For some time the most re-visited posts on this site have been those about the children investigated by psychiatrist Ian Stevenson because of their memories of past lives.
The one about the little girl Dolon Champa Mitra leads the way. Because of that, I’ve taken another look at her. Contrary to what I usually find, I can’t improve much on what I initially wrote, so I’m repeating some of it word for word, except that this time I have much to add. I hope to show you why she deserves so much attention.
First of all, I should emphasize again that psychiatrist Stevenson refused to study adults who remember past lives. He considered adults too untrustworthy. In the 40 years I spent investigating personal injury claims, I used to prefer psychiatrists to psychologists for examinations of people alleging brain injury or psychological trauma from accidents, because I found them more sceptical than psychologists. That did change – there are many psychologists now who are very tuned in to lying and unconscious deception. But Stevenson was an accomplished analyst of liars from the start. In his first book, Twenty Cases of the Reincarnation Type (Dolon’s case is to be found in the first of two volumes) there is a page in his introduction where he explains some of the psychology of lying and how he used this knowledge in his own investigation.
Anyway, in the course of investigating these children, Stevenson interviewed as many family members as possible, of both the child’s family and the family he or she remembered. Naturally, this included many adults. Among them, he encountered a great deal of deception and obstruction, most of it directed towards discrediting the child.
Dolon Champa Mitra, was born Aug 8, 1967 south of Calcutta. Her father was a ‘superintendent of the Poultry and Dairy Section’ so they were not poor, but her memory of a past life involved a wealthier family living in Burdwan, a city northwest of Calcutta about 100 kms from Dolon’s home.
One of the first things that sets her apart is that she claimed to be a man in her past life. She wasn’t able to name him, but Stevenson says she made 44 statements about his life and almost all were proven correct. They fit only one person, Nishith De, a young man in university who died of a brain tumor after three weeks in hospital. He was, according to hospital records, 25 years-old at that time. Some more:
- She claimed she could find the De house if they took her to the street outside the Maharajah’s place in Burdwan. This was done when she was 4 yrs old, and she failed. But a few months later they tried from a different location, and she found it.
- On the way to the De house the second time, Dolon led the party in a direction away from the most direct route to the house, but past the house of one Himansu Hazra, with whose daughter Nishith was said to have been in love with before he died. Dolon stopped at this house and looked at it for two or three minutes without saying anything.
- In the De house she recognized what she called her bedroom, and when she saw a photo of Nishith De, who she was still not able to name, she said “Here am I”.
- Playing cards one day with Mrs M, a friend of her mother’s, Dolon, “for no apparent reason …..bent her head back to look at the ceiling and held her head in that position. When Mrs M asked Dolon why she was doing that, Dolon replied that when “she” had been in the hospital she had had pain in the back of her head and had held her head back in the same position,” apparently to relieve the pain.
- Another time she said she had fallen out of bed while in the hospital. Hospital records determined that Nishith De was found on the floor one day, clutching at his bed but unable to get up. He became unconscious shortly after.
- Nishith died in the hospital after a 3 week stay. Dolon said that “she “was carried from the hospital by friends and relatives to be cremated. Stevenson determined that a group of cousins carried De from the hospital to a truck that then took him to the cremation site. Only there did some of his friends join the funeral.
There are many interesting aspects of this story. For example, when Dolon met Nishith’s mother in the house, the mother pushed her away, then said to Dolon’s mother, “Let your daughter remain yours.” Mrs De then locked herself in her room, and when her own family members asked her to come out, she demanded that Dolon’s family leave. Dolon was in tears on the way home.
Mrs De later said to someone, “If she be my son Bulti (a nickname for Nishith), why has he not taken rebirth in our family and why has he changed sex?” To this, Stevenson attached this footnote:
This statement betrayed both a degree of intolerance and an ignorance of cases of the reincarnation type in India. Cases in which both subject and previous personality belong to the same family occur rarely in India, although they certainly do occur there sometimes …. Indians rarely claim they can voluntarily control the selection of their next parents or the sex of their next bodies. They believe that such matters are left to the processes subsumed under the heading of karma, which derives from the balance of one’s merits and demerits; and from the case material of India there is almost no evidence to suggest that Indians can in fact influence the choice of parents or sex for the next life.
He has elsewhere insisted that the evidence of ‘past life’ children almost never supports the precepts of the Karma concept. That is one reason why not everyone in India welcomes them. But a little further on, Stevenson adds this:
Perhaps her remark….that her son ought not to have been reborn elsewhere and as a girl, tells enough about [Mrs De’s] motives for rejecting the case. But if another factor influenced her, it could have been the great anxiety many wealthy persons have concerning the willingness of other persons to separate them from their money. …….. The irrationality of such suspicions seems little reduced by the reflection that even if a subject’s family were to make some demand for support, they would have no legal grounds whatsoever. In any case, such claims ……. occur with exceeding rarity. I have heard of a few secondhand reports of this kind but have never met with any in the hundreds of cases that I have investigated.
Dolon never wanted to see her past life mother again, but she longed to meet the father. She frequently asked people if he, Anath Saran De, would one day come. He never did. But “Dolon persisted nevertheless in asserting that she had two fathers and two mothers. Her hopes seemed to triumph over her experience.”
So this is how Stevenson presented us with this little girl whose statements speak of something immeasurably bigger than the world that we like to think we know. He would go on to record hundreds of these cases.
But let’s think about Dolon some more. If you assume, as Stevenson did, that Dolon’s connection with the past life of Nishith De is a fact, though unexplained, then doesn’t the secondary fact that her past self was male rather than female say something important about the self, or soul if you like, if it persists over time? Doesn’t it suggest that sexual gender is not present in the soul? That our true self is neither male or female?
There is so much here that remains unexplained yet cries out to be understood.
From time to time I say that one of the problems of modern science is that contemporary scientists don’t recognize the importance of the scientists of the past, and of the future. They talk and write as if they are in charge of all science. Since Stevenson died in 2007 (age 88, yet he worked to the end) I think they consider him now one of those who can be ignored.
I’m more puzzled at how today’s scientists seem to be unaware that scientists who will be more knowledgeable and better equipped than them are coming in the future. If there’s anything about the future that I can confidently predict, it is that future scientists, whether later in this century, or in the 22nd or 23rd centuries, whether they are human or AI, are coming and they will likely be unimpressed with much of what today’s scientists think. We live as if the future doesn’t count, but one day it will be here and we will be gone.
Also, because they – at least the AI researchers – won’t come laden down with accumulated human prejudices as today’s scientists are, I suspect they will be much more interested in these past life children than the scientists of today. I suspect they, like Stevenson, will want to interview the Dolon Champa Mitras of their time, and I would be willing to bet that they, these superintelligent machines, will one day surprise us with a new understanding of who these children are.