3.18 – Through direct perception of subtle psychic impressions, one acquires knowledge of previous incarnations.

संस्कारसाक्षात्करणात् पूर्वजातिज्ञानम् ॥१८॥

samskara saksat karanat purva jati jnanam

  • samskara – psychic impressions; forming the mind; conditionings
  • saksat – direct; straight; immediate
  • karanat – causing; effecting; organ of the senses; perception
  • purva – prior; previous; former time
  • jati – type of birth; genus; lineage; family
  • jnanam – knowledge; awareness

All our actions and experiences, especially those we cannot fully digest, create subtle psychic impressions (samskaras). We experience this karma formed in the past as trigger points in the present.

For example, we could be going about our day, happy and content, until a song comes on the radio we hadn’t heard in years. The music might even have a positive vibe, but for us, it activates feelings of heartache and insecurity, all because it was playing when someone rejected us at a dance in junior high.

Strangely, we may have no recollection of this. All we know is one moment, we’re in a good mood driving down the road listening to the radio, and the next, we’re anxious and emotionally unstable.

Subtle impressions are pulling our strings all the time. We think our conscious minds are running the show, but the ghost of our past is manipulating most of our moods, thoughts, and actions.

Some of our triggers are much more obvious, especially those which have been activated repeatedly and gone on to create our habits and addictions. For example, ex-smokers discover themselves reaching for their cigarettes months or even years after they quit. When they step outside the office for a break, pick up a cup of coffee, or get in the car, their subconscious immediately associates that activity with lighting up.

Through the practice of samyama, we can trace the thought structures and conditionings which create our tendencies and personality traits back to their seed forms. That can give us insight into our past and help us alter the trajectory of our future.

When performing this kind of samyama, we may have vivid recollections of scenes from the past which created our conditionings. Our practice could even invoke strong intuitions or visions of events from former lives.

That can be alluring and exciting. However, if our goal is spiritual growth, we should avoid becoming preoccupied with visions of ancient history. Instead, we can draw their energy into our flow and allow it to nourish our growth in this present moment reality.