Past-life Memory

If we lived before this lifetime, why can’t we remember our previous life or lives? One motive for asking this question is doubt about the reality of the soul and reincarnation. Or someone who believes in reincarnation may want to know why God doesn’t allow us to remember our past life when presumably the information would aid our spiritual progress.

There are often different ways to answer a “why” question, and that applies to this question as well. One answer here is a “mechanical” one: we simply have fallible memories, and the trauma of death and rebirth erases the memory of our previous life. The idea that we could forget everything about our past lives is reasonable, considering that throughout our present life we experience thoughts and events from moment to moment but forget most of them. Someone might even forget everything of the present life because of an extreme trauma.

Another way to answer the “why” question has to do with motivation. Why would Krishna deny me the ability to remember my past life when it would obviously help me advance in Krishna consciousness in this life?

But would it help? We might assume that it would, but some people do remember (or think they remember) their past life, but that doesn’t necessarily inspire them to dedicate themselves to spiritual life.

We might assume that to grow spiritually from lifetime to lifetime we must know what’s holding us back so we can work on it now. But we can get that information in other ways – specifically, through the teachings of the Vedic scriptures and the great spiritual teachers representing Lord Krishna. A self-help method that aims at cleaning up unbeneficial things within ourselves one by one may not be the best solution. By the method of Krishna consciousness, we can cleanse our hearts wholesale.

The aspiring devotee should be careful about asking a question that begins “Why didn’t Krishna . . . ?” Srila Prabhupada would sometimes cut off such an inquiry and quickly defend Krishna, implying, “Don’t challenge Krishna.”

A basic principle of Krishna consciousness is the conviction that everything Krishna does is perfect. We may not always understand His ways, but we should never doubt that whatever He does springs from His infinite love for us.

Like most undertakings, the practice of bhakti-yoga, or Krishna consciousness, begins with initial faith. Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami writes that faith in this context means “unflinching trust in something sublime.” We must trust that bhakti-yoga will lead us to the goal of life, take care of all our obligations, and satisfy any desire assumed to be satisfied only by some other process.

Krishna knows what He’s doing. If He chooses to hide our past lives from us, that can only be for our benefit. Besides, how much information can we handle anyway?

From the Srimad-Bhagavatam we learn that by chanting the Lord’s name, Ajamila was freed from the sinful reactions of millions of lifetimes (janma koti). This implies that we’re still influenced by things we did millions of lifetimes ago. So how much can we expect to benefit from knowing the details of our most recent past life? Rather, we can trust that whatever Krishna has chosen to reveal to us in this life is perfect for our spiritual progress. We just have to take advantage of it.

– Nagaraja Dasa