Theosophical University Press Online Edition
Disimbodiment and Reimbodiment
Existence of Ego Continuous; Self-consciousness of Ego Intermittent
Duality — Individuality — Personality
Reincarnation and the Loss of Memory
Disproportionate Periods of Time
Why Does the Inner God Ever Descend to Lower Planes of Being?
The Symbolism of the Crucifixion
Transmigration: Misunderstood and True
Reincarnation through the Ages
As stated in previous chapters the evolution of all Monads or life-units, is accomplished through experience gained during repeated embodiments in the various forms of nature.
To comprehend the doctrine of reincarnation, as man's reimbodiments are called, it is necessary to have an understanding of man's complex nature and what happens to its component parts when these have separated after death. We will therefore review briefly what has been said earlier on this subject.
It will be recalled that the core of man's being and the origin of his existence is a Ray of Divinity, a part of the Universal Consciousness. The different principles of man's nature are but different aspects of this Ray acting through different vehicles on various planes of Nature.
When the Ray is active on the outer plane it functions through a human, mental-physical vehicle, a human body with its brain and mind.
This vehicle acts as a "lens" that focuses a certain portion or aspect of the Ray and the combination of vehicle and Ray produce a sense of I-AM-I-ness or egoic consciousness which we call the Human Ego.
When the body dies, the Human Ego loses consciousness of the mental-physical plane, for the lens that focused it here is broken. It then enters on a series of experiences as related in Chapter VI — on "Death — Sleep — Birth" to which the following details are added.
After the second death the Human Ego is dependent on its mental-spiritual vehicle or spiritual body for conscious existence on the mental-spiritual plane. Without this vehicle there would be no lens to focus the consciousness on this plane, and the Human Ego would remain unconscious. While still embodied on the outer or mental-physical plane, the Ego lived in and made use of, its spiritual body during its periods of aspiration and while engaged in unselfish work. It is therefore already somewhat acquainted with this vehicle and its new life on the spiritual plane is a continuation of all that was high and noble in its former life. Since the mental-spiritual vehicle used before death is the same as that used after death, the Ego still retains its sense of identity and thinks of itself as the same I-AM-I as that of its earthly existence.
The blissful state into which the higher part of the Human Ego enters after the second death resembles that of a "daydream," but it is much more vivid and absorbing than an ordinary experience of this kind.
During this time it lives over again all the happy experiences of its former life and carries to completion all the high aspirations, which remained unfulfilled during earth-life.
When, after ages, the store of spiritual energies which was built up during the Ego's former earth-life, has been exhausted and the last happy memory faded away, there is no longer any material left, pertaining to the former Human Ego on which the Ray may focus its attention. The Ray then withdraws to its focus on the next higher plane and the Human Ego loses consciousness of the mental-spiritual plane as it earlier lost consciousness of the mental-physical plane, when the Ray withdrew from the physical body.
When the Human Ego loses consciousness of the mental-spiritual plane, its essence passes into a latent state and remains dormant, like the life-germ of a seed, within the Ray as this withdraws to higher planes.
All the experiences and lessons learned during the past life of the Human Ego have been shared by the Ray and these are now added to other experiences gained in former existences. This is the sublimated essence of that human life and constitutes the permanent harvest gained by the Ray through its human vehicle.
The whole human being now exists "in plan" on the several planes of Nature, to which the various principles belong. Its highest aspect is a projection of the Ray and this is preserved in the Ray itself to which it has returned. The intermediate and lower parts exist "in plan" as "seeds," each on its own plane. Each such seed with its life-germ contains potentially all the tendencies and peculiarities of character, good or bad, impressed on it by the entity during its previous existence.
During the period between incarnations the highest portion of the Ray is active on its own plane, but when it has finished its cycle of activity there, it is ready to continue its evolution on the material plane. It then starts the Ego on its earthward journey down through the various intermediate planes, where the dormant "seeds" are awaiting the return of the vitalizing and unifying Ray. This journey has already been outlined in Chapter VI under the heading: "The Ray Re-enters Matter."
The Ray must now build a new mental-physical vehicle before it can re-establish contact with the material plane. It therefore projects the sleeping life-germ of the former human ego, a portion of the Ray itself, into material existence and this life-germ, animated by the Ray, is the vitalizing force of the human embryo as it begins to form according to the "plan" carried over from its previous existence.
The entity now coming into being is therefore in reality a portion or projection of the Ray itself and this projection of the Ray is the permanent part of the Human Ego. It is the same projection that produced the Human Ego of our last life and of all our former lives. It will be the same in our next life and in all our future ones, but as the ages pass it will be an ever greater portion of the Ray that will manifest through the gradually improving human constitution.
The mental-physical vehicle with the purely personal consciousness, the "lens" in other words, is new, but since it is produced by the same Ray and built around the same character, according to the "plan" carried over from the last incarnation, it is virtually an exact copy of its former self.
A human entity is therefore in its higher part a continuation, and in its lower part a reproduction of its former self.
The Higher or Reincarnating Ego exists continuously, and is continuously conscious on its own plane — the mental-spiritual.
The higher part of the Human Ego, which is a projection from the Reincarnating Ego, exists continuously, but is not self-conscious continuously. It is self-conscious on the outer plane when it functions through its mental-physical vehicle. In sleep it is unconscious of the outer plane, and it may be either completely unconscious or it may he partly conscious on the mental-spiritual plane.
After death it is first completely unconscious. After the second death it gradually awakens to a partial consciousness on the mental-spiritual plane, where it experiences the happy, postmortem dream state previously referred to. In the case of a very gross or material nature, the Human Ego may remain completely unconscious between incarnations.
During the period of its blissful postmortem dreams, the Human Ego still identifies itself with the human entity of its last incarnation. At the end of the dream-period it passes into complete unconsciousnes and loses all memory of its former identity. When the Human Ego loses consciousness of the mental-spiritual plane, it becomes completely inactive and remains dormant until, provided with a new physical body, it again becomes self-conscious on the outer plane.
The lower aspect of the Human Ego, or the Personal Ego, which during physical existence identified itself with the body, loses consciousness and fades out when its vehicle, the body disintegrates.
The higher aspect of the Human Ego, then, exists continuously, part of the time self-conscious and active on the outer plane through a human vehicle; part of the time dormant, either unconscious or partly conscious on inner planes.
Between two incarnations there has been a break in the continuity of the vehicle and therefore, a break in the continuity of the Ego's self-consciousness, but no break in the continuity of it existence. The Ego bridges over the gap between two incarnations, by receding to inner planes, just as the life in the foliage of the perennial plant recedes into the root between two active growing-seasons.
In sleep there is also a break in the continuity of the lens, a temporary paralysis of the body, a "little death," and therefore a break in the continuity of the Ego's self-consciousness.
In the case of sleep we have definite proof that a break in the continuity of our consciousness does not mean a break in the continuity of our existence, for in the morning our consciousness reestablishes itself just as it was before we went to sleep. It recognizes its identity with its former self, for the brain retains the store of memories of its former experiences.
In sleep as in death, the Ego bridges over the gap between two conscious periods by receding to inner, invisible planes. No ordinary Human being has a clear understanding of what takes place during sleep, even though he passes through this experience every twenty four hours.
If, in the case of sleep, when the body is still present and intact, we are unable to carry with us a complete picture of our experiences, during our absence from the physical plane, it should not surprise us that we are unable to recall our experiences in the period between incarnations, when we have no physical body to help us to regain consciousness on this plane and to reestablish our identity with our former self.
The ordinary human being can not cross the thresholds of sleep and death and retain his self-consciousness, because he has not yet learned to live in his mental-spiritual vehicle, which is necessary for this purpose. There are exceptions to the general rule, however, for there have always been and still are on earth, human beings, whose evolution has advanced far beyond that of the ordinary individual. These beings are the "Elder Brothers" of the human race, the Masters of Wisdom, sometimes referred to as Adepts or Mahatmas, a Sanskrit term which means "great soul."
