Among my new posts, those on autism draw the most visits to this site. But with older posts, those about Ian Stevenson and his investigation of children who talk of past lives get more traffic than all the rest put together.
Scientist Carl Sagan, now deceased, always a big sceptic of anything paranormal, found these children so compelling that he thought more research was necessary to see if they were authentic.
Psychiatrist Ian Stevenson spent a lifetime investigating these children. He wanted more research too, but not to justify their existence, which he found uncontestable. He wanted research to find out how it is that they exist, and what that tells us. What is this reality that they offer to reveal to us?
Though Stevenson used the term reincarnation, he always emphasized that no one knows what reincarnation is, or how it works. What does it mean when an individual who lived in the past seems to reappear in a new body? Have they been somewhere in the meantime? Were they sitting on some shelf of existence? And how is this done? Does DNA have anything to do with it?
That’s what Stevenson wanted science to investigate more.
With respect to the children in India, where he found the greatest number of his cases, their evidence did not match well with the doctrine of karma. Around the world they don’t fit well with any accepted version of reincarnation.
They are a profound mystery, and I think that’s why my posts about them continue to draw interest. This one, the story of Veer Singh, Stevenson found especially interesting because it penetrates deeper into the mystery than most.
Veer Singh was born in the village of Salikheri in Uttar Pradesh, a state in north/central India next to the Tibetan border, in 1948 to Kali Ram Singh and his wife, Parsendi Devi, farmers of the Jat caste.
Late learning to talk, he otherwise seemed normal. But when he was still less than three years old, he began to refuse food. At first he didn’t say why, but one day when his mother was making bread he said: “I will not eat food prepared by you.”
When she asked him why, he said: “I am not your son. I am the son of a Brahmin.”
The next day the family was at a fair when they gave him some money to spend – he threw it away, saying ‘his mother’ used to give him more. This got them curious, so they began questioning him. He told them that he had once lived in Sikarpur, that his father had been Laxmi Chand, a Brahmin, and that one day he and his aunt were up on the roof chasing a monkey away when he fell off, suffering injuries from which he eventually died.
Investigation found a Laxmi Chand in Sikarpur, father of one Som Dutt, who died at the age of 4, about 10 years before Veer Singh was born.
Like other children Stevenson saw, Veer Singh provided many verifiable details about the life of Som Dutt, but there are two aspects of his story that warrant extra attention.
 Although the Chand family confirmed that Som Dutt fell off the roof when he was up there with his aunt, they said (there are different versions) that she went up on the roof to chase away some monkeys, Som Dutt followed, then the monkeys attacked them. Frightened, the aunt picked up Som Dutt, lost her balance and both fell off the roof. The aunt was injured, but not Som Dutt.
Others said that Som Dutt died from injuries suffered when an angry uncle picked him up and threw him to the ground about 2 weeks after the roof incident. That actually happened too, apparently, but Som Dutt’s mother said he died of dysentery well after both incidents.
Veer Singh visited the Chands often, who became a second family for him. He was close with them, but Stevenson says when he interviewed him at 16 years old, he still insisted that he died from the fall off the roof.
This disagreement about the facts is not uncommon. Investigate accidents, as I did for forty years, and you’ll soon learn how unreliable most witnesses are.
But dysfunction of memory is not the same thing as lying. To me, it lends the various accounts credibility over-all. Unfortunately, it also obscures the reality that we’re trying to get at.
 Veer Singh had memories of events in the Laxmi family that occurred after Som Dutt’s death. In other words, he talked about an ‘after-life’, something Stevenson says is very rare among these children. Veer Singh reported staying around the family house after he died, living in a peepal tree :
- He said that during this time he accompanied members of the family when they went out of the house alone. Bindra Devi, Som Dutt’s mother, told Stevenson that several months after his death Som Dutt appeared to her in a dream and told her that his older brother, Vishnu Dutt, was going out secretly at night to attend fairs, and he, Som Dutt, had been going with him. She made some inquiries, and found out that it was true. Vishnu himself confirmed it.
- He was able to discuss with Bindra Devi some lawsuits the family got involved in after Som Dutt’s death and before he, Veer Singh, was born.
- He talked about a camel the family bought 4-5 years after Som Dutt died, and which itself died after only 2 years, three years before Veer Singh was born (in a footnote Stevenson adds that camels are rare in this part of India because they do poorly in the humid climate. That camel was the only camel in the town at that time).
- He told Laxmi Chand the names of the three children who were born to the family after Som Dutt’s death, and is said to have recognized and identified them when he met them.
- He told Laxmi Chand that a man who lived in the village named Muktar Singh had moved to another village after his house was robbed, something that had happened after Som Dutt’s death.
- He told of some women using a swing suspended from a branch of the peepal tree. Irritated by them, he said he considered breaking the branch, then realized that this might lead to someone’s death, and so instead he broke the plank of the swing when they were closest to the ground. Laxmi Chand claimed that there was an accident like that after the death of Som Dutt.
That’s quite a list. Together, they obviously rule out coincidence. Unless you’re willing to fall back on the sceptics’ last resort – that everyone is lying – we have no means of explaining them other than with some kind of conscious survival of Som Dutt after his death. If we accept that, several questions arise.
- Why do most past life children not report a continued presence after their death? Could it be that the common assumption that everyone ‘crosses over’ is wrong? If only some do, what is the criteria for such survival? What percentage succeed in survival? And does the experience vary? Do all who survive travel the same paths?
- Why do these children always claim to be someone who died prematurely, never someone who was elderly and died normally? Most often it is someone who died as a child, but sometimes there are adults, and then it is often the result of murder (a judge once wrote to Stevenson suggesting that he come to do research in his jurisdiction because it had an abnormally high rate of murder – Stevenson went and found many cases there).
- The children don’t just have memories. It is clear in every case that they have a strong sense that they are the person they remember. What does that tell us?
Most writers assume that this phenomenon we call reincarnation has nothing to do with biology, but Stevenson found evidence of carry-overs in the body – for example, birth marks in places where a bullet entered the body in the previous life (he accumulated a long list of these, which require a post of their own).
Could it be that the answer to those questions will be found in DNA? There is a vast pool of information in our DNA. In his famous book, The Origin of Species, Darwin suggested that some memory is inherited. Later scientists ridiculed that idea, but now evidence of this is beginning to emerge.
If a DNA sample of every person born was saved, or even when they died (this could be done right now), then when future children of this kind appear, it would be a simple matter (given permission by both parties) to compare their DNA.
Had Stevenson had the ability to take DNA samples, he would have done it. He would have welcomed DNA research into past lives, and he would insist that it should be a focus of research now. Maybe this has already begun? I hope so.