This perceived contradiction is dependent upon interpretation, which is why there are different sects in Buddhism. For some sectarian views, there is no apparent contradiction or need to rationalize.
[quote=“Shaun, post:1, topic:5041”]
past lives can be remembered…[/quote]
In later Buddhism, there arose ‘Jataka’ teachings (including the Buddhavaṃsapāḷi & Apadānapāḷi), which are literal past lives, which is also the style found in a handful of suttas attributed to the Buddha, such as AN 3.15, AN 9.20, MN 50, MN 81, MN 123, MN 143.
However, the numerous stock Pali sutta discourses on the Threefold Knowledge (such as Iti 99) may not explicitly refer to ‘past lives’ but, instead, mention a phrase ‘pubbe nivasa’, which literally means ‘past homes’ but is also translated as ‘past abodes’, such as in this translation of SN 22.79.
At Savatthi. Bhikkhus, those ascetics and brahmins who recollect their manifold past abodes all recollect the five aggregates subject to clinging or a certain one among them. What five?
When recollecting thus, bhikkhus: ‘I had such form in the past,’ it is just form that one recollects. When recollecting: ‘I had such a feeling in the past,’ it is just feeling that one recollects. When recollecting: ‘I had such a perception in the past,’ it is just perception that one recollects. When recollecting: ‘I had such volitional formations in the past,’ it is just volitional formations that one recollects. When recollecting: ‘I had such consciousness in the past,’ it is just consciousness that one recollects.
SN 22.79 gives the impression of recollecting when the unenlightened mind, in the past, clung to one or more of the aggregates as ‘self’ (rather than recollecting past lives).
Words such as ‘nivasa’, ‘nivesa’ & ‘vāsa’ are found throughout the suttas, where, when translated as ‘abode’, generally refer to a mental state, for example, AN 10.20.
Or SN 22.3 has a play on the word ‘home’ & also includes the word ‘nivesa’ in ‘ābhinivesā’, translated as ‘adherences’, which seems to conform with the teaching in SN 22.79 about ‘past abodes’.
And how does one not live at home? Any desire, lust, delight, and craving, the engagement and clinging, the mental standpoints, adherences (ābhinivesā) and underlying tendencies… these the Tathagata has abandoned, their root destroyed, made like a palmyra stump, deprived of the conditions of development, not destined for future arising. Therefore the Tathagata is said to be not dwelling at home. SN 22.3
The word ‘lives’ seems to be ‘jīva’ or ‘jīvita’, which seems different to ‘nivasa’, ‘nivesa’ & ‘vāsa’.
In summary, the recollecting of past abodes described in SN 22.79 does not contradict the common perception of not-self (anatta).