The Adepts live, even while physically embodied, in their mental-spiritual vehicle, which exists independent of the physical body, and are therefore able to retain full self-consciousness even when the physical body is paralyzed in sleep or after it has disintegrated in death. It is this ability that has enabled them to enter the invisible planes of existence and bring back to their less evolved brothers a description of the experiences the Human Ego meets in these to us unknown states of consciousness.
The power possessed by the Adepts is the result of self-directed efforts continued through many lives. They have, even while embodied, lived more and more in their mental-spiritual vehicle, so that in their case the Human Ego has in reality been raised to and become one with the Higher Ego. They started out as ordinary human beings, but have by their continuous efforts hastened their evolution and accomplished in relatively few lives what it will take the average human being ages upon ages to accomplish.
Since the Adept can pass unhindered from plane to plane and return while retaining full self-consciousness, he recognizes the continuity of his existence and the identity of his Ego throughout all of these changes. Being fully conscious in the permanent part of his nature, where all his past lives are recorded, he is able to remember not only his last incarnation, but all his former existences.
Until we ourselves have raised our Human Ego into becoming one with the Higher Ego we shall be unable to retain our self-consciousness in crossing the thresholds of sleep and death and will therefore be unable to remember our past lives.
Every member of the whole human race, who does not deliberately choose evil, is destined in time, however, to evolve to the point where he too will have become one with his Higher Ego, and will then be able to recognize the continuity of his existence through all phases of life.
As we have definite proof that the interruption of self-consciousness in sleep is not a break in the continuity of our existence, which proof is furnished by our human consciousness when this re-establishes itself in its waiting body, so do the Adepts have definite proof that death of the physical body causes no break in the continuity of their existence, for they are continuously established in their mental-spiritual vehicle, which is unaffected by death.
Whether the ability to remember our past lives in our present stage of development would be a help or a hindrance in our evolution is a subject that will be discussed in connection with "Reincarnation and the Loss of Memory."
By observing and examining the changing thoughts, feelings and interests within ourselves, as we know them from daily experience, we can differentiate between those belonging to the enduring and those belonging to the perishable side of our nature. Such analysis will show a duality of interests and tendencies within ourselves, and it will therefore be convenient to place these into two groups and for the time being consider man's nature as dual.
There is a side in our nature that recognizes its relationship with something greater than itself. It knows itself to be a member of a family, a community, a nation, and feels a strong attachment to these greater life-aggregates. It is the oneness of all life that produces this feeling within us and that forms the invisible, but unbreakable link between us and our fellow beings. It is through this side of our nature that we can understand and sympathize with other members of the human race, and it is this that arouses us to action when fellow beings are in distress.
But there is also another side in our nature that feels its separateness from others. It closes itself within its own shell and thus blinds itself to the sufferings and needs of others.
We feel intuitively that life should be harmonious and happy. We have visions of a better world, free from suffering and want and feel an urge to try to make it so. But there is another side in us that cares little how others have it, if we can only make ourselves happy.
There is something within that speaks to us as the Voice of Conscience, something that urges faithfulness in the performance of duties, even when these are unpleasant or monotonous. It is the tie that links us with others that makes us realize our duty towards them. But there is also a part in us that wants to evade its obligations when these are unpleasant or irksome.
There is a side in our nature with interests far beyond its own immediate sphere — something that wants to study the beauties of nature and the wonders of the stars, that ponders over the problems of life and the purpose of existence. And there is another side that identifies itself with the body and is chiefly concerned with its pleasures and comforts.
When we seek to determine what is characteristic of these two divergent currents within us, we note that in one case these are directed to our relations with our fellow men — to Nature and the Universe, while in the other case they are directed to the personal self and its little sphere of interests.
Between these two poles of its being, and constantly affected by their opposing attractions, stands the Human Ego, unconsciously yielding to, or consciously choosing one or the other.
The Individuality -- A Higher Source Within Ourselves.
When we contemplate the stars and our mind is filled with the grandeur of the Universe and then think of our own little Personality, we realize the insignificance and impermanence of this, and we can see what an unimportant part it plays in the Universe.
That part of our nature which is thus able to stand aside and realize the impermanency of its vehicle is not a part of this vehicle. It belongs to the permanent side of our nature.
We are aware of our own existence as the I-AM-I or Human Ego, whose identity has remained unchanged during our entire life. We know that even in our waking state this Ego is something different from body, brain-mind, memory and feelings, for it can stand apart, observe, direct and dominate all these. It must therefore even now have an existence independent of all these shifting currents within, and if it does now, while embodied, it can also have this same independent existence after these changing aspects have disappeared in death.
When we feel the ties that bind us to our fellow men, it is because there is something of our fellow men within ourselves.
When we marvel at the wonders of the Universe and reach out, however feebly, towards the Infinite trying to form some conception of it, it is because there is something of the Universe and Infinitude within ourselves.
Thoughts cannot rise higher than their source any more than water can rise to a level higher than the reservoir from which it flows. Thoughts and intuitions that deal with interests far beyond our personal self cannot have their origin in that self. They must come from a source within us, which is akin to the subjects with which they deal, and that source is the Ray of Universal Consciousness acting in the Higher or Spiritual Mind. This higher side of our nature with its vehicles exists on planes above the mental-physical, independent of the physical body.
This higher source already exists within us and does not need to be "developed." It is the Human Ego that has to evolve to a higher state of consciousness so that it may rise into conscious union with its higher source.
This raising and refining of the Human Ego is accomplished by translating into deeds and words, here and now, white embodied, the higher impulses that reach us from within. Just as we became accustomed to, and learned to use our physical body by living in it and exercising its various functions, so must we become acquainted with and learn to use our mental-spiritual vehicle by thinking such thoughts and practicing such deeds as are akin to our Higher Nature and the plane on which it exists.
The characteristic of this higher plane is its greater proximity to the One Universal Life and hence existence on this plane results in a greater realization of the unity of all life and therefore in understanding, sympathy and love for all that lives.
On the spiritual plane our fellow men are in reality other aspects of the same Universal Life of which we are parts. Actions pertaining to this plane therefore always take into account the interests and welfare of others. When we sacrifice some personal interest or advantage in order to render a service to the common good; when we want to give rather than take; when we try to spread happiness and sunshine rather than seek happiness for ourselves alone, we, the human part of us, are for the time being, living in and making use of the more universal part of ourselves — our mental-spiritual vehicle. We are then true to our "other selves" — our fellow men, true to all — altruistic. We have entered the path that will lead to conscious union with our Higher Ego and conscious use of our mental-spiritual vehicle.
Since this is the vehicle in which our consciousness shall have to live after death, we can understand the importance of becoming accustomed to live in it while we are still embodied. We can also see why ethical teachings have always been so strongly emphasized by all great religious teachers. Such teachings have more than one purpose. They not only help us to live in harmony with our fellow men, but they also raise the individual into closer union with his Higher Ego and gradually prepare him to live consciously in his mental-spiritual vehicle.
That part of the Human Ego that responds to the higher of the two currents within, and takes an interest in the welfare of others and in matters greater than itself, is in reality an aspect of the Higher Ego. This, together with the higher foci of the Ray of Divinity, exists on planes higher than the mental-physical and is therefore unaffected by the death of the body. They constitute the altruistic pole of our nature and since they are not divided by death, they may be referred to collectively as the Individuality of the man.
Separateness Breeds Selfishness.
Just as there are people who live in the higher part of their nature and radiate friendliness and good will to all whom they contact, so there are others who seldom look beyond the interests of their personal self and take little or no interest in the welfare of others. They are aware of their existence as the Personal Ego only, and live and act in this capacity alone. They too have the altruistic pole in their nature, but seldom live in it. In their case the Personal Ego regards itself as the apex of the whole human constitution. It has become so absorbed in its own concerns that it turns away from its higher pole and even fails to recognize the existence of this side of its nature. The Personal Ego then makes the mistake of considering itself the one-and-only Ego, the whole of the Ego, when in reality it is only a minor part, a projection, of the Higher Ego captivated by the personal apparatus.
The mental-physical vehicle of an individual is of course separate from that of other individuals, and when the consciousness persistently turns in the direction of this vehicle, the Personal Ego also acquires a sense of separateness; this Ego then becomes the dominating element of the human entity. There has been a reversal of polarity and the projection of the Ray of Consciousness has been deflected from its true course by the gross materiality of its focusing lens. It has been turned away from its altruistic pole with its ever expanding consciousness, in the opposite direction to a consciousness limited by its own personal self.
