Why don't people remember their past lives according to the suttas?

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
ieee23
Posts: 394
Joined: Wed May 13, 2015 12:40 am

Why don't people remember their past lives according to the suttas?

Post by ieee23 » Mon Apr 18, 2016 12:28 pm

Is there a sutta that explains why people do not remember their past lives?
Whatever a bhikkhu frequently thinks and ponders upon, that will become the inclination of his mind. - MN 19

JohnK
Posts: 671
Joined: Wed Jan 06, 2016 11:06 pm
Location: Tetons, Wyoming, USA

Re: Why don't people remember their past lives according to the suttas?

Post by JohnK » Mon Apr 18, 2016 5:03 pm

ieee23 wrote:Is there a sutta that explains why people do not remember their past lives?
Per Bhikkhu Bodhi, recollection of past lives is very advanced (not something most people can do), and not even essential for arhantship.

From the fourth jhāna three alternative lines of further development become possible. In a number of texts outside the stock passage on the gradual training the Buddha mentions four meditative states that continue the mental unification established by the jhānas. These states, described as “the liberations that are peaceful and formless,” are further refinements of concentration. Distinguished from the jhānas by their transcendence of the subtle mental image that serves as the object in the jhānas, they are named the base of the infinity of space, the base of the infinity of consciousness, the base of nothingness, and the base of neither-perception-nor-nonperception.

A second line of development is the acquisition of supernormal knowledge. The Buddha frequently refers to a set of six types, which come to be called the six kinds of direct knowledge (chaḷabhiññā). The last of these, the knowledge of the destruction of the taints, is “supramundane” or world-transcending and thus marks the culmination of the third line of development. But the other five are all mundane, products of the extraordinarily powerful mental concentration achieved in the fourth jhāna: the supernormal powers, the divine ear, the ability to read the minds of others, the recollection of past lives, and the knowledge of the passing away and rebirth of beings (see Text VIII,4).

The jhānas and the formless attainments by themselves do not issue in enlightenment and liberation. Though lofty and peaceful, they can only silence the defilements that sustain the round of rebirths but cannot eradicate them. To uproot the defilements at the most fundamental level, and thereby arrive at enlightenment and liberation, the meditative process must be directed to a third line of development. This is the contemplation of “things as they really are,” which results in increasingly deeper insights into the nature of existence and culminates in the final goal, the attainment of arahantship.

This line of development is the one the Buddha pursues in the passage on the gradual training. He prefaces it with descriptions of two of the direct knowledges, the recollection of past lives and the knowledge of the passing away and rebirth of beings. The three together figured prominently in the Buddha’s own enlightenment—as we saw in Text II,3(2)—and are collectively called the three true knowledges (tevijjā). Although the first two are not essential to the realization of arahantship, the Buddha probably includes them here because they reveal the truly vast and profound dimensions of suffering in saṃsāra, thereby preparing the mind for the penetration of the Four Noble Truths by which that suffering is diagnosed and surmounted.
[emphasis added]
This is from Intro to Part VII of In the Buddha's Words.
http://www.wisdompubs.org/book/buddhas- ... liberation
"...the practice is essentially a practice, and not a theory to be idly discussed...right view leaves unanswered many questions about the cosmos and the self, and directs your attention to what needs to be done to escape from the ravages of suffering." Thanissaro Bhikkhu, On The Path.

JohnK
Posts: 671
Joined: Wed Jan 06, 2016 11:06 pm
Location: Tetons, Wyoming, USA

Re: Why don't people remember their past lives according to the suttas?

Post by JohnK » Mon Apr 18, 2016 5:56 pm

JohnK wrote:
ieee23 wrote:Is there a sutta that explains why people do not remember their past lives?
Per Bhikkhu Bodhi, recollection of past lives is very advanced (not something most people can do), and not even essential for arhantship.
...
This is from Intro to Part VII of In the Buddha's Words.
http://www.wisdompubs.org/book/buddhas- ... liberation
You need this...
http://www.wisdompubs.org/book/buddhas- ... t-contents
...to figure out just which sutta he is referencing in the chapter introductions.
"...the practice is essentially a practice, and not a theory to be idly discussed...right view leaves unanswered many questions about the cosmos and the self, and directs your attention to what needs to be done to escape from the ravages of suffering." Thanissaro Bhikkhu, On The Path.

