Theosophical University Press Online Edition
Requirements of Theory
An Ancient Doctrine
Survival After Death
Existence Before Birth
Is Reincarnation True?
Are Ethical Teachings Practical?
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If we examine the events of chance and injustice in human life we notice that they can be grouped under two general headings:
1st — "Uncontrolled events" or those over which the individual has no control, but which apparently come to him without any action on his part, such as inherited health or disease, favorable or unfavorable circumstances of birth and inborn characteristics, that help or hinder him. To this group belong accidents and also such experiences as are forced on us by the actions of other people, for we are often affected by the deeds of others, even though we have no control over them.
2nd — "Controlled events" or those acts performed intentionally by the man himself, which were not followed by their appropriate effects, such as wrongdoing that brought no suffering in its train, and efforts for good that bore no fruit.
Let us first seek an explanation for the "uncontrolled events" of group 1.
Evidently there are two explanations possible if these events obey the law of cause and effect.
(a) Either the injustice of these events may be balanced in some existence after death;
(b) Or these events are the effects of acts performed by the individual himself during some existence before birth.
Which is the more logical of these two explanations?
If the soul begins its existence with birth into a human body, then the individual is in no way responsible for the conditions in which birth places him. And yet, these conditions have a powerful influence for good or ill on his destiny, and at death he is a better or a worse man partly due to these conditions. Even if it is true that this injustice may be balanced in a future life, the man's character may in the meantime have been made worse and this is a new injustice following from the first.
Further, we cannot help asking: What is the purpose of all this difference in opportunities? Why must we endure all this injustice in the first place? Some people believe that it is the "will of God."* Could that be true?
An average human being would not intentionally show such partiality, unfairness, and cruelty to his children even if he planned to adjust it later. It would be meaningless to do so.
A loving human father would at least try to do the best he could for his children, and if he could do well by one he could do as well by the others also, and he would certainly give them all the best chance. And surely a beneficent God* would do no less for His children. He would see to it that one and all of His children would have the best possible start in life.
We cannot therefore explain the inequalities that come to us at birth as "the will of God"* for this would place God* below the level of even an ordinary human being. Further, it would be utterly meaningless to impose such injustice first, only to balance it later. No intelligent human being would accept responsibility for such a headless plan; how then could it be charged to God*?
Therefore, we have to admit that the inequalities of birth cannot be explained by a balancing after death for this would be both unjust and meaningless.
The only alternative now left open to explain the inequalities of birth and other "uncontrolled events" is that the individual himself must have existed previous to birth. In that case all the chance-events of life can be explained as the effects of actions which the individual himself performed during some such previous existence.
There is no violation of justice in this proposition. In the light of this idea, the chain of cause and effect can readily be seen. This will be developed more in detail later on.
Next let us pass on to the "controlled events" under group 2. Under this heading come the acts of the man himself, which did not bring their appropriate effects in this life.
If justice is to be done in this case, then death cannot be the end of our existence for this would preclude the balancing of justice. The wrongdoer would escape the results of his evil acts. The suicide would be able to step out of the difficulties that surround him without having to face and solve his problems. There is only one possibility left open. If justice is to be balanced at all, this balancing must take place in some future existence.
One version of this idea of delayed justice is the doctrine of heaven and hell. According to this teaching, as usually given, a man enjoys bliss or suffers tortures for eternity for the acts committed during his life on earth. If this were true, it could not be considered just, for the effect would be out of all proportion to the cause. Even an ordinary human being would not be so unjust; how much less then could a beneficent and just God* inflict such punishment on His children? Punishment of this kind would be a greater injustice than to let the wrongs of one earth life remain unbalanced.
The doctrine of eternal bliss or suffering, then, does not offer a solution that accords with justice, but a balancing of justice does require an existence after death during which we will reap the effects of those acts which do not come to a fruition in this life.
A theory of life, which is in accord with justice, must therefore include both an existence prior to birth in our present bodies and a survival after the death of the body. It must have been during some such pre-existence that man sowed the seeds which he reaps as the inequalities of birth. It must be during some existence after death that unbalanced causes, which he has set in motion in this life, will be balanced.
Such a theory of life should also satisfy man's higher aspirations and longings as well as his reason and logic. It should accord with the idea of a just and beneficent God* and it should fit in with the scheme of evolution and some worthy purpose in life. What theory will satisfy all these requirements?
There is a very ancient doctrine, traces of which are found all over the world. It appears in the great religions of the past, and was held by some of the early Fathers of the Christian church. It is found under some form or another in the great philosophies of the past and has been accepted by individual philosophers throughout the ages from the great thinkers of antiquity down to modern times.
This doctrine teaches that man's present life here on earth is only one of many such existences; that he has lived here on earth before as a human being and that he will live here again many times in the future in human form.
Omitting all details, and briefly sketched, this doctrine teaches that there is in man a center of consciousness which is a part of the Universal Consciousness. This center of consciousness, which is the real man, is engaged in a pilgrimage of evolution, in the course of which it is born repeatedly in human form in order to learn and advance by means of the experiences that human life offers.
This center of consciousness, this "Pilgrim" or "Monad" as it is sometimes called, has lived in human bodies an inconceivable number of times in the past and will do so again in the future.
According to this doctrine our present earth life is like a single page in a book with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pages. If this single "page" is read by itself without reference to what preceded it and without reference to what follows, it does not "make sense." It just gives a few odd fragments in the middle of a long story; it relates events whose causes have to be looked for on earlier pages, and it describes happenings which will culminate in some future chapter. In order to understand the contents of this page it is necessary to read both what precedes it and what is to follow.