As long as the consciousness is focused in the mental-physical vehicle, this sense of separateness will persist and the Personal Ego will fail to recognize its oneness with its Higher Ego and hence its oneness with its fellow men.
When we promote our own interests to the detriment of others, when we seek advantages at their expense, it is evident that we do not feel the tie that binds us to them.
When we are uncharitable or critical of others; when we feel arrogance and pride and seek in some way to establish our superiority over them, we are evidently not realizing our oneness with them. If we were, we would not push ourselves ahead at their expense; we would rather share with them any advantage that we might possess.
When we are indifferent to the hardships and sufferings of others, and are content as long as we ourselves are comfortable, it is because we feel separate from them and have failed mentally to put ourselves in their place.
If we have no interests beyond ourselves it is because we have shut ourselves off within the shell of our lower selfhood, the mental-physical vehicle.
Selfishness in all its forms can be traced directly back to this sense of separateness that exists in the Personal Ego-consciousness. It is this sense of separateness that makes so many turn their life's effort in the wrong direction by seeking to promote the interests of the personal self, while in so doing they lose the opportunity of becoming at home in their Higher Nature.
It is as though we were living in a cave that expands towards the light, but grows ever narrower towards the rear. When our attention is centered on our own interests alone, we are looking towards the rear of the cave and turn our back on the opening. We stand in our own light and see only the small fraction of light that filters into the rear. If we turned in the opposite direction we would face the opening of the cave and a view that would keep expanding the farther we advance in this direction.
The Personality -- A Temporary Vehicle.
The self-centered pole of our being includes the physical body, the model body, our self-centered desires, emotions and thoughts as well as the Personal Ego with its brain-mind and its day-to-day memories of current events stored in the brain. This group of qualities, taken collectively, constitute the self-centered pole of our nature and will in the following be referred to as the Personality.
The Personality came into active existence at birth or later. It remains as a unit during life, but breaks up into its component elements at death.
The material for the body comes from nature and returns to nature. Medical science tells us that every day millions of cells leave our bodies, while millions of new ones take their places. This change goes on constantly so that after a number of years — generally set at seven — we have a completely new body. A person who reaches the age of seventy years has therefore used and abandoned ten different physical bodies in his lifetime.
This fact is the basis for the Hindu metaphor that "Man stands in a flowing stream of matter." "Man" here refers to the Individuality, the permanent part, that remains unchanged, in spite of the constant change that takes place in his body.
The reason that the body retains its outward appearance relatively unchanged, except for such modifications as naturally accompany an advance in years, is that the model-body, on whose framework the physical cells arrange themselves, itself remains relatively unchanged. The model-body changes only as the character slowly changes. After death the model-body disintegrates just as the physical body does.
On account of the temporary nature of the Personality, it becomes evident that it would be very short-sighted to concentrate one's chief efforts on satisfying purely personal interests and concerns. The fruit of all such efforts will have to be left behind, while altruistic efforts will help us to gain and preserve consciousness in our mental-spiritual vehicle, which is unaffected by death.
The use of the term "Personality" to designate the vehicular part of man's nature is very appropriate, when we consider the origin of this word. It comes from the Latin word "persona," which means "mask." Persona in its turn is made up of two words, per, meaning "through" and sona "to sound, to speak." It was customary in dramatic performances of ancient times for the actors to wear masks during the entire play and copies of such masks were commonly used as motifs for decorations in theaters, until quite recent times, when they were replaced by modernistic decorations. The masks had openings for eyes and mouth through which the actor could see and speak, and thus constituted a sort of tool or mouthpiece by means of which the real actor, himself unseen, could play his part and make himself heard. It is in this sense that the Personality is both an instrument used by the Individuality for contact with the material plane, and a mask behind which the Individuality is hidden.
The Individuality Endures Continually. The Personality a Recurring Manifestation.
If we consider the subject of Reincarnation without reference to details, it is the Individuality that is the real, the immortal part of man and it is this that incarnates, from life to life. The Individuality is the "cause," the Personality is the "effect." There would be no Personality if there were no Individuality to produce it. For each incarnation the Individuality builds for itself a new Personality, which then becomes the instrument through which the Individuality works on the material plane.
The character, the accumulated effect of all our past thoughts, deeds and experiences, is the governing factor in shaping, equipping and endowing the new Personality. We can alter our character while embodied, but since this character remains unchanged between incarnations, the new Personality will in all essentials be a reproduction of the Personality as it was at the end of our last incarnation.
The Personality is the "reflection in matter" of the Individuality; it is "Man, made in the image of God." But this image, this personal self, lives a life of its own during the waking state. It has free will and can choose between the prompting of its Higher Self and the impulses from the lower, animal self. When it chooses the latter course the "image" becomes disfigured as the reflection of the sun on the ruffled surface of a pond.
The Thread-Self — In Eastern Philosophy the Individuality is referred to as the "Thread-Self," to which the various Personalities are added as beads are threaded on a string. The Personalities differ, but the string that supports them, the Individuality, is the same through life after life.
The Actor and his Parts — There is another illustration that is often used to describe the relation between the Individuality and the Personality. An actor plays many different parts on the stage during his lifetime. One evening he may represent Hamlet, another time King Lear, or again, perhaps Othello. The audience sees these characters on the stage, but may not even know the off-stage name of the actor. The stage characters are temporary and unreal. King Lear does not know of Hamlet, who appeared the night before nor of Othello, who will appear tomorrow, but the real actor knows these parts and many more.
The various stage parts are "masks," put on for a day and then discarded, while the actor is the real entity behind the mask, just as the Personality, lasting but a lifetime, is the "mask" through which the Individuality expresses itself.
Just as the actor continues to exist after he has removed his stage-clothing, and disappeared from the theater, so does the Individuality continue to exist after it has dropped its "mask," the Personality and disappeared from this plane as it does both in sleep and death.
And as the actor after leaving the theater enters upon his normal off-stage life, so does the Individuality, after it is freed from the hampering limitations of the Personality, recede to inner, higher planes of consciousness where it now enters upon its real existence.
Reincarnation -- Part of Nature's Plan.
As will be seen from the foregoing the doctrine of Reincarnation in its broad outline is not difficult to understand. But there are naturally many questions that will arise in the mind of an inquirer to whom the subject is new. Since these have occurred to many others in the past they can be anticipated and the most common ones will be discussed below.
In seeking the answer to these questions we should bear in mind:
1) That there is a purpose in life: — the advancement of the soul towards ever higher states of being.
2) That there is a plan in Nature to accomplish this purpose: i.e. evolution by means of repeated experiences on the material plane.
3) That the time required for these experiences is provided for by an almost endless chain of embodiments in human form.
4) That Man is a part of Nature and therefore subject to the same laws that govern the rest of Nature. In experiencing repeated embodiments Man is simply following the law of periodicity or cyclic activity that we see operating everywhere in Nature.
Reincarnation, therefore, is not just a theory, but is an explanation of how one of Nature's most fundamental processes operates when it applies to Man. It should not be studied as an isolated event, but should be seen in its relation to other doctrines of the universal plan.
If we have lived before, why don't we remember it?
The question implies that since we do not remember, we could not have lived before; in other words it is based on the assumption that what we cannot remember, we could not have experienced.
A little thought will show that this assumption is not well founded, for we know of many experiences that we must have passed through and that we still do not remember.
For example the first few years of our lives are completely forgotten. Many, perhaps most, events of common occurrence are forgotten. In old age memory frequently fails the individual completely. Victims of amnesia may have whole years of their lives blotted out from their memory as already noted under the heading "Abnormal States of Consciousness."
In all these cases the fact that we have no memory of events, or even of whole years of our lives, does not prove that we did not live during these forgotten periods. If a human being, while living in the same physical body and using the same physical brain can forget whole years of its life it should not be surprising that a former existence, lived in another body and using another brain, is forgotten. But this brings us to another question:
Is an existence and experience that is forgotten of any value to the Individual?
