“Intimately, or rather indissolubly, connected with Karma, then, is the law of re-birth, or of the re-incarnation of the same spiritual individuality in a long, almost interminable, series of personalities. The latter are like the various costumes and characters played by the same actor, with each of which that actor identifies himself and is identified by the public, for the space of a few hours. The inner, or real man, who personates those characters, knows the whole time that he is Hamlet for the brief space of a few acts, which represent, however, on the plane of human illusion the whole life of Hamlet. And he knows that he was, the night before, King Lear, the transformation in his turn of the Othello of a still earlier preceding night; but the outer, visible character is supposed to be ignorant of the fact.”
— H.P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, Vol II, p. 306
Click on any of the headings below to explore the idea of Reincarnation from a theosophical perspective:
From the writings of William Quan Judge
William Quan Judge on Reincarnation (from The Ocean of Theosophy)
Chapter 8: Of Reincarnation
How man has come to be the complex being that he is and why, are questions that neither Science nor Religion makes conclusive answer to. This immortal thinker having such vast powers and possibilities, all his because of his intimate connection with every secret part of Nature from which he has been built up, stands at the top of an immense and silent evolution. He asks why Nature exists, what the drama of life has for its aim, how that aim may be attained. But Science and Religion both fail to give a reasonable reply. Science does not pretend to be able to give the solution, saying that the examination of things as they are is enough of a task; religion offers an explanation both illogical and unmeaning and acceptable but to the bigot, as it requires us to consider the whole of Nature as a mystery and to seek for the meaning and purpose of life with all its sorrow in the pleasure of a God who cannot be found out. The educated and enquiring mind knows that dogmatic religion can only give an answer invented by man while it pretends to be from God.
What then is the universe for, and for what final purpose is man the immortal thinker here in evolution? It is all for the experience and emancipation of the soul, for the purpose of raising the entire mass of manifested matter up to the stature, nature, and dignity of conscious god-hood. The great aim is to reach self-consciousness; not through a race or a tribe or some favored nation, but by and through the perfecting, after transformation, of the whole mass of matter as well as what we now call soul. Nothing is or is to be left out. The aim for present man is his initiation into complete knowledge, and for the other kingdoms below him that they may be raised up gradually from stage to stage to be in time initiated also. This is evolution carried to its highest power; it is a magnificent prospect; it makes of man a god, and gives to every part of nature the possibility of being one day the same; there is strength and nobility in it, for by this no man is dwarfed and belittled, for no one is so originally sinful that he cannot rise above all sin. Treated from the materialistic position of Science, evolution takes in but half of life; while the religious conception of it is a mixture of nonsense and fear. Present religions keep the element of fear, and at the same time imagine that an Almighty being can think of no other earth but this and has to govern this one very imperfectly. But the old theosophical view makes the universe a vast, complete, and perfect whole.
Now the moment we postulate a double evolution, physical and spiritual, we have at the same time to admit that it can only be carried on by reincarnation. This is, in fact, demonstrated by science. It is shown that the matter of the earth and of all things physical upon it was at one time either gaseous or molten; that it cooled; that it altered; that from its alterations and evolutions at last were produced all the great variety of things and beings. This, on the physical plane, is transformation or change from one form to another. The total mass of matter is about the same as in the beginning of this globe, with a very minute allowance for some star dust. Hence it must have been changed over and over again, and thus been physically reformed and reimbodied. Of course, to be strictly accurate, we cannot use the word reincarnation, because “incarnate” refers to flesh. Let us say “reimbodied,” and then we see that both for matter and for man there has been a constant change of form and this is, broadly speaking, “reincarnation.” As to the whole mass of matter, the doctrine is that it will all be raised to man’s estate when man has gone further on himself. There is no residuum left after man’s final salvation which in a mysterious way is to be disposed of or done away with in some remote dust-heap of nature. The true doctrine allows for nothing like that, and at the same time is not afraid to give the true disposition of what would seem to be a residuum. It is all worked up into other states, for as the philosophy declares there is no inorganic matter whatever but that every atom is alive and has the germ of self-consciousness, it must follow that one day it will all have been changed. Thus what is now called human flesh is so much matter that one day was wholly mineral, later on vegetable, and now refined into human atoms. At a point of time very far from now the present vegetable matter will have been raised to the animal stage and what we now use as our organic or fleshy matter will have changed by transformation through evolution into self-conscious thinkers, and so on up the whole scale until the time shall come when what is now known as mineral matter will have passed on to the human stage and out into that of thinker. Then at the coming on of another great period of evolution the mineral matter of that time will be some which is now passing through its lower transformations on other planets and in other systems of worlds. This is perhaps a “fanciful” scheme for the men of the present day, who are so accustomed to being called bad, sinful, weak, and utterly foolish from their birth that they fear to believe the truth about themselves, but for the disciples of the ancient theosophists it is not impossible or fanciful, but is logical and vast. And no doubt it will one day be admitted by everyone when the mind of the western race has broken away from Mosaic chronology and Mosaic ideas of men and nature. Therefore as to reincarnation and metempsychosis we say that they are first to be applied to the whole cosmos and not alone to man. But as man is the most interesting object to himself, we will consider in detail its application to him.
This is the most ancient of doctrines and is believed in now by more human minds than the number of those who do not hold it. The millions in the East almost all accept it; it was taught by the Greeks; a large number of the Chinese now believe it as their forefathers did before them; the Jews thought it was true, and it has not disappeared from their religion; and Jesus, who is called the founder of Christianity, also believed and taught it. In the early Christian church it was known and taught, and the very best of the fathers of the church believed and promulgated it.
Christians should remember that Jesus was a Jew who thought his mission was to Jews, for he says in St. Matthew, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He must have well known the doctrines held by them. They all believed in reincarnation. For them Moses, Adam, Noah, Seth, and others had returned to earth, and at the time of Jesus it was currently believed that the old prophet Elias was yet to return. So we find, first, that Jesus never denied the doctrine, and on various occasions assented to it, as when he said that John the Baptist was actually the Elias of old whom the people were expecting. All this can be seen by consulting St. Matthew in chapters xvii, xi, and others.
In these it is very clear that Jesus is shown as approving the doctrine of reincarnation. And following Jesus we find St. Paul, in Romans ix, speaking of Esau and Jacob being actually in existence before they were born, and later such great Christian fathers as Origen, Synesius, and others believing and teaching the theory. In Proverbs viii, 22, we have Solomon saying that when the earth was made he was present, and that, long before he could have been born as Solomon, his delights were in the habitable parts of the earth with the sons of men. St. John the Revelator says in Revs. iii, 12, he was told in a vision which refers to the voice of God or the voice of one speaking for God, that whosoever should overcome would not be under the necessity of “going out” any more, that is, would not need to be reincarnated. For five hundred years after Jesus the doctrine was taught in the church until the council of Constantinople. Then a condemnation was passed upon a phase of the question which has been regarded by many as against reincarnation, but if that condemnation goes against the words of Jesus it is of no effect. It does go against him, and thus the church is in the position of saying in effect that Jesus did not know enough to curse, as it did, a doctrine known and taught in his day and which was brought to his notice prominently and never condemned but in fact approved by him. Christianity is a Jewish religion, and this doctrine of reincarnation belongs to it historically by succession from the Jews, and also by reason of its having been taught by Jesus and the early fathers of the church. If there be any truthful or logical way for the Christian church to get out of this position — excluding, of course, dogmas of the church — the theosophist would like to be shown it. Indeed, the theosophist holds that whenever a professed Christian denies the theory he thereby sets up his judgment against that of Jesus, who must have known more about the matter than those who follow him. It is the anathema hurled by the church council and the absence of the doctrine from the teaching now that have damaged Christianity and made of all the Christian nations people who pretend to be followers of Jesus and the law of love, but who really as nations are followers of the Mosaic law of retaliation. For alone in reincarnation is the answer to all the problems of life, and in it and Karma is the force that will make men pursue in fact the ethics they have in theory. It is the aim of the old philosophy to restore this doctrine to whatsoever religion has lost it; and hence we call it the “lost chord of Christianity.”
But who or what is it that reincarnates? It is not the body, for that dies and disintegrates; and but few of us would like to be chained forever to such bodies as we now have, admitted to be infected with disease except in the case of the savage. It is not the astral body, for, as shown, that also has its term and must go to pieces after the physical has gone. Nor is it the passions and desires. They, to be sure, have a very long term, because they have the power to reproduce themselves in each life so long as we do not eradicate them. And reincarnation provides for that, since we are given by it many opportunities of slowly, one by one, killing off the desires and passions which mar the heavenly picture of the spiritual man.
It has been shown how the passional part of us coalesces with the astral after death and makes a seeming being that has a short life to live while it is disintegrating. When the separation is complete between the body that has died, the astral body, and the passions and desires — life having begun to busy itself with other forms — the Higher Triad, Manas, Buddhi, and Atma, who are the real man, immediately go into another state, and when that state, which is called Devachan, or heaven, is over, they are attracted back to earth for reincarnation. They are the immortal part of us; they, in fact, and no other are we. This should be firmly grasped by the mind, for upon its clear understanding depends the comprehension of the entire doctrine. What stands in the way of the modern western man’s seeing this clearly is the long training we have all had in materialistic science and materializing religion, both of which have made the mere physical body too prominent. The one has taught of matter alone and the other has preached the resurrection of the body, a doctrine against common sense, fact, logic, and testimony. But there is no doubt that the theory of the bodily resurrection has arisen from the corruption of the older and true teaching. Resurrection is founded on what Job says about seeing his redeemer in his flesh, and on St. Paul’s remark that the body was raised incorruptible. But Job was an Egyptian who spoke of seeing his teacher or initiator, who was the redeemer, and Jesus and Paul referred to the spiritual body only.
Although reincarnation is the law of nature, the complete trinity of Atma-Buddhi-Manas does not yet fully incarnate in this race. They use and occupy the body by means of the entrance of Manas, the lowest of the three, and the other two shine upon it from above, constituting the God in Heaven. This was symbolized in the old Jewish teaching about the Heavenly Man who stands with his head in heaven and his feet in hell. That is, the head Atma and Buddhi are yet in heaven, and the feet, Manas, walk in hell, which is the body and physical life. For that reason man is not yet fully conscious, and reincarnations are needed to at last complete the incarnation of the whole trinity in the body. When that has been accomplished the race will have become as gods, and the godlike trinity being in full possession the entire mass of matter will be perfected and raised up for the next step. This is the real meaning of “the word made flesh.” It was so grand a thing in the case of any single person, such as Jesus or Buddha, as to be looked upon as a divine incarnation. And out of this, too, comes the idea of the crucifixion, for Manas is thus crucified for the purpose of raising up the thief to paradise.
It is because the trinity is not yet incarnate in the race that life has so many mysteries, some of which are showing themselves from day to day in all the various experiments made on and in man.
The physician knows not what life is nor why the body moves as it does, because the spiritual portion is yet enshrouded in the clouds of heaven; the scientist is wandering in the dark, confounded and confused by all that hypnotism and other strange things bring before him, because the conscious man is out of sight on the very top of the divine mountain, thus compelling the learned to speak of the “subconscious mind,” the “latent personality,” and the like; and the priest can give us no light at all because he denies man’s god-like nature, reduces all to the level of original sin, and puts upon our conception of God the black mark of inability to control or manage the creation without invention of expedients to cure supposed errors. But this old truth solves the riddle and paints God and Nature in harmonious colors.
Reincarnation does not mean that we go into animal forms after death, as is believed by some Eastern peoples. “Once a man always a man” is the saying in the Great Lodge. But it would not be too much punishment for some men were it possible to condemn them to rebirth in brute bodies; however nature does not go by sentiment but by law, and we, not being able to see all, cannot say that the brutal man is brute all through his nature. And evolution having brought Manas the Thinker and Immortal Person on to this plane, cannot send him back to the brute which has not Manas.
By looking into two explanations for the literal acceptation by some people in the East of those laws of Manu which seem to teach the transmigrating into brutes, insects, and so on, we can see how the true student of this doctrine will not fall into the same error.
The first is, that the various verses and books teaching such transmigration have to do with the actual method of reincarnation, that is, with the explanation of the actual physical processes which have to be undergone by the Ego in passing from the unembodied to the embodied state, and also with the roads, ways, or means of descent from the invisible to the visible plane. This has not yet been plainly explained in Theosophical books, because on the one hand it is a delicate matter, and on the other the details would not as yet be received even by Theosophists with credence, although one day they will be. And as these details are not of the greatest importance they are not now expounded. But as we know that no human body is formed without the union of the sexes, and that the germs for such production are locked up in the sexes and must come from food which is taken into the body, it is obvious that foods have something to do with the reincarnating of the Ego. Now if the road to reincarnation leads through certain food and none other, it may be possible that if the Ego gets entangled in food which will not lead to the germ of physical reproduction, a punishment is indicated where Manu says that such and such practices will lead to transmigration, which is then a “hindrance.” I throw this out so far for the benefit of certain theosophists who read these and whose theories on this subject are now rather vague and in some instances based on quite other hypotheses.
The second explanation is, that inasmuch as nature intends us to use the matter which comes into our body and astral body for the purpose, among others, of benefiting the matter by the impress it gets from association with the human Ego, if we use it so as to give it only a brutal impression it must fly back to the animal kingdom to be absorbed there instead of being refined and kept on the human plane. And as all the matter which the human Ego gathered to it retains the stamp or photographic impression of the human being, the matter transmigrates to the lower level when given an animal impress by the Ego. This actual fact in the great chemical laboratory of nature could easily be misconstrued by the ignorant. But the present-day students know that once Manas the Thinker has arrived on the scene he does not return to baser forms; first, because he does not wish to, and second, because he cannot. For just as the blood in the body is prevented by valves from rushing back and engorging the heart, so in this greater system of universal circulation the door is shut behind the Thinker and prevents his retrocession. Reincarnation as a doctrine applying to the real man does not teach transmigration into kingdoms of nature below the human.
Chapter 9: Reincarnation Continued
In the West, where the object of life is commercial, financial, social, or scientific success, that is, personal profit, aggrandizement, and power, the real life of man receives but little attention, and we, unlike the Orientals, give scant prominence to the doctrine of preexistence and reincarnation. That the church denies it is enough for many, with whom no argument is of any use. Relying on the church, they do not wish to disturb the serenity of their faith in dogmas that may be illogical; and as they have been taught that the church can bind them in hell, a blind fear of the anathema hurled at reincarnation in the Constantinople council about 500 a.d. would alone debar them from accepting the accursed theory. And the church in arguing on the doctrine urges the objection that if men are convinced that they will live many lives, the temptation to accept the present and do evil without check will be too strong. Absurd as this seems, it is put forward by learned Jesuits, who say men will rather have the present chance than wait for others. If there were no retribution at all this would be a good objection, but as Nature has also a Nemesis for every evil doer, and as each, under the law of Karma — which is that of cause and effect and perfect justice — must receive the exact consequences himself in every life for what good or bad deeds and thoughts he did and had in other lives, the basis for moral conduct is secure. It is safe under this system, since no man can by any possibility, or favor, or edict, or belief escape the consequences, and each one who grasps this doctrine will be moved by conscience and the whole power of nature to do well in order that he may receive good and become happy.
It is maintained that the idea of rebirth is uncongenial and unpleasant because on the one hand it is cold, allowing no sentiment to interfere, prohibiting us from renouncing at will a life which we have found to be sorrowful; and on the other, that there appears to be no chance under it for us to see our loved ones who have passed away before us. But whether we like it or not Nature’s laws go forward unerringly, and sentiment or feeling can in no way avert the consequence that must follow a cause. If we eat bad food bad results must come. The glutton would have Nature permit him to gorge himself without the indigestion which will come, but Nature’s laws are not to be thus put aside. Now, the objection to reincarnation that we will not see our loved ones in heaven as promised in dogmatic religion, presupposes a complete stoppage of the evolution and development of those who leave earth before ourselves, and also assumes that recognition is dependent on physical appearance. But as we progress in this life, so also must we progress upon leaving it, and it would be unfair to compel the others to await our arrival in order that we may recognize them. And if one reflects on the natural consequences of arising to heaven where all trammels are cast off, it must be apparent that those who have been there, say, twenty of mortal years before us must, in the nature of things mental and spiritual, have made a progress equal to many hundreds of years here under varied and very favorable circumstances. How then could we, arriving later and still imperfect, be able to recognize those who had been perfecting themselves in heaven with such advantages? And as we know that the body is left behind to disintegrate, so, it is evident, recognition cannot depend, in the spiritual and mental life, on physical appearance. For not only is this thus plain, but since we are aware that an unhandsome or deformed body often enshrines a glorious mind and pure soul, and that a beautifully formed exterior — such as in the case of the Borgias — may hide an incarnate devil in character, the physical form gives no guarantee of recognition in that world where the body is absent. And the mother who has lost a child who had grown to maturity must know that she loved the child when a baby as much as afterwards when the great alteration to later life had completely swept away the form and features of early youth. The Theosophists see that this objection can have no existence in the face of the eternal and pure life of the soul. And Theosophy also teaches that those who are like unto each other and love each other will be reincarnated together whenever the conditions permit. Whenever one of us has gone farther on the road to perfection, he will always be moved to help and comfort those who belong to the same family. But when one has become gross and selfish and wicked, no one would want his companionship in any life. Recognition depends on the inner sight and not on outward appearance; hence there is no force in this objection. And the other phase of it relating to loss of parent, child, or relative is based on the erroneous notion that as the parents give the child its body so also is given its soul. But soul is immortal and parentless; hence this objection is without a root.
Some urge that Heredity invalidates Reincarnation. We urge it as proof. Heredity in giving us a body in any family provides the appropriate environment for the Ego. The Ego only goes into the family which either completely answers to its whole nature, or which gives an opportunity for the working out of its evolution, and which is also connected with it by reason of past incarnations or causes mutually set up. Thus the evil child may come to the presently good family because parents and child are indissolubly connected by past actions. It is a chance for redemption to the child and the occasion of punishment to the parents. This points to bodily heredity as a natural rule governing the bodies we must inhabit, just as the houses in a city will show the mind of the builders. And as we as well as our parents were the makers and influencers of bodies, took part in and are responsible for states of society in which the development of physical body and brain was either retarded or helped on, debased or the contrary, so we are in this life responsible for the civilization in which we now appear. But when we look at the characters in human bodies, great inherent differences are seen. This is due to the soul inside, who is suffering or enjoying in the family, nation, and race his own thoughts and acts in the past lives have made it inevitable he should incarnate with.
Heredity provides the tenement and also imposes those limitations of capacity of brain or body which are often a punishment and sometimes a help, but it does not affect the real Ego. The transmission of traits is a physical matter, and nothing more than the coming out into a nation of the consequences of the prior lives of all Egos who are to be in that race. The limitations imposed on the Ego by any family heredity are exact consequences of that Ego’s prior lives. The fact that such physical traits and mental peculiarities are transmitted does not confute reincarnation, since we know that the guiding mind and real character of each are not the result of a body and brain but are peculiar to the Ego in its essential life. Transmission of trait and tendency by means of parent and body is exactly the mode selected by nature for providing the incarnating Ego with the proper tenement in which to carry on its work. Another mode would be impossible and subversive of order.
Again, those who dwell on the objection from heredity forget that they are accentuating similarities and overlooking divergencies. For while investigations on the line of heredity have recorded many transmitted traits, they have not done so in respect to divergencies from heredity vastly greater in number. Every mother knows that the children of a family are as different in character as the fingers on one hand — they are all from the same parents, but all vary in character and capacity.
But heredity as the great rule and as a complete explanation is absolutely overthrown by history, which shows no constant transmission of learning, power, and capacity. For instance, in the case of the ancient Egyptians long gone and their line of transmission shattered, we have no transmission to their descendants. If physical heredity settles the question of character, how has the great Egyptian character been lost? The same question holds in respect to other ancient and extinct nations. And taking an individual illustration we have the great musician Bach, whose direct descendants showed a decrease in musical ability leading to its final disappearance from the family stock. But Theosophy teaches that in both of these instances — as in all like them — the real capacity and ability have only disappeared from a family and national body, but are retained in the Egos who once exhibited them, being now incarnated in some other nation and family of the present time.
Suffering comes to nearly all men, and a great many live lives of sorrow from the cradle to the grave, so it is objected that reincarnation is unjust because we suffer for the wrong done by some other person in another life. This objection is based on the false notion that the person in the other life was some one else. But in every life it is the same person. When we come again we do not take up the body of some one else, nor another’s deeds, but are like an actor who plays many parts, the same actor inside though the costumes and the lines recited differ in each new play. Shakespeare was right in saying that life is a play, for the great life of the soul is a drama, and each new life and rebirth another act in which we assume another part and put on a new dress, but all through it we are the self-same person. So instead of its being unjust, it is perfect justice, and in no other manner could justice be preserved.
But, it is said, if we reincarnate how is it that we do not remember the other life; and further, as we cannot remember the deeds for which we suffer is it not unjust for that reason? Those who ask this always ignore the fact that they also have enjoyment and reward in life and are content to accept them without question. For if it is unjust to be punished for deeds we do not remember, then it is also inequitable to be rewarded for other acts which have been forgotten. Mere entry into life is no fit foundation for any reward or punishment. Reward and punishment must be the just desert for prior conduct. Nature’s law of justice is not imperfect, and it is only the imperfection of human justice that requires the offender to know and remember in this life a deed to which a penalty is annexed. In the prior life the doer was then quite aware of what he did, and nature affixes consequences to his acts, being thus just. We well know that she will make the effect follow the cause whatever we wish and whether we remember or forget what we did. If a baby is hurt in its first years by the nurse so as to lay the ground for a crippling disease in after life, as is often the case, the crippling disease will come although the child neither brought on the present cause nor remembered aught about it. But reincarnation, with its companion doctrine of Karma, rightly understood, shows how perfectly just the whole scheme of nature is.
Memory of a prior life is not needed to prove that we passed through that existence, nor is the fact of not remembering a good objection. We forget the greater part of the occurrences of the years and days of this life, but no one would say for that reason we did not go through these years. They were lived, and we retain but little of the details in the brain, but the entire effect of them on the character is kept and made a part of ourselves. The whole mass of detail of a life is preserved in the inner man to be one day fully brought back to the conscious memory in some other life when we are perfected. And even now, imperfect as we are and little as we know, the experiments in hypnotism show that all the smallest details are registered in what is for the present known as the sub-conscious mind. The theosophical doctrine is that not a single one of these happenings is forgotten in fact, and at the end of life when the eyes are closed and those about say we are dead every thought and circumstance of life flash vividly into and across the mind.
Many persons do, however, remember that they have lived before. Poets have sung of this, children know it well, until the constant living in an atmosphere of unbelief drives the recollection from their minds for the present, but all are subject to the limitations imposed upon the Ego by the new brain in each life. This is why we are not able to keep the pictures of the past, whether of this life or the preceding ones. The brain is the instrument for the memory of the soul, and, being new in each life with but a certain capacity, the Ego is only able to use it for the new life up to its capacity. That capacity will be fully availed of or the contrary, just according to the Ego’s own desire and prior conduct, because such past living will have increased or diminished its power to overcome the forces of material existence.
By living according to the dictates of the soul the brain may at least be made porous to the soul’s recollections; if the contrary sort of a life is led, then more and more will clouds obscure that reminiscence. But as the brain had no part in the life last lived, it is in general unable to remember. And this is a wise law, for we should be very miserable if the deeds and scenes of our former lives were not hidden from our view until by discipline we become able to bear a knowledge of them.
Another objection brought up is that under the doctrine of reincarnation it is not possible to account for the increase of the world’s population. This assumes that we know surely that its population has increased and are keeping informed of its fluctuations. But it is not certain that the inhabitants of the globe have increased, and, further, vast numbers of people are annually destroyed of whom we know nothing. In China year after year many thousands have been carried off by flood. Statistics of famine have not been made. We do not know by how many thousands the deaths in Africa exceed the births in any year. The objection is based on imperfect tables which only have to do with western lands. It also assumes that there are fewer Egos out of incarnation and waiting to come in than the number of those inhabiting bodies, and this is incorrect. Annie Besant has put this well in her “Reincarnation” by saying that the inhabited globe resembles a hall in a town which is filled from the much greater population of the town outside; the number in the hall may vary, but there is a constant source of supply from the town. It is true that so far as concerns this globe the number of Egos belonging to it is definite; but no one knows what that quantity is nor what is the total capacity of the earth for sustaining them. The statisticians of the day are chiefly in the West, and their tables embrace but a small section of the history of man. They cannot say how many persons were incarnated on the earth at any prior date when the globe was full in all parts, hence the quantity of egos willing or waiting to be reborn is unknown to the men of today. The Masters of theosophical knowledge say that the total number of such egos is vast, and for that reason the supply of those for the occupation of bodies to be born over and above the number that die is sufficient. Then too it must be borne in mind that each ego for itself varies the length of stay in the post-mortem states. They do not reincarnate at the same interval, but come out of the state after death at different rates, and whenever there occurs a great number of deaths by war, pestilence, or famine, there is at once a rush of souls to incarnation, either in the same place or in some other place or race. The earth is so small a globe in the vast assemblage of inhabitable planets there is a sufficient supply of Egos for incarnation here. But with due respect to those who put this objection, I do not see that it has the slightest force or any relation to the truth of the doctrine of reincarnation.
Reincarnation (Pamphlet of 11 Articles)
Collated Articles on Reincarnation from the pen of WQJ
The Purpose of Reincarnation
HOW man has come to be the complex being that he is and why, are questions that neither Science nor Religion makes conclusive answer to. This immortal thinker having such vast powers and possibilities, all his because of his intimate connection with every secret part of Nature from which he has been built up, stands at the top of an immense and silent evolution. He asks why Nature exists, what the drama of life has for its aim, how that aim may be attained. But Science and Religion both fail to give a reasonable reply.
What then is the universe for, and for what final purpose is man the immortal thinker here in evolution? It is all for the experience and emancipation of the soul, for the purpose of raising the entire mass of manifested matter up to the stature, nature, and dignity of conscious god-hood. The aim for present man is his initiation into complete knowledge, and for the other kingdoms below him that they may be raised up gradually from stage to stage to be in time initiated also. This is evolution carried to its highest power, it is a magnificent prospect; it makes of man a god, and gives to every part of nature the possibility of being one day the same; there is strength and nobility in it, for by this no man is dwarfed and belittled, for no one is so originally sinful that he cannot rise above all sin. The old view makes the universe a vast, complete, and perfect whole.
Each human being has developed himself to a certain degree, and therefore can only appreciate and reflect that amount of wisdom which has fallen to his lot. As he passes again and again through the form of man, he slowly develops other various powers of appreciating more truth, and so at the last may become one with the whole — the perfect man, able to know and to feel completely his union with all.
The Adept is the fruit and perfection of the highest qualities in man, conjoined with entire union with spirit; this is the triumph of all that is best in the human being; it is the conscious union with the divine — the embodiment of union, harmony, and love.
In every age and complete national history these men of power and compassion are given different designations. They have been called Initiates, Adepts, Magi, Hierophants, Kings of the East, Wise Men, Brothers, and what not. But irrespective of all disputes as to specific names, there is sufficient argument and proof to show that a body of men having the wonderful knowledge described above has always existed and probably exists today. The older mysteries continually refer to them. Ancient Egypt had them in her great king-Initiates, sons of the sun and friends of great gods. These great Egyptians were Initiates, members of the one great Lodge which includes all others of whatever degree or operation.
The story of Apollonius of Tyana is about a member of one of the same ancient orders appearing among men at a descending cycle, and only for the purpose of keeping a witness upon the scene for future generations.
Abraham and Moses of the Jews are two other Initiates, Adepts who had their work to do with a certain people; and in the history of Abraham we meet with Melchizedek, who was so much beyond Abraham that he had the right to confer upon the latter a dignity, a privilege, or a blessing. The same chapter of history which contains the names of Moses and Abraham is illumined also by that of Solomon. And thus these three make a great Triad of Adepts, the record of whose deeds can not be brushed aside as folly and devoid of basis.
All along the stream of Indian literature we can find the names by scores of great adepts who were well known to the people and who all taught the same story — the great epic of the human soul. Their names are unfamiliar to western ears, but the records of their thoughts, their work and powers remain. Still more, in the quiet unmovable East there are today, by the hundred, persons who know of their own knowledge that the Great Lodge still exists and has its Mahatmas, Adepts, Initiates, Brothers.
And if the teaching of this Great Lodge is, as said, both scientific and religious, then from the ethical side we have still more proof. A mighty Triad acting on and through ethics is that composed of Buddha, Confucius, and Jesus. The first, a Hindu, founds a religion teaching centuries before Jesus the ethics which he taught and which had been given out even centuries before Buddha. Jesus, coming to reform his people repeats these ancient ethics, and Confucius does the same thing for ancient and honorable China.
All these great names represent members of the one single brotherhood, who all have a single doctrine. And the extraordinary characters who now and again appear in Western civilization are agents for the doing of the work of the Great Lodge at the proper time.
The Elder Brothers of Humanity are men who were perfected in former periods of evolution. The possibility of arriving at perfection so that one becomes godlike — or the doctrine of Adepts and Mahatmas — is common to Buddhism and Brahmanism, and is not contrary to the teachings of Jesus. He said to his disciples that they could, if they would, do even greater works — or “miracles” — than he did. To do these works one has to have great knowledge and power. The doctrine assumes the perfectibility of humanity and will destroy the awful theory of inherent original sin which has held and ground down the Western Christian nations for centuries. But far from being out of concordance with the religion of Jesus, it is in perfect accord. He directed his followers to be perfect even as the Father in heaven is perfect. They could not come up to that command by any possibility unless man has the power to reach to that high state.
