“The Blessed Lord said: Many, many births both you and I have passed. I can remember all of them, but you cannot, O subduer of the enemy!” (Bhagavad-gita, 4.5)
Question: I understand that supposedly I’ve lived many times in the past. This makes sense to me, as I feel certain things that I know are not from this lifetime. But wouldn’t it be great if we could remember those past lives? Why can’t we? Why doesn’t Krishna allow us to?
In standard conversation, we take reincarnation to be the concept of living before. You know, I was a carpenter, a doctor, or a king in a past life, maybe. I see someone that I match up with very well in this life and then wonder if we have met in a previous existence. Perhaps I was of a different race, living hundreds of years ago, in my past life. The Bhagavad-gita gives the definition to reincarnation, which is actually not so complex. What we call reincarnation is simply the changing of bodies.
“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.13)
From this definition, we see that reincarnation takes place all the time. From the moment I began writing this until right now, there has been reincarnation. It seems silly to say this, but in the critical analysis it is hard to deny. Take a picture of yourself today and then look at it tomorrow. Maybe you won’t notice much of a difference. Now wait a week, a month, or even a year. Then you’ll definitely see a difference. You’ll think the person in the image is someone different. “Was that really me? What was I thinking with that hairstyle? I looked so much younger back then.” The image is nothing more than a snapshot in time. Who we are today is who we will see in a picture a year from today. The only difference is the covering; our identity remains the same. This is reincarnation.
Now we see why we can’t remember past lives. Yesterday is a sort of past life. So is our childhood. We can’t remember everything from that time. We don’t remember exactly where we were twenty-five years ago from today at 9 am. If somehow we can, we don’t remember everything that we witnessed. We don’t remember all of our thoughts. We have trouble remembering what we ate for breakfast yesterday morning, so how is it possible to remember a previous life?
The Bhagavad-gita is the summary of Vedic philosophy, which is also known as Vedanta. As a Sanskrit word, Vedanta means “the end of knowledge.” It is the conclusion to all hypotheses. You solve one question only to have another one emerge. You keep getting answers until you reach the end, which is Vedanta. The Bhagavad-gita gives the full description, as there is a source to even the knowledge known as Vedanta. That source is Shri Krishna, from whom emanate the material and spiritual worlds.
“I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who know this perfectly engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 10.8)
The presentation of the Bhagavad-gita is a conversation between Krishna and His dear friend and cousin Arjuna. This factual conversation is also symbolic of many important truths of Vedic philosophy. The only way to get a real understanding of things is to approach a spiritual master in humble submission. Also, the hearing process is the most effective. Arguing with your friend will not do it. An argument such as that never has a winner, for who will want to admit defeat? Even if I am defeated, why will I want to accept the information that was used to defeat me?
Arjuna, though Krishna’s friend, takes on the role of the disciple in his interaction with Krishna. Arjuna shows bewilderment at a predicament facing him: a potential fratricidal war. Krishna is the spiritual master who helps clear up Arjuna’s doubts. At one point Krishna tells Arjuna that the philosophy being offered to him was actually told to the sun-god at the beginning of the creation. Arjuna then wonders how Krishna could have been around back then, for presently they were contemporaries. Krishna then tells Arjuna that both of them had appeared many times on earth previously. This is the proof of reincarnation. Krishna also says that He can remember those previous births, while Arjuna cannot.
Arjuna, the glorified disciple, the chosen recipient of the famous Bhagavad-gita, cannot remember his previous births. If he cannot, then why should we expect to? Indeed, such knowledge is impossible to gain due to the nature of the living entity. Krishna, who is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the detail behind the abstract concept of a God, is all-knowing. All others require knowledge. They need to seek out wisdom. One is the power and the other is the powerful. We are the energy, while Krishna is the energetic. As the energy, we are dependent on the energetic. If we could remember everything, including past lives, then we would be God, which we are not, nor can we ever be.
In the Bhagavad-gita, the stress is on the future. Where will we end up next? Never mind what happened previously; fix what is wrong right now. The issue at hand is forgetfulness of God, which is the cause of rebirth in the first place. Knowing Krishna through devotional service cures this illness, which puts a stop to reincarnation. That service is best practiced through the chanting of the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. We may not be able to remember past lives, but if we can remember Krishna through hearing His names on a regular basis, we will attain His abode, which is the best place to live.
Intuition of past lives I’ve got,
But remember them I cannot.
I’ve been here before it feels,
But how to be certain for real?
With study of Bhagavad-gita intensified,
Answers found, reincarnation demystified.
Even in this life through changing body to go,
Memory lacking, only God everything to know.