When you see a dead body, you realize the form is still there, but the essence of that being is not there. There is only a shell. The life within that form is gone. ~Eckhart Tolle
If you’re like me, you read the passage above and want to ask Eckhart Tolle: So where does “the form” go when we die? With a little digging, I found that Tolle, one of the brightest spiritual minds of our time, has an answer to that question: We are transformed and we either join the source or we return to experience other forms of awakening.
Tolle’s ideas mirror the Hindu belief in reincarnation, the notion that life consists of a continuous cycle of birth, death and rebirth. The goal in this (and every) life is to achieve a favorable rebirth by doing what is right, thereby achieving good karma. The ultimate goal: to move beyond the cycle of death and rebirth and to attain a transcendent state known as moksa.
Photographer and fellow blogger C. Jennings Pender has arrived at a similar conclusion as Tolle. He believes that “death is not the end” and is simply “a transitional state, the equivalent of taking off a coat and putting on a new one on.” In his book Taking Off a Coat, Ruminations on the Infinite Soul, Pender writes:
As a tree loses its leaves, the soul loses its shell. The tree will sprout back to life in spring, will sprout new leaves. In turn, the soul will find a new shell to incarnate into when the time is right, when the soul has rested and learned from its past incarnation.
But if reincarnation is real, where’s the proof?
There’s an amazing amount of evidence that reincarnation is real in Jim B. Tucker’s book Life Before Life, Children’s Memories of Previous Lives. The author is a child psychiatrist and distinguished professor at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, and for decades has been part of a team studying the phenomena of children who report memories of previous lives. They now have more than 2,5oo cases on file.
Tucker points out that the idea of reincarnation been accepted by many throughout history and into the present day, including the ancient Greeks, the Hindus and Buddhists in Asia, West Africans, many Native American groups and even some early Christians. In fact, there may be more people in the world that believe in reincarnation than those who do not.
In the cases Tucker has studied, children as young as 2, 3 and 4-years old have either claimed they were deceased family members (“I’m your grandmother”) or describe lives far removed from their present life (“You’re not my family, my family lives in a village across the river”), remembering people they knew and events they had experienced in previous lives.
In case after case, children begin talking to their parents about their past lives, often demanding to be taken to their “real family” or the homes and neighborhoods where they once lived. After researching the child’s claims, the family often discovers they fit the life of a person who has died in the recent past. The children sometimes even have the same birthmarks as the deceased.
Tucker reports that the children tend to talk about people and events from their past lives until they are 6 or 7-years old and will often then go on to lead normal lives after that, not mentioning them again. Almost all discuss just one previous life, the one that occurred previous to their current life, and have vivid recollections of their deaths. (In one story a child claims he “was hit by a truck and killed,” a story that wound up matching the death of the deceased person he claimed to be.)
When it comes to evaluating these child past-life cases, Tucker and his team have a rigorous process by which they attempt to eliminate fraud, fantasy or knowledge acquired through ordinary means as a basis for the child’s claims. The alternative often points to the idea that once a person dies, their consciousness does not cease to exist. Instead, it survives death and is reborn into another life.
What happens at the moment of death? While some children report hanging around earth, recalling specific (and confirmed) details about their funeral, others talk of “floating in the semi-darkness” and “moving to a light.” One 6-year old boy, who remembered a previous life as his mother’s father said: “When you die, you don’t go right to heaven. You go to different levels—here, then here, then here.” The boy moved his hand up each time.
What you see in this waiting room between death and rebirth seems predetermined by your religion and culture. In the US, you may recall seeing Jesus or God, while in Sri Lanka, you may meet a friendly king in their palace, or in India, a holy man with a long beard. While most of these cases come from countries where the idea of reincarnation is taught at an early age, there are many examples of apparent reincarnation that come from the United States.
Here are two cases with a trait found in several reincarnation stories told by Tucker, where children are reborn into the same extended families.
While being given a bath, a 4-year old girl in Ohio named Abby tells her mother, “I used to give you baths when you were my age.” When pressed about what she meant, Abby informs her mom “I was your grandma, Ruthie.” The mother did in fact have a great-grandmother named Ruth who had been dead for many years, and had never been mentioned to the child. Abby’s mom had no recollection of being bathed by her grand-grandmother, but later established this, and other statements told by the child about Ruth, including a description of her house, were all true.
John McConnell, a retired NYC policeman, was shot dead while working as a security guard. A few years later, his daughter later gave birth to a son named William. One day, when a 3-year old William began acting up, his mother threatened to spank him. He replied, “Mom, when you were a little girl and I was your daddy, I never spanked you.” Surprised, the boy’s mom begins asking him questions, including the names of her childhood cats. He identifies them all, including a cat named Boston. When asked Boston’s nickname, he correctly replies “Boss.” The cats had never been previously discussed with William.
Jim B. Tucker has since written a book that focuses solely on child reincarnation tales from the United States titled Return to Life: Extraordinary Cases of Children Who Remember Past Lives. If you need further proof that death may be no more than “taking off a coat,” it’s a great place to start.
An additional note: If you prefer not to read one of his books, see the NBC news story on one on Tucker’s cases here.