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Past Lives of Paramahansa Yogananda as Told
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Good use of reason leads far beyond wrong beliefs

If you imagine something without knowing it is true, it is belief, which may become alarming or dangerous and not take you anywhere after camouflaging or smothering your reason.

However, good reason can free you to adopt the measures and activities that will free you wholly or in part. Good use of reason and good development of such delicate prowess is quite indispensable when you are not meditating.

Ask not for a locked faith; aim higher and better instead.

The guru Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952) taught much the same. [Gurus speak for reason and discernment]

Fierce and vicious - then reborn as an animal?

The bad karma or a mutilating tyrant and vicious, murderous desert marauder could propel rebirth as a dog, for example - provided several karma-and-rebirth thoughts are correct in gross outline. Could sworn-in members of Self-Realization Fellowship benefit from Mean and Bad Dog? Scriptural warnings that there are bad rebirths and hells in store for those who behave badly are many. The Laws of Manu:

Those who committed mortal sins (mahapataka), having passed during large numbers of years through dreadful hells, obtain, after the expiration of (that term of punishment), the following births. (ch 12, v 54)

The slayer of a Brahmana enters the womb of a dog, a pig, an ass, a camel, a cow, a goat, a sheep, a deer, a bird, a Kandala, and a Pukkasa. (ch 12, v 55)

For stealing grain (a man) becomes a rat . . . for stealing condiments a dog. (ch 12, v 62)

Let us think a little, for example: "Is stealing grain always worse than killing many of the priestly caste"? Or, "Is stealing grain always worse than stealing condiments?"

◦Some rats swim in milk and are treasured where dogs are treated as unclean animals - but common attitudes to rats and dogs in the West tend to be different.

Check how fair the killed brahman is. Further, if an executioner does the work, how much of the blame and bad karma goes to the one or those who ordered him to do it?

Evaluate how much grain has been stolen too. There is a difference between stealing a few and a whole village's yearly supply. The possible harm may increase with the amount, and so on.

Now we have started to qualify and evaluate the amount of thefts - and the possible or presumed goodness in killed brahmans. When it comes to effects, there is a marked difference between stealing little or much, and between killing unworthy guys and others, and killing under special conditions: Killing a stealing, raiding brahmin in self-defence when he goes at war against your kin, should it really, really, be so bad when you do not take delight in killing? Your lawyer might plead along such a line; perhaps rhetorically.

Another thing is that Manu teaches ways to make amends to escape the bad rebirths. A prescibed atonement may not be top effective - it might we wise to prepare for that.

There is also a chance that doing good to worthy ones also goes into the future lives and counterbalances the theft of one gram of condiment, for example . . . In other words, there is good hope that atonements and balancing (doing many good works) are influences on a future fare too. Buddha advocates doing much good, and teaches that a life well lived matters in a wider perspective as well. [Buddha's karma teachings]

Ian Stevenson's Strivings to Document Reincarnation

To get informed is a good thing against follies. How well may it be documented that life goes on after this one, and that at least some are born again? Various methods are tried. One is to recall former lives, either in hypnosis (not recommended) or through deep meditation (better). Others tell of earlier lives without such props or means. Such tellers include children.

Some researchers have been able to verify things told by such "innocents". One of them is Ian Pretyman Stevenson (1918-2007), M.D. He researched reincarnation claims, near-death experiences, and survival of the human personality after death, among other things. His research presentation was addressed to the academic and scientific community, and covers over 3,000 study cases, and provides evidence suggestive of reincarnation. But he could not detect any evidence of a physical process by which a personality could survive death and travel to another body. [◦A Carol Bowman page].

"Professor Stevenson's methodology involves listening to stories, comparing and contrasting variants of stories, and constructing long, detailed narratives that attempt to "capture" the complex experience of his informants, who claim to remember incidents from past lives. In this sense Stevenson's work is similar to that of ethnographers and cultural anthropologists.

Stevenson's informants are children spontaneously remembering recent quite ordinary lives, as opposed to adults remembering under hypnosis romantic or heroic lives in the distant past. In addition, birthmarks that occur at the sites of injury in the previous life constitute an important part of Stevenson's evidence."

