In Search of the Dead I: Powers of the Mind
This is the third in a 1992 BBC Wales documentary series, this time about children who remember their past lives. It is set in various countries and amongst various cultures: Tibetan Buddhists in India, American Indians in Canada, Hindus in India and Theravada Buddhists in Sri Lanka.
There are interviews with specialists who have been researching the evidence for reincarnation, including Dr. Ian Stevenson, Dr Antonia Mills, Dr Satwant Pasricha and Dr. Erlendur Haraldsson, and the film also includes footage of my teacher Godwin Samararatne accompanying the latter in Sri Lanka.
There are various ways claims to remember past lives can be verified and the researchers are always very careful about the possibility of contamination, which might show some way that the children could have known about the person they claim to have been.
The film investigates not only verifiable memories that the children have, but also other phenomena, like marks found at birth that indicate the way the previous person died, etc.
The ability to recall previous lives is the 4th of the abhiññā, and the text for it says this:
So anekavihitaṁ pubbenivāsaṁ anussarati, seyyathīdaṁ:
He recollects various previous existences, such as:
ekam-pi jātiṁ, dve pi jātiyo, tisso pi jātiyo, catasso pi jātiyo, pañca pi jātiyo,
one life, two lives, three lives, four lives, five lives,
amutrāsiṁ evaṁnāmo, evaṁgotto, evaṁvaṇṇo, evam-āhāro,
in such and such a place I had this name, this family, this class, this food,
this experience of pleasure and pain, this life term;
so tato cuto amutra udapādi…
passing away from there I arose in another state of existence…
We should remember that although these phenonema are interesting and verify certain aspects of the teaching, they are not in themselves considered anything more than worldly. The 6th knowledge, Knowledge of the Destruction of the Pollutants (āsavakkhayanāṇa), is the real abhiññā a Buddhist should aspire to.
In the texts the description of it is also the shortest:
Āsavānaṁ khayā anāsavaṁ cetovimuttiṁ paññāvimuttiṁ,
Through the destruction of the pollutants, without pollutants, freed in mind, freed through wisdom,
diṭṭhe va dhamme sayaṁ abhiññā sacchikatvā upasampajja viharati.
he dwells having known, having directly experienced, and having attained (Nibbāna) himself in this very life.
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