Appendix: Science and Survival

There are still those who suppose that it is somehow “unscientific” to believe in any form of survival. There is actually no justification for this view, and certainly today not all scientists would endorse it.

As has been pointed out earlier, there are psychological reasons why some scientists almost willfully shut their eyes to all evidence for the paranormal; this enables them to continue operating on the assumption that all manifestations of “mind” are simply by-products of the body, determined by it and perishing with it. In this way, mental activities are reduced to “mere” functions of the brain, and so on. In fact, however, it should be stressed that the brain does not think.

The human brain is a very remarkable organ, which has still been only very superficially explored, owing to obvious practical difficulties in addition to its own quite extraordinary complexity. But quite certainly not all mental activities can be related to it. The various forms of ESP (extra-sensory-perception) phenomena are facts, and nothing in the physical brain has been found to account for them, even by officially materialist Soviet-bloc scientists who have a vested interest in establishing such a connection. Telepathy, for instance, is not (except metaphorically) a form of “mental radio”: as the late G.N.M. Tyrrell, who was both a distinguished psychic researcher and a radio expert, long ago pointed out, it does not obey the law governing all forms of physical radiation, the inverse square law connecting intensity with distance.

Now while the existence of telepathy does not in itself prove survival or rebirth — indeed it is often rather freely invoked to “explain” evidence pointing to survival — it does prove that something mental can “jump” through space (and even time!) with no physical link. And this is of the very essence of rebirth in the Buddhist view. And since telepathy is certainly a fact, and widely accepted as such, all arguments against the possibility of rebirth fall to the ground on this point alone. The shrinking band of hardened skeptics who still doubt the fact of telepathy have quite clearly not faced up to the overwhelming evidence for it; indeed they have not even observed it in themselves, though it probably occurs to some extent with everybody, even if unrecognized as such.

There is, of course, a wealth of positive evidence for survival in general and for rebirth in particular. The material collected by the Society for Physical Research over nearly a century is highly impressive, and every single item in these records has been subjected before acceptance to the most stringent tests — far more stringent in fact than for many modern scientific “discoveries.” On rebirth in particular, reference can now be made to Rebirth as Doctrine and Experience: Essays and Case Studies by Francis Story (Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy 1975), which incorporates the same writer’s Wheel publication The Case for Rebirth. Dr. Ian Stevenson, Carlson Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Division of Parapsychology in the University of Virginia School of Medicine, who collaborated with Francis Story, is the author of a number of important works on the subject, including Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation (2nd edition, University of Virginia 1974), and three volumes of Cases of the Reincarnation Type (University of Virginia 1975-6). A Penguin book probably still obtainable which gives an admirable survey of the general field of psychic phenomena is G.N.M. Tyrrell’s The Personality of Man; some further fascinating material can also be found in The Cathars and Reincarnation by a distinguished English psychiatrist, Dr. Arthur Guirdham (Neville Spearman, London, 1970). The extraordinary career of Edgar Cayce (1877-1945), who has now become something of a cult-figure in the U.S.A, is well worth studying; one of the best books on him is Many Mansions by Dr. Gina Cerminara, first published in 1950 and often reprinted.



Hinsie & Shatzky, Psychiatric Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 1940.


Buddhist Dictionary, Colombo 1950.


Buddhist Meditation, Colombo 1962, p. 209.


The full text of this passage is to be found in The Path of Purification (Visuddhimagga) by Bhadantaacariya Buddhaghosa, translated from the Pali by Bhikkhu Ñanamoli, Kandy 1975 (BPS), pp. 247-259. A lucid, learned, and witty commentary is provided by Edward Conze in Thirty Years of Buddhist Studies, Oxford 1967, pp. 87-104. The reader may also consult with profit V. F. Gunaratna, Buddhist Reflections on Death (Wheel Publications 102/103), Kandy 1966.

Source: “Buddhism and Death”, by M. O’C. Walshe. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013, .

© 2005

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You may copy, reformat, reprint, republish, and redistribute this work in any medium whatsoever, provided that: (1) you only make such copies, etc. available free of charge and, in the case of reprinting, only in quantities of no more than 50 copies; (2) you clearly indicate that any derivatives of this work (including translations) are derived from this source document; and (3) you include the full text of this license in any copies or derivatives of this work. Otherwise, all rights reserved. Documents linked from this page may be subject to other restrictions. The Wheel Publication No. 261 (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1978). Transcribed from the print edition in 2005 by Oliver First, under the auspices of the Access to Insight Dhamma Transcription Project and by arrangement with the Buddhist Publication Society. Pali diacritics are represented using the Velthuis convention. Last revised for Access to Insight on 30 November 2013.

Editor’s note: First published as Sangha Guide No. 3 by the English Sangha Trust, Wat Dhammapadipa, London.