Evidence for Reincarnation: A Discussion on the Research of Dr. Helen Wambach
Is reincarnation a beautiful fantasy or reality? After hypnosis, many people claim that they can recall prior lives and seem to be able to describe them in great detail. Are they true or just fantasies? Can this be proven scientifically? Has data been collected systematically and analyzed to prove or disprove such contentions? Yes, scientific research is based on a hypothesis, in laymen's terms a question or questions, and subsequent proof or disproof of the particular theory. In the scientific community, a hypothesis won't be accepted until evidence shows it has a high probability of being true. It is well known, though, that the scientific community will subject the prediction to still further scrutiny. It is no surprise, then, that the researcher under discussion, Dr. Helen Wambach, a psychologist, maintained a questioning attitude with respect to her study on reincarnation. As a matter of fact, Carol Moore stated that the late Dr. Wambach wanted to "debunk" reincarnation. Dr. Wambach's books Reliving Past Lives and Life Before Life, published in1978 by Bantam paperback books, discussed evidence of reincarnation found under hypnosis , and described her research in detail. In the first half of her book Reliving Past Lives, published in 1978, Dr. Wambach talked about how she became interested in spiritual phenomena, and what got her started with her studies. She also told readers her experience of being confused, even cynical. However, she decided to continue with her research after she found what she believed to be truthful data among the vast amount of data collected. In the second half of the book, she described the data she collected and her analysis.
Dr. Helen Wambach was a lecturer. Beginning in the late 1960s, Dr. Wambach conducted a 10-year survey of past-life recollections under hypnosis among 1,088 subjects. For historical accuracy, Dr. Wambach asked specific questions about the time periods in which people lived and questions about the daily life in the given periods. Dr. Wambach collected her purposive samples by organizing workshops of about a dozen people each. Dr. Wambach led them on a "four-stage journey" which lasted a full day. She charged minimal fees to fund her long-term study.
The American Society of Clinical Hypnosis describes hypnosis as a state of inner absorption, concentration and focused attention. Hypnosis is a procedure during which a health professional or researcher suggests that the subject experience changes in sensations, perceptions, thoughts, or behavior, i.e., an altered state of consciousness. A cultivator understands that based on brain wave differences, being hypnotized is not similar to sleep, but similar to traditional Buddhist or Taoist meditation. Under such conditions, people could possibly use his/her wisdom eye to observe and experience his/her previous lives.
Under regression therapy to a prior life, the individual can identify with a certain individual of a particular prior time period. Apparently, he/she will experience whatever the individual experienced at that particular point in time, as well as communicate verbally or orally in an ancient language. Interestingly, after awakening from regression therapy the individual will no longer be able to recognize the ancient languages. Sometimes, the individual's present personality may be able to partake in the regression in a passive role, that is, the individual will view the prior life as if he/she was watching a movie. He/she may hear the words without understanding what is being said.
During the hypnotic session, the hypnotized individual may recall the time and location of the events but somehow fuse it with his personality from this lifetime or the prior lifetime. Sometimes the individual may gain supernormal abilities. He may be able to know the time and location of the particular recall. For example, when a hypnotized individual was asked a specific question about the time period and location, he/she saw with the wisdom eye a date from the Christian era, even if the hypnotized subject recalled a pre-Christian period, or a non-Christian environment. What this tells us is that pinning down the exact space-time location of the recollection can be difficult, though some hypnotized individuals may be able to pinpoint the location on a map.
I believe that these messages were either from a higher being, or from the "clear side" of the hypnotized individual. A higher being is what the Buddha school calls an enlightened being. A "clear side" may refer to what is called in the Buddha school the enlightened side of an individual that can see other realities. It is clear that one cannot achieve an enlightened state under hypnosis. Under the hypnotic state the object's mind is very relaxed, thus the true self of the individual may dominate. For further information into the subject matter, please refer to two books by Dr. Michael Newton .
