Published as part of a set in the 1930s and '40s by Theosophical University Press; Revised Electronic Edition copyright © 1998 by Theosophical University Press. Electronic version ISBN 1-55700-102-2. All rights reserved. This edition may be downloaded for off-line viewing without charge. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted for commercial or other use in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of Theosophical University Press. For ease in searching, no diacritical marks appear in the electronic version of the text.
Chapter 1: Reimbodiment a Habit of Nature
Chapter 2: What It Is in Man That Reincarnates
Chapter 3: Why Do We Not Remember Our Past Lives?
Chapter 4: Some Objections and Misconceptions
Chapter 5: The Processes of Reincarnation
Chapter 6: The Ethical Influence of a Belief in Reincarnation
Chapter 7: Reincarnation as a Historical Belief
Chapter 8: Reincarnation and Human Destiny
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A characteristic viewpoint of theosophy is that man is a deathless, spiritual ego using mind and body as a garment, or as its vehicle of expression and experience in the external world. The present general tendency to regard ourselves as the product simply of physical evolution has been one of the greatest handicaps in modern life. For it has had the effect of discounting the reality of our spiritual nature and has intensified the horror of death. How can anyone be truly happy or willingly unselfish if he believes that death ends all? And so long as the majority are convinced that the life of the senses is the only reality, we shall be unable to establish scientifically the fact of postmortem existence. Can one who has passed all his life in a blind dungeon prove that there is a sun? And he certainly will not be able to go further and explain how and why his very existence in the dungeon is dependent in a thousand ways upon the sun's invisible but all-sustaining life.
We must come out of the imprisoning dungeons of materialistic religion and science into the sunlight of spiritual truth. Then we can grow into the power to demonstrate for ourselves like a problem in Euclid that the real, inner self — the essential core of each of us — has always existed, is immortal at the present moment, and can no more be destroyed than the boundless universe of which it is an inseparable part.
Then, too, some satisfactory explanation must exist as to the prevailing injustices of life. There is hardly anyone who does not feel that life has more or less cheated him. Are not most of us born with desires and capacities that we shall never in this life have the opportunity to develop? And there are many indeed who are born with innate tendencies to evil which they are given no chance to outgrow. The glaring inequalities of modern life are in themselves enough to embitter the human heart and wither its moral initiative.
What is needed first of all is to demonstrate to man his significance in the evolutionary plan. We need a larger view of the purpose and destiny of the human race. Theosophy relates each person to the universe and shows that his individual consciousness is a ray of the universal cosmic consciousness. It starts out by emphasizing that we each are essentially a center of consciousness — not just a body to which a so-called soul is suddenly added at birth or death. Nor are we accidental products of blind, mechanical forces. Each individual is part of a living, organic universe. That universe itself is a product of evolution and carries forward within its own unfolding plan all that is — atoms, humans, nebulae, worlds, solar systems, galaxies — in a grand sweep of development in which the humblest earthworm as certainly as the most godlike genius has a definite part.
The history of generations of oak trees lies in the tiny acorn. From the heart of the acorn there slowly unfolds in response to nature's influences a mighty tree which is an expression of an immense past of evolutionary oak-tree experience. So with the human being, the "Man-plant of the Ages." In that divine unit of consciousness which is the inner source of our individual life is stored the essence of an immense past stretching backward across immemorial ages. And our appearance as human beings on this earth is but one act in the magnificent drama of our evolution.
Nor is the human race itself a recent development of nature. We came from former cycles of evolution and resumed a body here on earth, which is our present training school. Further, there has not been a constant "creation" of new souls all down the ages. The number of evolving humans on this earth, though immense beyond our power to picture, is yet fixed and constant. This means that, in line with the economy of nature, human beings as evolving egos have been reborn on earth again and again. All of us who make up our present civilization have been here many times before. We were the men and women who formed the great civilizations of the past, and we have also been imbodied in the many magnificent prehistoric races which theosophy tells us something about (see The Secret Doctrine, volume 2).
Theosophy, therefore, begins with preexistence as a necessary part of eternity, for a thing which has a beginning must necessarily come to an end. Nature makes that plain enough. What we call eternity or immortality must stretch endlessly back into the past as well as endlessly forward into the future. Our innermost self is a deathless being, a god, which reclothes itself from age to age in new bodies, or vehicles, that it may undergo all possible experiences in the universe to which it belongs, and so reach its own most complete growth and self-expression.