We have forgotten the tumbles we took and the bruises we got when we took our first steps, but we have not forgotten how to walk. We have forgotten when we learned the alphabet but we have not forgotten how to read. Those who daily use mathematics in their work have usually forgotten the detailed steps they had to take in order to acquire this knowledge. But if later in life they have to teach mathematics to others they will find that they will have to go back over much forgotten ground and repeat the steps they had formerly taken. The steps had been forgotten, but the fruit of those steps had been used unwittingly in practical application of the knowledge. Is it not plain, then, that experiences, although forgotten, can have taught us valuable and permanent lessons?
More than one kind of Memory exists.
Memory includes two functions, storing up and bringing back or re-collecting. Inability to recollect does not necessarily mean that the memory is not there. Have we not often to our embarrassment been unable to recollect the name of an individual that we meet on the street, although we are positive that his name is known to us?
An event experienced in youth may be completely forgotten. A similar experience in later life may bring back memory of the earlier experience with vivid details. The memory was there, recorded, all the time but we were completely unaware of it.
When we speak of memory in general, we usually have in mind a record of events and details of every-day life. This record is stored in the brain, and no part of it can extend farther back than the early years of childhood, neither can it last beyond the life of the brain. But this is not the only kind of memory we have. Every event we have experienced, every act we have performed, every thought we have harbored, down to the smallest detail, is permanently recorded in the interior structure of the Higher or Reincarnating Ego. It is a memory stored in the Higher or superconscious Mind. This record is not accessible to the Human Ego during normal conditions of its earth life, however.
Our memory is like the filing system of a business concern. The memories stored in the brain are like the active records kept in the office files where they are handy for ready reference. But copies of all records are simultaneously stored in the vault, where they are kept under lock and key. There is one vault for each incarnation, but the Human Ego has lost the key to all except the office file.
Sometimes under abnormal conditions, a door to one of these memory-vaults may spring open, and knowledge, unknown to the individual in his normal state now becomes available to him.
An instance of this nature that has aroused much attention in California medical circles, is that of Pat Marquis, a Los Angeles boy, twelve years of age at the time referred to (the case is reviewed in the Theosophical Forum of October, 1936). When in a semi-trance this boy reveals a remarkable knowledge of subjects of which he is totally ignorant in his ordinary state.
His super-normal powers were demonstrated one time before 150 physicians at the Hollywood Hospital and another time before 200 physicians at a meeting of the County Medical Association. He has also appeared before professors at the California Institute of Technology at Pasadena, etc.
When he enters the semi-trance state, he seems to become a different personality — an ancient Persian physician who calls himself "Napeji," a Parsi who lived in the Himalayas in the eleventh century A.D. Though normally he does not know a word of Persian, he writes in that language in reply to questions from one of the investigating scientists Dr. Ameen Fareed, a Persian himself and a physician. Pat Marquis in the character of "Napeji," can also write in Persian when Dr. Fareed is not present. He sometimes uses an archaic form of that language. He correctly describes Persian customs, and his manners are those of a very dignified personage, not at all those of a lively youngster of twelve. When asked technical questions about the seat of consciousness in the brain, "Napeji" replied in the language of a trained anatomist. Dr. C. Reynolds, F.R.C.S., who presented Pat Marquis to the Hollywood committee of physicians, said, "How he could know anatomy and modern medical terms is beyond me. Certainly the boy knows nothing of them."
On another occasion, after being completely blindfolded, and in the trance required, the boy, now being in the personality of "Napeji," took up the foils in a fencing-bout with Mr. F. Cavens, an expert fencer. Pat Marquis knows nothing of fencing, but apparently "Napeji" is a master of the art, for Mr. Cavens said, "I know of no master of fencing in the world who could do it. The fact that he can see my point coming and parry, and not be deceived in his parry with the point menacing him, and make the correct retreat is remarkable. I defy any great expert to do it. It would be utterly impossible for me." Sixty seconds after the fencing-bout "Napeji" had disappeared and the laughing, healthy schoolboy had resumed his normal personality.
Other instances dealing with such memory-storage of hidden knowledge could be cited. A most remarkable one is that of Edgar Cayce, whose life-story is told in a book called "There is a River," by Thomas Sugrue.* Although completely ignorant of medicine and anatomy in his normal state, Mr. Cayce, when in a self-imposed trance, was able to diagnose many ailments correctly and prescribe suitable remedies. Hundreds of complete case reports containing affidavits of the patients and reports by physicians exist.
* Henry Holt and Co. N.Y., 1943.
Since it is impossible in a brief summary to do justice to the vast mount of material contained in this book it will be necessary to refer the interested reader to the book itself for details.
Do not such facts as those related above show that there is a "reservoir" of memory, which is not ordinarily accessible, but can under certain conditions be "tapped" and then reveal a store of unsuspected knowledge?
But there is still another kind of memory, a sort of general or collective memory which is summarized in our character. It is an intuitive awareness of the memories held by the Reincarnating Ego, but with all details left out. It is the harvest of permanent value that we have retained from numberless experiences and lessons long since forgotten, just as the ability to walk and to read is the fruit of lessons from a forgotten past.
Although rooted in the past and lacking in details as to how it was acquired, this character-memory is so vital and dynamic that it strongly affects our life, our thoughts and acts here and now.
All the lessons and experiences of the past, although never recorded in our present brain as memories, are thus found to influence us every day of our lives.
If we have lived before, why are we unable to identify ourselves with specific individuals of former existences?
Because in each incarnation we have a new brain that had no part in the experiences of our former lives and therefore is a blank in regard to these. The Ray of Consciousness projected into this life and the Individuality is the same as in our former existences, but since the vehicle is new, the egoic consciousness resulting from this new partnership naturally identifies itself with its new vehicle, and since there is no tangible connection between the old and the new vehicles, the Human Ego is unable to identify its present self with that of its former incarnation. It therefore thinks of itself as a new "creation" whereas in reality it is a re-creation of its former self.
Is a future life, in which we are unable to identify ourselves with our present self, worth accepting as personal immortality?
The doctrine of Reincarnation does not teach personal immortality or a continuity of personal consciousness from one incarnation to the next. It teaches the continuity of Individuality and a periodic reproduction of the Personality. This reproduced Personality is in all particulars the Personality of the former incarnation with a new name. Why should not this teaching satisfy Man's hope for immortality or a continuity of existence? Let us go back in imagination to our last existence here on earth and since we are now what we were then, we must then have speculated on life and "our future existence." Suppose we had been told then that after a long period of rest we would again return to this earth and that we, in "that future time" (i.e. now), would be the same Personality as in that former incarnation, but that we should forget the details of that life and our former name. Suppose further that we had known then what we know now about our present existence — had known that the I-AM-I or Human Ego, that we identify ourselves with, would again be here continuing its existence where it had left off before and that this cycle would be repeated again and again until we reach some higher state of being — suppose we had known all this then, would it not have satisfied our hope for immortality and given us assurance of continuity of our existence? And if it had satisfied our hopes then, should not the same knowledge now give us assurance and hope for the future?
Suppose we did remember.
Suppose we were unable to blot out the memories of our former lives. We would then remember the details of not only our last life, but also of numberless other existences, and we would remember them in detail just as we do with this one.
Have we not enough to control the thoughts and memories of this one life? How could we manage if we had the memories of hundreds of incarnations streaming in on us? Instead of a single station on the radio, it would be as though we turned on all at once. Would not such a flood of memories, many perhaps of a sad or terrifying nature, overpower us and prevent us from attending to the duties of this life and the all-important present moment? Do we not waste enough time now in useless thought about unimportant details of this present life?
Our memories would, of course, not all be unhappy. There would be many happy ones and we would enjoy recalling these, but it should not be forgotten, that if our happy memories returned to us, the sad ones would also come back, and how would we know that the happy memories would outweigh the sad ones?
