Allan Kardec

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392. Why does an incarnate spirit forget its past? “Human beings cannot and must not know everything. God, out of Divine wisdom, has willed this to be so. Without the veil that hides things from our view, we would be overwhelmed, like someone who suddenly goes from darkness to light. By forgetting our past, we are able to be ourselves more fully.”

393. How can human beings be held accountable for their actions and atone for their faults when they have absolutely no recollection of them? How can they proft from the experience acquired in lives that they have forgotten? The trials and tribulations of life could teach them some sort of lesson if they remembered the behavior that has brought them upon them. If they forget everything, each new existence is like the frst, and they must start from scratch. How can this be reconciled with the justice of God?
“With each new existence human beings become more intelligent, and better able to distinguish between good and bad. If they remembered their entire past, where would their merit be? When spirits reenter their original life, the spirit life, their entire past unfurls before them. They see the faults that they have committed, the cause of all their suffering, and they also see what would have prevented these faults. They understand the justice of their situation, and they seek a new existence to repair the mistakes of their most recent life. They ask for new trials equivalent to those in which they have failed, or that they feel will likely aid their advancement. They ask superior spirits to support them in the new task that they are about to undertake, because they know that their guides will strive to help them shed their faults by giving them a sort of intuition of those they have committed in the past. This intuition is the foul thought that often tempts you and that you instinctively resist.

While you attribute this resistance to the principles you have learned from your parents, it is actually due to your conscience. That voice is the recollection of your past, warning you not to be ensnared by the same traps into which you have already fallen. Those who undergo the trials of a new existence with strength and courage, and resist the temptation to do wrong, rise in the spirit hierarchy to a higher ranking, which they will assume upon their return.” While we do not precisely recall who we have been, and the good or bad that we have done in our past lives, we have the intuition of our past in the instinctive predispositions that our conscience warns us to resist. Our conscience is the desire we have conceived to avoid repeating our past faults in the future.

394. On worlds that are more advanced than ours, where beings are not subject to all our physical needs and infrmities do they understand that they are happier than we are? Happiness is usually relative and it is felt in comparison with a state that is less happy. As some of those worlds have not reached perfection, despite being better than ours, their inhabitants must have their own troubles. While wealthy people here might not endure the physical poverty that tortures the poor, they are still victims to other kinds of troubles that embitter their lives. Thence, I would ask if the inhabitants of those other worlds consider themselves to be just as unhappy, according to their standard of happiness, as we consider ourselves to be according to ours? Do they complain of their fate, since they do not recall their inferior lives to serve as a standard of comparison?
“There are two different answers to this question. In some worlds, the inhabitants have a very clear memory of their past lives, and therefore can and do appreciate the happiness that God permits them to enjoy. However, there are others where the inhabitants, despite living in better conditions than you, are still subject to great troubles and much unhappiness. They do not appreciate their lives because they have no recollection of a worse existence. Although they do not appreciate those conditions as men and women, they appreciate them as spirits.”

The unconsciousness of our past lives, especially when painful, is somewhat providential and reveals the divine wisdom. The recollection of our painful past lives is nothing more than the vague memory of a bad dream when they are fnally permitted to reenter our memory in superior worlds. The painfulness of present suffering, in lower worlds, would be greatly aggravated by the memory of all the misery we may have experienced in the past. This allows us to conclude that everything that God has made is well-made, and it is not up to us to fnd fault with God’s works, or decide how God should regulate the universe.

The memory of our past lives would present many serious disadvantages. In some cases, it would cause cruel humiliation, while in others it might prompt pride that would hamper our free will. God has given us just what is necessary and suffcient for us to improve ourselves: the voice of our conscience and our instinctive predispositions. God keeps anything that would be a source of injury away from us. Let us add that if we preserved the memory of our former personalities and actions, we would also remember those of other people. This knowledge would have a disastrous effect on our social relations. We do not always have a reason to be proud of our past, it is better that it is hidden. This concept is in perfect harmony with the statements of spirits about the worlds that are more evolved than ours. In those worlds, where moral excellence reigns, there is nothing painful in recalling the past, and the inhabitants of those happier worlds remember their past lives as we remember what we did yesterday. The visits that they may have made to lower worlds are nothing more than a vague nightmare.