User avatar
Mkoll
Posts: 6462
Joined: Wed Dec 05, 2012 6:55 pm
Location: Texas

Re: Why don't people remember their past lives according to the suttas?

Post by Mkoll » Mon Apr 18, 2016 6:27 pm

I can't even remember exactly what I had for breakfast 3 days ago! But joking aside, I've never come across such a sutta. There may be an attempt at an explanation in the commentaries or some other exegesis.
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa

JohnK
Posts: 671
Joined: Wed Jan 06, 2016 11:06 pm
Location: Tetons, Wyoming, USA

Re: Why don't people remember their past lives according to the suttas?

Post by JohnK » Mon Apr 18, 2016 7:00 pm

This sutta suggest that some people CAN remember them, but that it requires extraordinary accomplishment of concentration; the reason people don't typically remember them is that they lack the necessary qualities of the trained mind (so it seems that there is nothing inherently not "rememberable" about them).
But there comes a time when his mind grows steady inwardly, settles down, grows unified & concentrated. His concentration is calm & refined, has attained serenity & unity, and is no longer kept in place by the fabrication of forceful restraint.

"And then whichever of the higher knowledges he turns his mind to know & realize, he can witness them for himself whenever there is an opening...

"If he wants, he recollects his manifold past lives (lit: previous homes), i.e., one birth, two births, three births, four, five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, one hundred, one thousand, one hundred thousand, many aeons of cosmic contraction, many aeons of cosmic expansion, many aeons of cosmic contraction and expansion, [recollecting], 'There I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure and pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose there. There too I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure and pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose here.' Thus he remembers his manifold past lives in their modes and details. He can witness this for himself whenever there is an opening.
Source: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
Pansadhovaka Sutta
Apparently an "opening" is necessary -- though I am not sure what that translation refers to.
"...the practice is essentially a practice, and not a theory to be idly discussed...right view leaves unanswered many questions about the cosmos and the self, and directs your attention to what needs to be done to escape from the ravages of suffering." Thanissaro Bhikkhu, On The Path.

santa100
Posts: 3189
Joined: Fri Jun 10, 2011 10:55 pm

Re: Why don't people remember their past lives according to the suttas?

Post by santa100 » Tue Apr 19, 2016 12:07 am

JohnK wrote:Apparently an "opening" is necessary -- though I am not sure what that translation refers to.
Ven. Bodhi rendered it as "suitable basis" and noted below. Per the explanation, it sure sounds like the mind needs to be trained to such refined state in order to see the ability to recollect past lives manifest.
Mp explains the “suitable basis” as “past causes and the presently obtainable jhana, and other things, which are the basis for the direct knowledges” (pubbahetusankhate ceva idani ca patiladdhabbe abhiññapadakajjhanadibhede ca sati sati karane). The expression occurs at Vism 371,26–33, Ppn 11.122, and is commented upon at Vism-mht (VRI ed. I 429). Vism 376,28– 378,2, Ppn 12.14–19, explains the basis for the direct knowledges to be the concentrated mind that has acquired eight qualities: namely, it is (1) purified, (2) cleansed, (3) unblemished, (4) rid of defilement, (5) malleable, (6) wieldy, (7) steady, and (8) attained to imperturbability.

ieee23
Posts: 394
Joined: Wed May 13, 2015 12:40 am

Re: Why don't people remember their past lives according to the suttas?

Post by ieee23 » Tue Apr 19, 2016 12:19 am

JohnK wrote:
ieee23 wrote:Is there a sutta that explains why people do not remember their past lives?
Per Bhikkhu Bodhi, recollection of past lives is very advanced (not something most people can do), and not even essential for arhantship.
Hi John, I know that remembering past births is an advanced skill. What I wanted to know is if there is a sutta explaining why it has to involve an advanced skill. I wanted to know if there was a sutta explaining why everyone does not simply just remember. An explanation of the metaphysics/biology of why people lose memories. Thanks for typing that huge quote in. Last I checked not much of Ven BB's book was in electronic form.
Last edited by ieee23 on Tue Apr 26, 2016 8:56 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Whatever a bhikkhu frequently thinks and ponders upon, that will become the inclination of his mind. - MN 19

santa100
Posts: 3189
Joined: Fri Jun 10, 2011 10:55 pm

Re: Why don't people remember their past lives according to the suttas?

