The Theosophical Forum – January 1941


Editor Norwalk Hour:

Several weeks ago there appeared in the Norwalk Hour a very excellent letter by Judge Light entitled "What is Character?" Perhaps some of your readers may be interested in further thoughts on the subject from a theosophical viewpoint. The lack of time has prevented me from commenting earlier. I believe that character can be explained and defined by Reincarnation, at least to the satisfaction of some, for as a lecturer on the subject once facetiously remarked: "Reincarnation explains human nature. People could not have become so stupid in just one life here on earth."

There can be no satisfactory explanation of character that can be universally applied to all cases that is based upon popular religious and scientific concepts now prevalent in the Occident. Science accepts nothing that it cannot prove by its own physical methods of investigation, and hence gives little consideration to the inner man and his spiritual reactions to life. Character is a spiritual quality which cannot be boiled down to a residue in test tubes. Christian theology, a distorted interpretation of the early Christian mystery teachings, tells us that man is a trinity — body, soul, and spirit, a classification which is true as far as it goes, but one which is sadly lacking in detail as far as a practical and workable basis upon which to build a better understanding of the real man is concerned. It briefly mentions man's intermediate nature as a soul, but gives us no information concerning the mental and psychical processes which take place, e. g., desire, and, most important of all, free will, by which man may shape his own destiny. We are further told that the earthly experiences of man are limited to one brief, short, and fleeting life here upon earth, during which time he is supposed to acquire perfection much in the manner that a student would master algebra and higher mathematics by attending school for one day. Such a theory is contradicted by every known law of nature. All life, great and small, from stars to atoms, is governed by the law of cycles, a habit of nature, so accurately and perfectly balanced that astronomers are able to compute and foretell solar eclipses hundreds of years hence, and there is no logical reason or criterion in the realm of nature to assume that man is an exception to this universal law. It is only when we view life from the large perspective — that the spiritual man returns to the sphere of earthly existence innumerable times until the last lesson has been learned and coined into the spiritual currency of character and made a par of himself, that we can account, with any degree of logic and reason for the inequalities of human nature and why some men innately have more character than others. A man who has character is simply more of a man than one who hasn't for the reason that he has incorporated the fruits of experience and the lessons of many lives into the fiber of his being, and it has become himself. His very nature bears the stamp of a nobler life.

This does not mean, however, that character is something which is acquired from without and added to man like so many bricks as a building is constructed. Rather it is the unfoldment of spiritual and divine qualities inherently within; the manifestation of higher attributes brought about by the trials and experiences of earth-lift through many incarnations.

Let a man once grasp the idea that he is essentially a divine being in his inmost nature, and that life is a school of discipline to which he must return until the selfish impulses of his animal nature are transmuted into an unselfish love for all that lives, his life will become purposeful and an elevating influence within the sphere of his relationship with his fellow-men, and I hold that this, and this alone will bring about permanent world betterment and the abatement of those evils which today cast their blight over the face of the earth. The general trend of western civilization, both in secular and religious matters, has been dominated by the selfish ambition of men to GET something rather than to BE something. If it hasn't been worldly things it has been a glorified selfishness for eternal salvation. The purpose of life is to make something of men here and now, and the future will take care of itself.

For nearly two thousand years western civilization has been fed on theological husks instead of the basic Christian and Theosophical teaching that it is the divine nature of man alone that can restore peace and happiness on earth, and today the gods of war are reaping a bountiful harvest.

If character is to be developed in human nature, something more is necessary than merely preaching to men that they must be good. This is an age of inquiry and investigation, and the mere repetition of platitudes no longer satisfies thinking people who refuse to blindly accept spiritual guidance on the strength of supposed authority. Man is endowed with an intellectual apparatus and if he is to grow and keep pace with the evolutionary process of nature he will have to do his own thinking and learn to discriminate between Truth and the mass of non-essentials with which religion has become incrusted. An orderly society cannot be created by teaching men for centuries that they are like so many rotten apples that can be made whole again by some supernatural, external power. In time they will begin to believe that they are inherently bad and sooner or later the bad spots of spiritual decay and dry rot will begin to appear on the surface of society, which is exactly what is happening today. Although the idea of Reincarnation has been promulgated in the western world for a comparatively short time, it has gained wide acceptance in all walks of life and many professed Christians have accepted it as a part of their religion. It is the only teaching, religious, philosophical, or scientific, that explains the apparent inequalities of life with any degree of justice.

I would define character as the accumulated wisdom of many lives — the urge to live a nobler life more in harmony with the moral and ethical laws of Universal Nature which underly all manifested life.


1. Reprinted from The Norwalk Hour, July 6, 1940. (return to text)

The Theosophical Forum