The astonishing story of James Leninger
Growing up, I considered the idea of reincarnation as stupid and absurd, despite having lived my whole life in India — a land where more people believe in its existence than anywhere else in the world.
My views may have been influenced by my Catholic upbringing, wherein reincarnation is rejected outright. But I believe that wasn’t the only factor that shaped my views as we live in a world where the majority unquestionably accept the notion that “you only live once”.
My strong views against reincarnation persisted until I read the famous spiritual classic Autobiography of a Yogi (1946) by Paramahansa Yogananda. A book that has had a life-changing impact on several famous figures ranging from Steve Jobs, Elvis Presley, George Harrison (lead guitarist of The Beatles) to sportsmen like Virat Kohli.
Reading the book was a mind-expanding experience, it described several mindboggling incidents that made me think deeply and question the nature of reality. And for the very first time in my life, my views on reincarnation slowly shifted from absurd to “maybe it could be possible”.
That was over six years ago. Since then, I’ve come across some very compelling and stunning research on reincarnation that I’d like to share with you in this blog post.
Reincarnation research of Dr. Ian Stevenson and Dr. Jim Tucker
Dr. Ian Stevenson (1918 –2007) was a former psychiatrist at The University of Virginia, who devoted 40 years researching reincarnation claims among children.
From 1960, Stevenson travelled the world investigating and documenting thousands of cases of reincarnation, publishing around 300 papers and 14 books on the subject, including his groundbreaking work Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation and Reincarnation and Biology.
Reincarnation and Biology contained 225 case reports of children who remembered previous lives, who also had physical peculiarities that matched those previous lives (in some cases this could be confirmed by the deceased’s post mortem report and photos).
Some, who claimed to have died violently, had birthmarks or physical defects where the deceased had suffered a mortal injury, while others suffered from phobias relating to their past death.
In most cases, he found that there is only a brief window of time—between the ages of about two and five—when past life memories start to surface, and they start fading away by age six.
In total, Stevenson investigated over 3,000 cases of children who claimed to have memories and know people from their past lives. He was able to verify the facts and claims in more than 1,500 of these cases.
Physicist Doris Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf, winner of the prestigious Heyn Medal from the German Society for Material Sciences, (for her groundbreaking theories on surface physics) surmised Stevenson’s work had established that,
“The statistical probability that reincarnation does in fact occur is so overwhelming that cumulatively the evidence is not inferior to that for most if not all branches of science.”
Before his death in 2007, Dr. Stevenson handed over much of his work to Dr. Jim Tucker at The University of Virginia’s Division of Perceptual Studies. Dr. Tucker has written two books summarizing his research, Life Before Life and Return to Life. In the latter, he details the extraordinary story of a young boy named James Leningier.
The case of James Leininger
James Leininger, born in 1998, to an American Christian couple in Louisiana, began having intense nightmares five times a week when he was just two years old, of a plane crash.
During his nightmares, he would repeat the phrase “Airplane crash on fire! Little man can’t get out!" while thrashing and kicking his legs.
When he was 28 months old, in response to questions, he told his parents that “little man” he referred to in his nightmares was him and that his plane had been shot down by the Japanese.
About two weeks later, he added more details: his name (in his past life) had been James; he’d flown a Corsair (a fighter aircraft); and his plane took off from a boat, whose name he gave as ‘Natoma’.
He said that he had a friend, a fellow pilot named Jack Larsen, and that the plane had been shot down near Iwo Jima (Japan).
He also began obsessively drawing naval-aerial battles between Americans and Japanese, in which planes were burning and crashing, bullets and bombs exploding all around.
His father, Bruce Leininger, was uncomfortable with the idea of reincarnation, as it conflicted with his strong Christian beliefs and began to research his son’s statements in the hope of ruling it out.
To his shock, he discovered that the USS Natoma Bay was an aircraft carrier that served in the Pacific in World War II and was part of an Iwo Jima operation. There was also a pilot named Jack Larsen that had been based on the ship.
Bruce later learned that the Natoma Bay crew held reunions, and to find out more information he decided to attend one of these gatherings under the guise of writing a book.
Amazingly in talking to one of the veterans, he found out that there was one pilot who was shot down in the way James described it near Iwo Jima. His name was James Huston, Jr. whose plane was shot down by Japanese. He died in 1945 at the age of 21.
Given below is an image of James Leninger and the World War II Pilot James Huston Jr. The resemblence between them is uncanny.
The Leninger’s found that James Huston had a sister, Anne Barron, who was still alive and living in California.
