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How could anyone recognize the difference between experiencing a past life recall and simply experiencing a vivid imagining of the mind? While meditating I often slip into states that take me outside my current sense of self and into another experience. Though I don’t believe this to be a past life recall, I often wonder if I experienced this 2000 years ago in Indian society, would I have consider this a past life? Just like past lives can be consider endlessly varied so can these vivid experiences.


It’s seems a typical answer to this question is, either, 1. Your not meditating good enough... or 2.There is no self and hence no past lives. I feel these are insufficient answers.

In regards to 1, I think maybe people misunderstand my interpretation of imagining. I do not mean an intentionally based conjuring of thoughts or day dreaming. It is in deep stillness that these conditions arise, taking on the appearance of life experiences, and they appear distinct from my current life situations.

In regards to 2, I take non-self or the emptiness of self and things to mean the impermanence of states of being or existing. We are confined to bodies, that is to say, the neurons in my brain control the movement of my thumb typing this. Of course we are socially, biologically, and environmentally interconnected and none of our actions goes uninfluenced by the actions of others as a hole. Yet at the end of the day my bank account number belongs to me and I am legally responsible for my actions within society.

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    Very easy. A mind in meditation doesn't imagine. From your description likely you are not into any level of meditation, but just mind-wondering or, daydreaming... quite often happened to followers of Vajrayana Tibetan technique. This article may give you some clues of when can you do past life recall. – Mishu 米殊 Dec 21 '18 at 19:52
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According to the sutta below, one has to have a bright, spotless, rid of taints, pliable, steady and imperturbable mind immersed in concentration that can be directed towards the recollection of past lives. A mind full of imagination does not fulfill this criteria.

From MN 4:

When my mind had become immersed in samādhi (concentration) like this —purified, bright, spotless, rid of taints, pliable, workable, steady, and imperturbable — I extended it toward recollection of past lives. I recollected many kinds of past lives.

That is: one, two, three, four, five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand rebirths; many eons of the world contracting, many eons of the world evolving, many eons of the world contracting and evolving. I remembered: ‘There, I was named this, my clan was that, I looked like this, and that was my food. This was how I felt pleasure and pain, and that was how my life ended. When I passed away from that place I was reborn somewhere else. There, too, I was named this, my clan was that, I looked like this, and that was my food. This was how I felt pleasure and pain, and that was how my life ended. When I passed away from that place I was reborn here.’ And so I recollected my many kinds of past lives, with features and details.

According to SN 22.79, the purpose of recollecting past lives is simply to become disenchanted with the change in the five aggregates, and the suffering associated with it, in the past and the future. It does not matter what is the content of the recollection. This can also be found in this answer.

If you wondering whether this refers to literal physical rebirth or metaphorical thought rebirth, perhaps this quote from the same sutta can help you:

When my mind had become immersed in samādhi (concentration) like this — purified, bright, spotless, rid of taints, pliable, workable, steady, and imperturbable — I extended it toward knowledge of the death and rebirth of sentient beings.

With clairvoyance that is purified and superhuman, I saw sentient beings passing away and being reborn—inferior and superior, beautiful and ugly, in a good place or a bad place. I understood how sentient beings are reborn according to their deeds: ‘These dear beings did bad things by way of body, speech, and mind. They spoke ill of the noble ones; they had wrong view; and they chose to act out of that wrong view. When their body breaks up, after death, they’re reborn in a place of loss, a bad place, the underworld, hell. These dear beings, however, did good things by way of body, speech, and mind. They never spoke ill of the noble ones; they had right view; and they chose to act out of that right view. When their body breaks up, after death, they’re reborn in a good place, a heavenly realm.’ And so, with clairvoyance that is purified and superhuman, I saw sentient beings passing away and being reborn — inferior and superior, beautiful and ugly, in a good place or a bad place. I understood how sentient beings are reborn according to their deeds.

  • How do you know the recollection is simply not an imagining? Does not answer the question at all. – vajra78 Dec 21 '18 at 17:49
  • @vajra78 Unfortunately, I don't have the experience of recollecting past lives, so I cannot give you a definitive answer. However, according to SN22.79, the purpose of recollecting past lives is simply to become disenchanted with the change in the five aggregates, and the suffering associated with it, in the past and the future. It does not matter what is the content of the recollection. This can also be found in this answer. – ruben2020 Dec 21 '18 at 18:00
  • I did not score this answer because: (i) part 1 about the spotless mind was good; but (ii) part 2 is merely materialism because the word "kaya" does not literally refer to the physical body. The word "kaya" means "collection" or "group" (of five aggregates). Every act of kamma comprises of a different set of five aggregates. For example, the "kaya" of a happy drunk at a party is different to the "kaya" of the same person with a painful headache the next day. When the happy drunk kaya breaks up, what follows is a hellish kaya, the next day. This is not rocket science. – Dhammadhatu Dec 22 '18 at 2:25
  • And what is "many eons of the world contracting and evolving" in the context of rebirth in MN 4? Could it be daily sleep and waking-up? – ruben2020 Dec 22 '18 at 5:59
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The concept of past lives is something that is very widely misunderstood. Lets throw every preconception you have about past lives out the window for a moment and think about this topic with a clean slate.

The central topic you should be thinking about when it comes to past lives, is your consciousness or as i like to call it, awareness or that which knows.

The highest truth there is to know, is that there is only one thing that exists. This is the reason for picking the descriptor "non-duality". The illusion (mara) is how we view the world. We think we are an observer, using our 6 senses to understand things that are separate from ourselves. This illusion is broken when we understand that consciousness/awareness creates our 6 senses, and our 6 senses create all the objects we see. But to say it "creates" them is incorrect, for there is only one thing! Consciousness is sight, is a tree, is an atom, is a wave.

