Reincarnation: the great journey
A friend of mine once told me he burst into tears when he first heard the French national anthem. Immediately he saw a battlefield in front of him from the Napoleontic time and knew he had been there.
Memories of previous lifetimes tend to occur mostly in young children. When they are between two and five years old some children start telling stories from the time they were still `big'. The book Soul Survivor (2009) tells the story of James Leininger, a little boy who at two years of age had nightmares of crashing with a plane in the Second World War. `Plane on fire! Little man can't get out!' he used to scream in his sleep. To his bewildered parents he started telling stories of how he had served as a pilot for the American army. He even named colleagues he had worked with, whom his father managed to track down. When little James attended a convention of war veterans he walked up to a complete stranger and said, `You are Bob Greenwalt!' The man was stupefied how a little boy he had never seen knew his name. In total James produced up to fifty memories of his past life as a pilot, which could all be verified. It turned out he had been James Huton, an American pilot who at age twenty-one was shot down in his plane by the Japanese during the Second World War. In the end even James' skeptical father was convinced that reincarnation exists.
According to the spiritual masters we have all had many previous lives. In the eyes of our soul each life is like a day and each death is the night following it, while at the same time preceding a new day. In each of our past lives the soul hopes to take a few steps closer to its ultimate goal: Enlightenment or God-Realisation, the conscious and complete union of the human with the Divine, the finite with the Infinite.
Yet although we have had all many past lives, we cannot remember even a single one of them. `It is very hard to know one's past incarnations,' my spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy said. `Except for rare glimpses and flashes, you have to be an advanced seeker before your soul will give you the knowledge of what it did before.' The soul keeps that information hidden for a reason. For the soul is pretty focused on its goal; it does not want us to dwell on our past. `The past is dust,' Sri Chinmoy always said. `The past has not given any of us realisation, God-realisation. It is the present that will give to each of us our Self-realisation.'
As a fully realized master Sri Chinmoy had the capacity to know not only his own previous lives, but also those of all others he came across. Sometimes he told his students what they had done in their past life.
The past fascinates us. I myself have often wondered what I was in my past life, although I've never gotten any glimpses. I'm pretty sure I had a German speaking incarnation, because I love the language and for that matter an English speaking incarnation as well. But unlike little James Leininger I am lost for clues.
Yet I might be better off not knowing. The past can be a prison. Whether you were someone very noble or very ordinary really doesn't help in achieving happiness. As Sri Chinmoy says:
`Suppose a Master tells you that in your past incarnation, you were a thief. What will be your immediate reaction? You will say, "I was a thief. Then it is useless for me to think of God in this life. In my last life, I was so low. I was such an unspiritual soul." If, on the other hand, he tells you that you were the President of the United States, you will immediately think, "Now in this present incarnation, where am I? I am nowhere near that." Immediately you will be disheartened.'
We always have to look forward. The past is dust, but our future can be golden if today we sow the right seeds: prayer and meditation. Again Sri Chinmoy enlightens us: `if we pray and meditate soulfully, then our tomorrows will laugh at our today's problems.'