First, Dr. Wambach put the person into a hypnotic state and then asked questions that allowed the individual to recall prior lives. The individual will be aware of everything that is taking place and after emerging from hypnosis, he/she may be able to recall everything that took place during the session. Dr. Wambach hypnotized 1,088 people for her study. After careful analysis of the data, Dr. Wambach concluded that the information collected under hypnosis was, with respect to historical records available to her "amazingly accurate" with the exception of 11 subjects. For example, one individual said that he played piano in the 15th century, when, in fact, the piano was invented two centuries later.
Among the eleven subjects, nine gave information that deviated only slightly from the historical time frame. It is amazing that only 1% of the population was found to be inaccurate in the information provided under hypnosis. It is clear to me that if all those memories are mere illusions, such a low fail rate is impossible. Of course, one cannot exclude that some were merely imaginary, as not everyone is able to use his/her wisdom eye. Compared with China, clinical hypnosis is relatively well documented and readily available in western society. I believe that the reason for this is that the mind of westerners is less complex -- a consequence of cultural influence. The wisdom eye of westerners is easy to open.
Carol Moore stated that Dr. Wambach asked specific questions about the time periods, including social status, race, gender, clothing, utensils, money, housing, and the like. She used charts and tables to record this information so it would be easier to compare it to the given time period.
With respect to social status, Dr. Wambach categorized people as upper class, middle class and lower class. She found that her population could be separated into10% from the upper class, 20-35% from the middle class and the remaining 55-70% from the lower class. Although the proportion of middle class cases was relatively higher around 1000 BC, the proportion later dropped, and increased again after 1700 AD, comparable to that of 1000BC.
Historical records indicate that craftsmen and merchants were mainly found near the east Mediterranean Sea during that era. Business enterprises were well established. However, approximately between 60-77% of the population lived at or below the poverty level. They wore home made clothes and lived in simple thatched cottages. The majority were farmers who labored every day in the fields. None of the hypnotized individuals recalled being a famous historical figure. Those who recalled a high social position seemed highly dissatisfied with their lives, as if it were a burden to be alive. Those who recalled being a farmer or a member of a primitive tribe appeared to be content with their lives. Evaluation of the data strongly suggests that it is highly unlikely that these recollections are from the imagination of the individual. Generally, people imagine themselves as a famous historical figure or a nobleman and not something as mundane as a farmer or member of a primitive tribe.
With respect to the race of the subjects, Dr. Wambach selected mainly middle class Caucasians from California. Their recollections indicated that they had lived in different geographic areas and their hair color was different during their prior lives. Dr. Wambach divided them into several categories: Caucasians, Asians, Indians, Blacks and Middle Eastern descent. Around 2000 BC, only 20% of the subjects were Caucasians. They lived widely dispersed throughout what is now known as the Middle East, the Mediterranean, Europe and Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, etc., called central steppe during historical times). The subjects' recollections appeared to be mainly of two different races (approximately 40% each).
Five subjects stated that they lived in Central Asia between 1000 and 2000 BC. They seemed to have lived in tents, which was common to the migrating population in what is called Central Asia today. Amazingly, they found themselves to have white skin color and yellow or golden hair. It doesn't appear to make any sense, as historical facts indicate that the people of that particular area should be of darker skinned and black hair.
Three of the subjects appeared to have similar recollections. They wore pants made of leather. Historical records also indicate that a limited number of Caucasians, those of white skin and light hair color, had migrated to that region during that time. However, these subjects did not think that their recollections had merit, as their historical knowledge did not indicate that Caucasians lived in that region during that era. But Dr. Wambach believed the recollections to be true. Such discrepancies were found quite frequently among the collection of the data collected by Dr. Wambach. Given that the subjects did not trust their recollections, we believe that it was not imagination, built from the person's education/reading during this lifetime.
The average age of the subjects was around 30 years and most were born after 1945. Forty-five of the subjects recalled prior lives between 1900 and 1945. One third were Asians. Death from unnatural causes among those living between 1900 and 1945 appeared to be very high. Many of them died during the two world wars, as well as civil wars in Asian countries. Thus, these people reincarnated shortly after they died. Surprisingly, Dr. Wambach found that 69% of the subjects who had died during the1850's were Caucasians, while between 1900 and 1945, only 40% were Caucasian. It seems that transmigration of the different races increased after 1945. What could have happened during that era? Dr. Wambach joked that most likely many devotees of the Congregational Church reincarnated into communist China.
