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Brian Weiss on Past Lives

It may be an inconvenient fact, but past-life therapy works. For some patients it seems to be the only thing that does. So what do we make of it?

by Nina L. Diamond


Brian Weiss at the Omega Holistic Institute.
Brian Weiss at the Omega Holistic Institute, October 2012.
Photo used under Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0 license. Cropped and color-modified from original.

Treating patients by guiding them through recollections of what appear to be previous lives is about the last thing Brian Weiss thought he’d be doing. The South Florida physician, who before the age of 35 was chief of psychiatry at Mount Sinai Hospital and a professor at the University of Miami’s medical school, had always taken the traditional path.

Growing up in New Jersey, Weiss was an overachiever, self-described as “studious, but not geeky.” After graduating magna cum laude from Columbia University in 1966, he received his M.D. from Yale in 1970. It was Ivy League all the way. Publishing papers, becoming a recognized psychopharmacology expert, he considered himself a “show me” kind of guy, believing only in what he could see. He rarely gave much thought to anything paranormal, mystical, or spiritual.

One patient changed all that. Weiss calls her Catherine in Many Lives Many Masters, published in 1988, eight years after her therapy began. Barely budging her garden-variety phobias and anxieties with 18 months of conventional therapy, Weiss instructed Catherine while hypnotized to “go back to the time from which your symptoms arise.” She did: The year was 1863 BC, and she was a 25-year-old woman named Aronda.

Weiss was shocked as Catherine unleashed a flood of memories from other lifetimes as well. He soon discovered, he says, that traumatic events and relationships encountered in previous lives were the source of her present problems. But only after ruling out schizophrenia, split personalities, psychosis, drug use, neurological illness, sociopathic tendencies, and just plain acting, could the scientifically trained Weiss begin to accept this notion. “My gut reaction was that I’d stumbled upon something I knew very little about — reincarnation and past memories.” During the next three years, he dispelled Catherine’s phobias and panic attacks by having her vividly recall events from dozens of her past lives.

But reincarnation was only part of what Weiss encountered during Catherine’s treatment. He also met “the Masters,” entities who spoke through Catherine, while she was under hypnosis, about the nature of the universe, levels of consciousness, intuitive powers, and the soul, which they said passed from one body to another. Weiss first branded it mumbo jumbo until “the Masters” talked about Weiss’s late father and the medical condition that caused the death of his three-week-old son years before — information to which Catherine would have no access. In 1990, Weiss left Mount Sinai to devote himself full time to his patients, about 60 percent of whose therapies include recalling past lives.

Upon our first meeting, Weiss hypnotized me. I did not experience past-life recall but had what he calls “a mystical experience.” From my description of the people in two separate scenes, it’s clear to Weiss and to me that they are symbolic of an important relationship I’m having with a man Weiss believes I’ve also known in previous lifetimes and even in between, in the “spirit state.”

Since treating Catherine, Weiss has researched not only reincarnation, but Eastern and Western religions, mysticism, quantum physics, and intuitive and paranormal experiences. He does not come across as some kind of guru, nor does he want to be. He’s simply a doctor, he says, who’s become “enlightened.” Much to his surprise, his work has been taken seriously by many in the psychiatric community. Even some skeptics find value in his books. “I can’t say that these experiences were actual memories of past lives,” says Steven Warner, Miami hypnotherapist and expert in multiple-personality disorders. “It’s possible they were fantasy material similar to screen memory — an indirect way of describing a problem. But there’s a purposefulness to the unconscious. Whatever is happening, I don’t believe these ‘past life’ memories are a sham.”

In 1992, shortly before publication of his second book, Through Time into Healing, the University of Miami notified Weiss that it wouldn’t be renewing his teaching contract. Weiss has no doubt that his work with past-life therapy provoked this action. But a week before, the University of Pittsburgh’s Medical School showed interest in a longitudinal study to see if gains by patients in this therapy persist over time. Conducting this study from Miami, Weiss has also spoken at the Yale Medical School psychiatry department and divinity schools.

During our second meeting, he spoke enthusiastically about how even the federal government is taking alternative therapies seriously, citing the NIH’s new Office of Alternative Medicine, which he calls “the Office of Far-Out Stuff.” His work with past-life therapy has helped not only his patients, he acknowledges, but himself.

OMNI

Why do scientists find reincarnation a hard concept to buy?

Weiss

Fear of the unfamiliar. Actually, people don’t have to be afraid, if only they’d keep an open mind. Meditation can teach people to do that if they can let go of their fears.

OMNI

But that can mean changing one’s whole life.

Weiss

Yes, it’s scary — but totally safe. It’s difficult to let go of the familiar, even if it’s harmful, restricting, and blinding.

