The Path – November 1890

THE REINCARNATING PART OF US — Alexander Fullerton

It hardly seems possible for an ordinary student, one who has not closely inspected or received special instruction in Theosophic lore, to contribute any valuable material to a discussion of the "Seven Principles", or, indeed, of any topic of which no more is known than has been disclosed in books equally accessible to all. In such cases, perhaps all that can be done is to show probability through analogy, or to cancel a difficulty by proving that it inheres equally in every other theory, or to analyze some one section more closely than has been done in books, or to make suggestions tending to simplify the teaching.

I think that one of our greatest puzzles is to form a clear conception as to what part of us it is which reincarnates. The difficulty is found in the middle region, if we range the Principles in a line. On the supposition that pure Spirit is the 7th, it is seen to be everywhere and all-enduring, and not therefore entering into this question. Several Principles at the other end of the line are as readily disposed of. The body is evidently an affair of one incarnation, disintegrating at the end of it, and its elements scattered through Nature. The Life-Principle — Prana, Jiva, call it what you will — is understood to flow through all substance, and is not a constituent element of any individuality. The Astral Body is material, and, like the physical body, ultimately dissolves. No one of these three lasts over till, or is reproduced in, a later birth. Nor is it difficult to perceive that the Animal Soul has a transient endurance, at all events in part. So far as it represents purely physical desires — hunger, lust, and the like, it has no existence apart from a body. The bodily needs seem thrown back upon it, as it were, inciting it to action and thus reinvigorating the carnal forces. After the separation in death takes place, the immediate stimuli are absent, and then only memories of enjoyment can remain. Even these, so far as a physical brain is essential to conserve them, must abate. All, therefore, that is rooted in, or conditioned upon, or attached to a fleshly body must vanish with it.

And now we come to the 5th Principle, the Human Soul, described by Mr. Sinnett as "the seat of reason and memory". Scientific men agree that memory is an indestructible faculty. If this be so, it would seem that the Principle wherein it has its seat must likewise be indestructible. We are told, however, by some Theosophical writers that memory is a perishable faculty, and that reason is only a minor, temporary gift, the tool of a higher endowment which is to obscure and succeed it. One finds difficulty in each of these propositions. If memory, however suspended or in abeyance as to previous incarnations, is not an inherent part of the Ego. an Adept, surveying his past, can find it only in impressions made upon the Astral Light. But how, without memory, could he connect such pictures with himself, and what value would they have to him if destitute of that connection? One may go even farther. Memory is what practically constitutes identity, for we only know ourselves as being the same person born long ago through the successive incidents and eras which we recall. Obliterate these, and we should be as unable to identify ourselves with the personality of 10, 20, 30 years back, as we now are to do so with the personality of a past incarnation. What, too, would become of the knowledge, the experience, the mental skill garnered through life, if there was no permanent faculty to conserve them? It is not enough that their essence be extracted in Devachan: our nature, higher than any semi-material ether, can hardly be less gifted than an Astral Light. It would seem that there must be in this 5th Principle a power of permanent conservation of all events and processes, and a further power of reproducing them under the appropriate conditions; and this agrees with the three-fold analysis of memory by nomologists, for they give as its third element "reproduction". The contents of memory might be kept intact, even if the reproductive power was at anytime suspended or inoperative.

Nor does it seem probable that reason is but a transient and imperfect tool. We know it only in its earlier stages and in its human manifestations. And yet Holmes suggests that from the contemplation of a pebble an Archangel might infer the whole inorganic universe as the simplest of corollaries. What limits can we put to intelligence? Some of us have read the editorials of country newspapers, have undergone sermons from young divines, have overheard the babble of shop girls in a street car, have been tortured with drivel in private life, and yet have heard lectures from Prof. Tyndall, thus realizing the possibility of antipodes in human thought; but shall we say that there are not intelligences as much in advance of his as is his beyond those? The truth is that all human powers are yet little more than embryonic. Marvellous as they are to us, they must be trivial to beings of unbroken growth, beings to whom our little lives of 70 years seem utterly ephemeral. And where is this to stop? Radiating from the Supreme Spirit, All-wise, All-knowing, and All-powerful, there must be rank upon rank of intelligences, infinitely varied in capacity and strength. The two elements in wisdom are information and judgment, and from that combination in its perfection must come a descending scale, the lowest terminus whereof we see, but how slight a distance above it! As we ascend it in our own evolution, we shall doubtless drop many processes that are clumsy and dispense with many aids that we have outgrown, and yet the original faculty may still persist, not discarded, but amplified and enriched, freed from limitations and stimulated by exercise. What should we be without reason; what would it be without memory?

Evidently, however, the immortal part of man is not to be found in intelligence alone. An undying intellect might of itself be mischievous or evil. Its complement must be in the moral or spiritual nature, which, still immature now as is the mind, may expand to equal proportions and make the whole symmetrical. Thus the intellect becoming more strong, and the moral sense becoming more fine, each correcting and guiding the other, the human soul and spirit, the mind and the higher nature, the brains and the heart, the God-given and the God-seeking, may in conjunction develop along the way to which there is no end. Perhaps this is what is meant by the Theosophical injunction to "unite the Manas with the Buddhi"; — at all events it is an intelligible interpretation.