Post by santa100 » Tue Apr 19, 2016 2:50 am

From DN 2:
With his mind thus concentrated, purified, and bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, and attained to imperturbability, he directs and inclines it to knowledge of the recollection of past lives (lit: previous homes). He recollects his manifold past lives, i.e., one birth, two births, three births, four, five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, one hundred, one thousand, one hundred thousand, many aeons of cosmic contraction, many aeons of cosmic expansion, many aeons of cosmic contraction and expansion, [recollecting], 'There I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure and pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose there. There too I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure and pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose here.' Thus he recollects his manifold past lives in their modes and details. Just as if a man were to go from his home village to another village, and then from that village to yet another village, and then from that village back to his home village. The thought would occur to him, 'I went from my home village to that village over there. There I stood in such a way, sat in such a way, talked in such a way, and remained silent in such a way. From that village I went to that village over there, and there I stood in such a way, sat in such a way, talked in such a way, and remained silent in such a way. From that village I came back home.' In the same way — with his mind thus concentrated, purified, and bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, and attained to imperturbability — the monk directs and inclines it to knowledge of the recollection of past lives. He recollects his manifold past lives... in their modes and details.
The suttas didn't explain why it'd require such advanced state of mind because it's pretty straight forward to see by simple reasoning. Imagine you're briefly shown a deck of cards before they're taken away and you're asked to accurately describe the first 20 cards in their exact order. Imagine the degree of clarity and concentration of the mind required to perform this task. Now, incrementally expand that to the tasks of: "recollects your manifold past lives, i.e., one birth, two births, three births, four, five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, one hundred, one thousand, one hundred thousand, many aeons of cosmic contraction, many aeons of cosmic expansion, many aeons of cosmic contraction and expansion", you can now imagine the level of mind clarity and concentration required to perform them..

Pinetree
Posts: 460
Joined: Fri Jul 17, 2015 4:25 am

Re: Why don't people remember their past lives according to the suttas?

Post by Pinetree » Tue Apr 19, 2016 8:41 am

The discussion assumes past lives is a special object that requires a special ability to know it.

I'm thinking memory just is usually poor. Anybody remembers their birth, for example ?

TRobinson465
Posts: 525
Joined: Thu May 12, 2016 5:29 pm
Location: United States

Re: Why don't people remember their past lives according to the suttas?

Post by TRobinson465 » Fri Jul 27, 2018 3:04 am

You cant remember past lives because your memory comes from your brain. If someone was to hit you in the head and give you amnesia you wouldnt even remember your current life for a while. if someone shot you in the head and gave your permanent brain damage, you wouldn't be able to remember anything. When you are reborn you are reborn with a completely new brain. therefore no memories. Recollection of past lives comes from advanced meditation using the Dhammacakku (Dhamma eyes) to look at things like your past lives that simply do not exist in your limited physical brain.

I'm not quite sure about why people who recall past lives at birth are able to if they have a new brain, maybe the citta just implanted some of the memories into the new brain or something.
"Do not have blind faith, but also no blind criticism" - the 14th Dalai Lama

"At Varanasi, in the Deer Park at Isipatana, the Blessed One has set in motion the unexcelled Wheel of Dhamma that cannot be stopped by brahmins, devas, Maras, Brahmas or anyone in the cosmos." -Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta

"Go forth, monks, for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the welfare, the good and the happiness of gods and men. Let no two of you go in the same direction." - First Khandhaka, Chapter 11, Vinaya.

User avatar
salayatananirodha
Posts: 248
Joined: Tue Jun 19, 2018 1:34 am

Re: Why don't people remember their past lives according to the suttas?

Post by salayatananirodha » Fri Jul 27, 2018 8:07 am

TRobinson465 wrote:
Fri Jul 27, 2018 3:04 am
You cant remember past lives because your memory comes from your brain. If someone was to hit you in the head and give you amnesia you wouldnt even remember your current life for a while. if someone shot you in the head and gave your permanent brain damage, you wouldn't be able to remember anything. When you are reborn you are reborn with a completely new brain. therefore no memories. Recollection of past lives comes from advanced meditation using the Dhammacakku (Dhamma eyes) to look at things like your past lives that simply do not exist in your limited physical brain.

