Past imperfect

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By Past life regression therapy makes extraordinary claims but it's gaining a steady following, says Paran Balakrishnan
  • Published 29.08.10

Newton Kondaveti makes no predictions about the future, but he’s very sure about his past. Kondaveti, who has an MBBS degree under his belt, insists he was once a Buddhist monk in the university at Taxila in ancient India. “My past life memories came to me very spontaneously,” he says.

Were you a king of queen in a past life? Or did you, in one of your earlier existences, suffer a spear injury that has returned to haunt you in the form of a mysterious pain that won’t go away? Or do you have an irrational phobia that has no visible causes?

Kings and queens, or for that matter Japanese courtesans, are all in a day’s work if you happen to be a past life regressionist. And that person on the therapy couch may look like an ordinary middle-class Indian, but he could turn out to have been anyone from Alexander the Great to a foot soldier in some ill-fated mediaeval army.

Newton Kondaveti’s inspiration to explore the metaphysical world came from Richard Bach’s novella Jonathan Livingstone Seagull

Sounds improbable? Past life regression may still be considered a fringe occupation along with colour therapy, psycho-astrologers and the like. But its popularity is growing by leaps and bounds, fuelled by television programmes like Raaz Pichhle Janam Ka, and it is gaining new adherents who are only too happy to believe they may have been anyone from an Eskimo living in the Arctic wastes to European nobles who were the victim of intrigue and vicious court politics.

The surge in interest in past life regression is keeping people like Shoheli Biswas on the go. Biswas used to be an interior designer but a year ago she decided to look instead at the insides of people’s minds and became a past life therapist. Says Biswas, who learnt the ropes at Newton Kondaveti’s Life Research Academy in Hyderabad and now treats patients there: “For me it has been an incredible journey. I feel this is the purpose of my life.”

Or look at Neeta Yuvraj and her husband Yuvraj Kapadia who are busier than ever training people to be hypnotherapists at their California Hypnosis Institute of India. Says Neeta: “When we started there were only three people actively teaching in Mumbai and one in Delhi. Today we have more than 50 teachers around the world who have been trained by us.” They also have eight hynotherapists at their centre in Dubai.

Walk into therapist Neerja Handa’s clinic and there’s a DVD that seductively breathes the word “Surrender”. Handa explains the basics of hypnotherapy by drawing a large circle. At the top, there’s the conscious mind and it’s followed, by what she calls the ‘critical mind’. Below all is the subconscious. All this is fine and not too different from the theories propounded by Sigmund Freud the father of psychoanalysis.

Neeta Yuvraj practised homeopathy for 18 years before turning to hypnotherapy; Pic by Gajanan Dudhalkar

But then comes the twist in the tail, according to how Handa and other past life regressionists explain it. Below the subconscious lie the memories of our past lives. Says Handa: “All physical ailments have a metaphysical reason. I find that 70 per cent of problems are from this life. About 30 per cent are from past lives.”

Handa’s life was changed after she read the book that’s considered the bible in hypnotherapy circles called Many Lives, Many Masters by Brian Weiss. Suddenly, Handa who had once been a garment exporter decided that being a hypnotherapist and regressionist would be her calling. She signed up for a course at the California Hypnosis Institute and today she’s one of the trainers who takes newcomers at workshops that are held every few months.

Hypnotherapists and past life regressionists aren’t at all modest about their claims. They reckon almost any illness — even cancer — can be cured by their treatment. And relationship issues, they believe, can be handled by regressing patients to their childhood or a past life. Says therapist Yogesh Chaudhury: “You go to the event when the trauma was caused and release the trauma.”

Adds Handa: “The brain is the hardware, the mind is the software. The aim is to relax the conscious mind. And then open the file where the problem comes from in the mind.”

(From top) Calcutta-based therapist Shubhika Dudhoria says traumatic experiences carried forward from a past life are detrimental to our current life; Pic by Rashbehari Das, Neerja Handa, a former garment exporter, trained at the California Hypnosis Institute to be a therapist; Pic by Jagan Negi

For the therapists there’s always a thin line between problems, which they reckon, arise in this life and traumas that are associated with an earlier one. Poonam Tuli in Delhi says that past life regression is involved in roughly two out of 10 cases she treats and that simple hypnosis can be effective for everything from de-addiction to building self-confidence. Using hypnosis, she says she cured one patient of his fear of flying. But relationship issues, she says, usually stem from earlier lives and they need regression.

