Dr. Erlendur Haraldsson, professor emeritus at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik, has examined cases of children who seem to remember their past lives. In some of the cases, the children remembered lives as Buddhist monks. Furthermore, in some of these cases, the memories were recorded right after the children recalled them (without time elapsing in which the memories could be distorted), and they seemed to correspond to historical information about real monks who had died.
Cases in which children remember details that can be, and are, verified against factual reports of the life of someone who has died are known as “solved cases” among researchers. Cases in which the memories are too vague or the details too imprecise to be verified are known as “unsolved cases.”
The solved cases of these children who remember being monks stood out to Dr. Haraldsson for another reason. “What makes these … cases particularly interesting is not only the alleged memories but also the behavioural features that the children display. Each child shows behavior that is considered appropriate and even ideal for monks,” wrote Dr. Haraldsson and Godwin Samarartne in a 1999 paper titled, “Children Who Speak of Memories of a Previous Life as a Buddhist Monk,” published in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research.
Far from being happy about this behavior or encouraging it, the childrens’ parents seem to have been concerned and distressed by it.
The Case of Duminda Bandara Ratnayake
Duminda Bandara Ratnayake was born in 1984 in a mountainous, rural area of Sri Lanka known as Thundeniya.
Some of the details Ratnayake reported about his past life, when he began to talk about it around the age of 3, include:
1. He had been a senior monk at Asgiriya temple, about 16 miles from his current hometown.
2. He had a pain in his chest and fell, then died; he used the word “apawathwuna,” which is only used for the death of a monk.
3. He owned a red car.
4. He taught apprentice monks.
5. He had an elephant.
6. He had friends in the Malvatta Temple he used to visit.
7. He had a money bag and a radio in Asgiriya he wanted back. (His mother was embarrassed to report this, because these are not items considered appropriate for a monk to possess.)
He displayed no interest in playing with other children, only in becoming a monk. He recited Buddhist stanzas in the ancient language of Sinhalese Buddhism, only used and learned by monks. He lived his life like a monk, carrying his clothes the way a monk does, attending the temple and placing flowers there in the Buddhist fashion, and displaying similar behaviors.
This permeated his life. He was calm, serene, detached. He told his mother she shouldn’t touch his hands (women are not supposed to touch a monk’s hands).
A local monk whom Haraldsson interviewed in addition to the boy’s family members had observed the boy’s behavior and felt his parents could not have taught him these behaviors.
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