sanskara-saksatkaranat purva-jati-jnanam ||18||
संस्कारसाक्षात्करणात् पूर्वजातिज्ञानम् ॥१८॥
saṁskāra-sākṣātkaraṇāt pūrva-jāti-jñānam ॥18॥
Through meditation on our impressions (samskaras) comes the knowledge (jnana) of previous incarnations. ||18||
saṁskāra = (iic.) impressions; experience resulting from previous actions
sākṣāt = direct
karaṇāt = (abl. sg. m./abl. sg. n., from karaṇa) experience
sākṣātkaraṇat = (abl. sg. m./abl. sg. n.) direct experience; original experience
pūrva = (iic.) previous
jāti = birth
pūrva-jāti = (iic.) incarnation
jñānam = (acc. sg. n. / nom. sg. n. from jñāna) knowledge; insight
Patanjali on psychoanalysis
Pantanjali recommends that we mediate on the following question: Why do we act in certain ways in certain situations? This meditation entails an inner journey on which we learn a great deal about ourselves. Are our actions determined by misconceptions and previous experience? Where do these misconceptions come from?
This is a bit like Freudian psychoanalysis in that we go back into our past in an effort to understand where these impressions, or samskaras, come from. Take an aquaphobic person for example. Where does this phobia from? Through meditation, it may emerge that the aversion has its origins in a negative experience with water. Once the person identifies this type of cause, they may be able to rid themselves of their anxiety.
In describing this technique, Patanjali uses an extremely broad definition of previous incarnation, which according to him encompasses everything that has occurred up until now, including prior to birth.