As we don’t remember our past lives, how do we learn anything from them?
Question: The reincarnation theory claims that we are given multiple lives for cumulative learning. However, as we don’t remember our past lives, how do we learn anything from them?
Answer: The cumulative learning over multiple lives is the assimilation of essential life-lessons about how to act and how to live, not the recollection of specific life-experiences about what we did and when.
This focus on principles applies to all cumulative learning, as seen in the following examples of this-life learning:
- Handling boiling water: All of us are cautious when handling boiling water. Do we remember the specific time, place and circumstance when we learn this caution, possibly the first time when we put our hand in boiling water and burnt it? Unlikely, but that learning did happen due to some experience in a remote forgotten past. Though we have forgotten the details of that experience, we have assimilated its essential lesson: caution in handling boiling water.
- Reading: Every time we read, we utilize hundreds of grammatical rules and thousands of word meanings that we have learnt over many years. Most of us have forgotten the details of when and how we learnt those rules and meanings, but our assimilation of the essence of those learning-experiences is evident in our present ability to read. This focus on principles during cumulative learning is a blessing of nature that ensures our smooth and swift daily functioning. Just imagine how our brain would be cluttered and overloaded if, whenever we started reading, we were swamped by the innumerable specific memories related to each rule and meaning that we were using while reading!
This same mechanism of cumulative learning – assimilation of principles, obliviousness to details – applies to the life-lessons that we have learnt from our past lives. Nature spares us the neural overload that would paralyze us if, whenever we had to do a thing, we had to process all the innumerable specifics of its related past-life experiences. Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita (15.8) states that, just as what the wind carries from one flower to the next is subtle: the fragrance, what the soul carries from one life to another is subtle: the conceptions of life. These conceptions of life are the innate tendencies and natural inclinations that we were born with and that shape our habits of thought, perception and behavior. Thus, the cumulative learning of our past lives has made us the persons that we see in the mirror.
To summarize, just as the training in this life over many years leads to the subconscious learning of habits and abilities, the training over multiple lifetimes through numerous experiences leads to the subconscious learning of inclinations and tendencies.