395. Can we obtain any revelations regarding our past lives?
“Not always. Many persons know who they were and what they did. If they could speak freely, they would make curious revelations about the past.”

396. Some people believe that they have a vague memory of an unknown past, which presents itself as a feeting image from a dream that one tries to recall in vain. Is this belief only an illusion?
“Sometimes it is real, but it is often an illusion that is merely the effect of an overactive imagination.”

397. Is the recollection of past lives more exact when the physical life experience is of a more elevated nature than ours?
“Yes, the incarnate spirit remembers them more clearly because the body is less material. The remembrance of the past is always clearer in those who inhabit higher worlds.”

398. As our instinctive predispositions are refections of our past lives, can we determine the faults we have committed in the past by analyzing these predispositions?
“Of course, up to a certain point. We would also have to take into account the improvement that out spirit may have earned and the resolutions made while in an errant state in the spiritual realm. Our present life may be much better than our previous one.”

a) Could it be worse? Could some individuals commit faults in a subsequent existence that they did commit in the previous one?
“That depends on their advancement. If they were unable to resist temptation, they might commit new faults as consequences of the circumstances they chose. Such faults might indicate a stationary rather than a regressive state, because a spirit never regresses and can only advance or remain stationary.”

399. As the hardships of physical life are atonement for past faults and lessons for the future, can we infer the character of our prior existence from these variations? “This is done frequently, since the nature of the atonement incurred always corresponds to the fault committed. Nevertheless, this should not be considered an absolute rule. Instinctive predispositions provide a more certain indication, as the trials suffered by a spirit are as much for the future as for the past.”

When a spirit has reached the end of its errant life assigned by God, it chooses the trials that it will suffer to accelerate its progress, meaning the kind of existence that it believes will most likely yield the means of advancing. The trials of this new life always correspond to the faults for which it must make amends. If the spirit succeeds in this new struggle, it rises and if it fails, that spirit must try again.

Spirits always possess free will. This free will allows them to choose the trials they elect to endure in the physical life, and as incarnates, in a human body, it allows them to deliberate whether they will do something or not, ultimately choosing between good and bad. To deny humanity’s free will would be to reduce human beings to the status of mere machines.

Upon returning to the physical life, a spirit temporarily forgets its past existences, as though a veil hid them. Sometimes it manages to grasp a vague perception of them, and they may be revealed under certain circumstances, but this only occurs if decided by higher spirits. They spontaneously make this revelation for some useful end, and never solely for satisfying idle curiosity.

A spirit’s future lives can never be revealed during the physical life, because these future lives are dependent upon the manner in which the spirit lives its present existence and the choices it makes.

Temporary unawareness of the faults it has committed is no obstacle to a spirit’s improvement because the knowledge the spirit had of them when in the errant state and the desire it felt to repair them guide it intuitively, inspiring that spirit to resist evil temptations. This is the voice of its conscience and is supported by the spirits who assist it, if it follows their suggestions.

Although incarnates do not exactly know their former actions, they always know the kind of faults they have been guilty of committing and the dominant aspects of their characters. They only need to study themselves in order to know what they have been, not by what they are now, but by their predispositions.

The trials of physical life are both atonements for past faults and trials designed to make us better for the future. They purify and elevate, provided that we submit to them. The nature of the trials and tribulations that we have to endure may also enlighten us in regard to what we have been and what we have done, just as we deduce the crimes of a convict based on the penalty given to him by law. Thus, those who have sinned by pride are punished by the humiliation of an inferior standing, the self-indulgent and greedy by poverty, the hard-hearted by the cruelties they will suffer, tyrants by slavery, bad sons by the ingratitude of their own children, the idle by subjection to hard and relentless labor, and so on.

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