Of interest is also that the subject's gender may not be the same during different lifetimes. For example, a man was surprised that he was a female in a prior life and lived around 480 B.C in China. Another man was an Indian woman in his prior life, who died of dystocia (dystocia is the condition when a fetus cannot be delivered naturally because of its position in the mother's womb). He described the pain he felt, and became rather upset. Unexpectedly, the ratios between males and females among the subjects were found to be mostly the same during any of the ages.
The subjects' clothing during their former lifetimes also corresponded with historical records. For example, a subject who lived around 1000 B.C in Egypt described different types of clothing worn by the upper and lower classes. The upper classes wore either a half-length or full-length white cotton robe. The lower classes wore exotic-looking type of pants that were wrapped downwards from the waist. The researchers viewed historic records of clothing worn during the respective periods and could therefore compare it to the descriptions of these subjects. The descriptions were found to be correct. We are also quite sure that these subjects were not familiar with what the ancient Egyptians wore.
A female subject recalled that she was a knight in A.D. 1200. She said, "I
feel it is very impractical. I must have illusions." She continued, "I lowered
my head to look at my feet. I saw a pair of triangle-head boots. I thought they
would be round-headed, just like the armor I saw in the museum." Later on, she
found such triangle-head boots in an encyclopedia. According to the
encyclopedia, this type of boots was worn in Italy before A.D. 1280. She had
recalled that she was in Italy at that about time since she had died in 1254.
Eating habits of people who lived around 500 B. C. were not that bad. Twenty percent of the subjects recalled that they ate poultry and sheep meat. However, between A.D. 25 to A.D. 1200, people's eating habits were rather poor, as the subjects recalled that the food was tasteless. It is not surprising that those who recalled the best tasting food were those who recalled a prior life in of China. One of the women subjects told Dr. Wambach that she ate radishes a lot in her former lifetime. She said: "I have not eaten radishes during this lifetime, so it is a mystery to me how I knew it was radish." Several months later, her husband and she ate at a restaurant. There was some white, odd-looking vegetable in one of the dishes her husband ordered. After she tasted it, she told her husband it was just like the flavor of radish she ate in her former lifetime. They asked a waiter who told them that it was a type of radish. Another person recalled that he had lived during 800 A.D. in what is today called Indonesia. He remembered having eaten some kind of nut, that he had not eaten or even seen in this lifetime. Later on, he saw a picture of such nuts in a magazine. "It is exactly what I had seen under hypnosis!" He said, "The article said that these nuts are only found on the island of Bali."
Dr. Wambach also found from the recollections that the world's population has increased over time. After A.D. 1500, the population increased even more rapidly. It is even now rather difficult to interpret some of the data, because one has to painstakingly research connections and links to historical times. Also, earlier lifetimes may not be as easily recalled as more recent lifetimes, although Dr. Wambach found that the degree of clarity of the subjects' recollections of former lifetimes was unrelated to time. Dr. Wambach could not explain the reason for the ever-increasing population, which is today called the population explosion. In fact, if we see the world as a huge stage, with a fixed number of actors, the number of people on the stage would still change. Furthermore, the researchers concluded that the time between death and rebirth, i.e., samsara seemed to be shorter in modern times than in ancient times.
Dr Wambach also questioned those under hypnosis, during recollection of a given lifetime, the reasons for their deaths and their experiences. To protect the subjects from anguish and suffering, Dr. Wambach instructed them to suppress their negative feelings from that time. The subjects' experiences were very similar to the near death experiences reported by today's doctors and researchers. They left their bodies, looked down on their own bodies, saw light, and the relatives who had passed away earlier. They felt free from their worldly bonds and at the same time sad for those relatives still alive. Among all the subjects, 62% died of old age and illness, which the ancient Chinese called "died in his bed." Eighteen percent died violently during war, or some other manmade catastrophe and the remaining 20% died in accidents. Some subjects said that they already left their flesh bodies even before they were fatally injured. We found that in 1000 B.C. and twentieth century A. D. the ratio of people who died violently peaked. There seemed to be many localized battles among tribes during 1000 B.C. In the twentieth century, many died during air attacks when bombs were dropped on civilian areas. Usually, these people died of smoke inhalation caused by the bomb. This information could easily be verified from recent historical records. Again we believe that the subjects' description was not an illusion, as not many people had been aware of this.
