Knowledge of one's past lives or previous births is one of the different types of spiritual power or siddhis outlined in the Vibhuti Pada (Book III) of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. When we talk about past lives, the next obvious thing that comes into mind is the subject of reincarnation or the notion that there is “something” which leaves the body and then enters into another through a series of lives in the physical world. One popular belief related to past lives and reincarnation is that the personality of the individual survives after death.
In the case of the people who were partly responsible for communicating this belief throughout the world (Hindus), what they saw was that the personality is nothing but a constantly changing composite and has no importance compared to that which really survives after death, which is the Purusha (the "true self" or the "immortal man"). Nonetheless, there is still a divergence in opinion with regard to other spiritual traditions.
For example, Buddhists have a concept of rebirth although they deny any real identity. There is, they say, no character and no person; there is only a constant stream of energy in action like the constant flowing of a river or the constant burning of a flame. You are not today the same person that you were a year ago just like water flowing down a stream is not the same water that flowed past it a few hours ago. It is this continuity that creates the false sense of identity in the mind or the sense of being the "same" person. Therefore, there is no person that reincarnates, but only Karma that persists in flowing endlessly down an apparently uninterrupted channel. It is Karma that creates the constantly changing mentality and physical bodies that you call your "self."
The Hindus have a different opinion. They do acknowledge an indistinguishable and persistent personality, but other than the personality, there is what they call the True Self, the Immortal Man, and the Lord of all these changing appearances. Without knowledge of this True Self, however, the personality cannot survive, but can only pass from one life to the next. Only someone who can go beyond personality to the True Self finds immortality.
So how do we find this Immortal Man and acquire knowledge of our past lives?
The answer is stated in the Vibhuti Pada, Sutra 18, of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.
"By direct perceptions of the impressions a knowledge of the previous birth."
— I.K. Taimni, The Science Of Yoga
"Directly observing latent impressions with perfect discipline yields insight into previous births."
— Chip Hartranft, The Yoga-Sûtra of Patañjali
"When the mind-impressions become visible, there comes an understanding of previous births. "
— Charles Johnston, The Yoga Sutras Of Patanjali: The Book of the Spiritual Man
The knowledge of past lives or previous births can be attained by performing Samyama Meditation on the Crown Chakra.
The Crown Chakra, also called Sahasrara or "the thousand petalled lotus," is the highest chakra or psychic center which symbolizes the threshold between the psychic and spiritual realms. It is located at the crown of the head. The Crown chakra represents the permanent state, the pure and unchanging state of energy and consciousness, the state of inner effulgence or enlightenment, and the threshold into a new dimension. Once you are able to perform perfect meditation on the crown chakra, you can then find the impressions of your previous lives in the Karana Sarira.
Karana means “cause” and sarira means “body.” The causal body is the principle or causal element which brings about the reincarnation of an entity. It is said that by withdrawing your consciousness into the Karana Sarira or Causal Body, you will be able to see the impressions of your previous lives and all the seeds of Karma that fructify in the present and future lives. More details are given in the article on Foreknowledge Of The Time Of Death.
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