Rebirth and the Individual

How do we imagine our past, or future, existences? What about past life regression therapy? Is there a reality to the experience and if so, what does it mean to us? Many who believe in a future reincarnation have no conception of any past lifetime at all. They accept the reality of their current existence, and believe that at some future ‘day of judgment’ they will be reborn and joined once more with their family and loved ones. In this view of the world, they see their future existence as one in which they enjoy the prime of life, not burdened by disease, old age, or death. Those who accept the reality of past lives tend to romanticize them with stories of lifetimes as great people in key civilisations of the past, such as being an Egyptian priest or priestess, or a famous figure of the past. They nevertheless believe that it is the same personality that moves from life to life, body to body, and when they project this into the future, they expect to be reborn as they are now, perhaps in a different outer circumstance, but joined once again with the karmic bonds of individuals with whom they have contact. Some believe that they carry with them across the boundary of death all the karmic results, rewards and punishments, they earned in the present lifetime, just as in this lifetime they attribute their good and bad fortune to past karmic consequences brought forward.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “You must avoid a common popular blunder about reincarnation. The popular idea is that Titus Balbus is reborn again as John Smith, a man with the same personality, character, attainments as he had in his former life with the sole difference that he wears coat and trousers instead of a toga and speaks in cockney English instead of popular Latin. That is not the case. What would be the earthly use of repeating the same personality or character a million times from the beginning of time till its end? The soul comes into birth for experience, for growth, for evolution till it can bring the Divine into Matter. It is the central being that incarnates, not the outer personality — the personality is simply a mould that it creates for its figures of experience in that one life. In another birth it will create for itself a different personality, different capacities, a different life and career. …”

“As the evolving being develops still more and becomes more rich and complex, it accumulates its personalities, as it were. Sometimes they stand behind the active elements, throwing in some colour, some trait, some capacity here and there, — or they stand in front and there is a multiple personality, a many-sided character or a many-sided, sometimes what looks like a universal capacity. But if a former personality, a former capacity is brought fully forward, it will not be to repeat what was already done, but to cast the same capacity into new forms and new shapes and fuse it into a new harmony of the being which will not be a reproduction of what was before. …”

“Another thing. It is not the personality, the character that is of the first importance in rebirth — it is the psychic being who stands behind the evolution of the nature and evolves with it. The psychic when it departs from the body, shedding even the mental and vital on its way to its resting place, carries with it the heart of its experiences, — not the physical events, not the vital movements, not the mental buildings, not the capacities or characters, but something essential that it gathered from them, what might be called the divine element for the sake of which the rest existed. That is the permanent addition, it is that that helps in the growth towards the Divine. That is why there is usually no memory of the outward events and circumstances of past lives — for this memory there must be a strong development towards unbroken continuance of the mind, the vital, even the subtle physical; for though it all remains in a kind of seed memory, it does not ordinarily emerge.”

“But too much importance must not be given to past lives. For the purpose of this yoga one is what one is and, still more, what one will be. What one was has a minor importance.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 12, Other Aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Rebirth, Karma and Destiny, pp. 343-347

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