OMNI

Where did the concept of reincarnation come from?

Weiss

It’s so far back that we really don’t know. I suspect it’s from the same place as now: People who are psychic, having visions of it, dreams or déjà vu, memories, meditations, came upon this knowledge. Plato wrote about reincarnation. Ancient civilizations believed in this. We lost this belief only recently, mostly for political reasons. In Judaism, belief in reincarnation, or gilgul, existed until the early 1800s. Only with the migration out of Eastern Europe to the West and the need to be accepted in the age of enlightenment and science did the belief go underground — but not in Chasidic [ultraorthodox] populations.

In Christianity, it went underground much earlier — the Second Council of Constantinople in the sixth century officially declared reincarnation a heresy. Christianity was becoming a state religion, and the Romans felt that without the whip of Judgment Day, people would not behave, or would not follow. They’d think, “Well, I’ll do it next time around.”

OMNI

How do you think the length of time between lifetimes is determined?

Weiss

People who die violently, or children who die, often return much faster. For those who live longer and die more peacefully, there can be a longer time between lives, 100 years or more.

OMNI

How many past lives do people generally have?

Weiss

That varies, but the number that comes up most often in my work is 100, not the thousands and thousands that the Buddhists talk about.

OMNI

Do you think that there is an infinite number of souls or finite?

Weiss

It doesn’t matter to me because ultimately we’re all connected.

OMNI

Are new souls being created, in your opinion?

Weiss

My inclination is to say no. We’re probably all ageless and have been around from the beginning.

OMNI

Are some people here now experiencing their first life?

Weiss

Theoretically, I’d guess yes. Maybe they “transferred in” and are here for the first time, but I suspect most of us have been here other times. If Earth is one of millions of worlds, it’s like asking where did all those children go to junior high before the new one was built? Well, they were elsewhere. We shouldn’t delude ourselves into thinking that we’re the only place.

OMNI

Have some people been around more — old souls?

Weiss

Sure, but I doubt this is the only place. There are other places we can go to learn, too. It’s not like Jupiter or Pluto or another solar system, but perhaps it’s another dimension. All mystical traditions talk about other worlds. There may be other levels, too, such as different levels of heaven; that’s where the expression, “I was in seventh heaven,” comes from, seven as being an ultimate. Catherine talked about seven dimensions.

OMNI

Might two souls meet again in new lives? And if so, how would they recognize each other?

Weiss

An energy attracts — you’re pulled into a situation where you need to be. Perhaps even from the time of birth, in choosing one’s parents. It’s not random; you choose because of the opportunity to learn. You may make mistakes. Everybody has free will, even your parents. They may not turn out the way you had hoped or envisioned, because they have the free will to not reach their potential. In one workshop as we were talking about this, a mother in the audience said to her daughter, “See, you chose me, so stop blaming me!” And the daughter turned to her and said, “Then I must have been in a hurry.”

I see love or hostility at first sight as a kind of recognition of souls, a working out of debts and responsibility. Spirit seems thicker than water. That’s what really pulls us together — sometimes genetically, but sometimes not. You may be best friends. You may be father and son in one lifetime but lovers in this lifetime. Switching of sex seems frequent. You may have a preference, but you’ve tried out the other to see what it’s like. That’s also true of races and religions.

OMNI

How do you explain souls that in the next lifetime occupy bodies that are biologically damaged?

Weiss

If it is all to learn — as my patients tell me over and over again — to grow, to become more and more godlike, then whatever the experience, it is a learning experience. Sometimes, though, it’s a teaching experience as well, so you may come back into this for others, maybe as an act of charity.

OMNI

Why don’t we consciously remember our past lives?

Weiss

More and more people are remembering through therapeutic techniques such as hypnosis, but also through dreams, meditation, déjà vu, and when they’re in a place they’ve never been before and they just know their way around. I don’t know why we don’t all remember. The Greeks believed that when you were born again, you drank from the river of Lethe so you’d forget previous lives.

OMNI

If we retained knowledge of past lives, would it be cheating, like taking a test with the book open? Are we supposed to learn in each life without benefit from our previous lessons?

Weiss

Yes. Suppose that between lifetimes you say, “Yeah, I’ve spent ten lifetimes learning about charity. I know all about it. I’m a charitable person.” Okay, now comes the field test. You’re born, put into a situation. Is charity ingrained so deeply that you don’t have to act charitably because of a specific memory or because it’s now part of your nature?

OMNI

So you think we’re born with certain values and ideals?