According to this doctrine of repeated earth-lives, our present circumstances are the direct results of our own acts during some former life, and the circumstances of our future lives will be the results of our thoughts and deeds in this life. Our thoughts and acts are seeds implanted in our character which belongs to the permanent part of our nature. When the circumstances of life are favorable, the seeds sprout and grow and the effect of the deed reacts on the doer. This effect may follow during the same life as the act, or it may be delayed and follow in a later life. In either case, however, it is sure to come, for the cause and the effect are inextricably interwoven in the man's character, and sooner or later he will reap what he has sown whether it be good or evil.
Here, then, is a doctrine that harmonizes with the general plan of repetition, which is seen everywhere in Nature. It recognizes the inequalities of existence but shows that they are in full accord with the law of cause and effect, and not the result of injustice or chance. It satisfies our logic and reason, for it shows that we shall reap what we sow and it explains how and where the reaping is done.
It fits in with the scheme of evolution for it shows that, as we have had infinite opportunities for growth in the past, we shall have infinite opportunities in the future, and hence possibilities of rising towards perfection. It accords with the idea of a just and beneficent God*, for it shows that man's misfortunes are not inflicted on him from outside sources, but are of his own making. It shows man that he is individually responsible for all his acts and hence teaches him the wisdom of beneficent and harmonious action.
This doctrine of repeated earth-lives, then, is the missing key that solves the problem of injustice in the world.
The various aspects of this teaching are purposely omitted here, since they fall beyond the scope of the present discussion. The whole subject is reserved for separate treatment. Only enough has been given here to show how the doctrine solves the problem of injustice.
This doctrine of repeated earth-lives is commonly known under the name "Reincarnation" from the Latin: re = again; in = in; and carnis = flesh; or "again in flesh," thus referring to the idea that the indwelling consciousness has again taken upon itself a body of flesh.*
*There is a great deal of misinformation current regarding the doctrine of Reincarnation, some people even taking it to mean that man's consciousness after death enters the bodies of animals. This is not the doctrine of Reincarnation. Evolution tends to progress, not retrogression. Once the consciousness has reached the human stage it cannot embody itself in anything subhuman. — The erroneous notion that man's consciousness enters animals after death is due to a misunderstanding of the doctrine of Transmigration.
We have found in Reincarnation, then, a theory which shows what appeared to us as injustice and chance, when seen from the view-point of a single earth life, turns out to be justice and law when seen from the viewpoint of repeated earth-lives. We have found a theory which solves the problem of injustice and shows that everything in Nature, human life included, is governed by the Law of Cause and Effect.
We notice that the doctrine of Reincarnation includes the following three propositions:
(2) Survival after death.
(3) Effects do not always follow immediately upon the causes that produced them, but may sometimes be delayed.
Let us now examine these propositions to see if there is anything fundamentally unsound about any of them, anything that is unacceptable to reason and logic.
We shall begin with survival after death.
No physical means can be applied to investigate after-death states, hence it is impossible to bring in proofs of a material nature that man's consciousness survives death. But let us not forget that it is equally impossible to introduce material proofs that man's consciousness perishes at death. In our present degree of evolution we know very little about consciousness in its various states, hence we are largely limited to such proofs as reason and analogy furnish.
However, there are certain observations which may throw some light on the subject.
Man is a physical body plus something else. This something else includes, among other things, his feelings, desires, aspirations, his mind, etc., and finally a center of consciousness, which sits like an observer and, to an extent, a ruler of this little kingdom which we call a human being.
This center of consciousness, this spectator of the drama of life, is the most essential part of man and our problem simmers down to this: can and does this center of consciousness survive death?
It is evident that consciousness must have a physical body in order to contact the physical plane, since we who are conscious on this material plane do not observe any consciousness acting outside of any such body.
During sleep the consciousness temporarily abandons the body. The sleeping body is merely an animated corpse, inert and unresponsive. Where is the consciousness in the meantime? Is it destroyed? Evidently not, for upon awakening it again begins to function as it did before sleep. Evidently it must have had some sort of existence, the nature of which we do not understand, else it could not have returned exactly as it was before going to sleep. The unconsciousness of sleep, then, has been a temporary disconnection of the consciousness from the material plane, but this disunion has not destroyed the consciousness and has caused no change in it.
There are other conditions under which the consciousness temporarily abandons the body. In case of injury to the brain and in certain fevers and other diseases, the consciousness is unable to function through its disabled instrument. It is again shut off from contact with this plane, but as soon as the instrument is repaired, the consciousness returns and resumes its activity where it left off before the injury. The disability of the instrument prevented the consciousness from contact with this plane, but did not destroy the consciousness, neither did it cause any change in it.
A common fainting spell may be induced by a mental shock, a sudden fright or some physical injury, but when the body recuperates, the consciousness returns unchanged.
There are, then, a number of circumstances which may result in unconsciousness. They all have one feature in common: they consist in changes in the instrument of consciousness rather than in the consciousness itself. When the instrument of consciousness, the brain, the body, the mind, are restored to normal the consciousness returns unchanged and resumes its former activity. In every instance, then, unconsciousness was a withdrawal of consciousness, but it was not a destruction or annihilation of consciousness. It was the passing of consciousness from the active, waking state that we are all familiar with to some other apparently latent state, the nature of which we do not yet understand.
What might be the state of our consciousness during periods of so-called "unconsciousness"? There is a great gap in our knowledge of other states of consciousness, but does such ignorance justify us in saying that such other states of consciousness do not exist?
Dreams prove to us the existence of one such state, and who can say how many other similar or different states there may be? We may not yet be able to prove the existence of other states, but neither are we in a position to disprove them.
