Past Life Experience Through Children’s Spontaneous Recall

by Dr. Phang Cheng Kar (MD)

Scientific Research
The belief in past lives and reincarnation is part of Buddhist doctrine and is also found in various
religions and cultures in the world. However, the scientific validity of it was only available in the
nineteen sixties through the important pioneering work of the late Dr. Ian Stevenson, a
professor in psychiatry from the University of Virginia, USA. He spent 40 years of research on
children who claim to spontaneously1 remember previous lives and has compiled more than
2500 such cases from various places all over the world. His scholarly work has been published in
peer reviewed medical journals and include, “Reincarnation and Biology: A Contribution to
Etiology of Birthmarks and Birth Defects”, a two volume 2 268 page book about children who
had birthmarks or birth defects2 that corresponded closely to an injury, usually a fatal one, on the
deceased person they remembered.

Children as Suitable Subjects
Stevenson gave the following reasons for predominantly dealing with cases of children who
spontaneously remember their past lives rather than those of adults:
· Owing to their age, children are closer to their previous earth life and therefore find it
easier to remember it.
· Adults may get real past-life memories mixed up or distorted over a period of time
especially due to wishful thinking.
· Children are not so afraid to be ridiculed or seen as stupid for their alleged past life
· Science cannot reject childish statements as being lies or as having been invented since they
are unlikely to have been previously exposed to literature on reincarnation.
Typically, Stevenson’s research would begin with identifying young children (usually between 2 -
4 years of age) who spontaneously utter statements suggestive of past life recall; “You’re not my
mommy/daddy”, “I have another mommy/daddy”, “When I was big, I... (used to have blue
eyes/had a car, etc.)”, “That happened before I was in mommy’s tummy”, “I have a
wife/husband/children”, “I used to... (drive a truck/live in another town, etc.)”, “I died... (in a
car accident/after I fell, etc.)”, “Remember when I... (lived in that other house/was your daddy,
etc.)”. In many of the cases, the children would exhibit the following common patterns:
· Child made specific statements and gave proper names that enabled the current family
members to find the former family.
· Child demanded to be brought back to the previous family members.
· Child recognized the previous family members and the specific statements made were
verified to be true.
· Child remembered his or her death, identified the murderer and the crime was confirmed
by police report.
· Child had birthmarks or birth defects that corresponded closely with wounds during death
in previous life that were verified through medical or autopsy report.
· Child also had understandable residual psychological leanings from past lives e.g. phobia,
unusual play3 and temperamental qualities of deceased person.
· Child ceased to speak about a previous life usually between 5 and 7 years of age.
· There was no previous personal connection between families of the child’s current life and
past life. There was also no gain for the families of the child for having the child talk about
a past life.

· There was no previous personal connection between families of the child’s current life and
past life. There was also no gain for the families of the child for having the child talk about
a past life.

Online and more detailed description of some of the cases is available from Known as the “Galileo of 20th Century” by the
Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, Stevenson has no doubt made a quantum leap in
validating the existence of past life and phenomenon of reincarnation. Research by Stevenson
has now been reproduced and validated by many other scientific investigators. There is now
plenty of literature on children with spontaneous past life recall. However, research on children
with spontaneous life-between-life (LBL) recall is relatively scarce. LBL recall refers to
remembering what happened from the point of death in the previous life to the point of birth as
a human being in the current life. In Stevenson’s collection of more than 2500 cases, only 2761
had been identified to have LBL memories.
Children with LBL recall seem to be relatively more common in Burma, a Buddhist country. In
“Cases of the Reincarnation Type with memories from the Intermission Between Lives”, Dr. Jim
Tucker2 (the successor of Dr. Ian Stevenson) reported 35 Burmese cases of children who
remember events that took place during the intermission between the end of their previous life
and their birth in their current life. These children tended to have more powerful memories than
the usual cases and made more statements that were late verified, about the previous life that
they claimed to remember. Analysis of the reports indicates that the LBL memories can be
broken down into 3 stages: a transition stage, a stable stage in a particular location and a return
stage involving conception or choosing parents.

· There was no previous personal connection between families of the child’s current life and
past life. There was also no gain for the families of the child for having the child talk about
a past life.

