We grow and develop our physical body and its capabilities. We may undertake various training regimens and refine the body’s ability to perceive, and to respond. Yet the body dies and that training is left behind with the dissolution of the body. We can see an effect within the larger framework of society as others notice and implement similar actions, so there is clearly a species-level benefit, but for the individual, the development of the body ends with its deterioration and death.

The vital nature and the mental nature, similarly, dissolve once the connection to the physical body is severed. Again, we may identify a general impact on the vital and mental development of the race through the process of interaction during life, but the individual does not take it with him as these elements dissolve after death. 

Just as we see that all of the external rewards we store up in life are not carried forward into any future life, and we see that fortune, fame, influence are fleeting for the individual although they may benefit those who remain behind when an individual dies, all of the instruments of that life do not move with the person into future lifetimes.

What about the individual personality, the ego-sense? We maintain a continuity of the stream of life during our lifetime. We cannot generally remember every detail of the life, nor can we recall incidents of our life as a baby, and with the onset of old age, we may even forget our associations from the life we have led, but we still identify as a distinct individual who has had a continuous experience that is connected by that sense of continuity. I am someone who has had experiences, has developed memories, has lived a specific life in specific circumstances. For the most part, however, very few can recall back to the moment of birth, much less a period prior to birth, or past lives, and we tend not to carry that sense of continuity of the ego-personality forward beyond death.

The Mother clarifies that it is not (generally) the ego-personality that gathers the fruit of a life’s experiences and carries that experience forward, but the soul entity, the psychic being. She further clarifies that the soul is not concerned with the specific details or personality, but with the essence of the experience to further the soul’s growth and development. It is not that the individual personality I identify with in today’s life somehow carries forward and has a consistent personhood associated with it from life to life. Yet the soul gains a richer and deeper sense of purpose and participates in the evolution of consciousness through time, place and circumstance, as the river flows to the sea although the actual water is constantly different, new and changing.

A disciple asks: ”Mother, since in each new life the mind and vital as well as the body are new, how can the experiences of past lives be useful for them? Do we have to go through all the experiences once again?”

The Mother observes: ”That depends on people! … It is not the mind and vital which develop and progress from life to life — except in altogether exceptional cases and at a very advanced stage of evolution — it is the psychic. So, this is what happens: the psychic has alternate periods of activity and rest; it has a life of progress resulting from experiences of the physical life, of active life in a physical body, with all the experiences of the body, the vital and the mind; then, normally, the psychic goes into a kind of rest for assimilation where the result of the progress accomplished during its active existence is worked out, and when this assimilation is finished, when it has absorbed the progress it had prepared in its active life on earth, it comes down again in a new body bringing with it the result of all its progress and, at an advanced stage, it even chooses the environment and the kind of body and the kind of life in which it will live to complete its experience concerning one point or another. In some very advanced cases the psychic can, before leaving the body, decide what kind of life it will have in its next incarnation.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Our Many Selves: Practical Yogic Psychology, Chapter 6, Some Answers and Explanations, pp. 219-220

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at http://sriaurobindostudies.wordpress.com and podcast at https://anchor.fm/santosh-krinsky He is author of 19 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.
More information about Sri Aurobindo can be found at http://www.sri-aurobindo.com
The US editions and links to e-book editions of Sri Aurobindo’s writings can be found at http://www.lotuspress.com