Death is usually preceded by a period of unconsciousness, sometimes very brief, other times lasting for weeks or months. Sometimes death takes place during sleep. The unconsciousness of death, like that of sleep or sickness, is induced by wear and tear or injury to the instrument, the body, brain, etc. So far, then, the various processes are all alike: they all consist in a withdrawal of consciousness induced by damage to the instrument. They differ only according to the degree of damage produced in the instrument. If the damage can be repaired, the consciousness returns, but if the damage is beyond repair, the consciousness does not return.
Is there anything to show that the unconsciousness of death is any different from the unconsciousness of sickness or of sleep, except that it must be of longer duration? Sleep and sickness did not materially alter the nature of the consciousness itself. Is there anything to show that death would alter the nature of the consciousness any more than did sickness or sleep? Sleep and sickness did not annihilate the consciousness. Is there any more proof that death would annihilate the consciousness?
The action of electricity in manifesting as light resembles that of consciousness acting through a human body. The electric current will manifest as light in a bulb as long as the contacts are good and the filament wires inside the bulb are perfect. If we unscrew the bulb we break the contacts and the light goes out. If the filament is injured, the light also goes out. The power plant is still running, but the current cannot flow over the broken circuit and the light does not manifest. If we jiggle the bulb we may cause the filament wires to touch inside of the bulb and the light again appears. But a time comes when the filament burns out completely, and this time no amount of jiggling will repair the bulb, which now must be scrapped. This time we must have a new bulb if we want the light to reappear, but as soon as the new bulb is provided the light manifests, showing that the source of the light was unaffected by the injury or destruction of the bulb.
May it not be the same with the consciousness of man? When the body is healthy, the consciousness manifests normally. In sleep we disconnect the consciousness from this plane the same as when we unscrew the bulb, and the consciousness ceases to manifest. In sickness there is a bodily disorder that shuts consciousness out the same as the broken filament shuts the light out. If health returns, consciousness returns, as the light did with the repaired filament wires. At death the body is worn out and consciousness again disappears, and this time can no longer return to the worn-out body any more than the light to the burnt out bulb.
As in one case the electric energy remained unaffected by the destruction of the bulb, may not the consciousness of man remain unaffected by the death of the body, as in fact we know that it does remain unaffected by sickness and by sleep?
Is there any more reason to think that the consciousness has ceased to exist when the body is destroyed, than there is to think that the electric energy is annihilated because the bulb is destroyed?
By chemical action the appearance of substances may change so completely that the resulting product in no way resembles the elements of which it is composed. For instance, chlorine is a yellowish, greenish, poisonous gas. Sodium is a metallic substance resembling steel, but so soft that it can easily be cut with a knife. When these two substances are combined chemically we have common table salt.
Hydrogen and oxygen are two invisible gases. A chemical combination of the two is water, a liquid. The water can again be broken up and changed back into its two constituent gases.
Water can exist as an invisible vapor, as a colorless liquid, or as a solid block of ice. It can travel in the atmosphere and produce rain; it forms our oceans and carries large ships; it forms our rivers and drives power plants. It forms bridges over lakes and rivers, strong enough to carry heavy loads. Yet it is all the same substance in different states, and it can easily be changed from one state into another and then back again into the first.
Energy also exists in different states. It may be active or latent. Active electrical energy is changed in a storage battery into chemical energy and can then be stored in a latent state for long periods of time. When the proper circuit is formed, the chemical energy will be transformed back into active electrical energy.
The water behind a dam represents the stored energy of the sun. It will remain inactive as long as it is retained by the dam. If it is to be put to useful work, it must have a body through which it can be transformed into an active state. The body in this case consists of the gate, penstock, turbine, generator, etc., and finally the latent energy emerges as active energy: electricity.
A lump of coal represents solar energy which was stored thousands of years ago. This energy is latent, inactive, but if the coal is allowed to burn, the stored energy is released as heat and this heat in its turn can be utilized in driving a steam engine, thus producing mechanical energy.
An explosive such as dynamite is latent or stored energy which remains inactive until the explosion takes place, when the energy changes into an active state.
If matter, then, does exist in different states such as solid, liquid and gaseous, as well as in numberless chemical combinations, why should it not be possible for consciousness to exist in different states also?
If energy does exist under different forms such as mechanical, electrical, chemical energy, etc., and if it sometimes remains dormant and stored for long periods as latent energy and at other times is active, why should it not be possible for consciousness to change from a state of activity to latency and back to activity again? In fact, is not this exactly what takes place in sleep? Our consciousness is changed into a latent state, the nature of which we do not understand, but when the "proper circuit" is formed, it does again change back into a waking state. Who knows how many states of consciousness there are which differ from our waking state? The field is almost entirely unexplored. Why should there not be as many states of consciousness as there are states of matter and of energy?
Is there anything unnatural, then, in interpreting death as simply a change in our state of consciousness? The awakening from this state will be considered further on.
What is mind? What are thoughts? What is consciousness? Some say by-products of matter, results of chemical or physical activities in the brain. Others look upon the subject differently and see in consciousness and mental activities primary functions which are accompanied by, or depend on, various chemical or electrical activities in the brain which, as it were, furnish the necessary mechanism through which consciousness acts when it functions on the material plane. Very little is known today about consciousness and the methods through which it expresses itself, but one thing is certain: consciousness and thought are realities of some kind, for consciousness can control and direct thought and thought guides and determines actions. In other words, man's consciousness and his mind affect and alter the material world about him, or mind has control over matter. Would it be reasonable to assume that matter is endowed with indestructibility, but that consciousness is not? Scientific investigations have shown that not the smallest amount of either matter or energy can be annihilated or lost, despite all the changes they might undergo. Under these circumstances, would it not be reasonable to draw the conclusion that, if matter and energy are indestructible, consciousness and mind must be indestructible also, and that hence man's consciousness survives the transformation called death?