[WP, "Old Souls"]

"In interviewing witnesses and reviewing documents, Dr. Stevenson searched for alternate ways to account for the testimony: that the child came upon the information in some normal way, that the witnesses were engaged in fraud or self-delusion, that the correlations were the result of coincidence or misunderstanding. But in scores of cases, Dr. Stevenson concluded that no normal explanation sufficed. [Washington Post article by Tom Shroder, of February 11, 2007]

A book by Stevenson, Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation (2nd ed. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1980), on spontaneous recall of information about previous lives by young children, contains twenty cases of children who begin to talk about specific memories of them having a previous life. "The book also describes the interview process, which includes taking possessions from the dead person and requiring the children pick the objects out amongst a field of random objects. Dr. Stevenson required the children to do much better than chance.

The book also discusses various alternative hypotheses including fraud, information gained from others, extra-sensory perception, motivation and capacity of parents to deceive, and even spirit possession. In Dr. Stevenson's final conclusion, reincarnation stands as the best scientific hypothesis for explaining results presented." [WP, "Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation"] — [◦Google Book link]

Even though Stevenson has been at this line of research for decades, his findings may not be convincing to all - or very many - (and so on).

"Proponents of Dr. Stevenson's work sometimes cite him in a non-scientific manner and extend his theories beyond the bounds of scientific discourse. As an example, Carol Bowman makes extensive use of Dr. Stevenson's theories to promote a form of child therapy that emphasizes the past lives of the child." [WP, "Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation"] — Also see [◦Carol Bowman's page: Readings in Reincarnation]

At any rate, it would be good for many with an interest in the field of "remembered past lives" to learn how to handle many sources of error involved. It is an interesting field. Says Dr. Carl Sagan (1934–96): "At the time of writing there are three claims in the ESP field which, in my opinion, deserve serious study: . . . that young children sometimes report the details of a previous life, which upon checking turn out to be accurate and which they could not have known about in any way other than reincarnation. I pick these claims . . . as examples of contentions that might be true." [WP, "Reincarnation research"]

Smart enough to gain a middle ground

Buddha goes against follies of blind belief in the Kalama Sutta. "Doing time" (serving a prison sentence) is through embodiments, the Manu Samhita tells. We are encouraged to make good use of being born as humans.


Tall Tales Without Evidence

- can still be interesting, although Yogananda said: "No more blind believing." [1982, 456]. It sounds so good. Also consider:

Durga Ma (born Florina Alberta Dufour, 1903-93) was a woman disciple of Yogananda's. One day in 1951 Yogananda said to her: "I remember you had asked me years ago if I was Arjuna." She exclaimed, "You were Arjuna." He smiled his, "Yes." She then asked him if Rajasi [Yogananda's successor as head of SRF] was with him at that time. He answered, "Yes, he was one of the twins, . . . Nakula. He was my favorite brother . . . Krishna was my guru and Babaji, being Krishna, is still my guru."

She then asked him if she was also with him at that time. He looked at her and said, "Sure, you were. . . ."

[Durga Mata, 1993, 54.]

Question: "Where is the evidence?" Or is it not too bad to become a narcissistic, romanticising guru follower? If that is the level you are able to reach to as a human, it is.

There is an alternative to blind believing, though: keeping claims "at arm's length", in suspense, at bey, making room for the growth of sound reason.

"Yogananda was Arjuna of the Gita, was William the Conqueror, was William Shakespeare," writes an anonymous author in the book Dwapara Yuga and Yogananda [Richard 2007, 61]. Another writer, known as Swami Kriyananda, a former vice-president of Self-Realization Fellowship, states:

Once I asked Master [Yogananda] a question with regard to William the Conqueror. [AD 1027-87] [Master said he was William the Conqueror in a previous lifetime.] I asked, "... Can an avatar not realize he has attained that stature?" Master said, "You never lose your sense of inner freedom" - a very wise answer.

One could say that an avatar incarnates . . . to fully express his realization. Before they fully express that consciousness, they go through different experiences to show us how to react to what we have to go through to achieve freedom. (Kriyananda: "Avatar," a talk at Sunday Service at Ananda Cooperative Village on February 1, 1998.