As we look back on history we see civilizations rise, reach a climax and then decay, often wiped out by hordes of barbarians and followed by periods of ignorance and spiritual and intellectual darkness. We lived during all these periods and took part in all those events. If we look upon some of the more primitive races of humanity today and note their way of life and then realize that we too in some distant past were members of just such races and lived and acted as they now do, then it must occur to us, that our own record must contain many discreditable episodes, that we too must have taken part in many tragic events, must have had many harrowing experiences. Is it not a fact that people who have experienced some tragic event often receive therefrom such a shock, such a lasting impression, that they are unable to shake it off, for the remainder of their lives, and that the memory of the tragedy henceforth exerts a paralyzing effect on all their activities? How could we attend to present day duties if we were haunted by not one, but many such memories from numberless incarnations in the past?
Let us hope that all such scores have been balanced during many intervening incarnations. But suppose that there still remained some unsettled score, that was bound to return to us, perhaps in the form of some accident. Would not the anticipation of this event have such a depressing psychological effect that both our mental and physical activities would be seriously retarded thereby?
Does it not appear, then, on deeper thought, as a merciful arrangement that the memories of the past are shut off from our view, and that we are given a new brain, and, unhampered by the "ghosts" of the past, can start this life with a clean slate?
Suppose we could identify our former personalities.
Seen from another angle the notion that we should remember our past lives takes on an aspect that borders on the ridiculous.
If we remembered our past lives, as we do this, we should be able to identify ourselves with our former Personalities. We would also remember our friends and enemies of those days and they would remember us. This would be true not only of our last life, but also of countless preceding ones. We would of course have many friends to meet, but we would also have many enemies, and many old scores to be settled. Every time we met a person we would be asking ourselves: "How much do I owe this man — what is he going to dun me for?" We would he running down side streets trying to dodge creditors only to run into other ones, for all our financial transactions and transgressions would of course also be remembered.
If we carry the picture a little farther in imagination, we can see, that if all our memories were preserved, this would be a very uncomfortable world to live in.
Have we not got along very nicely so far without this knowledge and is not life made easier by its absence, for, without it, we are free to look upon every person we meet as a former friend or a potential friend? If it is an old friend we will soon be drawn towards each other, for "the friends I seek are seeking me" as Walt Whitman puts it.
If, on the other hand, it happens to be an old enemy, the sooner we make him into a friend, the better for both of us, and the less we know about former disagreements, the easier the transformation can be made.
What could be gained by knowing who we were in former incarnations?
If it happened to be one of the great characters of history of course it would be pleasing to our vanity, and those who profess to remember their past incarnations generally claim to have been some great ruler or military leader, princess or other famous individual of the past. There is hardly a mental institution that does not have at least one Napoleon, sometimes several, and there are not a few Joan of Arcs floating around. Occasionally someone modestly announces that he is an incarnation of Jesus.
The only difficulty with these claims is that no ordinary human being can remember his past lives in detail until he has reached union with his Higher Ego and then he is no longer an ordinary human being. We are told that the Masters of Wisdom, who have attained this union, do remember their past lives, but that those who do, never lay claim to this power publicly. Individuals who make such claims are subject to self-deception, which may be entertained honestly, but it is nevertheless deception or delusion.
Could we gain anything by knowing who we were in a past incarnation, something that would outweigh the disadvantages of this knowledge?
Would our present life have taken a different direction if we had known? We would still have had the same character, the same collective memory of all our past lives, and if we had the same character, would we not eventually have ended up in about the same place whether we did or did not recognize our past personalities?
Evolution and loss of Memory.
The purpose of life is advancement towards higher states of being and the means to this end is experience gained during repeated existences. To get the greatest benefit from our existence here it is necessary that our whole nature should be untrammeled and free to concentrate its full attention on its duties here, and this would be impossible if our minds were littered with all kinds of memory — debris from former existences. The only way we can take full advantage of the opportunities offered by a new life is to start it with a mind free from such mental debris and this is just what Nature provides for by giving us a new body and a new brain.
The Personality is our vehicle for the time being, but when it has served its purpose it is cast aside as an empty shell. The kernel is in the character and in the permanent part of the Human Ego.
The ancient Greeks, who still retained some of the Wisdom Teachings, realized that before the Soul returned to earth for another incarnation, all memories of former existences had to be blotted out. They presented the idea symbolically by teaching that the Soul, in its descent from higher spheres, and before entering material existence had to cross Lethe, "the river of forgetfulness" and drink of its waters. This blotted out memory of not only past incarnations but also of the blissful dream-state between incarnations and the Soul's knowledge of its divine origin. Unless such forgetfulness intervened the detailed memories of past existences would retard our progress, and a constant longing for the peace and bliss that are experienced in higher states of being, might make us impractical day-dreamers, instead of active individuals engaged in bringing that peace and bliss into practical life right here on earth.
Record kept in Higher Ego.
While detailed memories are blotted out from the consciousness of the Human Ego, a perfect record of these is preserved in the permanent part of the Higher Ego. It is by looking into this record that the Human Ego, under the special conditions that prevail at death and just before birth, is able to get the "panoramic vision" of its past and future life.
It is because of this record that the Higher Ego sees that the future is but the outcome of the past, and recognizes the justice of all that is to come to its agent, the Human Ego, in its next incarnation, and it is because the Human Ego intuitively senses this super-conscious knowledge, that the average human being accepts the often lowly station in life that has been assigned to him by what looks like "Blind Fate."
For is it not a remarkable fact that the vast majority of men take up the burden of life and carry it patiently to its end, in spite of the apparent injustice under which most of them suffer?
A Solemn Ordeal.
Sometime in the future when the Human Ego has become one with the Higher Ego, the complete record of all its former lives will be unrolled before its inner vision. The Masters of Wisdom who have passed through this experience tell us that in almost every case this retrospective view is taken with a feeling of extreme sadness and regret. An ordinary human being could not stand the shock — it might bring insanity or death, but it is a necessary step in our evolution and must sooner or later be taken by all.
No one who has passed through this solemn ordeal would talk flippantly about remembering past incarnations, but once the vision had been seen, would be glad to shut the door on the past and turn instead to the future.
The fact that we do not remember our past lives, then, is no proof that we did not live those lives, and it is a most merciful arrangement and best suited for our unhampered growth and evolution.
Why does the population of the Earth vary?
How can the variation in the Earth's population be explained when the Ancient Wisdom teaches that it is the same souls that incarnate over and over again and no new souls are "created" and no old ones annihilated? Under these conditions, should not the population of the Earth remain constant?
The number of human souls that have their "home" on this Earth is constant, but out of this vast number only a small fraction is incarnated in physical bodies at any one time. The far greater portion exists on inner, spiritual planes of being.
The idea might be explained by the following illustration: Let us assume that a city with fixed limits has a large hall in its center for the transaction of business. The population inside the city limits is fixed and constant, but the number of visitors in the hall varies from time to time; a greater number in the hall means a smaller number outside and vice versa. Similarly an increase or decrease in the Earth's population means a corresponding decrease or increase in the number of ex-carnate entities, but no change in the sum-total of entities that belong to the Earth.
Why should the Ego return to this Earth? Why not to some other planet?
Because the Universe is a "School of Experience" and this Earth is the "class-room" that corresponds most closely to our stage of development. It is therefore the place most suited for us and the place where we can learn most quickly and easily.
We must pass through all experiences, learn all lessons on our march towards perfection, and even if we could escape to another planet or state of consciousness, we still would have to learn the lessons that we failed to learn here and then under possibly less favorable circumstances.
A little boy upon his return after his first day at school was asked how he had made out, to which he answered: "Not very well. I have to go back again tomorrow." Before we realize the magnitude of the task ahead of us, we too may think that we should graduate in one day, but as mother the next day takes Junior back to the same school, where he is beginning to get acquainted, so also does Mother Nature take us back to the school that we are most acquainted with until we are ready to graduate.
But there is still another reason why we should return just to this Earth instead of going elsewhere. It is that this Earth is the field in which we sowed our seeds of thoughts and acts in former lives and just as a farmer reaps his harvest in the field where he planted it, so we too must come back here and reap our harvest where we did our planting.
How shall we find our friends and loved ones in another life?
The same way that we found them this time. We came into a family circle that brought us loving parents and perhaps brothers and sisters, and in our next life we will again be associated with them, perhaps not in exactly the same relationship, but as close as our mutual attraction will draw us.