Let us next consider the subject of survival in connection with a beneficent and omnipotent God.* It is evident that, as far as this planet goes, man represents the highest form of life, and the most important part of man is not the material part, but the mind and consciousness. The material part is simply the tool of the consciousness. Does it seem likely that the great Intelligence which planned this Universe would have bestowed the gift of indestructibility on matter and energy, which are the tools of consciousness, and refused immortality to the consciousness itself, which is the highest part? It would be as though a farmer would bestow greater care and solicitude for the soil of his farm than he would for his own children. No normal human being would be guilty of such unbalanced judgment. He would not lavish his best gifts on his cattle and withhold them from his family. How, then, can we expect God* to do any less? If there is an intelligent plan back of this Universe and this plan includes indestructibility for matter and energy, must it not also include indestructibility of consciousness or a survival after death?
Next let us see how the idea of a purpose in life affects the problem of survival.
Assuming again that the purpose of life is the attainment of perfection, could this purpose be served if death were the end of all?
Man ranges in development all the way from a brute savage to the highest intellectual type. There would be no hope for the savage to attain the state of his more developed brothers if he were limited to the span of a single life on earth. And is it not true that even the most highly developed man on earth does not feel that he has attained perfection, but rather that his increased capacities have opened to him new fields of discovery? He sees beyond his present state new horizons with greater possibilities which he wants to explore. His work is not finished and even he needs more time.
Youth starts out in life with high ideals, hoping to accomplish great things and with faith that they can be realized. But years pass and, even if he still clings to his ideals, yet these are far, far from being attained. When man stands at the door of death, but few of his dreams have been realized. Tasks that he began are left incomplete, arts that he tried to learn were never mastered. The great promises that life held out before him have not been fulfilled and never will be if death is the end of all. Could it be possible that the ideals and hopes of youth were false promises, promises that never could be, and never were meant to be fulfilled? Then life would be a race in which prizes were offered, but the time allowed much too short and no one would be able to finish the race. After running a few laps the contestants drop by the wayside, overtaken by the infirmities of old age. Their hopes are shattered; the visions of youth fade like mirages; death ends the futile effort and nothing is left but the body to furnish food for worms. An endless army of new victims is put through the same treadmill, only to finish in the same way. If this were true, life would be a ghastly farce. It would be as though a father promised his children beautiful gifts in order to have them strive, but when the effort was made the gifts were withdrawn. He made the conditions impossible, the rules of the game did not allow sufficient time. The ideals were lies to spur the individual to a useless effort.
This hopeless picture would be true if death were the end of all; then life would have no meaning. But is it possible that this great planet was condensed in space for no higher purpose than to furnish a stage for the repetition of such a meaningless drama? Is it possible that the Intelligence which planned this Universe with such marvelous skill in detail and in execution should have failed so completely in furnishing an adequate purpose for its existence? No normal human being would waste his energy and time in building an elaborate mechanism that had no purpose. A plan worthy of this Universe must include the perfectibility of its parts, and this perfectibility calls for the necessary time for its attainment. From the standpoint that life must have a meaning, man's consciousness must survive death.
Summarizing our observations on survival after death, then, we find:
While there are no material proofs that consciousness survives death, neither are there material proofs that it perishes at death. There is nothing to show that the unconsciousness of death is any different from that due to sickness or sleep. Consciousness survives the gap of sleep and sickness; why should it not survive death?
Matter and Energy exist in many different states and can be changed from one into another and back again. Why should not consciousness do the same?
Energy is sometimes active, sometimes latent, and may change back and forth between these states. Consciousness is sometimes active (waking), sometimes latent (sleep), and may change back and forth between these states. We have nothing to show that death is not another latent state of consciousness.
Matter and Energy are indestructible; why should not consciousness be the same?
If God* bestowed indestructibility on matter and energy, could He have given anything less to consciousness and mind?
If there is a purpose in life worthy of this great Universe; if man is to attain perfection, he must have infinity before him to accomplish this task and this cannot be accomplished if consciousness is annihilated at death.
While we do not understand the nature of the after-death state, there is nothing irrational or unnatural in assuming that consciousness survives death. All the evidence enumerated above is in favor of such survival.
The doctrine of Reincarnation also includes the teaching that man has existed prior to his birth. Is there anything unreasonable in this proposition?
If consciousness can exist without a physical body after death, it can just as well exist without a physical body before birth.
If we use a straight stick to represent a line, we know that the stick itself is only a short section of a line that extends infinitely in both directions. If we try to imagine that this line extends in one direction only, we find ourselves unable to do so, for the idea that the line extends in the other direction also forces itself on our mind, even against our will. What is infinite in one direction, must be infinite in the opposite direction also.
If it is impossible to destroy or annihilate matter and energy, then it is equally impossible to create them. If they are indestructible, this means that they must have existed throughout the eternities of the past and that they will continue to exist throughout the eternities of the future. If consciousness is governed by the same laws as matter and energy, it too is indestructible and could not have been created, but must have existed from the infinitudes of the past and must endure throughout the eternities of the future. It can change from state to state, but it can never be destroyed.
If death is a going to sleep from this state of consciousness, why is not birth an awakening from some other state of consciousness?
Birth and death are doors through which the consciousness comes and goes. If the human consciousness passes out into the unknown through the door of death, is it not equally possible that the same human consciousness will some time in the future re-enter this world through the door of birth?
