THE PRINCIPLE OF REINCARNATION
by Paramahansa Yogananda
(Excerpts from Do Souls Reincarnate? / The Second Coming of Christ / The Bhagavad Gita)
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How to Recognize Souls You Have Known Before
There is a way that you also can recognize those whom you have known before. For example, we may associate with some people day after day, yet never really know them or feel close to them. But there are others with whom we feel immediately a deep harmony the first time we meet. It is not anything physical. It is a memory of the past. Many, many people that I have met in this country, and in India and elsewhere, I have known before. The friendship is even stronger now. It was not finished in past lives, and so it had to continue to evolve in this life. Friendship is the highest form of love. As such, it is meant to evolve into the divine manifestation of God's eternal love. Friendship is the highest relationship, because in friendship there is no compulsion; it is born of the free choice of the heart. It is God calling souls back to unity in Him. If you can be a friend to all, unconditionally, that is divine love. Not many in this world find true friends; mere acquaintances are not to be confused with real friends. There is no attachment in true friendship, nor is it founded in selfish human love. It is an unconditional relationship between two or more souls: they may be unrelated, or family members, or marriage partners. It is best formed between souls who are seeking God or who have found God. Such was the friendship that existed between Christ and his disciples. Otherwise, relationships develop into attachment and remain on the plane of human love, taking the soul away from supreme friendship with God.
True friendship may be developed between woman and woman, man and man, or man and woman. The important consideration is that it be based upon soul qualities, not worldly qualities or attractions of the flesh. This can come only when you free yourself from the consciousness that you are a man or a woman.
If you are seeking such friends, pray to God: "Lord, lead me to those who are friends of the past, that I may continue with them the friendship that was interrupted through separation by death. Send such friends to me, because I want to help them with my thought of Thee." That is a wonderful ideal, isn't it? To have friendship not for idle talk and useless pastimes, but to develop the ultimate friendship with God. Only on that plane of sincere friendship will you find lasting happiness with any other soul.
Don't engage in too many socials. They are all right once in a while, but frequent socializing takes up too much valuable time. Enjoy divine thoughts with your friends. Use your time for God. If you find souls who will share that goal, then you can drink God together from the chalice of divine friendship. The highest duty God has given you is to develop His consciousness in yourself and to help true friends to do the same. So long as life sweetly sings with God, it will bring happiness to you and to others. Friends that harmonize spiritually with you are therefore very important.
No matter what difference of opinion there is between you and such friends, there is always understanding and communication. In that relationship, regardless of differing views, you have mutual respect and cherish your friendship above everything else. True friendship established in God is the only relationship that is lasting. (…)
So, whenever you meet people, be watchful. Notice your first reaction to them. This tells you much about whether you knew those individuals before. It is not an emotion. When you feel in your heart a deep harmony with another person, then you know that you knew each other before.
Help Enemies of the Past Through Love and Forgiveness
Of course, I have also met some enemies of the past, but mostly friends. I remember another life centuries ago, when someone I loved very much was inimical to me and hurt me; but I triumphed over him. I met him again in this life, and again he became treacherous. But I have tried only to help him. He shall pursue me no more.
Forgiveness is more powerful than revenge. I have forgiven everyone who has knowingly or unknowingly tried to annoy or hurt me. I want nothing for myself any more. I have found such joy in my heart by giving everything to God and doing everything for Him. Those who do evil stew in their own evil. They can't really hurt you unless you let them. Even our enemies are all part of the tests of life. When an evil person tries to persecute you, remember that he has probably tried to harm you in some way in the past also. If you think of that hurt and how terrible that person is, that is a great mistake. When you give out hateful thoughts, that person receives them and hates you twice as much. Also, hate attracts, as does love. You don't want the magnet of your hate to draw your enemies near you. Never hate anyone. Love and forgiveness have a healing effect on yourself and on your enemies. And be grateful for all the wonderful friends God has given to you.
Never try to impose yourself, to force your friendship, on anyone. I give my love to all; and to those souls who are in harmony with me, I give my friendship unconditionally. When I receive the same, I rejoice, because in that friendship is the manifestation of God.
