Noted reincarnation researcher, Dr Ian Stevenson(1918-2007), identified several cases of children whose birthmarks or birth defects seemed to coincide with the death wounds of the person they claimed to be in their previous incarnation. We shall discuss some cases here along with a possible explanation for the birthmarks in light of the insights of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.
(Word of caution: Please do not conclude based on this article that ALL birthmarks are the consequence of some past incarnation! That is not what this article says. )
Birthmarks traced to the past incarnation
Out of the numerous cases of reincarnation that Stevenson investigated, there were 49 in which a postmortem report from the previous birth was available through government officials, and in 43 of these cases, he and his colleagues were able to establish a definite correspondence between the death wounds and the birthmarks. A correspondence was judged satisfactory if the birthmark and the wound were both within an area of 10 square centimeters at the same anatomical location. For illustrative purposes, a few cases are now mentioned.
1. An Indian child who recalled the life of a man being killed by a shotgun at close range was found to have a birthmark (hypopigmentation or loss of skin color) around the area of the heart.
2. A Thai man recalled memories of his previous incarnation in which he had been his own uncle who had been struck on the head with a heavy knife and killed almost instantly. On the back of his head, was a major abnormality of skin known as verrucous epidermal nevus. He also had a deformed toe-nail of the right great toe. This corresponded to a chronic infection of the same toe which his uncle suffered from before his death.
3. Another Thai boy had a small round mark on the back of his head, and a larger irregularly shaped birthmark on the front of his head. The boy remembered the life of a man who had been shot in the head from behind. Based on post-mortem report of the victim, the small mark corresponded with the entry point of the bullet and the large mark with the bullet’s exit point.
4. A Thai woman had three separate linear hypopigmented (loss of skin color) scars near the midline of her back. As a child, she had remembered the life of a woman who was killed when struck three times in the back with an ax. In this case, no record was available but was the manner of death was verified through informants.
5. A Burmese woman born with two perfectly round birthmarks of different sizes in her left chest. She recalled the previous life of a woman who was accidentally shot and killed with a shotgun. A responsible informant said the shotgun cartridge had contained shot of different sizes.
5. Another Burmese child remembered the life of a deceased aunt who had died during surgery. This child had a long, vertical linear hypopigmented birthmark close to the midline of her lower chest and upper abdomen, which resembled the surgical incision caused during heart repair.
6. A child in Turkey had a horizontal linear birthmark across the right upper quadrant of his abdomen, resembling a surgical incision. He remembered the life of a paternal grandfather who had become jaundiced and was operated upon before death.
7. A Turkish boy had a diminished and malformed ear, and an underdeveloped right face(picture below). He had remembered the life of a man who had been shot with a shotgun at point-blank range. The wounded man had died in hospital 6 days later. Dr Stevenson obtained a copy of the hospital record and was able to correlate the injury to the birthmark.
8. An Indian child with missing fingers on the right hand (picture below) remembered the life of a child who had lost his fingers after putting his hand into the blades of a fodder-chopping machine. His fingers in this birth were mere stubs(unilateral brachydactyly).
9. A Burmese girl missing the lower right leg (lower hemimelia) from birth remembered the life of a girl who had been run over by a train. Eyewitnesses said the train severed the girl’s right leg first, before running over the trunk. The girl’s birth defect, lower hemimelia, is an extremely rare condition (picture below).
Explanation of past-life memories and birthmarks
The cases of reincarnation that Stevenson and his colleagues investigated seem to possess certain salient characteristics:
- The soul seems to be reborn quickly, in a period ranging from a few months to a few years, after experiencing a premature death due to a murder, a suicide or an accident.
- The children are able to recollect only the immediate past life and not the ones before.
- The recollections of the past life spontaneously begin between the ages of 3-7, after which the memory gradually fades away.
Since I have not read all of Stevenson’s works, I am unaware of the latest and greatest theory that he may have put forth to demystify these cases. In what follows, I will base my explanation on the insights into reincarnation given by the Sri Aurobindo and Mother Mirra Alfassa.
