THE MEMORY OF PAST LIVES
What is an earth life? When towards the close of an earth life we look back, what do we find? A series of experiences of our consciousness surrounded by other centers of consciousness with which it was in contact through the senses, and the ideas aroused in us by this interaction joined to our feeling of responsibility, depending on the character which we brought along, when entering physical existence. Our life is thus a continual stream of modifications of our consciousness, and if we can recall this whole stream into our feeling, we remember our present life. Is there a man capable of doing it? We can recall certain parts of our present life vividly, and if we do it, we see the surroundings of that moment, the old faces, and all that impressed us just then, and we pass once more through exactly the same feelings we had — in fact, we live that moment once more. If we could thus recall successively every moment of our present life, we should live our present earth life once more. The difficulty in doing this, even for this present life, is very great, although we have still our brain and nervous system, which are the keys to open those parts of the world's register which are concerned with each one's thinking. The registering is done by the brain and the nervous system, not in them; for if it were in the brain, every recollection would be destroyed when the brain is destroyed.
We all know of certain historical persons about whose lives we have read. If now somebody should affirm to us, that we were one of these in our last incarnation, and if we believed it, would we know any more than we have read about that historical person? And what do we know about him? Merely a few facts of a life-long career without feeling his thousands of feelings which made up his life.
To remember an incarnation means to pass successively through all the impressions a man has gone through, and if we do this what else is it, than to actually live that life once more, not only in the man as a separate something but surrounded by the whole stage decoration about him, which impressed his senses, thoughts and feelings. Thus remembering a past incarnation means to live a life of a man actually once more. We might just as well say that our present life is but a remembrance of a past incarnation, which has been gone through by us a thousand years ago; and that we actually and really live in a body a thousand years younger, say in the year 2901. And why not? The real omniscient man within us may at this very moment really have another body and count the year 2901. In this way we may go ahead as much as we please, and thus get over the conception of time. As all our being is but a state of consciousness, and whether we go back or whether we go forward, that spark of the absolute within us, partaking of the nature of the all-pervading absolute, knows of no time or limit.
It is said "History repeats itself;" we might say "History always is!" We have only to choose a moment in the illusion called time, enter into that illusion, stop there, and following the unfolding of this illusion, live in it, seemingly with body, senses, thoughts and feelings of a man, surrounded by bodies, senses, thoughts and feelings of others within this great world stage of illusion. This we can only do of course, when we are outside of illusion and choose to enter or re-enter it. But as we are actually in it, we cannot do it. Thus if we mean to enter into this maya or illusion at another moment of time than this present one, we have first of all to step out of it, and then re-enter it at a moment and under such conditions as correspond to the life of a man whose career we choose to live through once more.
If that man was once the covering of our own monad (or life-unit), then the process may be called remembering a past incarnation. This stepping out of illusion into absolute knowledge and then back into illusion is what the alchemist has to do when he transmutes one metal into another; the one must be reduced to its ultimate, which is the root of all metals, and out of it a new metal be created possessing qualities which in the physical world correspond to those named by us gold, silver, tin, etc.
What is the way to step outside of this illusion? It has been declared of old as well as now to be Yoga. There is no other way, and it must be entered upon and followed until its end by those who want to reach the goal. We know where the entrance lies and which is its first portal: It is unselfish love, Brotherhood. Let no one believe that by meddling with deceiving spooks or by astral phenomena he may get the recollection of former incarnations; on the contrary, his illusion will be increased, and the increased ignorance will have to be got rid of before the real path is entered.
Those who enter the Path certainly do not do so for the purpose of remembering past incarnations; they do it because they feel it to be right, and that it is to be done, and if recollections of former lives are unclosed to them as well as many other hidden things, these will just be new landscapes along the Path. For most of us the fact of living once more the life of a Roman slave or gladiator, or that of a cruel Roman soldier, consul or general could hardly be said to be pleasant. — M. A. Oppermann
Universal Brotherhood PathTHEOSOPHICAL UNIVERSITY PRESS ONLINE