Over on Tom Stine’s blog, he raised the subject of past lives / reincarnation. It’s an intriguing subject I’ve skimmed over in some posts like the above. Tom makes an important point that Past Lives are not truth and can be a barrier too it. He also observes that past lives are simply memory. While I agree with the basic point, there is more going on than just random recall. I thought it was time to talk about it more.
Firstly, anyone who says they were famous and rich in a past life is probably telling you a nice story. Possible but pretty unlikely. Real past life recollections are usually something dramatic and often related to what’s going on in your life now. Think about it – that’s how memory works. Strong impressions, related to current thought.
At first, we may have a very strong, vivid impression but it may be vague. Or it’s a clear memory without any context. Could be some dream or imagination. A simple rule of thumb is that if it’s real, it will grow clearer and more complete. And it’s often a surprise and frequently not happy. If it’s a dream, it will stay the same and fade off.
Over time, other aspects and related memories will come along and fill in the gaps and add context. Often times, we may find the recollections hard to accept. I did such a stupid or nasty thing? I had such a vile life? We don’t choose our memories. They may well not be pretty. But we’ve all been there. As they fill out a bit, they will bring some context to our life. This has several benefits.
For one, it gives understanding to the apparent irrationality of our life. Why, for example, I ended up as a police officer for a period of my life. Secondly, by seeing the past from the light of the present, we are better able to let go of some of the baggage we’ve been carrying. This can sometimes resolve old and deep issues that may or may not have an apparent cause.
At some point, something will come up in a memory that can be verified in the present. A book written, a name, or some other detail. By that time, you will probably have learned enough that it serves only as a final verification.
When we see the continuity of our lives and how we came to be where we are, we gain context and perspective. We can allow the experience of our life more. We also overcome the fear of death. When we see what death has been for us, pleasant and otherwise, it looses its grip. As Tom observes, you may not know the death to come, but that’s just detail.
Certainly not everyone will want or need such a journey through the past. And as Tom suggests, it is a place that can trap us. It is after all the past, not the present.
It is also worth noting that memory is always revisionist. We are always perceiving what was from where we are now. As mentioned, this is useful but is not what was. We can never “go back”, just as we can never really remember what puberty was like once we are adults. Any recollections must be treated with a grain of salt. What is key is not the details but rather the theme, the undercurrent. The difficult decision that we are now experiencing the other side of. The consequences of being a shit disturber. The error of killing another. How important it was when we first got wind of something deeper. The necessity of a spiritual approach to life so we take best advantage of the time we have now.
But equally, coming to terms with our deeper past can allow us to move past our own past and into what is. Satisfy and move on. Dump the baggage we have been holding.
It was suggested that there is no way to know what is a collective memory and what is a true past life recollection. I don’t agree. Past lives are experienced very much like remembering how things were 30 years ago, only its 150, or 13,500. The you is there but at an earlier time, with a different view.
There is a sense of self, the soul or jiva, that runs through ones own past. Indeed, there is an actual sutra or thread that can be followed. Soul is what one might describe as a wave on the ocean of being. As the soul evolves, it regains its relationship with the whole, but the wave continues. It is simply not lost to the One.
Another point to touch on here is the evolution of perspective. As we evolve in consciousness, our view of self and time change. When we’re describing this we have to be careful not to mix up the perspectives.
For most of us, we are experiencing being in time and space. There is a past and future, and our past can bring us lessons. Being seen, we can let go of the baggage we have long carried.
As we progress down the path, the illusory nature of this past becomes seen and the “mesh” of connections we carry with others begins to collapse. When we let go now what was carried as a past need for revenge, the motivation is lost and the action is undone. Not only does the karma end but the consequences too. This actually changes history. The apparent past is found to be a false causality, a dream one could say.
When we come to be living fully in the now, past and future collapse into the present. They still exist, only now they are not separate but rather concurrent. All of it is now. It’s like having a thousand arms and heads (laughs).
As the unification progresses, all lives collapse into the one life and we can flip through anyone’s life in any time or place. All chains of continuity share the same line. It is all One. The person is not lost, they are simply within the One. The One is always inclusive.
While we wake up from the dream, the dream continues, we are simply not lost to it anymore.
Of course, how any of this is experienced by any given person varies. None of it is necessary.
It’s useful to observe that ideas and concepts are quite different from the experience of it. To say “I am One” is an interesting thing to think about but don’t mistake it for being.
The other point Tom raised – that it is all simply memory. This is quite true. Indeed, everything we experience is memory. Smriti they call it in Sanskrit. Everything is thought into existence. Thought arises from memory. That lag means it is always the past, it is never now.
It is all a memory. A memory of a dream. (laughs) Only presence is now.