I have doubts about the reality of past lives, but I’ve also had experiences in meditation that make it seem at least possible. One of the most powerful of these was a vision of myself as a Benedictine Monk living in France during the nineteenth century.
In the vision, I was a large fellow who looked quite stern and unfriendly. I was walking around the monastery grounds in a state of bitterness, self-pity, and anger. The cause of this mental turmoil was the deterioration of my relationship with my fellow monks. I had managed to fall out with the whole community, and there didn’t seem to be any way to repair the damage. I knew that I was suffering due to the ‘sin of pride’, but I felt unable and unwilling to do anything about it. I died soon after this.
These images of being a different person in a different time felt very real, but I also know the brain can produce amazing illusions. This vision has been important to me not because it proves the existence of past-lives, but it has allowed me to see my current life in a new way.
I examined this ‘past life’ experience as if it were a puzzle. I tried to figure out how I could have improved the situation. It dawned on me that the real problem wasn’t that the behavior of the other monks but that I had mentally gone to war with them. I could have chosen to not be at war with them, and this would have ended my suffering.
A major source of discomfort in my life has been my relationships with other people. I’ve repeatedly ended up in situations like this monk. I used to believe my happiness depended on getting other people to like and respect me, but this vision taught me a different lesson. My peace of mind depends on me feeling connected to other people regardless of their ability to dance to my tune.