Stage 3 (Returning Stage): The final stage is one of choosing parents for the next life or of conception. Eighteen of
35 subjects gave reports characteristic of this stage. Seven reported following the future parents home, apparently on
their own initiative, as the parents passed by while performing everyday tasks, such as bathing or returning home
from work. Five more reported being directed to the present parents, often by elders or the old man figure referred
to in stage 1. Nine commented on how they gained entrance to the mother’s body. This was most often by transforming into a grain of rice or speck of dust in the water and being ingested by the mother. A few went to considerable lengths, having to try repeatedly when either they were rebuffed by guardian spirits, or the water was thrown out as dirty.
Preliminary comparison suggests that this scheme is similar to other non-Burmese cases
internationally1. “Stevenson (1983) reported the case of Bongkuch Promsin from Thailand, who claimed that, after the death of his previous personality, he lived in a tree for seven years (stage 2) and then followed his current father home on a bus (stage 3). Thai monk Chaokhun Rajsuthajarn reported attending the funeral of his previous personality (stage 1) and trying to interact with the guests, only to realize that he was invisible to them (Stevenson, 1983). Purnima Ekanayake of Sri Lanka reported seeing people crying at her funeral (stage 1) and going to the light to come to her new family (stage 3) (Haraldsson, 2000). Sam Taylor (an unpublished American case from
our files) reported that God gave him a card with green arrows to come back from heaven (stage 3). While the specific imagery may be culture-specific, preliminary study suggests that the phases seem to be universally applicable”.

The above description doesn’t highlight what occurs at the moment right after death, the very
beginning of the transitional stage. In “Return From Heaven: Beloved Relatives Reincarnated
within your Family”, Carol Bowman’s experience with western children who had spontaneous
past life recall showed that no matter how difficult the life just ended was, or how prolonged,
sudden or painful the death, souls2 feel a joyous release when they leave the body behind,
floating up and away. Some also described going through a tunnel, heading towards a light. Some
didn’t see a tunnel but most encountered a bright light and floated towards it. They also reported
the presence of all-knowing and kind spirit beings that they described as mother and father
figures, God or Jesus. This was followed by a life review of and lessons from the last birth under
the guidance of the kind spiritual guides. Finally, the souls skillfully planned for their next
reincarnation as human beings.
This is a description of one of her cases. Four-year-old Courtney announced one day how busy
she had been in heaven:
“When you go to heaven, you have little time to rest, kind of like a vacation, but then you have to get to work.
You have to start thinking about what you have to learn on your next life. You have to start picking out your next family, one that will help you learn whatever it is you need to learn next. Heaven isn’t just a place to hang around forever. It’s not just a place to relax and kick back. You have work to do there”.