Weiss

Yes, the whole purpose is that it gets ingrained, not at the level of the brain, but of the heart, the soul. That’s where real learning takes place, so that you’re not dependent just on what your parents teach you. If one’s parents were bigots, for the child to overcome that and become compassionate, understanding, charitable, unbigoted, requires a degree of independence that transcends what we’re taught. This is the soul memory in addition to specific talents, abilities, or whatever else the soul might bring back with it. Our real lesson here is to learn of love in all its ramifications — truth, compassion, generosity, mercy.

OMNI

Religions and philosophies say the goal is perfection, to become “one with God,” the creator or higher being.

Weiss

That’s part of it. But it’s like asking a third grader, “What are you learning in this arithmetic course?” And he says, “I’m learning about addition, long division, and multiplication tables.” He can’t even comprehend geometry, advanced algebra, and calculus. We’re limited by what we know. I suspect the reward has to do with love, with merging with higher consciousness, but it may be so far beyond what we can comprehend now; it’s hard to put into words. You can sense it when you’re on target. You do something compassionate and a tear of joy comes to your eyes.



There’s no question in my mind that this has a tremendous therapeutic effect. Past-lives therapy is quick, vivid, relatively inexpensive, and people get better!


OMNI

The Hindus include animals in reincarnation. Have you seen that phenomenon in patients?

Weiss

I haven’t found that myself in doing this work.

OMNI

How can reincarnation be validated with data to support the claims of past lives?

Weiss

Dr. Ian Stevenson [1918-2007; longtime professor of psychiatry at the University of Virginia] has more than 2,000 cases of children from all over the world, many of whom exhibit xenoglossy, the ability to speak a foreign language to which one has had no exposure. Others know details about places they’ve never seen. No single individual by his or her story is going to prove reincarnation, but it’s the weight of evidence: hundreds of therapists with thousands of patients where this happens — children, nonbelievers, skeptics, all who come out with these details of past lives.

It’s very difficult to prove reincarnation scientifically because of what we consider scientific. As a psychiatrist, I’m vitally interested in my patients’ clinical improvement. There’s no question in my mind or those of the physicians and psychotherapists who are writing and calling me that this has a tremendous therapeutic effect. Past-lives therapy is quick, vivid, relatively inexpensive, and people get better! Right now I’m accumulating evidence that this therapy works and that people, whether they believe in reincarnation or not, can recall details they didn’t know from the distant or recent past.

OMNI

Tell us about your recent project with the physics department at New York University.

Weiss

They’re bringing from China experts at what we’d call healing, what they call energy. The physicists are trying to measure it — eventually, I guess, to build some sort of machine that could mimic the effect and induce more rapid healing or cellular changes. They’re studying the effects these experts have on viruses or bacteria, on people with certain ailments, and measuring the energy at the same time. The healers talk about reincarnation. On my last trip to New York, I regressed one Chinese physician who was more interested in that than the physicists’ research. He already knows how that works. He was insistent, so I regressed him through an interpreter, and two lifetimes came up.

OMNI

We can’t see or feel this energy, and we can’t explain it.

Weiss

That’s why you need a physicist. Take a dog whistle: Because we can’t hear it doesn’t mean a sound isn’t being generated. If 100 years ago I told you we’d be able to turn on a box with a glass front that captured waves plucked out of the air by a metal rod on the side of your house and turned them into an instantaneous picture right in the box, with sound, so that you could see in Miami what was going on simultaneously in Moscow, you’d say, “This guy is out of it! What would you call that wave?” And I’d say, “I don’t know yet, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real.” We just don’t have the names for these wave/particle phenomena; our range is too limited. We’ll eventually use our minds to become aware of and generate these same energies or wave/particle phenomena.

If I said that you are really a mass of electrons, protons, neutrons, and wave/particle reactions, you’d say, “But I’m solid.” And I’d say, “That’s not true, because at some deeper level, you’re energy. And some day if they could harness that energy, some enterprising physicist could probably build a bomb out of you.” The body is not what it seems, but that is true of all of reality.

OMNI

Will physicists show that science, mysticism, spirituality, religion, and parapsychology are linked through quantum mechanics?

Weiss

Physicists are the mystics of the Nineties and the next century. They’ve begun to study consciousness, time reversal, all the phenomena previously called occult or esoteric. These things will be scientifically proven to have their roots in nature. Some concepts that seem strange to us now won’t be as we understand more of their underlying physics.

OMNI

How do past-life experiences and relationships affect one’s present life?

