Memory of previous lives in brain?

When the equanimity of the 4th Jhana is established, the mind is turned to the recollection of past lives. (I confidently deny experience of any such attainment as described in EBT)

  1. Neuro-Psychologists with pokey things have suggested that when I recall a memory from my youth, a certain region of the brain is involved.

Where are my memories of past lives now?

  1. A bodhisattva develops the skills required of a Buddha during past lifetimes. As such, it would be reasonable to assume that such qualities are active - accessible to some degree - on the path prior to the enlightenment experience.

Where and how are the qualities developed in past lives accessible now?

Feel free to discuss;

  • The executive committee: A. Thannissaro
  • IFS: Dick Schwartz
  • Physicalism, emergence

The brain is like a seat of consciousness, much like consciousness is originally seated in the heart. In fact our consciousness is spread out throughout the entire body and beyond. You may want to ask what is the relationship between Spirit (if you believe in such, or are interested in the matter) or Life-Force and consciousness, and how this affects parts of the body such as the brain.

I am Interested in things referenced in the EBTs and established/ proposed by peer reviewed science. If “spirit” or “life-force” is presented there, I’d like to hear about it.

Im also more interested in gathering small pieces of data, ( scientific or sutta references) than jumping right into grand ideas. I have confidence the Buddha mentioned all the framework I need to be concerned about.

Some neuroscientists changed their minds about the necessity of the brain involvement generally to experience something, not merely to use memory.

There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.

But while I was in coma my brain hadn’t been working improperly. It hadn’t been working at all. The part of my brain that years of medical school had taught me was responsible for creating the world I lived and moved in and for taking the raw data that came in through my senses and fashioning it into a meaningful universe: that part of my brain was down, and out. And yet despite all of this, I had been alive, and aware, truly aware, in a universe characterized above all by love, consciousness, and reality. (There was that word again.) There was, for me, simply no arguing this fact. I knew it so completely that I ached.
What I’d experienced was more real than the house I sat in, more real than the logs burning in the fireplace. Yet there was no room for that reality in the medically trained scientific worldview that I’d spent years acquiring.
How was I going to create room for both of these realities to coexist?

EBEN ALEXANDER, M.D., has been an academic neurosurgeon for the last 25 years, including 15 years at the Brigham & Women’s and the Children’s Hospitals and Harvard Medical School in Boston.
Visit him at

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I think it’s interesting that Buddha clarified the past lives experience by giving the analogy of traveling from one village to the next and then (feet up in front of fireplace) recalling the journey.

As for Buddha’s analogy of next stage of enlightenment (how beings left one state and birthed into another) it seems more real-time… ~ “i watched them go from one house to another.”

At first pass, it sounds like Eban had more “real time” experience devoid of brain activity. Look forward to checking out his account. Your Mormons tend to be very creative types however. :grin:

Point being, the first experience is at least like memory.

While your statement about neuroscientists may be true… this guy is not credible

The book was a commercial success but also was the subject of scientific criticism in relation to misconceptions about neurology, such as conflating medically induced coma with brain death.[1][8][9] A 2013 article in Esquire magazine refuted a few of the claims made in the book.[1][8] The doctor who treated Alexander stated that certain details cannot be true, such as claims Alexander made about speaking clearly at times he would have been intubated.[citation needed] The Esquire article also reported that Alexander had been terminated or suspended from multiple hospital positions, and had been the subject of several malpractice lawsuits and that he settled five malpractice suits in Virginia within a period of ten years.[1][10]

Dhammapada Verses, Dandavagga: Violence :

129. All tremble at violence; all fear death. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.

130. All tremble at violence; life is dear to all. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.

131. One who, while himself seeking happiness, oppresses with violence other beings who also desire happiness, will not attain happiness hereafter.

132. One who, while himself seeking happiness, does not oppress with violence other beings who also desire happiness, will find happiness hereafter.

133. Speak not harshly to anyone, for those thus spoken to might retort. Indeed, angry speech hurts, and retaliation may overtake you.

