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I always thought that the remembrance of the past lives and the vision of the mechanism of the kamma were the fruits of the jhanas. BUT, it is said that the Tathagata learnt the (8) jhanas from two teachers. it is also said that he remembered his past lives during the famous seven days, after he decided to gain what he would call nibbana.

Do we know whether the Tathagata had access to his previous lives or to the karmic mechanism before the week of accessing nibbana ?

if no, does this mean that only the dhamma --- instead of the practice from hinduism, jainism and perhaps others doctrines --- permits to see the past lives, or the karmic mechanism ?

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    I think that past life remembrance qualifies as a Siddhi: something that could happen, which is a sign of progress, but which becomes a distraction if pursued. Everyone can "happen upon" different siddhis in the course of their development. It is said that someone not familiar with the Dharma can become enlightened, so there must be no necessary connection between attainments and knowledge conveyed by Buddhism. This keeps Buddhists from asserting the "only one way" idea. – user2341 Nov 29 '15 at 23:59
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According to the Brahmajala sutta, those who have not seen Dhamma can recollect past lives:

"There are, bhikkhus, some recluses and brahmins who are eternalists, and who on four grounds proclaim the self and the world to be eternal. And owing to what, with reference to what, do these honorable recluses and brahmins proclaim their views?

"In the first case, bhikkhus, some recluse or a brahmin, by means of ardor, endeavor, application, diligence, and right reflection, attains to such a degree of mental concentration that with his mind thus concentrated, [purified, clarified, unblemished, devoid of corruptions],[5] he recollects his numerous past lives: that is, (he recollects) one birth, two, three, four, or five births; ten, twenty, thirty, forty, or fifty births; a hundred, a thousand, or a hundred thousand births; many hundreds of births, many thousands of births, many hundreds of thousands of births. (He recalls:) 'Then I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance; such was my food, such my experience of pleasure and pain, such my span of life. Passing away thence, I re-arose there. There too I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance; such was my food, such my experience of pleasure and pain, such my span of life. Passing away thence, I re-arose here.' Thus he recollects his numerous past lives in their modes and their details.

"He speaks thus: 'The self and the world are eternal, barren, steadfast as a mountain peak, standing firm like a pillar. And though these beings roam and wander (through the round of existence), pass away and re-arise, yet the self and the world remain the same just like eternity itself. What is the reason? Because I, by means of ardor, endeavor, application, diligence, and right reflection, attain to such a degree of mental concentration that with my mind thus concentrated, I recollect my numerous past lives in their modes and their details. For this reason I know this: the self and the world are eternal, barren, steadfast as a mountain peak, standing firm like a pillar. And though these beings roam and wander (through the round of existence), pass away and re-arise, yet the self and the world remain the same just like eternity itself.'

"This, bhikkhus, is the first case.

According to the Maha-Saccaka Sutta, which tells the story of his enlightenment, the Buddha first examined his past lives, then later(soon after) achieved liberating knowledge.

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  • I just thought of saying this: As far as I have read the texts of Hinduism, there are no Brahmins or Yogis or recluses, who seem to claim that this world is eternal. According to Hinduism, the world is just considered as a Maya (Illusion). Though I don't deny that they say Atman is eternal. – Gokul NC Nov 30 '15 at 7:29
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I don't think the Buddha knew his past lives long before he attained nirvana -- the descriptions I know of him accessing his past lives were during his final struggle.

To the best of my knowledge, past lives recollection is about concentration -- not necessarily samma samadhi as known in the sutras. The sutras imply that yogis could and have obtained such abilities and that it is not something the Buddha introduced.

The Buddha is said to have learned specific concentration practices (aka the arupa jhanas) from previous teachers before reaching nirvana, but it's not clear if he (or his teachers) knew any of the actual 4 jhana (as described in the sutras, with their factors and all). The interesting passage is the one he describes remembering reaching the 1st jhana state when he was a kid and that is when he "gets back on track" towards nirvana -- and that happened after training with his teachers. This suggests that his teachers did not teach or knew how to reach the 1st (and arguably any of the four) jhanas, and thus, opens up the possibility that samma samadhi could have been an original practice introduced or at least systematized by the Buddha.

Knowlege of previous lives is not unlocked with nirvana according to the sutras as such a person can still be bound to wrong view / ignorance (which nirvana is supposed to end). But it is presented as part of a path towards nirvana.

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  • Ajahn Brahm also thinks that the Buddha discovered the jhanas which he taught. I agree the story as told doesn't quite make sense if his teachers taught him jhana. – Adamokkha Nov 30 '15 at 3:54
  • Jhana comes from dhyan a sanskrit word which is meditative state. You guys are talking about techniques which are are few thousands in India/china. Nothing is original in spiritual world. Millions of people have contributed to meditation techniques world over. Be a Buddhist but do not glorify Buddha. That is pride. – Shashank Khare Mar 5 '16 at 3:39
  • @ShashankKhare I'm sorry if you were lead to think the above is glorification -- or pride. – user382 Mar 5 '16 at 5:19
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Past lives are seen only when 6th chakra is fully active. In tibet there are people who activate your 6th chakra directly. But its not Nirbana. Nirbana is blooming of thousand petal lotus which is a metaphor for opening of final 7 th chakra. If you concentrate on center of your two eye brows you can have glimpse of your past lives. It will be not permanent though. Only when you are pure you should attempt to open it.

It is not a siddhi i.e. psychic power. Siddhis can be obtained by activating lower chakras but they are considered a distraction.

If you are at 6th 7th is not far off.

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