Our friends outside the family circle we will meet in diverse ways, just as we did this time. We sometimes hear a person say, after meeting a stranger: "It seems to me as if I had known that person all my life." The stranger may turn out to be someone with whom we have many interests in common and perhaps form a life-long friendship. It is an old friend with whom we have renewed a tie.
Others we meet seem antagonistic to us and a similar feeling wells up within ourselves towards them. It is an old antagonist we face again, someone that we perhaps have wronged, or that may have wronged us. All scores must be settled; balance and harmony must be restored wherever they have been disturbed says the Ancient Wisdom. Ill feeling must be replaced by good will for "hatred ceases not with hatred; hatred ceases with love." We must try to understand this individual and see the good in him, for it is there, and the sooner we begin the task the better, for he will cross our path again and again until we have learned to understand each other.
Alternating cycles of activity and rest promote Man's evolution.
If our evolution requires so much time, would it not be better if we remained alive continuously, rather than die and be re-born?
We spend one third of every twenty-four hours in sleep and we do not consider this a waste of time, for we recognize the benefits that come to us from this interruption in our physical activities. What seems to us an insurmountable task, when we are exhausted after a day's labor, may be easily accomplished after a night's refreshing sleep. A problem that we could not solve with a tired, dull brain may easily yield to a fresh attack the next morning. If we tried to keep active twenty-four hours day after day we would gradually accomplish less and less and eventually have a physical and nervous collapse.
On the greater time-scale, too, the body wears out and the consciousness grows weary. It must rest and refresh itself and, just as Nature, with her wise arrangement of day and night, practically compels us, for our own benefit and protection, to take a daily rest, so also, and for the same reason, does she compel man to take the longer rest of death, during which he renews his vitality by an existence on inner, spiritual planes.
And there are other benefits made possible through these cyclic interruptions and resumptions of our physical existence.
We cannot wear the same suit of clothes from infancy to old age; if it did not wear out, it would be outgrown. The suit that fits a child would be a misfit on an adult and would hamper his actions. The adult must have a new suit that fits his size and is better adapted for his enlarged activities.
Likewise an individual may outgrow his environment and Nature's method of "giving him a new suit" or placing him in a new set of circumstances, is by the method of reincarnation.
A continuous existence, with small gradual changes would not give the same chance for improvement as a complete change. When a house is outmoded a few alterations here and there will not produce a modern dwelling — this requires the tearing down of the old structure, and, using some of the old material and some new, rebuilding to a new and better plan.
Nature constantly repeats her processes. The trees and plants have their seasonal activity in spring and summer and their rest period in fall and winter. This break of continuity is a benefit, not only to the trees and plants, but also to the farmer, who may have neglected to control the weeds in his fields. When the winter frost comes the weeds are killed, and when spring follows, the farmer has a new chance to watch his crop and uproot the weeds, while they are still young and tender.
We human beings are parts of Nature and subject to its laws. We too know how hard it is to uproot or overcome a habit or a fault that has been allowed to grow during a lifetime, and what an advantage it is if this work of forming good habits and molding noble characters can be started in childhood or in early youth.
Nature offers us this chance of making a new start with each new birth into physical existence.
Why is the period between incarnations so long as compared to incarnated existence? We human beings are parts of something far greater than our human selves, and during the interval between earth-lives, while the Human Ego is experiencing its blissful postmortem dreams, or rests unconscious waiting for its next incarnation, this higher side of our nature is pursuing its own evolution in spheres far above that where the Human Ego dwells. The time periods required for these experiences are proportionately as much greater than those of incarnated existence as the higher principles within us are greater than our human consciousness.
The time of our incarnated existence is therefore only a fraction of a greater time-cycle, a recurring interlude between two much longer periods, during which the Ray is active on spiritual planes.
As "daytime to the body is night-time to the soul," so is the inner God deprived of its freedom of action during incarnated existence. But death breaks the bond with the lower part of the human constitution, and this leaves the higher principles free to return to their respective planes of origin. As "the night time of the body is the daytime of the soul," so the higher principles now become fully active on their own planes and begin what is to them their real existence. It is these activities that require such immense time periods, that the duration of incarnated existence seems insignificant in comparison.
If man's Inner God has its real existence on spiritual planes far above the physical, why does it ever have any connection with this material plane?
Because Nature, visible and invisible, is one vast organism of interdependent entities in which all life-units mutually aid each other in their evolution. The more highly evolved aid those less evolved, while at the same time this experience promotes their own evolution. Thus man's Inner God, his Father in Heaven, is constantly seeking to help and raise its "child," the human being, by radiating its spiritualizing influence into man's consciousness.
During incarnated life the Inner God voluntarily limits its own freedom and "steps down" its rate of activity to the plane where the Human Ego functions. It is like a bit of slow-motion in the middle of a rapidly moving film, which the less evolved Human Ego is able to profit by. It is during this time that the Human Ego has its opportunity for advancement.
But at the same time that the Human Ego is benefited the Inner God also gains experiences which it could not obtain any other way. It is like the relationship between parents and children. The child benefits from the aid it receives, but, unknown to itself, it also teaches lessons to its parents, which the parents can learn in no other way. They have to give up much of their freedom and in a sense sacrifice themselves for the protection and welfare of the child, but this in turn brings out sympathy, understanding, compassion, thus promoting the evolution of the spiritual side of their nature.
Plotinus (205-270 A.D.), the great philosopher of the Neo-Platonic school, in a wonderful word-picture gives us the reason for the soul's descent into matter and the benefits it receives therefrom, and shows that the soul must experience material life, the better to appreciate its spiritual existence.
Plotinus' statement is quoted below. Within the brackets is the writer's interpretation of certain terms used.
The soul, though of divine origin, and proceeding from the region on high, becomes merged in the dark receptacle of the body, and being naturally a posterior god [a god in the making], it descends hither through certain voluntary inclination, for the sake of power and of adorning inferior concerns [to add meaning and dignity to material life]. By this means it receives a knowledge of its latent powers, and exhibits a variety of operations peculiar to its nature, which by perpetually abiding in an incorporeal habit, [a disimbodied state], and never proceeding into energy [active use of latent powers], would have been bestowed in vain . . . . Through an abundance of desire the soul becomes profoundly merged into matter, and no longer totally abides with the universal soul. Yet our souls are able alternately to rise from hence, carrying back with them an experience of what they have known and suffered in their fallen [embodied] state; and whence they will learn how blessed it is to abide in the intelligible [spiritual] world, and by a comparison, as it were, of contraries will more plainly perceive the excellence of a superior state. For the experience of evil produces a clearer knowledge of good. This is accomplished in our souls according to the circulations of time [cyclic incarnations], in which a conversion takes place from subordinate to more exalted natures [the human evolves into the divine].
The period of incarnation, while the Inner God is linked with and illumines the intermediate and lower parts of the human being, is in a sense a "crucifixion" of the Inner God on the "cross of matter" and it is this that has given rise to the story of the crucifixion of Christ.
In this story, which should be taken symbolically rather than literally, the human body and the Personal Ego is "the cross of matter," the "burden," which the Inner God has voluntarily taken upon itself to carry, and to which it is "nailed" during the period of incarnation.
In the symbolism of the robbers crucified with Christ, the repentant one to whom Christ is quoted as saying: "Today shalt thou be with me in paradise," (St. Luke XXIII, 43), represents that part of the Human Ego that during life has aspired upwards. This is the higher aspect of the Human Ego, which, after the second death, enters the blissful postmortem dream-state. The unregenerate tendencies of Man's lower nature are represented by the other robber.
An Actual Memory of a Former Life.
An ordinary individual can not under normal conditions remember his past lives for reasons that have already been explained. Genuine exceptions to this rule are few, but once in a while we hear of someone who remembers a former life with details that are subject to verification.
One such case was reported in the "American Weekly" section of the San Francisco Examiner of Dec. 1, 1937. This report, which is accompanied by photographs, and covers more than two pages, newspaper size, is submitted by a committee of three prominent citizens of Delhi, India, who investigated the case. The head of the committee was the managing director of the leading newspaper of Delhi. With him served a leader of the National Congress party of India and a close associate of Mohandas Gandhi, also one of the leading attorneys of Delhi (names given).
