Reincarnation, Rebirth And Past-Life Regression Therapy In India: A Rationalist Critique
The recent trend in some sections of the Indian visual media is the topic of rebirth and associated quackery. In one of the channels the show started with sessions of ‘hypnotism’, taking people back to their past births, and ‘treatment’ for many of their problems of the present birth which are allegedly caused by deeds in the past life!
There is a ‘Dr.’ Trupti Jain, along with a moderator, putting the person who had volunteered into what is called as a ‘hypnotic trance’. That is followed by question-answer sessions along with re-enactment of events which are supposed to have happened in past births. This is followed by ‘counseling’ and ‘therapy’, with the subject admitting at the end of the session that he or she is feeling better. The ill-informed Indian middle-class audience is fascinated by these antics and the viewership must have definitely gone up. Like all other talk shows, in these too the episodes start with sessions involving some ‘celebrities’. Now, it is the hoi polloi whose past lives are on public display. Not to be left behind, many regional channels have followed suit and there must be zillions of such past life programs being shown with a gullible lot of our viewers lapping up the tripe being served as science.
Many are under the impression that this is the latest in the field of mental health, not realising that this nonsense has been in existence for more than a century and has been dismissed as a hoax a long, long time ago. There have been many famous cases, like the reincarnate Andy Murphy, re-incarnations of famous doctors like Cayce, Arigo and many others. They have been sensationalized in the print media even by very conservative publications like the Readers Digest. Seances which have been proved to be frauds by eminent magicians like Houdini, and even novels which became best sellers based on these themes have been popular in the past century. There have been movies based on these, like the classics Madhumathi, Milan, reincarnation of Peter Proud etc., some of which have been hits at the box office. There has been ‘research’ on rebirth, a lot of which, I should say all of which, has been discredited as the case histories were proved to be cooked up. One of the universities in Rajasthan had a department of parapsychology which had UGC grants but was closed down when investigations proved that data was cooked up to provide interesting cases. We have some people in nationally famous institutions who have cooked up data and have got their Ph.Ds by quoting cases only indicated as alphabets under the guise of patient confidentiality, thus preventing any investigations of cases of reincarnation quoted by them.
Shambhavi and the Dalai Lama:
We also have celebrities who supposedly are reborn again and again as famous people, like the Dalai Lama and his coterie who are all supposed to be reincarnations of famous religious leaders and are worshipped as the living Buddha by his gullible devotees. More recently there is the case of reincarnation in Andhra Pradesh of a little girl called Shambhavi, whose rebirth claims have been allegedly certified by no less a person that the most famous reincarnation of them all- the Dalai Lama himself! The same Dalai Lama who supposedly is more rational than many other religious leaders. This is of course not saying much, because the irrational behaviour of many of them, such as the Pope, is worse. The Dalai Lama whose supposedly broad-minded and liberal views are legendary is not free from superstitions, as evidenced by his support of rebirth, Tibetan medicine and a variety of such beliefs. In the last mentioned case of Shambhavi in Anhdra Pradesh, we have moved the Human Rights commission of Andhra Pradesh asking for the protection of the minor girl Shambhavi, as we feel that this little girl is being exploited by some unscrupulous adults for their own nefarious ends. The campaign started as an anti-superstition one and has now got a wider perspective by making it an issue of rights of the child and the exploitation of a minor. This campaign started by Babu Gogineni, though initially opposed by many under the impression that it was a case of opposition to religious beliefs of a community, got wide support when people understood the true nature of this issue.
These episodes of rebirth, along with the hoopla surrounding them, and the claims of the whole thing being ‘scientific’, require that discussion be had on many specific issues are connected to them, both ethical and scientific. If we take up the biological questions what passes from one to another during reincarnation pops up. One has to query as to whether it is a molecule, an atom or a cell that travels from one to the other during this process. Or is it something sub atomic, like rays or particles? How is it that only some people reincarnate and not all? If reincarnation is only for humans then what can explain the huge population growth? If it is claimed that the reincarnation is across species then at what stage does the capacity to be so arise? Do bacteria and viruses also reincarnate?
Well, I am sure that the explanation will be that there is none and that it is an unexplained truth. When extraordinary claims are made we need extraordinary proof, but even ordinary proof is not coming forth. Some examples of child prodigies are provided as proof, cases that have no relevance since if a newborn is a reincarnation it should exhibit all traits of its past birth at the time of delivery itself. But, the usual finding is that they do so only like others, maybe a little earlier than many of their age and social group. The only so called evidence that is offered are quotations from religious texts which cannot be accepted as evidences with any credibility. If they are further questioned then the repliy is that it is a matter of faith and hence beyond question!
