by Paramahansa Yogananda Excerpts from Do Souls Reincarnate?; The Second Coming of Christ & The Gita
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Do Souls Reincarnate?
There must be some justice in the law that creates the infinite differences among human beings. Is there any clue? We find it in the law of reincarnation, with its corollary of karma, the principle of cause and effect. God at some time started all souls in a fairly uniform way. We all had equal goodness and potential within us; but owing to the misuse of our intelligence and free will, we have created terrible disorder and lack of equality, lack of uniformity, in life.
You can't generalize about people, because God has given every individual freedom to make his own choices. No matter who we are or what we are—and even though we are somewhat bound by circumstances of our karma, the effects of our past actions—we can do anything we want to in our minds. In the vault of the mind lies all the chains of bondage, as well as the keys to freedom. All actions originate in the mind. Trouble comes because people have so many crazy thoughts, and wrong thoughts lead to wrong actions. In this country, everyone wants to be or to have something different from everyone else. People do whatever comes into their minds. They get married and divorced as often as they wish; they do just as they please without any thought for their fellow beings, or even for their own highest welfare. We stagger at the wild way the world is moving — so many different ideals held by so many millions of people, contradicting and conflicting with one another. One person or group wants one thing, and another person or group wants the opposite. There are so many customs to bind us, so many philosophies to confuse us. I often say that we are all a little bit crazy and we don't know it, because people of the same craziness mix with their own kind. It is only when people differently crazy come together that they find out their own craziness. God wants to make something beautiful out of this earth, but there are lots of things that have gone out of control because we have misused the freedom He gave us. It is we who have made a mess of this world; and it is we, through opportunities in this life and in new incarnations, who must better our own lot as well as that of the world we live in.
We Feel Mortal Because
We Lack Continuity of Consciousness
We are so identified with this present life and its travails that it seems to us we are mortal; but only the body is mortal. Our real self, the soul, is immortal. We may sleep for a little while in that change called death, but we can never be destroyed. We exist, and that existence is eternal. The wave comes to the shore, and then goes back to the sea; it is not lost. It becomes one with the ocean, or returns again in the form of another wave. This body has come, and it will vanish; but the soul essence within it will never cease to exist. Nothing can terminate that eternal consciousness.
To know firsthand about reincarnation you would have to have a continuity of consciousness during the transition period of death, the afterdeath state, and the prenatal state in the mother's womb, from one incarnation to the next. It is possible. I have experienced that. In my autobiography that is coming out you will read how I felt when I was born, that helplessness of being confined in an infant's body; for my soul was developed and awake even when I was in my mother's womb. My soul rebelled against the limitations. (…)
But as soon as the child is born, it forgets its past. Only if the consciousness is highly developed will memories of the past be retained. (…) Your mind may not remember, but your soul does. When you are highly advanced spiritually, your soul remains awake and conscious from one life to another.
We Don't Want to Remember Troubles of Past Lives
I would plant one thought in your mind: Without God-realization, you wouldn't care to know about your past lives, lest you learn of the terrible happenings that have taken place in those previous incarnations. Think of the troubles and sorrows you have had in this life, and then think of your many past incarnations. Do not believe for one moment that you have not had equally painful or worse experiences in those earlier lives. Would you want to remember all you have gone through from the beginning of your creation? No. Because to do so would so depress and discourage you that from the beginning you would have no strength, no will, to keep on. (…)
We Are Not Products of Blind Chance
We are not products of blind chance; we are highly intelligent creations. Therefore it stands to reason that some great intelligence must have created us. There is no doubt about this. And certainly an intelligent God would not bring us on earth with so many inequalities without giving us equal opportunities to forsake evil and express goodness. He would give us time in which to practice that goodness and reap the blessings of right action. What is the use of scriptures, or of following divine laws, if this life is the end? Where is the love and justice of God if the hereafter is eternal heaven for a chosen few and eternal torment of hell for the error-stricken? God's law of reincarnation shows that when a person is evil—and no one can be so wholly evil that he can be forever barred from the kingdom of God—he is given a chance to work out that evil and to turn to goodness. Evil is like a graft; it is not a permanent quality in man, for everyone is a child of God. Every night God reminds you in sleep that you are not the body and its habits. You are free, you are happy. The purpose of reincarnation is to provide opportunity for man to go on working out all his desires and expressing all that he wants to express, until he realizes his true nature as a child of God, and understands that reunion with God is the true object of all his seeking, the Goal of all mankind.