They contacted her and she validated specific details young James Leningier recalled of James Huston’s family life – details only Anne Barron knew. Some of the examples included:
James told Anne that he called her Annie. She confirmed that only James Huston called her Annie.
James told Anne that they had a sister named Ruth, which was correct
James said Ruth was four years older than Anne and that Anne was four years older than James, which was correct.
James reported that their father was an alcoholic and smashed things when drunk, and that he had to go into rehab for alcoholism. Anne confirmed this.
James said that Ruth, who was a society columnist for a local paper, was “mortified” when their mother took a job as a maid for a wealthy family that Ruth was writing about. Anne validated this account.
After speaking with James, she became convinced that he was the reincarnation of her brother James Huston Jr. Given below is a picture of them together.
Of the case Dr. Jim Tucker commented,
James Huston, was so obscure - he was a pilot who was killed 50 years before; and he was from Pennsylvania, and James Leningier was in Louisiana - it seems absolutely impossible that he could have somehow gained this information as a 2-year-old through some sort of normal means.
In fact, it took his dad a couple of years - well, really more than a couple of years; three or four years - to be able to track it all down and see that in fact, that what James was saying all did fit for this pilot who was killed.
Past Life Regression Therapy
In 1980, Dr. Brian Weiss, head of the psychiatry department at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, began treating Catherine, a 27-year-old woman plagued by severe psychological phobias since childhood.
After 18 months of conventional therapy, Catherine’s condition did not improve, but it seemed to have gotten worse. He was at a loss to explain Catherine’s resistance to conventional treatment.
Weiss then decided to try hypnosis, a method he had successfully used to treat hundreds of patients, to reduce anxiety, eliminate phobias, change bad habits, and aid in the recall of repressed material.
Dr. Weiss instructed Catherine under hypnosis to “go back to the time from which your symptoms arise.”
As a traditional psychotherapist, he was astonished and sceptical when she began recalling past-life traumas that seemed to hold the key to her recurring nightmares and anxiety attacks.
What followed was a very detailed description of Catherine’s past life. There was a big flood that devastated her village. That was how she died—by drowning, with her baby in her arms. (Catherine had an intense fear of drowning)
In subsequent sessions, Catherine spoke in clear and vivid terms of a dozen lifetimes she had experienced, crossing classes, genders, centuries and civilizations.
Remarkably in the following months of treatment, her symptoms which were linked to the causes of the deaths she had experienced in her past lives completely disappeared.
Dr.Weiss was not a believer in reincarnation, but, after confirming elements of Catherine's descriptions through public records, his scepticism eroded.
His book, Many Lives, Many Masters (1988), details the fascinating story of his treatment with Catherine, her recall of a dozen past lives and her eventual healing.
Unbeknownst to Dr.Weiss initially, he was using a technique, hypnotherapists and others refer to as “Past Life Regression” to treat Catherine.
Past Life Regression (PLR) is a technique that uses hypnosis to recover the memories of someone’s past lives or incarnation that lie in their subconscious mind.
Once the subject enters a deeply relaxed state under the guidance of a PLR therapist it allows them to view their past life experiences, and even achieve catharsis to past-life traumas or issues by reliving them.
Dr. Weiss has regressed more than 4,000 patients since 1980 and advocates past life regression as therapy. And like Dr. Stevenson, he claims that certain phobias are rooted in past-life experiences.
Past life regression interestingly is not a “new age” therapy, but it has been around for thousands of years. It is mentioned in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (around 500 BC), the Hindu sacred texts Upanishads and was practiced in ancient Egyptian Mystery schools.
The ancient Indian Sage, Patañjali called the process of past-life regression “prati-prasav”, and saw it as addressing current problems through memories of past lives.
Popular past life regression therapists in the modern era apart from Dr. Brian Weiss include, Dr.Michael Newton and Dolores Cannon who have used it to heal thousands of patients and published several best-selling books on the subject.
Special note: One of my friends underwent past life regression a few years ago to treat severe head pain she was suffering from since childhood. She had used both allopathic as well as homeopathic medicines to treat it, but the pain persisted.
In her regression session, she saw a small girl running around a Buddhist temple, and suddenly a huge rock was falling on her, she got scared and watched the girl die.
While she saw this scene in her mind’s eye, the pain in her forehead got more severe, and then it gradually subsided. She told me that the last time she experienced the pain was on the day of the regression, and since then it hasn’t returned.
Many sceptics dismiss memories recalled in past life regression as delusions and hallucinations. But it begs the question, how can hallucinations or delusions provide healing from ailments and severe psychological phobias?
Reincarnation in Christianity
Reincarnation may seem like an un-Christian teaching, but there is ample historical evidence to suggest that many of the early Christians (1st century AD) believed in reincarnation.