Here we have to understand who the vested interests behind these cases are. Past life regression therapy is not an accepted form of therapy in any standard text-book of psychiatry. If any qualified psychiatrist registered as one in any state or Indian medical-council promotes/practices it, the registration can be canceled for professional misconduct. So, it is obvious that the ‘Dr’ who ‘treats’ patients on TV cannot be a qualified practitioner of any system of medicine. If one goes to web site of this ‘institution’ offering past life regression therapy all what one sees are the testimonials from patients, which are not considered as evidence at all in science.
But, we have many people claiming that their phobias in the present life have been traced to events in their past life and so on. The claim is also made often that when these events were discovered and counseling done, they got a lot of relief! Well, these are classic cases of two lies canceling each other out! What happened in the past life itself is questionable and hence the suggestions may act as just as any ordinary mental suggestion and may have some effects. One can also use these as a convenient excuse to explain the misdeeds of the present existence. One can always be on the lookout for a scapegoat for ones misdeeds, and some event happening in one’s past life is as good as any. So, this would explain the claims put forward by those who say they have been healed by ‘past life regression therapy’. In the west there are fringe groups which perform this therapy followed by what is called a rebirthing experience resulting in a clean slate for the subject, probably after which new misdeeds can be committed on a newly opened account!
‘Past life’ can be used as an excuse for many other things. For example, one can always justify the caste system under the excuse that the ‘lower’ castes are born so as to atone for the sins of their previous births. Those who enjoy all the best things of life at the cost of others can always have the excuse that this is due to the good deeds performed in their past life. It could also keep the exploited from protesting, under the reassurance that their exploiters will be punished in their next life for what they are doing now! Though it is difficult for us to understand why we should be punished or rewarded for having done something in a past existence that we are not even aware of, one could explain that that awareness could be brought by the right combinations of suggestions. And where do these come from? Naturally from the past life regression therapist or from some holy scripture which is unquestionable! So, here we have the judge, jury and the prosecutor all rolled into one and whatever they say will be be irrefutable.
This write up would not be complete without a few personal experiences. There was a very famous case of reincarnation in a place called Navalgund in Dharwad district. There was a boy who was called D.C Saheba- the reason being that he was supposed to be the reincarnation of a Deputy commissioner from Punjab who had died an untimely death. The boy was supposed to be narrating incidents of his past life with great accuracy. When I reached this place, I made enquiries about him to learn his case history. The villagers told me that they had driven away the whole family from their village. Their reason was that they were bringing a bad reputation to the village by tutoring the child to narrate cooked up stories.
Once, about 15 years back, the the Vice Chancellor of Mangalore University Dr. S. Gopal, was scheduled to deliver a lecture on reincarnation at a conference on the same topic at Mangalore. Three days before this, the ResearchStudents Association of this university had invited me to deliver a lecture demonstration on manifestations of the supernatural. During the question answer session one student asked me about rebirth. I told him that he was addressing the question to the wrong person. I told him to ask the same to the Vice Chancellor of the University who was a physicist. I told him to clarify from him as what would pass from one living organism to the other during the process- whether it was an atom, a molecule, a ray or a particle! The result was that the Vice Chancellor’s lecture was not held three days later because he did not show up at the conference on rebirth!
I had to travel all the way to Athens to convince a very senior citizen aged about eighty that there was no rebirth. He was a member of a cult called Radha Swami Satsang Beas, which had brainwashed him into thinking that one single mistake from him would cause the rebirth of five generations of his ancestors as ants, hundreds of times. His guilt complex was causing so many problems for him that his son invited me to stay in Athens for a week to convince his father that there was nothing such as rebirth. I did not know how far I succeeded in this, but it was an eye opener for the senior citizen who had believed that all Indians had been reborn at least a dozen times and were in full knowledge of their past births. In fact, I was the first Indian whom he had met who was not a member of this cult! Till then all the Indians he had met were members of this cult and carefully screened so that they would say only those things which were the beliefs of this cult.
Rebirth is a good way of explaining the karma theory, suppressing any rebellion against exploitation, and now a good way to explain iones misdeeds! The latest uses are to increase the TRP ratngs of TV channels, sell quack therapies like past life regression and birthing experiences! In our country we have also cases where a rich person gets reborn in a poverty stricken house-hold and the relationship develops between them leading to the improvement of the economic status of the former! We never ever come across a case where it happens the other way round.
For the superstition-ridden gullible people, the TV channels looking for viewership and those selling their quack remedies, the idea of rebirth has been a blessing. As for me it would be good for all who read this to remember that you are reading this due to the misdeeds of your past lives and I am writing this to atone for the sins committed in my past many lives! Going through this article is past life regression therapy, which is going to absolve all of us the trouble caused by its own ill effects!