Has anyone been able to figure out who they were in a past life or in multiple past lives?
If yes, how were you able to figure it out?
Through developing memory (as described in the discourses) or inference (as described in scientific investigation into the phenomena of rebirth) or otherwise?
How did you test your hypothesis regarding who you may have been in a past life to make sure that it really was the case and not otherwise?
Despite the fact that many contemporary beings downplay or outright dismiss the value of remembering one’s own past lives, the Buddha himself seems to have encouraged this as one of three true understandings:
When my mind had immersed in samādhi like this—purified, bright, flawless, rid of corruptions, pliable, workable, steady, and imperturbable—I extended it toward recollection of past lives.
I recollected my many kinds of past lives, with features and details.
This was the first knowledge, which I achieved in the first watch of the night. SuttaCentral
I am curious about how one can realistically develop the skill of remembering past lives in real life.
The emphasis of my post concerns how one can develop the ability of remembering past lives and not necessarily who they were in past lives. Is this considered allowable and appropriate to inquire about?
I can’t help you from my own knowledge. But I have heard Ajahn Brahm talking about this in his Dhamma talks sometimes. He says that just after coming out of a deep jhana it is easy to ask oneself questions that lead back.
Yes, Ajahn Brahm has given these instructions quite a few times in his Dhamma talks, especially in the talks circa 2017 and in answers to questions. Also, Dennis Sheppard, the President of the BSWA has done a lot of work in the field of Hypnotherapy and Past Life Regression. Past Life Regression therapy has become quite mainstream in the US largely due to the work of Dr Brian Weiss.
The essential method involves bringing the Mind to Samadhi, stilling the hindrances, and in that calm peaceful state, beginning to scan the memory backwards…youth…childhood… your earliest memory… and before that?? This works best in the blissful post Jhana state, but a deeply relaxed state (aka Hypnosis or early first Jhana) will do too.
Typically, as one thinks back memories from childhood arise like sudden flashes of movie on the screen of internal awareness. Suddenly, one is there, on that playground, hearing the background laughter of the children, knowing that place, seeing that football come straight at your face, feeling that sinking sensation in the stomach… and gone. One can slow it down, speed it up, pan up/down/left/right within the memory, but that’s it. A past memory suddenly arises in exactly the same way… only it could not possibly pertain to this lifetime, by virtue of the setting, the people, the things heard and seen within that memory. Its often eerie, as the information accessed may add the missing jigsaw piece to some skill or ability one has in this present life. There may also be unpleasant memories from a past life, in which case Ajahn Brahm recommends just asking “Back, please” to return back to present time.
Warning: This technique needs a stable, well grounded Personality. Those with history of psychiatric illness are advised not to attempt this without the supervision of a licenced Psychiatrist.
This video covers the topic pretty well I think. I do believe it’s this video where Dennis Sheppherd mentions a woman who had a nice life but is sad and discovers thru a distressing regressing hypnotherapy that her previous life was very sad and the feeling continued into this life. Also Dhammaruwan is on the panel, he could chat in Pali and another Indian language as a child, they play one of the recordings. It’s a really interesting discussion here.
@stu is absolutely right!
Unnecessary focus on these kind of topics detracts from the immediate task at hand which is to end our Dukkha. Experience of a past life should be seen as a goad, a motivator to single minded effort towards Realization. If you have had, or know someone you trust who has had, or find sufficient evidence of Past Lives- then there is enough support to believe that the tears you have shed are more than the great ocean … and if the story of the turtle is true… Man, Oh Man…better work on that Enlightenment!
Question: How can one reconcile this “discouragement from attend unsuitable topics” with the “encouragement to develop memory of past lives”?
I sometimes wonder if this encouragement that you shared, which I do think seems to accurately represent the Buddha’s perspective, can sometimes be inappropriately used as an excuse to not develop memory of one’s past lives, which the Buddha clearly encouraged.
Furthermore, in today’s modern western world, rebirth and past lives seem to have fallen out of fashion (blind disbelief) similar to how such topics were in fashion in India at the time of the Buddha (blind belief) - but in both cases, the population seems to have misunderstood/misunderstand the value to remembering past lives.
(In the latter case, Indians often misguidedly used the concept of past lives to blame results on past actions without trying to better themselves in the present and their future results. In the former case, past lives (and all the lessons that one might be able to learn from the experiences remembered in those lives) might be dismissed as a inconvenient truth, disguised as “relentless focus on the here and now.”
I think the Buddha spoke about the true understanding of remembering past lives far more often than “be here now” - which might just be a pop culture slogan that the Buddha might have never actually even said - after all, being here now and doing bad deeds and not doing good deeds and “simply existing” and “enjoying sensual pleasures in the moment” are all things that are not qualified or specified in that vague piece of advice - yet many in pop culture use the phrase to justify those very same things that the Buddha warned against.
Just do the noble eightfold path. If recollections come - they come, if they don’t - they don’t. It’s not imperative to the fulfillment of the path but rather a ‘nice to have’. Not all arahants recollect past lives. If at the beginning of the path one needs encouragement to do the path and recollection of past lives gives you that encouragement, then sure - develop it. No worries. But don’t cling to it, instead understand that it is a preliminary (1st watch) insight and it is not required or attained by all. That’s my attempt at reconciling these teachings anyway.
Thank you for sharing. I shall reflect on what you have said.
Do you have any textual evidence to support this claim?
While I do remember texts prioritizing the understanding of the four noble truths above all other spiritual attainments, I don’t remember any texts that that explicitly state that spiritual attainments such as developing memory of past lives are optional per se.
I am not disagreeing - I am simply seeking relevant textual evidence to refute or support the claim.
Thank you (or whoever else is able to find it) in advance : )
It seems quite clear from this discourse that it is not necessary to achieve other spiritual attainments in order to reach the ultimate goal of the holy life.
While I still stand by my claim that the Buddha encouraged and valued the attainment of remembering past lives, etc. as spiritual attainments that are worth attaining, I also agree that these are not considering necessary at all for the achievement of the end goal of the Dhamma-Vinaya - Nibbana, unconditional happiness, etc.
Thank you for providing the reference to that discourse. It was very helpful.
What is the relationship between “hypnosis, hypno-therapy, past-life regression, etc.” and the “remembering of past lives as encouraged by the Buddha”? Are the different or same?
Past lives, ethics, meditation, Jhana states…etc are not unique to the Buddha! Different religions and practitioners, both ancient and modern have taught these things in different ways as whole or part of their belief system. The techniques of hypnosis, past life regression and jhana work on the same principles, differing only in the degree of awareness of the process by the subject and how much it depends on an external operator. The basic principle is stilling the Mind, so as to be able to access the deeper processes and memories which are not ordinarily accessible.
When the Gracious One knew that the leper Suppabuddha was of ready mind, malleable mind, unhindered mind, uplifted mind, trusting mind, then he explained the Dhamma teaching the Awakened Ones have discovered themselves: suffering, origination, cessation, path.
It is only using and applying this knowledge that can lead one to Awakening and Freedom.
Even knowing all one’s past lives would not lead to Nibbana if one did not know the application… viz this is suffering, this is the cause of suffering, this is the end of suffering, this is the path leading to the end of suffering!!