Past Lives

There was a time, when this subject might have evoked a laugh from me.

In fact I didn't really consider this as a possibility, till my introduction into Buddhism. Interestingly enough, even after taking my Buddhist vows in 2004, I didn't believe in Reincarnation or other incarnations.

My lama was gentle about it. He just asked that I take my time and try and keep an open heart.

In time, as I learned more about Reincarnation I realized it wasn't what I had thought it to be. Slowly I came to accept it for myself.

In the magick community, there is a division on those who accept it, those who don't and those who see a mix of reincarnation and non-reincarnation... I suppose I fit into the later at this point, but my perspective is prone to change.

My personal take - is that when a person dies, their karma rippens, and the natural tendancy is to be pulled back to form. However, the pull can be resisted for a time - or even nullified by the works of the spirit (enlightenment, nivrana, crossing the abyss, etc.)

That aside though - I've been reading into the Western Mysteries on this. In the Golden Dawn order that I was a member of, there was no definate answer to this. People choose one way or another on this topic. However in Thelema... Crowley is clear. He certainly believed in reincarnation... but more then that... he found it necessary to deal with our past lives in order to cross the abyss.

You might be wondering why I'm fixing my attention on Thelema for this dicusssion. I suppose it comes down to Crowley's direct teachings, whereas other orders of the West seem more open to interpretation and personal perspective.

Source Materials
For the purpose of this entry I'll be referencing the following Liber's:
- Liber II
- Liber Thisharb

After mentioning the goals of a Thelemic magician, Liber II adds, "The obvious practical task of the magician is then to discover what his will really is, so that he may do it in this manner, and he can best accomplish this by the practices of Liber Thisarb (see Equinox I(7), p. 105) or such others as may from one time to another be appointed."

What Liber Thisharb is, is a practice of training the magician to move back down their past lives. The process starts with special training that involves thinking, behaving and acting backwards. This is further developed into going into one's past and penetrating beyond birth. A collection of lives and events are recorded and analyzed.

But why? What's so important about past lives?

Crowley raises that himself, "He was put to death by Calvin, or stoned by Hezekiah; as a snake he was killed by a villager, or as an elephant slain in battle under Hamilcar. How do such memories help him?"

He answers it with this, "Until he have thoroughly mastered the reason for every incident in his past, and found a purpose for every item of his present equipment.... he is not ready to swear the Oath of the Abyss."

I would like to offer further possibilities. I believe Crowley understand that to cross the abyss, one must have a culmination of very good (good meaning, pertaining to one's True Will) Karma. He indicates this early in Liber Thisharb, "2. For in the Abyss no effort is anywise possible. The Abyss is passed by virtue of the mass of the Adept and his Karma...."

Further he states in verse 5, "Let then the Adept who finds the result of these meditations unsatisfactory refuse the Oath of the Abyss, and live so that his Karma gains strength and direction suitable to the task at some future period. "

It seems, as at least I deduce, that it is the work of Liber Thisharb that accumulates good Karma. I realize the terms "good" and "bad" are relative, I merely mention them to indicate movement in the direction of one's True Will. It appears to me, that to pass the Abyss one must have the fuel of massive Karma that is cleared from this and past events (past lives.)

So how Does it Work?
But still, how does knowing your past life, help you in any way at all? This is a common Golden Dawn question. I've heard it raised by a Golden Dawn Adept, who believed in past lives, yet found no good of it. The answer can be found elsewhere, but let's first see it in Crowley's Liber Thisharb, verse 30 (regarding the second method of this Liber): "30. This being accomplished, let him trace his own history with special reference to the causes of each event. And in this practice he may neglect to some extent the universal forces which at all times act on all, as for example the attraction of masses, and let him concentrate his attention upon the principal and determining or effective causes. For instance, he is seated, perhaps, in a country place in Spain. Why? Because Spain is warm and suitable for meditation, and because cities are noisy and crowded. Why is Spain warm? and why does he wish to meditate? Why choose warm Spain rather than warm India? To the last question: Because Spain is nearer to his home. Then why is his home near Spain? Because his parents were Germans. And why did they go to Germany? And so during the whole meditation."

Notice the "why"'s. By asking "why," we gain a concept of Karma. I'm an American... why? i was born this way. why? ultimately Why is answered with, "because of my past actions." I might convince myself of this, but I can't truly know this to be so, until I have experienced my past lives and see the causes for why I was born in America...