Evolution demands that such beings should exist or there is a gap in the chain. And this position is held by a man of science like Prof. Huxley, who made the assertion that there must be beings in the universe whose intelligence is as much beyond ours as ours exceeds that of the black beetle, and who take an active part in the government of the natural order of things.
A Mahatma endowed with power over space, time, mind, and matter, is a possibility just because he is a perfected man. Every human being has the germ of all the powers attributed to these great Initiates, the difference lying solely in the fact that we have in general not developed what we possess the germ of, while the Mahatma has gone through the training and experience which have caused all the unseen human powers to develop in him, and conferred gifts that look godlike to his struggling brother below. All that the Mahatma may do is natural to the perfected man.
There are those who, although now inhabiting bodies and moving among men, have passed through many occult initiations in previous lives, but are now condemned, as it were, to the penance of living in circumstances and in bodies that hem them in, as well as for a time make them forget the glorious past. But their influence is always felt, even if they themselves are not aware of it. For their higher nature being in fact more developed than that of other men, it influences other natures at night or in hours of the day when all is favorable. The fact that these obscured adepts are not aware now of what they really are, only has to do with their memory of the past; it does not follow, because a man cannot remember his initiations, that he has had none. But there are some cases in which we can judge with a degree of certainty that such adepts were incarnated and what they were named. Take Thomas Vaughan, Raymond Lully, Sir Thomas More, Jacob Boehme, Paracelsus, and others like them. These souls were as witnesses to the truth, leaving through the centuries, in their own nations, evidences for those who followed, and suggestions for keeping spirituality bright — seed-thoughts, as it were, ready for the new mental soil.
As Mind is being evolved more and more as we proceed in our course along the line of the race development, there can be perceived underneath in all countries the beginning of the transition from the animal possessed of the germ of real mind to the man of mind complete. This day is therefore known to the Masters, who have given out some of the old truths, as the “transition period.” Proud science and prouder religion do not admit this, but think we are as we always will be. But there are evidences that the race mind is changing by enlargement, that the old days of dogmatism are gone and the “age of inquiry” has come, that the inquiries will grow louder year by year and the answers be required to satisfy the mind as it grows more and more, until at last, all dogmatism being ended, the race will be ready to face all problems, each man for himself, all working for the good of the whole, and that the end will be the perfecting of those who strive to carry out their whole duty “on the journey back to the Sacred Seat.”
— THEOSOPHY, August, 1971
Arguments Supporting Reincarnation
“WHAT are your proofs?” is often asked of those who believe in reincarnation and karma, and who think that evolution demands a place in the cosmos for Mahatmas (or great souls) as facts and ideals. “If you cannot prove reincarnation just as you would a fact in a court of law, I will not believe,” says one, while another says, “Make such objective demonstrations as science does, and then you may expect me to agree with you.” But in truth all these objectors accept as proven many things which on a slight examination are seen to rest as much on theory and metaphysical argument as do any of these doctrines. The axioms of mathematics are unprovable; the very word assumes that they have to be accepted. Being accepted, we go forward and on the basis of their unproved truth demonstrate other and succedent matters.
The sun is the apparent source of energy, and is confidently supposed by many to be a mass of burning material. No one, however, knows this to be so. No one was ever there, and the whole set of theories regarding the luminary rests on assumptions. Many natural facts are against some of the theories. The great fact that the higher the mountain the more cold it is on top would be one, not wholly accounted for by theories as to radiation. And when we remember the great, the immense, difference between the various scientific estimates of the sun’s heat, doubt increases. Seeing that electricity is now so much better known, and that it is apparently all-pervading, the ancient idea that the sun is a center of electrical or magnetic energy which turns into heat as well as other things on reaching here, becomes plausible and throws some spice of illusion into the doctrine that our sun is a mass of burning matter.
The atom and the molecule are very influential words. They are constantly used by people claiming to follow science. Yet no one ever saw an atom or molecule. They are accepted as facts by science — just as the spiritually-inclined accept the existence of the invisible soul — yet it is impossible to objectively prove either the one or the other. They are deemed to be proven because they are necessary.
But let a student of the Wisdom Religion say that reincarnation is a fact, and Mahatmas also, because both are necessary in evolution, and at once a demand arises for “demonstration” by objective proofs.
Unless we deny the immortality of man and the existence of soul, there are no sound arguments against the doctrine of preexistence and rebirth save such as rest on the dictum that each soul is a new creation. This dictum can be supported only by blind dogmatism, for given a soul we must sooner or later arrive at the theory of rebirth, because even if each soul is new on this earth it must keep on living somewhere after passing away, and in view of the known order of nature will have other bodies in other planets or spheres. But for any intelligent person nowadays to accept the special-creation theory, with birth into the present life as the beginning of man, is to confess the whole problem of life to be incomprehensible and all its mysteries incapable of solution. With shaded eyes and bated breath all such continually ask, “What does it all mean?”
The soul’s immortality — believed in by the mass of humanity — demands embodiment here or elsewhere, and to be embodied means reincarnation. If we come to this earth but for a few years and then go to some other, the soul must be embodied there as well as here, and if we have traveled from some other world we must have had there too our proper vesture. The powers of mind and the laws governing its motion, its attachment, and its detachment, show that its reembodiment must be here, where it moved and worked, until such time as the mind is able to overcome the forces which chain it to this globe. To permit the involved entity to transfer itself to another scene of action before it had overcome all the causes drawing it here and without its having worked out its responsibilities to other entities in the same stream of evolution would be unjust and contrary to the powerful occult laws and forces which continually operate upon it. The early Christian Fathers saw this, and taught that the soul had fallen into matter and was obliged by the law of its nature to toil upward again to the place from which it came.
Each human being has a definite character different from every other human being, and masses of beings aggregated into nations show as wholes that the national force and distinguishing peculiarities go to make up a definite and separate national character. These differences, both individual and national, are due to essential character and not to education. Even the doctrine of the survival of the fittest should show this, for the fitness cannot come from nothing but must at last show itself from the coming to the surface of the actual inner character. And as both individuals and nations among those who are ahead in the struggle with nature exhibit an immense force in their character, we must find a place and time where the force was evolved. These, Theosophy says, are this earth and the whole period during which the human race has been on the planet.
So, then, while heredity has something to do with the difference in character as to force and morals, swaying the soul and mind a little and furnishing also the appropriate place for receiving reward and punishment, it is not the cause for the essential nature shown by every one.
But all these differences, such as those shown by babes from birth, by adults as character comes forth more and more, and by nations in their history, are due to long experience gained during many lives on earth, are the outcome of the soul’s own evolution. A survey of one short human life gives no ground for the production of his inner nature.
It is needful that each soul should have all possible experience, and one life cannot give this even under the best conditions. It would be folly for the Almighty to put us here for such a short time, only to remove us just when we had begun to see the object of life and the possibilities in it. The mere selfish desire of a person to escape the trials and discipline of life is not enough to set nature’s laws aside, so the soul must be reborn until it has ceased to set in motion the cause of rebirth, after having developed character up to its possible limit as indicated by all the varieties of human nature, when every experience has been passed through, and not until all of truth that can be known has been acquired.
The vast disparity among men in respect to capacity compels us, if we wish to ascribe justice to Nature or to God, to admit reincarnation and to trace the origin of the disparity back to the past lives of the Ego. For people are as much hindered and handicapped, abused and made the victims of seeming injustice because of limited capacity, as they are by reason of circumstances of birth or education. We see the uneducated rising above circumstances of family and training, and often those born in good families have very small capacity; but the troubles of nations and families arise from want of capacity more than from any other cause. And if we consider savage races only, there the seeming injustice is enormous. For many savages have good actual brain capacity, but still are savage. This is because the Ego in that body is still savage and undeveloped, for in contrast to the savage there are many civilized men with small actual brain force who are not savage in nature because the indwelling Ego has had long experience in civilization during other lives, and being a more developed soul has power to use the brain instrument to its highest limit.
Each man feels and knows that he has an individuality of his own, a personal identity which bridges over not only the gaps made by sleep but also those sometimes supervening on temporary lesions in the brain. This identity never breaks from beginning to end of life in the normal person, and only the persistence and eternal character of the soul will account for it.
So, ever since we began to remember, we know that our personal identity has not failed us, no matter how bad may be our memory. This disposes of the argument that identity depends on recollection, for the reason that if it did depend alone on recollection we should each day have to begin over again, as we cannot remember the events of the past in detail, and some minds remember but little yet feel their personal identity. And as it is often seen that some who remember the least insist as strongly as the others on their personal identity, that persistence of feeling must come from the old and immortal soul.
Viewing life and its probable object, with all the varied experience possible for man, one must be forced to the conclusion that a single life is not enough for carrying out all that is intended by Nature to say nothing of what man himself desires to do. The scale of variety in experience is enormous. There is a vast range of powers latent in man which we see may be developed if opportunity be given. Knowledge infinite in scope and diversity lies before us, and especially in these days when special investigation is the rule. We perceive that we have high aspirations with no time to reach up to their measure, while the great troop of passions and desires, selfish motives and ambitions, war with us and among themselves, pursuing us even to the door of death. All these have to be tried, conquered, used, subdued. One life is not enough for this.
To say that we have but one life here with such possibilities put before us and impossible of development is to make the universe and life a huge joke perpetrated by a powerful God who is thus accused, by those who believe in a special creation of souls, of triumphing and playing with puny man just because that man is small and the creature of the Almighty. A human life at most is seventy years; statistics reduce this to about forty; and out of that little remainder a large part is spent in sleep and another in childhood. Thus in one life it is perfectly impossible to attain to the merest fraction of what Nature evidently has in view. We see many truths vaguely which a life gives us no time to grasp, and especially is this so when men have to make such a struggle to live at all. Our faculties are small or dwarfed or weak; one life gives no opportunity to alter this; we perceive other powers latent in us that cannot possibly be brought out in such a small space of time; and we have much more than a suspicion that the extent of the field of truth is vastly greater than the narrow circle we are confined to. It is not reasonable to suppose that either God or nature projects us into a body simply to fill us with bitterness because we have no other opportunity here, but rather we must conclude that a series of incarnations has led to the present condition, and that the process of coming here again and again must go on for the purpose of affording us the opportunity needed.
The mere fact of dying is not of itself enough to bring about development of faculties or the elimination of wrong tendency and inclinations. If we assume that upon entering heaven we at once acquire all knowledge and purity, then that state after death is reduced to a dead level and life itself with all its disciplines is shorn of every meaning. Some of the churches teach of a school of discipline after death where it is stated that the Apostles themselves, well known to be ignorant men, are to be the teachers. This is absurd and devoid of any basis or reason in the natural order. Besides, if there is to be such subsequent discipline, why were we projected into life at all? And why after the suffering and the error committed are we taken from the place where we did our acts? The only solution left is in reincarnation. We come back to earth because on it and with the beings upon it our deeds were performed; because it is the only proper place where punishment and reward can be justly meted out; because here is the only natural spot in which to continue the struggle toward perfection, toward the development of the faculties we have and the destruction of the wickedness in us. Justice to ourselves and to all other beings demands it, for we cannot live for ourselves, and it would be unjust to permit some of us to escape, leaving those who were participants with us to remain on to be plunged into a hell of eternal duration.
The persistence of savagery, the rise and decay of nations and civilizations, the total extinction of nations, all demand an explanation found nowhere but in reincarnation. Savagery remains because there are still Egos whose experience is so limited that they are still savage; they will come up into higher races when ready. Races die out because the Egos have had enough of the experience that sort of race gives. So we find the red Indian, the Hottentot, the Easter Islanders, and others as examples of races deserted by high Egos, and, as they are dying away, other souls who have had no higher life in the past enter into the bodies of the race to go on using them for the purpose of gaining such experience as the race body will give. A race could not possibly arise and then suddenly go out. We see that such is not the case, but science has no explanation; it simply says that this is the fact, that nations decay. But in this explanation no account is taken of the inner man nor of the recondite, subtle and occult laws that unite to make a race.
The energy drawn together has to expend itself gradually, and therefore the reproduction of bodies of the character of that race will go on, though the Egos are not compelled to inhabit bodies of that sort any longer than while they are of the same development as the race. Hence a time comes when the whole mass of Egos which built up the race leaves it for another physical environment more like themselves. The economy of Nature will not permit the physical race to suddenly fade away, and so in the real order of evolution other and less progressed Egos come in and use the forms provided, keeping up the production of new bodies, but less and less in number each century. These lower Egos are not able to keep up to the limit of the capacity of the congeries of energies left by the other Egos, and so while the new set gains as much experience as is possible the race in time dies out after passing through its decay.
This is the explanation of what we may call descending savagery, and no other theory will meet the facts. It has been sometimes thought by ethnologists that the more civilized races kill off the other, but the fact is that in consequence of the great difference between the Egos inhabiting the old race body and the energy of that body itself, the females begin to be sterile, and thus slowly but surely the number of deaths exceed the births. China itself is in process of decay, she being now in the almost stationary stage just before the rush downward. Great civilizations like those of Egypt and Babylon have gone because the souls who made them have long ago reincarnated in the great conquering nations of Europe and the present American continents. As nations and races they have been totally reincarnated and born again for greater and higher purposes than ever. Of all the old races the Aryan Indian alone yet remains as the preserver of the old doctrines. It will one day rise again to its old heights of glory.
The appearance of geniuses and great minds in families destitute of these qualities, as well as the extinction from a family of the genius shown by some ancestor, can only be met by the law of rebirth. Napoleon the First came in a family wholly unlike him in power and force. Nothing in his heredity will explain his character. He said himself, as told in the Memoirs of Prince Talleyrand, that he was Charlemagne. Only by assuming for him a long series of lives giving the right line of evolution or cause for his mind and nature and force to be brought out, can we have the slightest idea why he or any other great genius appeared at all.
Mozart when an infant could compose orchestral score. This was not due to heredity, for such a score is not natural, but is forced, mechanical, and wholly conventional, yet he understood it without schooling. How? Because he was a musician reincarnated, with a musical brain furnished by his family and thus not impeded in his endeavors to show forth his musical knowledge. But stronger yet is the case of Blind Tom, a negro whose family could not by any possibility have a knowledge of the piano, a modern instrument, so as to transmit that knowledge to the atoms of his body, yet he had great musical power and knew the present mechanical musical scale on the piano. There are hundreds of examples like these among the many prodigies who have appeared to the world’s astonishment. In India there are many histories of sages born with complete knowledge of philosophy and the like, and doubtless in all nations the same can be met with.
What is called talent is usually a partial and unsymmetrical awakening of the soul from the dominion of the senses. Talent does with ease that which mediocrity accomplishes with great difficulty, if at all. In the ordinary life of the world nothing short of real genius carries man out of himself and suggests the real nature of his being. Genius does with ease that of which mediocrity never even dreams, and of which no mere talent is capable. Genius dreams of the true, and gets glimpses of the essential being. Mediocrity follows; talent commands; genius knows and seldom stops to reason.
This bringing back of knowledge also explains instinct, for that is no more than recollection divisible into physical and mental memory. It is seen in the child and the animal, and is no more than the result of previous experience. And whether we look at the newborn babe flinging out its arms for self-protection, or the animal with very strong instinctual power, or the bee building a cell on the rules of geometry, it is all the effect of reincarnation acting either in the mind or physical cell, for no atom is devoid of life, consciousness, and intelligence of its own.
In the case of the musician Bach we have proof that heredity counts for nothing if the Ego is not advanced, for his genius was not borne down his family line; it gradually faded out, finally leaving the family stream entirely. So, too, the coming of idiots or vicious children to parents who are good, pure, or highly intellectual is explained in the same way. They are cases where heredity is set at nought by a wholly bad or deficient Ego.
And, lastly, the fact that certain inherent ideas are common to the whole race is explained by the sages as due to recollection of such ideas, which were implanted in the human mind at the very beginning of its evolutionary career on this planet by those brothers and sages who learned their lessons and were perfected in former ages long before the development of this globe began. No explanation for inherent ideas is offered by science that will do more than say, “they exist.” These were actually taught to the mass of Egos who are engaged in this earth’s evolution; they were imprinted or burned into their natures, and always recollected; they follow the Ego through the long pilgrimage.
It has been often thought that the opposition to reincarnation has been solely based on prejudice, when not due to a dogma which can only stand when the mind is bound down and prevented from using its own powers. It is a doctrine the most noble of all, and with its companion one of Karma, it alone gives the basis for ethics.
— THEOSOPHY, June, 1969
Reincarnation and Cycles
WESTERN investigators have for some centuries suspected that events move in cycles, and a few of the writers in the field of European literature have dealt with the subject, but all in a very incomplete fashion. This incompleteness and want of accurate knowledge have been due to the lack of belief in spiritual things and the desire to square everything with materialistic science. Nor do I pretend to give the cyclic law in full, for it is one that is not given out in detail by the Masters of Wisdom. But enough has been divulged, and enough was for a long time known to the Ancients to add considerably to our knowledge.
A cycle is a ring or turning, as the derivation of the word indicates — not like a wedding ring, which runs into itself — but more properly like a screw thread, which takes the form of a spiral and turns on itself. But what do we mean by a cycle in our own investigations of nature, or man, or civilization, or our own development, our origin, our destiny? We mean just what the Egyptians, the Hindus and the philosophers of the Middle Ages meant — that there is a periodical return or circling back of something once more. That is why it is called cycle, inasmuch as it returns upon itself, seemingly; but in the ancient doctrines, it is always a little higher in the sense of perfection or progress.
A cycle does not begin on a day or year clear of any other cycle; they interblend, so that, although the wheel of one period is still turning, the initial point of another has already arrived. Cycles have no hard lines or points of departure or inception. They overlap and shade into one another, as day does into night; and it is only when the one has completely ended and the other has really begun by bringing out its blossoms, that we can say we are in a new cycle. It may be illustrated by comparing two adjacent cycles to two interlaced circles, where the circumference of one touches the center of the other, or by imagining a man as representing, in the act of walking, the progress of the cycles; his rate of advancement can only be obtained by taking the distance covered by his paces, the points at the middle of each pace, between the feet, being the beginning of cycles and their ending.
Both Karma and Reincarnation proceed under cyclic rule. Not only is man ruled by these laws, but every atom of matter as well, and the mass of matter is constantly undergoing a change at the same time with man.
The beginning of a cycle must be a moment, that added to other moments makes a day, and those added together constitute months, years, decades and centuries. Beyond this the West hardly goes. It recognizes the moon cycle and the great sidereal one, but looks at both and upon the others merely as periods of time. If we are to consider them as but lengths of time, there is no profit except to the dry student or to the astronomer. And in this way today they are regarded by European and American thinkers, who say cycles exist but have no very great bearing on human life and certainly no bearing on the actual recurrence of events or the reappearance on the stage of life of persons who once lived in the world. The theosophical theory is distinctly otherwise, as it must be if it carries out the doctrine of reincarnation. … Not only are the cycles named actual physical facts in respect to time, but they and other periods have a very great effect on human life and the evolution of the globe with all the forms of life thereon.
H. T. Buckle, the great writer of the English school, says that cyclic law no doubt prevails in regard to nations, that they have come back apparently the same, only slightly improved or degraded, for there is also a downward cycle included within those that rise; but Buckle did not discover a law. He simply once more stated what the ancients had said over and over again. And it has always seemed to me that if Buckle and other people of that kind would pay a little more attention to the ancients, they would save themselves a great deal of trouble, for he obtained his law by much delving, much painstaking labor, whereas he might have gotten the law if he had consulted the ancients, who always taught that there were cycles, and that there always will be cycles.
There are great cosmic cycles that proceed slowly to our comprehension because they cover such stupendous periods, but they powerfully affect mankind and can only be faintly imagined by students.
The ancient Egyptian civilization illustrates the power of one of the greater cycles long since run down. That brilliant civilization rolled on through a vast stretch of years with no appearance of diminishing glory, but gradually the change took place. We can imagine the hopeless and frantic efforts of her sages to counteract the decay. But they were powerless, and Egypt gradually sank to the place where we find her blazing in the records so far discovered and yet then in her decline; and at last all that remains are sand heaps and degraded ignorant Copts. But the sweep of that mighty cycle merely moved on to other spheres, and when Earth again meets the same impulse the old civilization will return, the old force revive within a better body. To me the cyclic laws are full of hope and eminently just.
There is thus a period of activity followed by a period of repose, and this is followed by renewed activity. “The out-breathing and in-breathing of Brahm,” involves every atom and every object, no less than every organism.
Certain animal forms now extinct and also certain human ones not known but sometimes suspected will return again in their own cycle; and certain human languages now known as dead will be in use once more at their appointed cyclic hour. Sanskrit will one day be again the language used by man upon this earth, first in science and in metaphysics, and later on in common life. This new language will be one which is scientific in all that makes a language, enriched by ages of study of metaphysics and the true science.
But man is also affected by astronomical cycles because he is an integral part of the whole, and these cycles mark the periods when mankind as a whole will undergo a change. In the sacred books of all nations these are often mentioned, and are in the Bible of the Christians, as, for instance, in the story of Jonah in the belly of the whale. This is an absurdity when read as history, but not so as an astronomical cycle.
During these progresses changes take place among men and on earth exactly signified by the constellations when those are read according to the right rules of symbology. It is not claimed that the conjunction causes the effect, but that ages ago the Masters of Wisdom worked out all the problems in respect to man and found in the heavens the means for knowing the exact dates when events are sure to recur, and then by imprinting in the minds of older nations the symbology of the Zodiac were able to preserve the record and the prophecy. Thus in the same way that a watchmaker can tell the hour by the arrival of the hands or the works of the watch at certain fixed points, the Sages can tell the hour for events by the Zodiacal clock. This is not, of course, believed today, but it will be well understood in future centuries, and as the nations of the earth have all similar symbols in general for the Zodiac, and as also the records of races long dead have the same, it is not likely that the vandal-spirit of the Western nineteenth century will be able to efface this valuable heritage of our evolution. In Egypt the Denderah Zodiac tells the same tale as that one left to us by the old civilization of the American continent, and all of these are from the same source; they are the work of the Sages who come at the beginning of the great human cycle and give to man when he begins his toilsome ascent up the road of development those great symbols and ideas of an astronomical character which will last through all the cycles.
The ancients had a great many large and important cycles. In their classification they had a Saros and a Naros, which are not understood today by us. They are known to some extent, but what they are exactly we do not know. The Egyptians taught that there was a great sidereal cycle, and that is recognized today — the cycle of 25,000 years caused by the fact that the sun went through the signs of the Zodiac in that length of time. In order to make it clear, it will be better for me to state this just as it is. The sun goes through the signs of the Zodiac from day to day and from year to year, but at the same time, in going through the signs of the Zodiac, he goes back slowly, like the hands of a clock ticking on the time. In going through that period he comes back to the same point again, and retards himself, or goes back; that is called the precession of the equinoxes, and it is so many seconds in such a length of time. Those seconds in the sky turned into time show that the sun takes 25,000 odd years to come back to the place from which he started at any particular time: that is to say, if you imagine that on the first of April, this year, the sun was in such a degree of Aries, one of the signs of the Zodiac, he will not get back to that sign by the precession of the equinoxes until 25,000 years have passed away.
Now, the sun is the center of our solar system and the earth revolves around it, and as the earth revolves she turns upon her axis. The sun, it is known now by astronomers, as it was known by the ancients (who were ourselves in fact), revolves around a center. That is, while we are going around the sun, he is going around some other center, so that we describe in the sky not a circle around the sun, but a spiral, as we move with the sun around his enormous orbit. There is a star somewhere in the sky, we do not know where — some think it is Alcyone, or some other star, some think it may be a star in the Pleiades, and some others think it is a star somewhere else — but they know by deduction from the known to the unknown, that the sun is attracted by some unknown center, and that he turns around it in an enormous circle, and as he turns, of course he draws the earth with him.
In the course of 25,000 years in going around the signs of the Zodiac, he must take the earth into spaces where it has never yet been, for when he reaches this point in Aries, after 25,000 years, it is only apparently the same point. And so, when the sun gets back to the point in Aries, where he was on the first of April this year, he will not be in the exact position in the universe of space, but will be somewhere else, and in his journey of 25,000 years through billions upon billions of miles, he draws the earth into spaces where she never was before, and never will be as that earth again. He must draw her into cosmic spaces where things are different, and thus cause changes in the earth itself, for changes in cosmic matter in the atmosphere, in the space where the sun draws the earth, must affect the earth and all its inhabitants. The ancients investigated this subject, and declared long ago this 25,000 years cycle.
The Metonic cycle is that of the Moon. It is a period of about nineteen years, which being completed the new and the full moons return on the same days of the month. The cycle of the sun is a period of twenty-eight years, which having elapsed the Dominical or Sunday letters return to their former place and proceed in the former order according to the Julian calendar.
And along this road are the points when the small and large cycles of Avatars bring out for man’s benefit the great characters who mould the race from time to time. The Cycle of Avatars includes several smaller ones. The greater are those marked by the appearance of Rama and Krishna among the Hindus, of Menes among the Egyptians, of Zoroaster among the Persians, and of Buddha to the Hindus and other nations of the East. Buddha is the last of the great Avatars and is in a larger cycle than is Jesus of the Jews, for the teachings of the latter are the same as those of Buddha and tinctured with what Buddha had taught to those who instructed Jesus.
Another great Avatar is yet to come, corresponding to Buddha and Krishna combined. Krishna and Rama were of the military, civil, religious and occult order. Buddha of the ethical, religious and mystical, in which he was followed by Jesus; Mohammed was a minor intermediate one for a certain part of the race, and was civil, military and religious. In these cycles we can include mixed characters who have had great influence on nations, such as King Arthur, Pharaoh, Moses, Charlemagne reincarnated as Napoleon Buonaparte, Clovis of France reborn as Emperor Frederick III of Germany, and Washington the first President of the United States of America where the root for the new race is being formed.
In a cycle where all is ascending and descending, the Adepts must wait until the time comes before they can aid the race to ascend. They cannot, and must not, interfere with Karmic law. Thus they begin to work actively again in the spiritual sense, when the cycle is known by them to be approaching its turning point.
The length of the individual reincarnation cycle for the general mass of men is fifteen hundred years, and this in its turn gives us a large historical cycle related closely to the progress of civilization. For as the masses of persons return from devachan, it must follow that the Roman, the Greek, the old Aryan and other Ages will be seen again and can to a very great extent be plainly traced.
At the intersection of the great cycles, dynamic effects follow and alter the surface of the planet by reason of the shifting of the poles of the globe or other convulsion. That there have been vast and awful disturbances in the strata of the world is admitted on every hand and now needs no proof.
Affecting man especially are the spiritual, psychic, and moral cycles, and out of these grow the national, racial and individual cycles. Race and national cycles are both historical. The individual cycles are of reincarnation, of sensation, and of impression. What do we mean by that? Your going into the street and seeing a brawl creates an impression. Your having a quarrel and denouncing a man and getting very angry, creates an impression in you. That impression is as much subject to cyclic law as the moon, and the stars, and the world. It is far more important in respect to your personal development or evolution than all these other great things, for they affect you in the mass, whereas these little ones affect you in detail.
This law of impressions can be illustrated in this way. If you look at one of these electric lights you will find the light makes an image on the retina, and when you shut your eye, this bright filament of light will be seen by you in your eye. If you keep your eye closed and watch intently, you will see the image come back a certain number of counts, it will stay a certain number of counts, it will go away in the same length of time and come back again, always changing in some respect, until at last the time comes when it disappears. After the first time, the color changes each time, and so it keeps coming back at regular intervals, showing that there is a cyclic return of impression in the retina. If that applies in one place, it applies in every place. When we look into our moral character we find the same thing, for as we have the tides in the ocean, so in man we have tides, which are called return of impressions. You do a thing once, there will be a tendency to repeat itself; you do it twice, and it doubles in its influence, a greater tendency to do that same thing again. And so on all through our character shows this constant return of cyclic impression.
Take another case. I have a friend who had periods of depression or despondency (and this will answer for everybody) that he could not explain. It was the return of old cyclic impressions, and what he should have done was to have started up something else, to have compelled himself to feel joyous, even against his own will, and if he could not have done that, then to have tried to feel the joy of others. By doing that, he would have implanted in himself another impression, that is of joy, so that when this thing returned once more, instead of being of the same quality and extension, it would have been changed by the impression of joy or elation, and the two things coming together would have counteracted each other. This applies to every person who has the blues. Some people say, I just sit down and let it go; that is to say, you sit there and create it once more. You cannot rub it out if it has been coming — but when it comes, start up cheerfulness, be good to someone. Try to relieve some other person who is despondent, and you will have started another impression which will return at the same time. When the old cyclic impression returns, it will have dragged up the new one, because it is related to it by association.
Now this has the greatest possible bearing upon our evolution as particular individuals. An opportunity will arise for you to do something; you do not do it: you may not have it again for one hundred years. It is the return before you of some old thing that was good along the line of the cycles. You neglect it, as you may, and the same opportunity will return, mind you, but it may not return for many hundred years. It may not return until another life, but it will return under the same law.
Both Egyptians and Greeks had their cycles, but in our opinion derived them from the Indian Sages. The Chinese always were a nation of astronomers, and have recorded observations reaching far back of the Christian era, but as they belong to an old race which is doomed to extinction — strange as the assertion may appear — their conclusions will not be correct for the Aryan races.
The present cycle is known as the dark one; in Sanskrit, Kali Yuga, or the black age. [Its duration, according to the Brahmanical Table, is 432,000 “mortal years.”] It is dark because spirituality is almost obscured by materiality and pure intellectualism. Revolving in the depths of material things and governed chiefly by the mind apart from spirit, its characteristic gain is physical and material progress, its distinguishing loss is in spirituality. In this sense it is the Kali Yuga. In all ages loss of spirituality has been regarded as equivalent to the state of death or darkness; and mere material progress in itself is not a sign of real advancement, but may have in it the elements for its own stoppage and destruction. Preëminently this age has all these characteristics in the Western civilizations. We have very great progress to note in conquests of nature, in mechanical arts, in the ability to pander to love of luxury, in immense advancements with wonderful precision and power in the weapons made for destroying life. But side by side with these we have wretchedness, squalor, discontent, and crime; very great wealth in the hands of the few, and very grinding poverty overcoming the many.