Seek God: He Will Show You Glimpses of Your Past
I also recall my own past incarnations, beyond all doubt. In the Tower of London, for example, I found many places that I remembered from a past life, places the present caretakers didn't know anything about. Because I was once an Englishman, in my childhood in India I preferred to eat with a fork and knife. When my family asked why I wanted to use these instead of my fingers, as is the Indian custom, I said, "I remember this from the past." They didn't understand, but I knew I had eaten in this fashion before. Such glimpses of past lives will be given to you as you advance spiritually. God will show them to you. And when you will be less curious about such matters, and your mind is filled only with God, you will know even more.
Remember, you are sent on earth to strive to destroy the bad tendencies and habits you have brought over from previous lives, and to avoid creating any more in your present incarnation, so that you may find God. Then you can walk out of this life saying, "Lord, my life's purpose is fulfilled. I don't have to come back again, unless You want me to come to serve You." As Christ said, "Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out." [Revelation 3:12.]
You should seek God now; don't wait incarnations to find Him. He can be known in this life—now. And the more quickly you know Him, the better off you will be. You are foolish if you don't seek Him, because there is no other way that you will be satisfied. Having Him, you shall have everything. (…)
If You Make the Effort, You Will Find God
You are walking on this earth as in a dream. Our world is a dream within a dream; you must realize that to find God is the only goal, the only purpose, for which you are here. For Him alone you exist. Him you must find. And Him you can know by continuously seeking Him; by steadfastness in your mind, harmony in your life, evenness in your temperament; by finding fault not with others but with yourself; by schooling yourself in the path of wisdom; by being humble, ever loyal to your friends and benefactors, appreciating the sincerity of all hearts, cooperating always with good and resisting evil, helping others, giving strength and understanding along the way — this is the royal way of living, the real way that leads to God. The recognition of the world doesn't matter; seek the approval of your own consciousness, and in that you will have the recognition of God. To be self-satisfied and make little or no effort to improve is to become stagnant. But to try unceasingly to progress, until you are sure that you are with God, is the way to live.
When God Comes, the Veils of Delusion Drop Away
This earth is a most imperfect place. When prosperity comes, war breaks out and sets mankind back centuries again. But don't take the ups and downs of this life too seriously. No matter what happens, inwardly say: "It is all right. I am only dreaming in God's dream—nothing can touch me. I am happy. Nothing holds me. I am ready every minute, Lord, to walk out of this dream, or to remain to do Your will." Then you will be free. That is a wonderful thought.
Anything you do with the thought of God is much different than the same experience without Him. The other day I was taken to see a movie, and the first thing I knew, I was in samadhi. Someone asked, "Aren't you seeing the picture?" "Yes," I said, "it is all movies—a movie within a movie." The theater, every motion, the people sitting around me—I could see them all as pictures on the vast screen of cosmic consciousness. (…)
"There is No Birth or Death or Tragedy."
The tiger of death is after you, and you must reach Home. If you value your souls, you will make the effort. Study the Self-Realization Lessons, practice the techniques, meditate deeply; and if you sincerely persist for seven years with intense concentration, you will have such spiritual satisfaction in your life that you will never forsake or forget this path. So don't wait. I come only to tell you of that joy. And I ask nothing of you but that you tune in with me, so that I may give you that joy which is in me even as I talk—that joy of God. It is so personal and sacred, even to speak of it is sacrilegious but He knows I do not say it to extol myself, but to help you. He knows I love Him above all else, and I know He loves me.
Hold to the thought that this earth life is like a motion picture. It is not real. To think it is real is to doubt God, and to be shattered by torments and death. But in the movies there is no actual life and death in the play on the screen, merely electrical shadows moving here and there. The bullet that is fired and the man who is shot—both are nothing but electrical images. (...)
