A pilot’s soul in a young boy’s body. Fascinating, right?
Reincarnation is the return of the soul to the world after its physical death.
In Buddhism, reincarnation is explained as our energy continuing to the physical realm, samsara, thoroughly inhabiting a new body if our karmic actions weren’t cleansed in our previous lifetime. We will keep on returning until there is nothing left to correct, or pay back.
In a previous article, I talked about reincarnation and the story of a young girl in India. In the Eastern world, where that girl lives, reincarnation is considered a natural part of life’s cycles. However, people in the Western world are more skeptical of its existence. For some, it seems too unrealistic. For others, they don’t accept it unless it is proven.
Sogyal Rinpoche says in his book The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying:
“Sometimes I tease people and ask: What makes you so adamant that there’s no life after death? What proof do you have? What if you found there was a life after this one, having died denying its existence? What would you do then? Aren’t you limiting yourself with your conviction that it doesn’t exist? Doesn’t it make more sense to give the possibility of a life after death the benefit of the doubt, or at least be open to it, even if there is not what you would call ‘concrete evidence’?”
However, I believe that some people do present concrete evidence about the existence of life after death.
I believe that the story below will give enough strong evidence that many people in the west ask for:
James Leininger was born on April 10, 1998 to Bruce and Andrea. After turning two years of age, James started to experience vivid nightmares that would make him scream out from his sleep. On May 1, 2000, when James was just over two years of age, Andrea heard her son’s voice pierce the night’s calm: “Airplane crash! Plane on fire! Little man can’t get out!” Andrea ran to his bedroom and saw James struggling. “He was lying there on his back, kicking and clawing on the covers, like he was trying to kick his way out of a coffin.”
The same nightmare kept recurring several times a week. When Andrea asked who the little man in the plane was, James replied: “Me”. When Bruce asked James who shot his plane down, James stated, “The Japanese.”
Bruce and Andrea were impressed yet puzzled with James’s knowledge regarding Japanese World War II, as they knew he did not learn this information though normal means. When his parents asked for the names of other people in the nightmares, James stated that he had a friend who was also a pilot, whose name was “Jack Larsen.”
In addition to having nightmares about an airplane crash, his parents noted that James had an obsession with airplanes, particularly WW II aircraft with propellers. For example, when Andrea gave James a toy plane with what looked like a bomb under it, James looked at it and said: “That’s not a bomb, Mommy, that’s a dwop tank.”
It was Andrea’s mother, Bobbi, who first hypothesized that James’s nightmares could stem from a past lifetime. Over time, little James revealed that the man in his nightmares was also named James, that he flew a plane called a Corsair, that the plane he flew took off from a boat and that the boat’s name was the “Natoma.” He knew that the Corsair would veer to the left on takeoff and that the Corsair had a tendency to blow tires out upon landing.
While Andrea was comfortable with the idea of reincarnation, Bruce was extremely reluctant to consider that James’s memories could derive from a past incarnation, as it conflicted with his deep Christian beliefs. Still, he started to research statements made by little James. Bruce, for example, found that there was indeed a World War II aircraft carrier named the Natoma Bay, which operated in the Pacific. Therefore, he obtained a book on aircraft carriers engaged in the Pacific. When Bruce and James leafed through it and they came to a section on the Battle of Iwo Jima, James told his father that it was there, at the Battle of Iwo Jima, that his plane was shot down and crashed.
Bruce then learned that the Natoma Bay had indeed supported the Marine’s invasion of Iwo Jima. Little James would draw pictures of battle scenes, which featured propeller planes and bombs exploding. He would sign his pictures, “James 3.” He gave his GI Joe dolls unusual names, including Billy, Leon and Walter, names that his parents never mentioned, names that none of their friends had.
