Many Happy Returns by W.H. Church
Harper and Row, Publishers, San Francisco, California, 1984, 240 pgs., $14.95.
Most books on past-life memories and reincarnation are extraordinarily naive. Not only is transmigration (metempsychosis) a complex philosophical issue, it cannot be adequately explained unless there is strong empirical evidence to support it. When such data are lacking, as is usually the case, reincarnation turns from being a hypothesis for scientific study to a religious belief to be wholly accepted or rejected. The result is a plethora of gullible accounts of individuals who recount their past lives. But almost none of these "remembrances" can be proven authentic because more plausible psychological explanations are not hard to find. (See D. Scott Rogo's "Adventures in Make-Believe?", December 1982, Fate.)
Many Happy Returns is a classic example of excessive naivete. Although W.H. Church should be congratulated for his painstaking work in collating the material of Edgar Cayce's past- life readings (the book is subtitled "The Lives of Edgar Cayce"), his book is simply unbelievable. Nor is it scientifically reliable; the author confesses to having "added" to and "developed" the readings. It is not even interesting.
What we have here is a series of stories concerning Cayce's previous incarnations in Egypt, Troy, Greece and other places. But through each successive "life" the reader, instead of becoming convinced of the readings' accuracy, becomes wearily suspicious. Is it really reasonable to believe that Cayce was Pythagoras in a previous existence just because there happen to be certain similarities between the two lives?
Reincarnation studies, for the most part, lack a strong critical edge. The principle of "Occam's razor" (the scientific- philosophical rule that requires that the simplest of competing theories be preferred to the more complex, or that explanations of unknown phenomena be sought first in terms of quantities) should be applied whenever possible in past-life regressions. If not, we end up with narratives like Cayce's which at best are unprovable and at worst highly misleading.
There may indeed be some truth to the concept of transmigration. But Many Happy Returns only glosses over the numerous contradictions in Cayce's past-life readings in order to convince the reader that reincarnation is viable. Moreover, Cayce's concept of metempsychosis is convoluted, typical of a Western Theosophical influence, where Indian philosophy gets inappropriately connected with Christian eschatology.
For instance, in Chapter 16 Church tries to argue for the Second Coming of Christ based on Cayce's trance readings predicting his future birth. But this link entirely misunderstands the Eastern notion of successive lives. A devout Hindu mystic does not want to fulfill the world, he wants to transcend it. Reincarnation in Eastern philosophy is a curse where one is locked in a karmic wheel of birth and rebirth, action and reaction.
The title of Church's book itself exemplifies the very thing
religious Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs fear. Rather than wishing
"Many Happy Returns" to Edgar Cayce, in the Orient one would wish
him "no more returns." As for the reader, unless he has an avid
interest in Cayce, the only happy return is at the refund
David Christopher Lane