The Key to Theosophy
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky
The Key to Theosophy
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky
Why Do We Not Remember
Our Past Lives?
Q. You have given me a bird's eye view of the seven principles; now how do they account for our complete loss of any recollection of having lived before?
A. Very easily. Since those principles which we call physical, and none of which
is denied by science, though it calls them by other names-namely, the body,
life, passional and animal instincts, and the astral eidolon of every man
(whether perceived in thought or our mind's eye, or objectively and separate
from the physical body), which principles we call Sthula-sharira, Prana,
Kamarupa, andLinga-sharira (see above).
[Those principles] are disintegrated after death with their constituent
elements, memory along with its brain, this vanished memory of a vanished
personality, can neither remember nor record anything in the subsequent
reincarnation of the Ego. Reincarnation means that this Ego will be furnished
with a new body, a new brain, and a new memory. Therefore it would be as absurd to expect this memory to remember that which it has never recorded as it would be idle to examine under a microscope a shirt never worn by a murderer, and seek on it for the stains of blood which are to be found only on the clothes he wore.
It is not the clean shirt that we have to question, but the clothes worn during
the perpetration of the crime; and if these are burnt and destroyed, how can you
get at them?
Q. Aye! How can you get at the certainty that the crime was ever committed at
all, or that the "man in the clean shirt" ever lived before?
A. Not by physical processes, most assuredly; nor by relying on the testimony of that which exists no longer. But there is such a thing as circumstantial
evidence, since our wise laws accept it, more, perhaps, even than they should.
To get convinced of the fact of reincarnation and past lives, one must put
oneself in rapport with one's real permanent Ego, not one's evanescent memory.
Q. But how can people believe in that which they do not know, nor have ever
seen, far less put themselves in rapport with it?
A. If people, and the most learned, will believe in the Gravity, Ether, Force,
and what not of Science, abstractions "and working hypotheses," which they have neither seen, touched, smelt, heard, nor tasted-why should not other people
believe, on the same principle, in one's permanent Ego, a far more logical and
important "working hypothesis" than any other?
Q. What is, finally, this mysterious eternal principle? Can you explain its
nature so as to make it comprehensible to all?
A. The Ego which reincarnates, the individual and immortal-not personal-"I"; the
vehicle, in short, of the Atma-Buddhic Monad, that which is rewarded in Devachan and punished on earth, and that, finally, to which the reflection only of the Skandhas, or attributes, of every incarnation attaches itself.
There are five Skandhas or attributes in the Buddhist teachings: Rupa (form or
body), material qualities;Vedana , sensation; Sanna , abstract ideas;
Samkhara,tendencies of mind; Vinnana, mental powers. Of these we are formed, by them we are conscious of existence; and through them communicate with the world about us.
Q. What do you mean by Skandhas?
A. Just what I said: "attributes," among which is memory, all of which perish
like a flower, leaving behind them only a feeble perfume. Here is another
paragraph from H.S. Olcott's Buddhist Catechism which bears directly upon the
subject. It deals with the question as follows:
The aged man remembers the incidents of his youth, despite his being physically
and mentally changed. Why, then, is not the recollection of past lives brought
over by us from our last birth into the present birth? Because memory is
included within the Skandhas, and the Skandhas having changed with the new
existence, a memory, the record of that particular existence, develops. Yet the
record or reflection of all the past lives must survive, for when Prince Siddh
rtha became Buddha, the full sequence of His previous births were seen by Him …
and any one who attains to the state of Jñana can thus retrospectively trace the
line of his lives.
This proves to you that while the undying qualities of the personality-such as
love, goodness, charity, etc.-attach themselves to the immortal Ego,
photographing on it, so to speak, a permanent image of the divine aspect of the
man who was, his material Skandhas (those which generate the most marked Karmic effects) are as evanescent as a flash of lightning, and cannot impress the new brain of the new personality; yet their failing to do so impairs in no way the
identity of the reincarnating Ego.
