Although the vast majority of people will not remember past lives, are there reliable accounts of people who have? Specifically are there accounts of Buddhists who have remembered past lives and whose experience can be (even partially) verified in some independent way? Or do people with past life memories generally come from other religions and traditions such as Hinduism?

I appreciate that reliable is a very ambiguous term. If possible could people perhaps note the quality of the evidence when answering. Is it anecdotal, statistical significant etc...?

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    Haven't you heard of Dr. Ian Stevenson's work? There are some youtube videos on his rebirth studies. Most of his subjects are Buddhists, Hindus and Christians.
    – dmsp
    Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 10:58
  • @dmsp thanks - i haven't heard of this. If you've any extra details then could I tempt you to an answer Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 11:36
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    There's a Wikipedia article about Ian Stevenson, see also Reincarnation research.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 13:16
  • The question as asked is interesting in itself, but if your intent is to make any scientific claim about recollection of past lives, the question to ask is not whether there are "reliable" accounts, but whether there are statistically significant ones. All of the "reincarnation research" I have seen fails to address this. While there are probably interesting academic topics you could research independently on the social phenomenon of belief that someone recalls a past life, pretending that these are scientific research into the occurrence of such recollection is dishonest. Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 16:32
  • @R.. Thanks for your comment. I'm not looking for validation in my belief in rebirth. TBH I'm agnostic about it at best. I'm just curious to see what evidence there is if any. I would be very interested if someone posted some evidence then used a scientific approach (think Ben Goldacre for medical research) to totally demolish the claim. I would imagine that the evidence that there is is anecdotal at best. But I don't know hence the question Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 17:02

5 Answers 5


Dr. Ian Stevenson did research on rebirth, and most of his subjects were children. As I remember he said during the first 5-6 years of a child's life some of them would remember how they died. Most of them who remembered their previous life have had some sudden tragic death. Hence, these incidents seem to be deeply carved in their minds, but this memory would slowly fade away as they grew old.

Most of these incidents were reported from families having Hindu or Buddhist backgrounds because their parents believed in rebirth and believed their child was saying the truth. In some cases, when the researchers traced the child's past routes based on their stories, they had actually found that the person had existed. Also in some cases it turned out that the parents have been lying to gain some popularity from local media. :)

But I think this research is not so popular among other scientists, claiming it has no clear evidence that backs his theories. Upon his death I think his student continues this work.

Here's link to their work. http://www.medicine.virginia.edu/clinical/departments/psychiatry/sections/cspp/dops/publications-page (Edited the previous reference according to Ven. Yuttadhammo's comment)


First and foremost account is the Jataka stories. These are generally the account of Buddha himself.

Also there are some records of his disciples.

In modern times a famous person who did research in this area is Edgar Cayce. Also there has been Parapsychology research in this area.

Keep in mind if it is a monk who has developed Abhijñā, they do not openly say they have such powers. (I know and seen some monks with these abilities who I have been very close to, but they will not come out to the open and show this so if I way so and so has it there is not way to ascertain my claim.)

As a final note, what I can say is Ehipassiko. Come and see for yourself. Develop the 4 Jhanas and see for yourself.

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    "What I can say is Ehipassiko. Come and see for yourself. Develop the 4 Jhanas and see for yourself." Probably the only way to prove it and believe it fully
    – Yoda Bytes
    Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 14:41

Stevenson has published a summary of his work at the end of his life, see

Medical Hypotheses (2000) 54(4), 652–659

I add the summary of his paper:

Several disorders or abnormalities observed in medicine and psychology are not explicable (or not fully explicable) by genetics and environmental influences, either alone or together. These include phobias and philias observed in early infancy, unusual play in childhood, homosexuality, gender identity disorder, a child’s idea of having parents other than its own, differences in temperament manifested soon after birth, unusual birthmarks and their correspondence with wounds on a deceased person, unusual birth defects, and differences (physical and behavioral) between monozygotic twins. The hypothesis of previous lives can contribute to the further understanding of these phenomena.

  • Please consider adding some essential contents of the book into your answer; otherwise, a link-only answer may be downvoted. Commented Sep 14, 2014 at 0:30

Well, I am buddhist. I am from Sri Lanka. I told my story of past life when I was 2yrs old. I have seen many others who have told.

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    Dear Nimala9, do you remember today what you told from your past life when you were a small child? Your remembrance of your past life, how does it influence your present life?
    – Jo Wehler
    Commented Sep 15, 2014 at 3:29
  • @jo wehler yes. when I was two years I described about my mother and about meals I had (I had had not even seen or heard those food items). When I saw a neighbour house I have told that it looks like the house where I lived. I have told the exact village which is about 100km away. Well, in this life I am doing my education in University now and I used to have some phobia of seeing electrical sparks. As I had told my parents have died from some sort of electrical injury.
    – nimala9
    Commented Sep 15, 2014 at 16:24
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    I understand: • Being a child of 2 years you talked about your mother. But she was already dead at that time. • At the same age you talked about a house where you lived before that time. • And you explain your present phobia of sparks by the fact that your parents died by some sort of electrical injury. Why do these facts point to a former life? I would ask myself: Have I been a human beeing? Which character, which sex, which knowledge did I have? Married or not, having children … ? Which experiences of my former life help me in my present life and must not be learned again?
    – Jo Wehler
    Commented Sep 15, 2014 at 19:52

The famous claim of Bridey Murphy 1923 - 1995 to have previously lived in 19th century Ireland is in Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bridey_Murphy which has references to variously sceptical reports and evidence.

The book "Have you Lived Before this Life" by L. Ron Hubbard (1968) reports uncritically on 43 cases of remembered previous lives. It expressly contains no evaluation of the truth or falsity of the data, and each investigation was done as an "auditing" session or scientology confessional, where the investigator prompts the subject to recall usually painful, lurid episodes.

Hubbard himself reported an expedition to verify his own claimed past life memory in "A Test of Whole Track Recall" (1968) republished in 1972 as "Mission Into Time" http://scientology.wikia.com/wiki/Mission_Into_Time . These books may not be in print now but Knud Eriksen, a Dane who is not an uncritical scientologist, has investigated http://www.solitarytrees.net/racism/pastlife.htm the claimed past lives of Hubbard - there are several! - and "finds no good reason to doubt" them. Buddhists must continue to have doubts about Ron Hubbard's claim in "Hymn of Asia" to have been Buddha (Siddharta Gautama).

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