The first 5000 years of Kali Yuga will end between the years 1897 and 1898. This Yuga began about 3102 years before the Christian era, at the time of Krishna’s death. Scientific men will have an opportunity of seeing whether the close of the five-thousand-year cycle will be preceded or followed by any convulsions of great changes political, scientific or physical, or all of these combined. Cyclic changes are now proceeding as year after year the souls from prior civilizations are being incarnated in this period when liberty of thought and action are not so restricted in the West as they have been in the past by dogmatic religious prejudice and bigotry. And at the present time we are in a cycle of transition, when, as a transition period should indicate, everything in philosophy, religion and society is changing. In a transition period the full and complete figures and rules respecting cycles are not given out to a generation which elevates money above all thoughts and scoffs at the spiritual view of man and nature.
If these old doctrines of karma, reincarnation, and cycles, are not taught to the race, you will have a revolution. Instead of making progress, in a steady, normal fashion, you will come up to better things through storm, trouble and sorrow. You will come up, of course, for even out of revolutions and blood there comes progress, but isn’t it better to have progress without that? And that is what this philosophy is intended for. That is why the Mahatmas, directing their servant H. P. Blavatsky, as they have directed many before, came out at a time when materialism was fighting religion and was about getting the upper hand, and once more everything moved forward in its cyclic way and these old doctrines were revivified under the guidance of the theosophical movement. They are doctrines that explain all problems, and in the universal scheme give man a place as a potential god. There is a mysterious power in the doctrines of karma and reincarnation which at last forces them upon the belief of those who take them up for study. It is due to the fact that the ego is itself the experiencer of rebirth and karma and has within a clear recollection of both, and rejoices, as it were, when it finds the lower mind taking them up for study.
— THEOSOPHY, April, 1971
The Reincarnation of Nations, Races, and Civilizations
AMONG the Adepts the rise and fall of nations and civilizations are subjects which are studied under the great cyclic movements. Standing on the immeasurable height where centuries lie under their glance, they see the great cycles and the lesser ones rolling onward, influenced by man and working out their changes for his punishment, reward, experience and development. Now these beings, under the sway of the law as they are, seem perhaps to be sometimes implacable. Occasions are met where to mortal judgment it would seem to be wise or just to save a city from destruction, or a nation from decay, or a race from total extinction. But if such a fate is the natural result of actions performed or a necessary step in the cyclic sweep, it cannot be averted. As one of the Masters of this noble science has written:
We never pretended to be able to draw nations in the mass to this or that crisis in spite of the general drift of the world’s cosmic relations. The cycles must run their rounds. Periods of mental and moral light and darkness succeed each other as day does night. The major and minor yugas (cycles) must be accomplished according to the established order of things. And we, borne along the mighty tide, can only modify and direct some of its minor currents.
The fire of patriotism cannot prevail against the higher destiny which will plunge a nation into darkness. All we can do is to change it here and there a little. The elder brothers are subject to law, but they have confidence and hope, because that law merely means that nations appear to go down, in order to rise again to a greater height.
And so in individual cases — even among those who are in direct relations with some Adept — the law cannot be infringed. Karma demands that such and such a thing should happen to the individual, and the greatest God or the smallest Adept cannot lift a finger to prevent it. A nation may have heaped up against its account as a nation a vast amount of bad Karma. Its fate is sure, and although it may have noble units in it, great souls even who are Adepts themselves, nothing can save it, and it will “go out like a torch dipped in water.”
Such was the end of ancient Egypt, of whose former glory no man of this day knows aught. Although to us she appears in the historical sky as a full-risen sun, she yet had her period of growth, when mighty Adepts sat upon the throne and guided the people. She gradually reached a high point of power and then her people grew material; the Adepts retired; pretended Adepts took their place, and gradually her glory waned until at last the light of Egypt became darkness. The same story was repeated in Chaldea and Assyria and also upon the surface of our own America. Here a great, a glorious civilization once flourished, only to disappear as the others did; and that a grand development of civilization is beginning here again is one of the operations of the just and perfect law of Karma.
In the eye of that great Law no country is first or last, new or old, high or low, but each at the right time is appropriate for whatever the work is that must be performed. Each country is bound up with all the others and must assist them.
Individuals and nations in definite streams return in regularly recurring periods to the earth, and thus bring back to the globe the arts, the civilization, the very persons who once were on it at work. And as the units in nation and race are connected together by invisible strong threads, large bodies of such units moving slowly but surely all together reunite at different times and emerge again and again together into new race and new civilization as the cycles roll their appointed rounds. Therefore the souls who made the most ancient civilizations will come back and bring the old civilization with them in idea and essence, which being added to what others have done for the development of the human race in its character and knowledge will produce a new and higher state of civilization. This newer and better development will not be due to books, to arts or mechanics, because all those are periodically destroyed so far as physical evidence goes, but the soul ever retaining in Manas, or mind, the knowledge it once gained and always pushing to completer development the higher principles and powers, the essence of progress remains and will as surely come out as the sun shines.
The length of the individual reincarnation cycle for the general mass of men is fifteen hundred years, and this in its turn gives us a large historical cycle related closely to the progress of civilization. For as the masses of persons return from devachan, or heaven, it must follow that the Roman, the Greek, the old Aryan and other Ages will be seen again and can to a very great extent be plainly traced.
This has a bearing on the question of the civilization in which we are a part ourselves. Who are we? Where are we going? Where have we come from? Both the Europeans and the Americans are old Atlantean monads, and the development of the American nation especially has a mysterious but potent connection with the wonderful past of the Atlanteans, whose name is forever set immortal in the Atlantic Ocean. The cycles in their movement are bringing up to the surface now, in the United States and America generally, not only a great glory of civilization which was forgotten eleven thousand or more years ago, but also the very men, the monads — the egos, as they call them — who were concerned so many ages since in developing and bringing it to its final lustre. In fact, the Americans, hearing of new discoveries and inventions every day, and dreaming of great advances in all arts and sciences, are the same individuals who inhabited bodies among the powerful and brilliant, as well as wicked, Atlanteans. The flower, so to speak, of this revival or resurrection, is and is to be on the American Continent. For there, ages ago, was a vast civilization. Perhaps we were in it then, perhaps anterior to the ancient Egyptians. It disappeared, when we do not know, and left the land arid for many thousands of years until it was discovered once more by the Europeans.
In America, just the place for the new race, is an arable land which has had time over and over again to destroy the poisons that were planted there ages and ages ago. It gives them a new land, with vibrations in the air that stir up every particle in a man who breathes it, and thus we find the people coming from the old world seeming to receive through their feet the impressions of an American country. All this bears upon our civilization and race.
The Americans are a new race in a new cycle, and persons who know say that a cycle is going to end in a few years and a new one begin, and that that ending and beginning will be accompanied by convulsions of society and of nature. We can all almost see it coming. The events are very complete in the sky. You remember Daniel says, “A time, half a time, and a time,” and so on, and people in the Christian system have been trying to find out the time when the time began, and that is just the difficulty. We do not know when the time began. And the only person who in all these many years has made a direct statement is Madame Blavatsky, and she said, “A cycle is ending in a few years, you must prepare.” So that it was like the old prophets who came to the people and said, “Prepare for a new era of things, get ready for what you have to do.” That is just what this civilization is doing. It is the highest, although the crudest, civilization now on the earth. It is the beginning of the great civilization that is to come.
The new civilization will begin to put out a hand once more to grasp that of the ancient East, who has sat there silently doing nothing all these years, holding in her ancient crypts and libraries and records the philosophy which the world wants, a philosophy you can understand and practice.
The Americans are as yet only preparers, much as we may exalt their plainly crude development. Herein lies the very gist of the cycle’s meaning. It is a preparatory cycle with much of necessary destruction in it; for, before construction, we must have some disintegration. We are preparing here in America a new race which will exhibit the perfection of the glories that I said were being slowly brought to the surface from the long forgotten past. This is why the Americas are seen to be in a perpetual ferment. It is the seething and bubbling of the older races in the refining-pot, and the slow coming up of the material for the new race. Here, and nowhere else, are to be found men and women of every race living together, being governed together, attacking nature and the problems of life together. This process will go on until in the course of many generations there will be produced on the American continents an entirely new race; new bodies; new orders of intellect; new powers of the mind; curious and unheard-of psychic powers, as well as extraordinary physical ones; with new senses and extensions of present senses now unforeseen. When this new sort of body and mind are generated — then other monads, or our own again — will animate them and paint upon the screen of time the pictures of 100,000 years ago.
In thus giving this larger and completer meaning to the law of evolution, the Occult philosophy entirely eliminates the “missing links” of modern science, and, by giving to man a glimpse of his nature and destiny, not only points out the line of the higher evolution, but puts him in possession of the means of achieving it.
Looking back into the past the historian finds his sight speedily striking a mist and at last plunging into inky darkness. Bound down in fact by the influence of a ridiculous dogmatism which allows only some six thousand years for man’s life on earth, he is unwilling to accept the old chronologies of the Egyptians or Hindus, and, while permitting the assumption of vast periods for geological changes, he is staggered by a few millions of years more or less when they are added to the length of time during which humanity has peopled the globe. The student of the ancient wisdom sees no reason, however, why he should doubt the statement made by his teachers on this subject, who say that the periods of evolution are endless.
The human races sweep round and round this planet as the cycles sweep resistlessly forward. Cave-dwellers, lake-dwellers, and those of a neolithic or any other age, appear and disappear over and over again, and in each of those we who now read, write and think of them were ourselves the very Egos whose past we are trying to trace. It is easy to prove that civilization of the highest order has periodically rolled around this globe and left traces great and small behind. Man’s civilization has travelled around the globe many times, filling now one country and now another with populous places, creating an enormous metropolis here and another there.
If you inquire into Egyptian history, the most interesting because the most obscure, you will find, as the writers say, that the civilization seems to rise to the zenith at once. We do not see when it began. The civilization was so great it must have existed an enormous length of time to get to that height, so that we cannot trace it from its beginning, and it disappears suddenly from the sky; there is nothing of it left but the enormous remains which testify to these great things, for the ancient Egyptians not only made mummies in which they displayed the art of bandaging that we cannot better, but they had put everything to such a degree of specialization that we must conclude they had many centuries of civilization. There was a specialist for one eye and a specialist for the other, a specialist for the eyebrow, and so on. And what modern work is to be compared to the pyramid of Ghizeh?
North and South America were evidently the seats of ancient races and not the habitation of wild undeveloped men. The red man of the Northern one has all the appearance and beliefs of a once great race. He believes in one God, a Devachan or heaven of happy hunting after death. Some tribes have diagrams of how the world was formed and peopled, that strangely resemble the Hindu cosmogony, and their folklore bears deep marks of having come down from an older and better time. Following the course of exploration southwards, we find accumulating evidences all the way of a prior civilization now gone with the cyclic wave which brought it up. Central America is crowded with remains in stone and brick; and so on south still we discover similar proofs. In course of time these continents became what might be called arable land, lying waiting, recuperating, until the European streams of men began to pour upon it.
And what of the great temples and the awe-inspiring underground constructions in India and the rest of the East; of those buildings cut out of solid mountains with mathematical precision? The caves of Ellora and Elephanta contain immense images and carvings which would do credit to this day. The caves of Kailas are 401 feet deep and 185 feet wide. Inside is a conical pagoda 100 feet high, with a music gallery, five large chapels, a large court, and a colonnade. Three immense elephants are there cut from the stone. An image of Lakshmi reposes with two elephants standing on their hind legs as if pouring water over her. A passage then opens right and left. Thirty feet on there are two obelisks carved, being 41 feet high and 11 feet square. Thirty feet more and you find a great pagoda carved inside and out. There are sixteen pillars, twenty-two pilasters, and five entrances. The roof is carved to represent cross-beams, and each pillar is different from the other. At Ajunta are twenty-seven cut caves. Can these be the work of people whose beliefs tend to stagnate human effort? I think not.
As Orientalists and archaeologists have abundantly shown, it is known that our fables come from India, that the Greeks drew much from that source, and that we are indebted to her for more than we have yet been able to acknowledge. Many Western minds have been delving into the Upanishads and Vedas, and every day there is growing more and more a widespread interest in ideas purely Hindu in their origin. Prof. Max Müller in his Cambridge Lectures upon India said:
If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered on the greatest problems of life, and has found the solution of some of them which well deserve the attention even of those who have studied Plato and Kant — I should point to India. And if I were to ask myself from what literature we here in Europe, we who have been nurtured almost exclusively on the thoughts of Greeks and Romans, and of one Semitic race, the Jewish, may draw that corrective which is most wanted in order to make our inner life more perfect, more comprehensive, more universal, in fact more truly human, a life not for this life only, but a transfigured and eternal life — again I should point to India. … I am thinking chiefly of India such as it was a thousand, two thousand, it may be three thousand, years ago. That India is full of problems the solutions of which concern all of us.
Just as Prof. Müller says, I am not thinking of the Indian people of today, but of the minds of her past who have left to us an enormous mass of records of their studies and solutions of the greatest problems that can engage the attention of the human mind.
Let us then make use of the material in the ancient storehouse of India, treasures that no man can be called a thief for taking, since the truths acquired by the mind respecting man’s life, conduct, constitution, and destiny are the common property of the human race, a treasure that is lost by monopoly and expanded by dissemination.
The Adepts insist that there are still in the earth bony remains of man which carry his first appearance in a dense body many millions of years farther back than have yet been admitted, and these remains will be discovered by us before much time shall have rolled away. One of the first results of these discoveries will be to completely upset the theory as to the succession of ages, as I may call it, which is given and accepted at the present time, and also the estimation of the various civilizations that have passed from the earth and left no trace except in the inner constitution of ourselves.
Of course, in order to be able to accept in any degree these theories, it is essential that one should believe in the twin doctrines of Karma and Reincarnation.
— THEOSOPHY, July, 1971
Reincarnation in the Bible
REINCARNATION is the most ancient of doctrines and is believed in now by more human minds than the number of those who do not hold it. The millions in the East almost all accept it; it was taught by the Greeks; a large number of the Chinese now believe it as their forefathers did before them. It was believed by the Jews, and not only believed by Jesus but he also taught it.
The perfectibility of man, for example, was taught by Jesus. Reincarnation is a necessity for the evolution of this perfection, and through it at last are produced those Saviours of the race of whom Jesus was one. He did not deny similar privileges to others, but said to his disciples that they could do even greater works than he did. So we find these great Sages and Saviours in all religions. There are Moses and Abraham and Solomon, all Sages. And we are bound to accept the Jewish idea that Moses and the rest were the reincarnations of former persons. Moses was in their opinion Abel the son of Adam; and their Messiah was to be a reincarnation of Adam himself who had already come the second time in the person of David. We take the Messiah and trace him up to David, but refuse, improperly, to accept the remainder of their theory.
Christians should remember that Jesus was a Jew who thought his mission was to Jews, for he says in St. Matthew, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He must have well known the doctrines held by them. They all believed in reincarnation. The theory was very old at the time, and the old testament books show this to be so.
Elias and many other famous men were to actually return, and all the people were from time to time expecting them. The land is an oriental one, and the orientals always held the doctrine of the rebirth of mortals. It was not always referred to in respect to the common man who died and was reborn, but came up prominently when the names of great prophets, seers, and legislators were mentioned.
Hence this in the Old Testament: “And they will serve Jhvh their God and David their king whom I shall reawaken for them.” That is, David reincarnates again for the people. Similarly it was held that Bileam, Laban, and Nabal were reincarnations of the one soul or individuality. And of Job it was said that he was the same person once known as Thara, the father of Abraham; by which they explained the verse of Job (9:21), “Though I were perfect, yet would I not know my own soul,” to mean that he would not recognize himself as Thara.
All this is to be had in mind in reading Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee; and before thou camest out of the womb I sanctified thee.” In Proverbs viii, 22, we have Solomon saying that when the earth was made he was present, and that, long before he could have been born as Solomon, his delights were in the habitable parts of earth with the sons of men.
The Zohar is a work of great weight and authority among the Jews. In II, 199 b, it says that “all souls are subject to revolutions.” This is metempsychosis or a’leen b’qilgoola; but it declares that “men do not know the way they have been judged in all time.” That is, in their “revolutions” they lose a complete memory of the acts that have led to judgment. This is precisely the doctrine. The Kether Malkuth says, “If she, the soul, be pure, then she shall obtain favor … but if she hath been defiled, then she shall wander for a time in pain and despair … until the days of her purification.” If the soul be pure and if she comes at once from God at birth, how could she be defiled? And where is she to wander if not on this or some other world until the days of her purification? The Rabbis always explained it as meaning she wandered down from Paradise through many revolutions or births until purity was regained.
Under the name of “Din Gilgot Neshomes” the doctrine of reincarnation is constantly spoken of in the Talmud. The term means “the judgment of the revolutions of the souls.” And Rabbi Manassa, son of Israel, one of the most revered, says in his book Nishmath Hayem: “The belief or the doctrine of the transmigration of souls is a firm and infallible dogma accepted by the whole assemblage of our church with one accord, so that there is none to be found who would dare to deny it. … Indeed, there is a great number of sages in Israel who hold firm to this doctrine so that they made it a dogma, a fundamental point of our religion. We are therefore in duty bound to obey and to accept this dogma with acclamation … as the truth of it has been incontestably demonstrated by the Zohar, and all books of the Kabalists.”
So in looking into these things we must also look at what were the beliefs of the day. The Jews then most undoubtedly believed in reincarnation. It was a commonly accepted doctrine as it is now in Hindustan, and Jesus must have been acquainted with it. The sayings of Jesus, of Paul, and others have to be viewed with the well-known and never-disputed doctrines of the day borne well in mind so as to make passages clear and show what was tacitly accepted. Jesus himself said that he intended to uphold and buttress the law, and that law was not only the matter found in the book the Christian theologians saw fit to accept, but also in the other authorities of which all except the grossly unlearned were cognizant. So when we find Herod listening to assertions that John and Jesus was this, that, or the other prophet or great man of olden time, we know that he was with the people speculating on the doctrine of reincarnation or “coming back,” and as to who a present famous person may have been in a former life. Given as it is in the Gospels as a mere incident, it is very plain that the matter was court gossip in which long philosophical arguments were not indulged in, but the doctrine was accepted and then personal facts gone into for amusement as well as for warning to the king. To an Eastern potentate such a warning would be of moment, as he, unlike a Western man, would think that a returning great personage would of necessity have not only knowledge but also power, and that if the people had their minds attracted to a new aspirant for the leadership they would be inflamed beyond control with the idea that an old prophet or former king had come back to dwell in another body with them. The Christians have no right, then, to excise the doctrine of reincarnation from their system if it was known to Jesus, if it was brought to his attention and was not condemned at all but tacitly accepted, and further, finally, if in any single case it was declared by Jesus as true in respect to any person. And that all this was the case can, I think, be clearly shown.
Let us now come to the New Testament. When there was brought into the presence of Jesus a man who was born blind, the disciples naturally wondered why he had thus been punished by the Almighty, and asked Jesus whether the man was thus born blind for some sin he had committed, or one done by his parents. The question was put by them with the doctrine of reincarnation fully accepted, for it is obvious the man must have lived before, in their estimation, in order to have done sin for which he was then punished. Now if the doctrine was wrong and pernicious, as the church has declared it to be by anathematizing it, Jesus must have known it to be wrong, and then was the time for him to deny the whole theory and explode it, as well as definitely putting his seal of condemnation upon it for all time. Yet he did not do so; he waived it then and said the blindness was for other reasons in that case. It was not a denial of it.
St. Paul also gives the theory of reincarnation in Romans ix where he refers to the cases of Jacob and Esau, saying that the Lord loved the one and hated the other before they were born. It is obvious that the Lord cannot love or hate a non-existing thing, and that this means that Jacob and Esau had been in their former lives respectively good and bad and therefore the Lord — or Karma — loved the one and hated the other before their birth as the men known as Jacob and Esau. And Paul was here speaking of the same event that the older prophet Malachi spoke of in strict adherence to the prevalent idea. Following Paul and the disciples came the early fathers of the church, and many of them taught the same. Origen was the greatest of them. He gave the doctrine specifically and it was because of the influence of his ideas that the Council of Constantinople 500 years after Jesus saw fit to condemn the whole thing as pernicious.
St. Matthew relates in the eleventh chapter the talk of Jesus on the subject of John, who is declared by him to be the greatest of all, ending in the 14th verse, thus: “And if ye will receive it, this is Elias which was for to come.” Here he took the doctrine for granted, and the “if” referred not to any possible doubts on that, but simply as to whether they would accept his designation of John the Baptist as Elias. In the 17th chapter (10-13) he once more takes up the subject:
And his disciples asked him saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come?
And Jesus answered and said unto them; Elias truly shall first come and restore all things.
But I say unto you that Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done to him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of Man suffer of them.
Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.
The statement is repeated in Mark, chapter ix, v. 13, omitting the name of John. It was nowhere denied. It is not among any of the cases in which the different Gospels contradict each other; it is in no way doubtful. It is not only a reference to the doctrine of reincarnation, but is also a clear enunciation of it.
Again, if Jesus thought the doctrine pernicious, as it must be if untrue, he would have condemned it at the first coming up, but not only did he fail to do so, he distinctly himself brought it up in the case of John, and again when asking what were the popular notions as to himself under the prevailing doctrines as above shown. Matthew 16:13-14 will do as an example, thus:
When Jesus came into the coasts of Cesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?
And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist; some Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.
This was a deliberate bringing-up of the old doctrine, to which the disciples replied, as all Jews would, without any dispute of the matter of reincarnation; and the reply of Jesus was not a confutation of the notion, but a distinguishing of himself from the common lot of sages and prophets by showing himself to be an incarnation of God and not a reincarnation of any saint or sage. He did not bring it up to dispute and condemn as he would and did do in other matters; but to the very contrary he evidently referred to it so as to use it for showing himself as an incarnate God. St. John could have meant nothing but reincarnation in Revelation 3:12:
Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out.
Evidently he had gone out before or the words “no more” could have no place or meaning. It was the old idea of the exile of the soul and the need for it to be purified by long wandering before it could be admitted as a “pillar in the temple of God.” And until the ignorant ambitious monks after the death of Origen had gotten hold of Christianity, the doctrine must have ennobled the new movement. Later the council of Constantinople condemned all such notions directly in the face of the very words of Jesus, so that at last it ceased to vibrate as one of the chords.
This condemnation worked because the fathers were ignorant men, most of them Gentiles who did not care for old doctrines and, indeed, hated them. So it fell out of the public teaching and was at last lost to the Western world.
But if that condemnation goes against the words of Jesus it is of no effect. It does go against him, and thus the church is in the position of saying in effect that Jesus did not know enough to curse, as it did, a doctrine known and taught in his day and which was brought to his notice prominently and never condemned but in fact approved by him. Christianity is a Jewish religion, and this doctrine of reincarnation belongs to it historically by succession from the Jews, and also by reason of its having been taught by Jesus and the early fathers of the church. It is the anathema hurled by the church council about 500 A.D., and the absence of the doctrine from the teaching now that have damaged Christianity and made of all the Christian nations people who pretend to be followers of Jesus and the law of love, but who really as nations are followers of the Mosaic law of retaliation.
But it must revive, for it is one of the founder’s own beliefs, and is really the most important of all the doctrines. Alone in reincarnation is the answer to all the problems of life, and in it and Karma is the force that will make men pursue in fact the ethics they have in theory. It is the aim of the old philosophy to restore this doctrine to whatsoever religion has lost it; and hence we call it the “lost chord of Christianity.”
— THEOSOPHY, March, 1971
Reincarnation and Animals
VERY little has been said on the question whether or not the theory of reincarnation applies to animals in the same way as to man. Doubtless if Brahmans well acquainted with Sanscrit works on the general subject were to publish their views, we should at least have a large mass of material for thought and find many clues to the matter in the Hindu theories and allegories. Even Hindu folk-lore would suggest much. Under all popular “superstitions” a large element of truth can be found hidden away when the vulgar notion is examined in the light of the Wisdom Religion. The folk-lore of such an ancient people as the Hindu deserves scrutiny with the object of discovering the buried truth. If they are possessed of certain notions regarding the fate of animals, careful analysis might give valuable suggestion.
A wide distinction exists between man and animals. Man reincarnates as man because he has got to the top of the present scale of evolution. He cannot go back, for Manas, or Mind, is too much developed. He has a Devachan or heaven because he is a conscious thinker. Animals cannot have Manas so much developed, and so cannot be self-conscious in the sense that man is. Besides all this, the animal kingdom, being lower, has the impulse still to rise to higher forms. But here we have the distinct statement by the Adepts that while possibly animals may rise higher in their own kingdom they cannot in this evolution rise to the human stage. On this point, in the second volume of The Secret Doctrine at page 196, there is a footnote as follows:
In calling the animal “Soulless” it is not depriving the beast, from the humblest to the highest species, of a “soul,” but only of a conscious surviving Ego-soul, i.e., that principle which survives after a man, and reincarnates in a like man. The animal has an astral body, that survives the physical form for a short period; but its (animal) Monad does not re-incarnate in the same, but in a higher species, and has no “Devachan” of course. It has the seeds of all the human principles in itself; but they are latent.
Here the distinction above adverted to is made. It is due to the Ego-Soul, that is, to Manas with Buddhi and Atma. Those principles being latent in the animal, and the door to the human kingdom being closed for this evolutionary period, they may rise to a higher species but not to the man stage. Of course also it is not meant that no dog or other animal ever reincarnates as dog, but that the monad has the tendency to rise to a higher species, whatever that be, whenever it has passed beyond the necessity for further experience as “dog.”
Is there any foundation for the doctrine of transmigration of souls which was once believed in and is now held by some classes of Hindus? Do we go into animals when we die?
From a careful examination of the Vedas and Upanishads it will be found that the ancient Hindus did not believe in this doctrine. But it also seems very clear that the later Brahmans, for the purpose of having a priestly hold on the people or for other purposes, taught them the doctrine that they and their parents might go after death into the bodies of animals, but I doubt if the theory is held to such an extent as to make it a national doctrine. Some missionaries and travellers have hastily concluded that it is the belief because they saw the Hindu and the Jain alike acting very carefully as to animals and insects, avoiding them in the path, carefully brushing insects out of the way at a great loss of time, so as to not step on them. This, said the missionary, is because they think that in these forms their dead friends or relatives may be living. The real reason for such care, however, is that they think they have no right to destroy life which it is not in their power to restore.
But how might such an idea of human beings reincarnating into animals arise out of the true doctrine? First, what is the fate of the astral body, and in what way and how much does that affect the next incarnation of the man? Second, what influence has man on the atoms, millions in number, which from year to year enter into the composition of his body, and how far is he — the soul — responsible for those effects and answerable for them in a subsequent life of joy or sorrow or opportunity or obscurity? These are important questions.
After death the astral soul either dies and dissipates at once, or remains wandering for a space in the sphere called Kama Loka, or purgatory. If the man was spiritual, or what is sometimes called “very good,” then his astral soul dissipates soon; if he was wicked and material, then the astral part of him, being too gross to easily disintegrate, is condemned, as it were, to flit about in Kama Loka. Seers of modern times have declared that such eidolons or spooks assume the appearance of beasts or reptiles according to their dominant characteristic. The ancients sometimes taught that these gross astral forms, having a natural affinity for the lower types, such as the animal kingdom, gravitated gradually in that direction and were at last absorbed on the astral plane of animals, for which they furnished the sidereal particles needed by them as well as by man. But this in no sense meant that the man himself went into an animal, for before this result had eventuated the ego might have already re-entered life with a new physical and astral body.
The common people, however, could not make these distinctions, and so very easily held the doctrine as meaning that the man became an animal. After a time the priests and seers took up this form of the tenet and taught it outright. It can be found in the Desatir, where it is said that tigers and other ferocious animals are incarnations of wicked men, and so on. But it must be true that each man is responsible and accountable for the fate of his astral body left behind at death, since that fate results directly from the man’s own acts and life.
Considering the question of the atoms in their march along the path of evolution, another cause for a belief wrongly held in transmigration into lower forms can be found. The initiates could teach and thoroughly understand how it is that each ego is responsible for the use he makes of the atoms in space, and how each may and does imprint a definite character and direction upon all the atoms used throughout life, but the uninitiated just as easily would misinterpret this also and think it referred to transmigration. Each man has a duty not only to himself but also to the atoms in use. He is the great, the highest educator of them. Being each instant in possession of some, and likewise ever throwing them off, he should so live that they gain a fresh impulse to the higher life of man as compared with the brute. This impress and impulse given by us either confer an affinity for human bodies and brains, or for that which, corresponding to brutal lives and base passions, belongs to the lower kingdoms. So the teachers inculcated this, and said that if the disciple lived a wicked life his atoms would be precipitated down instead of up in this relative scale. If he was dull and inattentive, the atoms similarly impressed travelled into sticks and stones. In each case they to some extent represented the man, just as our surroundings, furniture, and clothing generally represent us who collect and use them. So from both these true tenets the people might at last come to believe in transmigration as being a convenient and easy way of formulating the problem and of indicating a rule of conduct.