Q. Do you mean to infer that which survives is only the Soul-memory, as you call it, that Soul or Ego being one and the same, while nothing of the personality
A. Not quite; something of each personality, unless the latter was an
absolutematerialist with not even a chink in his nature for a spiritual ray to
pass through, must survive, as it leaves its eternal impress on the incarnating
permanent Self or Spiritual Ego. (Or the Spiritual,in contradistinction to the
personal Self. The student must not confuse this Spiritual Ego with the "higher
self" which is Atma, the God within us, and inseparable from the Universal
The personality with its Skandhas is ever changing with every new birth. It is,
as said before, only the part played by the actor (the true Ego) for one night.
This is why we preserve no memory on the physical plane of our past lives,
though thereal "Ego" has lived them over and knows them all.
Q. Then how does it happen that the real or Spiritual man does not impress his
new personal "I" with this knowledge?
A. How is it that the servant-girls in a poor farmhouse could speak Hebrew and
play the violin in their trance or somnambular state, and knew neither when in
their normal condition? Because, as every genuine psychologist of the old, not
your modern, school, will tell you, the Spiritual Ego can act only when the
personal Ego is paralyzed. The Spiritual "I" in man is omniscient and has every
knowledge innate in it; while the personal self is the creature of its
environment and the slave of the physical memory. Could the former manifest
itself uninterruptedly, and without impediment, there would be no longer men on
earth, but we should all be gods.
Q. Still there ought to be exceptions, and some ought to remember.
A. And so there are. But who believes in their report? Such sensitives are
generally regarded as hallucinated hysteriacs, as crack-brained enthusiasts, or
humbugs, by modern materialism. Let them read, however, works on this subject, preeminently Reincarnation, a Study of Forgotten Truthby E.D. Walker, F.T.S., and see in it the mass of proofs which the able author brings to bear on this vexed question. One speaks to people of soul, and some ask "What is Soul?" "Have you ever proved its existence?" Of course it is useless to argue with those who are materialists. But even to them I would put the question:
Can you remember what you were or did when a baby? Have you preserved the
smallest recollection of your life, thoughts, or deeds, or that you lived at all
during the first eighteen months or two years of your existence? Then why not
deny that you have ever lived as a babe, on the same principle?
When to all this we add that the reincarnating Ego, or individuality, retains
during the Devachanic period merely the essence of the experience of its past
earth-life or personality, the whole physical experience involving into a state
of in potentia, or being, so to speak, translated into spiritual formulae; when
we remember further that the term between two rebirths is said to extend from
ten to fifteen centuries, during which time the physical consciousness is
totally and absolutely inactive, having no organs to act through, and therefore
no existence, the reason for the absence of all remembrance in the purely
physical memory is apparent.
Q. You just said that the Spiritual Ego was omniscient. Where, then, is that
vaunted omniscience during his Devachanic life, as you call it?
A. During that time it is latent and potential, because, first of all, the
Spiritual Ego (the compound of Buddhi-Manas) is not the Higher Self, which being one with the Universal Soul or Mind is alone omniscient; and, secondly, because Devachan is the idealized continuation of the terrestrial life just left behind, a period of retributive adjustment, and a reward for unmerited wrongs and sufferings undergone in that special life. It is omniscient only potentiallyin
Devachan, and de facto exclusively in Nirvana, when the Ego is merged in the
Universal Mind-Soul. Yet it rebecomesquasi omniscient during those hours on
earth when certain abnormal conditions and physiological changes in the body
make the Ego free from the trammels of matter. Thus the examples cited above of somnambulists, a poor servant speaking Hebrew, and another playing the violin, give you an illustration of the case in point. This does not mean that the
explanations of these two facts offered us by medical science have no truth in
them, for one girl had, years before, heard her master, a clergyman, read Hebrew
works aloud, and the other had heard an artist playing a violin at their farm.
But neither could have done so as perfectly as they did had they not been
ensouled by that which, owing to the sameness of its nature with the Universal
Mind, is omniscient. Here the higher principle acted on the Skandhas and moved
them; in the other, the personality being paralyzed, the individuality
manifested itself. Pray do not confuse the two.
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