It may sound a bit dramatic but hypnotherapist Yogesh Chaudhary is firmly convinced that common illnesses such as asthma are always the result of a drastic event in a past life like a person being strangled or hung. Says Chaudhury: “Asthma is a past life issue. It’s where somebody died in a situation where breathing got stopped unnaturally. I don’t treat it as a physical disease and I have had a number of cases where people have thrown away their inhalers.”

Ailments like spondylitis are also invariably attributed to brutal endings in previous lives. Says Biswas: “It is usually regressed to a tragic death where they have been speared or knifed.”

In fact, in most past life regressionists’ books, pretty well all unexplained aches and pains are likely to be diagnosed as stemming from a previous life. Chaudhary tells of a patient who had pains in his shoulder and who was cured after they did a past life regression. The regression, apparently, showed that the man had lived by the Ganges in a previous life and had been mauled by a crocodile. Chaudhary says that after unearthing this memory the man was able to lift his arm immediately. Says Chaudhary: “If everything is stored in the subconscious, it can be accessed. And we can overwrite it.”

Adds Shubhika Dudhoria, past life therapist in Calcutta: “Traumatic experiences, relationships that are unhealed, or attitudes may be carried forward from a past lifetime that is detrimental to our current life. That is where regression therapy has traditionally been used.”

Newton Kondaveti talks about a patient who came to him from Pune and who made it very clear that he didn’t believe in reincarnation. This particular patient suffered from a burning sensation in a part of his body. Says Kondaveti: “I said, ‘Come with an open mind. We regressed him to a wartime situation where half his body was burnt. The next moment he was free from the burning sensation.”

Shoheli Biswas learnt the ropes at Newton Kondaveti’s Life Research Academy in Hyderabad

Soldiers and war-like earlier lives are, in fact, a common feature that crop up constantly in past life regressions. Says Handa: “A lot of the physical problems relate to people who were soldiers. Most of these are, of course, men.” Handa also says she gets lots of patients who discover that they were Europeans in a past life. “I get many people who go back to British times. Lots of patients go back to lives they had in Europe. Castles, palaces and all that stuff.”

But there’s no end, obviously, to the past life stories that crop up. Dealing with relationship problems that past life therapists insist are often the result of problems in earlier lives, software techie turned hypnotherapist Richard Rodrigues recounts how he encountered a woman who had marital problems that dragged on for over 20 years.

Rodrigues who now works at Neeta Yuvraj’s California Hypnosis Institute says that he took her back ‘three or four lives’ to a life in which she had been a Japanese prostitute who constantly rejected one of her clients who was in love with her. In her dying moments, he says, she had decided to that she wanted to feel her client’s pain of rejection. This led to her marital problems in this life. Says Rodrigues: “After this experience, her relationship with her husband became much better.”

Most of the past life regressionists who are practising today were inspired to take up regression after reading about the doings of Dr Sunny Satin, an Indian who trained under Brian Weiss in the US. Satin returned to India and started the California Hypnosis Institute. Says Neeta Yuvraj: “We went for a workshop out of curiosity and then got hooked.” Neeta practiced homeopathy for 18 years before turning to spiritual healing and hypnotherapy. Today there are several branches of the California Hypnosis Institute that hold training sessions independently.

(From top) Hypnotherapist Poonam Tuli says that past life regression is involved in roughly two out of 10 cases she treats; therapist Yogesh Chaudhary is convinced that some common illnesses are the result of a drastic event in a past life

On a slightly different track, in Hyderabad, Newton Kondaveti came to his past life experiences independently. As a young medical student he was constantly asking questions about what happened after death and, as a result, his father gave him a copy of the ’70s cult novella Jonathan Livingstone Seagull. The book made a great impact on Kondaveti. Later, in his quest for answers to the great metaphysical questions of life, he began meditation and he says he suddenly had past life memories. After that he began looking more closely at reincarnation and stories about people who had past life memories.

Today he holds workshops almost every weekend at his Life Research Academy in Hyderabad. He’s now planning to expand and open what he calls a Life Research University outside Hyderabad.

Sceptics who find the claims of past life regressionists tough to swallow can take heart by listening to Santhosh Babu, who’s a corporate trainer and hypnotherapist. Babu has done stage shows and regressed people to show “how it can be done”. He’s a staunch sceptic and pooh-poohs talk of past lives. “It’s amazing how all the Malayalees become Che Guevara when regressed,” he says. “You won’t find that in other parts of the country.”

Babu adds one riposte that strikes right at the heart of past life regression: “Even if you have a past life,” he says, “It won’t help to solve your karmic problems.”