 1863 BC. The land is barren, hot and there is sand everywhere. There is a well and no river. The water flows from the mountain into the valley."

Catherine had regressed to a period of about four thousand years ago in the Middle East. Her name was not the same and her appearance was different from that of today. Her facial features, body, hair and clothes were not that of her present day appearance. She remembered the related terrain, dress and personal adornments and the details of daily life until her moment of her death in a flood, in which her child was torn from her arms. She even recalled that after her death her soul floated above her body. It was not surprising that during this treatment, Catherine had recollection of another two prior lives. One of her lives was that of an eighteenth century prostitute in Spain. The other recollection was that of a woman in Greece in the era before Christ. Dr. Weiss was stunned by these revelations. He knew that Catherine had not shown the symptoms similar to those with multiple or split personalities and that she was not on drugs. Dr. Weiss found that during hypnosis she seemed to be in a dreamlike state. Most remarkable was that Catherine's health improved. Dr. Weiss also understood that neither illusions nor dreaming could have such an effect. During follow-up therapy sessions, Catherine remembered more than ten lives. She experienced all those events, including the fears and happiness that controlled her present day behavior. Catherine came to accept, understand and conquer what had driven her present day destructive behavior, gradually outgrew all fears and gained peacefulness within. During hypnosis, Catherine also discovered that people who were part of her past lives had been part of other lifetimes, including this lifetime. For example, Dr. Weiss was once her teacher, a boyfriend she had married, and he also had killed her during a war between tribes, when she had reincarnated as a boy. The relationship during this lifetime was not a very pleasant one either. Isn't this the scientific proof of what Mr. Li Hongzhi told his disciples? Mr. Li said that people reincarnate in groups, to repay debts or share happiness, though not necessarily in the same roles or at the same ages as during prior lives. Isn't this again conclusive evidence of all what Mr. Li shared with his disciples?

Dr. Weiss heard much more during PRL sessions with Catherine and thus gained insights into the mysteries of human existence. Catherine recalled that at the time of her death, her zhu yuan shen (main spirit) would always hover above her body, and then be called back to the spirit world by a "compassionate light." During these sessions she also made contact with spirit supervisors. These advanced beings could even communicate with and send spiritual messages to Dr. Weiss through Catherine. During such a state, Catherine understood and learned much more than she could during her lifetime as a human. Even, Dr. Weiss's suspicions gradually disappeared and his belief in the afterlife became stronger. During one such therapy session, she experienced her death many centuries ago. As her zhu yuan shen left her body she was led to a familiar spiritual light. This is what message she had for Dr. Weiss: "Your father is here, and so is your son, he is a very young boy. Your father says you should know him; his name is Avrom and your daughter got her name from him. He died from heart disease. Your son's heart was also very important too, because it is reversed, just like the heart of a chicken. He had sacrificed a lot for you because he loved you. His spirit is from a very high level, and his death had paid off the debt owed by his parents. He would also like you to know that medicine can work only to certain extent, which is extremely limited." This message is so much like what Mr. Li Hongzhi has said. Mr. Li notes, "Hospitals are still able to heal illnesses, but their means of treatment belong to the level of everyday people while illnesses are supernatural. Some illnesses are quite serious, and so hospitals require early treatment if one has such an illness. If it becomes too serious, hospitals will be helpless, as overdoses of medicine can poison a person. Present medical treatments are at the same level as our science and technology--they are all at the level of everyday people. Thus, they only have such healing efficacy." (Zhuan Falun)

Dr. Weiss was thunderstruck. Catherine did not know him very well, and she knew nothing about his family. The greatest sorrow of his life was the death of his first-born son, just 10 days after being born. His heart condition was life threatening and the chance of having this illness is one in ten million. Shortly after being born, the boy was diagnosed with this heart disease. He died 23 days after being born. Weiss's father died from a myocardial infarction. His name was Avrom. Weiss's daughter was born 4 months after Weiss's father passed away, and was named Amy in memory of Weiss's father. As Catherine and Dr. Weiss did not have a personal relationship, she could not have known any of this. Dr. Weiss was taken aback. Who could have told her this information? Therefore, he asked Catherine: "Who was there? Who told you this?" "It is those masters." She responded tenderly, "The spiritual masters told me this. They also told me that I have lived in the human world 86 times."

Catherine's treatments and subsequent cure made a deep impression on Dr. Weiss. He thus became a believer in psychological treatment through PRL. Dr. Weiss and many other doctors who treat patients through PRL found that fears and illnesses more often than not stem from events in prior lives. Preparing and guiding the patient via PRL to prior lives was found to positively impact the grieving process. Thus, the patient was able to understand the driving force behind certain behavioral patterns and could thus change accordingly. Doctors found that by regressing to a given prior life and by re-experiencing the pain from that time the patient could let go of a grief or grudge held for centuries. The burden held by the soul was lifted and would no longer affect the present existence of the person.

Four years after the therapy sessions with Catherine, Dr. Weiss found enough courage to risk losing his scholar status by writing his first book about reincarnation and telling people about the immortality of the soul. During subsequent years, Dr. Weiss cured several hundreds of patients through regression therapy. The patients came from different levels in society and were of different religious background (including atheists). Dr. Weiss published a book in which he detailed a number of these cases, Through Time into Healing. The publisher states that, "Dr. Weiss wrote this book based on his extensive clinical experience. He builds on the time-tested techniques for psychotherapy, revealing how regression to past lifetimes provides the necessary breakthrough to healing mind, body and soul. Dr. Weiss ultimately shows how near death and out of body experiences help confirm the existence of past lives."


Ian Stevenson, Ph.D. Children Who Remember Previous Lives: A Question of Reincarnation. McFarland Press, 2001 (2nd edition; 1st edition 1987).

Ian Stevenson, Ph.D. Where Reincarnation and Biology Intersect, Praeger Publishers; 1997.

Brian Weiss, M.D. Many Lives, Many Masters. Fireside; July 1988.

Brian Weiss, M.D. Through Time into Healing. Simon and Schuster; August 1992.

Bryan Jameison, The Search for Past Lives: Exploring Reincarnation's Mysteries & The Amazing Healing Power Of Past-Life Therapy. Driftwood Publications; March 1, 2002.

(Reprinted from PureInsight Net)