Growth is eternal; evolution is without beginning, and it is endless. We pass through all the mansions of life, as the ages of Eternity slowly stream by into the limitless ocean of the Past. — G. de Purucker, Questions We All Ask, Series II, xvii
Rebirth, then, is the pathway of evolution. It is the method by which nature progressively draws into growth or unfoldment the limitless capacities latent in all creatures from atoms to gods. Everything that has life reimbodies itself — universes, solar systems, suns, worlds, men, animals, and plants, cells, molecules, atoms. Each of these forms is ensouled by a spiritual consciousness-center which is evolving in its own degree, passing ever upward, and unfolding like a seed from within itself its latent potentialities.
Reimbodiment of everything, of every individual entity, is one of cosmic Nature's fundamental operations — "laws" if you like; and because the Whole so acts, does it not obviously carry along with it every part of itself? -- Ibid., xxv
Nature repeats herself everywhere. What she does in the grand she reproduces in the small; and the reason for this is that there is one fundamental law or system of action, of operation, in the Universe, which expresses itself therefore in every part of the Universe, being its fundamental current of consciousness-vitality. Man is born, reaches the culmination of his powers, and dies, because the physical universe does the same thing in the great as man's physical body does in the small. — Ibid., xx
In the human race we call this process of rebirth or reimbodiment by the word reincarnation, which means "refleshing," or taking on again a garment or body of flesh. There are various names for the different forms of reimbodiment which pertain to all beings from the highest to the lowest, but here we are concerned only with that form of reimbodiment which pertains to man, and which is called reincarnation.
Human life is thus seen as a necessary and highly important part of the cosmic evolutionary scheme. And we naturally inquire what its purpose is, for there seems to be no clear indication in the present confusion of beliefs and theories as to why we are here and what it is all for.
Briefly, the purpose of life is to raise the mortal into immortality. Or, to expand the idea somewhat, it is to give time and opportunity for the deathless spiritual potency at the core of our being to develop, grow, unfold, into perfection. For theosophy tells us that the personal self — the everyday self — is not immortal. John Smith or Mary Brown are not deathless beings. They are mere personalities, and as such do not reincarnate. It is the units of consciousness behind John Smith and Mary Brown, of which these perhaps quite ordinary persons are but the imperfect aspects — this root of consciousness in each, this ego it is which reincarnates.
What man or woman has not often felt how short life is — how inadequate to express all that one feels of inspiration and capacity within his nature. How often we hear it said: "I am only just learning to live — now when I am old, and just about to die." The universe, however, is not run in that cruelly wasteful fashion. The very fact that we intuitively know that there are large reserves of power and possibility within us that are seeking expression — the fact that nearly everyone yearns to develop, to be, that greater self which he senses within — this very urge to a larger and fuller life is our daily witness to nature's true purpose. It is only because we are so preoccupied with our limited, everyday consciousness as John Smith or Mary Brown, and live only at rare moments in that deep, divine urge of the greater being within, that we are for the most part unconscious of the larger possibilities of life for us.
Let us, then, first of all try to realize that we are in our inmost nature a divine consciousness or ego; that this ego which is ourself has always existed, and shall never cease to live and grow, and develop towards perfection. Let us set our desire and will to realize our oneness with this divine ego and to bring it out in our daily life as a larger, deeper individuality than that of our personal consciousness. We will then enter upon a new life. We will become a creator, a self-generator of our own illimitable divine destiny. We will begin at last to work self-consciously with the real purpose of evolution.
It is through reincarnation alone that we can bring out, and use and perfect, the fullness of that hidden wealth of power and capacity of which we are all conscious in some measure. For through reincarnation the ego undergoes every kind of human experience which this earth affords. In each life some new facet of character is shaped by environment. New powers and capacities are unfolded from within. Weaknesses, selfishness, and the faults of passion are corrected by suffering, that wise teacher which enables us to recognize and overcome our egoism and limitations.
Every new life gives us another chance. The criminal thus has time and opportunity to reform himself, and through restitution and self-mastery can advance to better things. One whose need to support and work for others all his life has made cultivation of his musical or other gifts impossible will, by the very strength of that dammed back energy and the moral power generated by devotion to duty, find increased capacity with freedom in another life for its development. So if we use well our opportunities, we shall grow steadily from life to life until in some future reincarnation on this earth character will flower into divine genius and we shall live and work in the fullness of our true spiritual being.