By going back through one's past, taking in the greatest of detail, I believe two things are accomplished:

First, one realizes that ALL things they have ever experienced are occurances by past causes they initiated. Karma becomes realized. It's no longer a concept. How does this help? By seeing how everything in one's past has created one's present - the magician can glimpse their True Will. Or in the least, the blocks to knowing Their True Will, by knowing this they can make new choices which will return the greatest of result (gaining their True Will or Exercising it.) They now know the process - by doing those acts that will return to that result.

Second, another thinker (although quite controversial) named L. Ron Hubbard hypothesized that if a person were to go back to a past painful event, and relive it - over and over and over... they gain control over it. It no longer has power of the person. This is similar in concept to a person who has a broken knee bone. They avoid contact with that part of their body - even to the extent of avoiding their mind from connecting with it... for it hurts. But by getting closer and closer mentally and physically to the sore area they dread, they come into communication with it. It (the pain) no longer has power over them. Instead, they have power over it. To use a mundane example: A current state of Asthma, might be the result of a past drowning. By handling the past, the present can clear. Instead of a mundane example, imagine a spiritual one... imagine if one knew that one has been murdered thousands of times, all due to a way of thinking. Imagine if that knowledge caused one to change their thinking - clearing the reoccuring incidence... thereby assisting one to get closer to realizing their True Will (without the affect of being stopped, murdered, failing.)

In other words - by knowing the past, we can end the cycle of it. This is logical in thinking of our current life. But most of us fail to see the cause of things we didn't create in this life. "Why did this bad thing happen to me?" the consuming thoughts that keep people from their clear path to total Enlightenment. Perhaps the cause can't be seen in a single lifetime, so they keep repeating it. But what if the person went back down and saw the cause and how it's repeated over 5000 lifetimes? Now armed with the knowledge... they can make changes in behavior and stop the cycle. Get closer to their True Will... to Enlightenment.

I believe that by doing rituals like this, in the way Crowley describes will allow one to possible glimpse their True Will, definately find a way to get the results of gaining a closer walk with their True Will, and will also release the person from past Karmic bonds.

Let's Look at this from a Buddhist Perspective
I've covered a lot of ground here, mostly Thelemic in nature, but now let me tie it inot something a bit more mainstream - Buddhism.

What is the "crossing the Abyss" in Buddhist terms? In my opinion, it's a similar reference to the Mahayana concept of Total Enlightenment. Becoming a Buddha, if you will. It is the end of suffering. The conclusion of cycle of life. But most of all, it is the embodiement of one's purpose. True Will is found in the home of Total Enlightenment.

In Mahayana Buddhism, the goal is to gain Total Enlightenment - this is achieved in meditation and by living an Ethical life.

The Ethical lifestyle of Buddhism is the gain of positive Karma. By Ethics, I simply refer to the Buddhist ideal of doing those acts that reflect back to your greast good.

The Meditation is used to focus the mind on overcoming barriers and obsticales.

The Buddhist practice also encorporates ideas of using rituals to stop past Karmic seeds from fireing.

By putting the Buddhist work to practice, the Buddhist hopes to shed the cycle of suffering, and gain perfection.

But for one to overcome their karma, they must know where it comes from. For one to transform their karma alchemically - they must know it's source. By knowing the source, the antidote is fashioned. The antidote is then put in place. This antidote for the Buddhist, will take the form of Ethics and Meditation rituals.

This set of Buddhist processes has a goal of ending the negative returns in the future, and cultivating the positive returns. The past can be handled as well - similarly as Crowley describes - by revisiting the events of the past in great detail and handling them.

There is of course a difference in Crowley's writings and Buddhist doctrine. But they do have some common overlap here.

The end result is a similar state in both schools of though: the perfected person.

Further, what Crowely describes is similar to what some in Mahayana (such as Shantideva) Buddhism has called the Direct Perception of Emptiness. Seeing Karma directly. Seeing cause and effect over the Aeon's of one's life. Seeing that, places one directly in the path of Enlightenment.

Back to Magick
By gaining the positive (that which leads to our True Will) Karma - we gain the fuel to assist us in the oath of the abyss... or ascending above Da'at. For some it is the 'becoming one with the creator' for others 'becoming an Enlightened being.' Perhaps it's all the same thing, just termed differently.

We can gain this positive Karma by new actions - as well as handling the old.

By seeing our Karma directly, we situate ourselves into seeing our own perfection. We can become the programmers of our own destiny.

Conversely, without this, we might wonder for more and more lifetimes, still stuck in the cycles of revenge, pain and desire.