I'm not quite sure about why people who recall past lives at birth are able to if they have a new brain, maybe the citta just implanted some of the memories into the new brain or something.
This is an interesting perspective, since it mixes in materialism and actual, real Dhamma. I don't think "we" in this scientific age know enough about the brain in order to say what it for sure can't do. Also, one should consider the role of the brain in relation to other vital organs; a brain doesn't do much of anything without a heart, the liver, etc. :group:
16. 'In what has the world originated?' — so said the Yakkha Hemavata, — 'with what is the world intimate? by what is the world afflicted, after having grasped at what?' (167)

17. 'In six the world has originated, O Hemavata,' — so said Bhagavat, — 'with six it is intimate, by six the world is afflicted, after having grasped at six.' (168)

- Hemavatasutta


links:
https://www.ancient-buddhist-texts.net/index.htm
http://thaiforestwisdom.org/canonical-texts/
http://seeingthroughthenet.net/
https://www.dhammatalks.org/index.html

TRobinson465
Posts: 525
Joined: Thu May 12, 2016 5:29 pm
Location: United States

Re: Why don't people remember their past lives according to the suttas?

Post by TRobinson465 » Fri Jul 27, 2018 3:39 pm

salayatananirodha wrote:
Fri Jul 27, 2018 8:07 am
TRobinson465 wrote:
Fri Jul 27, 2018 3:04 am
You cant remember past lives because your memory comes from your brain. If someone was to hit you in the head and give you amnesia you wouldnt even remember your current life for a while. if someone shot you in the head and gave your permanent brain damage, you wouldn't be able to remember anything. When you are reborn you are reborn with a completely new brain. therefore no memories. Recollection of past lives comes from advanced meditation using the Dhammacakku (Dhamma eyes) to look at things like your past lives that simply do not exist in your limited physical brain.

I'm not quite sure about why people who recall past lives at birth are able to if they have a new brain, maybe the citta just implanted some of the memories into the new brain or something.
This is an interesting perspective, since it mixes in materialism and actual, real Dhamma. I don't think "we" in this scientific age know enough about the brain in order to say what it for sure can't do. Also, one should consider the role of the brain in relation to other vital organs; a brain doesn't do much of anything without a heart, the liver, etc. :group:
That's true I suppose. I guess the fact that some ppl are able to remember past lives without being advanced meditators is evidence the brain does have some past life remembering capabilities. But I'm still pretty sure the first part of my statement is the reason most people can't.

It's not that memory is bad, some ppl have perfect memories and can recall every detail of their lives since they were 3 but still can't remember their past lives. But of course. The reason they can remember such detail is because their brain is specially wired. Plus. The anatta doctrine kinda implies that u are reborn with a completely new aggregate of things. With most ppl probably being limited by their new brain.
"Do not have blind faith, but also no blind criticism" - the 14th Dalai Lama

"At Varanasi, in the Deer Park at Isipatana, the Blessed One has set in motion the unexcelled Wheel of Dhamma that cannot be stopped by brahmins, devas, Maras, Brahmas or anyone in the cosmos." -Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta

"Go forth, monks, for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the welfare, the good and the happiness of gods and men. Let no two of you go in the same direction." - First Khandhaka, Chapter 11, Vinaya.

dharmacorps
Posts: 626
Joined: Thu Aug 06, 2015 7:33 pm

Re: Why don't people remember their past lives according to the suttas?

Post by dharmacorps » Fri Jul 27, 2018 5:01 pm

This is why recalling past lives in the categorical way the Buddha did is a supernormal/superhuman achievement. People may have some tendencies and kamma based on past lives, even half memories, but will not understand it categorically in the way an enlightened person would.

2600htz
Posts: 367
Joined: Fri Aug 27, 2010 11:37 pm

Re: Why don't people remember their past lives according to the suttas?

Post by 2600htz » Sat Jul 28, 2018 4:54 pm

Hello:

People don´t remember their past lives because their minds are not concentrated, purified, and bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, and attained to imperturbability, and people don´t direct their minds and incline it to knowledge of the recollection of past lives.

Also, its not for everyone, you need to have the tendency and propensity to supernatural powers.

Regards.

paul
Posts: 1356
Joined: Tue May 31, 2011 11:27 pm
Location: Vietnam

Re: Why don't people remember their past lives according to the suttas?

Post by paul » Thu Aug 02, 2018 10:18 am

According to the Pa Auk course description, such memory is a standard procedure for those who have undergone the training:

“This means he will discern a number of past and future lives, and to discern the causes for certain rebirths.”

https://www.paaukforestmonastery.org/meditation

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: BlueLotus, Lankamed, paul and 96 guests