Past lives? Many religions have teachings that we existed before this life, either as other individuals who lived here on Earth, or in another dimension of some kind, a “pre-mortality.” Yet, there appears to be little to no evidence for these claims, and so they often sound like spiritual woo-woo, pseudoscience, or simply unbelievable to our rational scientific modern minds. So where do these teachings come from, and do they have any validity in the real world?
I am of two minds on this. Perhaps every subject could be viewed through at least two lenses, two polarities, the finite and infinite, the mortal and immortal, the relative and the absolute, etc. If we look at it only through one lens, we may miss the other perspective(s). And there may be validity in both/all such perspectives! This ability to see validity in multiple perspectives is perhaps one of the hallmarks of nondual consciousness.
In one sense, I don’t think our ego identity had any existence whatsoever prior to this life, either in a former lifetime here on Earth, or in a “pre-mortal life” somewhere else. I think our ego, or psychological self, the particular identity that we usually think we are, begins to emerge for the very first time in our childhood, as this unique body experiences the world and the mind becomes aware of its finite being. This “self” we think we are develops here through innumerable interactions between this particular body-mind and its surroundings and other humans. This unique person that we feel we are, it seems, is unique to this life; it has never existed before, and it won’t ever exist again after the death of the biological physical body-mind. This is perhaps just like each wave that emerges from the ocean is a unique wave; it has never existed before, and will never exist again in that exact same form.
But in another more mystical sense, I don’t think that ultimately or fundamentally we are this ego. This psychological “self” we think we are seems to be an emergent identity that we come to assume is us, but is rather a construction in our mind, it is not what we essentially are. Deeper down, beyond this psychological construction, we are not that, but rather we are a fundamental part of the world, of reality, of Life itself, of the Earth, of this cosmos, of the Singularity or One, of this energy that collapses into many different elements and forms and lifeforms throughout all time. And that deeper identity with the cosmos itself does, it seems, “reincarnate” or “resurrect” in each and every new finite form that it takes in the world and universe. New forms and lives are continually coming into being from this deeper cosmic Source, and That is the One that is reincarnating or resurrecting. The ocean continues to wave, even though each wave is a unique expression of it. Every wave is fundamentally the ocean in motion.
Most religions and spiritual intuitions that have any sense of having lived “before” coming here I think are referring to this latter sense, where the deeper identity or One that we all are fundamentally in reality is being reshaped into new forms indefinitely. I don’t think it is our ego, or personal identity, that is living again or had a prior life, but rather it is the deeper One or Spirit of the cosmos that is living innumerable times in each and every form, including what we consider our present body-mind.
In moments of deep meditation and contemplation, when the ego construction falls away from consciousness, I think we can come to realize we are this deeper nondual One, this Ultimate Reality, this Absolute, this Source, which has incarnated its Self as innumerable finite forms throughout time. We identify our Self with all these other lives who have lived before, are now living, or who will ever live, because this cosmic or divine Self incarnated and is incarnating as them too. And even non-animate things. We all share the same fundamental identity, as the One. We feel a deep oneness or solidarity or Love in them, because of this shared fundamental identity.
And we may recognize that “we” have “lived” before this particular life because in some way we are Life itself, Reality itself, the ground of Being. This consciousness or life that has arisen in me is the same as the same basic consciousness or life that has arisen in countless others throughout history. The ego didn’t live before, but rather our true Self has always lived, the One in God, the essence of Reality itself, which was never born and will never die.
What do you think about a “pre-mortal life” or “past lives”?
8 thoughts on “The Mysticism of “Past Lives” or “Premortality”: Two Perspectives”
Hinduism, much of Buddhism and some of the Kabbalah believe in reincarntion, but all want to escape from this cycle of birth and rebirth. Ego selves come and go, the true Self is eternal.
Yes, and Christianity believes in resurrection, which seems to me to be a similar idea of life coming back to life. Yet, from the mystical perspective, it’s not the ego that is transferable, but rather the divine Life itself that continues to emerge again in new unique forms.
If we look at ourselves holistically, then yes, we got only one life, which could be prolonged for a long time. If we consider our spirit behind the current, or let’s say, the part of us which is not identified with anything, not relationships, body, desired, dreams, etc, then no, there isn’t just one life.
As great mystic Gurdjieff pointed out, man is not the same even for half an hour. Death is a transformation of the context in which we are living in the external world.
Buddhism teaches that there is no continuing self, just the fleeting skandhas. To some extent, psychologists and physiologists would agree. Skandhas are the five aggregates of all human beings: bodily matter; sensations; perceptions; mental formations; consciousness. “They are constantly in the process of change and do not constitute a self.” Psychologists say that our mind is always in a state of flux and the make-up of our psyche varies each moment. Physiologists attest to the ever altering state of our body: cells are dying and then regenerated continuously, following DNA patterns which make the modifications appear to be gradual. Trauma can speed the process.
I disagree with them. The seat of our individual will, our separate identity is the same and is eternal. What changes is our will, not the seat or source of the will. Our spirit is indestructible, including the component in which resides our will.
Bryce, my joke about the afterlife:
A 90 year old Christian man died. At the Pearly Gates St. Peter looked up his record.
“Well, you haven’t been good enough to be entered into Heaven or bad enough to be sent to Hell. You have two other choices: be born again on Earth or pass on into oblivion.”
“What will the next 90 years be like on Earth?” asked the man.
“Much worse than the last 90 years,” replied St. Peter.
“Then I’ll take oblivion.”
Funny joke, Ron. Yes, oblivion might be preferable to what we may see in the next few decades. But that is also pessimistic, and I try to be optimistic. What could go right in the next few decades? How might things turn around? How might greater numbers of people awaken?
We can hope for the best, but I wouldn’t bet on it.