The Path – September 1889


The question is often asked: If the theory of reincarnation be true, why have we no recollection of any previous life?

It may easily be conceived as possible that we have lived before on this earth, and that memory of the events of that existence has been blotted out. This lapse of memory is a frequent experience of every-day life; in fact, of all our varied experiences from youth to old age we really remember only a few of the most vivid, and can never recall all the details of even these. Indeed, we forget far more than we remember of the details of this present life, and the wonder is not so much how we can remember the few things that are partially retained, but how we can forget so much of experience that passes beyond all possible recovery. There is, no doubt, an absolute registration of every incident and experience in life, but nothing known to us as memory can possibly constitute that registry. The essence of what we designate as memory consists in our ability to recall into the sphere of consciousness past conditions and events, and this ability is seldom in any instance more than partial, and is always fleeting and uncertain. There are, indeed, flashes of memory where an event long forgotten is revived with unusual vividness, and we get the impression that nothing is really lost but that a latent or a passive memory contains them all, waiting only the touch of circumstance to recall them into being. So far as any legitimate function of memory is concerned, this is a fallacy. The absolute registration of events already referred to involves far more than can be assigned to the function of memory. This must be borne in mind, and we must accurately apprehend just what the word memory means, before we can intelligently discuss the real question under consideration. In other words, when we have carefully considered the fact, the function, and the phenomena of memory, we can easily understand why that which but partially records passing events, and never is able to recall them entire, should be unable to bridge the chasm of perhaps a thousand years and recover the incidents of a previous incarnation. It may, moreover, appear presently that all that escapes memory, all that memory appears temporarily to retain but in time loses, is nevertheless retained elsewhere and carried on from incarnation to incarnation. Let us bear constantly in mind that nothing exists without a cause, and that nothing is ever really lost. If this principle, recognized as everywhere true in physics, be true also in metaphysics and in all human experience, then each human being represents in himself and carries with him all previous experience, and is at any moment of his existence an epitome of all his past. It is, however, quite evident that nothing known to us as memory answers to this epitome, even for the present life.

The experiments in hypnotism have shown that consciousness and experience may exist independent of what we know as memory. An act to be performed at a future time and an exact date is fixed in some way on the sensorium, and the act is performed automatically at the exact time, although memory bears no record of the experience that led to the act. In another case memory may be impressed and confined to definite limits, thus showing that memory is relatively free from experience. Such illustrations might be multiplied indefinitely, to show that memory is not commensurate with all human experience, even in the present life.

As an element in man's being, consciousness is far broader and deeper than memory. Consciousness represents the fact of experience; memory the form and the details. Hence, while the fact remains and an experience once had can never be destroyed, the form and details in which it first appeared may pass away. This fact of experience remains as a precipitated result, and, divested of memory, i. e., of form and details, relations and sensations, constitutes the basic element in Karma. Add to the foregoing considerations the ethical element, or relation to other individuals, giving thus the element of motive, and we have the law of Karma deduced from the elements. In the first instance we have the individual as related to himself; in the second, as related to his fellows.

(To be continued.)

The Path