So far as we have gone we discover that humans are composite beings. We have already observed three elements in our constitution: a personality known to friends as John Smith or Mary Brown, and back of that a deeper reservoir of consciousness expressed in the ideal desires of the nature. Lowest of all there is the animal consciousness, including the body, the vehicle of these two higher aspects in human life.
These three elements can still further be resolved until we see ourselves as sevenfold beings. But in restricting our study now to the subject of reincarnation it will be necessary to regard ourselves only in the threefold division above indicated. This corresponds to St. Paul's description of man as body, soul, and spirit. Christian theologians, however, have persistently ignored this division because they have no conception of the nature of spirit. In making this threefold division St. Paul proved himself familiar with the teachings of the ancient wisdom, today known as theosophy.
It is the higher, ideal nature above referred to, the spiritual ego, which reincarnates. The name used in theosophy for this higher part of our consciousness is manas. This is a Sanskrit word and means "the thinker," so we may call the reincarnating ego the thinker in man. It is the origin of our self-consciousness, of the faculty of introspection and of self-realization. Through it we relate ourselves to life, understand what we are learning, and so build into ourselves in the shape of character and propensities the lessons derived from evolution. Without this center of permanent individual consciousness in which the results of evolution can be preserved, the fruit of experience would be dissipated at death and no progressive evolution would be possible. Through this spiritual part of us comes also the voice of conscience. From it we draw high inspiration, unselfish love, intimations and intuitions of the divine, and all impulses to impersonal, magnanimous thought and action.
Thus two selves exist within us: the self of the ego or thinker, which persists through all our reincarnations; and the self of the personality, which is mortal and breaks up at death. It is the play of consciousness between these two which is the great mystery of life. Both of these selves, as yet contradictory in desire and purpose, make us what we are. How familiar everyone is with the duel between them, which is constantly going forward within us! The voice of selfish temptation and the call of incorruptible conscience — each striving against the other for mastery. The struggle is of a depth and complexity unsuspected until we start out in earnest to conquer some habitual fault, like a bad temper, or a weakness of some kind, or an ingrained selfishness. How quickly then we find all the forces within and without us arrayed either on one side or the other! The victory in such deep-seated, essential strife as this between our two natures is far too many-sided and involves too wide a range of influences to be completely secured in one short life of limited experience. The struggle must be met under myriad conditions and attained by means of many experiences in life after life until at last complete mastery remains with the higher nature.
What is the origin of this duality within us? Why should we be both noble and ignoble? Theosophy describes how our external, animal vehicle was built up in long past ages of evolution on our globe by the lower, instinctual forces of nature. Slowly it was shaped under the action of evolutionary law as a vehicle for the reincarnating ego. When this vehicle of body and animal consciousness was ready, the spiritual ego took it in charge, incarnating there to overshadow and guide its further development. The presence of the ego now began dynamically to change — to mold this vehicle for experience in human life. The spiritual fire of the thinker through life after life stimulated and developed the growth of the animal man, so that gradually it unfolded or evolved under this creative influence a semi-independent personal consciousness of its own. And this personal consciousness, expanding slowly, slowly through ages of incarnation under the inspiration of its overshadowing ego, became the human personality. And now not only is it an instrument wherethrough the ego may manifest its own divine powers, but gradually by its own struggles and victories under the urge of conscience — the personality itself is evolving. It unfolds and expands, and rising out of the limited personal consciousness, achieves thereby its own immortality. By subjecting our lower selfish natures to the influence and guidance of the higher, we enable the ego to express its light on this plane and thus exercise and expand its own divine potencies. On the other hand, gradually raising our personal consciousness, we lift it at last unto the plane of the spiritual ego, and so the human is transmuted into the immortal. Thus the whole nature in all its elements has passed upward into a more advanced stage of consciousness. A graphic statement of this lifting of the whole being in all its parts is thus given by Dr. de Purucker:
The work of evolution is . . . the raising of the personal into the impersonal; the raising of the mortal to put on the garments of immortality; the raising of the beast to become a man; the raising of a man to become a god; and the raising of a god to become still more largely divine. — Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, p. 287 (first edition)
But indeed, the personal part of us is only on the evolutionary road to such perfection. We are yet far from the goal. The whole human race is held in the grip of its ignorance of the spiritual, in the grip of suffering and confusion of mind and heart, because we have not yet learned to center our consciousness in the permanent and real part of us — the spiritual ego. We are immersed almost altogether in the personal interests of our nature. And this personality is mixed, a mentality combined with passion, with emotional qualities, with physical traits and appetites. At different times any one of these may hold the mastery. At one moment the individual may be calculating with keen and absorbed mind, at another time swept from his moorings by a gust of violent anger. Again, physical pain or illness may turn him into a creature of ailing impotence. But seldom is any one of us for long the same. We pass from mood to mood, and our outlook on life changes perpetually and is never stable. And like all composite things this unstable personality must break up when the time comes for the dissolution of the different energies and classes of life-atoms of which it is composed. For only homogeneous natures are immortal.