Weiss

In every way. Many of your most meaningful relationships are not new. Past lives also affect us in symptoms, emotional and physical. Certain fears and anxieties carry over from other lifetimes. Physical symptoms, where one may have been wounded or hurt in a previous life, frequently come up. In about a dozen obese patients, I’ve found two patterns that frequently emerge: A person once died emaciated or there was sexual abuse from a past life. A woman decides, “I will never be attractive to men again,” and keeps the weight on in this life as a form of protection.

OMNI

Are there some conditions more effectively treated using past-life therapy?

Weiss

Yes, phobias, specific things that may have their roots in a past life. Conditions like migraines.

OMNI

Sometimes people who’ve never given reincarnation a thought will, under hypnosis during therapy, tap into a past life.

Weiss

Yes, and frequently that’s how therapists, physicians, psychologists, and others have themselves accidentally discovered the field. These memories don’t seem to come from an altered state. Many children, when they get a little drowsy at bedtime, when the normal filters are relaxed, come out with details of another time and place. Adults, too, in the hypnagogic state uncover memories. Sometimes a dream may yield a memory fragment — and not a Freudian distortion or wish, symbol, or metaphor.

Often while reliving a past life under hypnosis, patients have technical or detailed knowledge about something they know nothing about in this life. One of the best cases is New Jersey physician Dr. Bob Jarmon’s first. It happened when he didn’t believe in past lives. A Jewish woman in her thirties was seeing him for hypnotherapy for weight loss, and she started developing another symptom: Her periods stopped, and she developed lower abdominal tenderness. She was becoming more anxious, and Jarmon thought she might be pregnant in the Fallopian tube, which can be dangerous because it can burst. When he referred her to a gynecologist, there was no evidence of pregnancy.

She continued to see Jarmon, and they were working on her anxiety when he said, “Go back to the time from which your symptoms first arose.” She went back to the Middle Ages and was five months pregnant with an ectopic pregnancy. In that past life, she was Catholic and was with a priest who wouldn’t allow abortion or surgery, so she died. And just before she died, she repeated the Catholic act of contrition to the priest, word for word. Jarmon is Catholic and recognized it. The woman, though, in the present, had never heard of it.

This happens all the time. I hear details of dress, culture, how to make butter, cheeses, put on roofs, herd goats. But again, it’s hard to prove. I’ve found talents, too, carried over from a past life. I found a young boy who knew the specifications of World War II bombers — he just knew it, because, he said, he flew them when he was big. Children often say that — "Don’t you remember when I was big?”

OMNI

Give us an example of a dramatic turnaround.

Weiss

A woman couldn’t button the top button of her blouse. By recalling a past life under hypnosis, she learned she’d been guillotined. This had affected her present life’s relationships, the ability to trust. Once she remembered the guillotine incident, she was able to close the top button right away, and that set off a chain reaction. It all began to clear up.

But a past life is not necessary for everyone to remember. The subconscious directs the traffic. If it’s important and will help you to get rid of a symptom, of course, remembering is necessary, but if it’s not, you may not remember the past life. You may remember 5 of your 80 or 90 past lives because only those relate to what you’re working on in this life.

OMNI

Do patients of some ages respond better than others?

Weiss

I wasn’t trained in child psychiatry, although I took courses in it. I see people between 18 and 99. It’s not age so much as the person, however I see more women than men — three to one. But that’s true of all psychotherapists. Women are more open to this and less afraid. And since I’ve relied more on past lives therapy I use medication less. If someone is severely depressed, I still use antidepressants. Not only does that help the depression, it makes the person more accessible; they’re able to focus and concentrate better.

OMNI

How does experiencing a past life affect a person’s brain waves?

Weiss

In hypnosis, you find relaxed alpha and theta brain rhythms. But in past lives, you find all different brain patterns — alpha, beta, theta, visual waves — because the occipital cortex, controlling vision, is stimulated. Using enhanced EEG, I’ve seen a whole smorgasbord of brain-wave patterns.

OMNI

What are some misconceptions about reincarnation?

Weiss

Probably the most famous is that everyone was Napoleon or Julius Caesar. Most of us have been living pretty ordinary lives. There have been even more misconceptions about hypnosis — that it’s the only way to have reincarnation memories. Hypnosis is only a state of focused concentration. You’re not sleeping; it’s not a dream. Your mind is still there; you know where you are. You don’t get stuck in a past life or under hypnosis. You don’t have heart attacks; you don’t actually re-experience the physical pain or disabilities. You’re aware of it but can float above it or stop it at any time.

OMNI

Have any patients taken a turn for the worse as a result of this therapy?

Weiss

I still haven’t found one. This has to do with the wisdom of the subconscious mind. It will not let something out that harms a person.

OMNI

Can we go forward to future lives?