Is it not reasonable to see in the birth of a little child a return to our material world of a human consciousness which left it at death of someone in the past? If birth is not such a return of a human consciousness, then what is it? Where does the consciousness which unfolds itself in the growing child come from? It could not have been "created out of nothing." Nature does not do this in other fields.
What is more logical than to assume a birth to be the return of a human entity to earth, to take up again its unfinished tasks of long ago? If consciousness has entered this life through the door of birth and left it through the door of death, there is no reason why it could not have done the same many times in the past or why it cannot repeat the same cycle many times again in the future. Why should this be the one and only time?
All through nature we see an ebb and flow, a period of activity followed by a period of rest, repeated again and again. We spend our day in activity, then rest and recuperate in sleep. The tree sends forth its leaves and blossoms and bears its fruit. Then it rests, only to repeat the cycle the next year.
If it is the purpose of Nature, as it seems to be, to develop something higher and more perfect from something inferior, this method of repetition is undoubtedly the most effective one, for what has been done once can easily be done again, and each time there is opportunity for a little improvement.
Man recognizes the value of repetition. He applies it in the schools, in manufacturing, in fact everywhere. No workman becomes skilled who has not performed the same operation many times. Everyone will readily admit the truth of the maxim, "Practice makes Perfect."
If attainment of perfection is the object of life, then what better method to attain this purpose could be chosen than a repetition of our life here on earth, until we have learned our lessons and attained the goal?
We have seen that pre-existence and survival are necessary to demonstrate the rule of justice in our lives. If the inequalities of birth are due to actions of the individual in the past, then, when and where did he perform these acts? If the acts of this life, which do not bring their due reward or punishment, are to be balanced in some future existence, then when and where is this balancing to be done?
In order that justice may be the most perfectly balanced, naturally the balancing should be done under circumstances as near as possible duplicating those under which the act was performed in the first place. And where can these conditions be better duplicated than right here on earth? If we sow a seed in one field, we do not go to another field and reap the harvest; we reap it where the seed was sown. And if we perform an act here on earth, is it not here on earth that we should expect that act to be balanced?
We know that justice balances some of our acts right here on earth and during this life in which the cause was sown.
If it is in Nature's plan that some of our acts are to be balanced right here on earth, then why should not all of our acts be balanced right here? Is there anything reasonable in the assumption that some of our actions must be balanced in a heaven or a hell, when other acts of a similar nature are balanced right here on earth, and all of them could be similarly balanced in a future life on earth?
If we were "sent to school" here on earth for one "day," one human life, and did not finish our lesson, where should we be sent to continue our studies, if not back to the same school from which we failed to graduate? In our ordinary education we do not attend one school today and another tomorrow, for this would be wasteful of effort. We attend the same school until we have mastered all that this school can teach us. Is it likely that the Intelligence which planned this Universe would have formulated a less effective plan?
Is there a more logical explanation than to look upon the life of a human being as a period of training and experience for a human soul on its journey towards perfection? As one such period is insufficient to attain the goal, it will be followed by other lives in other human bodies right here on earth, when more experience will be gained. Between each one of these earth lives there will be a period for rest and assimilation. As these earth lives will be repeated in the future, so have they also been repeated in the past.
The idea of an existence before birth is less familiar to the western mind than that of an existence after death, but one is just as reasonable as the other. There should be no difficulty for one who accepts the idea of survival also to accept the idea of pre-existence for the arguments which support one support the other.
The explanation of justice offered by the doctrine of Reincarnation further includes the idea that an effect does not always follow immediately upon its cause; sometimes there may be a long delay between the two. Is there anything unreasonable in this?
We know that during our present earth life effects do not always follow immediately upon their cause. Dissipation in youth often does not bring its full effect until old age is reached.
In the material world an effect sometimes follows immediately upon its cause as when a stone is thrown in the air it falls to the ground where it strikes with an effect which depends on the height to which it was thrown. Other times the effect may be delayed. Suppose, for instance, that the stone landed on the top of a building where it remained for years, perhaps even centuries, before it was pushed over the edge and allowed to resume its fall. When it finally did hit the ground, its striking effect was the same as it would have been if it had fallen at once. The effect was delayed, but not changed.
If physical effects can be thus delayed without being changed or lost, is it not reasonable to assume that the effects of man's thoughts and acts may be similarly delayed and held in some sort of invisible storage, the nature of which we do not yet understand? The fact that we see no immediate effect, then, is no sign that this effect will not follow later.
Gunpowder is a combination of chemicals which contain energy in a stored or latent state. The powder is of course visible, but the stored energy is not visible, yet we know it is there, and in some way associated with the chemicals.
Let us suppose, for the sake of illustration, that we have an old muzzle loader standing in some corner with the trigger cocked. Each day we put a few grains of powder in it, but nothing happens. Then one day someone brushes against the trigger, and the charge goes off. The stored, invisible energy grew in proportion as the powder charge increased, but no explosion took place until the trigger was touched. No one would have known by looking at the gun whether it contained a large or small charge or perhaps no charge at all, but when the explosion took place, its force was great or small in exact proportion to the quantity of the charge. The energy changed suddenly when the proper conditions were provided, from a latent and invisible state to an active and visible one. The touch on the trigger did not determine the strength of the explosion. It was only the means of releasing an accumulation of energy already existing. The energy had been accumulated long before, when the powder was made and later placed in the gun.
