Q (A devotee from France:) Swamiji, earlier you said that we should not think about previous lives. Yet we all have previous lives. Do you not think it is good for us to know about our previous lives, as it may help us live this life in a better way?
A: I will answer your question and at the same time I will change it a little.
If you were to read all the religious books that exist, you shouldn’t then conclude that you know everything about religion. After reading all those books you would only become more complicated and confused; you would not actually understand religion or be religious. All you would have done is to compare the religions. It’s the same for the question of who you were in previous births.
Knowing about your previous birth is also a matter of trust. If I look at W and tell him that he was a chipmunk in his previous birth, he should believe me first. A chipmunk will go and take bites out of every fruit and W, too, has the habit of tasting everything! He has such a big body now, will he ever believe me if I tell him he was a small chipmunk in his previous birth?
The truthful dharma says there is an evolution of soul that goes from stone, to soil, to worms, trees, various other plants, birds, other animals, to monkeys, then to human beings, then sages, avatars, and those who are equal to gods. I am not saying anything new; this is stated in the Shiva Puranam. The same was stated by Saint Manikkavasagar, who sang to the Lord that he went through so many lives from the inanimate to the animate, from the immobile to the mobile and at the end he was born as a human being. So amongst all these lives you want me to tell you about one. And to what extent do we put our faith in that life? After listening to a story about a previous birth you will go to sleep and when you get up in the morning you will start to wonder: Am I really this person I am now or am I the person that I was? So what will happen is that by talking about your previous birth I will actually be adding to the confusion in your life. That is why it is best that I should stay who I am in this life – Premananda – and you should stay who you are.
Are you going to remain in this particular life for another one hundred years? No, you can’t. You can stay for a maximum of maybe 85 years. Within these 85 years of your lifespan, why do you care to know whether you were a dog, a cat or a fox in an earlier existence? Even if you were a god, so what? Or if you were a king, so what? If a person comes here and I tell him that he was a king in his previous birth who did so much dharma by distributing a lot of wealth to the poor, will he then feel he has to give away the little wealth he has and in the process end up living as a destitute beggar? He might think this is the right course to follow but I would have only created difficulties for him. That is why I think that this life is enough.
There is, however, one small matter that you should research in this life, and that is God. God exists; that is the truth. Can we see him? Can we see him and shake hands with him? Try and do that. Or at least ask yourself, is it true that there is someone we call God? Your mind should be satisfied. Just consider your life. We were born. We grew up. We studied. We got a job. We got married, had children and saw our children get married. Then we found that our married children ignore us. Now we are old, we’re 90 years old. We wonder who will look after us. Now we are about to die. At that stage what are we still going to see in this world? I want to be able to give you good marks on what you have achieved from the time you were born until now. My point is that we may think that our father did these things, our grandfather did the same, our whole family did the same, so now we, too, have to follow the same pattern. If you think this is life, then follow it. I am not telling you not to get married. I am not telling you not to earn money. But know that there is something else, something extra. Find out what that is. And in order to do that you don’t need money, you don’t have to pay anyone any fees, you don’t have to take any classes and no one has to teach you anything. All you need for this is to have self- confidence, that’s enough! You must build up this self confidence in yourself.
And, after all that I have said, if you still want to know about your previous birth, then I will tell you about it. I am not evading your question. It is just that God has sent you to me so that I can give you a message, and therefore I have to give you the correct message; I can’t give you a wrong message. I can’t send you in the wrong direction, nor can I go against the truth. You can ask me any question, even if there is something wrong in it, but what I say should not be wrong. It is my work to see that you go on a good path and that, wherever you are, you have a good life.