THE PERSIAN STUDENTS‘ DOCTRINE
(An Allegory by Wm. Q. Judge)
Before the flashing diamond in the mysterious mountain behind the Temple began to lose its brilliance, many foreigners had visited the ancient Island of Innisfallen (Ireland). Among them were students who came from Persia. Coming that great distance they sought more knowledge, as in their own land the truth was already beginning to be forgotten. It was hidden under a thick crust of fanciful interpretations of the sayings of their sages which were fast turning into superstitious notions. And these young men thought that in the Island, the fame of which had spread over land and sea, they would find learning and wisdom and the way to power. But yet while in such a frame of mind, they regarded some things as settled even for sages. What they said did not have much influence on me until they began to quote some of the old writings from the prophets of their country, attempting to prove that men, though god-like and immortal, transmigrated sometimes backwards into beasts and birds and insects. As some old Buddhist monks had years before given out the same idea with hints of mystery underneath, the sayings of these visitors began to trouble me. They quoted these verses from the prophet the Great Abad:
Those who, in the season of prosperity, experience pain and grief, suffer them on account of their words or deeds in a former body, for which the Most Just now punisheth them.
Whosoever is an evil doer, on him He first inflicteth pain under the human form. … The lion, the tiger, the leopard, the panther … with all ravenous animals have once possessed authority; and everyone whom they kill hath been their aider or abetter.
The horse submits to be ridden on, and the ox, the camel, the mule, and the ass bear burdens. And these in a former life were men who imposed burdens on others unjustly.
Such persons as are foolish and evil doers, being enclosed in the body of vegetables, meet with the reward of their stupidity and misdeeds. And such as possess illaudable knowledge and do evil are enclosed in the body of minerals until their sins be purified; after which they are delivered from this suffering, and are once more united to a human body; and according as they act in it they again meet with retribution.
These young men made such good arguments on these texts, and dwelt so strongly upon the great attainments of Abad, who was beyond doubt a prophet of insight, that doubts arose in my mind. While the verses did not deny the old doctrine of man’s reincarnation, they added a new view to the matter that had never suggested itself to me before. The students pointed out that there was a very wise and consistent doctrine in those verses wherein it was declared that murderers, tyrants, and such men would be condemned to inhabit the bodies of such murderous beasts as lions and tigers.
Not wishing to admit or accept these doctrines from strangers, I engaged in many arguments with them on the matter, until at last they left the Island to continue their pilgrimage.
So one day, being troubled in mind about these sayings of Abad, which, indeed, I heard from the students were accepted in many countries and given by several other prophets, I sought out the old man who so often before had solved problems for me. He was always kind, and ever ready to give me the help I needed provided I had tried myself in every way and failed to obtain it.
“Brother,” I said, “do we go into animals when we die?”
“Who said that we do?” was his answer.
“It is declared by the old prophet Abad of the Worshippers of Fire that we thus fall down from our high estate gained with pain and difficulty.”
“Do you believe it; have you reasoned it out or accepted the doctrine?”
“No,” I said, “I have not accepted it. Much as I may reason on it, there are defects in my replies, for there seems to be consistency in the doctrine that the ferocious may go into the ferocious and vicious into the wild animals. Can you solve it?”
Turning on me the deep and searching gaze he used for those who asked when he would determine if curiosity alone moved them, he said, “I will show you the facts and the corrupted doctrine together, on the night of the next full moon.”
At last the day came and I went to the old man. He was ready. Turning from the room he took me to a small cave near the foot of the Diamond Mountain. We went in by the short passage in front, and waited in silence for some time.
“Look quietly toward the opposite wall,” said the old man, “and waver not in thought.”
Fixing an unstrained gaze in the direction of the other side, it soon seemed to quiver, then an even vibration began across it until it looked like a tumbling mass of clouds. This soon settled into a grey flat surface like a painter’s canvas, that was still as the clear sky and seemingly transparent. It gave us light and made no reflection.
“Think of your question, of your doubts, and of the young students who have raised them; think not of Abad, for he is but a name,” whispered my guide.
Then, as I revolved the question, a cloud arose on the surface before me; it moved, it grew into shapes that were dim at first. They soon became those of human beings. They were the living pictures of my student friends. They were conversing, and I too was there but less plain than they. But instead of atmosphere being around them they were surrounded with ether, and streams of ether full of what I took to be corporeal atoms in a state of change continually rushed from one to the other. After I had accustomed my sight to this, the old man directed me to look at one of the students in particular. From him the stream of ether loaded with atoms, very dark in places and red in others, did not always run to his fellows, but seemed to be absorbed elsewhere. Then when I had fixed this in my mind all the other students faded from the space, their place taken by some ferocious beasts that prowled around the remaining student, though still appearing to be a long distance from him. And then I saw that the stream of atoms from him was absorbed by those dreadful beasts, at the same time that a mask fell off, as it were, from his face, showing me his real ferocious, murderous mind.
“He killed a man on the way, in secret. He is a murderer at heart,” said my guide. “This is the truth that Abad meant to tell. Those atoms fly from all of us at every instant. They seek their appropriate centre; that which is similar to the character of him who evolves them. We absorb from our fellows whatever is like unto us. It is thus that man reincarnates in the lower kingdoms. He is the lord of nature, the key, the focus, the highest concentrator of nature’s laboratory. And the atoms he condemns to fall thus to beasts will return to him in some future life for his detriment or his sorrow. But he, as immortal man, cannot fall. That which falls is the lower, the personal, the atomic. He is the brother and teacher of all below him. See that you do not hinder and delay all nature by your failure in virtue.”
Then the ugly picture faded out and a holy man, named in the air in gold “Abad,” took his place. From him the stream of atoms, full of his virtue, his hopes, aspirations, and the impression of his knowledge and power, flowed out to other Sages, to disciples, to the good in every land. They even fell upon the unjust and the ferocious, and then thoughts of virtue, of peace, of harmony grew up where those streams flowed. The picture faded, the cloudy screen vibrated and rolled away. We were again in the lonely cave. Faint footfalls echoed round the walls, and soft whispers as of peace and hope trembled through the air.
Reincarnation, then, does not mean that we go into animal forms after death. “Once a man always a man” is the saying in the Great Lodge. But it would not be too much punishment for some men were it possible to condemn them to rebirth in brute bodies; however, nature does not go by sentiment but by law, and we, not being able to see all, cannot say that the brutal man is brute all through his nature. And evolution having brought Manas the Thinker and Immortal Person on to this plane, cannot send him back to the brute which has not Manas. Once Manas the Thinker has arrived on the scene he does not return to baser forms; first, because he does not wish to, and second, because he cannot. For just as the blood in the body is prevented by valves from rushing back and engorging the heart, so in this greater system of universal circulation the door is shut behind the Thinker and prevents his retrocession.
But how much have we thought upon the effect of Karma upon the animals, the plants, the minerals, the elemental beings? Have we been so selfish as to suppose that they are not affected by us? It cannot be true. Man himself has the responsibility for the vast numbers of ferocious and noxious animals, for the deadly serpents and scorpions, the devastating lions and tigers, that make a howling wilderness of some corners of the earth and terrorize the people of India and elsewhere. As the Apostle of the Christians said, the whole of creation waits upon man and groans that he keeps back the enlightenment of all.
— THEOSOPHY, January, 1971
Reincarnation and Heredity
SOME urge that heredity invalidates reincarnation. We urge it as a proof. A well known writer has said: “Heredity is a puzzle. The race is linked together in a curious tangle, so that it is almost impossible to fix the responsibility. … We try to study this problem in our asylums and prisons, and we get a great many interesting facts, but they are too conflicting to guide legislation. The difficulty is to relieve a person of responsibility for the sins of his ancestors, without relieving him of responsibility for his own sins.” This is the general view. It becomes a puzzle, especially to those who are trying to decide on whom responsibility ought to rest.
None of the observed and admitted facts in respect to heredity should be ignored, nor left out of sight. We are bound to admit that leanings and peculiarities are transmitted from father to son, and to all along down the line of descent. In one case we may find a mental trait, in another a physical peculiarity; and in a great-grandson we shall see often the bodily habits of his remote ancestor reproduced.
The question is then asked, “How am I to be held responsible for such strange inclinations when I never knew this man from whom I inherit them?” As theories go at this day, it would be impossible to answer this question. For if I have come from the bosom of God as a new soul; or if what is called soul or intelligence is the product of this body I inhabit and which I had no hand in producing; or if I have come from far distant spheres to take up this body with whose generation I was not concerned; it would be the grossest injustice for me to be held responsible for what it may do. From the premises laid down there can be no escape from this conclusion. Hence, “heredity” is a very serious matter.
It is even hinted at that there is necessity for legislation on the subject. That is to say, if we have a case of a murderer to consider, and we find that he has come of a race or family of murderers, the result of which is to make him a being who cannot prevent himself from committing murder, we have to conclude that, if this is due to “heredity,” he cannot in any sense be responsible.
Take the case of the tribes, or family, or sect of Thugs in India, whose aim in life was to put people out of the world. Their children would of necessity inherit this tendency. It is something like a cat and a bird. It is the nature of the cat to eat the bird, and you cannot blame it. Thus we should be driven to pass a law making an exception in the case of such unfortunate persons. Then we should be met by the possibility of false testimony being adduced upon the trial of the criminal, going to show that he came under the law. This possibility is so great that it is not likely such a law will ever be passed. So that, even if the legal and scientific world were able to come to any conclusion establishing the great force of heredity, it would be barren of results, unless the truth of Karma and Reincarnation were admitted. For in the absence of these, no law, and hence no remedy for the supposed injustice to be done to irresponsible criminals, could be applied. I am stating, not what I think ought to be done, but what will be the inevitable end of investigation into heredity without the aid of the other two great laws.
Heredity is a puzzle, and will remain one so long as the laws of Karma and Reincarnation are not admitted and taken into account in all these investigations. But if these two doctrines should be accepted by the supposed legislators, it would follow that no such law as I have adverted to would ever be put on the books; for the reason that, once Karma and Reincarnation are admitted, the responsibility of each individual is made greater than before.
Why should we be born in a particular nation and in a particular family? Because of the effect of a particular set of our Karmic attractions, which assert themselves in that manner. One set of our past Karmas exhaust themselves in throwing us in our present incarnation amidst a particular nation, another set introducing us into a particular family; and a third set serving to differentiate or individualize us from all the other members of the nation or of the family. One of our Eastern proverbs says: “The five children of a family differ like the five fingers of a hand.” Unless we look at this difference from this standpoint, it must always appear to us a riddle, a problem too difficult to solve, a mystery, in short, why children born of one family, while they have some traits common to all, should still appear to differ vastly from one another. What applies to the family applies also to the nation, of which families are but units; and also to mankind as a whole, of whom nations are but families or units.
Each Ego is attracted to the body in which he will meet his just deserts, but also for another reason. That is, that not only is the body to give opportunity for his just reward or punishment but also for that he in the past was connected with the family in which the body was born, and the stream of heredity to which it belongs is his too. It is therefore a question not alone of desert and similarity, but one of responsibility. Justice orders that the Ego shall suffer or enjoy irrespective of what family he comes to; similarity decrees that he shall come to the family in which there is some characteristic similar to one or many of his and thus having a drawing power; but responsibility, which is compounded of justice, directs that the Ego shall come to the race or the nation or the family to which its responsibility lies for the part taken by it in other lives in forming of the general character, or affecting that physical stream of heredity that has so much influence on those who are involved in it. Therefore it is just that even the grandchildren shall suffer if they in the past have had a hand in moulding the family or even in bringing about a social order that is detrimental to those who fall into it through incarnation.
An Ego may have no direct responsibility for a family, national or race condition, and yet be drawn into incarnation there. In such an event it is similarity of character which causes the place of rebirth, for the being coming to the abode of mortals is drawn like electricity along the path of least resistance and of greatest conductibility. But where the reincarnating Ego is directly responsible for family or race conditions, it will decide itself, upon exact principles of justice and in order to meet its obligations, to be reborn where it shall receive physically or otherwise the results of its former acts. This decision is made at the emergence from Devachan. It is thus entirely just, no matter whether the new physical brain is able or not to pick up the lost threads of memory.
So today, in our civilization, we are all under the penalty of our forefather’s sins, living in bodies which medical science has shown are sown with diseases of brain and flesh and blood coming in the turbid stream of heredity through the centuries. These disturbances were brought about by ourselves in other centuries, in ignorance, perhaps, of consequences so far-reaching, but that ignorance lessens only the higher moral responsibility which tends to confine the results to physical suffering. This can very well lead, as it often does, to efforts on the part of many reincarnating Egos in the direction of general reform.
It was through a belief in this that the ancients attempted to form and keep up in India a pure family stream such as the highest caste of Brahmin. For they knew that if such a clean family line could be kept existing for many centuries, it would develop the power of repelling Egos on the way to rebirth if they were not in character up to the standard of that stream of life. Thus only teachers by nature, of high moral and spiritual elevation, would come on upon the scene to act as regenerators and saviours for all other classes. But under the iron rule of cyclic law this degenerated in time, leaving now only an imitation of the real thing.
The whole difficulty, in connection with this question of heredity, arises from the inherited transmitted habit in the Western mind of looking at effects and mistaking them for causes, and of considering the instruments by means of which the laws of nature work, as causes. Heredity has been looked at as the cause of crime and of virtue. It is not a cause, but only the means or instrument, the cause being hidden deeper.
There is no very great puzzle in “Heredity” as a law, from the standpoint of Karma and Reincarnation. Heredity in giving us a body in any family provides the appropriate environment for the Ego. The Ego goes only into the family which either completely answers to its whole nature, or which gives an opportunity for the working out of its evolution, and which is also connected with it by reason of past incarnations or causes mutually set up. Thus the evil child may come to the presently good family because parents and child are indissolubly connected by past actions. It is a chance for redemption to the child and the occasion of punishment to the parents.
This points to bodily heredity as a natural rule governing the bodies we must inhabit, just as the houses in a city will show the mind of the builders. And as we as well as our parents were the makers and influencers of bodies, took part in and are responsible for states of society in which the development of physical body and brain was either retarded or helped on, debased or the contrary, so we are in this life responsible for the civilization in which we now appear. But when we look at the characters in human bodies, great inherent differences are seen. This is due to the soul inside, who is suffering or enjoying in the family, nation, and race his own thoughts and acts which past lives have made it inevitable he should incarnate with.
Heredity provides the tenement and also imposes those limitations of capacity of brain or body which are often a punishment and sometimes a help, but it does not affect the real Ego. The transmission of traits is a physical matter, and nothing more than the coming out into a nation of the consequences of the prior lives of all Egos who are to be in that race. The limitations imposed on the Ego by any family heredity are exact consequences of that Ego’s prior lives. The fact that such physical traits and mental peculiarities are transmitted does not confute reincarnation, since we know that the guiding mind and real character of each are not the result of a body and brain but are peculiar to the Ego in its essential life. Transmission of trait and tendency by means of parent and body is exactly the mode selected by nature for providing the incarnating Ego with the proper tenement in which to carry on its work. Another mode would be impossible and subversive of order.
Again, those who dwell on the objection from heredity forget that they are accentuating similarities and overlooking divergencies. For while investigations on the line of heredity have recorded many transmitted traits, they have not done so in respect to divergencies from heredity vastly greater in number. Every mother knows that the children of a family are as different in character as the fingers on one hand — they are all from the same parents, but all vary in character and capacity.
But heredity as the great rule and as a complete explanation is absolutely overthrown by history, which shows no constant transmission of learning, power, and capacity. For instance, in the case of the ancient Egyptians long gone and their line of transmission shattered, we have no transmission to their descendants. If physical heredity settles the question of character, how has the great Egyptian character been lost? The same question holds in respect to other ancient and extinct nations. And taking an individual illustration we have the great musician Bach, whose direct descendants showed a decrease in musical ability leading to its final disappearance from the family stock. In both of these instances — as in all like them — the real capacity and ability have only disappeared from a family and national body, but are retained in the Egos who once exhibited them, being now incarnated in some other nation and family of the present time.
Karma and Reincarnation include the premise that the man is a spiritual entity who is using the body, which he has acquired by Karma. Hence the responsibility cannot be placed upon the body, nor primarily upon those who brought forth the body, but upon the man himself. This works perfect justice, for, while the man in any one body is suffering his just deserts, the other men (or souls) who produced such bodies are also compelled to make compensation in other bodies. As the compensation is not made at any human and imperfect tribunal, but to nature itself, which includes every part of it, it consists in the restoration of the harmony or equilibrium which has been disturbed.
The only effectual way to get out of family defects is to discharge all our duty to our family before we die. I must add, that by “family duties” I do not at all mean sacrificing your duty or conviction and Truth, to gratify the whims or selfish nature or sectarian views of any of your “relatives.” But I use the expression “family duties” in a peculiar sense, namely “that course and only that course of action, speech and thoughts by which you can not only get rid of your family defects in this very incarnation, but also strengthen in yourself all the noble qualities of your family, and which will at the same time enable your relatives (parents, brothers, sisters, wife, children, etc.) also to get rid of the same defects, and strengthen in themselves the same good qualities — so that they might be born again and again in the same family.”
Blessed is he who, in each of his incarnations, then and there, gets rid of the defects of the family into which he is ushered, and then strives to be born in the same family again and again, until he himself becomes a Buddha and assists his family to become a family fit for a Buddha to be born into, while he becomes the cream of all the noble qualities of the family without being tainted with its idiosyncrasies. If family duties are taken due care of, our duties to the nation and to humanity would, to a great extent, take care of themselves and unimpeded. Here is the operation of the sublime and divinely intelligent law of universal and natural economy asserting itself.
— THEOSOPHY, January, 1971
Reincarnation and Justice
IT is objected that reincarnation is unjust because we suffer for the wrong done by some other person in another life. This objection is based on the false notion that the person in the other life was someone else. But in every life it is the same person. Suffering comes to nearly all men, and a great many live lives of sorrow from the cradle to the grave. When one sees, as is so common, a good man suffering much in his life, the question naturally arises, “Has Karma anything to do with it, and is it just that such a person should be so afflicted?”
For those who believe in Karma it is quite just, because this man in a previous life must have done such acts as deserve punishment now. And, similarly, the wicked man who is free from suffering, happy and prosperous, is so because in a previous existence he had been badly treated by his fellows or had experienced much suffering. And the perfect justice of Karma is well illustrated in his case because, although now favored by fortune, he, being wicked, is generating causes which, when he shall be reborn, will operate then to punish him for his evil-doing now.
“With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured unto you again,” said Jesus; and Matthew declares that for every word, act, and thought we shall have to answer. So instead of its being unjust, it is perfect justice, and in no other manner could justice be preserved.
The existence of evil, of suffering, and of sorrow; the inequalities in social condition and privilege; the sharp contrasts between wealth and poverty, intelligence and stupidity, culture and ignorance, virtue and vileness; the appearance of men of genius in families destitute of it, as well as other facts in conflict with the law of heredity; the frequent cases of unfitness of environment around individuals, so sore as to embitter disposition, hamper aspiration, and paralyze endeavor; the violent antithesis between character and condition; the occurrence of accident, misfortune and untimely death — all these are a hopeless puzzle to the mere philanthropist or the theologian, problems solvable only by either the conventional theory of Divine caprice or the doctrines of Karma and Reincarnation.
But, it is said, if we reincarnate and cannot remember the deeds for which we suffer is it not unjust for that reason? Those who ask this always ignore the fact that they also have enjoyment and reward in life and are content to accept them without question. For if it is unjust to be punished for deeds we do not remember, then it is also inequitable to be rewarded for other acts which have been forgotten. Mere entry into life is no fit foundation for any reward or punishment. Reward and punishment must be the just desert for prior conduct. Nature’s law of justice is not imperfect, and it is only the imperfection of human justice that requires the offender to know and remember in this life a deed to which a penalty is annexed. In the prior life the doer was then quite aware of what he did, and nature affixes consequences to his acts, being thus just. We well know that she will make the effect follow the cause whatever we wish and whether we remember or forget what we did. If a baby is hurt in its first years by the nurse so as to lay the ground for a crippling disease in after life, as is often the case, the crippling disease will come although the child neither brought on the present cause nor remembered aught about it.
That view of one’s Karma which leads to a bewailing of the unkind fate which has kept advantages in life away from us, is a mistaken estimate of what is good and what is not good for the soul. It is quite true that we may often find persons surrounded with great advantages but who make no corresponding use of them or pay but little regard to them. But this very fact in itself goes to show that the so-called advantageous position in life is really not good nor fortunate in the true and inner meaning of those words. The fortunate one has money and teachers, ability, and means to travel and fill the surroundings with works of art, with music and with ease. But these are like the tropical airs that enervate the body; these enervate the character instead of building it up. They do not in themselves tend to the acquirement of any virtue whatever but rather to the opposite by reason of the constant steeping of the senses in the subtile essences of the sensuous world. They are like sweet things which, being swallowed in quantities, turn to acids in the inside of the body. Thus they can be seen to be the opposite of good Karma.
What then is good Karma and what bad? The all embracing and sufficient answer is this: Good Karma is that kind which the Ego desires and requires; bad, that which the Ego neither desires nor requires. And in this the Ego, being guided and controlled by law, by justice, by the necessities of upward evolution, and not by fancy or selfishness or revenge or ambition, is sure to choose the earthly habitation that is most likely, out of all possible of selection, to give a Karma for the real advantage in the end.
When we, from this plane, inquire into the matter, we see that the “advantages” which one would seek were he looking for the strengthening of character, the unloosing of soul force and energy, would be called by the selfish and personal world “disadvantages.” Struggle is needed for the gaining of strength; buffeting adverse eras is for the gaining of depth; meagre opportunities may be used for acquiring fortitude; poverty should breed generosity.
The middle ground in all this, and not the extreme, is what we speak of. To be born with the disadvantage of drunken, diseased parents, in the criminal portion of the community is a punishment which constitutes a wait on the road of evolution. It is a necessity generally because the Ego has drawn about itself in a former life some tendencies which cannot be eliminated in any other way. But we should not forget that sometimes, often in the grand total, a pure, powerful Ego incarnates in just such awful surroundings, remaining good and pure all the time, and staying there for the purpose of uplifting and helping others.
But to be born in extreme poverty is not a disadvantage. Jesus said well when, repeating what many a sage had said before, he described the difficulty experienced by the rich man in entering heaven. If we look at life from the narrow point of view of those who say there is but one earth life and after it either eternal heaven or hell, then poverty will be regarded as a great disadvantage and something to be avoided. But seeing that we have many lives to live, and that they will give us all needed opportunity for building up character, we must admit that poverty is not, in itself, necessarily bad Karma. Poverty has no natural tendency to engender selfishness, but wealth requires it.
A sojourn for everyone in a body born to all the pains, deprivations, and miseries of modern poverty, is good and just. Inasmuch as the present state of civilization with all its horrors of poverty, of crime, of disease, of wrong relations almost everywhere, has grown out of the past, in which we were workers, it is just that we should experience it all at some point in our career. If some person who now pays no heed to the misery of men and women should next life be plunged into one of the slums of our cities for rebirth, it would imprint on the soul the misery of such a situation. This would lead later on to compassion and care for others. For, unless we experience the effects of a state of life, we cannot understand or appreciate it from a mere description. The personal part involved in this may not like it as a future prospect, but if the Ego decides that the next personality shall be there then all will be an advantage and not a disadvantage.
If we look at the field of operation in us of the so-called advantages of opportunity, money, travel and teachers we see at once that it all has to do with the brain and nothing else. Languages, archaeology, music, satiating sight with beauty, eating the finest food, wearing the best clothes, traveling to many places and thus infinitely varying impressions on ear and eye; all these begin and end in the brain and not in the soul or character. As the brain is a portion of the unstable, fleeting body the whole phantasmagoria disappears from view and use when the note of death sends its awful vibration through the physical form and drives out the inhabitant. The wonderful central master-ganglion disintegrates, and nothing at all is left but some faint aromas here and there depending on the actual love within for any one pursuit or image or sensation. Nothing left of it all but a few tendencies — skandhas 1 not of the very best. The advantages then turn out in the end to be disadvantages altogether. But imagine the same brain and body not in places of ease, struggling for a good part of life, doing their duty and not in a position to please the senses: this experience will burn in, stamp upon, carve into the character, more energy, more power and more fortitude. It is thus through the ages that great characters are made.
Reincarnation, with its companion doctrine of Karma, rightly understood, shows how perfectly just the whole scheme of nature is.
(1) The skandhas — well known in eastern philosophy — are the aggregates that make up man. The body includes one set of the skandhas, the astral man another, the kama or desire principle is another set, and still others pertain to other parts. In kama are the really active and important ones which control rebirths and lead to all the varieties of life and circumstance upon each rebirth. They are being made from day to day under the law that every thought combines instantly with one of the elemental forces of nature, becoming to that extent an entity which will endure in accordance with the strength of the thought as it leaves the brain, and all of these are inseparably connected with the being who evolved them. There is no way of escaping; all we can do is to have thoughts of good quality, for the highest of the Masters themselves are not exempt from this law, but they “people their current in space” with entities powerful for good alone.—W.Q.J.
— THEOSOPHY, December, 1970
From the writings of H. P. Blavatsky
H.P.B. on Reincarnation (from The Key to Theosophy)
Section 8: On Re-Incarnation or Re-Birth
WHAT IS MEMORY ACCORDING TO THEOSOPHICAL TEACHING?
ENQUIRER. The most difficult thing for you to do, will be to explain and give reasonable grounds for such a belief. No Theosophist has ever yet succeeded in bringing forward a single valid proof to shake my scepticism. First of all, you have against this theory of re-incarnation, the fact that no single man has yet been found to remember that he has lived, least of all who he was, during his previous life.
THEOSOPHIST. Your argument, I see, tends to the same old objection; the loss of memory in each of us of our previous incarnation. You think it invalidates our doctrine? My answer is that it does not, and that at any rate such an objection cannot be final.
ENQUIRER. I would like to hear your arguments.
THEOSOPHIST. They are short and few. Yet when you take into consideration (a) the utter inability of the best modern psychologists to explain to the world the nature of mind; and (b) their complete ignorance of its potentialities, and higher states, you have to admit that this objection is based on an a priori conclusion drawn from prima facie and circumstantial evidence more than anything else. Now what is “memory” in your conception, pray?
ENQUIRER. That which is generally accepted: the faculty in our mind of remembering and of retaining the knowledge of previous thoughts, deeds and events.
THEOSOPHIST. Please add to it that there is a great difference between the three accepted forms of memory. Besides memory in general you have Remembrance, Recollection and Reminiscence, have you not? Have you ever thought over the difference? Memory, remember, is a generic name.
ENQUIRER. Yet, all these are only synonyms.
THEOSOPHIST. Indeed, they are not — not in philosophy, at all events. Memory is simply an innate power in thinking beings, and even in animals, of reproducing past impressions by an association of ideas principally suggested by objective things or by some action on our external sensory organs. Memory is a faculty depending entirely on the more or less healthy and normal functioning of our physical brain; and remembrance and recollection are the attributes and handmaidens of that memory. But reminiscence is an entirely different thing. “Reminiscence” is defined by the modern psychologist as something intermediate between remembrance and recollection, or “a conscious process of recalling past occurrences, but without that full and varied reference to particular things which characterises recollection.” Locke, speaking of recollection and remembrance, says: “When an idea again recurs without the operation of the like object on the external sensory, it is remembrance; if it be sought after by the mind, and with pain and endeavour found and brought again into view, it is recollection.” But even Locke leaves reminiscence without any clear definition, because it is no faculty or attribute of our physical memory, but an intuitional perception apart from and outside our physical brain; a perception which, covering as it does (being called into action by the ever-present knowledge of our spiritual Ego) all those visions in man which are regarded as abnormal — from the pictures suggested by genius to the ravings of fever and even madness — are classed by science as having no existence outside of our fancy. Occultism and Theosophy, however, regard reminiscence in an entirely different light. For us, while memory is physical and evanescent and depends on the physiological conditions of the brain — a fundamental proposition with all teachers of mnemonics, who have the researches of modern scientific psychologists to back them — we call reminiscence the memory of the soul. And it is this memory which gives the assurance to almost every human being, whether he understands it or not, of his having lived before and having to live again. Indeed, as Wordsworth has it:
“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting,
The soul that rises with us, our life’s star,
Hath elsewhere had its setting,
And cometh from afar.”
ENQUIRER. If it is on this kind of memory — poetry and abnormal fancies, on your own confession — that you base your doctrine, then you will convince very few, I am afraid.
THEOSOPHIST. I did not “confess” it was a fancy. I simply said that physiologists and scientists in general regard such reminiscences as hallucinations and fancy, to which learned conclusion they are welcome. We do not deny that such visions of the past and glimpses far back into the corridors of time, are not abnormal, as contrasted with our normal daily life experience and physical memory. But we do maintain with Professor W. Knight, that “the absence of memory of any action done in a previous state cannot be a conclusive argument against our having lived through it.” And every fair-minded opponent must agree with what is said in Butler’s Lectures on Platonic Philosophy — “that the feeling of extravagance with which it (pre-existence) affects us has its secret source in materialistic or semi-materialistic prejudices.” Besides which we maintain that memory, as Olympiodorus called it, is simply phantasy, and the most unreliable thing in us. 1 Ammonius Saccas asserted that the only faculty in man directly opposed to prognostication, or looking into futurity, is memory. Furthermore, remember that memory is one thing and mind or thought is another; one is a recording machine, a register which very easily gets out of order; the other (thoughts) are eternal and imperishable. Would you refuse to believe in the existence of certain things or men only because your physical eyes have not seen them? Would not the collective testimony of past generations who have seen him be a sufficient guarantee that Julius Caesar once lived? Why should not the same testimony of the psychic senses of the masses be taken into consideration?
ENQUIRER. But don’t you think that these are too fine distinctions to be accepted by the majority of mortals?