This bundle of personal energies, when it is broken up at the withdrawal of the spiritual ego into its own sphere — in other words at death — leaves behind it what in theosophy are called skandhas. When a plant withers and dies, it drops into the earth the seeds which are the fruit of its little round of growth and development. From these seeds other plants will grow up when the cycle of the seasons has brought back the conditions necessary for their germination. If it was a fragrant violet, its seeds will produce their lovely kind. If it was a ragweed, more ragweeds will appear. So with the psychological-animal organism of man. When it dies and fades out, it deposits in nature's psychological soil or reservoir those invisible seeds of energy which its own growth has produced. Theosophists call these seeds or effects skandhas, using the Sanskrit because there is in English no word which can exactly describe these inner consequences of a life's experience. And it is these seeds or skandhas, or attributes of character, which shape the new personality, when the ego returns to incarnation, making it the exact result of what it thought and acted and built up of character in the last life.
That in us which reincarnates, then, is the spiritual ego, the divine individuality. The following words of Dr. de Purucker will help us better to understand the ego and its relation to ourselves:
First, then, there is the activity of the monad, the highest. During the process of incarnation the activities of this monad develop the intermediate nature which ensouls soul after soul, and this is the real meaning of this old Greek word metempsychosis; and these souls thus invigorated, inspired, and driven by the ensouling monad, ensoul body after body, which is metensomatosis, or reincarnation, as the word is commonly and properly used. — Man in Evolution, chapter 14
Every one of you, my Brothers, is a divinity encased in vehicles, in sheaths, of an enshrouding lower selfhood; and all the work of growth, all the work of evolution, is the thinning out of these sheaths, is the dissolving of the gross physical aspects of them and the raising of them to become ethereal, translucent to the rays of the inner god-son, the god within. -- Questions We All Ask, Series II, x
The fact is that we do remember them. The question is here put in this form because that is how it is generally asked by inquirers. But it is not thus correctly phrased. It should rather be: "Why are we not able to recall the circumstances of our past lives?" For character itself is memory. In a certain family are born two children. One is candid and honorable, the other thieving and sly, and the second has to be painfully disciplined into a sense of honor. We all know of these puzzling cases of differing character in one family. The first has learned by experience in past incarnations that dishonesty is base, and so it is born with that innate knowledge as part of its character. The other child has this victory yet to achieve, and will the better achieve it because of its family environments — a favorable condition earned by the beginning of effort towards learning this lesson in a previous incarnation. It is in this way that we can say that character is memory.
Genius too is memory. All inborn faculties, whether good or evil, are the consequences of past self-training or of past weakness in other lives on earth. Mercifully, it is rare that anyone can remember the particular events through which these victories or failures as to character and faculty have been built into the inner nature. For since we learn almost always through suffering and many initial failures, such memories would in the main be of a painful kind.
We might also include hereditary traits as a phase of memory, developing a little more fully the subject above alluded to. Why is it, for example, that of three children born into the same family, one is a genius, another has a shrewd business head, while the third is entirely commonplace? Theosophy teaches that an ego coming to birth must automatically, by the natural attraction of psychomagnetic energy, imbody those hereditary qualities and traits appropriate to the expression of its own nature brought over from its experience and actions in the past life. We thus see that in every way character is memory. And without these stored-up, accumulated memories, carried over from life to life — as before emphasized — no evolution of organism either physical, mental, or moral would be possible. Evolution depends upon continuity. Moreover, everything repeats itself. It is the method of nature that through repetition characteristics are fixed and the type developed. Likewise is it by repetition through life after life that lessons of human character are realized and absorbed and become a permanent part of human nature.