If such storing and releasing of energy can take place on the material plane, may it not be possible that the effects of man's thoughts and acts are similarly stored and released? We know nothing about the "mental gunpowder" that a thought may produce and we know nothing about the type of mental gun in which it may be stored, but we do know that thought is an energy of some kind and therefore must have some sort of an effect. The same reasoning applies also to man's acts. The effect of these may be delayed, but they, too, represent the expenditure of some kind of energy, and hence must have some kind of an effect. How do we know but what this effect may be stored as some kind of latent energy or powder in some sort of gun in a corner of man's invisible nature? How do we know but what some thought or act or outward circumstance may be the touch on the trigger that sets off the charge? How, otherwise, are we to explain the varied effects, sometimes slight, sometimes serious, that often follow such insignificant events as those illustrated below?
We slip on the sidewalk and fall; it may result in a slight bruise or it may be a skull fracture, and perhaps death. Our watch is slow and we miss a train and have to wait for the next one. One of the trains is wrecked and all on board are injured or killed. The slow watch might have saved our life or caused our death. A little scratch on the finger may heal in a couple of days, or it may lead to blood-poisoning. An innocent cold may pass off quickly or lead to pneumonia and perhaps death.
Why do such insignificant causes sometimes pass off so lightly and other times produce such far-reaching effects? If there is law and order in Nature, the effect should always be proportionate to its cause, and as there must be law, the difference in effect must be due to other and now invisible causes. Would not these great differences in effect be easier to explain if we looked upon the scratch on the finger, the slow watch, etc., as only the touch on the trigger and the variation in effect as due to the accumulation of powder in the gun? If there were no accumulation of powder, no effect would follow. May it not be that the chance-events — the accidents in human life — are the discharges of latent accumulations of energy which we ourselves stored up in the past? They may be either good or bad, favorable or unfavorable, but in either case they are the effects of our own repeated thoughts and acts.
If, then, in the material world effects may be long delayed, yet in the end produce the same result as if the effect had been immediate, as in the case of the stone, and if energy can be stored for long periods in invisible states as in the case of gunpowder — why is it not just as reasonable to assume that the effects of man's thoughts and acts may be delayed and accumulated in some invisible state until circumstances permit them to express themselves; and why should not the effects, when they do appear, be exactly the same as if they had taken place immediately?
Certainly the last proposition, which we assume to be true, is just as reasonable as the first proposition, which we know to be true.
How are we to judge the truth of any doctrine which deals with life after death and before birth?
The theory of the materialist that the death of the body is the end of all, the doctrine of heaven and hell and other religious beliefs of this nature, are alike in that they can neither be proved nor disproved by any material tests.
Man has not yet learned to look beyond birth and death and hence is unable to ascertain what takes place there by direct observation. Evidently, then, the only test man can apply to problems of this nature is that of logic and reason.
In courts of law, proof is defined as "a preponderance of evidence that brings conviction to the mind." If we are to judge Reincarnation on this basis the evidence in its favor would be its ability to answer the questions and solve the problems of life in accordance with reason and logic. If Reincarnation does this better than other theories of life, and if we are willing to approach the subject in the scientific attitude of the open mind, we should be ready to accept it. The only valid reason for rejecting it would be the appearance of a more logical doctrine.
Let us therefore test Reincarnation as we would any other theory, by checking it against the problems of life, and let it stand or fall on its ability to solve these problems.
Survival of consciousness after death is in harmony with the indestructibility of matter and energy which exists in Nature.
Existence of consciousness before birth harmonizes with the idea that what is indestructible could not have been created. Like matter and energy, it must have pre-existed in some state.
The delay between cause and effect, which often occurs in Nature, makes it easy to accept the idea that similar delays may occur in human life.
If we have a healthy body now, it means that we lived clean and wholesome lives in the past. If we have a sickly body, the opposite was the case. If we live contrary to the rules of health now but still enjoy good health, the effect of this indulgence will show in disease in future lives, starting perhaps in infancy.
If we are born in favorable circumstances in life, it is a sign that we provided favorable circumstances for those born to us in past lives, and if we are born in wretched conditions, the opposite was true.
If we are born with talents and "natural gifts," it is because we cultivated these "gifts" in the past.
If we are born with handicaps, shortcomings, and warped tendencies, it is because in past lives we permitted such weeds to grow in our character.
If a person works hard, but does not get ahead financially and perhaps loses all his possessions, he is paying back some old debt he had contracted in a past life. If fortune comes to him unearned, it is the pay for something done in the past which did not bring its due reward at that time.
If we act for good or ill, but appropriate effects do not follow immediately, the effect is not lost but will come later in this life or in a future incarnation.
If our way through life is made easier by the help and encouragement of others, it is because we gave such assistance to others in the past, and similarly, if we are the victims of dishonesty and fraud, it is the balancing of some wrongdoing of ours in the past.
If we are unjustly accused or our efforts misunderstood, it is because of some similar injustice done by ourselves to others in the past.
If we, by our wrongdoing, cause injury to others, but seem to escape the consequences of our act, some time, somewhere, we shall be the victims of similar circumstances at the hands of someone else.
Accidents and other chance-events that affect our lives and seemingly come to us without any cause, are the delayed effects of our own acts in former incarnations.
Those who believe in a personal God as a father loving his children, have always found it difficult to explain the injustice and unmerited suffering in the world. Reincarnation removes this difficulty. It shows that this suffering is not meted out by a capricious God, who wills that some shall suffer while others live in happiness. It shows that all our suffering and all our misery are of our own making. We ourselves violated the laws of harmony in the past, and Nature reacts accordingly. This thought is a most helpful one, for it removes the sting of injustice from our suffering. Hardships are easier to bear when we know that they are not imposed upon us by someone else, but are of our own making. We have to go through with this suffering now, but it is also a help to know that no suffering can come to us which does not belong to us and that, when the cause has been exhausted, this account is closed and there will be no more suffering from that source unless we again repeat the cause. Our future destiny is in our own hands. Our present thoughts and acts are seeds sown in our character and their nature will determine the harvest which the future will bring us.