THEOSOPHIST. Say rather by the majority of materialists. And to them we say, behold: even in the short span of ordinary existence, memory is too weak to register all the events of a lifetime. How frequently do even most important events lie dormant in our memory until awakened by some association of ideas, or aroused to function and activity by some other link. This is especially the case with people of advanced age, who are always found suffering from feebleness of recollection. When, therefore, we remember that which we know about the physical and the spiritual principles in man, it is not the fact that our memory has failed to record our precedent life and lives that ought to surprise us, but the contrary, were it to happen.
WHY DO WE NOT REMEMBER OUR PAST LIVES?
ENQUIRER. You have given me a bird’s eye view of the seven principles; now how do they account for our complete loss of any recollection of having lived before?
THEOSOPHIST. Very easily. Since those “principles” which we call physical, and none of which is denied by science, though it calls them by other names, 2 are disintegrated after death with their constituent elements, memory along with its brain, this vanished memory of a vanished personality, can neither remember nor record anything in the subsequent reincarnation of the EGO. Reincarnation means that this Ego will be furnished with a new body, a new brain, and a new memory. Therefore it would be as absurd to expect this memory to remember that which it has never recorded as it would be idle to examine under a microscope a shirt never worn by a murderer, and seek on it for the stains of blood which are to be found only on the clothes he wore. It is not the clean shirt that we have to question, but the clothes worn during the perpetration of the crime; and if these are burnt and destroyed, how can you get at them?
ENQUIRER. Aye! how can you get at the certainty that the crime was ever committed at all, or that the “man in the clean shirt” ever lived before?
THEOSOPHIST. Not by physical processes, most assuredly; nor by relying on the testimony of that which exists no longer. But there is such a thing as circumstantial evidence, since our wise laws accept it, more, perhaps, even than they should. To get convinced of the fact of re-incarnation and past lives, one must put oneself in rapport with one’s real permanent Ego, not one’s evanescent memory.
ENQUIRER. But how can people believe in that which they do not know, nor have ever seen, far less put themselves in rapport with it?
THEOSOPHIST. If people, and the most learned, will believe in the Gravity, Ether, Force, and what not of Science, abstractions “and working hypotheses,” which they have neither seen, touched, smelt, heard, nor tasted — why should not other people believe, on the same principle, in one’s permanent Ego, a far more logical and important “working hypothesis” than any other?
ENQUIRER. What is, finally, this mysterious eternal principle? Can you explain its nature so as to make it comprehensible to all?
THEOSOPHIST. The EGO which re-incarnates, the individual and immortal — not personal — “I”; the vehicle, in short, of the Atma-Buddhic MONAD, that which is rewarded in Devachan and punished on earth, and that, finally, to which the reflection only of the Skandhas, or attributes, of every incarnation attaches itself. 3
ENQUIRER. What do you mean by Skandhas?
THEOSOPHIST. Just what I said: “attributes,” among which is memory, all of which perish like a flower, leaving behind them only a feeble perfume. Here is another paragraph from H. S. Olcott’s “Buddhist Catechism” 4 which bears directly upon the subject. It deals with the question as follows: — “The aged man remembers the incidents of his youth, despite his being physically and mentally changed. Why, then, is not the recollection of past lives brought over by us from our last birth into the present birth? Because memory is included within the Skandhas, and the Skandhas having changed with the new existence, a memory, the record of that particular existence, develops. Yet the record or reflection of all the past lives must survive, for when Prince Siddhartha became Buddha, the full sequence of His previous births were seen by Him. . . . and any one who attains to the state of Jhana can thus retrospectively trace the line of his lives.” This proves to you that while the undying qualities of the personality — such as love, goodness, charity, etc. — attach themselves to the immortal Ego, photographing on it, so to speak, a permanent image of the divine aspect of the man who was, his material Skandhas (those which generate the most marked Karmic effects) are as evanescent as a flash of lightning, and cannot impress the new brain of the new personality; yet their failing to do so impairs in no way the identity of the re-incarnating Ego.
ENQUIRER. Do you mean to infer that that which survives is only the Soul-memory, as you call it, that Soul or Ego being one and the same, while nothing of the personality remains?
THEOSOPHIST. Not quite; something of each personality, unless the latter was an absolute materialist with not even a chink in his nature for a spiritual ray to pass through, must survive, as it leaves its eternal impress on the incarnating permanent Self or Spiritual Ego. 5 (See On post mortem and post natal Consciousness.) The personality with its Skandhas is ever changing with every new birth. It is, as said before, only the part played by the actor (the true Ego) for one night. This is why we preserve no memory on the physical plane of our past lives, though the real “Ego” has lived them over and knows them all.
ENQUIRER. Then how does it happen that the real or Spiritual man does not impress his new personal “I” with this knowledge?
THEOSOPHIST. How is it that the servant-girls in a poor farm-house could speak Hebrew and play the violin in their trance or somnambulic state, and knew neither when in their normal condition? Because, as every genuine psychologist of the old, not your modern, school, will tell you, the Spiritual Ego can act only when the personal Ego is paralysed. The Spiritual “I” in man is omniscient and has every knowledge innate in it; while the personal self is the creature of its environment and the slave of the physical memory. Could the former manifest itself uninterruptedly, and without impediment, there would be no longer men on earth, but we should all be gods.
ENQUIRER. Still there ought to be exceptions, and some ought to remember.
THEOSOPHIST. And so there are. But who believes in their report? Such sensitives are generally regarded as hallucinated hysteriacs, as crack-brained enthusiasts, or humbugs, by modern materialism. Let them read, however, works on this subject, pre-eminently “Reincarnation, a Study of Forgotten Truth” by E. D. Walker, F. T. S., and see in it the mass of proofs which the able author brings to bear on this vexed question. One speaks to people of soul, and some ask “What is Soul?” “Have you ever proved its existence?” Of course it is useless to argue with those who are materialists. But even to them I would put the question: “Can you remember what you were or did when a baby? Have you preserved the smallest recollection of your life, thoughts, or deeds, or that you lived at all during the first eighteen months or two years of your existence? Then why not deny that you have ever lived as a babe, on the same principle?” When to all this we add that the reincarnating Ego, or individuality, retains during the Devachanic period merely the essence of the experience of its past earth-life or personality, the whole physical experience involving into a state of in potentia, or being, so to speak, translated into spiritual formulae; when we remember further that the term between two rebirths is said to extend from ten to fifteen centuries, during which time the physical consciousness is totally and absolutely inactive, having no organs to act through, and therefore no existence, the reason for the absence of all remembrance in the purely physical memory is apparent.
ENQUIRER. You just said that the SPIRITUAL EGO was omniscient. Where, then, is that vaunted omniscience during his Devachanic life, as you call it?
THEOSOPHIST. During that time it is latent and potential, because, first of all, the Spiritual Ego (the compound of Buddhi-Manas) is not the HIGHER SELF, which being one with the Universal Soul or Mind is alone omniscient; and, secondly, because Devachan is the idealized continuation of the terrestrial life just left behind, a period of retributive adjustment, and a reward for unmerited wrongs and sufferings undergone in that special life. It is omniscient only potentially in Devachan, and de facto exclusively in Nirvana, when the Ego is merged in the Universal Mind-Soul. Yet it rebecomes quasi omniscient during those hours on earth when certain abnormal conditions and physiological changes in the body make the Ego free from the trammels of matter. Thus the examples cited above of somnambulists, a poor servant speaking Hebrew, and another playing the violin, give you an illustration of the case in point. This does not mean that the explanations of these two facts offered us by medical science have no truth in them, for one girl had, years before, heard her master, a clergyman, read Hebrew works aloud, and the other had heard an artist playing a violin at their farm. But neither could have done so as perfectly as they did had they not been ensouled by THAT which, owing to the sameness of its nature with the Universal Mind, is omniscient. Here the higher principle acted on the Skandhas and moved them; in the other, the personality being paralysed, the individuality manifested itself. Pray do not confuse the two.
ON INDIVIDUALITY AND PERSONALITY. 6
ENQUIRER. But what is the difference between the two? I confess that I am still in the dark. Indeed it is just that difference, then, that you cannot impress too much on our minds.
THEOSOPHIST. I try to; but alas, it is harder with some than to make them feel a reverence for childish impossibilities, only because they are orthodox, and because orthodoxy is respectable. To understand the idea well, you have to first study the dual sets of “principles”: the spiritual, or those which belong to the imperishable Ego; and the material, or those principles which make up the ever-changing bodies or the series of personalities of that Ego. Let us fix permanent names to these, and say that: —
- Atma, the “Higher Self,” is neither your Spirit nor mine, but like sunlight shines on all. It is the universally diffused “divine principle,” and is inseparable from its one and absolute Meta-Spirit, as the sunbeam is inseparable from sunlight.
- Buddhi (the spiritual soul) is only its vehicle. Neither each separately, nor the two collectively, are of any more use to the body of man, than sunlight and its beams are for a mass of granite buried in the earth, unless the divine Duad is assimilated by, and reflected in, some consciousness. Neither Atma nor Buddhi are ever reached by Karma, because the former is the highest aspect of Karma, its working agent of ITSELF in one aspect, and the other is unconscious on this plane. This consciousness or mind is,
- Manas, 7 the derivation or product in a reflected form of Ahamkara, “the conception of I,” or EGO-SHIP. It is, therefore, when inseparably united to the first two, called the SPIRITUAL EGO, and Taijasi (the radiant). This is the real Individuality, or the divine man. It is this Ego which — having originally incarnated in the senseless human form animated by, but unconscious (since it had no consciousness) of, the presence in itself of the dual monad — made of that human-like form a real man. It is that Ego, that “Causal Body,” which overshadows every personality Karma forces it to incarnate into; and this Ego which is held responsible for all the sins committed through, and in, every new body or personality — the evanescent masks which hide the true Individual through the long series of rebirths.
ENQUIRER. But is this just? Why should this Ego receive punishment as the result of deeds which it has forgotten?
THEOSOPHIST. It has not forgotten them; it knows and remembers its misdeeds as well as you remember what you have done yesterday. Is it because the memory of that bundle of physical compounds called “body” does not recollect what its predecessor (the personality that was) did, that you imagine that the real Ego has forgotten them? As well say it is unjust that the new boots on the feet of a boy, who is flogged for stealing apples, should be punished for that which they know nothing of.
ENQUIRER. But are there no modes of communication between the Spiritual and human consciousness or memory?
THEOSOPHIST. Of course there are; but they have never been recognised by your scientific modern psychologists. To what do you attribute intuition, the “voice of the conscience,” premonitions, vague undefined reminiscences, etc., etc., if not to such communications? Would that the majority of educated men, at least, had the fine spiritual perceptions of Coleridge, who shows how intuitional he is in some of his comments. Hear what he says with respect to the probability that “all thoughts are in themselves imperishable.” “If the intelligent faculty (sudden ‘revivals’ of memory) should be rendered more comprehensive, it would require only a different and appropriate organization, the body celestial instead of the body terrestrial, to bring before every human soul the collective experience of its whole past existence (existences, rather).” And this body celestial is our Manasic EGO.
ON THE REWARD AND PUNISHMENT OF THE EGO.
ENQUIRER. I have heard you say that the Ego, whatever the life of the person he incarnated in may have been on Earth, is never visited with post-mortem punishment.
THEOSOPHIST. Never, save in very exceptional and rare cases of which we will not speak here, as the nature of the “punishment” in no way approaches any of your theological conceptions of damnation.
ENQUIRER. But if it is punished in this life for the misdeeds committed in a previous one, then it is this Ego that ought to be rewarded also, whether here, or when disincarnated.
THEOSOPHIST. And so it is. If we do not admit of any punishment outside of this earth, it is because the only state the Spiritual Self knows of, hereafter, is that of unalloyed bliss.
ENQUIRER. What do you mean?
THEOSOPHIST. Simply this: crimes and sins committed on a plane of objectivity and in a world of matter, cannot receive punishment in a world of pure subjectivity. We believe in no hell or paradise as localities; in no objective hell-fires and worms that never die, nor in any Jerusalems with streets paved with sapphires and diamonds. What we believe in is a post-mortem state or mental condition, such as we are in during a vivid dream. We believe in an immutable law of absolute Love, Justice, and Mercy. And believing in it, we say: “Whatever the sin and dire results of the original Karmic transgression of the now incarnated Egos 8 no man (or the outer material and periodical form of the Spiritual Entity) can be held, with any degree of justice, responsible for the consequences of his birth. He does not ask to be born, nor can he choose the parents that will give him life. In every respect he is a victim to his environment, the child of circumstances over which he has no control; and if each of his transgressions were impartially investigated, there would be found nine out of every ten cases when he was the one sinned against, rather than the sinner. Life is at best a heartless play, a stormy sea to cross, and a heavy burden often too difficult to bear. The greatest philosophers have tried in vain to fathom and find out its raison d’etre, and have all failed except those who had the key to it, namely, the Eastern sages. Life is, as Shakespeare describes it: —
“. . . . but a walking shadow — a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. . . . .”
Nothing in its separate parts, yet of the greatest importance in its collectivity or series of lives. At any rate, almost every individual life is, in its full development, a sorrow. And are we to believe that poor, helpless man, after being tossed about like a piece of rotten timber on the angry billows of life, is, if he proves too weak to resist them, to be punished by a sempiternity of damnation, or even a temporary punishment? Never! Whether a great or an average sinner, good or bad, guilty or innocent, once delivered of the burden of physical life, the tired and worn-out Manu (“thinking Ego”) has won the right to a period of absolute rest and bliss. The same unerringly wise and just rather than merciful Law, which inflicts upon the incarnated Ego the Karmic punishment for every sin committed during the preceding life on Earth, provided for the now disembodied Entity a long lease of mental rest, i.e., the entire oblivion of every sad event, aye, to the smallest painful thought, that took place in its last life as a personality, leaving in the soul-memory but the reminiscence of that which was bliss, or led to happiness. Plotinus, who said that our body was the true river of Lethe, for “souls plunged into it forget all,” meant more than he said. For, as our terrestrial body is like Lethe, so is our celestial body in Devachan, and much more.
ENQUIRER. Then am I to understand that the murderer, the transgressor of law divine and human in every shape, is allowed to go unpunished?
THEOSOPHIST. Who ever said that? Our philosophy has a doctrine of punishment as stern as that of the most rigid Calvinist, only far more philosophical and consistent with absolute justice. No deed, not even a sinful thought, will go unpunished; the latter more severely even than the former, as a thought is far more potential in creating evil results than even a deed. 9 We believe in an unerring law of Retribution, called KARMA, which asserts itself in a natural concatenation of causes and their unavoidable results.
ENQUIRER. And how, or where, does it act?
THEOSOPHIST. Every labourer is worthy of his hire, saith Wisdom in the Gospel; every action, good or bad, is a prolific parent, saith the Wisdom of the Ages. Put the two together, and you will find the “why.” After allowing the Soul, escaped from the pangs of personal life, a sufficient, aye, a hundredfold compensation, Karma, with its army of Skandhas, waits at the threshold of Devachan, whence the Ego re-emerges to assume a new incarnation. It is at this moment that the future destiny of the now-rested Ego trembles in the scales of just Retribution, as it now falls once again under the sway of active Karmic law. It is in this rebirth which is ready for it, a rebirth selected and prepared by this mysterious, inexorable, but in the equity and wisdom of its decrees infallible LAW, that the sins of the previous life of the Ego are punished. Only it is into no imaginary Hell, with theatrical flames and ridiculous tailed and horned devils, that the Ego is cast, but verily on to this earth, the plane and region of his sins, where he will have to atone for every bad thought and deed. As he has sown, so will he reap. Reincarnation will gather around him all those other Egos who have suffered, whether directly or indirectly, at the hands, or even through the unconscious instrumentality, of the past personality. They will be thrown by Nemesis in the way of the new man, concealing the old, the eternal EGO, and . . . .
ENQUIRER. But where is the equity you speak of, since these new “personalities” are not aware of having sinned or been sinned against?
THEOSOPHIST. Has the coat torn to shreds from the back of the man who stole it, by another man who was robbed of it and recognises his property, to be regarded as fairly dealt with? The new “personality” is no better than a fresh suit of clothes with its specific characteristics, colour, form and qualities; but the real man who wears it is the same culprit as of old. It is the individuality who suffers through his “personality.” And it is this, and this alone, that can account for the terrible, still only apparent, injustice in the distribution of lots in life to man. When your modern philosophers will have succeeded in showing to us a good reason, why so many apparently innocent and good men are born only to suffer during a whole life-time; why so many are born poor unto starvation in the slums of great cities, abandoned by fate and men; why, while these are born in the gutter, others open their eyes to light in palaces; while a noble birth and fortune seem often given to the worst of men and only rarely to the worthy; while there are beggars whose inner selves are peers to the highest and noblest of men; when this, and much more, is satisfactorily explained by either your philosophers or theologians, then only, but not till then, you will have the right to reject the theory of reincarnation. The highest and grandest of poets have dimly perceived this truth of truths. Shelley believed in it, Shakespeare must have thought of it when writing on the worthlessness of Birth. Remember his words:
“Why should my birth keep down my mounting spirit?
Are not all creatures subject unto time?
There’s legions now of beggars on the earth,
That their original did spring from Kings,
And many monarchs now, whose fathers were
The riff-raff of their age . . . . . . .”
Alter the word “fathers” into “Egos” — and you will have the truth.
1. “The phantasy,” says Olympiodorus (in Platonis Phaed.), “is an impediment to our intellectual conceptions; and hence, when we are agitated by the inspiring influence of the Divinity, if the phantasy intervenes, the enthusiastic energy ceases: for enthusiasm and the ecstasy are contrary to each other. Should it be asked whether the soul is able to energise without the phantasy, we reply, that its perception of universals proves that it is able. It has perceptions, therefore, independent of the phantasy; at the same time, however, the phantasy attends in its energies, just as a storm pursues him who sails on the sea.”
2. Namely, the body, life, passional and animal instincts, and the astral eidolon of every man (whether perceived in thought or our mind’s eye, or objectively and separate from the physical body), which principles we call Sthula sarira, Prana, Kama rupa, and Linga sarira (vide supra).
3. There are five Skandhas or attributes in the Buddhist teachings: “Rupa (form or body), material qualities; Vedana, sensation; Sanna, abstract ideas; Samkhara, tendencies of mind; Vinnana, mental powers. Of these we are formed; by them we are conscious of existence; and through them communicate with the world about us.”
4. By H. S. Olcott, President and Founder of the Theosophical Society. The accuracy of the teaching is sanctioned by the Rev. H. Sumangala, High Priest of the Sripada and Galle, and Principal of the Widyodaya Parivena (College) at Colombo, as being in agreement with the Canon of the Southern Buddhist Church.
5. Or the Spiritual, in contradistinction to the personal Self. The student must not confuse this Spiritual Ego with the “HIGHER SELF” which is Atma, the God within us, and inseparable from the Universal Spirit.
6. Even in his Buddhist Catechism, Col. Olcott, forced to it by the logic of Esoteric philosophy, found himself obliged to correct the mistakes of previous Orientalists who made no such distinction, and gives the reader his reasons for it. Thus he says: “The successive appearances upon the earth, or ‘descents into generation,’ of the tanhaically coherent parts (Skandhas) of a certain being, are a succession of personalities. In each birth the PERSONALITY differs from that of a previous or next succeeding birth. Karma, the DEUS EX MACHINA, masks (or shall we say reflects?) itself now in the personality of a sage, again as an artisan, and so on throughout the string of births. But though personalities ever shift, the one line of life along which they are strung, like beads, runs unbroken; it is ever that particular line, never any other. It is therefore individual, an individual vital undulation, which began in Nirvana, or the subjective side of nature, as the light or heat undulation through aether began at its dynamic source; is careering through the objective side of nature under the impulse of Karma and the creative direction of Tanha (the unsatisfied desire for existence); and leads through many cyclic changes back to Nirvana. Mr. Rhys-Davids calls that which passes from personality to personality along the individual chain ‘character,’ or ‘doing.’ Since ‘character’ is not a mere metaphysical abstraction, but the sum of one’s mental qualities and moral propensities, would it not help to dispel what Mr. Rhys-Davids calls ‘the desperate expedient of a mystery’ (Buddhism, p. 101) if we regarded the life-undulation as individuality, and each of its series of natal manifestations as a separate personality? The perfect individual, Buddhistically speaking, is a Buddha, I should say; for Buddha is but the rare flower of humanity, without the least supernatural admixture. And as countless generations (‘four asankheyyas and a hundred thousand cycles,’ Fausboll and Rhys-Davids’ BUDDHIST BIRTH STORIES, p. 13) are required to develop a man into a Buddha, and the iron will to become one runs throughout all the successive births, what shall we call that which thus wills and perseveres? Character? One’s individuality: an individuality but partly manifested in any one birth, but built up of fragments from all the births?” (Bud. Cat., Appendix A. 137.)
7. MAHAT or the “Universal Mind” is the source of Manas. The latter is Mahat, i.e., mind, in man. Manas is also called Kshetrajna, “embodied Spirit,” because it is, according to our philosophy, the Manasa-putras, or “Sons of the Universal Mind,” who created, or rather produced, the thinking man, “manu,” by incarnating in the third Race mankind in our Round. It is Manas, therefore, which is the real incarnating and permanent Spiritual Ego, the INDIVIDUALITY, and our various and numberless personalities only its external masks.
8. It is on this transgression that the cruel and illogical dogma of the Fallen Angels has been built. It is explained in Vol. II. of the Secret Doctrine. All our “Egos” are thinking and rational entities (Manasa-putras)who had lived, whether under human or other forms, in the precedent life–cycle (Manvantara), and whose Karma it was to incarnate in the man of this one. It was taught in the MYSTERIES that, having delayed to comply with this law (or having “refused to create” as Hinduism says of the Kumaras and Christian legend of the Archangel Michael), i. e., having failed to incarnate in due time, the bodies predestined for them got defiled (Vide Stanzas VIII. and IX. in the “Slokas of Dzyan,” Vol. II. Secret Doctrine, pp. 19 and 20), hence the original sin of the senseless forms and the punishment of the Egos. That which is meant by the rebellious angels being hurled down into Hell is simply explained by these pure Spirits or Egos being imprisoned in bodies of unclean matter, flesh.
9. “Verily, I say unto you, that whosoever looketh at a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (Matt. v., 28.)
From other Theosophical Authors
Reincarnation: A Western Study of the Subject
A WESTERN STUDY OF THE SUBJECT.
Although commonly rejected throughout Europe and America, reincarnation is unreservedly accepted by the majority of mankind at the present day, as in all the past centuries. From the dawn of history it has prevailed among the largest part of humanity with an unshaken intensity of conviction. Over all the mightiest Eastern nations it has held permanent sway. The ancient civilization of Egypt, whose grandeur cannot be overestimated, was built upon this as a fundamental truth, and taught it as a precious secret to Pythagoras, Aristotle, Plato, Plotinus and Ovid, who scattered it through their nations. It is the keynote of Plato’s philosophy, being stated or implied very frequently in his dialogues. “Soul is older than body,” he says. “Souls are continually born over again from Hades into this life.” In his view all knowledge is reminiscence. To search and learn is simply to revive the images of what the soul saw in its pre-existent state in the world of realities. The swarming millions of India also have made this thought the foundation of their enormous achievements in government, architecture, philosophy and poetry. It was a cardinal element in the religion of the Persian Magi. Alexander the Great gazed in amazement on the self-immolation by fire to which it inspired the Gymnosophists. Caesar found its tenets propagated among the Gauls. The circle of metempsychosis was an essential principle of the Druid faith and as such was impressed upon our forefathers the Celts, the Gauls and the Britons. It is claimed that the people held this doctrine so vitally that they wept around the new born infant and smiled upon death—for the beginning and end of an earthly life were to them the imprisonment and release of a soul, which must undergo repeated probations to remove its earthly impurities for final ascent into a succession of higher spheres. The Bardic triads of the Welsh are replete with this thought, and a Welsh antiquary insists that an ancient emigration from Wales to India conveyed it to the Brahmins. In the old civilizations of Peru and Mexico it prevailed universally. In the mysteries of Greece, Rome and Britain the ceremonial rites enacted this great truth with peculiar impressiveness for initiates. The Jews generally adopted it from the Babylonian captivity. John the Baptist was a second Elias. Jesus was commonly thought to be a reappearance of John the Baptist or of one of the old prophets. The Talmud, the Kabbala and the writings of Philo are full of the same teaching. Some of the late Rabbins assert many entertaining things concerning the repeated births of the most noted persons of their nation. This idea played an important part in the thought of Origen and several other leaders among the early Church Fathers. It was a main portion of the creed of the Gnostics and Manichaeans. In the middle ages the sects of the Cathari, the Bogomiles and many scholastics advocated it. It has cropped out spontaneously in many Western theologians. The elder English Divines do not hesitate to inculcate pre-existence in their sermons. The Roman Catholic Purgatory seems to be a makeshift improvised to take its place.
Men of profoundly metaphysical genius like Scotus, Kant, Leibnitz, Lessing, Schopenhauer, Schlegel and the younger Fichte have upheld reincarnation. Scientists like Flammarion have earnestly believed it. Theological leaders like Julius Muller, Dorner, H. Ernesti Ruckert and Edward Beecher have maintained it. In exalted intuitional natures like Boehme and Swedenborg its hold is apparent. Most of the mystics bathe in it. Of course the long line of Platonists from Socrates down to Emerson have no doubt of it. Even amid the predominance of materialistic influences in Christendom it has a considerable following. Traces of it are found among the aborigines of North and South America and in many barbaric tribes. At this time it reigns without any sign of decrepitude over the Burmese, Chinese, Japanese, Tartar, Tibetan, and East Indian nations, including at least 750,000,000 of mankind and nearly two-thirds of the race. Throughout the East it is the great central thought. It is no mere superstition of the ignorant masses. It is the chief principle of Hindu metaphysics,—the basis of all their inspired books. Such a hoary philosophy, upheld by the venerable authority of ages, ruling from the beginning of time the bulk of the world’s thought, is certainly worthy of the profoundest respect and study.
But the Western fondness for democracy does not hold in the domain of thought. The fact that the majority of the race has agreed upon reincarnation is no argument for it to an Occidental thinker. The conceit of modern progress has no more respect for ancient ideas than for the forgotten civilizations of old, even though in many essentials they anticipated or outstripped all that we boast of. Therefore we propose to treat this subject mainly from a Western standpoint, showing,
I. Some reasons which may assure us of the truth of reincarnation.
II. The most interesting poetical expressions of this idea in our own tongue.
I.—WESTERN EVIDENCES OF REINCARNATION.
The old Saxon chronicler, Bede, records that at a banquet given by King Edwin of Northumbria to his nobles, a discussion arose as to how they should receive the Christian missionary Paulinus who had just arrived from the continent. Some urged the sufficiency of their own Druid and Norse religions and advised the death of the invading heretic. Others were in favor of hearing his message. At length the King asked the opinion of his oldest counsellor. The sage arose and said “O King and Lords. You all did remark the swallow which entered this festal hall to escape the chilling winds without, fluttering near the fire for a few moments and then vanishing through the opposite window. Such is the life of man, whence it came and whither it goes none can tell. Therefore if this new religion brings light upon so great a mystery, it must be diviner than ours and should be welcomed.” The old man’s advice was adopted.
We are in the position of those old ancestors of ours. The religion of the churches, called Christianity, is to many earnest souls a dry husk. The germinant kernel of truth as it came from the founder of Christianity, when it is discovered under all its barren wrappings is indeed sufficient to feed us with the bread of life. It answers all the practical needs of most people even with the husks. But it leaves some vital questions unanswered which impel us to desire something more than Jesus taught—not for mere curiosity but as food for larger growth. The divine law which promises to fill every vacuum, and to gratify at last every aspiration has not left us without means of grasping a portion of these grander truths, by independent methods.
The commonest idea of the soul throughout Christendom seems to be that it is created specially for birth on this world and after its lifetime here it goes to a permanent spiritual realm of infinite continuance. This is a very comfortable belief derived from the appearances of things, and those holding it may very properly say “My view agrees with the phenomena and if you think differently the burden of proof rests upon you.” We accept this responsibility. But a careful observer knows that the true explanation of facts as a rule is very different from the appearance. Ptolemy thought he could account for all the heavenly motions on his geocentric theory and his teachings were at once received by his contemporaries. But the painful studies of Copernicus and Galileo had to wait a century before they were accepted, although they introduced an astronomy of immeasurably nobler scale. Is it not a relic of the old confidence in appearances to consider the orbits of human souls as limited to our little view of them?
There are six arguments for Reincarnation which seem conclusive.
1. That the idea of immortality demands it.
2. That analogy makes it the most probable.
3. That science confirms it.
4. That the nature of the soul requires it.
5. That it explains many mysterious experiences.
6. That it alone solves the problem of injustice and misery which broods over our world.
1. Immortality demands it.
Only the positivists and some allied schools of thought, comprising a very small proportion of Christendom doubt the immortality of the soul. But a conscious existence after death has no better proof than a pre-natal existence. It is an old declaration that what begins in time must end in time. We have no right to say that the soul is eternal on one side of its earthly period without being so on the other. Far more rational is the view of certain scientists who, believing that the soul originates with this life, also declare that it ends with this life. That is the logical outcome of their premise. If the soul sprang into existence specially for this life, why should it continue afterward? It is precisely as probable from all the grounds of reason that death is the conclusion of the soul as that birth is the beginning of it. On the contrary all the indications of immortality point as unfailingly to an eternity preceding this existence: the love of prolonged life, the analogy of nature, the prevailing belief of the most spiritual minds, the permanence of the ego principle, the inconceivability of annihilation or of creation from nothing, the promise of an extension of the present career, the injustice of any other thought.
