Past Life Study: Cognitive Science of Religion

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Past Life Study: Cognitive Science of Religion

Postby robert.csun.project » Wed Nov 13, 2013 6:47 pm

Greetings,

My name is Robert Kelly and I am a philosophy major and student researcher in the religious studies department at California State University, Northridge (CSUN). The reason I am posting this (I have received permission from the forum administrator) is because I am conducting research about personal identity and reincarnation under the guidance of Dr. Claire White, a religious studies professor at CSUN. In our research, our main interest is past life beliefs. We are interested in who has them, where they are from, what kinds of lives they had, what they believe about the afterlife, how their belief in a past life affects them, and so much more.

As part of the research, we have created a survey in which we are asking the question: "Why do people believe they have had past lives?" We are interested in what kinds of things convince people that they have had past lives: memories, personality traits, physical markings, etc. We hope that our research can contribute to the academic literature on past life beliefs because it is in need of more development. The cognitive science of religion is a new field of study in which psychologists, philosopher, anthropologists, and religious studies scholars come together to try and understand what the role of the mind is in religious phenomena. Our study is in line with this kind of research: we want to know more about how people come to believe they have had past lives, what it is about the things that convince them, in order to better understand the role of the mind in beliefs about past lives, afterlife, etc. Also, we would like to be able to help others have a better understanding of the community of people who have past life beliefs. We are not interested in verifying the truth of claims about past lives, only about understanding past life beliefs: what makes people believe they have had them, how they contribute to a sense of identity, etc.

The results of our survey will be published as a chapter in a volume on the cognitive science of religion. The survey is anonymous and no identifying information is gathered. I am pasting the link to the survey below for anyone who would like to help us by participating in our survey. The survey is free, it is anonymous, and it only takes about 15-20 minutes. Participation will help contribute to the growing literature on past life identity from a cognitive science framework. We would be very grateful for any help you might be able to offer by participating yourself or by passing along our survey to anyone who believes they have had a past life. Participants need only be at least 18 years old and believe they have had a past life. These are the only requirements. . Please feel free to contact me if you have any other questions. Thank you very much for your time and your help. We really greatly appreciate it.

Here is the link to our survey:
https://s.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_6EfS ... dID=qtrial



All the best,

Robert Kelly
Undergraduate Philosophy Major
California State University, Northridge
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Re: Past Life Study: Cognitive Science of Religion

Postby Anagarika » Thu Nov 14, 2013 2:45 pm

Robert:

This is a very interesting project and I hope that you get a good response from it.

You may be aware that part of the Theravada Buddhist (Pali Canon-based school) approach is a belief in the truth of rebirth. The concept of rebirth as expressed by the Buddha in the early texts differs from that of reincarnation. Reincarnation (as is generally understood) is not the same as rebirth, at least as the Buddha explained the rebirth concept and strategy. We have no belief in a "soul." The Buddha was far more a pragmatist for eradicating suffering in this life than a metaphysicist; metaphysics were really not part of his teachings. While the Buddha did not expound on rebirth throughout his teachings as recorded in the Canon ( he did teach of mindfulness of past lives before his awakening as a young man), the concept of rebirth is integral to the overall teachings of anatta (not-self), anicca (impermanence) and dukkha (stress or suffering that arises due to attachment/clinging). In a general and via my own unscholarly understanding, the Buddha taught rebirth as a factor that fits in with his general teachings on dependent origination, or causation. In sum, one's actions (kamma/karma) affect one's outcome in this life, and the quality of the kamma in this life influences the quality of one's rebirth in the realms of the next life. The Buddha rejected the idea that one's past life determined one's caste, or determined absolutely one's fate in this life.

So, in Theravada, there's not a sense that people meditate on past lives as though they can perceive a "self" that existed in the past. There's no sense that one can develop the ability to "see" themselves as, for example, Joan of Arc or Napoleon ( to use an absurd example). Modern scientists that have examined the phenomenon of rebirth have suggested that there are some people, often children, that for a time can be aware of a past life, or remnants of a past life and circumstances of that life. I do not know personally of any lay people or Bhikkhus with whom I have lived or associated who claim awareness of any past life.

Rebirth is a teaching or strategy integral to our Pali Canon based practice (original orthodox teachings of the Buddha), but few I am sure (at least among the mentally well) go about believing in or discussing their own past lives. The focus in Theravada is really on the cultivation of strategies to eradicate suffering in this life, ie the Buddha's Four Noble Truths.

