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Debate: Is reincarnation just another superstition?

Jul 14, 2007 09:55 AM IST India India

Rajesh Kumar, a 14-year-old boy in Rampur in Uttar Pradesh suddenly starts talking in a US accent. He explains what according to him are “scientific concepts”. He studies in class 9 and has received education only in Hindi till date. Rajesh neither traveled abroad nor studied English in school. People in his village claim he is an incarnation of some US scientist.

A four-year-old girl in a UP village says she is Kalpana Chawla. Upasana’s parents say she is afraid of aeroplanes and often mutters that she had “died in the skies” four years ago. Upasana belongs to Nar Mohammadpur in Khurja.

Indians and their love for the mystical goes back a long way in history. And it’s equally amusing to see news channels, media and a whole bunch of experts rising to the occasion—whenever there comes up a bizarre—whether its a child uttering bunkum with a twisted accent or a four-year old muttering “I am Kalpana Chawla” after every half-an hour interval.

Indian viewers readily buy amusement packaged in superstition. But is reincarnation just another superstition? Or is there a scientific theory behind such cases?

President, Indian Rationalist Association Sanal Edamaruku and astrologer Sunita Chabra came together with host Sagarika Ghose to discuss the issue on CNN-IBN show, Face The Nation.

Is reincarnation just another superstition?

For Indians, the magical has always existed alongside the ordinary. God’s drink milk, seawater turns sweet and reincarnations and rebirths are possible too.

Rajesh on the surface appears to be a linguistic prankster. He himself does not say that he is a reincarnation. Then why do Indian people want to believe so much in an incarnation theory?

“There is no scientific basis for reincarnation,” said Sanal Edamaruku. “The boy never claimed himself that he is a reincarnation. It is the people’s belief that spreads such theories. People believe in reincarnations, astrology, rebirth and psychic readings. They want to believe life goes on after death,” he added.

Rajesh’s case is not the first one of its kind. There have been famous cases where people have given account of a past-life memory, paranormal psychology and near death experiences. Some of them have even been explained scientifically.

“Past life memory is explained by psychiatrists as nothing but simple psychotic reaction,” said Edamaruku. “The boy is a patient. He is not speaking English at all. It’s all gibberish, which hardly makes any sense. Its not science at all,” he added.
Belief in numerology

If you believe in numbers then Friday the 13th is really a bad day. Experts say that increasingly as the world becomes uncertain and we live in conditions of turmoil, we seek respite in superstitions. By changing our name spellings and avoiding ‘inauspicious dates’ we assure ourselves that we are in a safer frame.

“Actually we all want to get away from the harsh realities of life. If you believe there is a supreme law governing all of us, there is somebody there to look after us—I guess that sort of helps you,” said Sunita Chabra.

Superstitions give you a mental cushion against uncertainties, problems and everyday turmoil.

“The moment you believe everything is pre destined and pre decided, the necessity of doing efforts, necessity to work for achieving something vanishes,” said Edamaruku.

So is astrology the refuge of the lazy? What useful function does astrology serve?

“Suppose I’m going through tough a rough time. I go to an astrologer and talk about my problem. If he tells me that after two-years all the problems will near a solution or that a better phase will start in my life, I would sail through problems with the assumption and hope that better time waits for me,” said Chabra.

So in a way psychotherapy also deals with astrology, Chabra added.

However, Edamaruku rounded off the discussion by saying that “astrology is a pseudo science but it has no scientific basis.”

Final SMS poll: Is reincarnation just another superstition?

Yes- 34 per cent

No- 66 per cent