My Past Life, an article by Dhiraja
- My Past Life
In 1984 I used to cycle each day through the leafy streets of
Christchurch to the campus of Canterbury University. First thing each morning I had my ancient Greek lesson with Dr Adshead or the fearsome Professor Lee, and then there were other tutorials and lectures to attend: philosophy, religious studies, classics all the most `forward-leaning' disciplines with the most lucrative career advantages!
Dr Wilson was my Hinduism lecturer. A much-loved figure in sandals and with a beard of biblical proportions who had climbed in the Himalayas and travelled the length of the Ganges with Sir Edmund Hillary, he was known to all students and staff as Jim.
I still recall his tutorial on reincarnation. The class was large.
"How many of you believe in reincarnation?" Jim began. This elicited assent from a quite significant proportion of the class. "Or that it is a possibility?" This netted a further percentage. "Or are at least open to the idea?" This left only me holding out.
It was not that I wished to display some closed-minded rejection of enquiry but I was there to study religion not to believe it.
Stage 1 religious studies lectures were held in the vast, science lecture theatres; Stage 2 lectures in small rooms in the religious studies department; Stage 3 lectures usually in the lecturer's office. As this indicates, religious studies was a subject that many people found interesting and then, the next year, buckled down to study `sensible' subjects.
I was not interested in sensible subjects.
During my Stage 2 year we had the option, for different segments of the course, of sitting an examination at the end of the year or of being assessed on assignments throughout the year. I was the only person who opted for the exam and so I turned up that November morning and sat my exam, oddly enough, sitting quite alone in the lecturer's office at the lecturer's desk surrounded by every text on eastern religion ever written. And I wrote a very long and detailed essay on the subject of reincarnation.
I dig now through the cardboard box on the top shelf containing old school reports and poems I wrote when I was 22 and musings on the meaning of life at 17. University results are here somewhere. Rels 210: B+. Not the brightest star in that constellation of `A's but respectable enough!
I recently read a book recounting the research of a certain scientist into cases of children who recall details of previous incarnations. It was subtitled `compelling evidence from children who remember past lives'. I am not sure that I would have used the word `compelling' but it was certainly interesting and I don't think I had used any such ideas in my own compelling essay on the topic all those years ago.
In our western civilisation, where the idea of reincarnation went out of fashion about the time that Pythagoras did, accounts of previous incarnations seem to be generally accounts of Babylonian priests or Atlantean princesses or any life that is remote in time and gratifyingly exotic. The accounts in the book which I read are of children who recall and give details of lives lived and deaths experienced only a brief period before their birth - lives and deaths which can be investigated; cases where the child can be reunited with people from their previous life. It is all very interesting.
Interesting it may be, but it is not of great significance. There are things that are of interest to the curious mind. But is speculation about, even knowledge of, some previous existence of any use in this existence? It is doubtful that dissecting ones childhood actually makes one a better person how much less so the rummaging in an even more distant past. Speculation about, or knowledge of, any one particular previous existence seems even less significant when one considers it in the perspective of the sweep of cosmological time; of lives and realities stretching over a far-distant horizon.
But for some reason the question that seems to most interest is who were you in your previous incarnation.
Let us for a moment indulge in this party trick.
It is widely held that the more spiritually advanced one is the longer the time that elapses between incarnations, so it pleases my ego no end to push my putative previous incarnation as far back as possible. Why is it that every artist whose work draws a response from me flourished at the turn of the century (nineteenth into twentieth), the so called fin de siecle; why do I have no feeling or empathy for the modern world; why do I avoid all the machines and gadgets of the contemporary world (I bought, reluctantly, my first car at the age of 40 and am derided by many for refusing to own a refrigerator. I have never owned a television or a computer); why did I spend my childhood reading books about rural Edwardian life; why do I feel no affinity with most of twentieth century history but sat and howled inconsolably with the tears dripping off my chin at the BBC's comedy set during the First World War?
There is no answer to these questions, nor are they to be seriously asked.
What is a much more interesting question but one which is so very seldom asked is, not what your previous life was but what your future life will be. I have narrowed down to a short-list of locations as a first step anyway: Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Mali, Gabon. The future belongs to Africa. It's time to start planning my part in that future!
Sri Chinmoy once wrote, in Ten Thousand Flower-Flames, Part 30
Self-mastery and God-discovery
Are the only two things
That each human being on earth
Must take seriously.
Everything else can be taken lightly.
The fact is that neither the past nor the future need be taken at all seriously. There is really only now.