All the probabilities upon which the assurance of the soul’s immortality rests, confirm the idea that it has an eternal existence in the past as well as in the future. What the origin of the soul may have been does not affect this subject, further than that it antedates the present life. Whether it be a spark from God himself, or a divine emanation, or a cluster of independent energies, its eternal destiny compels the inference that it is uncreated and indestructible. Moreover, it is unthinkable that from an infinite history it enters this world for its first physical experience and then shoots off to an endless spiritual existence. The deduction is rather that it assumed many forms before it appeared as we now see it and is bound to pass through many coming lives before it will be rounded into the full orb of perfection and reach its ultimate goal.
2. The argument from analogy is especially strong.
The universal spectacle of incarnated life indicates that this is the eternal scheme everywhere, the variety of souls finding in the variety of circumstances an everlasting series of adventures in appropriate forms. For many centuries in the literature of nations a standard simile of the soul surviving its earthly decay has been drawn from the transformation of the caterpillar into the butterfly. This world is the grub state. The body is the chrysalis of the soul. But the caterpillar came from a former life, in the egg. The violent energy of the present condition argues a previous stage leading up to it. It is contended with great force of analogy that death is but another and higher birth. This life is a groping embryo plane implying a more exalted one. Mysterious intimations reach us from a diviner sphere,
“Like hints and echoes of the world
To spirits folded in the womb.”
But the same indications argue that birth is the death of an earlier existence. Even the embryo life necessitates a preparatory one preceding it. So complete a structure must have a foundation. So swift a momentum must have travelled far. As Emerson observes “We wake and find ourselves on a stair. There are other stairs below us which we seem to have ascended; there are stairs above us, many a one, which go upward and out of sight.”
The grand order of creation is everywhere proclaiming, as the universal word, “change”. Nothing is destroyed but all is passing from one existence to another. Not an atom but is shifting in lively procession from its present condition to a different form, running a ceaseless cycle through mineral, vegetable and animal existence, though never losing its individuality, however diverse its apparent alterations. Not a creature but is constantly progressing to something else. The tadpole becomes a fish, the fish a frog, and some of the frogs have turned to birds.
“There is a spirit in all things that live
Which hints at patient change from kind to kind
And yet no words its mystic sense can give
Strange as a dream of radiance to the blind.”
Evolution has remoulded the thought of Christendom, expanding our conception of physiology, astronomy and history. The more it is studied the more universal is found its application. It seems to be the secret of God’s working. Now that we know the evolution of the body, it is time that we learned the evolution of the soul. The biologist shows that each of us physically before birth runs through all the phases of animal life—polyp, fish, reptile, dog, ape and man—as a brief synopsis of how the ages have prepared our tenements. The preponderance of special animal traits in us is due, he says to the emphasis of those particular stages of our physical growth. So in infancy does the soul move through an unconscious series of existences, recapitulating its long line of descent, until it is fastened in maturity. And why is it not true that our soul traits are the relics of former activities?
3. Furthermore, the idea that the soul is specially created for introduction into this world is antagonistic to all the principles of science. All nature proceeds on the strictest economical methods. Nothing is either lost or added. There is no creation or destruction. Whatever appears to spring suddenly into existence is derived from sufficient cause—although as unseen as the vapor currents which feed the clouds.
Physiologists contend that the wondrous human organism could not have grown up out of mere matter but implies a pre-existent spiritual idea which grouped around itself the organic conditions of physical existence and constrained the material elements to follow its plan. This dynamic agent—or the soul—must have existed independent of the body before the receptacle was prepared. The German scientists Muller and Stahle, have especially illustrated in physiology this idea of a pre-existent soul monad.
The common resurrection idea makes immortality an arbitrary stroke of God at the end of the earthly drama. But science allows no such exceptional miracle. It recognizes rather the universality of resurrection throughout all nature. We have no experience whatever of the resurrection taught by theologians; but we constantly see new appearances of souls in fresh bodies. These cannot have darted into their first existence as we behold them. From the hidden regions of some previous existence they must have come.
4. A much more weighty and penetrative argument is that the nature of the soul requires reincarnation. The conscious soul cannot feel itself to have had any beginning any more than it can conceive of annihilation. The sense of persistence overwhelms all the interruptions of forgetfulness and sleep, and all the obstacles of matter. This incessant self-assurance suggests the idea of the soul being independent of the changing body, its temporary prison. Then follows the conception that as the soul has once appeared in human form so it may reappear in many others. The eternity of the soul past and present leads directly to an everlasting succession of births and deaths, disembodiments and reembodiments.
The identity of the soul surely does not consist in a remembrance of all its past. We are always forgetting ourselves and waking again to recognition. But the sense of individuality bridges all the gaps. In the same way it seems as if our present existence were a somnambulent condition into which we have drowsed from our earlier life, oblivious of most of that former activity, and from which we may after a while be roused into wakefulness.
The study of infancy shows that the mental furniture with which we begin this life presupposes a former experience. The moral character of children, especially the existence of evil in them long before it could have been implanted by the present existence has forced many acute observers to assume that the human spirit had made choice of evil in a pre-natal sphere.
The unsatisfied physical inclinations of a soul are indestructible and require a series of physical existences to work themselves out. And the irrepressible eagerness for all the range of experience necessitates a course of reincarnations which shall accomplish that result.
5. Reincarnation explains many curious experiences. Most of us have known the touches of feeling and thought that seem to be reminders of forgotten things. Sometimes as dim dreams of old scenes, sometimes as vivid lightning flashes in the darkness recalling distant occurrences, sometimes with unutterable depth of meaning. It appears as if Nature’s opiate which ushered us into this arena had been so diluted that it did not quite efface the old memories, and reason struggles to decipher the vestiges of a former state. Almost everyone has felt the sense of great age. Thinking of some unwonted subject often an impression seizes us that somewhere, long ago, we have had these reflections before. Learning a fact, meeting a face for the first time, we are puzzled with an obscure assurance that it is familiar. Travelling newly in strange places we are sometimes haunted with a consciousness of having been there before. Music is specially apt to guide us into mystic depths where we are startled with the flashing reminiscences of unspeakable verities which we have felt or seen ages since. Efforts of thought reveal the half-obliterated inscriptions on the tablets of memory, passing before the vision in a weird procession. Everyone has some such experiences. Most of them are blurred and obscure. But some are so remarkably distinct that those who undergo them are convinced that their sensations are actual recollections of events and places in former lives. It is even possible for certain persons to trace quite fully and clearly a part of their by-gone history prior to this life.
Sir Walter Scott was so impressed by these experiences that they led him to a belief in pre-existence. He writes (in “Guy Mannering”), “How often do we find ourselves in society which we have never before met, and yet feel impressed with a mysterious and ill defined consciousness, that neither the scene nor the speakers nor the subject are entirely new; nay feel as if we could anticipate that part of the conversation which has not yet taken place.” Bulwer Lytton describes it as “that strange kind of inner and spiritual memory which often recalls to us places and persons we have never seen before and which Platonists would resolve to be the unquenched and struggling consciousness of a former life.” Explicit occurrences of this class are found in the narratives of Hawthorne, Coleridge, DeQuincy and many other writers. A striking instance appears in a little memoir of the late Wm. Hone, the Parodist, upon whom the experience made such a profound effect that it roused him from thirty years of materialistic atheism to a conviction of the soul’s independence of matter. Being called in business to a house in a part of London entirely new to him, he kept noticing that he had never been that way before. “I was shown” he says, “into a room to wait. On looking around, to my astonishment everything appeared perfectly familiar to me: I seemed to recognize every object. I said to myself, what is this? I was never here before and yet I have seen all this, and if so there is a very peculiar knot in the shutter.” He opened the shutter and there was the knot.
A writer of reputation mentions the following instance: A friend’s child of four years was observed by her elder sister to be talking to herself about matters of which she could not be supposed to know anything. “Why, Winnie,” exclaimed the elder sister, Louisa, “What do you know about that? All that happened before you were born!” “I would have you know, Louisa, that I grew old in heaven before I was born!” Similar anecdotes might be produced in great number.
Objectors ascribe these enigmas to a jumble of associations producing a blurred vision like the drunkard’s experience of seeing double, a discordant remembrance, snatches of forgotten dreams—or to the double structure of the brain. In one of the lobes, they say, the thought flashes a moment in advance of the other and the second half of the thinking machine regards the first impression as a memory of something long distant. But this explanation is unsatisfactory as it fails to account for the wonderful vividness of some of these impressions in well balanced minds, or the long trains of thought which come independent of any companions, or the prophetic glimpses which anticipate actual occurrences. Far more credible is it that each soul is a palimpsest inscribed again and again with one story upon another and whenever the all-wise Author is ready to write a grander page on us He washes off the old ink and pens his latest word. But some of us can trace here and there letters of the former manuscript not yet effaced.
6. The strongest support of this theory is its happy solution of the problem of moral inequality and injustice and evil which otherwise overwhelms us as we survey the world. The seeming chaos is marvellously set in order by the idea of soul-wandering. Many a sublime intellect has been so oppressed with the topsy-turviness of things here as to cry out “There is no God. All is blind chance.” An exclusive view of the miseries of mankind, the prosperity of wickedness, the struggles of the deserving, the oppression of the masses, or on the other hand, the talents and successes and happiness of the fortunate few, compels one to call the world a sham without any moral law to regulate it. But that consideration yields to a majestic satisfaction when one is assured that the present life is only one of a grand series in which every individual is gradually going the round of infinite experience for a glorious outcome,—that the hedging ills of to-day are a consequence of what we did yesterday and a step toward the great things of to-morrow. Thus the tangled snarls of earthly phenomena are straitened out as a vast and beautiful scheme, and the total experience of humanity forms a magnificent tapestry of perfect poetic justice.
The crucial test of any hypothesis is whether it meets all the facts better than any other theory. No other view so admirably accounts for the diversity or conditions on earth, and refutes the charge of a favoritism on the part of Providence. Hierocles said, and many a philosopher before and since has agreed with him, “Without the doctrine of metempsychosis it is not possible to justify the ways of God.” Some of the theologians have found the idea of pre-existence necessary to a reasonable explanation of the world, although it is considered foreign to the Bible. Over thirty years ago Dr. Edward Beecher published “The Conflict of Ages,” in which the main argument is this thought. He demonstrates that the facts of sin and depravity compel the acceptance of this doctrine to exonerate God from the charge of maliciousness. His book caused a lively controversy and was soon followed by “The Concord of the Ages” in which he answers the objections and strengthens his position. The same truth is taught by Dr. Julius Muller, a German theologian of prodigious influence among the clergy. Another prominent leader of theological thought, Dr. Dorner, sustains it.
But, it is asked, why do we not remember something definitely of our previous lives, if we have really been through them?
It has been shown that there are traces of recollection. The reason of no universal conviction from this ground is that the change into the present career was so violent and so radical as to scatter all the details and leave only the net spiritual result. As Plotinus said “Body is the true river of Lethe; for souls plunged into it forget all.” The real soul life is so distinct from the material plane that we have difficulty in recalling many experiences of this life—especially when an abrupt departure from old associations severs the connecting links. Who retains all of his childhood’s life? And has anyone a memory of that most wonderful epoch—infancy? Our present forgetfulness is no disproof of the actuality of past lives. Every night we lose all knowledge of what has gone before, but daily we awaken to a recollection of the whole series of days and nights. So in one life we may forget or dream and in another recover the whole thread of experience from the beginning—or the substance of it. In the cases of decrepit old age we often see the spirits of strong men divested of all memory of their life’s experience and returning to a second infancy—in a foretaste of their entrance upon the next existence.
We conclude, therefore, that Reincarnation is necessitated by immortality, that analogy teaches it, that science upholds it, that the nature of the soul needs it, that many strange sensations support it, and that it alone grandly solves the problem of life. The fullness of its meaning is majestic beyond appreciation, for it shows that every soul from the lowest animal to the highest archangel belongs to the infinite family of God and is eternal in its conscious essence, perishing only in its temporary disguises; that every act of every creature is followed by infallible reactions which constitute a perfect law of retribution; and that these souls are intricately interlaced with mutual relationships. The bewildering maze thus becomes a divine harmony. No individual stands alone, but trails with him the unfinished sequels of an ancestral career, and is so bound up with his race that each is responsible for all and all for each. No one can be wholly saved until all are redeemed. Every suffering we endure apparently for faults not our own assumes a holy light and a sublime dignity. This thought removes the littleness of petty selfish affairs and confirms in us the vastest hopes for mankind.
In this connection the following extracts from distinguished writers are specially interesting:—
Schopenhauer, the German Philosopher, writes (in “The World as Will and Idea”): “The fresh existence is paid for by the old age and death of a worn out existence which has perished, but which contained the indestructible seeds out of which this new existence has arisen. They are one being.”
The doctrine of metempsychosis springs from the earliest and noblest ages of the human race and has always been spread abroad in the earth as the belief of the great majority of mankind—as the teaching of all religions excepting that of the Jews and the two which have proceeded from it. The belief in this truth presents itself as the natural conviction of man wherever he reflects at all in an unprejudiced manner; where it is not found it must have been displaced by positive religious doctrine from another source. It is obvious to everyone who hears of it for the first time. See how earnestly Lessing defends it (in the last seven paragraphs of his ‘Erziehung des Mennschengeschlechts’).
Lichtenberg also says: ‘I cannot get rid of the thought that I died before I was born!’ Even the skeptical Hume says in his radical essay on immortality: ‘The metempsychosis is therefore the only system of this kind that philosophy can hearken to.’
What resists this belief is Judaism and its two descendants (Christianity and Mohammedanism) because they teach the creation of man out of nothing. Yet how difficult it has been to link the conception of future immortality to this is shown by the fact that most of the old heretics believed in reincarnation—Simonites, Manicheans, Basilidians, Valentinians, Marcionists and Gnostics. Tertullian and Justinian inform us that “even the Jews themselves have in part fallen into it.”
From a letter written by that curious genius William Blake (the artist) to his friend John Flaxman (the sculptor); (see Scoones’ English Letters, p. 361):
“In my brain are studies and chambers filled with books and pictures of old which I wrote and painted in ages of eternity before my mortal life; and these works are the delight and study of archangels.
“You, O dear Flaxman, are a sublime archangel, my friend and companion from eternity. I look back into the regions of reminiscence and behold our ancient days before this earth appeared and its vegetative mortality to my mortal vegetated eyes. I see our houses of eternity which can never be separated, though our mortal vehicles should stand at the remotest corners of heaven from each other.”
The novelist Bulwer thus expresses his opinion of this truth: “Eternity may be but an endless series of those migrations which men call deaths, abandonments of home after home, even to fairer scenes and loftier heights. Age after age the spirit may shift its tent, fated not to rest in the dull Elysian of the heathen, but carrying with it evermore its two elements, activity and desire.”
One of Emerson’s earliest essays (“THE METHOD OF NATURE“) contains this paragraph: “We cannot describe the natural history of the soul, but we know that it is divine. I cannot tell if these wonderful qualities which house to-day in this mortal frame, shall ever re-assemble in equal activity in a similar frame, or whether they have before had a natural history like that of this body you see before you; but this one thing I know, that these qualities did not now begin to exist, can not be sick with my sickness nor buried in my grave; but that they circulate through the Universe: before the world was, they were. Nothing can bar them out, or shut them in, but they penetrate the ocean and land, space and time, form and essence, and hold the key to universal nature.”
Edgar A. Poe writes (in “EUREKA“): “We walk about, amid the destinies of our world existence, accompanied by dim, but ever present memories of a Destiny more vast—very distant in the by-gone time and infinitely awful.
“We live out a youth peculiarly haunted by such dreams, yet never mistaking them for dreams. As memories we know them. During our youth the distinctness is too clear to deceive us even for a moment. But the doubt of manhood dispels these feelings as illusions.”
The second portion of our study will be—Reincarnation in the Light of our own Poets.
— E. D. Walker, The Path, April 1887.
The Poetry of Reincarnation in Western Literature
The Poetry of Reincarnation in Western Literature: I
The poets are the seers of the race. Their best work comes from the intuitional heights where they dwell, conveying truths beyond reason, not understood even by themselves but merely transmitted through them. They are the few tall pines towering above the common forest to that extraordinary exaltation where they catch the earliest and latest sunbeams which prolong their day far beyond the limits below, and penetrating into the rare upper currents whose whisperings seldom descend to the crowd.
However diverse the forms of their expression, the heart of it is thoroughly harmonious. They are always prophets voicing a divine message received in the mount, and in these modern days they are almost the only prophets we have. Therefore it is not a mere pleasantry to collect their testimony upon an unusual theme. When it is found that, though working independently, they are in deep accord upon Reincarnation, the inevitable conclusion is that their common inspiration means something — namely that their gospel is worth receiving.
It may be objected that these poems are merely dreamy effusions along the same line of lunacy, with no real attachment to the solid foundations upon which all wholesome poetry is based; that they are kinks in the intellects of genius displaying the weakness of men otherwise strong. But so universal a feeling cannot be disposed of in that way, especially when it is found to contribute to the solution of life’s mystery. All the poets believe in immortality though unaided reason and observation cannot demonstrate it. Some inexperienced people deride the fact that nearly all poetry centres upon the theme of Love — the most illogical and airy of sentiments. But the deepest sense of the world is nourished by the certainty of these “vague” truths. So the presence of Reincarnation in the creed of the poets may give us courage to confide in our own impressions, for “all men are poets at heart.” What they have dared publish we may venture to believe and will find a source of strength.
It is well known that the idea of reincarnation abounds in Oriental poetry. But as our purpose is to demonstrate the prevalence of the same thought among our own poets, most of whom are wholly independent of Eastern influence, we shall confine our attention to the spontaneous utterances of American and European poets. We shall find that the great majority of the highest Occidental poets lean toward this thought, and many of them unhesitatingly avow it.
Our study will extend through four parts.
I. American Poets.
II. English Poets.
III. Continental Poets.
IV. Platonic Poets.
If any readers are familiar with other poetic expressions of reincarnation we would be obliged to them if they will kindly communicate the information to us.
REINCARNATION IN AMERICAN POETRY
While sauntering through the crowded street
Some half-remembered face I meet,
Albeit upon no mortal shore
That face, methinks, hath smiled before.
Lost in a gay and festal throng
I tremble at some tender song
Set to an air whose golden bars
I must have heard in other stars.
In sacred aisles I pause to share
The blessing of a priestly prayer,
When the whole scene which greets mine eyes
In some strange mode I recognize.
As one whose every mystic part
I feel prefigured in my heart.
At sunset as I calmly stand
A stranger on an alien strand
Familiar as my childhood’s home
Seems the long stretch of wave and foam.
A ship sails toward me o’er the bay
And what she comes to do and say
I can foretell. A prescient lore
Springs from some life outlived of yore.
O swift, instructive, startling gleams
Of deep soul-knowledge: not as dreams
For aye ye vaguely dawn and die,
But oft with lightning certainty
Pierce through the dark oblivious brain
To make old thoughts and memories plain:
Thoughts which perchance must travel back
Across the wild bewildering track
Of countless aeons; memories far
High reaching as yon pallid star.
Unknown, scarce seen, whose flickering grace
Faints on the outmost rings of space. PAUL HAMILTON HAYNE.
The river hemmed with leaving trees
Wound through the meadows green,
A low blue line of mountain showed
The open pines betweenOne sharp tall peak above them all
Clear into sunlight sprang,
I saw the river of my dreams
The mountain that I sang.
No clue of memory led me on
But well the ways I knew,
A feeling of familiar things
With every footstep grew.
Yet ne’er before that river’s rim
Was pressed by feet of mine.
Never before mine eyes had crossed
That broken mountain line.
A presence strange at once and known
Walked with me as my guide,
The skirts of some forgotten life
Trailed noiseless at my side.
Was it a dim-remembered dream
Or glimpse through aeons old?
The secret which the mountains kept
The river never told.
J. G. WHITTIER.
FROM “THE METEMPSYCHOSIS OF THE PINE.”
As when the haze of some wan moonlight makes
Familiar fields a land of mystery,
Where, chill and strange, a ghostly presence wakes
In flower or bush or tree,Another life, the life of day o’erwhelms
The past from present consciousness takes hue
As we remember vast and cloudy realms
Our feet have wandered through:
So, oft, some moonlight of the mind makes dumb
The stir of outer thought: wide open seems
The gate where through strange sympathies have come
The secret of our dreams;
The source of fine impressions, shooting deep
Below the falling plummet of the sense
Which strike beyond all Time and backward sweep
Through all intelligence.
We touch the lower life of beast and clod
And the long process of the ages see
From blind old Chaos, ere the breath of God
Moved it to harmony.
All outward vision yields to that within
Whereof nor creed nor canon holds the key;
We only feel that we have ever been
And evermore shall be.
And thus I know by memories unfurled
In rarer moods and many a subtle sign,
That at one time and somewhere in the world
I was a towering pine.
THE POET IN THE EAST.
The poet came to the land of the Fast
When spring was in the air,
The East was dressed for a wedding feast
So young she seemed and fair
And the poet knew the land of the East
His soul was native there.All things to him were the visible forms
Of early and precious dreams
Familiar visions that mocked his quest
Beside the western streams
Or gleamed in the gold of the clouds unrolled
In the sunset’s dying beams.
I know my own creation was divine.
Strewn on the breezy continents I see
The veined shells and burnished scales which once
Enclosed my being — husks that I had.
I brood on all the shapes I must attain
Before I reach the perfect, which is God.
For I am of the mountains and the sea
The deserts and the caverns in the earth
The catacombs and fragments of old worlds.
I was a spirit on the mountain tops,
A perfume in the valleys, a nomadic wind
Roaming the universe, a tireless voice.
I was ere Romulus and Remus were;
I was ere Nineveh and Babylon.
I was and am and evermore shall be
Progressing, never reaching to the end.
A hundred years I trembled in the grass
The delicate trefoil that muffled warm
A slope on Ida; for a hundred years
Moved in the purple gyre of those dark flowers
The Grecian woman strew upon the dead.
Under the earth in fragrant glooms I dwelt,
Then in the veins and sinews of a pine
On a lone isle, where from the Cyclades
A mighty wind like a leviathan
Ploughed through the brine and from those solitudes
Sent silence frightened.
A century was as a single day.
What is a clay to an immortal soul?
A breath, no more. And yet I hold one hour
Beyond all price, — that hour when from the sky
A bird, I circled nearer to the earth
Nearer and nearer till I brushed my wings
Against the pointed chestnuts, where a stream
Leapt headlong down a precipice; and there
Gathering wild flowers in the cool ravine
Wandered a woman more divinely shaped
Than any of the creatures of the air.
I charmed her thought. I sang and gave her dreams,
Then nestled in her bosom. There I slept
From morn to noon, while in her eyes a thought
Grew sweet and sweeter, deepening like the dawn.
One autumn night I gave a quick low cry
As infants do: we weep when we are born,
Not when we die: and thus came I here
To walk the earth and wear the form of man,
To suffer bravely as becomes my state,
One step, one grade, one cycle nearer God. T. B. ALDRICH.
ONE THOUSAND YEARS AGO.
Thou and I in spirit land
One thousand years ago,
Watched the waves beat on the strand:
Ceaseless ebb and flow,
Vowed to love and ever love,
One thousand years ago.Thou and I in greenwood shade
Nine hundred years ago
Heard the wild dove in the glade
Murmuring soft and low,
Vowed to love for evermore
Nine hundred years ago.
Thou and I in yonder star
Eight hundred years ago
Saw strange forms of light afar
In wildest beauty glow.
All things change, but love endures
Now as long ago.
Thou and I in Norman halls
Seven hundred years ago
Heard the warden on the walls
Loud his trumpets blow,
“Ton amors sera tojors ”
Seven hundred years ago.
Thou and I in Germany,
Six hundred years ago.
Then I bound the red cross on
True love I must go,
But we part to meet again
In the endless flow.”
Thou and I in Syrian plains
Five hundred years ago
Felt the wild fire in our veins
To a fever glow.
All things die, but love lives on
Now as long ago.
Thou and I in shadow land
Four hundred years ago
Saw strange flowers bloom on the strand:
Heard strange breezes blow.
In the ideal love is real
This alone I know.
Thou and I in Italy
Three hundred years ago
Lived in faith and deed for God,
Felt the faggots glow,
Ever new and ever true
Three hundred years ago.
Thou and I on Southern seas
Two hundred years ago
Felt the perfumed even-breeze
Spoke in Spanish by the trees
Had no care or woe.
Life went dreamily in song
Two hundred years ago.
Thou and I mid Northern snows
One hundred years ago
Led an iron silent life
And were glad to flow
Onward into changing death,
One hundred years ago.
Thou and I but yesterday
Met in fashion’s show.
Love, did you remember me,
Love of long ago?
Yes: we kept the fond oath sworn
One thousand years ago.
CHARLES G. LELAND.
THE FINAL THOUGHT.
What is the grandest thought
Toward which the soul has wrought?
Has it the spirit form,
And the power of a storm?
Comes it of prophesy
(That borrows light of uncreated fires)
Or of transmitted strains of memory
Sent down through countless sires?
Which way are my feet set?
Through infinite changes yet
Shall I go on,
Nearer and nearer drawn
God of eternity?
How shall the Human grow,
By changes fine and slow,
To thy perfection from the life dawn sought?
What is the highest thought?
Ah! these dim memories,
Of when thy voice spake lovingly to me,
Under the Eden trees,
Saying: “Lord of all creation thou shalt be.”
How they haunt me and elude —
How they hover, how they brood,
On the horizon, fading yet dying not!
What is the final thought?
What if I once did dwell
In the lowest dust germ-cell,
A faint fore-hint of life called forth of God,
Waxing and struggling on,
Through the long flickering dawn,
The awful while His feet earth’s bosom trod?
What if He shaped me so,
And caused my life to blow
Into the full soul-flower in Eden-air?
Lo! now I am not good,
And I stand in solitude,
Calling to Him (and yet he answers not):
What is the final thought?
What myriads of years up from the germ!
What countless ages back from man to worm!
And yet from man to God, O! help me now!
A cold despair is beading on my brow!
I may see Him, and seeing know him not!
What is the highest thought?
So comes, at last,
The answer from the Vast. . . .
Not so, there is a rush of wings —
Earth feels the presence of invisible things.
Closer and closer drawn
In rosy mists of dawn!
One dies to conquer Death
And to burst the awful tomb —
Lo, with his dying breath,
He blows love into bloom!
Love! Faith is born of it!
Death is the scorn of it!
It fills the earth and thrills the heavens above,
And God is love,
And life is love, and, though we heed it not.
Love is the final thought.
FROM “A POEM READ AT BROWN UNIVERSITY.”
But, what a mystery this erring mind?
It wakes within a frame of various powers
A stranger in a new and wondrous world.
It brings an instinct from some other sphere,
For its fine senses are familiar all
And with the unconscious habit of a dream
It calls and they obey. The priceless sight
Springs to its curious organ, and the ear
Learns strangely to detect the articulate air
In its unseen divisions, and the tongue
Gets its miraculous lesson with the rest,
And in the midst of an obedient throng
Of well trained ministers, the mind goes forth
To search the secrets of its new found home. N. P. WILLIS
To the above may be added the following which have already been printed in THE PATH: “Rain in Summer,” by H. W. Longfellow; “The Twilight,” by J. R. Lowell; “Facing Westward from California’s Shore,” and parts of “Leaves of Grass,” by Walt Whitman.
— E.D. Walker, The Path, July 1887
The Poetry of Reincarnation in Western Literature: II
FROM “INTIMATIONS OF IMMORTALITY.”
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting
The soul that rises with us, our life’s star
Hath had elsewhere its setting
And cometh from afar.
Not in entire forgetfulness
And not in utter nakedness
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God who is our home.
Heaven lies about us in our infancy
Shades of the prison house begin to close
Upon the growing boy;
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows
He sees it in his joy.
The youth who daily farther from the East
Must travel, still is nature’s priest
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended.
At length the man perceives it die away
And fade into the light of common day. WM. WORDSWORTH
Methinks I can remember when, a shade
All soft and flowery was my couch, and I
A little naked child, with fair white flesh
And wings all gold bedropt, and o’er my head
Bright fruits were hanging and tall balmy shrines
Shed odorous gums around me and I lay
Sleeping and waking in that wondrous air
Which seemed infused with glory, and each breeze
Bore as it wandered by, sweet melodies;
But whence, I knew not. One delight was there
Whether of feeling or of sight or touch
I know not now — which is not in this earth,
Something all-glorious and all beautiful,
Of which our language speaketh not, and which
Flies from the eager grasping of my thought
As doth the shade of a forgotten dream.
All knowledge had I, but I cared not then
To search into my soul and draw it thence.
The blessed creatures that around me played
I knew them all, and where their resting was,
And all their hidden symmetry I knew,
And how the form is linked into the soul,
I knew it all, but thought not on it then
I was so happy. And once upon a time
I saw an army of bright beaming shapes
Fair faced and rosy cinctured and gold winged
Approach upon the air. They came to me
And from a crystal chalice silver brimmed
Put sparkling potion to my lips and stood
All around me, in the many blooming shades,
Shedding into the centre where I lay
A mingling of soft light, and then they sang
Songs of the land they dwelt in; and the last
Lingereth even till now upon mine ear.
Holy and blest
Be the calm of thy rest
For thy chamber of sleep
Shall be dark and deep
They shall dig thee a tomb
In the dark deep womb
In the warm dark womb.
Spread ye, spread the dewy mist around him
Spread ye, spread till the thick dark night surround him.
Till the dark long night has bound him
Which bindeth all before their birth
Down upon the nether earth.
The first cloud is beaming and bright
The next cloud is mellowed in light
The third cloud is dim to sight
And it stretches away into gloomy night.
Twine ye, twine, the mystic threads around him
Twine ye, twine, till the fast firm fate surround him
Till the firm cold fate hath bound him
Which bindeth all before their birth
Down upon the nether earth.
The first thread is beaming and bright
The next thread is mellowed in light
The third thread is dim to sight,
And it stretches away into a gloomy night.