Since there is only one infinite consciousness, we are all the same being. The same consciousness that is typing these words is also reading them many times over in different minds. This is the core understanding of past lives. Every conscious mind that is observing infinite consciousness is the same. Using incorrect verbiage, you could say that every living creature that has ever lived, or will ever live is a reincarnation of you.

Now, that being said, lets use that mindset to directly discuss your meditation experiences.

While meditating I often slip into states that take me outside my current sense of self and into another experience.

You are not slipping into another experience. There is only one experience we ever have, and we call it experiencing the now. You are still caught in the trap of associating your identity with a particular set of experiences, such as the sight of your body, or the opinions that appear in your mind. When you slip into these states where you believe to be in another experience, there is much to be learned! Ask yourself, why do I believe this experience is different from any other experience?

Though I don’t believe this to be a past life recall, I often wonder if I experienced this 2000 years ago in Indian society, would I have consider this a past life? Just like past lives can be consider endlessly varied so can these vivid experiences.

Time is also very widely misunderstood.

Lets take space as an example. I am sitting at my desk in a room in my house. I pick up a picture frame on the right side of my desk and move it to the left side of my desk. Have I created a new space? No. We believe there is only one space, and objects in space can be re-arranged into different configurations. No matter what you experience in the space, it is unchanging and always the same.

Lets take time. I am sitting at my desk right now. I pick up a picture frame on the right side of my desk and move it to the left side of my desk. Have I created a new time? No. We believe there is the past, now, and the future. This is incorrect. There is only one moment, now, and objects in the now can be re-arranged into different configurations. No matter what you experience in the now, it is unchanging and always the same.

We have all only ever experienced now. You can not leave the now and go to the past or the future. Even when you meditate and experience a vision of something you suspect to have happened 2000 years ago, that experience is happening now. You "remembering something that happened in the past" is happening now.

Reincarnation is not one identity becoming another identity through time. Reincarnation is one simplified explanation we give to teach that we are all one being, experiencing many different minds.

There are no past lives for there is no past, only now. There are no past lives for there is only one life, the life of consciousness.

What you see, hear, taste, smell, touch, and think has nothing to do with who you are. They are just experiences you are passively observing. I suggest, in your meditations, to focus less on the contents of your mind, and more on how those contents come to be. What is watching them? What are the properties of that watcher? How is the watcher affected by observing these 6 sense doors?

Congratulations on walking this path. You are extremely close to nirvana. I pray for nothing more than your liberation this lifetime.

  • "Since there is only one infinite consciousness, we are all the same being. The same consciousness that is typing these words is also reading them many times over in different minds." - this is from the Advaita Vedanta teachings of Hinduism. This is not Buddhism. The same infinite consciousness in every individual is a kind of Self or Atma. Buddhism teaches anatta. – ruben2020 Dec 21 '18 at 17:41
  • Anatta and infinite Conciousness are referring to the same teaching. It is like the story of the blind men and the elephant, all touching different limbs and arguing about what an elephant is when from one perspective, they are all correct. – w33t Dec 21 '18 at 19:04
  • Infinite Conciousness has no form. It is no-thing. It has the properties of nothing, so it has the ability to take the form of anything. From one perspective, you could say nothing exists and everything is an illusion. From another, you could say God is the creator of all things, and is the backbone of the universe. From another, you could say there is nothing permanent, only the ever changing. From another, there is only one thing, ever present and never changing. Most all religions are based on this understanding and trying to communicate it through teachings. – w33t Dec 21 '18 at 19:10
  • No. See MN 38: "consciousness is reckoned by the particular condition dependent upon which it arises. When consciousness arises dependent on the eye and forms, it is reckoned as eye-consciousness; (and the same for the other five aggregates) ... when consciousness arises dependent on the mind and mind-objects, it is reckoned as mind-consciousness. Just as fire is reckoned by the particular condition dependent on which it burns—when fire burns dependent on logs, it is reckoned as a log fire; when fire burns dependent on chaff, it is reckoned as a chaff fire" – ruben2020 Dec 21 '18 at 19:14
  • Only through personal experience can true understandings be cultivated. Enlightenment can never be reached through intellectual understandings or beliefs. Do not believe anyone. Not me, not the author of a book, not the buddha. Words and teachings can lead you towards the right direction, but without having the personal experience of abiding in Conciousness/awareness/Nirvana/God/that which knows/whatever you want to call it, none of the teachings have served their purpose. – w33t Dec 21 '18 at 19:22
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The Buddha did not ever recollect any "past lives". The Buddha only recollected what he called "past abodes" or "past adherences" (literally: "past homes"), which referred to when in the past his mind ignorantly clung to one or more of the five aggregates as "self". This can be read in SN 22.79.

Therefore, if the instructions & teachings in SN 22.79 are understood, there will not arise the question being asked about "imagination".

For example, when you were 4 years old, you identified yourself as "my mother's son" or "daughter". Then, when you were 20 years old, you identified yourself as "a communist" or "capitalist".

Every time in this life your mind considered itself as: "I am this", "I am that", "this is me", "this is mine", "I like this", "I like that", etc, and your mind "settled into", "established" or "defined" itself as some type of "identity", each of these "I" and "me" is a "past abode".

For example, if i truly believe: "I was student, I was a lawyer, I had a wife, I was a husband, I hated TV", etc, each of these is a "past abode".

  • Why is this downvoted? – user29568 Dec 21 '18 at 10:43
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – ChrisW Dec 24 '18 at 23:39

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