134. If, like a broken gong, you silence yourself, you have approached Nibbana, for vindictiveness is no longer in you.

135. Just as a cowherd drives the cattle to pasture with a staff, so do old age and death drive the life force of beings (from existence to existence).


The First Noble Truth, The Noble Truth of dukkha:

"And what is aging? Whatever aging, decrepitude, brokenness, graying, wrinkling, decline of life-force, weakening of the faculties of the various beings in this or that group of beings, that is called aging.

There is much to say in EBT’s about Life-Force, and also much on the fact that Spirits do exist, in the Spirit Realm and such, however you’d have to become a little creative yourself and think about the matter of the purpose of what Spirit actually means, to understand the matter more deeply. It could have to do with just mindful breathing for a start, as that can be a beginning to understand the most important aspect of Spirit and such.

With regards to past lives and the brain, and thinking rationally about the matter, it can be understood that kamma is the reason for rebirth, and good kamma is generally the reason for a human body, which is quite a rare birth. For the body to develop properly, one must act correctly, and for the mind to remember past lives all of these invisible paragons of knowledge such as Spirit, consciousness, Life-Force, and kamma have to all be understood from their proper perspective, and that is the perspective of our Dear Gautama Buddha.

So what would be His perspective on the matter? In the EBT’s He primarily taught the Path to the true Cessation of suffering. Remembering past lives is an aspect of Wisdom Practice, because one can have profound insight into their lives as a person in recalling past events that hold value. Kammically, if the brain is a tool for our bodies to realize Spiritual things, then consciousness and Life-Force play a vital part in freeing us from the kamma of rebirth. But it is only practices of Compassion that can help us overcome kamma, so if we think of the purpose of life by Metta and for Metta, then through Equanimity and Joy we can make meaningful practice in remembering past lives. Everything the brain does is important, and it develops based on kamma or merit from a past life, and if there is Life-Force within it from a past life, and if it has developed according to the kamma of a past life, then the kamma or merit would build the physical structure for the brain to hold past life knowledge as the seat of Life-Force, consciousness, and Spiritual Awakening.


I’ll not retort to the condescension. A glance at Wikipedia was enough to justify my predictive use of the word “creative.”

I do like your idea of working with the “life force” as a kamic sculpter of brain structure that supports success and would like to hear more. Do you think “life force” is used consistently in the passages you reference? That is, does it connote a concept consistently as translated? Or do old men simply get tired… loose vitality? And as far as the poetry goes, I’m going to assume that old age and death are not the Shepards of a soul in your philosophy.?

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Wasn’t being condescending. I highly respect your views.

“Buddhism emphasizes the cultivation of a clear and focused mind through mindfulness and meditation. This can allow for creative insights and expressions to arise spontaneously, without attachment to ego or external validation.”

-Open Heart Mindfulness Community.

Because we’re all not Enlightened right now, we must be missing something, it’s not just some mathematical equation we’re in the process of doing, be it fast or slow. It’s a process of often fine tuned clear thought that we all need, deeply asking for Metta and Karuna. So I highly respect your search in understanding past lives through the understanding of the brain’s physical structure. Don’t give up! These are all steps in the right direction, as you tread the Noble Eightfold Path.

Well I think whether there is a Soul or not, whether there is Life-Force or not, or whether there is even something we can perceive as a temporary Self, all of these things are ultimately Empty, they are non-existent composites of things that are parts of other things, and ultimately there is no coming or going, no substantial world, all is temporary, there is no definition we can pinpoint to what people want to cling onto as form, despite it being Empty.

So really, there is no Self, no Life-Force, no consciousness, I think these all fall into the definition of the aggregates. So with the EBT’s in mind we have to ask what’s left? Nothing, that is Nibbana, that is the Buddha’s Enlightenment. This world is a mirage. Flesh and Spirit are certainly there, but I believe they transcend what we understand as existence, in fact they don’t exist, so it isn’t beneficial to ask if they do or not, constantly, it’s better to follow the Ways of Dependant Origination up to Enlightenment and such Ways realize what the Buddha is talking about.