We have these studies, which are compelling: http://youtu.be/Ir9Xs1Q9T5g There are rational, science based Theravada Buddhists who take an interest in these studies. But, as a whole, the idea of past lives occupies very little space on forums like Dhamma Wheel, beyond what the science may teach us, and what we have gleaned from the Buddha's Pali Canon based teachings on rebirth. See one scholarly approach from a well respected Bhikkhu, here: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... birth.html

I do plan on following your most interesting work, and feel free to send me updates at my email buddhasoup AT gmail DOT com. I'm a grad student member of APA, and have a professional interest in the clinical side of issues you're studying. Thank you in advance, Robert.
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Re: Past Life Study: Cognitive Science of Religion

Postby Sanjay PS » Thu Nov 14, 2013 4:33 pm

Hello Robert ,

While i have no personal substantial claim to past lives ,or future lives , what is obvious is that when we feel within us and then around us , it becomes quite plain to see the effects of innumerable actions made by us in innumerable lives . Just like our breath keeps coming keeps going , difficult, or impossible to keep a count , so also are our lives such , keeps coming , keeps going .

Apparent birth and apparent death , are such when we come into this world and when we die , however , the birth and death of moment to moment , that is happening continuously within us is that what really counts and makes all the difference in liberating us from the burdens of an i , me and mine .

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Re: Past Life Study: Cognitive Science of Religion

Postby reflection » Thu Nov 14, 2013 9:32 pm

An interesting and daring study, thank you and good luck in advance.

I missed the option for people to share the initiation of their past life memories. Like spontaneous, through meditation, hypnosis, etc. Are you not interested in this? Or did I misunderstood a question?

:anjali: (= sign of respect),

Reflection
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Re: Past Life Study: Cognitive Science of Religion

Postby Pondera » Fri Nov 15, 2013 6:05 am

Thank you for the opportunity to paticipate in your survey. I just wanted to mention that there's something inherently good about the older translations of certain texts that support the idea of rebirth (especially the method of going through recollecting one).


I've read T.W. Rhys Davids translations as an undergrad at university. Years later, when I had my own past life experience, some words were brought into my mind. Powerful, expressive words. Brief utterances about an intrinsically sacred and deeply religious experience.

i) Some recluse or brahmin by means of ardour, of exertion, of application, of earnestness, of careful thought, reaches up to such rapture of thought that, rapt in heart, he calls to mind his various dwelling-places (or birihs) in times gone by — in one birth, or in two, or three, or four, or five, or ten, or twenty, or thirty, or forty, or fifty, or a hundred, or a thousand, or a hundred thousand, or in several hundred, or several thousand, or several hundred thousand births, to the effect that ' There I had such and such a name, was of such and such a lineage and class, lived on such and such food, experienced such and such pains and pleasures [109], had such and such a span of years. And when I fell from thence I was reborn here ' : — thus does he recollect, both as to the manner thereof and in detail, his various dwelling- places in times gone by

The mention of any "reaching up" or state of being "rapt in heart" is left out in later translations.

Bhikku Bodhi
31. "In the first case, bhikkhus, some recluse or a brahmin, by means of ardor, endeavor, application, diligence, and right reflection, attains to such a degree of mental concentration that with his mind thus concentrated, [purified, clarified, unblemished, devoid of corruptions],[5] he recollects his numerous past lives: that is, (he recollects) one birth, two, three, four, or five births; ten, twenty, thirty, forty, or fifty births; a hundred, a thousand, or a hundred thousand births; many hundreds of births, many thousands of births, many hundreds of thousands of births. (He recalls:) 'Then I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance; such as my food, such my experience of pleasure and pain, such my span of life. Passing away thence, I re-arose there. There too I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance; such was my food, such my experience of pleasure and pain, such my span of life. Passing away thence, I re-arose here.' Thus he recollects his numerous past lives in their modes and their details.

Well. The second translation avoids poetic phrases, but IMO also leaves some very important details out of what little might remain of esoteric expressions regarding this experience.
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Re: Past Life Study: Cognitive Science of Religion

Postby greenjuice » Sat Nov 16, 2013 4:46 pm

Does anyone know of any monks that have disclosed that they have remembered some or all of their past lives? Such instances are mentioned in the suttas multiple times, Buddha even talks about ascetics and contemplatives with no connection to his teaching remembering their past lives.
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Re: Past Life Study: Cognitive Science of Religion

Postby reflection » Sat Nov 16, 2013 5:04 pm

greenjuice wrote:Does anyone know of any monks that have disclosed that they have remembered some or all of their past lives? Such instances are mentioned in the suttas multiple times, Buddha even talks about ascetics and contemplatives with no connection to his teaching remembering their past lives.

There is a discipline (vinaya) rule against disclosing such things, so certainly not many.

:anjali:
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Re: Past Life Study: Cognitive Science of Religion

Postby greenjuice » Sat Nov 16, 2013 5:21 pm

Interesting, I didn't know that. Could you reference it, I'd like to take a look at it.
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Re: Past Life Study: Cognitive Science of Religion

Postby reflection » Sat Nov 16, 2013 5:29 pm

greenjuice wrote:Interesting, I didn't know that. Could you reference it, I'd like to take a look at it.

"To tell an unordained person of one's actual superior human attainments is [an offence of Confession.]"

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... guide.html

I am quite sure past life recollection is a part of this. :anjali:
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