Why do we not remember our past lives? If it is possible to recollect one's previous lives by deeply concentrated thought,is it not possible for us to visit the hermits living in Himalaya area and verify the truth of doctrine of rebirth?

5 Answers 5


Why do we not remember our past lives?

It is a protective mechanism, kind of like how when you enter REM sleep your body paralyzes you to avoid hurting yourself. Similarly most of our chakras are in a semi-open, unpurified state because the full power of it can be harmful to ourselves and others. Many spiritual powers remain dormant. (I would not rely on the explanations of famous modern teachers because most of them are just intellectuals and have not put the prerequisite solitude and focus to attain realization... and sometimes they have to make publicly acceptable comments to avoid attack.)

If it is possible to recollect one's previous lives by deeply concentrated thought?

Yes. By entering the 1st jhana, one can even recall one's past lives. The below passage from MN 36 indicates Buddha went to 4th jhana before doing so, recalling many more. I would refer to the book Mind Experiment by Bavo Lievens for references on Buddhist texts, as well as beautiful Buddhist cosmology and how to go about doing this. Go to page 80.

Here is an excerpt from MN 36:

"When the mind was thus concentrated, purified, bright, unblemished, rid of defilement, pliant, malleable, steady, & attained to imperturbability, I directed it to the knowledge of recollecting my past lives. I recollected my manifold past lives, i.e., one birth, two...five, ten...fifty, a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand, many eons of cosmic contraction, many eons of cosmic expansion, many eons of cosmic contraction & expansion: 'There I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure & pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, 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 & pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose here.' Thus I remembered my manifold past lives in their modes & details."


There are some persons, who probably in accordance with the laws of association, spontaneously develop the memory of their past birth, and remember fragments of their previous lives. Such cases are very rare, but those few well-attested, respectable cases tend to throw some light on the idea of a past birth for those who doubt the scriptures. Disciples of the Supreme Buddha believe that there are countless past existences. The most valuable evidence Buddhists cite in favour of rebirth is the Buddha, for He developed a knowledge which enabled Him to read past and future lives. Suttas record that prior to Siddhattha Gotama’s Enlightenment, he had gained the three-fold supernormal knowledge. One of which is the rRecollection of his own past lives (pubbenivasanussati-nana). Following His instructions, His disciples also developed this knowledge and were able to read their past lives to a great extent.

Even some Indian Rishis, before the advent of the Buddha, were distinguished for such psychic powers as clairaudience, clairvoyance, thought-reading, remembering past births, etc. So are the experiences of some modern dependable psychics and strange cases of alternating and multiple personalities. In hypnotic states some relate experiences of their past lives; while a few others, read the past lives of others and even heal diseases.

How are we to account for great characters like Panini, Kalidasa, Homer and Plato; men of genius like Shakespeare, infant prodigies like Pascal, Mozart, Beethoven, Raphael etc.? Heredity alone cannot account for them. "Else their ancestry would disclose it, their posterity, even greater than themselves, demonstrate it." Could they rise to such lofty heights if they had not lived noble lives and gained similar experiences in the past? Is it by mere chance that they are been born or those particular parents and placed under those favourable circumstances?

A Western writer once said: "Whether we believe in a past existence or not, it forms the only reasonable hypothesis which bridges certain gaps in human knowledge concerning certain facts of every day life. Our reason tells us that this idea of past birth and Kamma alone can explain the degrees of difference that exist between twins, how men like Shakespeare with a very limited experience are able to portray with marvelous exactitude the most diverse types of human character, scenes and so forth of which they could have no actual knowledge, why the work of the genius invariably transcends his experience, the existence of infant precocity, the vast diversity in mind and morals, in brain and physique, in conditions, circumstances and environment observable throughout the world, and so forth."

It should be stated that this doctrine of rebirth can neither be proved nor disproved experimentally, but it is accepted as an evidentially verifiable fact. The cause of this Kamma is avijja or ignorance of the Four Noble Truths. Ignorance is, therefore, the cause of birth and death; and its transmutation into knowingness or vijja is consequently their cessation.


For adults

For adults, they can not remember because it is very far over you can remember it.

Take it easy. Don't look too far, just in this life, you have forgoten everything in your 1-2 years old period already.

For babies

For babies, Take it easy. Just see the amnesia-patient, it is the same but the reborn is worse than amnesia because reborn-human has an amnesia which is caused by loosen brain, not just damage, also has an amnesia which is caused by psychological trauma, which is caused bad environment in mother's stomach, too. So the babies loose whole of their past life memories.

In very advance theory, abhidhamma, babies can not remember because all of their memory-organs [saññāya āyatana] have change to very weak and none ability, similar to the old paralysis-man's organs. Also, they have to live in stressful stomach that has 37 °C temperature for at least 7 months, without vision. This is called kammajja-vāta [moving/changing form that arise by kamma] in suttanta-pāli tradition.