Look, we are in the middle of war on the world-view, and you cannot expect that something that undermines fundamental assumptions of one side, involved in it, will be tolerated without any attemp to neutralise such threat.

But I do not participate in such war, since I quite clearly understand that I don’t understand certain things, they could be this way, or that way. I merely believe that they are precisely the way as Suttas describe them to be.

For example there’s another problem, I believe not only scientists don’t believe that you could survive more than few minutes without breathing, and yet in the fourth jhana the breathing stops.

No amount of learn scientific articles will convince me that this is impossible, since my conviction is based entirely on faith, which is kind of fanatical one.:slightly_smiling_face:

The main difference between me and average fanatic believer is that I keep to myself and don’t mind if others believe more in science than Dhamma.

So that would be… “yes” and “no.” You do not wish to defend"Life Force" as principle dhamma.

No breath?
Worst case we have the textualist EBT folks strike it.

Wait. Seriously, I do have the creativity for this one.
This pneuma, Thannissaro’s breath energy, @Dharma’s Life Force… its all craving.
Just the fading of craving.

Ie: the text says the breath stops but that’s not to be taken so much as inhaling, exhaling, as much as the end of volitional formation.

(How’d i do? Anyone feel that? :innocent:)

Life-Force is more of an active principle in Tibetan and Bön sentiments. When the Buddha Himself was asked such questions, He generally kept silent. He was always pointing to a higher and higher Dhamma than what people thought of Him and His Teachings, so ultimately the best Dhamma is Anatta and Sunyata, not-Self and Emptiness. These Teachings, if highly valued, hold the key to what the Buddha held as dear in His sermons, and the purpose of extinguishment as to Enlightenment, full Perfection.

But provisional Teachings still hold value. In fact, that is the purpose of the Dhamma, it is all a provisional Teaching until we reach the Other Shore. Then we must abandon the raft of the Dhamma. Blessings.

When the Buddha kept silent about stuff he said he was keeping silent and gave a reason… “I do not declare abc because it is not conducive to xyz.” He certainly did not need to keep quiet about any Bon concepts. :sweat_smile:

So. Back to EBTs and peer reviewed science… Where are those valuabke memories and, more importantly, how are the qualities previously developed accessed pre- enlightenment to support the raft building and paddling?

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Just based on the topic title. Here’s my proliferation.

There’s 2 ways of looking at the brain and mind, one is that the mind being reborn into the brain, also carries the memories which determines which neutrons gets culled as we grow up from childhood.

The second one is that brain is like a radio to the mind which is like radio waves in the air, memories are in the radio waves, not the radio.

For the SN15.1-20 where the Buddha said beginning is inconceivable instead of a categoritlcal: there is no beginning, this could be explained by the 2 models in the following manner.

Model 2: radio. It’s just that humans have finite lifespan and thus even if one can recollect past lives at a super fast pace, the lifespan will be used up and one dies and one cannot reach any ending of further past lives. Basically finite things cannot probe infinity.

Model 1. Memories in brain. In physics, speculative field of quantum gravity, some models suggest that there’s a minimum area size where one can only store one bit of information there. One cannot store more. This is the limit of quantum gravity laws. To store more data, one has to increase the surface area. There’s a finite surface area of the brain, thus it cannot accomodate infinite data of infinite past lives. So even if recollection of past lives doesn’t not require going back one life by one life, but can jump many lifetimes back, one will eventually run out of storage space in the brain.

Let’s go further, even with model 2, we expand the storage space to the whole universe, it’s still a finite amount of data available. Past live memories, past a certain point far into the past becomes for all practical purposes not accessible and thus gone.

What do you mean by that ?

May I submit Bhante, that this expansion should be not just in the three axis of space but also in the fourth axis of time? Since the storage space would then be connected through time, there would be no apparent limit or data loss… as long as the cyclic process of the universe kept going. And one could search backwards through many cycles without finding the beginning (SN22.99). Yet it would all still be subject to cessation, and hence not truly Eternal.

All in all though, when dealing with such subjects that invite endless proliferation without any firm conclusion in sight, I really prefer the guaranteed teaching (MN60).