The committee took all possible care to check all data that came to their attention. From this report, which is very complete, and gives names, addresses and dates, we learn that a little girl in Delhi, 11 years old at the time of the report, began talking at the age of four to her parents about things she remembered from her former life, which she said was spent in Muttra, a city 90 miles from Delhi.
When she grew older she said that she had been married in Muttra, gave the name of her husband and said that he was a cloth merchant. She said her former body died at the age of 23 years, one year before she, the present child of eleven, was born. In the former life she had a daughter and a son. She gave the address of the former store, described details of the house as well as a temple in the neighborhood and streets and roads leading to her former home. She said that there was a well in one corner of the yard, and that in one room she had hidden some money under the floor.
The former husband in Muttra was reached by correspondence and he verified the information given as substantially correct. Later the husband with a son — the child of the deceased woman whose soul is now embodied in the eleven year old girl — traveled to Delhi to meet the girl, who immediately recognized her former husband. Questions that only his former wife could answer were put to her by the husband and were answered correctly. The husband became fully convinced that it was the same soul as of his first wife.
A man, whom she had not seen before, came to visit her and asked her if she knew him. She answered correctly that he was the younger cousin of her former husband.
The committee then took the girl by train to the city of Muttra, her former hometown.
Getting off the train she recognized an older brother of her former husband in a small crowd on the station platform.
Leaving the railroad station she was placed in the front seat of a carriage and told to direct the driver to her old house. She showed the way without difficulty, commenting that the road was not tarred before, recognizing buildings along the road and correctly answering questions regarding these, pointed out new buildings and finally directed the carriage to stop at a lane on which the old house was located. The color of the house had been changed, but she located it without much difficulty. She pointed out the room where she used to live and showed that she was very familiar with every nook and corner of the house.
She asked to be taken to her other house (for she had lived in two places). She alone led the party there and later recognized her second house also without any difficulty. It was here that she had hidden the money and where the well was supposed to be located.
This was the place she said, where she had spent the major portion of her former life and she entered the house as if she were still its mistress.
Asked to point out the well she used to tell about in Delhi, she ran to the small courtyard in the house and was very much perturbed not to find any well there, but pointing to a certain corner said confidently: "the well was here." The removal of a stone exposed the well, which had been closed some years earlier.
When asked about her so-called treasure she led the company to her former room, and, pointing to one spot in a corner, said that the money was hidden under that spot. The floor was opened and a receptacle used for keeping valuables under ground was found, but there was no money. The girl insisted that the money must be there, but it could not be found. Later it was learned that the money had been taken out by her former husband after the death of his former wife.
While she was in Delhi she had very little recollection of her parents, in her previous life, but when she was taken to her "parents' " house in a neighboring street in Muttra she not only recognized it, but was also able to identify her old "father" and "mother" in a crowd of more than fifty persons.
The son born to her in her former life whose birth was the indirect cause of her death, was now twelve years old, a year older than herself, yet she felt a mother's affection for him. She felt closer ties of relationship with this son and her former husband, than she did with members of her new family, and was heartbroken when she had to leave the old setting and return to Delhi.
The report ends with a sworn statement by the cousin of the former husband, recording a series of questions asked by him and answers given by the girl. As a result of this interview the cousin became convinced that the girl was his own relative "now personating in another body."
Here, then, is a case, as well authenticated as any reasonable investigator could expect, telling of a soul, an Ego, that remembers its former life and gives proof of doing so. The case is abnormal, for reincarnation took place almost immediately after death. If it had been normal there would have been an interval of hundreds or thousands of years between incarnations, and we would never have heard of it, for no detailed memories could have bridged such a gap. It is due to its abnormality that this case can serve as an outward visible demonstration that reincarnation is a reality.
What caused this abnormality?
Why it happened to just to this soul may be easier to understand after studying Ch. VIII "Karma."
How it happened is difficult to explain. Possibly an unusually strong attachment to her loved ones together with the fact that her lifespan was broken off prematurely, was sufficient to overcome the natural tendency to glide into the normal postmortem states and draw her back to incarnation. There might be some material for explanation of the transfer of memory in the fact that the model body and psychologic energies of the personal nature, did not have time to scatter completely. One can only speculate. It would require the insight and wisdom of a Master to give a full explanation.
It is a sad case and very unfortunate for the soul that has to experience it, for it finds itself placed between conflicting interests and duties that exert their pull in different directions. It shows the complications that might arise and perplex us if we all were to remember our past lives, and it shows how fortunate it is for us that we are not able to do so.
The Adepts know by experience.
To those who have succeeded in raising their Human Ego into conscious union with their Higher Ego, reincarnation is not only a working hypothesis, it is a demonstrated fact, for they have undergone this experience in full possession of their egoic consciousness.
It is their teaching on this subject that H. P. Blavatsky and her successors have made available to us in various Theosophical works.
The inquirer, who wishes to pursue the study of this subject further, is referred especially to The Esoteric Tradition by G. de Purucker, chapters on "Reimbodiment as Taught through the Ages" and "How Man is Born and Reborn."
Popular Misinformation on the Subject.
One reason why the doctrine of reincarnation has met with so much opposition is the fact that the uninformed have taken it to mean the re-birth of the human soul into an animal body.
This popular misconception, which has existed for ages, is very general and has resulted in much unwarranted criticism and much ridicule being directed against the true teaching. Thus it is not uncommon, when the word reincarnation is mentioned, to hear someone burst into a roar of laughter and exclaim: "I don't want to come back a cat." The joke that seems so amusing is based on the ignorance of the critic and has no application to teachings of the Ancient Wisdom on this subject. Those definitely state that once the Monad has evolved to the human stage it can not embody itself in anything sub-human. The lesser can not contain the greater and an animal brain and mentality is as incapable of accommodating a human consciousness as a pint measure is incapable of holding a gallon of liquid. Furthermore the march of evolution is forward and upward and there would be no inducement for the Monad to step down to a lower stage, even if it could do so.
Another factor that has contributed to the misunderstanding of this subject is the confusion that exists in regard to the terms used to denote the re-birth of the human soul.
There are, says Dr. G. de Purucker in his Esoteric Tradition (3rd & rev. ed., pp 311-12), different aspects of the general doctrine of Reimbodiment designated by the following terms:
Each of these has a specific meaning, but encyclopedias and dictionaries treat them more or less as synonyms and generally associate them all with the idea of rebirth into animal bodies.
Of these terms reincarnation is relatively new, being popularized largely through the writings of H. P. Blavatsky and her followers in the last century. The common terms in earlier literature are pre-existence, metempsychosis or transmigration.
As already explained the term reincarnation refers to embodiments in vehicles of flesh. The term therefore applies properly to reimbodiments of Human Egos in human bodies, but should never be interpreted to mean the rebirth of Human Egos in animal bodies.
Exoteric and Esoteric Teachings.
At this point the question naturally arises: How could this erroneous idea arise and become so widespread if it is contrary to the Ancient Wisdom teaching on the subject?
There are many factors that have combined to produce this result. Perhaps the most important is the dual method of teaching used by the ancients and outlined below.
The Ancient Wisdom contains many teachings regarding the hidden forces of Nature, which, if used selfishly could produce incalculable harm. For this reason it would have been dangerous to give out all the teachings openly and to anyone. The inner, deeper teachings were therefore given only to those who after years of training and many severe tests had been found trustworthy, and who had the necessary background to understand them. Those who received these teachings had to pledge themselves to secrecy and it is therefore small wonder that only fragments of these teachings have survived to our day.
But the masses, who were unable or unwilling to pass the required tests, or who were incapable of grasping the deeper teachings, also needed enlightenment and something to guide their actions by. For their benefit the inner teachings were hinted at in fables or parables or presented in a veiled form as dramatic performances in which ideas were represented by persons and qualities in human nature symbolized by various animals.
This dual method of teaching was general among the ancients. It was used in the temples and Mystery Schools, by Pythagoras, Plato and all great masters. That Jesus used it we know for he is quoted as saying to his disciples: "Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand." — Luke VIII, 10.
