Reincarnation: why we want to believe in it

In his new book, When I was someone else the journalist Stéphane Allix hypothesizes that he would have lived a previous life in the skin of a Nazi soldier, and investigates the history of this “other me”. This experience, which upset and transformed him, is far from unique. Many of us also feel like our time on earth is not our first.

“Reincarnation is obvious to me in certain places, especially in the mountains,” says Carole, 37, communications officer. Images as strong as real memories pass through me, I visualize myself as the guardian of goats, I feel connected to this nature as if it were my usual setting, when it is not. Pascal, 59, an accountant, has believed in it since he was 10: “I had a little brother who died at birth. Another boy was born eighteen months later, and my father, who had been a practicing Christian until then, declared that this child was the reincarnation of the dead baby. I incorporated this idea. During her second pregnancy, Christelle, 50, a riding instructor, felt that her son was a friendly soul known in the past. “It was a calming and happy feeling of reunion. I specify that I come from an atheist family and that mysticism does not attract me at all. »

To escape the nothingness

Sophia, a 42-year-old librarian, hesitates between doubt and certainty: “It’s a belief that comes and goes, dotted. I like the idea, because nothing seems more atrocious to me than the specter of nothingness, of total disappearance. But as soon as I begin to reflect on its conditions of possibility, that’s another matter. How could our personality, our self, which results from our personal history, that of our parents, our ancestors, wander from century to century? What is this entity called “soul” made of? How would consciousness travel without a carnal envelope to shelter it? »

According to the Belgian anthropologist Robert Deliège, specialist in India and author of Castes in India today (PUF), reincarnation is, for many Indians, only a metaphor, an image used to understand the mysteries of life, of being, and not a reality. And some even openly mock this belief. On the other hand, polls carried out in Europe and the United States indicate that it currently appeals to nearly 20% of Westerners.

To become different

Psychoanalysts see the influence of video games, which offer us to blend into “avatars” – fictional characters –, and of cinema, which encourages us to identify with our heroes. It would be a response to the dissatisfaction of having only one life; the possibility of stepping into someone else’s shoes, in a society that believes that everything is possible. It would constitute the adult version of the role-playing games that we invent in childhood.

In a 1994 lecture on “Do Buddhists Believe in Reincarnation?” », the Vietnamese Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh kindly made fun of our current relationship to reincarnation and tried to analyze the reasons for our enthusiasm. “This notion is popular in the West for several reasons: first, it is unbearable that some individuals who harm others through their behavior do not suffer at all; they would therefore have to pay in another life for the evil committed. Second, earthly existence is too short. And we would like to start all over again in another healthier body, as we change clothes. To come back but, this time, better equipped psychologically, with better tools to face the trials of life. Rediscovering youth, but with the knowledge acquired over the years. And, paradoxically, what drives Westerners to believe in reincarnation is the idea of ​​the immortality and permanence of the soul. But Buddhism is on the contrary a thought of impermanence. Everything is constantly changing: the body, the sensations, the perceptions, the consciousness, the soul. Moreover, the Buddhists do not use the word “reincarnation”, but that of “rebirth”, of “remanifestation”. A funny thing is that Westerners find the idea of ​​being reincarnated pleasant, whereas in Asia we don’t like it so much: we rather wish that the wheel of existence stops. »

And, while all the traditions and philosophies that make room for reincarnation don’t care at all about the survival of Peter’s or Paul’s ego, we love to imagine it’s our individuality, as we know it here. and now, who travels. Moreover, in Asia, the souls do not choose their successive roles and, with some exceptions, do not remember their previous lives. However, we Westerners of the 21st century, on the contrary, we like to look for traces of us in possible past existences, in order to know ourselves better.

Moreover, over the past few decades, therapies have been developed aimed at plunging us back into hypnosis in our successive lives to cure us of the symptoms of the present. “During a session with a specialized therapist, I found an existence where I had been a cowboy bounty hunter, a reckless man, eager to avenge his murdered clan, confides Alexandra, 32, cattle farmer . Maybe it was just my imagination, but these scenes allowed me to make sense of my outbursts of violence, my risky behavior and my need for thrills, which always made me feel a stranger in my own family. »

To make up for his faults

Juliette, 37 years old and ten years of fruitless Freudian analysis, stopped resenting her parents after having “understood” that she had chosen to be born into this toxic family to “repair the faults” of her past existences. Brian Weiss, a psychiatrist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami, found that the past-life hypothesis effectively eliminated certain phobic symptoms and anxiety states.

At the end of the 19th century, when European thinkers were learning about Eastern philosophies and rediscovering reincarnation, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche proposed to his contemporaries a morality of life no longer based on repression and the fear of punishment, but on the hypothesis of an “eternal return”: “Live as if your life were to reproduce itself identically, eternally, live in such a way as to regret nothing. A beautiful life lesson, for those who believe in reincarnation as well as for those who reject it.

Read also

Reincarnation: “My investigation has put a face to the cause of my nightmares”

In When I was someone else, his new book, journalist Stéphane Allix, a specialist in unexplained phenomena, recounts his experience. He looks back on this strange adventure which freed him.

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Reincarnation: why we want to believe in it

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