But like a hard disk in time, if the content of the hard disk is overwritten by new data, the old data is deleted. So to have good storage, one should have the same data for the whole time.

Sorry to say, but breath in-&-out are defined in Suttas as a bodily sankharas or determinations. Ven Nanamoli Thera -renowned Pali scholar definite translation of sankharas is “determinations”, he abandoned “formations” his former rendering as unsatisfactory.

Sankharas in most general meaning should be seen as in opposition to asankhata dhatu. There are two elements sankhata and asankhata. M 115 Anankhata dhatu doesn’t depend on other things or it isn’t dependently arisen. On the other side we have sankhata, thing which depends on something else. Sankhata is determined by it, and without such sankhara or determination sankhata dhamma would not be present in experience. Or you can say simply that both sankhara and what is sankhata by it are things that co-exist: when this is - this is.

So what Suttas say is that experience of the body doesn’t not survive the fourth jhana.

It is definitely not the worst case, since after the cessation of perception and feeling which Suttas define as cittasankhara, we are dealing with the direct realisation of asankhata dhatu. And at that time - the cessation of perception and feeling - an individual’s body who attained it enjoys rather high status, even higher then that of Buddha’s body, which after all can be wounded:

But the venerable Sañjīva, gone to the forest or to the root of a tree or to an empty hut, entered without difficulty upon the cessation of perception and feeling.

“It happened once, Evil One, that the venerable Sañjīva had seated himself at the root of a certain tree and entered upon the cessation of perception and feeling. Some cowherds, shepherds, ploughmen, and travellers saw the venerable Sañjīva sitting at the root of the tree having entered upon the cessation of perception and feeling, and they thought: ‘It is wonderful, sirs, it is marvellous! This recluse died while sitting. Let us cremate him.’ Then the cowherds, shepherds, ploughmen, and travellers collected grass, wood, and cowdung, and having piled it up against the venerable Sañjīva’s body, they set fire to it and went on their way.

“Now, Evil One, when the night had ended, the venerable Sañjīva emerged from the attainment.520 He shook his robe, and then, it being morning, he dressed, and taking his bowl and outer robe, he went into the village for alms. The cowherds, shepherds, ploughmen, and travellers saw the venerable Sañjīva wandering for alms, and they thought: ‘It is wonderful, sirs, it is marvellous! This recluse who died while sitting has come back to life!’ That was how the venerable Sañjīva came to have the designation ‘Sañjīva.’ MN 50

But why boder with such relative easy problems as storage of memories? I have better dilemma for you, since Lord Buddha made some predictions regarding future, from where such knowledge came?

Not that it offers answer↓, but to make things look more complicated than one thought they are, should
also be seen as an achievement on one’s spiritual path …

But if precognition is a fact, and we have strong evidence to believe that it is, what is the nature of this transmission that occurs between the subject and the not-yet-existing target? Thus, the evidence for precognition and the success of ESP experiments over long distances lead one to believe that space and time are not constraining variables as far as psi is concerned. Another significant aspect of psi is the relative ineffectiveness of task complexity in constraining psi. Stanford (1977) has reviewed the relevant literature and concluded that “the efficiency of PK function is not reduced by increases in the complexity of the target system” (p. 375).
If psi is unconstrained by space and time and the complexity of the task, and if the psi situation is such that distinctions between thought and matter, cognition and action, subject and object become less than meaningful, it would seem that psi may function beyond the familiar categories of understanding and may point to a state of being that cannot be properly classed as mind or matter. Psi phenomena raise the question whether there exists a realm of reality beyond the phenomenal world of appearance, which is primarily a product of our information-processing capabilities and mechanisms. One may rightly wonder whether we are not dealing here with the Kantian “thing in itself.” What is interesting, however, is that the thing in itself which, according to Kant, must remain forever beyond the human reach may in fact be the reality to which psi has direct access, a reality assumed by most religions.

From Body Mind Spirit
Exploring the Parapsychology of Spirituality
Edited by
Charles T. Tart