Today they are labelled as the “Gnostic" Christians. During that time period, they did not go by this label but were simply Christians who followed Christ’s teachings and believed in reincarnation.
The doctrine of reincarnation was also taught by many of the early church fathers such as Clement of Alexandria, Valentinus and Basilides of Alexandria, St. Justin Martyr, St. Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa St. Jerome.
St. Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa (257–332 A.D.), wrote: “It is absolutely necessary that the soul should be healed and purified, and if this does not take place during its life on earth it must be accomplished in future lives”
He also wrote: “Every soul comes into this world strengthened by the victories or weakened by the defeats of its previous life.”
It was not until five centuries after Christ, in 553 A.D. at the Second Council of Constantinople, called by the Roman Emperor Justinian, that the doctrine of reincarnation was removed from Christian dogma and declared a heresy (blasphemous).
The early Church Fathers who were accused of teaching the idea of reincarnation had their works banned. There is evidence that Origen, an early Church father, also taught reincarnation in his lifetime, but when his works were translated into Latin these references were concealed.
Geddess MacGregor, a noted Christian theologian and priest claims in his book Reincarnation in Christianity “all written evidence of reincarnation in early Christian teachings and in the Bible was deliberately suppressed by the Catholic church.”
The Gnostic Christians were branded as heretics and persecuted by the church. The Cathars, a Christian sect in Italy and Southern France who believed in reincarnation also met with the same fate.
In the early 13th century, the Catholic Church murdered the Cathars, a Christian sect in Italy and Southern France, who believed in reincarnation and almost wiped them out. And since then, largely succeeded in uprooting the belief of reincarnation from public awareness.
The books Reincarnation: The Missing Link in Christianity by Elizabeth Clare Prophet and Why Jesus Taught Reincarnation by Herbert Puryear cover the presence of reincarnation in early Christian teachings in great detail.
Reincarnation in Western cultures
Contrary to popular perception, reincarnation is not a belief system merely present in eastern religions and cultures. A belief in reincarnation was also present long before the birth of Hinduism.
Evidence of the belief in reincarnation can be found in people of diverse cultures, from different parts of the world and even people from vastly different time periods (modern, medieval, ancient, prehistoric)
Reincarnation was an integral part of the teachings of the famous Greek philosphers Pythagoras, Socrates and Plato (above)
Cultures in the West like the ancient Greeks, early Romans, Mayans, Incans, many Native American tribes, The Aztecs, The Druids (Britain & France), the Vikings (Scandinavia) etc. all believed in reincarnation.
Why a belief in reincarnation can bring about a better world
I believe if the majority of us were to accept a belief in reincarnation as opposed to our current belief of “you only live once” the state of our world could be remarkably better.
Walter Semkiw, M.D a reincarnation researcher puts it thusly,
"If we all realise that we may return to this world as a person of the opposite sex, belonging to another religion, country, race, etc., we would realise we are all one and not persecute each other.”
As he rightly says, many problems in the world today like racism, gender discrimination and the countless conflicts and wars in the name of religion would cease to make any sense in such a scenario.
It can also help us to develop greater empathy for our fellow beings, and for many, it may diminish the fear of death.
For almost my whole life, it was easy and convenient for me to completely dismiss the possibility of reincarnation because I had spent absolutely no time exploring the evidence supporting it.
What I have covered here in this post barely scratches the surface when it comes to the mountain of evidence supporting reincarnation.
When we hear something that doesn’t fit in line with our understanding of the world, the instinctive reaction for most of us is to reject it. That’s simply the way our mind works.
If there is one thing we as humans terribly dislike, it is changing our mind about something we already think we know a great deal about.
Therefore if you consider reincarnation as “absurd” as I did, I do not expect merely reading this article will bring about a sudden shift in your mind.
But I do hope this will nudge you to be open-minded on the subject, and maybe spend time exploring the vast evidence in support of it, before you rush to reject it.
P.S: If you want strong proof, you could perhaps have a Past Life Regression (PLR) session yourself and view your own past lives. You can most likely find a PLR therapist in your city through a Google search.
However, to gain the most out of it, it is highly recommended to have a specific intention going into the session and ensure you do it with an experienced therapist.
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More on reincarnation
The books Many Lives, Many Masters by Dr. Brian Weiss and the Journey of Souls by Dr. Michael Newton are fascinating books to read to know more about past lives and past life regression.
Netflix has recently released a docuseries called Surviving Death which has an interesting segment on reincarnation cases among young children.
James Leninger and family interview on ABC News
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