Dr. Wambach's book presented a number of figures and tables, as well as the questionnaires used for her survey. Some subjects mentioned that some people they knew in former lifetimes were among those they associated with during this lifetime. I believe that this corresponds to the karmic relationship cultivators talk about. Reincarnation may best explain Dr. Wambach's research data. We believe that to call the survey data "imaginary" would do grave injustice to a truth not fully discovered yet.
For example, many readers might be familiar with Chinese history. Some are
quite familiar with the events that occurred during five thousands years of
Chinese history. However, we doubt that a satisfactory answer will be given by
those who are familiar with "The Annals of Food and Goods" if questioned about
details of lifestyle, eating habits, or type of clothing worn in the Zhou
Dynasty, Song Dynasty and Qing Dynasty.
Dr. Wambach was not a religious believer. She called the data she collected a "myth" of life. She also encouraged readers to obtain their own "myth". Nowadays, a great number of books about reincarnation are being published. Some of the data collected by more recent researchers is more comprehensive, profound and insightful than the data collected by Dr. Wambach. Names which come to mind include Dr. Byran Jamison  and Dr. Michael Newton. Nonetheless, Dr. Wambach's book is still valuable because she is so far the only investigator who completed a statistical analysis to test the hypothesis of reincarnation with a large data sample.
I. Does reincarnation exist after all? Scientific data collected as of date seems to suggest that reincarnation is a fact of life. Here are some supporting pieces of evidence:
1) Scientific research has discovered many cases of prior life memory recollections among young children. These recalls were studied, categorized and confirmed through rigorous research.
2) Details that subjects recalled about their prior lives correspond to historical records. Furthermore, there was great consistency among prior life recollections of the same time periods and geographical areas.
3) Subjects recalled ancient languages and words that they did not learn during this lifetime. Furthermore, after the hypnotic state ended they no longer could speak or understand those languages.
4) Some subjects among relatives, friends, or even strangers, recalled the same people, events and details independently.
5) Recalling past lives' agonies and events were instrumental in addressing and often alleviating today's ills and problems, such as terror and long-term pain.
It is very difficult to explain these phenomena as illusions, but they may not be readily accepted by modern science as evidence for the concept of reincarnation.
II. Some readers from mainland China might ask: did these researchers cheat? I ask the indulgence and understanding of these researchers. China at this time is in denial about all data that has not already been proven with modern science. Thus, a more detailed explanation for the Chinese reader is necessary.
1) These researchers are well known and respected in their academic fields. For example, Dr. Ian Stevenson, M.D., Professor of Research at the University of Virginia (UVA), Department of Psychiatric Medicine and Division of Personality Studies (DOPS) is prominent in his field of study, which includes the study of reincarnation. He is famous for studying past life recollections of children for more than 36 years.
2) These researchers gain nothing from fabricating such data. Publishing data on reincarnation will not get them promotions. On the contrary, publication on such controversial subjects may lead to being ostracized by their peers or it could have a negative effect on their careers.
3) Whether their data supports or denies reincarnation, their research breaks through into previously taboo subject matter. Actually, since reincarnation is not accepted in western culture, denying reincarnation maybe more beneficial to them.
4) Many researchers are not religious believers; therefore, they don't have any intention of searching for evidence to support their religions or trying to spread their religions. Some of them were exposed to harassment from religious extremists, as western religions do not acknowledge reincarnation.
5) The information they obtained is consistent.
6) People who believe in reincarnation all know that good is rewarded with good and evil meets evil. No one dares to lie.
7) Books on reincarnation are less popular in western society. Some of the books may be difficult to obtain in bookstores. So, the motive for earning money is not there.
Of course, you should judge for yourself if reincarnation exists or not. You should judge based on your personal experience and belief system. I have written this article to raise your interest about the subject of reincarnation. The reader should decide for her/himself. Nevertheless, whether we wish it or not, reincarnation is part of our culture.
Category: Opinion & Perspective