If these two, united in whatever proportion and in whatever degree of evolution, constitute the Ego of any particular man, the combination is that which reincarnates. But it does not follow that the new incarnation exhibits the combination in all its fulness or with all its phases. Sometimes the intellectual element may be dominant, or even only a part of it; as where a genius arises in some special field, or one intellectual gift is more marked than the rest. This would account for a Macaulay in letters or a Verdi in music. Sometimes the moral element is in the ascendant, and then we see a Howard in philanthropy or a Paul in missionary ardor. Sometimes the spiritual nature so dwarfs all else that life is but one long aspiration, as with the mystics. But all the round must be traversed, or the Ego would have a development incomplete. If this is the true view of the reincarnating part of us, one important consequence seems to follow. Theosophical authorities have been somewhat cautious in defining ultimate destiny, intimating, indeed, that there is a state known as Paranirvana — "beyond Nirvana", but not usually saying more than that Nirvana is not eternal, since it ends with a Manvantara, and that human spirits absorbed into the Divine fulness pass with it into Pralaya until the reawakening. Two questions at once arise: Do they lose consciousness during that era, and, Do they begin a new round of embodiments after it? If they begin a new round of embodiments, the implication is that there is no finality in that mode of evolution; and while the improbability of such a theory, and the strong repugnance all of us must feel to an eternity of incarnations, do not constitute more than an a priori argument against it, its force is very strong. If they do not, as would seem far more likely, how is Paranirvana attained? And what about the loss of consciousness during Pralaya? The "sleep of Brahm" may be a mere metaphor to indicate a suspension of world formation, and it is quite conceivable that a purely spiritual sphere of thought and action would meet all needs of a perfected being. But if it means, as its use generally seems to, a cessation of all interior as well as exterior function, a Theosophist may well demur. A comatose God is not an inspiring conception, even if one is able to contemplate it with entire gravity. Unconsciousness in the Supreme Being of a universe in which every other being was conscious would be strange enough during a Manvantara; but if you predicate it during a Pralaya, you make the Pralaya unending, for what is there to rouse up the Unconscious and induce a new Manvantara? It will not do to say "The Law of Cycles", for "Law" implies a law-maker, and what law-maker can be above the Supreme and impress his will thereon? Periodicity of manifestation may be, and probably is, a Law, but it is a law only frameable by the Supreme, and if the Supreme has Himself lapsed into unconsciousness, how is the Law to be made operative? One cannot escape from these difficulties by metaphysical juggles, or by terminology, or by mere appeals to authority; and, indeed, it is hardly worth while. I regard this as one of the many cases where discrimination is one of the most valuable tools in a Theosophical equipment, and where a Theosophist will be all the better for making use of it. In fact, a measure of eclecticism is healthful to an adherent to any system, for without it he is apt to lose sense of proportion and to become a partisan where he should be a freeman.

But what other conception of the distant future is preferable?, one may ask. I should say, a conception which preserves all the results of reincarnations, and forbids a suspension of conscious, intelligent life to either Divinity or to human spirits made Divine. Worlds and systems may wax and wane, yet the Great Architect of the Universe be unaffected by their changes. Numberless egos, having advanced through repeated incarnations beyond the limits of human imperfection, reach and are pervaded by that unlocalized, impersonal Being whom we may style the Central Sun. The self-element purged away, yet the individuality preserved; consciousness no longer imprisoned, but free like the ether; the dew-drop restored to the shining sea after its wanderings over the earth, yet in some strange way its identity unsacrificed; these Egos, made a portion of the Divine, have not attained all knowledge or found an end to the endless. Like the asymptote to the hyperbola, they may be continually approaching a finality, yet never reach it. No number of Manvantaras can exhaust the resources of infinity, and these tireless intelligences, one as considered from without, many as seen from within, may forever find scope and action. What need have they of a Pralaya, a periodical state of coma, required neither by logic nor by languor? They depend on no material worlds for their interests and being, and in the long eras when formative powers are in abeyance have still the Divine life which never slumbers or wanes. Time, as all other limitations. has passed away, and there has succeeded to it a being which is unconditioned, unbroken, and Eternal!

You may say that these thoughts are only a speculation. Certainly; as must be every other theory concerning the mode of the Divine existence or the nature of human life after its restoration to its source. These topics lie beyond the reach of finite faculty: the finite cannot possibly apprehend the Infinite. No better preparation can possibly be given to any student of spiritual things, be he Eastern or Western, than a careful reading of Mansel's famous Limits of Religious Thought. Herein is shown with unanswerable logic that we hardly enter upon examination of Divinity before we are confronted with hopeless and endless difficulties. The terms "Infinite" and "Absolute" contradict each other; every process essential to an inspection of the Divine brings us to a dilemma, each prong of which is an absurdity or a contradiction or both; we are beaten back, confused, paralyzed at every new step. There is perhaps no more lucid portrayal of the limitations of human thought. And it is simply because the finite is incompetent to grasp the Infinite. This must be equally true of all grades of the finite, for all fall short of infinity. A Mahatma is just as powerless to analyze the Supreme Being as you or I; not because he is not vastly greater than we, but because he as truly lacks the one essential to define God, — Godhood. He is still finite, that is, with a limit or end: God has no limit, no end. His conceptions are grander and fuller than ours, yet not herein more accurate, for no accuracy is possible. Hence of this region there can be no teacher, for a teacher who does not know is a contradiction. We may reverently accept the vast stores of knowledge acquired by those revered souls in Their aeons of development, and learn invaluable truths of the constitution of the universe, the earth, and ourselves; but the nature of the Supreme Being and the method of life within must ever be speculative, and we owe no allegiance to speculation. All that can be done is to present in symbolical or analogical form some thought which reflects a possibility of the reality, but if that is unsatisfactory or objectionable, neither reverence nor duty exacts our acceptance of it. Mahatmas, Adepts, chelas, students, all here stand on common ground, for all are dwarfed to likeness in the presence of the Infinite.

Perhaps for that very reason we all can give our views without presumption. And so it comes to pass that the same evening at the Aryan Society which witnesses a quotation from the Secret Doctrine witnesses also a free discussion on the seven-fold division of man and a paper on his continuing essence and its eternal progress.


The Path

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