There is a recorded dialogue where the Mother was asked to elucidate on cases of reincarnation similar to those investigated by Stevenson:
Question: In the Bulletin, you have said: “Psychic memories possess a very special character, they have a wonderful intensity…They are unforgettable moments of life when the consciousness is intense, luminous, strong, active, powerful, and sometimes turning-points in life that have changed the direction of one’s life. But you will never be able to say what dress you put on or the gentleman with whom you spoke or about your neighbours and the kind of field where you were.”¹ And about these memories of small details, you said: “That is absolute childishness.”
But then how is it that in newspapers one quite often reads stories of small children who remember their past lives and that the details have been verified? And it is the study of such events that leads parapsychologists to assert the existence of reincarnation. So are they not on a completely wrong track? And how can reincarnation be demonstrated scientifically in any other way?
Mother Mirra Alfassa: The memories you refer to, which are mentioned in newspapers, are memories of the vital being that, exceptionally, has gone out of one body in order to enter another. It is something that can happen, but it is not frequent. The memory that I refer to is that of the psychic being, and one is conscious of it only when one is in conscious relation with one’s psychic being. There is no contradiction between the two things.
In her answer, the Mother makes a distinction between vital memories and psychic memories and elucidates that the cases where small children recall minute details of their immediate past life are due to vital memories. Some background into the myriad ways in which reincarnation occurs needs to be developed in order to understand her answer.
The human constitution is comprised of five concentric sheaths – physical(annamaya), vital(pranamaya), mental(manomaya), and the higher two sheaths called knowledge (vijnanamaya) and bliss(anandamaya) – all of which are held together by the psychic being.
After a person is dies, the psychic being dissolves the bonds between sheaths and the various sheaths fall apart. Just as the physical body needs a few days to decompose, similarly the vital and mental sheaths also require time to purge the desire and thought formations that were gathered during the lifetime. This usually takes a period of 3-5 years(relative to earth-time), after which the psychic being can retire to the psychic world for recuperation. This period of rest can span from tens to hundreds of years. Refreshed and invigorated after this vacation, the psychic being then begins its evolutionary journey by assembling a new set of sheaths and taking birth again into a brand-new family in some other part of the world. As we become highly evolved, we develop greater control over this whole cycle. In other words, people who did not develop spiritually in life tend to be reborn quickly with minimal rest between incarnations.
In case of those who die prematurely due to murder, accident or suicide, this cycle is disrupted. Such people tend to have unfulfilled desires towards their families, friends and even enemies which keep them tied them to the earth’s atmosphere. They may have exited their physical body but they still retain their vital and mental sheaths. They remain on the look-out for a suitable opportunity to take birth again, and when they enter a newly conceived body, they bring along the old vital and mental sheaths into the new birth. As a result, when they are reborn, they continue to carry vivid memories of their immediate past life. These are the memories that we see being spontaneously displayed by many of the children the Dr Stevenson interviewed.
This brings us to the next question : how to explain those birthmarks? That can be explained by virtue of the old vital sheath which these children brought into the new incarnation. This vital sheath retains the impressions of the immediate past life, and during early childhood development, it impresses these formations onto the maturing physical body, hence producing the birthmarks which coincide with the past incarnation.
Moreover, such a conclusion is consistent with other phenomena where the effect of the vital sheath on the physical sheath has been observed. In the article Memory transference experienced by organ donor patients, we observed that heart transplant recipients seem to miraculously take on the memories of their donors. In the article Physical marks seen after injuries sustained in dreams, we saw that injuries received by the vital sheath during dreams can get propagated to the physical body.
Dr Stevenson’s paper “Birthmarks and Birth Defects Corresponding to Wounds on Deceased Persons” is available online at any of these three links.
You may also like to read this page summarizing Stevenson’s book: Where_Reincarnation_and_Biology_Intersect
- Ian Stevenson. Birthmarks and Birth Defects Corresponding to Wounds on Deceased Persons, Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 7, No. 4, pp. 403-410, 1993.
- Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 15, p 137.
- Sri Aurobindo. Letters on Yoga, SABCL vol. 22, page 458.
- Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 3, page 145.
- Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 7, pp 86-87.
- Sri Aurobindo. Life Divine, CWSA vol. 21-22, p 827.
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