DEVOTEES SOMETIMES asked Srila Prabhupada if when we go back to the spiritual world we will remember our former lives in the material world. Prabhupada said we would forget them forever. In a purport to Srimad-Bhagavatam (3.33.27), Prabhupada writes:
A great Vaisnava said that he who has no remembrance of his body is not bound to material existence…. When one forgets his bodily existence, his conditional material life is over. This forgetfulness is actually possible when we engage our senses in the transcendental service of the Lord…. Constant remembrance of the Supreme Lord is calledsamadhi, or trance.
This does not necessarily imply that a devotee forgets he has a head and feet, although in the most advanced stages that may happen. Forgetting the body means forgetting our selfish uses of the body. We were given a body because of our desire for sense gratification. Forgetting the body means forgetting that purpose and becoming completely absorbed in devotional service.
Forgetting the body creates a change in the subtle body. When our forgetfulness is constant, then at the time of death we will remember Krsna alone and not have to take another material body, but will return to Krsna.
Srila Prabhupada illustrated this point one evening during a Krsna book reading in his Los Angeles backyard garden. We were reading about Lord Brahma stealing the boys and calves. Krsna left the boys in Brahma's cave for an entire year. During that year, Krsna expanded Himself into exact replicas of each of the boys and calves and allowed Himself to be loved by all their parents. At the end of the year, Brahma returned the boys and calves, who all thought that Krsna had been gone only for a few moments. They joked with Him, "Oh, You have come back so quickly. Were You anxious that we would eat without You? Don't worry, we haven't eaten yet." Srila Prabhupada commented, "Yes, this is how it will be when we go back to the spiritual world. All of our past births, all the miseries and so-called happiness, will seem like they never happened. We will simply join Krsna's pastimes."
It sounds simple enough, and attractive enough, but here we are in the practicing stage of Krsna consciousness, not forgetting our bodies and not forgetting a lifetime full of material impressions. We also find that those past impressions create obstacles in our attempts to perform devotional service. They actually prevent us from constantly appreciating Krsna's transcendental nature.
For example, our past association with mundane sex prevents us from understanding the spiritual nature of Radha and Krsna. Prabhupada drew the analogy of the cow caught in a barn fire. Even though she escaped, whenever she sees red she links it with the fire and panics. She has been traumatized by the fire. Similarly, after countless births and deaths in the material world, we have become traumatized by our associations here, and they have become obstacles to our full appreciation of Krsna consciousness.
The psychologists' definition of trauma is a painful emotional experience or shock that produces a lasting psychological effect. Often, it is something experienced in childhood. One may not even remember the incident, though it may still be causing irrational fears or unexplained patterns of behavior.
Freud said that if a patient could be brought to the point of remembering the traumatic incident he could be cured. When this theory was presented to Srila Prabhupada, Prabhupada agreed that trauma was possible to cure, but he added, "How can he prevent more trauma, not only in this life but in future lives? So what is the benefit of that cure?"
The first traumatic event is birth. Although a soul in the womb may pray to become Krsna's devotee, the shock of birth overwhelms him with bodily identification. He becomes forgetful of Krsna. Our work as devotees is to reverse this forgetfulness by engaging ourselves in devotional service.
We can learn to forget the myriad subtle material impressions we have accumulated. Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita that He is the source of all knowledge and forgetfulness. It is by His permission that we forget our constitutional position as His servants, and it will be by His mercy that we can forget our bodies and be fully reinstated in remembrance of Him.
We can also help ourselves. The more we engage in Krsna consciousness, the less likely we will be to continue gathering material impressions. Eventually, our Krsna conscious memories will outweigh our material ones. We shouldn't again take up material life and create new impressions to forget, and we shouldn't do anything that will obstruct our spiritual vision. That is how we can help ourselves.
We may never quite forget that we have hands and feet, but when we begin to engage everything we have in Krsna's service, there will be no more trauma. We will no longer be identifying with the material world.
When Srila Prabhupada was in Vrndavana before coming to America, he wrote a poem called "Vrndavana-bhajana." Here are some lines from that poem:
I am sitting alone in Vrndavana-dhama.
In this mood I am getting many realizations.
I have my wife, sons, daughters, grandsons, everything,
But I have no money, so they are a fruitless glory.
Krsna has shown me the naked form of material nature;
By His strength it has all become tasteless today …
This is misery, but it gives me a laugh. I sit alone and laugh. …
All that is left of the family life is a list of names.
When the pure devotee remembers a previous life, he is not gripped like the cow "Fire!" He laughs at his previous life. This is as good as forgetting it. He doesn't identify with that life.
Of course, a devotee repents his past sinful acts, and that repentance is the beginning of his humility. But he is not traumatized by his previous life. His past no longer has power over him. The Bhagavatam describes the experience of one pure devotee, Devahuti:
Having heard … from her son, Kapiladeva, … Devahuti began to meditate constantly upon the Visnu form of the Supreme Lord. She did so with serious engagement in devotional service. … She became situated in knowledge due to realization of the Absolute Truth, her heart became purified, she became fully absorbed in meditation upon the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and all misgivings due to the modes of material nature disappeared. … Situated in eternal trance and freed from illusion impelled by the modes of material nature, she forgot her material body, just as one forgets his different bodies in a dream. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.33.24, 25, 27)
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami travels extensively to speak and write about Krsna consciousness. He is the author of more than two dozen books, including a six-volume biography of Srila Prabhupada.