“One should not think that he is freed from reaction because he has forgotten the actions of his past life. Reactions will take place, and what kind of reactions there will be is judged by the Supersoul, the witness.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.24.45 Purport)
“I don’t believe in this past life stuff. You’re telling me that we lived before and that’s what determined where we are right now?” asked a skeptical Jerry. He was in a friendly discussion on spiritual matters with his good buddy Richie.
“No, it’s true,” responded Richie. “You’re just thinking too far back. You lived two seconds ago as well. That is also the past.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re looking at me right now, thinking that everything is still. But in fact what you’re seeing is like a cartoon, which features multiple still images shown together in sequence. My body is changing right now, as is yours. There is always change.”
Jerry still wasn’t buying it. “Yeah, but I can remember what happened ten seconds ago. If I lived a past life, how come I can’t remember it? And if I can’t remember it, I don’t think there will be any repercussions. It’s probably an Eastern teaching designed to be understood symbolically, a way to impart a lesson.”
“There is a witness,” replied Richie. “He is known as the Supersoul. He sees everything, and He delivers the reactions to everything. As the individual, we choose to act, and the Supersoul witnesses and ensures the delivery of the appropriate reaction to our choices. And just because I can’t remember something doesn’t mean that I’m not due to get the reactions. Let me tell you a story.” Richie then proceeded to tell of an incident from a few years prior. He played in a band and they were on tour in the United States for the summer.
This was a great deal, actually. We were one of a few bands supporting this much bigger act. We got to play amphitheaters in the summer. That is a step up from playing the small clubs. They are like the equivalent of the hockey arena shows played indoors. You’re on this stage that is recessed, with a small section of flat seats right in front of you. That is known as the orchestra section. Then the rest of the seats go upwards, as per normal seating arrangement. Finally, above the seats there is a big lawn, where anyone can go as they please. People on the lawn look down at the stage. It’s a great style of venue for an outdoor show.
So the shows on the tour were going pretty well. Touring is always a grind. It took a toll on my body, but the energy of the fans each night kept me motivated enough. What we were really looking forward to, though, was the last leg of the tour. We would be returning home, playing in front of our friends and family. I especially wanted my wife and son to come see us. About a week before the show, I called my wife from the road to check in.
“Hi dear, how are you? How’s everything back home?”
“Oh, things are okay,” replied my wife. “How is everything with you?”
“Well, we played another sold out show last night. We’ve gotten a lot of exposure this summer. People come up to us after the show and say so many nice things.”
“That’s great. I can’t wait until you guys come home and play here. That’s all Tommy’s been talking about.”
“That’s so nice to hear. I can’t wait to come home too. You guys will like the show. The other bands are really good.”
“So honey, the other parents are asking about where to get their tickets. Do they just show up the night of the show?”
“What do you mean ‘other parents’,” I responded, taken aback.
“The parents from Tommy’s class in school,” she responded. “You don’t remember? You said you would get all of them tickets to the show.”
“I really have no idea what you are talking about.”
“Tommy asked you if you could get tickets for his classmates. He was telling them that you were in this famous band and that you were going to play a show locally. You promised you would get him as many tickets as he needed.”
“Are you sure? I don’t remember this at all.”
“Honey, I was standing right there when you said it! And now I have the other parents calling me asking about the tickets.”
I felt my stomach drop. Did I really make this promise? I had no recollection. But there were two witnesses. I told my wife I would take care of it. After getting off the phone I immediately called our manager, who said that it would be difficult to get tickets so close to the date of the show. He said I should have asked him much earlier. I was in a lot of trouble. The last thing I wanted was for my son to be ridiculed by his entire class. The kids would never let him forget it.
In telling this story, Richie hoped to impress upon his friend Jerry that though one may forget things, it doesn’t mean that the reaction will not come. “See Jerry, I didn’t remember that at all. Yet there was a witness to what I did; two of them in fact. I could not dispute what they were saying. And that reaction was set to come my way, even though I didn’t remember what I had done. It is the same way with the Supreme Lord. He sees all, and delivers the appropriate reaction.”
“Ah, I think I get it now,” responded Jerry.
“Death is the total changing of bodies, but the reactions from the previous life remain. So it is said that one should try to remember God in His beautiful form of Krishna at the time of death. Though you lose your body while dying, you won’t lose the reaction to that auspicious act. You’ll get the reaction of Krishna’s association in the next life, which is the best boon. It gives you the chance to always love, no matter where you are.”
“Okay, makes sense to me,” said Jerry. “But what happened with the parents? Did they get furious with you? Did you tell them that you forgot about the tickets?”
“It actually worked out. We invited everyone to the show, hoping that we would come through by some miracle. I tried to get tickets from the other band members, but that wasn’t nearly enough. So I was about to give everyone the bad news. Then, at the eleventh hour, our manager came up with a brilliant idea. During our last song of the night, we would have a special chorus that would clap and dance in the background. We asked the guests if they would like to be on stage to fulfill this role, this way being part of the show. They were so excited about that, and so everything worked out. The good Lord saved me from my mistake.”
Though past life cannot see,
From reactions still not free.
Soon enough to come,
Seen by Supersoul one.
In this life witness the same,
Gives sanction to loss and gain.
Future reactions there will also be,
Act to please Krishna, benevolent is He.