Man is an individuality. He has free will. He is changing from day to day, from year to year, from life to life. He is not static. He is building now what his character will be in his next incarnation, . . . — Man in Evolution, chapter 18
What is true of brain-memory is also true of the personality. As indicated in Chapter 1, the ego has a different personality with each life. This must of necessity be so because in each life we learn something new, develop mentally and morally, unfold emotionally or spiritually, so that the old personality becomes inadequate — the ego outgrows its possibilities as an instrument. The ego, therefore, when it is reborn, makes for itself another personality fashioned afresh from the lessons incorporated into itself in the last life.
So here is another and deeper reason why memories inhere and persist, but details are forgotten, when the ego returns to incarnation. Characteristics, faculties, which were built into the inner nature are brought back as unconscious memories; but the new-born personality can have no recollection of the actual happenings of a former life for it took no part in them. Just as an actor cannot say: "I was Hamlet" or "I was Macbeth"; but rather: "I took the part of Hamlet" or "I played Macbeth"; so no ego can truly feel, "I was So-and-so in a former life." For the personality is not the real I, it is only the mask or vehicle or garment or temporary character through which the real I expresses an aspect of itself. We may extend the comparison and think of an actor playing many parts in his long career. The actor knows Hamlet and he knows Lear and Shylock, but what do Hamlet and Lear and Shylock know of each other? Then consider the structure of the brain. Though the same atoms which made up the brain in a former life are now used again by the reincarnating entity, the brain of the new personality is a fresh combination entirely. For these life-atoms themselves have undergone changes (as explained in Chapter 4) so that while the instinctive trend is the same, the total effect is a fresh outlook in the character.
Another reason, and a basic one, why we do not remember the circumstances of past lives is that the universe to which we belong is an expression of intelligence, wisdom, and compassion. It is an organism, an immense, interblended series of infinitely graded living entities, having at its center or heart a divine intelligence, one of the cosmic gods. The "laws" of the universe are the life-rhythms — spiritual, intellectual, and vital — of that cosmic divinity, flowing out along the circulations of the cosmos, guiding and controlling all things from the mighty sun to the electrons of the atom.
These beneficent laws protect us, as far as our free will does not prevent, against those things which hinder our evolution. Evolution always looks forward, is constructive, builds afresh and on developing patterns. Foremost among hindrances to evolution would be a constant preoccupation with the past. We are supplied by the laws of the cosmos with an adequate memory of our own past and that of humanity, all that we need to use: we are protected in the very nature of things from a memory of details which would burden, distract, and bring suffering to our upward struggling nature. To leave behind "the low-vaulted past" is one of the conditions of growth. Does the oak bother about the acorn which produced it, or the butterfly take thought for its abandoned chrysalis? We are children of a universe of life, and we are forever and healthily abandoning the worn-out, and developing the new out of the old.
All of us undoubtedly, as spiritual egos, have played many parts on this wonderful stage of the human drama, our planet earth. It is through these manifold roles that we have developed the highly complex psychological apparatus called human nature, which in the great majority is able to adjust itself to almost any condition of human existence, under all climes and in any environment. So true is this that there is a great restlessness upon people today, a feeling that life as we know it has been lived out, exhausted of its possibilities. Mankind inarticulately feels itself upon the threshold of some new discovery. Theosophy proclaims that this is a genuine intuition, a prevision of the new era which is just about to dawn upon the world.
We must not forget, however, that a time will of course come when each of us will be able clearly to recollect all the events of our past lives. The register of everything that has ever happened to him is imprinted imperishably upon the deathless, divine side of our nature. But we have not yet developed the spiritual faculties which would enable us to peruse that mystic record. Nor shall we develop them so long as we constantly identify ourselves only with the life of the brain and the personality. For now self-interest shuts us in; passions hold us in selfish blindness; prejudice weaves its dense web over intuition and creative power. And so we languish in our narrow prisons of personality. Only occasionally, when the sunshine of divine love or the spirit of self-sacrifice inspires us, do we catch a gleam of the mountains of dawn without our prison walls. We must use our spiritual will to realize our essential godhood and break through the bonds of selfishness and ignorance into the glorious kingdom lying just beyond the threshold of our everyday consciousness.