The mutilating William killed lots of good people and confessed on his death-bed,

The Scream by Edvard Munch, detail I tremble . . . when I reflect on the grievous sins which burden my conscience, and now . . . I know not what I ought to do. I . . . am stained from the rivers of blood I have shed ... It is out of my power to count all the injuries which I have caused during the sixty-four years of my troubled life. [Confession made by William on his deathbed in 1087] [More]

As for beliefs in Yogananda's asserted, former lives as a vicious, murderous desert marauder and the mass-mutilating, greedy William the Conqueror (Dasgupta 2006, 111-12), you have Yogananda's word against blind believing. For he left no proof that may be good enough for most or all reincarnation researchers. In the absence of it, great gullibility could turn a lot of persons into followers that might not have learnt that Yogananda shivered when he told he had been a vicious, murderous desert robber in a previous life also. He was afraid of himself in a past life, it seems to say. [Dasgupta 2006, 112]

"Twin fools: one doubts nothing, the other everything (American)." We have neither solid proof or disproof. Also: for grown-ups, the burden of proof rests on those who claim.

When an authority figure says something is so-and-so, many take his word for it, they believe in authority utterances. It is risky business. However, a good side to sound, skilled research is that the results may eventually favour us. (Brown 1963)

Yogananda stories

Yogananda claimed to be the reincarnation of William the Conqueror [. . .] and of William Shakespeare.

. . . (These questions regarding previous incarnations are not openly touted by SRF, but they are well known behind the scenes, and never directly denied by SRF ministers.) (Falk 2009, 251, 270)

Falk tells that Yogananda claimed to have lived at Stonehenge around 1500 BC (Ib. 246), that he and been Arjuna (Ib. 246-47); and William the Conqueror (Ib. 247); and that "Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, and Sri Yukteswar were the three wise men who came to visit the Christ child in the manger." (Ib. 247) It is rather tragic when you think of how unwise they were to tell King Herod about it. He had many children killed. But perhaps the who story is a good tale.

Is the nativity story in the first two gospels of Matthew just fabricated, a folk tale that was current at the time, and dressed up in new feathers in Matthew? You may not think so, but the Jesus scholar Geza Vermes does, after years of research. He writes:

A contemporary of Matthew, the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (37–c.100 CE), reports, and later rabbinic literature confirms, a folk tale which was in circulation in New Testament times. It relates to the birth of Moses and his miraculous escape from the hands of Pharaoh of Egypt. (Vermes 2010, 84, 85)

We are led . . . to this conclusion: that the awesomely influential Nativity story in the first book of the New Testament is a speculative, rather than a historical text. Far from being a report of a literal happening, it is an amalgam of flawed Greek-Christian scriptural references, and of 'birth tales' current in Judaism in the first century CE. The story with which we are all so familiar is not fact, but folklore. (Vermes 2010, 87)

The tale of wise men and a wandering star in the first two gospels of Matthew (from about 80–90 CE) is a folk tale, says Dr Vermes. The Nativity tale is missing in the Gospels of Mark and John, and appearing in a radically different form in Luke, where there is no mention of a star, wise men or Herod, nor of the murder of the innocents and Jesus' escape to Egypt. (Vermes 2010, 84).

So now we my also consider if three of the gurus in SRF were merely figures in a folk tale.


Yo Quite a few people have heard me mention a previous life in which I lived for many years in England. Experiences of that life come clearly to my mind. There were certain details about the Tower of London that I remembered very well, and when I went there in 1935 I saw that those places were exactly as I had seen them within. From childhood I knew also that in one incarnation I had lived by the ocean. As a little boy I used to see in my mind's eye many places and events of that incarnation. When I spoke of these things some laughed at me . . . (2002, 154)

I had done much building during my incarnation in England. So many experiences I recall from other times! (Ib. 155)

Theme: "Dying and being reborn"

Yo "In this one incarnation I can sleep and dream that I am in England as a powerful king. Then I die and dream I am born a devout man. And then I die again and am born as a successful lawyer. Again I die and am reborn as Yogananda. . . . I used to find such pleasure in discovering my past incarnations. But that has lost its enchantment." - Yogananda, 1982, 167.