Reincarnation: Timing and Choice
When does reincarnation3 exactly take place? When does a soul or consciousness enter the
mother’s womb and unite with the fetus? While reviewing the fascinating cases of children with
past life recall, I came across cases wherein the period between the previous death and current
birth was much more than 9 months (the usual gestation period). This is not surprising to me as
Buddhists belief in non-human realms of existence. The being could have been reborn in other
non-human realms and returned as a human being later, thus explaining the more than 9 months
interval. But what amazed me was that in some of the cases, the interval was much less than 9
months. In fact, in “Reincarnation and Biology”, Ian Stevenson listed 21 cases in which a child
was born less than 9 months after the previous personality died.
Carol Bowman1 gave evidence to support the belief that the soul or consciousness can enter the
fetus at any time during pregnancy; rarely in the first 3 months, usually after 6 months and even
at the last minute, just before or during the birth process. Before becoming fully involved with
the fetus, it can trail around with the mother. After becoming fully involved, it can also choose
to leave the fetus due to various reasons e.g. to change sex or birth order, to wait for a more
appropriate body for the soul’s purpose, to wait until the parents’ circumstances improve, to
reunite with previous family members or due to the biological fact of a defective fetus, etc. The
following is an interesting case to illustrate the point. While casually talking about how babies are
made, Sarah, a 4-year-old girl said, “Well, mommies and daddies make the baby and God send
the soul down from heaven2”.
The father asked, “Are you thinking of when you were with God and Jesus and you picked us as
“No, I didn’t pick you as parents first. I picked your parents to be my mom and dad”, answered
the daughter.
He corrected her, “You mean you picked them to be your grandparents.”
“Nooo, Daddy, when they were younger, I was going to be their little boy before you came but I
decided not to and left.”
The father was very surprised3 to hear that. He was even more surprised to find out later that his
mother actually had a pregnancy before he was born that resulted in a stillborn boy.
Stevenson’s research also seems to support that some souls have freedom to choose the
circumstance of the next reincarnation. The choice ranges widely from cases where souls choose
very specific reasons, time and place as in those highly cultivated Tibetan Buddhist masters4 to
those that appear to have happened randomly or were not supported by any apparent reason. In
these cases, after the person dies, the souls never leave the earth plane and remain in the vicinity
of where they died. They hang out at the same location, sometimes for many years and seem to
be aware of the activities of people in the area. A spirit may even try to interact with the locals
until the day it spots a potential mother or father, drawn to them, follows them home and is
reborn as their child. This case would illustrate this kind of ‘disorganized’ reincarnation pattern:
A 2-year-old boy from Thailand named Bongkuch told his parents his name was actually Chanmrat and he had lived in a town nine kilometers from where he was then living. He said that when he was Chamrat, he was robbed and killed. After his death, he sat in a tree near the site of his murder for about seven years. One rainy day, he saw his present father and followed him home on a bus. His father, a school principal, recalled that before his wife became pregnant with Bongkuch, he had attended a meeting in the town where his son claimed to have died. He also remembered that it had rained that day. Chamrat made many more detailed statements that confirmed he was recalling the life of a man who had been robbed and killed in that town.

Pre-Birth Announcement
Stevenson described an interesting phenomenon known as ‘announcing dream’, a kind of prebirth
communication that is verifiable through children’s memory recall. Either before or during
her pregnancy, the expectant mother usually dreams that a deceased person, maybe someone she
knew or a stranger, introduces himself or herself and either begs her to give birth to him/her or
simply tells her that he/she will be her son/daughter. It is possible for the mother’s relatives to
have the dream. The person appearing in the dream may enter the dreamer’s bedroom and climb
into bed in between the husband and wife or the spirit may stand at the foot of the bed, or
appear as a child who sits on the lap of the dreamer.
In one of Ian Stevenson’s cases, a Burmese by the name U Pe Tin dreamt that U Sein Maung came to him asking to be reborn in his family. Only the day before, U Seing Maung had stopped at U Pe Tin’s place to say hello to him and his wife when he passed their village on his bike. In the dream, U Pe Tin answered the man, not knowing that he had died, “You may come to us if that is your wish”. It was only the following morning that he found out about U Sein Maung’s murder. Nine months later, a daughter named Ma Myint Thein was born to U Pe Tin’s wife. The child later was able to remember her past life and became one of Ian Stevenson’s typical cases with birth defect associated with her murder in the previous life.

Could all these children who claim to have spontaneous past life recall be frauds? Despite
copious research by reincarnation scientists, there are still many people who criticize the
scientific validity of past life and reincarnation due to various reasons1. Stevenson himself
actually had considered alternative explanations for the alleged past life recall such as extrasensory
perception (ESP), spiritual possession, genetic memory, self deception, false memory,
exaggeration by family and psychological disorders2, etc. Therefore, he only published strong
cases in which he had ruled out all the alternative explanations. Despite that, he was very humble
not to claim that he has proven reincarnation. He only claimed that the cases are suggestive of
reincarnation, “I think a rational person, if he wants, can believe in reincarnation on the basis of
For the skeptics, I hope this paper has served its purpose to open up your mind to the validity of
more than one life. As for those already with faith in reincarnation, I hope this has strengthened
your conviction in it. I will end here leaving it to you to figure out the implication of such reality.

“For me everything now believed by scientists is open to question and I am always dismayed
to find that many scientists accept current knowledge as fixed forever”

-Professor Dr. Ian Stevenson (MD)-

Article by Dr. Phang Cheng Kar (MD) for Closer-to-Reality Conference (C2RC) 2008 An attempt to connect real life experiences with Buddhist scriptural understanding

I would love to hear your comments or experiences about possible past lives...Thank you!!...Abelia

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