Sing ye, sing, the fairy songs around him
Sing ye, sing, till the dull warm sleep surround him
Till the warm damp sleep hath bound him
Which bindeth all before their birth
Down upon the nether earth.
The first dream is beaming and bright
The next dream is mellowed in light
The third dream is dim to sight
And it stretches away into gloomy night.
Then dimness passed upon me and that song
Was sounding o’er me when I woke
To be a pilgrim on the nether earth.
DEAN ALFORD, 1850.
FROM “CATO’S SOLILOQUY ON THE SOUL.
Eternity — thou pleasing, dreadful thought
Through what variety of untried being
Through what new scenes and dangers must we pass?
The wide, th’ unbounded prospect lies before me
But shadows, clouds and darkness rest upon it. JOSEPH ADDISON.
As in that world of Dream whose mystic shades
Are cast by still more mystic substances,
We ofttimes have an unreflecting sense
A silent consciousness, of some things past
So clear that we can wholly comprehend
Others of which they are a part, and even
Continue them in action, though no stress
Of after memory can recognize
That we have had experience of those things
Or sleeping or awake:
Thus in the dream,
Our universal Dream, of Mortal Life,
The incidents of an anterior dream,
Or it may be, Existence, noiselessly intrude
Into the daily flow of earthly things,
Instincts of good — immediate sympathies
Places come at by chance, that claim at once
An old acquaintance — single random looks
That bare a stranger’s bosom to our eyes;
We know these things are so, we ask not why
But act and follow as the Dream goes on. R. M. MILNES, (Lord Houghton).
FROM “THE MYSTIC.”
Who dreams not life more tearful than the hours
Since first into this world he wept his way
Earthward, may be called of God, man’s soul
In patriarchal periods, comet-like
Ranges, perchance, all spheres successive, and in each
With nobler powers endowed and senses new
Set season bideth. PHILIP TAMES BAILEY.
FROM “DE PROFUNDIS.”
Out of the deep, my child, out of the deep.
Where all that was to be, in all that was,
Whirled for a million aeons thro’ the vast
Waste dawn of multitudinous eddying light —
Out of the deep, my child, out of the deep,
Thro’ all this changing world of changeless law.
And every phase of ever heightening life,
And nine long months of ante-natal gloom,
Thou comest. A. TENNYSON
Tennyson also writes: —
For how should I for certain hold
Because my memory is so cold.
That I first was in human mould?It may be that no life is found
Which only to one engine bound
Falls off, but cycles always round.
But, if I lapsed from nobler place,
Some legend of a fallen race
Alone might hint of my disgrace.
Or, if through lower lives I came —
Tho’ all experience past became
Consolidate in mind and frame —
I might forget my weaker lot;
For is not our first year forgot?
The haunts of memory echo not.
Some draughts of Lethe doth await
As old mythologies relate
The slipping through from state to state
Moreover, something is or seems,
That touches me with mystic gleams,
Like glimpses of forgotten dreams —
Of something felt, like something here;
Of something done, I know not where;
Such as no language may declare.
In Shelley’s poems the ideas of pre-existence and many lives may frequently be met expressly or implied. The title over one of his songs of unrest “The World’s Wanderer” evidently alludes to himself, as do the lines in it
“Like the world’s rejected guest.”
The song of the spirits in “Prometheus Unbound” pictures vividly the human soul’s descent into the gloom of the material world:
To the deep, to the deep!
Through the shade of sleep
Through the cloudy strife
Of Death and of LifeThrough the veil and the bar
Of things which seem and are
Even to the steps of the remotest throne,
While the sound whirls around
As the fawn draws the hound
As the lightning the vapour
As a weak moth, the taper;
Death, despair; love, sorrow;
Time both; today, tomorrow;
As steel obeys the spirit of the stone
In the depth of the deep
Like the veiled lightning asleep
Like the spark nursed in embers,
The last look Love remembers,
Like a diamond which shines
On the dark wealth of mines
A spell is treasured but for thee alone,
Happy those early days when I
Shined in my angel-infancy
Before I understood this place
Appointed for my second race
Or taught my soul to fancy aught
But a white celestial thought;
When yet I had not walked above
A mile or two from my first love,
And, looking back, at that short space
Could see a glimpse of his bright face
When on some gilded cloud or flower
My gazing soul would dwell an hour
And in those weaker glories spy
Some shadows of eternity;
Before I taught my tongue to wound
My conscience with a sinful sound;
Or had the black art to dispense
A several sin to every sense.
But felt through all this flashy dress
Bright shoots of everlastingness.Oh, how I long to travel back
And tread again that ancient track!
That I might once more reach that plain
Where first I left my glorious train;
From whence the enlightened spirit sees
That shady city of palm trees.
But ah! my soul with too much stay
Is drunk and staggers in the way
Some men a forward motion love,
But I by backward steps would move
And when this dust falls to the urn,
In that state I came, return.
Edmund W. Gosse treats the idea of Wordsworth’s “Intimations” in a way directly opposite to the older poet, in these verses:
TO MY DAUGHTER.
Thou hast the colors of the Spring
The gold of king cups triumphing
The blue of wood-bells wild,
But winter thoughts thy spirit fill
And thou art wandering from us still
Too young to be our child.Yet have thy fleeting smiles confessed
Thou dear and much desired guest
That home is near at hand.
Long lost in high mysterious lands
Close by our door thy spirit stands
In journey well nigh past.
Oh sweet bewildered soul, I watch
The fountains of thine eyes, to catch
New fancies bubbling there,
To feel one common light, and lose
The flood of strange etherial hues
Too dire for us to share!
Fade, cold immortal lights, and make
This creature human for my sake
Since I am nought but clay;
An angel is too fine a thing
To sit behind my chair and sing
And cheer my passing day.
I smile, who could not smile, unless
The air of rapt unconsciousness
Past with the fading hours;
I joy in every childish sign
That proves the stranger less divine
And much more meekly ours.
FROM “A RECORD.”
None sees the slow and upward sweep
By which the soul from life-depths deep
Ascends, — unless, mayhap when free
With each new death we backward see
The long perspective of our race
Our multitudinous past lives trace.
THE PATH has already shown Browning’s expression of Reincarnation contained in Paracelsus. In his poem “One Word More” occur these lines also:
I shall never, in the years remaining
Paint you pictures, no, nor carve you statues
This of verse alone one life allows me
Other heights in other lives, God willing.
Similar glimpses of this thought occur in Byron, Pope, Coleridge, Swinburne and others, but it is difficult to select a continuous and complete wording of it in them.
— E.D. Walker, The Path, August 1887
The Poetry of Reincarnation in Western Literature: III
Ever since the time of Virgil, whose sixth Eneid contains a sublime version of Reincarnation, and of Ovid, whose metamorphoses beautifully present the old philosophies of metempsychosis, this theme has attracted many European poets beside those of England. While the Latin poets obtained their inspiration from the East, through Pythagoras and Plato, the Northern singers seem to express it spontaneously, unless it came to them with the Teutonic migration from the Aryan cradle of the race, and shifted its form with all their people’s wanderings so that it has lost all traces of connection with its Indian source. The old Norse legends teem with many guises of soul-journeying. In sublime and lovely stories, ballads and epics, these heroic vikings and their kindred perpetuated their belief that the human individuality travels through a great series of embodiments which physically reveal the spiritual character. The Icelandic Sagas also delight in these fables of transmigration and still fire the heart of Scandinavia and Denmark. It permeated the Welsh triads, oldest of all European poetry, and among the early Saxons this thought animated their Druid ceremonies and their noblest literature. The scriptures of those magnificent races whom Tacitus found in the German forests, whose intrepid manliness conquered the mistress of the world, and from whom are descended the modern ruling race, were inspired with this same doctrine. The treasures of these ancient writings are buried away from our sight, but a suggestion of their grandeur is found in the heroic qualities of the nations who were bred upon it. The following selections are representative of the chief branches of Continental European. Boyesen, although an American citizen, is really a modernized Norwegian. Goethe stands for the Teutonic race, and Schiller keeps him good company though it is difficult to quote distinct evidence from the latter. Victor Hugo and Beranger speak for France, and Campanella represents Italy.
My spirit wrestles in anguish
With fancies that will not depart
A wraith who borrowed my sunbeam
Has hidden himself in my heart.The press of this ancient being
Compels me forever to do
The phantom deeds of a phantom
Who lived long ages ago.
The thoughts that I feel seem hoary
With weight of centuries bent,
My prestine creative gladness
In happier climes was spent.
My happiest words sound wierdly
With laughter bathed in dread,
A hollow ghost of laughter
That is loathe to rise from the dead.
My tear has its fount in dead ages
And choked with their rust is my sigh,
The haunting voice of a spectre
Will ne’er from my bosom die.
Perchance in the distant cycles
My soul from Nirvana’s frost
Will gather its scattered life beams
Rekindling the soul that I lost.
And then I may rise from my graveyard,
And freed at last, may try
The life of a nobler being
In the soul that shall then be I.
— H. H. BOYSEN
THE SONG OF THE EARTH SPIRITS.
IN GOETHE’S “FAUST.”
The soul of man
Is like the water
From heaven it cometh
To heaven it mounteth
And thence at once
It must back to earth
From Victor Hugo’s poem:
“TO THE INVISIBLE ONE.”
(A CELLE QUI EST VOILEE.)
I am the drift of a thousand tides
The captive of destiny.
The weight of all darkness upon me abides
But cannot bury me.My spirit endures like a rocky isle
Amid the ocean of fate,
The thunderstorm is my domicile,
The hurricane is my mate.
I am the fugitive who far
From home has taken flight;
Along with the owl and evening star
I moan the song of night.
Art thou not too, like unto me
A torch to light earth’s gloom,
A soul, therefore a mystery,
A wanderer bound to roam.
Seek for me in the sea bird’s home,
Descend to my release,
Thy depths of cavernous shadows dumb
Illume, thou angel of peace!
As night brings forth the rosy morn
Perhaps ’tis heaven’s law
That from thy mystic smile is born
A glory I ne’er saw.
In this dark world where now I stay
I scarce can see myself;
Thy radiant soul shine on my way;
Duty’s my guiding elf.
With loving tones and beckoning hand
Thou say’st “Beyond the night
I catch a glimpse upon the strand
Of thy mansion gleaming bright.”
Before I came upon this earth
I know I lived in gladness
For ages as an angel. Birth
Has caused my present sadness.
My soul was once a heavenly dove
Thou who all power retains,
Let fall a pinion from above
Upon this bird’s remains!
Yes, ’tis my dire misfortune now
To hang between two ties
To hold within my furrowed brow
The earth’s clay, and the skies.
Alas the pain of being man
Of dreaming o’er my fall
Of finding heaven within my span,
Yet being but a pall;
Of toiling like a galley slave,
Of carrying the load
Of human burdens, while I rave
To fly unto my God;
Of trailing garments black with rust
I, son of heaven above!
Of being only graveyard dust
E’en though my name is — Love.
THE TRANSMIGRATION OF SOULS.
In philosophic mood, last night, as I was idly lying,
That souls may transmigrate, methought there could be no denying;
So, just to know to what I owe propensities so strong,
I drew my soul into a chat — the gossip lasted long.
“A votive offering,” she observed, “well might I claim for thee,
For thou in being had’st remained a cypher but for me.
Yet not a virgin soul was I when first in thee enshrined.”
Ah, I suspected, little soul, thus much that I should find.”Yes,” she continued, “yes, of old — I recollect it now —
In humble Ivy was I wreathed round many a joyous brow.
More subtle next the essence was that I essayed to warm —
A bird’s, that could salute the skies, a little bird’s my form;
Where thickets made a pleasant shade, where Shepherdesses strolled
I fluttered round, hopped on the ground, my simple lay I trolled,
My pinious grew, while still I flew, in freedom on the wind.”
Ah, I suspected, little soul, thus much that I should find.
“Medor my name, I next became a dog of wondrous tact,
The guardian of a poor blind man, his sole support in fact.
A trick of holding in my mouth a wooden bowl I knew,
I led my master through the streets, and begged his living too.
Devoted to the poor, to please the wealthy was my care,
Gleaning as sustenance for one what others well could spare.
Thus good I did, since to kind deeds so many I inclined.”
Ah, I suspected, little soul, thus much that I should find.
“Next, to breathe life into her charms, in a young girl I dwelt;
There in soft prison softly housed, what happiness I felt!
Till to my hiding place a swarm of cupids entrance gained,
And after pillaging it well, in garrison remained.
Like old campaigners there the rogues all sorts of mischief did,
And, night and day, while still I lay in a little corner hid,
How oft I saw the house on fire I scarce can call to mind.”
Ah, I suspected, little soul, thus much that I should find.
“Some light on thy propensities may now upon thee break,
But prithee, hark! one more remark, I still,” says she, “would make.
‘Tis this — that having dared one day with heaven to make too free,
God, for my punishment resolved to shut me up in thee;
And, what with sitting up at night, with work and woman’s art,
Tears and despair — for I forbear, some secrets to impart,
A poet is a very hell for souls thereto consigned.”
Ah, I suspected, little soul, thus much that I should find.
A SONNET ON CAUCASUS.
I fear that by my death the human race
Would gain no vantage. Thus I do not die.
So wide is this vast cage of misery
That flight and change lead to no happier place.
Shifting our pains, we risk a sorrier case:
All worlds, like ours, are sunk in agony:
Go where we will, we feel; and this my cry
I may forget like many an old disgrace.
Who knows what doom is mine? The Omnipotent
Keeps silence; nay, I know not whether strife
Or peace was with me in some earlier life.
Philip in a worse prison we hath pent
These three days past — but not without God’s will,
Stay we as God decrees: God doth no ill. — T. CAMPANELLA
— E.D. Walker, The Path, September 1887
The Poetry of Reincarnation in Western Literature: IV
The largest inspiration of all Western thought is nourished by the Academe. Not only idealism but the provinces of philosophy and literature hostile to Plato are really indebted to him. The noble loftiness, the etherial subtlety, the poetic beauty of that teaching has captivated most of the fine intellects of mediaeval and modern times and it is impossible to trace the invisible course of exalted thought which has radiated from this greatest Greek, the king of a nation of philosophers.
Adopting Emerson’s words “Out of Plato come all things that are still written and debated among men of thought. Great havoc makes he among our originalities. We have reached the mountain from which all these drift boulders were detached. The Bible of the learned for twenty-two centuries, every brisk young man who says fine things to each reluctant generation is some reader of Plato translating into the vernacular- his good things * * How many great men nature is incessantly sending up out of the night to be his men — Platonists! the Alexandrians, a constellation of genius; the Elizabethans, not less; Sir Thomas More, Henry More, John Hales, John Smith, Lord Bacon, Jeremy, Taylor, Ralph Cudworth, Sydenham, Thomas Taylor. Calvinism is in his Phaedro. Christianity is in it. Mahometanism draws all its philosophy, in its hand book of morals, the Akhlak-y-Jalaly, from him. Mysticism finds in Plato all its texts. “We know not how much of the world’s later poetry is due to the suggestion and nurture of the poet-philosopher. But in closing our studies of the poetry of Reincarnation it may be of interest to group together the avowed Platonic poets.
Most illustrious of all the English disciples of this master, in the brilliant coterie of “Cambridge Platonists,” was Dr. Henry More whom Dr. Johnson esteemed “one of our greatest divines and philosophers and no mean poet.” Hobbes said of him that if his “own philosophy was not true he knew none that he should sooner adopt than Henry More’s of Cambridge;” and Hoadley styles him “one of the first men of this or any other country.” Coleridge wrote that his philosophical works “contained more enlarged and elevated views of the Christian dispensation than I have met with in any other single volume; for More had both the philosophical and poetic genius supported by immense erudition.” He was a devout student of Plato. In the heat of rebellion he was spared by the fanatics. They pardoned his refusal to take their covenant and left him to continue the philosophic occupations which had rendered him famous as a loveable and absorbed scholar. He wove together in many poems a quaint texture of Gothic fancy and Greek thought. His “Psychozoia” or “Life of the Soul,” from which the following verses are taken is a long Platonic poem tracing the course of the soul through ancient existences down into the earthly realm. Campbell said of this work that it “is like a curious grotto whose labyrinths we might explore for its strange and mystic associations.” Dr. More was an intimate friend of Addison and long a correspondent of Descartes.
PLATONIC POETS ON REINCARNATION.
From Henry More’s “Philosophical Poems” (Psychozoia).
I would sing the pre-existency
Of human souls and live once o’er again
By recollection and quick memory
All that is passed since first we all began.
But all too shallow be my wits to scan
So deep a point and mind too dull to climb
So dark a matter. But thou more than man
Aread, thou sacred soul of Plotin dear
Tell me what mortals are. Tell what of old they were.A spark or ray of divinity
Clouded with earthly fogs, and clad in clay
A precious drop sunk from eternity
Spilt on the ground, or rather slunk away.
For then we fell when we ‘gan first t’essay
By stealth of our own selves something to been
Uncentering ourselves from our one great stay
Which rupture we new liberty did ween
And from that prank right jolly wits ourselves did deem.
Show fitly how the pre-existing soul
Enacts and enters bodies here below
And then entire unhurt can leave this moul
In which by sense and motion they may know
Better than we what things transacted be
Upon the earth, and when they best may show
Themselves to friend or foe, their phantasmy
Moulding their airy arc to gross consistency.
Milton imbibed from his college friend Henry More an early fondness for the study of Plato, whose philosophy nourished most of the fine spirits of that day and he expresses the Greek sage’s opinion of the soul in his Comus:
The soul grows clotted by oblivion
Imbodies and embrutes till she quite lose
The divine property of her first being;
Such as those thick and gloomy shadows damp
Oft seen in charnel vaults and sepulchres
Lingering and setting by a new made grave
As loth to leave the body that it loved.
Milton’s Platonic proclivities are also shown in his poem “On the Death of a Fair Infant:”
Wert thou that just maid, who once before
Forsook the hated earth, O tell me sooth,
And came’st again to visit us once more?
Or were thou that sweet smiling youth?
Or any other of that heavenly brood
Let down in cloudy throne to do the world some good?
Or wert thou of the golden-winged host,
Who having clad thyself in human weed,
To earth from thy prefixed seat did’st post,
And after short abode fly back with speed
As if to show what creatures heaven doth breed.
Thereby to set the hearts of men on fire
To scorn the sordid world and unto heaven aspire.
In the old library of poetry known as Dodsley’s Collection, is a Miltonic poem by an anonymous Platonist which is very interesting and as it is difficult of access we quote the best part of it:
IN IMITATION OF MILTON.
Now had th’ archangel trumpet, raised sublime
Above the walls of heaven, begun to sound;
All aether took the blast and fell beneath
Shook with celestial noise; th’ almighty host
Hot with pursuit, and reeking with the blood
Of guilty cherubs smeared in sulphurous dust,
Pause at the known command of sounding gold.
At first they close the wide Tartarian gates,
Th’ impenetrable folds on brazen hinge
Roll creaking horrible; the din beneath
O’ercomes the war of flames, and deafens hell.
Then through the solid gloom with nimble wing
They cut their shining traces up to light;
Returned upon the edge of heavenly day
Where thinnest beams play round the vast obscure
And with eternal gleam drives back the night.
They find the troops less stubborn, less involved
In crime and ruin, barr’d the realms of peace,
Yet uncondemned to baleful beats of woe,
Doubtful and suppliant; all the plumes of light
Moult from their shuddering wings, and sickly fear
Shades every face with horror; conscious guilt
Rolls in the livid eye-ball, and each breast
Shakes with the dread of future doom unknown.
‘Tis here the wide circumference of heaven
Opens in two vast gates, that inward turn
Volumnious, on jasper columns hung
By geometry divine; they ever glow
With living sculptures, they arise by turns
To imboss the shining leaves, by turns they set
To give succeeding argument their place;
In holy hieroglyphics on they move.
The gaze of journeying angels, as they pass
Oft looking back, and held in deep surprise.
Here stood the troops distinct; the cherub guard
Unbarred the splendid gates, and in they roll
Harmonious; for a vocal spirit sits
Within each hinge, and as they onward drive,
In just divisions breaks the numerous jars
With symphony melodious, such as spheres
Involved in tenfold wreaths are said to sound.
Out flows a blaze of glory: for on high
Towering advanced the moving throne of God.
Above the throne, th’ ideas heavenly bright
Of past, of present, and of coming time,
Fixed their immoved abode, and there present
An endless landscape of created things
To sight celestial, where angelic eyes
Are lost in prospect; for the shiny range
Boundless and various in its bosom bears
Millions of full proportioned worlds, beheld
With steadfast eyes, till more arise to view,
And further inward scenes start up unknown.
A vocal thunder rolled the voice of God
Servants of God! and virtues great in arms
We approve your faithful works, and you return
Blessed from the dire pursuits of rebel foes;
Resolved, obdurant, they have tried the force
Of this right hand, and known almighty power;
Transfixed with lightning down they sunk and fell
Into the fiery gulf and deep they plunge
Below the burning waves, to hide their heads.
For you, ye guilty throng that lately joined
In this sedition, since seduced from good,
And caught in trains of guile, by sprites malign
Superior in their order; you accept,
Trembling, my heavenly clemency and grace.
When the long era once has filled its orb,
You shall emerge to light and humbly here
Again shall bow before his favoring throne,
If your own virtue second my decree:
But all must have their races first below.
See, where below in chaos wondrous deep
A speck of light dawns forth, and thence throughout
The shades, in many a wreath, my forming power
There swiftly turns the burning eddy round,
Absorbing all crude matter near its brink;
Which next, with subtle motions, takes the form
I please to stamp, the seed of embryo worlds
All now in embryo, but ere long shall rise
Variously scattered in this vast expanse,
Involved in winding orbs, until the brims
Of outward circles brush the heavenly gates.
The middle point a globe of curling fire
Shall hold, which round it sheds its genial heat;
Where’er I kindle life the motion grows.
In all the endless orbs, from this machine;
And infinite vicissitudes that roll
About the restless center; for I rear
In those meanders turned, a dusty ball,
Deformed all o’er with woods, whose shaggy tops
Inclose eternal mists, and deadly damps
Hover within their boughs, to cloak the light;
Impervious scenes of horror, till reformed
To fields and grassy dells and flowery meads
By your continual pains. Here Silence sits
In folds of wreathy mantling sunk obscure,
And in dark fumes bending his drowsy head;
An urn he holds, from whence a lake proceeds
Wide, flowing gently, smooth and Lethe named;
Hither compelled, each soul must drink long draughts
Of those forgetful streams, till forms within
And all the great ideas fade and die:
For if vast thought should play about a mind
Inclosed in flesh, and dragging cumbrous life,
Fluttering and beating in the mournful cage,
It soon would break its gates and wing away:
‘Tis therefore my decree, the soul return
Naked from off this beach, and perfect blank
To visit the new world; and wait to feel
Itself in crude consistence closely shut,
The dreadful monument of just revenge;
Immured by heaven’s own hand, and placed erect
On fleeting matter all imprisoned round
With walls of clay; the etherial mould shall bear
The chain of members, deafened with an ear,
Blinded by eyes, and trammeled by hands,
Here anger, vast ambition and disdain,
And all the haughty movements rise and fall,
As storms of neighboring atoms tear the soul,
And hope and love and all the calmer turns
Of easy hours, in their gay gilded shapes,
With sudden run, skim e’er deluded minds,
As matter leads the dance; but one desire
Unsatisfied, shall mar ten thousand joys.
The rank of beings, that shall first advance
Drink deep of human life; and long shall stay
On this great scene of cares.
From all the rest That longer for the destined body wait,
Less penance I expect, and short abode
In those pale dreamy kingdoms will content;
Each has his lamentable lot and all
On different rocks abide the pains of life.
The pensive spirit takes the lonely grove;
Nightly he visits all the sylvan scenes,
Where far remote, a melancholy moon
Raising her head, serene and shorn of beams,
Throws here and there her glimmerings through the trees.
The sage shall haunt this solitary ground
And view the dismal landscape limned within
In horrid shades, mixed with imperfect light.
Here Judgment, blinded by delusive sense,
Contracted through the cranny of an eye,
Shoots up faint languid beams to that dark seat,
Wherein the soul, bereaved of native fire,
Sets intricate, in misty clouds obscured.
Hence far removed, a different being race
In cities full and frequent take their seat,
Where honour’s crushed, and gratitude oppressed
With swelling hopes of gain, that raise within
A tempest, and driven onward by success,
Can find no bounds. For creatures of a day
Stretch their wide cares to ages; full increase
Starves their penurious soul, while empty sound
Fills the ambitious; that shall ever shrink,
Pining with endless cares, while this shall swell
To tympany enormous. Bright in arms
Here shines the hero, out he fiercely leads
A martial throng his instruments of rage;
To fill the world with death, and thin mankind.
There savage nature in one common lies
And feels its share of hunger, care and pain,
Cheated by flying prey; and now they tear
Their panting flesh; and deeply, darkly quaff
Of human woe, even when they rudely sip
The flowing stream, or draw the savory pulp
Of nature’s freshest viands; fragrant fruits
Enjoyed with trembling, and in danger sought.
But where the appointed limits of a law
Fences the general safety of the world,
No greater quiet reigns; the blended loads
Of punishment and crime deform the world,
And give no rest to man; with pangs and throes
He enters on the stage; prophetic tears
And infant cries prelude his future woes;
And all is one continual scene of gulf
Till the sad sable curtain falls in death.
Then the gay glories of the living world
Shall cast their empty varnish and retire
Out of his feeble views; the shapeless root
Of wild imagination dance and play
Before his eyes obscure; till all in death
Shall vanish, and the prisoner enlarged,
Regains the flaming borders of the sky.
He ended. Peals of thunder rend the heavens,
And chaos, from the bottom turned, resounds.
The mighty clangor; all the heavenly host
Approve the high decree, and loud they sing
Eternal justice; while the guilty troops,
Sad with their doom, but sad without despair,
Fall fluttering down to Lethe’s lake and there
For penance, and the destined body wait.
Shelley’s Platonic leanings are well known. The favorite Greek conceit of pre-existence in many earlier lives may frequently be found in other poems besides the “Prometheus Unbound” quoted in part II of our series.
The last stanza of “”The Cloud,” is Shelly’s Platonic symbol of human life:
I am the daughter of earth and water
And the nursling of the sky
I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores
I change, but I cannot die.
For after the rain when with never a stain
The pavilion of heaven is bare
And the winds and sunbeams with their convex gleams
Build up the blue dome of air
I silently laugh at my own cenotaph
And out of the caverns of rain
Like a child from the womb, like a ghost from the tomb,
I arise and unbuild it again.
Another poem entitled “A Fragment,” certainly refers to pre-existence:
Ye gentle visitants of calm thought
Moods like the memories of happier earth
Which come arrayed in thoughts of little worth
Like stars in clouds by weak winds enwrought.
Coleridge has embodied his Platonic view of pre-existence in this sonnet, “Composed on a homeward journey; the author having received intelligence of the birth of a son”:
Oft o’er my brain does that strange fancy roll
Which makes the present (while the flash doth last)
Seem a mere semblance of some unknown past,
Mixed with such feelings as perplex the soul
Self questioned in her sleep; and some have said
We lived, ere yet this robe of flesh we wore.
O my sweet baby! when I reach my door
If heavy looks should tell me thou art dead
(As sometimes through excess of hope, I fear)
I think that I should struggle to believe
Thou wert a spirit, to this nether sphere
Sentenced for some more venial crime to grieve;
Did’st scream, then spring to meet Heaven’s quick reprieve,
While we wept idly o’er the little bier.
In Emerson, the Plato of the nineteenth century, the whole feeling of the Greek seems reflected in its most glorious development. Many of his poems clearly suggest the influence of his Greek teacher, as his “Threnody” upon the death of his young son, and “The Sphinx” in which these two stanzas appear:
To vision profounder
Man’s spirit must dive;
His aye-rolling orb
At no goal wilt arrive;
The heavens that now draw him
With sweetness untold
Once found for new heavens
He spurneth the old.
Now follows, now flies
And under pain, pleasure, —
Under pleasure, pain lies.
Love works at the centre,
Forth speed the strong pulses
To the borders of day.
Many of the church hymns glow with the enthusiasm of Platonic pre-existence, and are fondly sung by Christians without any thought that, while their idea is of Biblical origin, it has been nourished and perpetuated by the Greek sage, and directly implies reincarnation. For instance:
“I’m but a stranger here, heaven is my home.”
“Heaven is my fatherland, heaven is my home.”
Mrs. Elizabeth Rowe, the friend of Bishop Ken and of Dr. Isaac Watts, has left this allusion to pre-existence in
A HYMN ON HEAVEN.
Ye starry mansions, hail! my native skies
Here in my happy, pre-existent state
(A spotless mind) I led the life of Gods,
But passing, I salute you, and advance
To yonder brighter realms, allowed access,
Hail, splendid city of the almighty king
Celestial salem, situate above, &c.
— E.D. Walker, The Path, October 1887
Civilization, History and Reincarnation
Civilization, History, and Reincarnation
By John P. Van Mater
History is the ebb and flow of civilization over the millennia, tracing the pathway of varying culture whose basic premises may have been quite different from ours. Many early peoples believed that consciousness is the reality and matter the illusion, and this outlook colored not only their religious and philosophical perspectives, but also the customs, art, and other aspects of those cultures. It might be difficult for the scientifically oriented historian fully to understand and appreciate these peoples’ beliefs and accomplishments.
The claim today is that millions of years ago life sprang from nonlife, and the original protoplasm gradually proliferated into all the variety of life that we know — including ourselves! When you boil it all down, man is nothing more than a complicated aspect of matter. Matter is the reality; consciousness and many qualities we treasure in human existence are, directly or indirectly, by-products of matter. As the crowning glory of this evolutionary process, man has to be the most recent product of evolution.
