Countless Imaginary Past Lives?
Is It Alright To Go For Past Life Regressions?
Recently, there is a ‘regression’ method in the market, that claims to use Buddhist principles for recollection of past lives, for healing purposes. Below are points of consideration about this and other similar methods, some of which claim to be ‘non-religious’. (Yes, there is money involved in learning or using the method, even if in terms of ‘donations’.) Please send this link to your friends who are involved for their reflection. In the long run, it is negative materially (due to forking out too much money over time for unclear results) and spiritually (as it does not really aid advancement towards enlightenment). It is possible to be addictive too.
1. Many Dharma concepts mentioned might seem sound, but when it comes to the ‘science of the regression method’ used, it is shaky…. The Buddha recalled his past lives only on the brink (night) of enlightenment in samadhi, which suggests it is not easy to realise the power to recollect past lives (宿命通). The mind must be very calm and very clear to recall past lives – which takes much spiritual practice. 宿命通 is considered a supernormal power (神通). To easily attain a 神通, even with the ‘aid’ of anyone in our world is too good to be true.
2. Even Arhats can only recall around 500 past lives (according to some accounts), while the method suggests the ability to recall countless past lives.
3. Conscious ‘recollection’ without actual meditation actually allows self-created, self-visualised and self-rationalised stories to easier arise than via hypnosis or deep meditation. Note that all the participants already believe in rebirth and karma to some extent before participating. This makes them highly auto/self-suggestive.
4. Neither the facilitator nor the participant has actual power to read minds (他心通) or 宿命通, which makes it impossible to check the accuracy of all the so-called ‘regressed memories’. A case mentioned a past life as an alien lifeform. How can this ever be verified? Are the facilitators to accept whatever is ‘remembered’ blindly, just as the participants are too? As more and more stories might be spun, layers of delusion are built upon one another, that can lead to more confusion and assumptions. One’s present life then becomes built upon a stack of self-created lies.
5. The Buddha forbade all 神通 to be popularised publicly, as they can attract people for the wrong reasons – as such mystical matters (the therapist’s skills and the participant’s ability to recall) are hard to verify, while they miss the actual Dharma teachings. The Buddha probably thus never suggested the masses to recall their past lives as a form of therapy.
6. Most of the participants who go through ‘regressions’ are reported to be females – probably due to their more emotional nature? If so, this also means they are likelier to self-rationalise or self-concoct scenarios of past lives.
7. If participants lack wisdom, they might not ‘create’ or ‘recall’ their past lives properly, in a way that they can be resolved. Yet, if they keep going through ‘regression’ sessions, there will eventually be some resolution, given enough time – because they want to resolve them and will (sub-)consciously do so in some way. But it will still be unclear if the memories are genuine from a third party’s point of view. For reliable cases of recollection of past lives, it’s good to see Dr Ian Stevenson’s scientific research, which has many checks.
8. Looking endlessly into the endless past to resolve issues does not make sense as it would be an endless process. Resolution for countless past lives cannot be completed in one lifetime via regression. The Buddha instead proposes looking at the present moment to create merits to dilute past negative karma, to train in forgiveness, compassion and wisdom for as many beings as possible, including those we have conflicts with.
9. The method generally seems to discount the efficacy of traditional Buddhist repentance practice methods, when continue to benefit many.
10. If one truly and continually looks into past lives, there will be unimaginable unresolved issues discovered. This is actually overwhelming for the average person – who lacks the compassion and wisdom to handle such truths. E.g One might at one point discover that one had eaten one’s mother when she became an animal. One might also realise that one’s beloved ones were past murderers of oneself. Resentment might arise if one is not ready to accept such truths. In short, our past lives are actually to some extent a cosmic can of worms unpalatable to most.
11. The method still seems effective for some – probably because the participants self-rationalise within their own palatable means. And this can indeed create ‘placebo effects’ in ‘healing’ one’s present problems. (E.g. If I’m timid, I might self-rationalise in ‘regression’ that I was bullied in the past, by creating an image of being bullied. Realising this, I visualise myself standing up for myself back then, before ‘waking’. And since the regression was done consciously, the idea that I now have no more reason to be timid will be a conscious one. And I will appear ‘cured’ of timidness, though using ‘medicine’ that was purely imaginary. This might seem harmless, but in the long run, we are supposed to seek the truth, and not based our lives on lies – which do not lead to the complete realisation of truth in terms of enlightenment.
12. For the ineffective cases, the ‘therapists’ can say something along the line of – ‘Your mind was not relaxed/focused enough.’ For the ‘effective’ cases, if the customer buys it that the tale oneself spun is real and ‘good enough’, it’s surely good enough for the ‘therapist’ too. This is as good as cunning two-way deceit – be it intentional or not. Remember that even the customer does not know if the ‘visions’ are due to imagination – while none of them are verified by proper historical research.
13. Pure Land is the safest place to attain 宿命通, as empowered by Amituofo (Amitabha Buddha), as beings there will not give rise to attachment or aversion due to the nature of its pure environment. When they are able to look into past lives of themselves and other beings, compassion and wisdom will arise swiftly, steadily and stably. Anywhere else in Samsara, having actual 宿命通 is likely to swell one’s ego and create a host of other related problems. Having 神通 when one is not strong in compassion and wisdom is likely to amplify the ability to create negative karma instead, as there is still greed, hatred and delusion. What is worse is when the 宿命通 might not be real at all.
Pure Land practitioners look forward to the one most fortunate future life,
not endlessly backwards, towards countless past unfortunate lives.