The physical body dies, but the soul never dies. When the body begins to wear out through natural causes and “dies”, or a sudden death takes place, the soul is released. These simple old age beliefs are widespread all over the world. At a later point of time, the soul is reincarnated, and a person is reborn, as someone else of course. That is the belief of those who believe in reincarnation. Apart from the Bhagavad Gita which expounds lucidly and brilliantly on this subject, there are other ancient texts that go into great detail. Reincarnation is an anglicised word of Latin derivation, meaning “reinfleshment”, the coming again into a human body of an “excarnate” soul. However, does the new physical body ever bear any resemblance at all to the body the soul left in the last birth? In several cases, yes, and I’ll tell you about it in a later column.
It is certainly known that physical marks, deformities and other unusual physical features survive even after death, both in ghosts and in reincarnated individuals. In India, in Pune, there was the well documented case of a woman who had died of snake bite more than 300 years ago, and the fang marks of the snake were still visible on her foot sole in this birth. There was the case in Agra of a man who was shot in the neck and died, was reborn, remembered his last birth, and curiously, had a mark on his neck at the exact spot where the bullet which killed him had entered his neck in the previous birth. There are many more such engrossing cases.
Apart from external marks, internal injuries are also on record. There is the case of a lady I know who in her last birth was a male who died of liver cirrhosis due to excessive drinking, and in this birth, has been born with a damaged liver, confounding doctors who found it perplexing to relate alcoholism to a child. However, this doesn’t mean that donating an organ after death will result in being born without that organ in the next birth. My uncle’s eyes were donated at the time of his death more than 26 years ago. Now he has been reborn and he has large, lustrous eyes. And talking of ghosts and physical resemblance, it is known that though ghosts have no flesh and blood physical form, they can be easily recognised. So it is certain that till and in the ghostly stage, there are strong resemblances to the body that no longer exists. Someone I know lost a daughter at a very young age. This daughter had a cleft lip, but when she appeared as an apparition her mother couldn’t recognise her because there was no disfigurement. The daughter’s ghost then re-appeared as she had been at the time of her death.
Time and again, it has been documented that memories from an earlier birth or sometimes births remain with people who are reborn. Almost everybody I have met tells me that though they don’t remember the precise details, there have often been occurrences that have jogged their memory. Though I remember it no longer, I myself have written about how as a child I recounted and described in vivid detail events including the circumstances of my death in my last life, which was 37 years before I was reborn in my current life. Incidentally, past birth memories are not confined to humans alone. There are many cases of animals who have shown familiarity with a totally new place in remarkable fashion and displayed other past life indicators.
A considerable amount of scientific research has been undertaken and more is underway on the survival of memories and consciousness after death. Last year, Lawrence Peacock M.D., in an absorbing article—Memories in an Afterlife—in Psychology Today raised several intriguing questions: No memory is a pure recording of history. It’s not, he wrote. So which memories would survive in an afterlife? And why would they?…Would procedural memories of our ability to type or our ability to drive a standard transmission survive in an afterlife? Why would it?….if we could have memories from a prior life, through reincarnation, or memories in Heaven, then why wouldn’t our immune system survive if we were to be reincarnated?…Who or what is the “self” that survives in any other plane of existence? Who are we in the absence of our beliefs, memories, and personality traits? When we die does the 30 year old or 70 year old version of our self live in the afterlife? Self, like memories, is always changing…
A few years ago, National Geographic magazine dealt with the question of consciousness after death. “What is the nature of consciousness during that transition through the gray zone? A growing number of scientists are wrestling with such vexing questions.” In India, the magazine revealed, neuroscientist Richard Davidson studies Buddhist monks in a state called “thukdam”, in which biological signs of life have ceased yet the body appears fresh and intact for a week or more. Davidson’s goal is to see if he can detect any brain activity in these monks, hoping to learn what, if anything, happens to the mind after circulation stops.
And in New York, the magazine continued, Sam Parnia, M.D. spreads the gospel of sustained resuscitation. Amongst other things he says that some patients can be brought back from the dead after hours without a heartbeat, often with no long-term consequences. Now he’s investigating one of the most mysterious aspects of crossing over: why so many people in cardiac arrest report out-of-body or near-death experiences, and what those sensations might reveal about the nature of this limbo zone and about death itself.
The different and differing viewpoints on the staying intact of memories after death or from one birth to another invite further questions. Can ghosts be identified genetically or by DNA testing? Do our genes and DNA from this birth survive after death and if so, are they or some part of them carried over when one is reincarnated? Parnia has compared resuscitation science to aeronautics. It never seemed possible for people to fly, yet in 1903 the Wright brothers flew. How incredible, he says, that it took only 66 years from that first, 12-second flight to a moon landing. He thinks such advances can happen in resuscitation science too. Maybe such advances can take place in exploring multiple facts of the afterlife and the other world as well. More on such fascinating possibilities in a future column.