Excerpts from God Talks with Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita
by Paramahansa Yogananda
It is not that I have never before been incarnated; nor thou, nor these other royal ones! And never in all futurity shall any one of us not exist!
—The Bhagavad Gita II:12
There has never been a time when you and I and the kings gathered here have not existed, nor will there be time when we will cease to exist.
In the transient realm of time and space, there is constant change, or cessation, in form and expression; but the essence within these changes endures. Everlasting is the soul of man (the true Self) and the soul of the universe (Kutastha Chaitanya, the Krishna or Christ Consciousness)—the "thou and I" expressions of Spirit. Permanent also are the principles of Nature, the Spirit-essentials of being or manifestation—"these other royal ones." In some form or another all that is and has been shall ever be. (This concept is developed further in 11:16.)
A mortal has the consciousness of duality, which seemingly separates the "present" from both the "past" and the "future." Through the operation of the law of relativity or duality that is structurally inherent in phenomenal creation, a mortal man, in a particular body, is convinced that he is living only "now"—as essentially distinguished from a life either in the past or in the future. He is circumscribed by his experience that he, and all his contemporaries, are living only "now."
The truth is that man lives in an "Eternal Now." The emancipated devotee rightly realizes the Eternal Now through his omnipresent God-consciousness; the mortal man experiences the Eternal Now through a punctuated series of lives, whose settings, alternately, are the physical world and the astral world.
Not only has man existed in some form from an indeterminate past, but, so long as he is ignorantly identified with his body (either the gross physical body or the subtle astral body), he will continue, throughout an indefinite future, to reinhabit fresh bodies.
"Reincarnation" signifies not only a change of residence by the soul from one body to another body, but also a change in the composite expression of the ego from one state of consciousness to another state of consciousness within one lifetime. A man of fifty years, for instance, might introspect and say to himself and to his present consciousness (i.e., "you and I") and to other noble thoughts (the "royal ones") that he had existed before in the states of childhood, young manhood, maturity, and so forth; and that, if his body lives for a few more decades, he will continue to exist in other states in the future. In this sense, one can live many lives in one life span—simultaneously conscious of all the different lives (or habits of life) encompassed by that one incarnation, with no imposition of the forgetrulness of intervening death. ...
Krishna therefore points out to Arjuna that all mortals who appear "now" to be separate individuals (one's self and one's contemporaries) are mere cause-and-effect expressions, in bodily form, of desires carried over by the ego from the past (previous lives); and that all new desires engendered "now" by the ego would be required to find expression through new bodies in the future. Krishna, the Spirit, asks the devotee to rise above the law of causation and mortal desires, which chain man to a series of inherently painful incarnations, and to become established instead in the eternal freedom of his immortal soul. (p.195)