Bhikkhu Anālayo's book: Rebirth in Early Buddhism & Current Research

About the Book

Rebirth in Early Buddhism & Current Research falls into four chapters. The first chapter examines the early Buddhist doctrine of rebirth, in particular the teachings on dependent arising in their bearing on rebirth, recollection of past lives as an aspect of the Buddha’s awakening, the law of karma held to be governing rebirth, and the importance accorded to the doctrine of rebirth as part of right view, the forerunner and foundation of the early Buddhist path to awakening.

The second chapter surveys debates on rebirth, starting with relevant instances from early Buddhist texts and continuing with snapshots of debating strategies from later sources in India, in China during the first centuries of its reception of Buddhism, and up to modern times. A topic of considerable relevance to such debates is the issue of “confirmation bias” or “my-side bias”, a recurrent tendency in discussions on rebirth to read data in such a way that it conforms to one’s own preconceived notions.

The third chapter offers a survey of current research on rebirth. It begins with near-death experiences, with a particular focus on apparently verified perceptions during comatose conditions. Next comes past-life regression, again with an emphasis on seemingly verified information obtained in this manner. This is followed by reports of children who believe to be remembering past lives. The final topic in this survey is xenoglossy, an ability to speak languages that do not seem to have been learned previously in this life.

A study of a selection of Pāli chants done spontaneously by a child in Sri Lanka forms the subject of the fourth chapter. After a survey of relevant background information, the recited texts are compared with extant editions of the Pāli canon, showing the degree to which such comparison supports his remembrance that he learned these chants during a past life. An appendix has transcriptions of the Pāli chants studied in this chapter.

The Child Who Chanted

The story of Dhammaruwan, a child who spontaneously began chanting suttas in Pali at two years old.

Dhammaruwan was born on the 18th of November 1968 in Matale, Sri Lanka. At an age of about 2 years he spontaneously would sit in meditation and then start chanting, as well as at times saying things in a language not understood by his mother, who tried to hush him up.

At a later time he and his mother went from Matale to Kandy to stay with Bertie and Rosa Seneviratne, who became his step-parents.

When Dhammaruwan was about three years old, his chanting of a part of the Dhammacakkappavattana-sutta was overheard by someone in the house, at a time when Bertie and Rosa had gone to India, leading to the eventual realization that he was chanting a Pāli text. On their return, Bertie encouraged the boy to continue and regularly made recordings of the chants, copies of which he would give to interested visitors. By the time of growing up into an adult, Dhammaruwan lost the ability to perform these chants.

According to Dhammaruwan’s memories, he learned the Pāli chants in a former lifetime in India, where he had been born as the son of a brahmin and trained in memorization of the Vedas. He had gone forth as a Buddhist monk and become a student of the eminent monk Buddhaghosa at Nālandā. After being trained as a reciter, together with other monks who had similarly been trained he was chosen to accompany Buddhaghosa from India to Sri Lanka. Having come to Sri Lanka, he stayed with Buddhaghosa at the Mahāvihāra in Anurādhapura.

Listen to Dhammaruwan’s chanting:

The Dhammacakkappavattana-sutta, the Buddha’s first sermon, in which he disclosed the four noble truths.

The Girimānanda-sutta, which lists ten meditative perceptions.