One of the commonest mistakes made by inquirers is the belief that reincarnation means that a human being can be reborn in the body of an animal. Some Oriental religions teach that such animal incarnation is a punishment for certain sins. This doctrine is a distortion, which came about in the course of centuries, of an original teaching to be explained later. Theosophy denies this doctrine emphatically; all its teachings are a refutation of this idea. "Once a man, always a man" is one of the great axioms of the archaic science. This statement is based on the fact, already referred to, that the universe is a living organism. We are a part of that great organism and the laws therefore which govern our life spring from the nature of that organism. Thus, by understanding what happens in the physical world we can get an idea of the corresponding processes in all other spheres or planes within the boundaries of our own universe. The following quotation will emphasize this view:
The old Seers and Sages taught that the Universe is a living entity, that it is a vital organism — much in the same way as man's body is a vital organism: . . . and man with his life and his intelligence and his consciousness and all his power, all his thought and feeling and emotion, is but a reflexion of the Whole, working in him as an inseparable part of that all-encompassing Whole. The part obviously partakes of what the Whole is. — Questions We All Ask, Series II, xiv
Looking at ourselves from this standpoint, we see that as the circulations of the human being, arterial and nervous, make growth possible, so do the universal circulations, vital and spiritual, make evolution possible. In man the life forces flow along definite channels called veins, arteries, and nerves. In the universe the evolutionary pulsations also pass along definite channels and are called in theosophy the circulations of the cosmos. The relation of this fact to the permanence of the ego as a human being has been well expressed by one of the teachers as follows:
Manasthe Thinker . . . 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 the kingdoms of nature below the human. — W. Q. Judge: The Ocean of Theosophy, pp. 68-9
This distortion of the law of reincarnation referred to as the transmigration of the soul is a misapplication of a fact anciently known and now again brought forward by theosophy — the transmigration of the life-atoms. In theosophical literature it has been often explained, as in the following passage:
In the application of this word to the life-atoms, . . . it means, briefly, that the life-atoms which in their aggregate compose man's lower principles, at and following the change that men call death, migrate or transmigrate or pass into other bodies to which these life-atoms are psycho-magnetically attracted, be these attractions high or low — and they are usually low, because their own evolutionary development is as a rule far from being advanced. — G. de Purucker, The Esoteric Tradition, p. 598
If a person has led a grossly animal existence, the life-atoms of which the cells of his body are composed will automatically through attraction pass into those bodies or substances which will afford the appropriate outlet for the kind of energy which has been built into them. If the life of another has been high and fine, the vibrations impressed upon the atoms will cause them to be attracted only to clean, wholesome, finely organized substances or organisms. When the period of rebirth comes again, and the life-atoms return by the action of psychomagnetic attraction to the reincarnating entity to which they belong, they bring with them a reinforcement — through their transmigrations — of the bad or good influences educated into them during the last life. Thus it is easy to see how this teaching of the transmigrations of the life-atoms has, like so many of the occult doctrines, been degraded by ignorance or priestcraft from its original and true significance. (For a fuller treatment of this interesting subject see an article by H. P. Blavatsky, "Transmigration of the Life-Atoms" reprinted in The Theosophical Path, February, 1930, and the story by W. Q. Judge, "The Persian Student's Doctrine," reprinted in The Theosophical Path, April, 1932.)
A good many object to reincarnation because they do not like the idea of coming back to this earth. They feel that they have had enough of the sorrows and difficulties of human life and do not wish to return to it. And such an objection is just as natural and understandable as a child's objection to being kept in school. But not for nothing has the term Mother Nature been a universal one in all ages, for it springs from our instinctive knowledge that we are her children, that she is greater and wiser than we are, and will hold us to her laws of evolution and discipline whether we will or no. No person by merely taking thought can add one cubit to his stature, or change any of the processes of life or death. It may be said that the truth of reincarnation cannot be proved. But it is so grounded in probabilities as founded on all the ways of nature — day and night, life and death, sleeping and waking, summer and winter, the phases of all planetary motion, and the very cycles of the sun itself; it is so natural and instinctive a human belief, being at the present time the conviction of a large majority of the human race, and in olden times always universally accepted; it makes such a strong appeal to the human heart and logic that thousands upon hearing it for the first time have accepted it at once as an inevitable conclusion from the facts of life, while it is at the present time spreading rapidly among all classes of thinking people; and finally, it has such power to reform and satisfy and inspire human nature, that it must, once encountered, become a theory that can at least never again be forgotten or ignored.
