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Buddhadharma : Summer 2018
REVIEW | GUY ARMSTRONG 115 Children who rememBer past lives A particularly intriguing section of the book details numerous stories of young children who recounted what they described as memories of previous lives. Such recollections often include precise, verifiable details the children could have no possible way of knowing. Researchers, including Dr. Ian Stevenson at the Univer- sity of Virginia, have collected thousands of accounts and, when possible, investi- gated them to assess their accuracy. A three-year-old boy in Lebanon recalled having been killed in battle in his former life. He accurately reported how much money the person he had been had in his pockets at the time of his death and identi- fied various personal articles when taken to that person’s home. A two-year-old boy in Turkey claimed he had frozen to death after an airplane crash in his previous life. The person’s family believed the man had died instantly in the crash, but when con- sulted, a Turkish Airlines official confirmed the man had indeed died from freezing. A two-year-old girl in Thailand remembered living in a monastery in her previous life. When taken there, she knew her way around, recognized a number of monastics, and even detailed what had changed about the buildings in the time since she had lived there. In many such cases, the location of a birthmark on the child’s body is said to cor- relate with an injury sustained at the time of death in a prior life. Analayo concludes that “fraud as an explanation for all of them can be safely discarded,” adding that “the body of evidence collected ... offers considerable Consciousness, a fundamental aspect of mind, may be somewhat separate from body, but the cognitive process (name) is so closely tied to the body (form) as to be described as just one factor. The Tibetan Wheel of Life painting illustrates this link as two people sharing one boat. In examining the relationship between consciousness and name-and-form, Ana- layo in effect refutes the materialist view, widely held in the West, which asserts that mind is simply a byproduct of the func- tioning of the body that ends completely at death. This belief was also common at the time of the Buddha, who in a list of wrong views in the Brahmajala Sutta called it “annihilationist.” The fact that the Bud- dha felt compelled to address the annihila- tionist view refutes the notion that rebirth was universally accepted in ancient India. Analayo also rejects the assertion that teachings on rebirth were merely acquies- cence to a popular cultural belief of the time, pointing out that it was so central to the Buddha’s message that it was part of the standard formula for right view, the first factor of the eightfold path. The Bud- dha told his disciples that he taught only what he considered essential to awakening: a “handful of leaves” rather than the entire forest he had come to know. If the concept of rebirth were not essential in some way, why would it have been such a prominent part of that handful? Analayo points to its centrality in the Buddha’s description of samsara, the endless cycle of birth and death, with all its attendant suffering. This has provided a compelling motivation for generations of practitioners to dedicate themselves to the goal of full awakening.