The Path – June 1891

REINCARNATION — Katherine Hillard

In Mr. Judge's remarks on Reincarnation last week, he reminded us of the necessity of distinguishing clearly what it is that re-incarnates. At the risk of repeating much that has been said already, I should like to say once again, for it can hardly be said too often, that a right understanding of the more abstruse teachings of Theosophy depends upon our being able to free ourselves from materialistic conceptions of spiritual things. The tendency of the human mind is always towards the embodiment of abstract ideas in a concrete form, particularly in the Western World, where the intellect has not been trained in the subtleties of Eastern metaphysics for countless generations. The ordinary intellect, plunged into the sea of abstract ideas, is like a man who does not know how to swim, and is distractedly baffling with the waves. It is in vain to tell him that the human body is lighter than water, and must float, if he will but put himself in the proper position and keep still; he clutches wildly at the smallest plank, and feels that only a rope or an oar, or something tangible that he can grasp with his hands, can possibly be of any use to him. Not even when Peter saw Jesus walking upon the water, was he able to follow his example.

So the Western mind, launched upon the sea of Oriental metaphysics, grasps eagerly at an image, a metaphor, a diagram, anything that can be seen with the eye and leave a definite trace upon the memory. It is certainly better to have a life-preserver when we are compelled to jump over board, than to be drowned, but we must be very careful that the life-preserver keeps its proper place, and does not hold our heels above water instead of our head. There are certain truths that can be impressed upon the mind by means of images and metaphors, but there are others that only the intuition can apprehend, and where that is silent, it is in vain to force the intelligence, which is as incapable of the higher insight as Peter was of treading the waves over which his Master passed so lightly.

We are often warned in the Secret Doctrine and other books against the danger of accepting as a fact what is meant to be an allegory, but we need to have that warning repeated at frequent intervals. The moss of concrete conceptions will gather on the walls of the temple of Truth, and needs to be scraped away again and again, if the beautiful marble is to be seen in all its purity.

It is impossible to take a right view of the doctrine of Re-incarnation unless we have, to begin with, a proper conception of man's nature. We may talk glibly of the seven-fold constitution of man, and name the seven so-called "principles" in proper order, but let us beware of thinking of them as seven things. We might as well try to construct a rainbow by repeating the names of its seven colors. Every day almost, we hear some one say: "I can't bear the idea of Re-incarnation; I don't want to come back to this weary world; when I leave it, I long to have everlasting rest; better annihilation than a return to such a life."

When you ask such a person what they think is to return, you will invariably find that it is the personality, the man of today, thickly incrusted with a weight of bodily ills, mental fatigues, and physical accumulations of every kind, whims, idiosyncracies, fixed habits. It is the John Smith who stands before you, tired out beneath his earthly load, which he cannot dissociate from his real Ego. He expects to return as John Smith behind the mask of a new body, nothing changed but the flesh; the memory in abeyance, to be sure, but perhaps to revive occasionally in dreams, or in shifting, half-caught glimpses of a former existence;

"Some vague emotion of delight,
In gazing up an Alpine height,
Some yearning towards the lamps of night."

But were the constitution of man as taught in theosophy properly understood, that weary mortal would realize that with death he will lay down all the burdens of this life, and that with the body must pass away every thing but the thinking principle, the consciousness, that real entity, whose intelligence, passions, desires, all the lower faculties of mind, in fact, are but aspects of the immortal being within. "There is but one real man", says the Key to Theosophy, "enduring through the cycle of life, and immortal in essence if not in form, and this is Manas, the mind-man, or embodied Consciousness."

It is difficult indeed to realise the idea of unembodied Consciousness, of immortal mind; perhaps the best way is to recall our own experiences in our highest moments, to recollect how independent of all personality was the soul at such moments; how we might have been a King or a beggar for aught we knew or cared when absorbed in the higher existence, even though it were only on the intellectual plane that our freed soul disported itself, and all the mysteries of the Spirit were still far beyond our ken. But such moments of keen thought, of intense feeling, of deep affection, give us glimpses of a state of pure consciousness apart from personality, and this is the reincarnating Ego.

So that the tired mortal may lie down to his last sleep, safe in the thought that he has done with all his personal incumbrances, and that not a trace of the existence he has left behind will remain in the being who returns. Not a trace of the personality that is, but Karma waits for the reincarnating soul, and as it has sown in this life, the harvest will be reaped in the next.

The farmer may fix his mind upon results, and work purely for the sake of the bushels of grain that he will garner in the fall, but we must learn, while making every effort to sow the seed of better harvests for the future, to keep our eyes fixed upon the duty nearest us, and give ourselves no concern for consequences. To do the right because it is the right, not because it will be better for us in this life or another, is the true principle.

"Whoever in acting dedicates his actions to the Supreme Spirit and puts aside all selfish interest in their result, is untouched by sin, even as the leaf of the lotus is unaffected by the waters," says the Bhagavad Gita. Let us then devote ourselves to working, each in our own place, for the benefit of all, secure in the knowledge that so eternal Justice and eternal Law shall work with us, for Duty is their child.

"I slept, and dreamed that life was Beauty:
I woke, and found that life was Duty.
Was then my dream a shadowy lie?
Toil on, sad heart, courageously,
And thou shalt find thy dream to be
A noonday light and truth to thee."


The Path

THEOSOPHICAL UNIVERSITY PRESS ONLINE