“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)
बहूनि मे व्यतीतानि
जन्मानि तव चार्जुन
तान्य् अहं वेद सर्वाणि
न त्वं वेत्थ परन्तप
bahūni me vyatītāni
janmāni tava cārjuna
tāny ahaṁ veda sarvāṇi
na tvaṁ vettha parantapa
“I know that you don’t like to refer to it as Hinduism. Sanatana-dharma is the proper term, both from a definition perspective and also the applicability. Hinduism makes it sound like another faith, where you enter a house of worship and profess your allegiance.
“While shraddha, faith, is certainly an integral aspect to assimilating the higher truths of an existence, sanatana-dharma is the eternal way of living for every person. It applies to even the non-human species, though they lack the potential for understanding it and thus returning to it.
“But hope is not lost. There is always the opportunity in the future. The human birth is the reward, the last stop on the chain of evolution. The species themselves do not evolve; since matter cannot do anything on its own. It is the soul which travels from one form to another.
“Hopefully, this human birth is the last one. I have the potential for reconnecting with sanatana-dharma, which will take me away from mrityu-loka and return me to the spiritual world free of anxieties, Vaikuntha.
“My question relates to validation of the many births. What evidence is there? How do I know for certain that I have lived before? People tend to think this is a special characteristic of the Hindu faith, that it is just a way to scare people from indulging in certain behaviors, like alcohol consumption and meat-eating.
“I have no memory of the past lives. I can’t determine how many there have been. I don’t know the actual origin. How, then, can I believe?”
To begin with, memory alone is not a solid basis for establishing a truth. It can be used as evidence in a criminal trial, with a person described to be an eyewitness, a party who was at the scene of the supposed crime. They can tell a jury what occurred, if the accused is guilty or not.
At the same time, recollections are not perfect. Someone may be mistaken in what they think they saw. A clever trick of the sinister politician is to respond with, “I don’t remember,” when asked about potentially criminal behavior from the past. A politician who is running for the highest office in the land might give that response to at least twenty different questions about intentional behavior, deliberate actions that took place in the recent past.
We can use our own experiences as validation. We understand that a human being spends upwards of nine months in the womb prior to entering this world. It is a life from the very beginning. It is the very presence of life that sparks the growth inside the womb.
Yet I have no recollection of that time. I can’t confirm myself whether I ever lived in a womb. It seems ridiculous now, as the body of an adult is much larger in total size. How could anyone stay bunched up in the fetal position for so long?
Thus we see that lack of recollection is not a sound basis for discounting the truth. Another argument could be that at least someone was there to witness my time in the womb. There is the authority of the mother. She gives the word and I accept it.
The same applies to the spiritual science. The original person, who is also the all-pervading witness, provides the confirmation that the living entities endure many, many births in this world. The conditioned soul, the jiva, cannot remember those experiences, whereas the Supreme Lord can.
Determining the exact number of births, the moments within the vast timeline of creation that they took place, to which kind of species were entered, and so forth is neither necessary nor a valuable use of time. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada recommends seeking the cure immediately.
Connect with the Divine consciousness and be assured that birth and death will stop. This experience will be the last one in duality. The rest will be blissful in the association of the Divine, who is known as Krishna, among countless other names. This is because He is all-attractive, a property which extends to His timeless wisdom found in works like Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam.
Believe in past lives how?
When living this one now.
No memory of which to speak,
Or documented evidence to seek.
But eyewitness antaryami there,
Knowing exactly when and where.
On future focus today should be,
How from birth-death cycle to free.