Though Bruce was reluctant to accept that his son’s memories derived from a past lifetime, James’s fund of knowledge of WW II aircraft made him research this possibility in earnest. He searched through military records and archives. Bruce learned that the Natoma Bay crew held reunions. He decided to attend one of these gatherings and Bruce traveled to his first Natoma Bay reunion, held in San Diego on September 11, 2002, one year after the World Trade Center terrorist attacks.
At the reunion, Bruce learned that 18 aircraft carrier pilots from the Natoma Bay had died during service in the Pacific. One of them was named James Huston, Jr. Recall that little James said that his name was also James. He even signed his battle pictures, James 3, which could refer to the third James is a series, that is, James Sr., James Jr. and little James 3. Bruce also learned that James Huston was the only pilot to die in the invasion of battle of Iwo Jima. Huston died on March 3, 1945.
Bruce also found that Billy, Leon and Walter were the names of three NGI Joe WW II aviators who had died before James Huston, Jr. Their full names were Billie Peeler, Leon Connor, and Walter Devlin.
Bruce also learned that Jack Larsen was indeed another pilot on the Natoma Bay. Larsen was still alive and living in Arkansas. Bruce visited him there. James’s memory of having a friend named Jack Larsen was also thus verified.
Bruce eventually found pilots who witnessed James Huston’s plane go down. Jack Durham, John Provost and Bob Skelton saw that an antiaircraft shell knocked the propeller off of Huston’s plane. This explained why little James would knock propellers off his toy planes.
Andrea Leininger was able to use census and other records to find the family of James Huston, Jr. She learned a surviving sister, Anne Huston Barron who was living in California. Anne was 84 years old when Andrea contacted her. She set up a phone call between Anne and little James. In this conversation, James knew many personal details of James Huston’s life, which Anne confirmed as accurate. Examples include: James told Anne that he called her Annie. He also reported that their father was alcoholic and smashed things when drunk, and that he had to go into rehab for alcoholism. Anne corroborated all of this.
Bruce put his feelings into action by creating a memorial to commemorate those who had died on the Natoma Bay. This memorial was inaugurated at the Nimitz Museum in Texas. Many Natoma Bay veterans attended this inauguration.
One of the people who James saw at the Nimitz museum was Bob Greenwald, who he recognized on sight and who he named correctly. When Bruce asked James how he knew that this man was Bob Greenwald, James said he had recognized his voice. At the ceremony, little James also was reunited with his old friend, Jack Larson. Little James wore a miniature pilot’s flight suit on the ceremony.
The story of James gives us the benefit of the doubt, which Sogyal Rinpoche talked about in his book, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. We can recognize many signs in our own lives that subtly tell us that we have lived before. Like the case of James Leininger—this young kid showed us how he recognizes people, events, and places.
We can take the example of what we experience in our daily lives. How many times do we meet with people and have this feeling that we have met before? What about the places where we visit and feel that we belong there or feel right at home? We may not be blessed with the intensity of memories like James had, but we still can depict or have a small clue about who we were before. This is the perspective of Eastern culture.
Unfortunately, Western culture tends to deny reincarnation because its people are not educated in religions of the east. For those people who fear religion as this domineering and controlling entity, they are scared to look at what’s beyond their teachings and beliefs. However, the most dominant religion in the far East is Buddhism and reincarnation is a highly pivotal aspect of the teachings of Buddhism. In Tibet, for instance, when a master dies, his disciples look for his reincarnation so his teachings can move forward. They say that the master gives them a sign of where to look through a dream or a vision.
Religions rule the world; maybe this is why we don’t accept reincarnation—because it contradicts what we believed in since we were kids.
I think the story of James can act like a wakeup call for people in the west. Maybe it is time to be more open to life’s possibilities and see what is beyond our own convictions.
Therefore we ask, if we, Westerners gave reincarnation the benefit of the doubt, what would we do today?
I bet we would work a little bit harder to change the way we live because how we’re living now will tell a lot about how we will die tomorrow.
Author: Elyane Youssef
Editor: Caitlin Oriel