The historian, like all of us, is influenced by the perspective of his era. It is as though people wear glasses, and no matter how careful they try to be, these glasses are tinted with the preconceptions of their time. Back just a few hundred years the earth was described as having been created some six or seven thousand years ago, and the dating of civilized life had to be adjusted to fit this stricture. Science put an end to this by proving that earth is hundreds of millions of years old. Now, however, we are tied to other preconceptions.
Sometimes the works of ancient historians survive, and these are most valuable for their authors were nearer the scene and had to hand materials perhaps now lost. Another genuine history, one that has been discounted more than it should, are the legends and myths passed on by oral tradition. They describe the birth of the world and tell of ancient cultures which thrived on former continents. They speak of migrations of peoples over land and across the waters. Myths and epics are our racial memory and often the only evidence we have of these obscure periods.
Civilizations, like all things, are born, wax powerful, reach a zenith in creativity and power; thereafter the seeds of their undoing begin to sprout within them, and they decline and finally die. Or they may rumble up and down for awhile, but eventually they disappear or are absorbed into a more vigorous culture. The classical world had its flowering in Greece, Alexandria, and then in Rome, after which there was a steady decline as the Dark Ages came on. Where is the evolution when a nation or an empire sinks from creative heights into abject ignorance? Where is the passing on of learning, expertise, and refinement from one age to the next?
Let us now bring reincarnation into the picture. Reincarnation is simply the idea that man lives many lives on earth, and that in any life he is what he had made himself in former lives by means of the law of cause and effect, or karma. In the present life he is making himself what he will one day become. In each person there must reside an enduring element that survives repeated embodiments, and in this essential self is stored the wisdom of experience. Evolution is the process whereby the potentials of this spiritual essence gradually unfold. Thus evolution is a soul process and its continuity is not from generation to generation, but extends through repeated reimbodiments of the individual who may seek birth in many races over the course of its reincarnations through the ages.
Reincarnation gives valuable insights into the study of history, for each era is the people living in it and the karma they are working out as individuals, groups, nations, civilizations. It was great souls that made Periclean Greece. Had those creative minds not been present, there would not have been a Periclean Age. That is an obvious fact. Every epoch offers opportunity for the development of the souls then coming into embodiment. Those which have creativity are naturally going to be drawn to eras in which they can express that creativity —unless karma prevents it for one reason or another. People are drawn together to work out their karma, and in doing so they set the tone and character of the age into which they are born. If reincarnation is a fact, then we were the ancients.
Civilizations are like fireworks, they burst into flame and illuminate their eras. They endure for a certain span, but eventually die down and night takes over. Meanwhile there are other efflorescences, near and afar, and the problem is that very often there seems to be no connection between one culture and others that supersede it, even those in close proximity, such as Greece and Rome. Rome took over many Greek ideas, and they left their mark; yet the Romans were a different set of egos: not Greek souls, but Roman souls with a Roman stamp. So whereas civilizations may influence one another, each one follows its own pattern of birth and growth, does its own “thing,” so to say.
Races of men are like rivers: their substance is constantly coming in and flowing away. People are being born while others are dying. Through it all, the race rises to power and then recedes into obscurity over the centuries; yet it retains its stamp. And that is a very interesting and puzzling fact. The history we read is a caricature, because it is enormously compressed. Wars seem incessant because the intervals of peace are foreshortened. Evil men are made monstrous; great leaders more than human. And all the while the bulk of mankind, who are the stuff of history, have gone quietly about their lives much as they do today.
Probably only a small portion of the human life-wave is incarnated at any one time; the rest are undergoing the far longer period of their after-death experiences. There are cycles like the present when earth seems crowded with human souls; other cycles when, for reasons hidden in nature, humanity is reduced in number and large portions of the globe lie fallow. But in every age mankind consists of a wide variety of souls; those below the “norm,” some even depraved; then the great average run of mankind to which most of us belong. There are also the leaders, geniuses, forerunners, philosophers, and true mystics, with Christs and Buddhas, Sankaras and Zoroasters representing the evolutionary goal and hope of mankind.
Why must nations rise only to die? When a civilization is being born it attracts to itself hardy souls, pioneers, those who have that type of karma to work out. As governmental phases get under way, administrators come in, lawgivers, artisans, and artists. Creative efforts begin to flower. Armies with their leaders may also play an important role. The race reaches its zenith of power and influence when individuals no longer have to struggle to achieve their freedoms or even their livelihood; these are taken for granted. A new type of soul comes in, effete, soft, and the race or nation gradually draws into itself the seeds of its decline. In time it will die.
Looking through the eye of reincarnation, we see that at every stage in the development of a nation or civilization souls incarnate whose karma is such as to fulfill its destiny at that point. Yet no civilization can continue to rise indefinitely and for very good reasons. Consider, for instance, the armies who followed Tamerlane (Timer) as he ravaged his way across Asia Minor, tearing down great cities of Persia and elsewhere stone by stone, slaughtering the inhabitants and even sowing the earth with salt. Now, these cruel soldiers were human beings; they reincarnate. And when they do, they bring themselves, their karma, and thus create a turbulent era in some part of the globe. The seeds they sowed were seeds of violence — not those of calmness, deliberation, and forbearance.
If civilizations all over the world continued to rise in majesty and achievement, where would be the place for souls with different types of karma? All must come back, bringing themselves and their destiny. Hence the world becomes fragmented, more so at times than at others: here a lofty civilization, there less evolved egos expending their karma. That is why history shows us times of peace and eras of conflagration: environments created by the widely varied souls that form our human family. The sowers return to the fields of their sowing.
In explaining the rise and fall of civilizations and the seeming ebb and flow of evolution, we should have in mind the words of Thomas Huxley, the anthropologist, who said:
Looking at the matter from the most rigidly scientific point of view, the assumption that, amidst the myriads of worlds scattered through endless space, there can be no intelligence, as much greater than man’s as his is greater than a blackbeetle’s; no being endowed with powers of influencing the course of nature as much greater than his, as his is greater than a snail’s, seems to me not merely baseless, but impertinent.
— Essays Upon Some Controverted Questions (1892), P. 27
This is in line with the original Christian concept of hierarchies of beings superior to man which form the inner fabric of the universe. The activities of these greater intelligences are the laws of nature, call them Cherubim, Amshaspends, Elohim, Dhyani-chohans, or whatever. Nearly every religion has described them and also, unfortunately, anthropomorphized them. Without their guiding and sustaining influence, nature would become a meaningless chaos. They instigate or ideate the design of nature’s working and are the forces behind its inbuilt healing system or ineluctable return to harmony.
Man with his imperfectly developed mind and uncurbed emotions can intrude upon this natural order, but nature will eventually react upon him. That is what is meant by the word karma. Human life is not like going to college for a term of years and being handed a diploma. The only diploma we get in life is ourselves. The greatest god in the highest heaven is not going to interfere with our inalienable right to stumble and fall and pick ourselves up a hundred times in a hundred lives if necessary, until we become finer beings by our own self-devised efforts. Higher intelligences work within the process of evolution, urging it; but each being must advance itself within that milieu.
What is the substance of the civilizations that make history? It is human souls evolving from age to age in a series of incarnations, who one day assuredly will bring forth their higher potentials. Evolution is a slow task, yet in some future age humanity will have become truly human.
— Sunrise Magazine, April/May 1985
Heredity and Reincarnation
Heredity and Reincarnation
By John P. Van Mater
Most of us on hearing the word heredity would think of parents bequeathing their looks and traits to their children. Oscar has his father’s nose, his mother’s ears; or he is serious like his Uncle Jed. How true all this is is difficult to say. Certainly many children do look like their parents, but many do not. When it comes to genius and talent, that can spring up anywhere. So what is one to think?
In the last three or four decades there have been drastic changes in the outlook on heredity. It is fairly obvious that in the lower kingdoms there is more physical predictability than in the higher, and also that they do not express consciousness and free will in as widely divergent patterns as we do. Hence, researchers have been led to believe that heredity explains the whole process and, having concluded that the lower kingdoms are ruled in all phases by genetic transmission from parent to offspring, it is natural to assume that among human beings the same is true.
But when it comes to the almost infinite diversity of humans, especially in the inner life, the mathematical possibilities are so numerous that genetic predictability is almost nil in individual cases. So we must resort to statistics. The predominant theory seems to be that each person is the expression of certain gene patterns: the DNA possibilities of the parents combine in particular ways to determine the entire physical, mental, and emotional endowment of the child. The whole process is “set” when the germ cell is fertilized, and it is this pattern in the original cell that makes him him or her her. When two people have a child, it is how their gene spirals or DNA potentials come together that determines the looks, character, and endowments of their child. The next child born to the same parents will be the result of quite different combinations, and thus may be an entirely different person in every way.
The whole idea of this physical determinism stems from certain assumptions. The first is that the total person is a byproduct of genetic combinations. He is therefore an aspect of matter, a very complicated aspect, to be sure. Since there is no scientifically accepted evidence of soul survival, it is presumed that consciousness is a flickering emanation of the body itself and therefore dies with the body. The only thing that survives is the germ plasm that parents pass on to each child. That plasm must therefore contain everything necessary not merely to carry on the family strain, so to say, but all the wide varieties of talent and looks within that strain. This is why biologists and geneticists have paid so much attention to it. It is the only physical link between parents and children.
It is just here that uncertainty comes in. We do not know how the strands of DNA, or genetic determinants, will combine. Therefore we do not know what type of person will be born to any set of parents. Statistically there may be a kind of predictability. Out of 100,000 cases of parents in a certain category, the majority of offspring may be, let us say, mentally plus or minus. On the other hand, the fire of genius may show itself at any time, no matter who the parents.
Let us now introduce into the picture the ancient concept that man is primarily a consciousness center, a monad, unfolding its potentials through many reincarnations of the soul or ego. In each life he is himself, that is, what he has made himself to be in former lives and, as he travels through life, he is bit by bit making himself into what he shall one day become. All of this operates through cause and effect or karma, acted on by intelligence, will, and emotion. Among human beings the changes made in ourselves are for the most part interior, in the realm of talent and character. They are unseen, although these inner changes may reflect themselves physically in time, if not in this life, then in subsequent lives. But the main thrust in human life is not physical, which may explain why the human body (with the exception of the brain) remains relatively unspecialized.
Does the possibility of a reincarnating entity that survives from life to life contradict scientific theory? Not really. It conflicts only with the “nothing buts” implied but not stated in scientific theory. Man is “nothing but” a complex organization of matter; “nothing but” a physically based emotional-mental structure, albeit so complicated that we cannot as yet grasp all the details. These “nothing buts” are scientific theory, they are not scientific fact. Other explanations might be devised to explain the same facts, and so long as they cover all the facts they would have validity. Of course if additional facts are discovered that contradict certain theories, scientific or metaphysical, then those theories would have to be modified.
How does the idea of reincarnation of souls fit into the present scientific speculations about the linkage of DNA chains in the fertilized germ cell? Theosophists also place a great deal of importance upon the germ plasm. It is indeed the sole physical transmission from parent to child. This may explain why the Greeks, for example, included what they called palingenesis among their explanations of reimbodying souls. (Ancient thinkers conceived of at least eight modes of reimbodiment to describe the coming and going of souls.) Palingenesis simply refers to the physical passing on of identic life from parent to offspring: the oak produces an acorn, which in turn grows into an oak.
When human death occurs, there is a withdrawal of the consciousness. After the earthly elements are dropped, the higher portion of the soul rests in a dream world, absorbing and bringing to fruition the unfulfilled aspirations and thoughts of the previous life. All is incorporated into the nature, so that in the next life the soul will return amended and enlarged in proportion to the inner forces that governed the last life or incarnation. A still higher portion of his nature, call it the Father within, if you like, enters the circulations of the cosmos, which is the field of its larger life. That is why the ancient Romans said of one who dies, that he sleeps among the stars.
Eventually the reincarnating ego seeks rebirth again and the processes of incarnation begin to take place. A child is drawn to parents with whom it has old ties, old causes to work out, and is almost invariably born in its own family stream from out of the past. The soul about to be born is karmically attracted to a certain couple. It sends forth an overshadowing influence or ray, which is dual in nature: one aspect enters the womb of the mother and the living ovum, the other enters the father, invigorating a particular germ cell. The father and mother-to-be join to provide a psychomagnetic link between the incoming ego and the waking germ cell. Happenings of various sorts often occur to abort this process, in which event the ego has to overshadow another life-atom and start again the reimbodiment procedure.
Where does heredity fit in? The reincarnating ego, drawn to its prospective parents, selects from the gene pool provided by them that which will express itself. There is no chance involved. The child, therefore, inherits first of all — himself. He did not inherit his Self from his parents. He brought that with him, it is he. But the parents provided the genetic possibilities for him to reimbody all his particular strengths and weaknesses, faculties, talents. These may be similar to or different from either or both parents; most important, the DNA pattern in the fertilized germ cell will reflect the unique potentials of the incoming soul. It could hardly be otherwise since this pattern is shaped by and formed around the incarnating energies seeking to express as nearly as possible the multifaceted person coming to birth.
Although the whole process is governed by law, there is no absolute predictability from our vantage point, because the motivating force or consciousness of the reimbodying soul cannot be detected except in the material changes it effects. And who knows beforehand what its particular talents and weaknesses may be, or what inner and outer karma may lie waiting.
It might be asked: “Why is it necessary to bring the idea of the soul into it?” The facts seem to warrant it for those who cannot accept that such an important event as ushering into this world a loving, laughing, sympathetic aspiring, gifted human being can be the outcome of combinations which, if left to chance, might just as well have produced a maniac or a moron. Also, many cannot believe that we are merely aspects of matter that die with the body, that all there is to life is this short period of striving and achieving, after which — nothing. Surely there is more to man and his soul-life than that.
— Sunrise magazine, April/May 1984
Reincarnation—The Hidden Doctrine
Reincarnation—The Hidden Doctrine
WRITING of reincarnation, Lessing, dramatist and philosopher of the eighteenth century enlightenment in Germany, summed up the meaning of this doctrine and its most powerful supporting argument by addressing four simple questions:
Why should not every individual man have existed more than once upon this world? Why should I not come back as often as I am capable of acquiring fresh knowledge? Is this hypothesis so laughable merely because it is the oldest? Because the human understanding, before the sophistries of the schools had dissipated and debilitated it, lighted upon it at once? (The Education of the Human Race.)
But, if reincarnation is the natural conclusion of the unprejudiced intellect, why has it been all but obliterated in Western thought — hidden except to the few? The selfishly biased disposition of the Roman Catholic hierarchy serves as but partial answer. If reincarnation be a law of nature, easily discernible, how could such opposition as that of Catholicism arise? Earnest theosophists today feel that the teaching of reincarnation is for the masses, that all men will be helped through its promulgation to find and feel a vital purpose in life. Yet in ages past, even among such enlightened cultures as the most ancient Greeks and Egyptians, the full truths of reincarnation were reserved for those who had won the right of initiation into the Mystery Religions. Why? This question will be asked by the whole world of thinking men if the hypothesis of reincarnation becomes popularly considered, as it may before long, aided by the necessities of both science and religion, and further spread by efforts of Theosophists. But when and if such a conclusion is forced to the intellectual foreground “by the mighty onrush of facts,” as predicted by H. P. Blavatsky, it should come pari passu with the general recognition of impersonal law. Stated in a telling sentence from the Secret Doctrine: “Evolution in general, events, mankind and everything else in Nature proceed in cycles.”
Every cycle has its limitations, especially in respect to the judicious distribution of Occult knowledge. Moreover, such knowledge cannot be vicariously acquired, but must be sought out and striven for. If there are indeed beings far above “human” stature in respect to understanding of nature’s mysteries and man’s powers, it can be easily seen that they would demonstrate their wisdom by refraining from attempts to “force” the evolution of their less progressed brothers. Knowledge of occult powers today would make a mad world more mad, unless there were first, firmly engrained, a philosophy which demanded beneficial use of such acquirements. “As above, so below.” Just as does the elementary instructor of the school, these greatest teachers must confine themselves to presentation of knowledge at times when it is needed and can be used to benefit.
It may, however, be difficult for many to see why the doctrine of reincarnation was not specifically emphasized in the exoteric philosophy of Gautama Buddha; and why Jesus of Nazareth seems to have taught it chiefly by implication, if it indeed represents fundamental truth. And why was true knowledge of this doctrine in Egypt and Greece reserved for initiates?
Let us consider the possibility that this teaching can never acquire real significance to the individual before preliminary psychological steps are made. What could reincarnation have meant to the man who was conscious only of personal desires and the material aspect of his nature? If memory of past lives is impacted in the spiritual nature, in character attributes of soul learning, what would the teaching that the spiritual essence of man is continuous have signified to one who was entirely unaware of his own divine presence? From this viewpoint reincarnation could not be comprehended — it could not be accepted save as distorted into an emotional belief holding out promise of further sensual enjoyment.
The first step of every great religious and philosophical reformer has been to attempt to awaken man’s consciousness of inner divinity. So it was with Buddha, who came to reform the materialistic Brahmanical religions which had clouded over the simple truths of spirit. He strove to re-awaken memories “impacted in the imperishable center of man’s nature” — memories of those great teachers who personified spiritual knowledge to infant humanity on this earth. Buddha perceived that the nature of the soul must once have been known to every man, and that the fire of spiritual understanding must be rekindled.
The legends of every civilization picture man’s long pilgrimage in search of his own soul. The story of Lucifer, “the fallen prince,” is an allegory of man’s descent into matter at the beginning of present human evolution. Lucifer, the mind-being, acquired a dual nature with the addition to the soul vesture of the many degrees of lower intelligence making up his physical and emotional instruments and dependent upon him for upward impulse on the ladder of being. It was easy for beings of power to exploit and indulge these lower lives, and few souls there were, according to ancient legend, who could with unfaltering steps march the highroad of further evolution without first losing themselves in the unreasoning sensual enjoyments of the material world. Since Lucifer fell into the slumber of “spiritual disgrace,” in accordance with the probabilities arrayed by the nature of material evolution, he has struggled to awaken and find his other self — the being within of high resolve who possesses naught but spiritual desire and the power to control and use intelligently the forms of life entrusted to his care.
Before, then, the cycle could turn for the masses of egos — turn upward to the hour for understanding the real meaning of reincarnation — they required help by precept and example to feel again the strength of their divine potentiality. The reformer Jesus came at a time of great limitation to the “lost sheep of Israel,” with the simplest of ethics forming implicitly a religion of universal brotherhood. He assented to reincarnation, according to the stories of Matthew and other scribes, but did not dwell on a doctrine that could not yet be understood in full significance. So with Plato, greatest of the early Western Initiates, who left the profound teachings concerning the cyclic rebirth of souls in the form of myths and allegories, while his external emphasis lay chiefly on the practical ethics of social philosophy. Here, too, was work of preparation for the day when the central doctrine of reincarnation might be grasped and understood in its entirety.
Since Plato, many of his followers continued this same preparation in accordance with the possibilities and needs of their times. Even through that dark intermediary cycle called the Middle Ages there were those who taught the deserving few the doctrine of future and former lives. The method, perhaps, was different from the instruction offered in the Grecian and Egyptian mysteries, but the principle was the same. Those who were ready received. Often unconsciously great poets such as Wordsworth, Shelley and Browning re-presented, through their moments of intuitive vision, this central doctrine. With the Enlightenment in Germany and England, reincarnation was again offered in a more intellectual and rational form. Lessing, Herder, Goethe and Schopenhauer in northern Europe were among the able defenders of the doctrine, while in England, Glanvil, Cudworth and numerous other Platonists laid the basis for a further awakening in the future. But of all these times it might be said that the cycle had not yet turned to the all-important point where science and theology had approached closely enough to demand of themselves a reasoned synthesis which might be the basis for mutual agreement. The cycle did turn during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, as evidenced both by the beginnings of a new science and religion within the old, and the present Theosophical Movement. Yet even with the inauguration of the Theosophical Movement of the last century, H. P. Blavatsky wrote, “No great truth was ever accepted a priori, and generally a century or two passed before it began to glimmer in the human consciousness as a possible verity, except in such cases as the positive discovery of the thing claimed as a fact.”
But now a time has come, if we are to believe the custodians of Theosophy, when, in the words of William Q. Judge: “The day of man’s childhood as an immortal being has passed away. He is now grown up, his mind arrived at the point where it must grow, and when, if knowledge be refused, this violation of our being will result in the grossest and vilest superstition or the most appalling materialism.”
With unmistakable evidence in support of this statement on every hand, it is small wonder that theosophists feel obliged to lead a crusade of ideas by all the means at their disposal. Further, the converging courses of both science and religion in recent years indicate that the cornerstone of the new philosophy must be the idea of reincarnation. The doctrine of reincarnation, whether it be casually regarded as a temporary hypothesis or accepted as fundamental truth, can offer to man a measure of new life and a growth of mind at a time when the only alternative is destruction and despair. Before the turn of the century William Q. Judge called upon theosophists to fulfill their unique duty to humanity by defending and promulgating this “most important of all theosophical teachings.” The esoteric had become exoteric. The time has arrived when, under natural evolutionary law, the “hidden doctrine” can remain hidden no more, but must enter the arena of modern thought and meet openly both its friends and enemies.
— THEOSOPHY, September, 1941
Reincarnation, the Eternal Cosmic Law
Reincarnation the Eternal Cosmic Law
Reincarnation is neither a dogma nor a doctrine nor a theory, but a Cosmic Law. Reincarnation is one of the most important and deepest philosophical propositions, and it forms the foundation of all true philosophical systems in ancient as well as in modern times, in all lands and in all civilizations. However, reincarnation today is one of the most controversial questions between philosophy, science and the Church.
A Cosmic Law is a certain procedure in Nature which all things and beings are bound to follow. Thus we have the law of gravity, the law of nutrition, the law of falling asleep for a certain period of time and being awake at another period each day in our life. All these are laws of Nature and man cannot go against them. He cannot escape nor change them. He must obey them and comply with their dictates whether he likes it or not, if it pleases him or not. In the same way Reincarnation is a Cosmic Law, which operates on all Cosmic planes, and thus through this basic law the continuation of life, creation and evolution are made possible.
REINCARNATION IN NATURE
When the plant of wheat dies in the summer and ceases to exist visibly as such, and after several months, or even years, a grain of this wheat is planted in the ground and it again dies in the earth and a new plant of wheat, with the same qualities as the sown grain, grows up, what else is this phenomenon in Nature, known to all, than the workings of the law of reincarnation as the grain of wheat is concerned? The same law applies to all plants, animals and men, and in this way life in Nature is sustained and evolution is made possible.
However, as from a grain of wheat always grows a plant of wheat and never a banana, or a pumpkin, in the same way from the seed of a dog, a dog will always be born and never a whale, or a frog, and from the seed of a man, only a man will always come into being, and never a horse, an elephant, or a bird. There is always a close relationship between the manifesting force, entity and soul and the physical forms through which they manifest. This is the law in Nature.
THE DENIAL OF A COSMIC LAW
The law of Reincarnation unfortunately is very little known among the masses; it is greatly misunderstood by many modern scientists and educated persons, and it is opposed by the Church as a dreadful and heretical theory. Man may become a mental giant by the accumulation of immense knowledge; however, a man grows to real knowledge always only by the expansion of the consciousness of his soul, and this Cosmic knowledge really counts. For this reason enlightenment is always found with the small minority. As the majority rules theirs is the general opinion and the minority is ridiculed. This happens with Reincarnation today.
This state of affairs is nothing new. Three hundred and twelve years ago the same thing happened to Galileo in Padua. Then, one of the most powerful Christian Churches, basing its great power and authority upon the dogma of infallibility, as well as the scientists of that day, taught that it was the sun and the stars that revolve around the earth. This was the prevailing knowledge of the time. Galileo, a renowned astronomer, physicist, and philosopher, dared to contradict them. For this crime, he was condemned to be burned at the stake as a heretic. Because he was a useful man to Society, the Church to save face, forced him to recant his theory. However, in spite of this denial and notwithstanding the application of all penalties, the existing Cosmic law of the revolution of the earth around the sun was not changed in the least. Fortunately, Cosmic Laws are beyond the reach of the ignorant and fanatical man, no matter how powerful he may be.
Time proved that that Church and those scientists were wrong. They just erred. This fact brings us to the logical conclusion that they may err again today where reincarnation is concerned, since they both erred many times in the past on many occasions.
They accuse us of teaching Transmigration of souls; the theory according to which a human soul incarnates in the physical body of an animal. There is no place in God’s Universe for such a fantastic belief. The Cosmic law is that each soul always builds and animates a corresponding human physical form, according to the degree of its perfection. No human soul can ever incarnate in the physical body of an animal. The high mental vibrations of the human soul will break and destroy the animal form.
COSMIC LAW VERSUS MAN-MADE DOGMA
According to authentic historical sources, the law of Reincarnation was taught in the first Christian Churches to the inner circle of the brothers, since the first Christian communities were but an imitation of the ancient Pythagorean communities and schools and the continuation in a limited way of the ancient Greek, Egyptian and Mithraic mysteries. However, from the time the Christian Church under the Roman emperor Constantine decided to become a political organization, a drastic change should have been made and certain dogmas had to be formulated for the spiritual subjugation of the masses. These radical changes and dogmas were the following:
(1) The original sin. (2) Hell and paradise. (3) The forgiveness of individual sins by the clergy.
In order that these dogmas be established — which are in opposition to the Cosmic law of Reincarnation — the latter had to be thrown out of the teachings of the Bible and of the Church. In this way the new religion acquired numerous converts, but at the same time the darkness of ignorance, fear — the greatest enemy of man — superstition, religious fanaticism, the Roman Inquisition, and the black practices and events of the Middle Ages, until only a few decades ago, enshrouded the human mind, and civilization was moved back by two thousand years.
The elimination of the Cosmic Law of Reincarnation and the establishment of the new dogmas, brought up the following three great logical questions, which the Church was never able and will never be able to answer.
(1) THE INEQUALITY OF MAN
If God is just and the source of all love and harmony, why then, has he created every human being different from the other without any equality whatsoever? “How can one account for the fact that one man is born poor and in spite of heroic effort remains poor all his life, whereas, another man is born into a rich family and has all the good things of life without effort on his part? Is this divine justice? Can one conceive of a just God who sends one man into this world to be a pauper all his life, whereas another man enjoys all the luxuries and pleasures of the same life? Why does one man have to die very young, and another live to a ripe old age? None of these questions can be logically answered without the operation of a law of eternal Justice and of Necessity, the Universal Law of Metempsychosis, or Reincarnation.” (See our recent book, Life’s Riddle Solved, pages 69-70)
(2) HELL AND PARADISE
Is it just and in agreement with the divine law of justice and of harmony, that if a man, according to the standards of society — and we have countless such standards — lived a good life for a few years on earth, after his death, he is going straight to paradise to live there in a supreme bliss through eternity? Is this just and logical? Where are then the workings of the laws of evolution and of progress?
Is it just and logical, if another man lived a wicked life — which according to the standards of another society might be a good life — after his death, his soul will go straight to hell to be tormented and tortured there for ever? If this is true, who does the torturing? What does this hell and this paradise of the Biblical story look like and feel like? What does hell mean and what really takes place in the after-death existence of the human soul?
(3) THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS
No one can ever forgive the sins of another. This is against any law of Nature. It is the same thing as to satisfy one’s hunger by having another person do the eating for him. In Nature everything works out its own salvation. The very moment some one else does things for us, our work, that very moment the basic law of evolution will come to an end, since evolution means and is the gradual progress of all things and of all beings in Nature through individual effort.
The Biblical passage in Matthew 18:18 “Whatever ye shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven,” which the Church uses to establish her authority for the forgiveness of sins, if this statement was really made by Jesus, which is very doubtful, it has entirely a different meaning and not that of giving authority to any one man to forgive the sins of another man, or to change an existing Cosmic Law, which as such is immutable. (See op. cit., page 118 for full explanation.)
“All these very important and serious questions have kept the human mind perplexed, guessing and in bondage to fear. These questions will continue to challenge his real knowledge and his wisdom until man is able to understand the Cosmic plan of Divinity which is carried out through the Cosmic laws of evolution and Reincarnation.” (Op. cit., page 91.)
THE LAW OF COSMIC JUSTICE, HARMONY AND LOVE
The above serious questions were never and they will never be adequately answered. Because, when any man, or any institution, proclaims himself, or itself infallible and denies the operation of a Cosmic Law of God, of course, it will never have an answer to give, except to present a man-made dogma as a subterfuge in the place of the suppressed Truth.
Through the operation of the Cosmic Law of Reincarnation all these great questions are answered once and for all. The human soul is a spark of Divinity. The Ego leaves the bosom of Its heavenly Father-God having in itself all the Divine qualities and potentialities of God in a latent state. These the Ego transforms into individual consciousness by its pilgrimage through matter, in numerous incarnations, or rebirths in human bodies, through its own personal efforts and experiences. The total sum up of these conscious qualities, powers and capabilities of the Ego, constitutes the human soul. In each new incarnation the soul prepares a physical body in proportion to its strength, its perfection and the degree of its consciousness. This is justice, harmony and impersonal love of the Cosmic Law of equality for all. The soul in each of its many lives possesses and manifests through its physical body characteristics, qualities or faults, abilities or disabilities, weakness or strength, etc., according to its merits and demerits, no more no less.
After this long pilgrimage through matter, when the soul will have completely purified itself and its consciousness has become Divine, then, it will come back to the bosom of its Father-God as a real Son of God. Who that has ears to hear, let him hear and understand the workings of this basic Cosmic Law of Justice, of Harmony and of Love, the Law of Reincarnation.
— John H. Manas, The Theosophical Forum, June 1945