Who Were You Before You Were You?

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Who were you before you were you? It's one of the four or five most asked questions in human history. For most people, they have no recollection of ever being anywhere, but here. Yet, small children and enlightened beings the world over say remembering your past lives is possible.

Reincarnation is commonly discussed in American popular culture, but usually in a dismissive way because of wild claims by people that they were Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, or some other famous person. Those claims are hard to verify, but two things are certain. If reincarnation is a real phenomenon, then you really shouldn't hate anybody because you've likely been everybody. Secondly, our purpose for being here is something different than if life really is some form of "one and done."

Reincarnation is most simply defined as the belief that after this life your consciousness, soul, or essence takes some other form. Two of the world's top four religions, by the numbers, Hinduism and Buddhism hold a concept of reincarnation as a core principle.

An interesting 2016 poll discovered that understanding how many people believe in reincarnation is challenging. The poll asked 18,000 people in 23 countries and found that Hungary had the highest percentage of people who said they believe in reincarnation at only 13 percent. This is odd since many countries that have religions with reincarnation cores - notably India - were part of the survey.

A Spanish poll found that 27 percent of young people believe in reincarnation. A 2009 Pew Research poll found that 25 percent of Americans, including 24 percent of Christians, believe in reincarnation. 

Finally, you could take the world religions that believe in reincarnation - Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, Taoism, and Shintoism, - and arrive at 1.4 billion people which equals just under 20 percent of the global population.

How many people believe probably is not as important as people who have verifiable evidence that they were once someone else. Hard as people might try, it's hard to deny stories like the following.

Probably the world's most famous living reincarnated person is Tenzin Gyatso; better known to the world as the 14th Dalai Lama. Dalai Lama is a title given to the individual who Tibetans believe is the reincarnated successor to the previous Dalai Lamas. This video describes how the Dalai Lama is selected.

In ancient Greece, the River Lethe was one of the five rivers said to flow through Hades. Drinking of its waters led to forgetfulness to the point of oblivion. The poet Virgil, in his master work Aeneid wrote:

"Now did Aeneas descry deep in a valley retiring, a wood, a secluded copse whose branches soughed in the wind, and the Lethe River drifting past the tranquil places. Hereabouts were flitting a multitude [of phantoms] without number . . . Aeneas moved by the sudden sight, asked in his ignorance what it might mean, what was that river over there and all that crowd of people swarming along its banks. Then [the ghost of] his father, Anchises said:--‘They are the souls who are destined for Reincarnation; and now at Lethe's stream they are drinking the waters that quench man's troubles, the deep draught of oblivion . . . They come in crowds to the river Lethe, so that you see, with memory washed out they may revisit the earth above.’"

Some Greek mystery schools taught of another river, The River Mnemosyne. Those select few who drank from this river would attain full remembrance and even omniscience.

It should be noted that the three major religions that promote reincarnation see it as cycle of birth and rebirth to be transcended and not as an aspiration journey of perpetual development. That vision of reincarnation has been proposed by what has been termed the New Age movement. The series of lives become a kind of progressive school with the learning of life lessons and the advancement of the soul to higher and higher states of awareness as the goal.

So who were you in a previous life? Well, some believe regressive hypnosis can provide insight into past lives. Buddha taught that knowledge of past lives a boon bestowed by the total enlightenment of a Buddha. Maybe you were Cleopatra or some other famous person. More than likely, you've been a wide variety of individuals of all races, religions, genders, and social positions. You've like been oppressor and oppressed. 

I have always felt that, whatever the ultimate purpose or meaning behind reincarnation, it is a concept that helps us see that we are part of a whole and a continuum that transcends this one temporary bubble form that has appeared on the ocean of life.

Ray Davis
for 6 Sense Media