Past and Future Lives

"...our body and mind are separate entities, so even though the body disintegrates at death, the continuum of the mind remains unbroken." -Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

    There are five ways to understand that we have lived before…

    Buddha taught rebirth, or reincarnation, based on his own direct experience, and through the power of meditation, many Buddhist Yogis have gained the ability to remember their own and others’ past lives. Through training our mind in meditation, we can eventually develop a similarly profound level of concentration, and we shall then be able to verify the truth of rebirth through our own experience. Until then, however, the only way we can understand rebirth is to rely on reasons such as those presented in Buddha’s teachings. If we believe Buddha’s teachings on rebirth and act in accordance with the law of karma, gradually our mental capacity will increase until eventually we shall directly perceive our past and future lives, but if we stubbornly deny the existence of reincarnation and karma we shall not make the effort to train our mind and so we shall never know rebirth through our own experience.

    The Charavakas, the materialistic school of thought that flourished during the time of Buddha, argued that if something exists it can be perceived by the five senses. Not being able to see past and future lives with their senses, they concluded that reincarnation does not exist.

    There are many people nowadays who refuse to believe in hidden objects such as reincarnation, saying that they believe only in what they themselves can see. This view is extremely superficial. Most scientific and historical knowledge is based on logical inference from experiments rather than on unaided sense perception. We cannot directly see atoms, distant galaxies, or events in the past, but we can nevertheless know them through inference. In the same way, although we cannot see our past and future lives, we can nevertheless infer them through logical reasoning.

    How Can We Understand The Existence Of Future Lives?

    Once we understand the existence of past lives, it will not be difficult to understand the existence of future lives. There are five ways to understand that we have lived before: (1) understanding the continuum of the mind, (2) considering the great variety of mental imprints children are born with, (3) reflecting on dreams, (4) contemplating examples of people with memories of previous lives, and lastly, (5) through scriptural authority.

    By contemplating and meditating on these five lines of reasoning with an open mind and a good motivation it is not difficult to understand that we have had previous lives. However, if we have decided in advance that reincarnation does not exist, and consider these arguments only to refute them, not even a living Buddha could make us believe in it.

    Understanding the continuum of mind
    Considering Mental Imprints
    Reflecting on Dreams
    Stories of Reincarnation
    Scriptural Authority
    Why Meditate on Reincarnation