Dana re your post about reincarnation and rebirth. What would you think if you experienced past lives in your during meditation? You would then "have an opportunity to study" just as the buddha did.
Hint - Its sort of a trick question.
I mean do you think that the buddha did experience past lives in meditation or do you think someone made it up and added it into the story?
If you think the former, what do you think of it?
if the latter, is there any evidence of it?
Great questions, Candol, and I've had similar experiences so I can answer that. I had the experience several times during meditation of having out of body experiences. But, I discovered those experiences were actually semi-lucid dreams!
The experience was all in my head, a dream, but because I had been maintaining awareness so strongly, part of my brain fell asleep while part was still awake and mindful. I only realized this because I went completely lucid during one of those events, realizing I was in a dream. Then I woke up, in the way you usually wake up. It never happened after that.
In similar ways, but slightly different, I had metaphysical experience I now believe were hallucination driven by my beliefs. Our brains will go to great lengths to support our beliefs, including making stuff up and creating hallucinations. What triggered my suspicion about this was a talk I heard from Carl Sagan where he spoke of auditory hallucinations from missing his parents after they died.
So, to answer your question. I am highly, highly skeptical of people's personal experience. Not only because I saw through my own fabricated experiences, but there have been numerous studies on how unreliable human perception is. In fact, I'm watching a great dvd course on this now regarding critical thinking. I just wouldn't believe people if they say they remember past lives, especially if it happens under meditation where sleep can sneak in without you realizing it.
If Buddha really said he remembered past lives, I just don't believe he really did. He may be sincere, but no I don't believe memories. Memories are another interesting subject to me. I've read numerous books and studies that show our memories are highly unreliable.
In fact, I've had an experience of that too. I had what felt like a memory of being a rat. Weird I know. But it seemed so real, so different than my usual human experience. Again, I think it was fabricated by my mind because at the time I believed in rebirth. My mind dished up a "memory".
But even more than seeing through my own delusions and fabrications, I see clearly how we are processes, how thoughts create a feeling of self, how emotions arise and fall away. There is nothing to last beyond death. We need all our chemistry, our senses, and outside input to be what and who we are right now. That can't all get carried to the next life, and since memories are poor in this life, they certainly can't carry over reliably to the next life.