We seek religion because we want to do away with our suffering forever. Worldly methods are not the answer. God is the answer; true religion that brings God-realization is the answer. So now is the time to wake up; take the sword of wisdom and slash away all bad habits. (…)
Present Tendencies Reflect Temperament of Past Lives
The most important thing to know about reincarnation is that this life is a new opportunity given by God to destroy the evil and cultivate the good that you have brought from past lives. Every good quality you have is a heritage of the past. And those bad tendencies that seem to be beyond your control—tendencies that are staying with you in spite of all your attempts to destroy them—are also from the past; otherwise they would not grip you from the beginning of your life. Of course, you have acquired some new qualities in this incarnation, but the salient temperament of your past life has been brought forward into this one. That is why you find yourself a helpless victim of certain idiosyncrasies. But you can overcome them. You must free yourself from them now, otherwise they will pursue you into another life. Death won't make an angel of you; self-effort will.
If you have an angry temper, rid yourself of it now. If you are peevish or moody, overcome it now. Some people get angry without cause, no matter how kind or thoughtful you are toward them. Others habitually indulge in bad moods and negative thoughts. The most practical use of our God-given reason is to analyze what aspects of our nature we have brought from the past, and to rid ourselves of the bad habits now.
It is certain the bad and good tendencies that follow one since birth were not acquired in this life. Whence could they have come other than as a carryover from past existences? If you study children, you can see something of their past incarnations reflected in their behavior. Why are some so smart and others less keen? Why are some children born with a great talent for music, or mathematics? They have had no opportunity yet to acquire their talent in this life. It was highly cultivated in a past life. In some children you can see an old soul talking to you. Others are very infantile and cry over every little thing; they lacked emotional maturity in their last life. Early child training is so important because you can easily recognize those latent tendencies that should be nurtured or discouraged. After a child reaches the age of about five, it becomes more difficult to distinguish his past-life tendencies from those traits he is acquiring from present influences and the increasing awakening of his free will in this life. (…)
Your Divine Nature Is What You Must Cultivate
Remember, you are a child of God. Your divine nature is what you must cultivate. Do not allow your happiness to be conditioned by anything material. That is the first lesson you learn in the hermitages in India. Here, you want everything to be comfortable and just so. You must be able to forego anything without its disturbing your happiness. Learn to be even-minded, regardless of the conditions that arise every day.
Do not even allow yourself to be limited to the consciousness that you are a man or a woman: You are a soul made in God's image. Most souls born as women in this incarnation were women in their previous existence. However, if in this life they manifest strong manly tendencies, it is probable that they were born in a male body before. If one is a man now and has strong manly tendencies, he will be born as a man again. If you want to be a man in your next incarnation, cultivate reason more, and masculine interests; and if you want to be a woman, cultivate feeling, and interests that are more feminine. The wisest course is to remember always, "I am neither man nor woman I am Spirit." Then you will rid yourself of the limiting consciousness of both tendencies; you will realize your highest divine potential, whether you are incarnate as a man or a woman. (…)
Seek the Answer to the Mystery of Life and Death
When I lost my mother in this life, I promised myself that I would never again be attached to anyone. I gave my love to God. That first experience with death was very serious for me. But through it I learned much. I searched undaunted for months and years until I found the answer to the mystery of life and death, and whether or not souls reincarnate. To you it is only a thought, just a belief, because you have no proof. But I am not talking to you from mere belief. I found proof of life after death, and of reincarnation. Therefore I can speak truthfully to you. What I tell you, I have experienced. I found in this life many souls that I knew before. That is what I meant in my poem, "On Coming to the New-Old Land of America," when I wrote: "Sleeping memories, of friends once more to be, did greet me—sailing o'er the sea" (In Songs of the Soul) I can recognize souls whom I knew before in other lifetimes. You may ask how. God has given me that power because I first sought and found Him. (Do Souls Reincarnate? The Divine Romance, p.266-281)
Reincarnation of the Soul
According to the law of cause and effect, the soul is destined to change its mortal residences. Once the soul has been caught by maya, or delusion, it must occupy a series of prison houses of births and deaths to fulfill its desires and pay to the Justice of Cause and Effect the debts incurred by its own actions. There is no use in lamenting! Rather, man should take practical steps to try in every way to extricate himself from all earthly attachments and bodily identification by tuning in with Spirit in meditation and thus parole himself from the mortal prison into the free world of immortality. (Chapter II, God Talks With Arjuna by Paramahansa Yogananda)
Paramahansa Yogananda with the members of the first SRF group in US (1921)