These things are but a part of the overwhelming "presumptive evidence" for reincarnation. To deny it — to say, "I do not want to come back to earth" — is hardly enough. There is a general tendency in human nature to adopt the easiest way, to think that because we find a certain course unpleasant and another one more agreeable we must be allowed to please ourselves. And this in spite of the fact that the very sorrows and difficulties we are so tired of are there to convince us to the contrary. Mankind must somewhere meet the consequences of its thoughts and actions, its failures and moral victories. Why not here on this earth, where he can reap the harvest on the spot where the seed was sown? The following quotation carries out the idea:
Every act we do; every good act, every evil act; every good thought we think, every evil thought that we allow to find lodgment in our minds, thereby affecting our conduct: each must have its inevitable consequent effect. . . . Where does that force or energy express itself in results? After death only, or in future lives? The answer is both, but mostly the latter, in future lives on Earth, because an earth-force can find no effectual manifestation of itself in spheres not of earth. — The Esoteric Tradition., p. 660
Let us remember, however, that these teachings of theosophy have nothing to do with what is called fatalism. We are indeed held in the grip of our present circumstances, because having intertwined ourselves by former actions into these circumstances we cannot escape them until by a reverse course of action we effect our own liberation. But at any moment that anyone can see and admit that he has this power, and then sets about using his will, he begins to be a master of those circumstances and can use them to bring about exactly contrary results to what they would have produced if he had tamely submitted to them. Thus man, using knowledge and free will, becomes increasingly master of himself and therefore of his destiny. Theosophy is foremost among all systems of thought in arousing us to this knowledge and realization of our power, and so leading us into creative progress and freedom.
Again people sometimes say, "But if we are all reborn into different bodies, how shall I know my friends?" Theosophy answers that no act of recognition is necessary. We and our present family and friends are knitted together by love, by mutual experience, and by congeniality. We shall not have to seek each other out. Families will be reborn together in continuation of the bonds they are united by now. We and our friends can no more help being attracted and brought together than a magnet can help selecting iron filings from a quantity of sawdust. We cannot escape our friends, or — it must also be emphasized — our enemies!
And there are not a few who object to the idea of being reborn as an infant and having to learn all over again the merely physical side of existence, as well as repeating in each life elementary education and brain development. But, as has been pointed out before, this repetition of even physical experience is a habit of nature that has been essential to evolution.
Yet as human spiritual development proceeds we will grow out of the need for this form of repetition. In answer to a question addressed to Dr. de Purucker at one of his public lectures as to whether the time spent in childhood would diminish as mankind advances, his reply was:
Yes . . . we advance . . . with the passing centuries, and the future will show us men for whom childhood and babyhood will be very much shortened. This shortening will be the result of evolution. . . . The time is coming in the distant future when children will be born almost men . . . practically adult, although this does not mean that they will be born of full adult size. -- Questions We All Ask, Series I, xxxvii
The whole point for us lies of course in the influence of spiritual development. We are burdened by conditions of physical weakness because in the past we have inwound ourselves into slavery to them, by living, thinking, and longing nearly altogether for material and personal satisfactions. These, being self-centered or centripetal in their action, create bonds for the spiritual ego which cripple its activities in this world. This has reacted on our bodies and slowed down even their evolution. So the need is to so spiritualize and impersonalize ourselves that all limitations and weakness will gradually dissolve away. The ego will then be free to control and develop its vehicles of self-expression in harmony with its own divine nature and purposes.
Objections to reincarnation spring as a rule from unfamiliarity with the teaching and its innumerable close applications to the problems and situations arising in life. And there are, naturally, some who will not accept it because they do not wish to believe it. But the great majority who encounter this doctrine are almost sure, sooner or later, to join that growing multitude of all kinds and classes of people — not by any means all of whom profess theosophy — to whom reincarnation is the very foundation of human justice, happiness, and spiritual growth.