Reincarnation, Rebirth And Past-Life Regression Therapy In India: A Rationalist Critique

Written by January 14, 2010 12:50 pm 44 comments


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 istruptidr 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.

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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.

Personal Anecdotes:

This write up would not be completreincarnation2e 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!

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Prof. Narendra Nayak is the president of the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations

This post was written by:

- who has written 109 posts on Nirmukta.


  • you may or may not believe in past life regression but i can definitely assure you that it is widely believed in western psychology. If you have every heard of the movie Sybil you’d understand. this movie was based on real incidents of a young women’s life who had multiple personality disorder. Although the psychologist did not do the past life regression but she did do present life regression on her, because her she buried the past behind her and the psychologist knew that her patient needed to explore her past in order to heal so they went into her childhood through regression and found out her mother mentally abused her. Regression is not only for past lives but also for this particular life too. Psychologist in the US use it most of the time especially in really bad cases. though there are some skeptics but aren’t there always. You know what i don’t understand Indians trying to be western. Honestly even the west is starting to believe in stuff that our Vedas wrote about then why cant we? Vedas were never proven wrong before and do i need to inform you India was the first civilization that had the most advanced medical, clinical and psychological knowledge something the whole world agrees on.

    • I completly agree with u yomama.The knowledge in Vedas is incomparable.Even western scientists are exploring the vedas but are less succeded as there is a proper way need to be followed to read and understand vedas.You can see a lot videos are there in you tube regarding this.Instead of writing such a baseless article one should first experiment and then made his view.
      I have got personal experiences in this and even in Naadi astrology.My experiences are so facinating.I feel myself lucky to be born in india where i can get to know about this much.

    • Of course you can’t prove the Vedas wrong. There is no meaning to it at all. The same way, I can’t prove Great Expectations wrong. And I can only gather that the West is fascinated by past regression but not necessarily that a majority believe in it. And even if they did, it is only an argumentum ad populum. Many people believe in it, so it must be true. Any case, all evidence we can gather will be second hand making it impossible for us to determine the truth. The claimant’s word against ours.

  • When i started reading this, i thought there would be a solid “proof” for the credulity of reincarnation. But this write up doesnt even deal with some of the basic requirements like talking about people who have claimed to remember their past lives. We do hear many people, and most of them children, who remember their past lives and go to the exact location where the lived in their past lives and recognize the people of the place. But is there ANYTHING in this article that proves these claims are false? No.

  • dear narendra,

    as someone who is familiar with tibetan medicine, i was a little disappointed when you criticised the dalai lama for supporting the same. granted, it contains some bizarre tenets and is, of course, not informed by modern chemistry. i still think it has some utility though. after all, it is not like homeopathy, which has no utility at all! i believe the dalai lama even said that those aspects of tibetan medicine which are inconsistent with science must be thrown out.

  • If there is Birth then there is Rebirth. One can see their own rebirth by meditation.

    Why do some remember their rebirth while others dont?. How many adults can remember all their events in their childhood?. Most people can remember 10-15 events of their childhood?…..why?…because these events had a great impact in their subconscious that it was stuck there as a memory.

    People who were killed, or died violent deaths generally manage to remember those incidents.

    If you live a ordinary life indulging in sensual pleasures like Food, movies,music,girls, sex, clothes, wealth, money….more than likely you wont have the necessary concentration powers needed to remember past lives….further if you lived like an ordinary man in your earlier lives without developing any spiritual faculties more than likely you will not remember anything about those previous lives because they were simply that – ordinary.

    • Captain Mandrake

      **If there is Birth then there is Rebirth. **

      Really? Consider this thought experiment. What if there is a nuclear holocaust and humanity is wiped off. How would all those people who died in it be reborn given that there will be no one left to procreate?

      • ***what if there is a ….****

        If – If’s an But’s were pots and cans, dinner cannot be made.

        Materialism or belief that on break up of body there is no other life is illogical and even psychotic.

        • Captain Mandrake

          **If – If’s an But’s were pots and cans, dinner cannot be made.**

          What an useless comment! Are you sure you are a freethinker?

          **Materialism or belief that on break up of body there is no other life is illogical and even psychotic.**

          Claims have to be backed up by verifiable evidence. That much is expected in a freethinking community. Do you have any verifiable evidence to back up your claim that there is life after the body disintegrates?

          Till you present such evidence you will probably fit in better with the astrology and tarot card reading community. Freethought community is not for you.

          • Meditate and get your evidence. Before you try out that dont speak.

          • Captain Mandrake

            **Meditate and get your evidence.**

            Now who is being psychotic…. If you do not know what psychosis is here is what google returns ( ).

            **Psychosis is a loss of contact with reality that usually includes: False beliefs about what is taking place or who one is (delusions) ; Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there (hallucinations).**

          • Yeah right, the Buddha was a psychotic. The Hundreds of thousands of Monks who remembered their previous lives are psychotic.. The evidence based research by various psychologists like stevenson who reported children remembering past lives are all psychotic.

            I vividly remember being raped in my previous life. I have not been harmed in my this life. As a child I used to wake up crying shouting for help. Diagnosis by various pyschologists reported no issue with me. One reputed and qualified psychologist advised me to take past life regression therapy to goto the root of the problem but I chose not to remember that life.

            Anyway the point is you can label me a psychotic but there are thousands of people who remember traumatic experiences of their previous lives like sudden death or rape just like me.

            About Karma I can prove you right now.

            This was 2009, I was unemployed for 6 months. One day my friend called me to tell that he had an interview next week and needed help.. I immediately went to his home and helped him prepare for the interview. I sat 4 days in his house to train him and even picked and dropped him on the day of the interview. He got the job and thanked me with tears.

            Just 3 days later I got a call from one of the best companies and they wanted to meet me the very next day. The next day at the Interview the manager told me that he had nothing to ask and that I already had the job because they needed a person soon enough.

            Now you may say that all this was a chance occurence. Rationalists may say that this was all coincidence and nothing is connected.

            I tell you what – Science is very arrogant. Science still does not have answers to many things people face in lives.

          • Captain Mandrake

            **I tell you what – Science is very arrogant. Science still does not have answers to many things people face in lives.**

            As I said freethought community is not for you. You belong in the company of Miss Cleo and Silvia Browne.

  • Anirudh Kumar Satsangi

    In my previous birth I was recognized as a Guru/Saint. In my present birth I am not a recognized Guru/Saint. It makes no difference as is evident from: ” I was also a Spiritual Leader in my previous birth. I was the Fourth Spiritual Leader of Radhasoami Faith from 1907-1913. My name was Kamta Prasad Sinha. In this birth too I am working like an Spiritual Leader. I have discovered mathematical formula for Spiritual Quotient and for Emotional Quotient. I have given a definition of mind for scientific study. I have developed Gravitational Force Theory of God. I have also established an analogy between practice of meditation and psychotherapeutic techniques. All these are necessary for the establishment of Universal Religion for which I am actively working.”

    • Captain Mandrake

      Anirudh Kumar Satsangi,

      **In my previous birth I was recognized as a Guru/Saint. **

      You must be the Eben Alexander of India. Congratulations!

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