Weiss

People are doing this work, such as psychologist Chet Snow, president of the APRT [Association of Past Life Research and Therapy] society. I haven’t found it, probably because I’m not looking for it. Mostly I’m doing therapy, and it seems to have some residue from the past. In this lifetime, we look back. At another level, as physicists tell us, there is no time. I tried going into the future with Catherine right off the bat, and she said it wasn’t allowed. You can learn from the past, but the future, that’s a series of probabilities. Parallel lives or universes, too, represent alternatives. But to me it’s like climbing a tree: The higher up you get, the more committed you are to a particular branch. You’re not on the other branches, but they’re still there.

OMNI

How has working with reincarnation therapy affected your religious beliefs?

Weiss

If I were filling out a form I’d still write Jewish, but I’m much more a part of all religions now, trying to feel and act more spiritual than religious. To me, because there is one God, in everything, I’m hoping the distinctions among people disappear, that we all realize we’re connected. I’d be much happier if there were just one religion, one of love and spirit, hope and wisdom. My work made me more aware of the environment. We have to come back and live on this planet again. So what we do is not just affecting our children.

OMNI

When you stumbled upon past-life therapy, were you seeking something different from life?

Weiss

I was not. I was chairman of psychiatry at Mount Sinai, the youngest professor of psychiatry ever at the University of Miami Medical School. I was publishing, getting national recognition in my field, earning a lot of money; my family life was going very well. In the Seventies, my wife and another couple wanted to see a psychic as a lark. I wouldn’t go, saying, “Why waste your money? We can go to a movie, do something real.” So they didn’t go.

That’s how closed I was, just floating along, and along comes something to turn you upside down. It didn’t come out of a spiritual crisis but a time of comfort and affluence. The change really hinged on my conversation with Catherine, then subsequent patients during the next ten years, my reading, and meditation, too.

OMNI

Why did you decide to go public with Many Lives Many Masters?

Weiss

It was a difficult decision, and it took four years. Even after I finished treating Catherine, the tapes of those sessions collected dust in my closet because I feared for my reputation. But I kept finding people with these experiences, and fear of death seemed so pervasive, and here I was finding out that death is not what it appears. By going public, I’d reach more people, so I started feeling guilty that I had all this information and wasn’t sharing it.

Most other doctors I’ve talked to are quite reluctant to go public. Still, I’ve gotten more than 100 letters from physicians around the world who’ve done this work for up to 20 years, but in the privacy of their offices. They always preface it with, “Don’t tell anyone, but . . .” Then out come these beautiful case histories. My youngest brother, an oncologist in St. Louis, is finding mystical experiences, out-of-body experiences, with his dying cancer patients. A lot of doctors are having them but are afraid to talk about it. Some are in my new book.

OMNI

Tell us about your past lives.

Weiss

The first time was when I got acupressure massage for an old neck injury that was flaring up. I wasn’t telling a soul about my research. I’d go into this very relaxed, almost meditative state, and about the fourth session, I saw an image of myself. I was taller, thin, wearing a multicolored robe, standing in a large geometric-shaped building. I knew I was a priest — very powerful, with the ear of the royal family. I had some psychic abilities and spiritual knowledge in that life, too, and was misusing it for personal gain and power. It was a very good life. [laughter] Easy, but wasted. The word ziggurat kept ringing in my head. I had no conscious memory of that word, although that doesn’t prove I didn’t come across it in college or something. I looked it up and found it’s a word for architectural structures, temples of the Babylonian era.

Years later, I had a dream of being imprisoned in a European dungeon, my arm chained to the wall. I was being tortured for teaching my religious beliefs, which included reincarnation. As I died in that dungeon, I became aware of a message: “When you had the chance to teach, you did not.” I knew that meant I should have taught about love rather than reincarnation and get killed for it. I went too far. The implication was, “Now you can have both.”

OMNI

Who are the Masters?

Weiss

Catherine described them as the source of information coming to her, and they would come through her to me. She had no memory of them when awakened from hypnosis, but when in between remembering past lives, she’d go into a state where the Masters’ spirits would come. The knowledge was very unlike her; even the phonetics, grammar, style were different. Other patients, too, tell me things that are coming from a purer source, not contaminated by our brains. The personal information was the Masters’ way of getting my attention. That was the turning point, when I started to believe it rather than think it was imagination or fantasy.

OMNI

Is past-life therapy the next great leap for psychiatry?

Weiss

Some marvelous breakthroughs will come with the biological understanding of the brain, with understanding Alzheimer’s, other memory disorders, schizophrenia, manic-depressive illness. Past-life therapy is also extremely important, and while it may not be the next great leap, it may be the most important.

[end]


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This article copyright © 1994 by Nina L. Diamond. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



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