Kammajja-vāta is one element of kammajja-rūpa [form that arise by kamma]. All organs arising at the beginning moment of life, especially human organs, are very weak, loose every ability, walk/see/listen/etc, from the past life.

Mind and it's factors, such as saññā (memory factor), arise depend on those kammajja-rūpa which is a elements of purejāta-paccaya (pre arising cause) in paṭṭhāna, the 7th canon of abhidhamma. If this paccaya, sense-organs, so weak, saññā that arise at these sense-organs also weak too. Then saññā cause of sati (mindfulness, recalling ability mind's factor) by the definition "sati thirasaññāpadaṭṭānā". So the babies loose whole of their past life memories.

Theravāda recalling skill practice

In theravāda tradition, you can recall it by jhāna-based ñāṇa, such as pupbenivāsānussati-ñāṇa or paccayapariggaha-ñāṇa. This tradition still going on at pa-auk monastery and some Burmese monastery.


I have heard monks such as The Dalai Lama speak their opinion about the 'reality' of past lives yet these teachers also state they cannot remember their own past lives.

Regardless, just because a person tells us they remembered their past lives does negate what they are saying may not be true. That person might possibly be deluded (i.e., clinging to the sense objects of mental formations as being 'self'; just like clinging to a dream that occurs in sleep as being real). Either way, another person cannot verify past lives for us since we ourselves cannot verify what the other person is saying.

In the oldest Buddhist scriptures (Khajjaniya Sutta), it is stated the Buddha did not remember 'past lives' (despite many Buddhists believing this & mistranslating words to mean this). Instead, the Buddha recollected the myriad times in the past (before he was enlightened) where his mind ignorantly clung to things as "I", "me" & "mine".

Here, it is explained when a meditator recollects 'past abodes' (pubbe nivāsa), what is recollected is only the five aggregates (body, feeling, perception, mental formations & consciousness) and that this recollection is to be seen as it actually is with right discernment as: 'This is not mine. This is not my self. This is not what I am.'

Similarly, in scriptures such as MN 36, 'past abodes' (pubbe nivāsa) is mentioned with previous 'births' ('jati'). The word 'birth' means the conceptual birth of the view of 'beings' ('satta' - SN 12.2) or 'self-identity' (MN 44). SN 23.2 and SN 5.10 state 'beings' ('satta') is a mental state or wrong view; that in reality; there is no 'being' ('satta') to be found.

Why now do you assume 'a being'? Mara, have you grasped a view? This is a heap of sheer constructions: Here no being is found.

Just as, with an assemblage of parts, The word 'chariot' is used, So, when the aggregates are present, There's the convention 'a being.'

So when it was said the Buddha recollected his previous 'births', this was also the recollecting the myriad times in the past (before he was enlightened) where his mind ignorantly clung to things as "I", "me" & "mine".

There are many videos on YouTube by Ajahn Brahm about past lives, where he claims he gives evidence of their verification. I recommend watching these or similar videos.

  • Do you have a source in which Ajahn Brahm states that he cannot remember his own past lives?
    – Adamokkha
    Jun 7, 2016 at 4:12
  • The blog you linked only has other people disagreeing about whether Ajahn Brahm talks freely about experiencing past lives or not. No good evidence to support the claim in your post that says he could not remember past lives. Everything I've read from him or heard him say leads me to believe that he has had past life experiences, though it is true I have never heard him openly discuss one, perhaps, as was noted in the blog you linked to, because doing so is forbidden conduct for a monk. If you cannot find a source to back up your claim, I suggest you remove it.
    – Adamokkha
    Jun 7, 2016 at 6:20

Buddha did remember all of his countless past lives, please refer to JATAKA.

If you practice meditation and reach samadhi, you will be able to see your past lives, but not everyone can see all of their past lives like buddha did. Please watch the proves of reincarnations.

Published on 8 Feb 2013 Some children can remember exact & verifiable details of their prior life they never could have come to know in this their current child life. These details can be objectively and independently confirmed. Remarkably & quite biologically enigmatic: Some of them have birth marks and birth defects at very same locations as the lethal injury causing their often abrupt and violent past life death. Eg. Born with 5 missing fingers after a prior life accident where they were cut off... Birthmarks at the exact location where they got gunshot wounds in their prior life, which could be confirmed from the autopsy report of their deceased individuality. Furthermore: Some can speak a language they never have learnt in this life (xenoglossy) corresponding to their past life language & nationality. They can in some cases remember names of siblings and other family members in their past life family who they never have met in this life...

The pioneer in this research was the late Dr. Ian Stevenson.

He founded The Division of Perceptual Studies (DOPS) at the Department of Psychiatry & Neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, VA.

A presentation of him is here.

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