The doctrine of Reincarnation adds dignity and responsibility to life, for it shows us that we are the makers of our own future. It also makes us more understanding and charitable and sympathetic with those who suffer. We may have much greater debts to pay off than they are now paying, so we are in no position to pass judgment on them or condemn them. It may be our turn next.
If the purpose of life is to attain perfection, one earth life is utterly inadequate to reach that goal. The visions of youth would be false promises, impossible of realization, if we were limited to one earth life alone. A life span of 70 years cannot take us far on the journey to perfection.
But Reincarnation explains how the needed time is provided. Nature's working method of repetition, when applied to man, takes the form of repeated existences in human bodies here on earth, and so we shall return here again and again in the future as we have already lived here numberless lives in the past. The possibilities for our growth and unfoldment are infinite. Each earth life will take us one step nearer the goal of perfection. As a child returns day after day and passes from one grade to another in the same school until he has mastered all that this school has to teach, so man returns life after life to this earth, this school of experience, until he has reached the highest state of perfection that can be attained here on earth.
We shall have new opportunities to develop those qualities which we only began cultivating in this life. Unfulfilled aspirations, unfinished tasks, hopes and dreams that never were realized, all these will have opportunities for fulfillment in future incarnations.
Those who missed their chance in this life, and those who committed wrongs that they now regret, will have another chance, and many other chances to make good in future lives on earth.
Our work, our effort, our contribution to life, may be compared to capital deposited in a bank.
The more we put in of constructive work, the greater will be the credit side of our balance in this Bank of Life. If we do not render service, but seek to live off the work of others, we are not putting capital into this bank — we are taking it out. The balance in the bank is in exact accord with our deposits less our withdrawals.
If it is possible for us to continue drawing benefits from this bank without depositing, it is an indication that in past lives we rendered service for which we did not then collect. We are now collecting the reward for that past service, but when that past service has been exhausted, there will be nothing more to collect. When this point is reached, we meet one of these inexplicable reverses or misfortunes that come to us by chance and that seem so puzzling to us. These reverses are the notices from the bank that our cash balance is gone, and that if we want to draw any more benefits we must now deposit new capital.
It may be possible that our position in the world is so well established that, even after we have withdrawn all our capital from this Bank of Life, our position of power still enables us to exact a living from others. In that case we are actually running into debt and are now borrowing capital from the bank. In a future life this capital has to be repaid and a new cash balance started before we can begin to draw any benefit from our efforts.
By the light of Reincarnation we can readily see how these readjustments can be made. We may hold the most trumps in this life, but in each new incarnation there is a reshuffling of the cards and a new deal, and the trumps pass into other hands. At the new birth we are drawn by psycho-magnetic attraction to those parents who can give us the circumstances most like those that we have earned for ourselves.
In the new birth that follows we are no longer in a position of power. This time we will find ourselves the victims of others who will now live off our labors. But we should not complain, for in reality we are only returning our loan to the Bank of Life.
If we look about us in life, do we not see illustrations of this? How much greater is the number of those who labor and get little in return than the few who prosper! Is not this what should be expected, for do not the majority seek to get a living with the least effort? If they do so in this life, is it not reasonable to suppose that they did the same in past lives also? And in that case, what is more natural than that the majority should now find themselves engaged in paying off old debts?
Once we become convinced of the truth of Reincarnation we will not feel at ease if we are constantly drawing on our bank account. We will take considerable more interest in doing and giving than we will in getting, for we know that the latter will take care of itself, if we take care of the former.
We have in Reincarnation, then, a theory capable of explaining life on the basis of justice; a theory which shows that human acts are subject to the same Law of Cause and Effect that operates everywhere else in Nature.
Next let us see what would be the effect on the individual, and hence on the world, of a firm faith that justice and law govern all affairs of life. How will we act if we know positively that we shall reap what we sow, no more, no less; that if we sow good seed we reap accordingly, and if we sow evil we gather evil fruit; that action and reaction are equal and opposite and in the end must balance?
Suppose that a young man, who starts out in life with high ideals, has an assurance that these ideals have a philosophical basis — that they are actually founded on Nature's laws. He would know that, in spite of all appearances to the contrary, his efforts at right action will bring results, and this knowledge would give him added strength to lead a noble life.
A selfish man with a lower standard of action would be strongly affected by the knowledge that he would have to reap his own sowing. He would know that he could never get "something for nothing" and that lasting benefits can only be obtained as the result of honest and productive work. The fact that it is possible to make gains by dishonest means would not constitute a temptation to him, for he would also know that if he practiced fraud on others he would eventually lose what he had gained by fraud. Under such circumstances, there would be nothing gained by dishonesty and for his own self-protection he would avoid storing up trouble that he would have to reap in the future.
Would not even the criminal lose interest in his "profession" when he came to realize that there is a higher law of justice that he cannot "beat," but which will catch up with him in the end and return to him each and every one of his acts as the pendulum returns the impulse given to it? Would he not realize that, when he had to make full restitution for all his acts, and experience the same suffering he caused others, there would be no advantage in criminal action and nothing to be gained from it? Would he not then scrupulously avoid anything that might approach fraud and shun it as he would the fire?
No financier would want to live off the labors of others after he realized that in the course of time he would have to render full return for all his undue gain.
No politician would betray his trust if he knew that he himself would become the victim of a similar betrayal in the future.
