In the book, the sage frequently talks of past lives in the various stories used as examples. For example, in the Story of Sukra, the god of Death (Yama) describes how the sage’s son follows a celestial nymph into heaven for a long while, then has a series of births to regain his merit and deal with incorrect deeds accrued in the process. The births are summarized as over 2 dozen, including everything from king and demi-god to worm and swan. Eventually, Sukra comes back to where he left off. It’s amusing to hear of being a shrub as ‘dense delusion’ or worms ‘blinded by ignorance’. We don’t tend to think of them being conscious, forgetting everything is consciousness.
From this, one would think that knowledge of past lives is wisdom and a deepening understanding of reality. However, Vasishta goes on to discuss states of consciousness. He observes that the dream state is transient while the waking state endures. The dream seems to be real while we experience it. In the same way, the waking state appears real as we are involved in it. But when we can transcend it, we discover waking too is transient, as if a waking dream. The difference between them is that in dream state, the life force has activated the mind and thought forms whereas in waking state, it has also awakened the senses.
He describes the world-appearance as a long dream manifesting everywhere, being the imagination of Brahma the creator and all others. (note the last 2 words) Objects born in one dream migrate to others, giving the world its apparent consistency. All dreams of course arise in mind.
When Rama then asks how it is the succession of births arise in Sukra’s mind, Vasishta explains that he had been taught by his father, the sage Bhrigu, of the succession of births. Thus his mind had been conditioned for it. He expected it, so he got it.
Some people will thus not experience past lives while others will resist the experience and still others will have them. Amusingly, in my own case, I was not conditioned to believe in past lives in my youth but rather carried the idea forward from prior lives. In other words, it was past life conditioning that I experience past lives. (laughs) The mind is very curious.
Perhaps the following will explain this further, understanding that seed desires in mind are what carry us forward into further births. Tom quoted Nisargadatta on the subject in one of his articles.
(I would argue though that if reality is born of mind and mind carries forward, what is reborn is a variant on a theme. What dies is merely the fulfilled desires.)
In the story of Lavana, Vasishta outlines 7 descending steps of ignorance and 7 ascending steps of wisdom.
He describes the delusion as sevenfold. Note how these are variants on the basic 3 “states of consciousness“:
1 – seed state of wakefulness – mind and jiva present but not active (the experience of waking and for a moment not knowing ‘who you are’)
2 – wakefulness – usual waking, concepts ‘I’ and ‘this’ active
3 – great wakefulness – above notions stronger from memory of past lives.
4 – wakeful dream – mind filled with dreams
5 – dream – sleep dreams which appear real
6 – dream wakefulness – recall past experience as if real now
7 – sleep – inert dullness, mind is asleep
Notice how 3 is memory of past lives but part of an expanded delusion. 6, when they are experienced as if real, is just above sleep, the deepest delusion. The past of the dream is even less real than the dream.
1 – pure wish/intention – with dispassion, seek the wise
2 – inquiry – direct observation, mindfulness
3 – subtle mind – becomes transparent with rising non-attachment
4 – establishment in truth – turning away from senses
5 – total freedom from attachment
6 – cessation of objectivity – perception of duality ceases
7 – beyond – self-knowledge is spontaneous and unbroken, liberated while living.
In here we can see the progression of the higher states of consciousness.
The sage also observes that the highest state of consciousness can be attained by all, even animals and primitive men. It only requires the rise of wisdom.
Are past lives real? How real do you think the world is and what conditioning or beliefs do you have? In other words, it depends. Does that sound like truth?
Perhaps another way to think of this – useful for the lessons they reveal but should not be taken so seriously that we fall into dream wakefulness. Or, a concept for a stage on the path that we will leave behind.
To paraphrase something I read somewhere, hold your knowledge lightly and it will serve you like a necklace. Hold it firmly and it will serve as a noose.