Many whom I loved and have missed, God has shown to me again. So I sorrow no more. He is a wonderful God; you must know Him as I know Him. Once you see this life as God's dream, or cosmic motion picture, you will say: "There is no birth or death or tragedy. I am not afraid of these delusive changes made of light and shadows, for I am Thine immortal child. I have seen life and its dramas played well. It is an interesting play, but no matter what my role in it, I am Thy child, eternally one with Thee, O Lord." (Do Souls Reincarnate? The Divine Romance, p.266-281)
The Principle of Reincarnation
The cosmic principle of reincarnation, with its dynamism of the law of karma (cause and effect, sowing and reaping), is a time-honored doctrine, embraced by the Hindus, Buddhists, the ancient Druid priests, the Essenes and Gnostics and many early Christian theologians; and also, eminent philosophers of the East and West. Though for centuries it has been divorced by church orthodoxy from the common understanding of Jesus' life and teachings, reincarnation is in fact evident in many passages in both the Old and New Testaments, including unequivocal statements by Jesus himself. For example, from the Book of Revelation (3:12): "Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out." Here Jesus distinctly refers to the doctrine of reincarnation, saying that when a soul overcomes by spiritual discipline his mortal desires accrued through contact of matter, that soul becomes a pillar of immortality in the everlasting mansion of Cosmic Consciousness; and, having found fulfillment of all his desires in Spirit, that soul has no more to be reborn on earth through the karmic reincarnating force of unsatisfied desires. ["Understanding of the law of karma and of its corollary, reincarnation, is displayed in numerous Biblical passages; e.g., 'Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed' (Genesis 9:6).]
All souls come from God—individualized rays of pure Spirit— and evolve back to their native perfection by exercise of their God-given free will. The ignorant and the wise alike require equal opportunity from the hand of a just and loving God in order to fulfill this quest. For instance, a baby who dies prematurely cannot possibly have used its free will to be either virtuous enough to be granted salvation or vicious enough to be damned. Nature must bring that soul back to earth to give it a chance to use its free will to work out the past actions (karma) that were the lawful cause of its untimely death, and to perform sufficient good actions to attain liberation. Ordinary souls are compelled to reincarnate by their earthbound desires and effects of past actions. Great souls, advanced in wisdom through learning the lessons of many lifetimes, come on earth partially to finish their karma but principally to act as noble sons of God whose example inspires His lost children along their way to the Heavenly Father's all-blissful home. Masters and prophets, having graduated from the school of mortal life into the immortality of Cosmic Consciousness, incarnate voluntarily to serve, at God's behest, as plenipotentiary agents of His millennial plan to shepherd all souls back to their eternal abode in Spirit. (Discourse 2, The Second Coming of Christ p.36)
The Bhagavad Gita & Reincarnation
Just as an individual forsaking dilapidated raiment dons new clothes, so the body-encased soul, relinquishing decayed bodily habitations, enters others that are new. [The Gita II:22]
This stanza refers to the doctrine of reincarnation. Its lines remove the gruesome conception of a danse macabre in which a motley crowd of human beings is led to a chasm of destruction; death is here described as nothing more than the discarding of a worn-out garment for a new one. When the body becomes diseased, old, or karmically useless, the undying soul forsakes it for a fresh disguise.
The life span or durability of a physical body in any one incarnation is ordained by the law of karma (the law of cause and effect governing human actions). According to the natural order of evolution, the body should mature gradually over a period of many years; and then, like ripened fruit, fall voluntarily and without resistance from the tree of life. Transgressions against God and Nature—in the present or in past lives—may, however, cut short that normal span by disease or accident. Or virtue, also, may win the soul an early release. In every case, the bodily dwelling is fashioned and destined to best serve, for each lifetime, the self-created karmic pattern of the indwelling ego-identified soul.
Ordinary persons enjoy the rest of a peaceful death-sleep in the astral heaven. Virtuous souls alternate sleep with wakefulness in this land of blissful freedom and beauty.
In time, again determined by their karma, their mortal inclinations, transgressions, and latent material desires draw them back into new physical embodiments.
As desire for life brings the sleeping man to the state of wakefulness, so subconscious desires for a lost physical body and for the earth environment act as vibratory attractive forces that reembody the soul again within a mother's womb. (God Talks With Arjuna by Paramahansa Yogananda p.217)