Do we retain memory of animal lives ? Can we remember every moment of a past life in exotic detail ? In this passage, the Mother answers these questions.
Mother : It is only when one is consciously identified with his divine Origin that he can speak with complete truthfulness of a memory of past lives. Sri Aurobindo speaks of a progressive manifestation of the Spirit in the forms it inhabits. When one reaches the summit of this manifestation, one has a plunging view of the path already traversed, and one remembers.
But that does not mean remembering in a mental way. Those who claim to have been this or that baron in the Middle Ages or such and such a person who lived at such and such a place during such and such a time are fantasizing; they are simply victims of their own mental fancies. For what remains of past lives are not beautiful illustrated classics in which you see yourself as a great lord in a castle or a victorious general at the head of his army—all that is fiction. What remains is the memory of the INSTANTS when the psychic being emerged from the depths of your being and revealed itself to you, or in other words, the memory of those moments when you were fully conscious. The growth of the consciousness is effected progressively through evolution, and the memory of past lives is generally limited to the critical moments of this evolution, to the great, decisive turning points that have marked some progress in your consciousness.
While living such minutes of your life, you do not at all care about remembering whether you were Lord so and so who lived at such and such a place during such and such a time—it is not the memory of your civil status that remains. On the contrary, you lose sight of these petty external things, these minor perishable details, so as to be fully ablaze in this revelation of the soul or this divine contact. And when you recall these minutes of your past lives, the memory is so intense that it seems very near, still living—much more living than most of the ordinary memories of your present life. At times, in dreams, when you enter into contact with certain planes of consciousness, you may also have memories with this same intensity, this vibrant hue, as it were, so much more intense than the colors and things of the physical world. These being the moments of true consciousness, all assumes an extraordinary radiance, everything is vibrant, everything is charged with a quality that eludes our ordinary vision.
These minutes of contact with the soul are often those that mark a decisive turning point in one’s life, a step forward; a progress in consciousness, and they frequently result from a crisis, a situation of extreme intensity, when a call surges forth from the whole being, a call so strong that the inner consciousness pierces through the unconscious layers that envelop it and is revealed fully luminous upon the surface. This very strong call of the being can also call forth the descent of a divine emanation, an individuality, a divine aspect that unites with your own individuality at a given moment to do a given work, to win a particular battle, to express this thing or that. Then, when the work is accomplished, this emanation most often withdraws. So it may be that one retains the memory of the circumstances surrounding these minutes of revelation or inspiration, one sees again a landscape, the color of a garment one was wearing, the shade of one’s skin, things that were around you at that particular moment—all this is imprinted in an indelible way, with an extraordinary intensity, for the details of ordinary life are then also revealed in their true intensity, their true tonality. The consciousness that reveals itself in you reveals at the same time the consciousness in things. These details can sometimes help you reconstitute the period in which you lived or the deeds that were accomplished, surmise the country where you lived, but it is quite easy, too, to fantasize and mistake one’s imaginings for reality.
You should not conclude, however, that all memories of past lives refer to moments of great crisis, important missions or revelations. Sometimes these are very simple, transparent minutes when a perfect and integral harmony of the being is expressed. And these may correspond to entirely insignificant external situations.
But apart from the things that were around you at that minute, apart from that minute of contact with your psychic being, nothing remains. Once the privileged moment has passed, the psychic being sinks back into its inner somnolence and the whole outer life fades into a monotonous gray which leaves no trace. In fact, something of the same phenomenon occurs in the course of your present life: apart from those exceptional moments when you are at the summit of your mental, vital or even physical being, the rest of your existence seems to fade into an uninteresting, dull tonality, and it matters very little whether you have been at this place or some other or whether you have done this thing rather than another. If suddenly you try to look at your life in order to gather its essence—to peer twenty or thirty or forty years behind you—you will see two or three images spontaneously leap before you, and they are the true minutes of your life, but all the rest fades away. A spontaneous choice and a tremendous elimination thus take place in your consciousness. This gives you an idea of what happens in regard to past lives: a choice of a few special moments, and an immense elimination.
Of course, one’s early lives are quite rudimentary and little remains of them, a few scattered memories. But the more you progress in consciousness and the more the psychic being consciously associates itself with the outer activities, the more abundant, coherent and precise do the memories become—yet here too the memory that remains is that of the contact with the soul, and sometimes of the things associated with the psychic revelation—not your civil status nor the ever-changing setting. And this explains why these so-called memories of animal lives partake of the highest fantasies; in animals, the divine spark is too deeply buried to come to the surface consciously and be associated with the outer life. One must become a totally conscious being, in all the parts of the being, and be totally united with one’s divine origin before one can truly say that one recalls his past lives.