No dictator would plunge the world into war if he knew that he himself would have to experience the suffering he brought down on others.
It would be useless for us to try to shirk unpleasant or trying circumstances which life may place in our path. If justice rules, we brought those experiences on ourselves and we would be wiser if we faced them bravely rather than tried to evade them. If they do not belong to us the situation will soon clear up; and if they really are ours, no amount of shirking or sidestepping can remove them from our path. If we succeed in evading them now, they will turn up in some other way later on; so why not face them at once and be done with them?
The suicide may think that his act will solve his problem and free him from an unhappy situation, but he has only postponed the settlement to some future life, when he will again be compelled to face the same problem and solve it. By his act of violence he has deprived himself of all opportunity for growth and development in this life. He has interfered with the orderly working methods of Nature and thereby forced his consciousness out of physical life into another state of existence for which Nature has not yet prepared it, and here it must suffer the consequences of such unpreparedness.
When our minds grasp the idea that we shall reap what we sow, it becomes at once evident that it is not only unwise but downright stupid to seek gain by wrongdoing, and only the mentally deficient, those incapable of the simplest reasoning, would still try to get "something for nothing."
When we defraud others, we take on credit from the Bank of Life and set the stage for our own defrauding in the future.
Compare this with the honest method of making the same gain. In this case we earn the right to our gain by work and effort in the first place. We then pay cash, and there is no debt hanging over us to be collected in the future.
Is not a realization, then, that Justice rules in all our affairs a most powerful incentive to right action and a means for bringing harmony into the world? It strengthens the man of moral tendencies and gives him faith that right action will bring its due reward in time. It is a stop signal to the selfish man and the criminal, for it shows them that wrongdoing results in future grief. It appeals to the better side of the noble man as well as to the self-interest of the selfish man. It strikes at the tap-root of all wrong-doing by showing that selfishness is self-defeating and that our own self-interest as well as our better impulses both call for altruistic action.
We have noted the effect on the individual of a faith in justice. The effect on the individual will eventually make itself felt by the Nation, and in time Nations would be guided in their actions by principles of justice. No Nation would then oppress or enslave another Nation, but each would work for the common good of all, each Nation contributing according to its own innate characteristics, to a more harmonious and grander civilization of the future.
Ethical teachings appeal to men to be honest and upright, to fulfill all duties conscientiously, to think more of the welfare of others than of one's own, to give rather than take, to "cast thy bread upon the waters," to "love they neighbor as thyself"; in brief, to practice brotherhood. It is generally agreed that if these teachings were applied in practice, this earth would become a paradise compared to what it is today, yet few people apply these principles or do it only to a limited extent, evidently because the one who practices them is put to a disadvantage unless they are applied by others also, and therefore they are usually put aside as being impractical.
If a body of teachings which admittedly would benefit mankind is considered impractical, either these teachings must be intrinsically false or there is something lacking in their presentation which would show them to be practical.
As already pointed out, ethical teachings urge men to practice brotherhood. If we were to choose a single one as typical of all the rest, we could probably not find a more all-inclusive one than the Golden Rule: "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so to them" (Matt. vii, 12), or as usually worded: "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you."
There is another version of the Golden Rule given by Confucius: "Do not do unto others what you would not have others do unto you." The former is an injunction to practice Brotherhood, the latter is an injunction to avoid injuring others, but in neither case is any reason given why such action is recommended.
What is it we want others to do unto us, and what is it we want others to refrain from doing? We naturally want others to act in a way that will benefit us and avoid doing us harm. The Golden Rule simply instructs us to use this as a rule for our own conduct and drops the matter there.
If our lives are governed by chance and our actions may or may not bring their appropriate effects, then the Golden Rule is not practical, for by applying it we would only play into the hands of any selfish individual who might choose to take advantage of us. If, on the other hand, our lives are governed by justice and we reap what we sow, then the Golden Rule is not only practical; it is plain, hardboiled common sense. If we reap what we sow, it is certainly plain common sense to sow good seeds, to practice Brotherhood, for the effect of this will return to us in the course of time; and it is likewise plain common sense to avoid injuring others, for such injury will also return to us.
The Golden Rule does not speak of the reward that will follow from its application. It does not mention the harvest; it speaks only of the sowing. It says: "Sow good seeds, avoid sowing tares," and leaves the matter there, but we can see the wisdom of this advice if our acts are governed by the law of cause and effect, for in this case all we need to do is to take care of the sowing; the law of cause and effect will take care of the result.
Although the Golden Rule makes no reference to the law of cause and effect, yet when we consider it in its relation to this law, it may be noted that it is in full harmony with it and might, indeed, be looked upon as advising men to apply it for their own benefit.
Before we can demonstrate that the Golden Rule and other ethical teachings are practical, however, it is necessary to prove that human actions are governed by the law of cause and effect and that we shall reap what we sow.
If JUSTICE rules our lives we shall reap what we sow.
It follows that we shall benefit by sowing good seed that we shall suffer by sowing evil seed.
A knowledge that justice rules will be a strong force influencing men to right action, thereby gradually eliminating the suffering and misery which result from wrongdoing.
Faith in justice cannot be established unless we can show how justice operates.
The chief difficulty in accepting the law of Cause and Effect as governing human actions has been the injustice apparent in human life.
This injustice cannot be denied if we accept the theory of a single life on earth, but it can easily be shown to be actual justice and in harmony with the Law of Cause and Effect if we accept the idea of repeated lives here on earth.
The doctrine of Reincarnation, then, solves the problem of injustice.
If we accept the idea of an orderly Universe, governed by Law and justice, then Reincarnation becomes a logical necessity.
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