Master [Yogananda] had told Daya that she was one of his daughters when he was William the Conqueror. One couldn't help feeling that there was a certain regal quality about Daya Mata, as also about Virginia, her sister, who now bears the name Ananda Mata, and who also was closely related to Master during that lifetime. I came to believe, though Master had never told me so, that I was Daya's youngest brother, Master's son, in that incarnation. (Ib. 248; cf. Kriyananda, "A Place Called Ananda", chap. 4)

Another source:

In 1935, when he and his party were visiting England during the journey back to India, Yoganandaji and Richard Wright were at the palace at Westminster. Yoganandaji said to Wright, "You walk behind me. Immediately after I enter the palace, I will tell you which room is where before we ever get there; you'll see, everything will match up!" Wright said later that Swamiji was right every time about the location of the different rooms. Swamiji himself was there at the telling of this event, and Wright was bearing witness to Swamiji's description of the incident. There was no sense of any kind of "but" in Swamiji's behavior at all! [Dasgupta 2006, 111-12]

When Yogananda visited the place, the only medieval structures of significance to survive were Westminster Hall, the Cloisters of St Stephen's, the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft, and the Jewel Tower. [WP, "Palace of Westminster"]

Swami Satyeswarananda adds this caveat: "A yogi who has a bit of yogic power can easily predict these kinds of things; although a real Yogi would not . . . be involved in such insignificant event". [N1].

Yogananda in New York

In New York a woman told Yogananda of a wonderful man who had told her wonderful things about herself, including that she had been Mary, Queen of Scots, in a former life. A few days later a another woman came to see him and said excitedly that she had been told by a psychic that in a past life she was Mary, Queen of Scots.

Yogananda placed the two women face to face, asking, "Which one of you is the real Mary, Queen of Scots?" (1982, 223)


"I was this one, I was that one" - many can say that; many have done it too. Proof - also called evidence - is what is called for. To investigate the possibility of former lives demands a particular methodology. One may seek to study the main problems of "remembered past lives", such as Ian P. Stevenson makes clear, in step with Yogananda's "No more blind believing [1982, 456]." Otherwise, things could get sickening.



1. Researchers go for so-called hard evidence (facts) by explorations in the realm of senses, but a dying person leaves that realm behind. To experience the other side first-hand is one thing; and document the assumed findings from it is another thing.

2. To tell about past lives so well that it seems plausible, may be like lightening up something that might better be left in the dark. Similarly, to bare the roots of a tree may not be so wise.

3. There are many scriptures and other books that tells of reincarnation and karma - of these widely shared beliefs. It is not a sign of a good man to discredit all of them without knowing about karma and reincarnation firsthand. "And don't criticise what you don't understand." - Bob Dylan, Nobel prize man.


Paramahansa Yogananda Past Lives, reincarnation tales told, Literature  

Algeo, John. "Reincarnation's White Crow: Ian Stevenson and Evidence of Past Lives." Quest 94.2 (March-April 2006):47-51.

Brown, J. A. C. 1963. Techniques of Persuasion: From Propaganda to Brainwashing. Harmondworth: Penguin.

Dasgupta, Sailendra. 2006. Paramhansa Swami Yogananda: Life-portrait and Reminiscences. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse. ⍽▢⍽ Also: Google Books, partial view.

Durga Mata. 1993. A Paramhansa Yogananda Trilogy of Divine Love. Beverley Hills, CA: Joan Wight Publications.

Falk, Geoffrey D. 2009. Stripping the Gurus: Sex, Violence, Abuse and Enlightenment. Toronto: Million Monkeys Press.

O'Flaherty, Wendy Doniger. Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1980.

Olivelle, Patrick. 2005. Manu's Code of Law: A Critical Edition and Translation of the Manava-Dharmasastra. Ed. help by Suman Olivelle. New York: Oxford University Press.

Kriyananda, Swami. 2001. A Place called Ananda. Rev. 2nd ed. Nevada City: Hansa Trust.

Richard, Poor. 2007. Dwarpara Yoga and Yogananda: Blueprint for a New Age. The Noble New/

Stevenson, Ian P. 1980. Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation. 2nd ed. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.

Yogananda, Paramahansa. 1982. Man's Eternal Quest. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship.

⸻. 1993. The Divine Romance. New ed. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship.


N1. - accessed 1 Nov. 08. Address later changed, and its content changed somewhat.

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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