What is Spiritism?

Allan Kardec

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Visitor — I don't understand how people can benefit from the experience acquired in their past lives if they cannot remember them. Each new existence is as if it were the very first, and therefore they are always having to start all over again. Let's suppose that every day when we wake up we forget what we did the day before; we would have made no more progress by the time we reach seventy years of age than we did at ten. But since we do remember our wrongs, our imperfections and the punishments we have incurred, we make sure that we do not have to start all over again. To use your comparison of equating a person on earth with a high school student, I cannot understand what this student could gain from his fourth grade studies, for example, if he can't remember what he learned in third grade. These breaks in the continuity of the spirit's life interrupt all its relationships, and in a matter of speaking, make it a new being. What we may conclude is that our memories die with each existence; hence, we are born without any awareness of what we have been. It is a kind of nothingness.

A.K. - From question to question, you are leading me to give you a complete course on Spiritism since all the objections you have raised are natural for someone who knows nothing about it. An earnest study of Spiritism, however, could provide a much fuller view than I can in a brief explanation, which, in and of itself, will raise even more issues. Everything is connected in Spiritism, and when we follow the whole, we see that the principles follow one from the other, and mutually support one another. Then, what appears to be an anomaly that is contrary to God's justice and wisdom seems completely natural and confirms such justice and wisdom.

Such is the problem of the forgetfulness of the past, which is connected to other questions of equal importance, and that is why I will touch on it only briefly here.

If with every existence a veil is thrown over the past, the spirit loses nothing of what it acquired in that past: it forgets only the way in which it acquired it. To use the comparison of the student, I would say that it makes little difference to him to know where, how, and under what teacher he completed the third grade if upon reaching the fourth he knows what he learned in the third. Why should it matter to him to know if he had been punished for his laziness and disobedience if such punishments made him hard- working and well-behaved? Thus it is that upon reincarnating, persons bring through intuition and innate ideas what they have acquired in knowledge and morality. I say "in morality" because if they improved themselves during a lifetime and if they benefited from the lessons of experience, then upon returning, they will be instinctively better; matured in the school of suffering, and through work, their spirits will be stronger. Rather than having to start everything all over again, they will possess an increasingly richer basis upon which to rely in order to acquire even more.

The second part of your objection - the wiping out of memories - is no better founded, because this forgetfulness takes place only during corporeal life. Upon leaving it, the spirit recovers the memory of its past and can then judge the path it has taken and what still remains for it to do; hence, there is no breach of continuity in the spirit life, which is the normal life of the spirit.

Temporary forgetfulness is a gift from Providence. Experience is often acquired through harsh trials and terrible expiations, and remembering them would be very painful and would add to the troubles of our present life. If the sufferings of life seem long, what would it be like if their duration were increased with the memory of sufferings from past lives? For example, today you are an honest man, but perhaps you owe it to the harsh punishments you experienced for a wrong you committed in the past that would be repugnant to your conscience now. Would it be pleasant for you to remember having been hanged for it? Wouldn't shame haunt you, thinking that everyone knows about the wrong you committed? What does it matter to you what you were capable of doing and what you may have endured in expiation if you are now a person worthy of esteem? In the eyes of the world, you are a new person, and in the eyes of God, a rehabilitated spirit. Free from the memory of a troublesome past, you act with more freedom; it is a new beginning for you; your old debts are paid and it is up to you not to incur new ones.

During their present lives, how many persons would love to be able to throw a veil over their early years! How many have said at the end of their lives, "If I had it to do all over again, I certainly wouldn't do what I did!" Well then! What they cannot redo in this lifetime, they will redo in another; in a new existence, their spirit will bring with it through intuition the good decisions they made in the past. This is how human progress is gradually accomplished.

Let us suppose further - and this is very common - that in your relationships, maybe in your own family, there is someone you had much to complain about in a past life; someone who perhaps ruined or dishonored you, and now, as a repentant spirit, has come to incarnate in your midst, to unite with you through family ties to make amends by way of his or her current devotion and affection for the evil done to you in the past. Wouldn't it be very awkward for both of you if you both remembered your enmity? Instead of being abated, the hatred would be perpetuated.

We may conclude from this that the remembrance of the past would greatly upset social relations and would be an obstacle to progress. Do you want actual proof? A man condemned to prison makes a firm resolution to become honest; what will become of him once released? He will be rejected by society, and this rejection will plunge him again into vice. Suppose, on the other hand, that no one is aware of his past; he will be well-received. If he himself is able to forget his past, he will be no less honest and will be able to walk with his head held high instead of bent under the shame of his memories.

This agrees perfectly with the Spirits' doctrine about worlds that are more highly evolved than ours. On such worlds, where only the good reigns, remembrance of the past is not at all painful; that is why spirits on them can remember their previous lives as easily as we remember what we did yesterday. As for the sojourns they may have made on lower worlds, they are nothing more than a bad dream.

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