The Qabbalah or Kabala is the secret doctrine of the Jews. In its main book, the "Zohar," we find a statement to the effect that the man who understands the Hebrew Bible in its literal meaning is a fool. (quoted in The Esoteric Tradition, 3rd & rev. ed, p. 34).
Maimonides, one of the greatest Jewish Rabbis of the Middle Ages writes: "We should never take literally what is written in the book of the creation . . . . Taken literally that work contains the most absurd and far fetched ideas of the Divine." (quoted in The Esoteric Tradition, 3rd & rev. ed, p. 34).
Origen, the Alexandrian scholar and church father, who lived during the second and third centuries, A.D. writes:
In Egypt, the philosophers have a most noble and secret Wisdom concerning the nature of the Divine, which Wisdom is disclosed to the people only under the garment of allegories and fables . . . . All the Eastern nations — The Persians, the Indians, the Syrians — conceal secret mysteries under the cover of religious fables and allegories; the truly wise [the initiated] of all nations understand the meaning of these; but the uninstructed multitudes see the symbols only and the covering garment. — (Origen: Contra Celsum, Bk. I Chap. xii, quoted in The Esoteric Tradition, 3rd & rev. ed., p 33).
Fabre d'Olivet, (1768-1825) the French scholar and author of Examinations of the Golden Verses of Pythagoras writes (p. 275):
It is well known that all of the eminent men, as many among the ancients as among the moderns, all the savants commendable for their labours or their learning, are agreed in regarding the precepts of Pythagoras as symbolical, that is, as containing figuratively, a very different meaning from that which they would seem to offer literally. It was the custom of the Egyptian priests from whom he had imbibed them, to conceal their doctrine beneath an outer covering of parables and allegories.
d'Olivet gives many references to substantiate this statement.
It is this dual method of teaching together with the fact that the hidden inner meaning has been lost, while the outer garment, the symbols and fables have remained, that has given rise to the widespread popular misunderstanding of transmigration, metempsychosis and reincarnation.
The highest authorities reject transmigration into animals.
We do have evidence, however, that those who knew the true teachings, rejected the erroneous notion that the human soul ever transmigrates through the lower kingdoms of Nature, as will be seen by the following extracts from the writings of some of the greatest leaders of thought of antiquity.
One such leader of thought was Pythagoras. He had travelled in Egypt, Chaldea, Persia and India, and was initiated in the Temples and Mystery Schools of these countries. He was a reformer of Orphism, an earlier Greek cult.
He founded a School at Krotona in Italy, where he gave his secret teachings to specially trained and pledged candidates. Plato was a student in this school and gives credit to Pythagoras for the best of his doctrines. The Gnostic, the Stoic and the Neo-Platonic systems of thought were all influenced by the teachings of Pythagoras and his follower Plato.
The Neo-Platonists, according to G. de Purucker (Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, p. 56), taught more or less openly what had been the secret teachings of Pythagoras and Plato. One of the Neo-Platonists, Hierocles (410-476 A.D.), who enjoyed such a high reputation for character and learning that he was called a second Plato, is the author of a Commentary on "The Golden Verses of Pythagoras" which has been preserved to our day.
In his closing remarks of this Commentary Hierocles says:
This is the Commentary we have thought fit to make on these Golden Verses; and that may be called a Summary, neither too prolix nor too succinct, of the Doctrine of Pythagoras. — Quoted from The Commentaries of Hierocles on the Golden Verses of Pythagoras in Dacier's Life of Pythagoras, with his Symbols and Golden Verses, together with the Life of Hierocles and his Commentaries upon the Verses p. 388 (London, 1707).
This commentary is the source of most of our knowledge regarding the Pythagorean philosophy.
In commenting on verses LII and LIII, and referring to the experiences of the soul after death, including the idea of transmigration into animals, Hierocles writes:
. . . If through shameful ignorance of the immortality pertaining to our soul, a man should persuade himself that his soul dies with his body, he expects . . . what can never happen; in like manner he who expects that after his death he shall put on the body of a beast, and become an animal without reason, because of his vices, or a plant because of his dullness and stupidity — such a man, I say, acting quite contrary to those who transform the essence of man into one of the superior beings, and precipitating it into one of the inferior substances, is infinitely deceived, and absolutely ignorant of the essential form of our soul, which can never change, for being and continuing always man, it is only said to become God or beast by virtue or vice, though by its nature it cannot be either the one or the other, but only by its resemblance to the one or the other. — Ibid. pp. 334f.
Does not this say first that the soul survives death and then that transmigration into animals would be a reversal of the current of evolution sending the soul backwards into something inferior instead of forward to something superior and therefore contrary to the true teaching? Does it not say that when man is called "a god" or "a beast" it is a figurative expression which only the ignorant would take in a literal sense?
If we turn to the teachings of ancient Egypt we find that they also reject the popular misconception of transmigration into animals.
In Chapter X, of The Pymander, one of the Hermetic books, Hermes informs his disciple of the punishment that befalls the impious soul after death. Speaking of the complaints and lamentations of the soul over its sufferings, Hermes says:
These are the voices of the soul being punished, not as the many suppose. . . that a soul going forth from the body becomes a wild beast, which is a very great error. — Quoted from The Theological and Philosophical works of Hermes Trismegistus Part I Poemandres (Pymander Ch. X, 20) by John David Chambers, of Oriel College, Oxford, Edinburgh, MDCCCLXXXII (1882) page 65
In another paragraph of the same chapter, Hermes tells his disciple that:
. . . the impious soul remains in its own proper essence, being self-punished through its efforts to effect entrance in another earthly — that is, human — body. For no other kind of body can be the dwelling-place of a human soul, which can never descend into the frame of an irrational animal. Divine law preserves the human soul from such a wrong. — Louis Menard, Hermes Trismegiste I, x, quoted in Walker's Reincarnation p. 333. (The same quotation is found in The Pymander by J. D. Chambers, . 63).
In India we find the same popular misconception regarding transmigration as elsewhere. That this is not accepted literally by those who know, is seen by a statement made by a Brahman to E. D. Walker, author of Reincarnation, a Study of Forgotten Truth. The Brahman says (p. 270):
The whole question of rebirths rests upon the right understanding of what it is that is born again . . . . The essential characteristic of humanity cannot possibly exist in an animal form, for otherwise it cannot be essential to humanity . . . . It must be insisted that the true human ego in no sense migrates from a human body to an animal body, although those principles which lie below the plane of self-consciousness may be so. And in this sense alone is transmigration accepted by Esoteric Science.
Origen, the great third century Christian Father, accepted the doctrine of reincarnation, but rejected that of transmigration into animals. In his work On First Principles Bk. I, Ch. VIII, Sec. 4, he writes:
We think that those views are by no means to be admitted, which some are wont unnecessarily to advance and maintain, viz. that souls descend to such a pitch of abasement that they forget their rational nature and dignity, and sink into the condition of irrational animals, either large or small . . . . All of which assertions we not only do not receive, but, as being contrary to our belief, we refute and reject. — Quoted from The Esoteric Tradition, 3rd & rev. ed., p 336.
Here we have statements by the highest authorities, all of them rejecting the idea that the human soul migrates through the lower Kingdoms of Nature.
Other Misleading Factors.
In addition to the dual method of teaching, other factors may have contributed to the misunderstanding regarding transmigration. One such is the fact that the human body is an animal body — more highly evolved than other animal bodies, but animal nevertheless. In this sense it is true to say that when we are re-born, we enter animal bodies. It would be more correct to say that we enter human-animal bodies, but if the prefix human is left out it is easy to see how someone, who is only superficially acquainted with the subject might misinterpret the rebirth of man into a human-animal body to mean a re-birth into the body of some lower animal. Add to this the fact that when a man leads a sensuous life and yields to gluttony or other base appetites, it may be truly said that he lives in the animal part of his nature; he becomes for the time being an animal, his own animal, and we find that here is ample material for misunderstanding of the true teaching. This is what Hierocles refers to in the latter part of the quotation given above.
The Symbolism of the Sphinx.
Records of ancient Egyptian teachings that have come down to us seem to indicate that the Egyptians believed in the transmigration of the soul into animals (see the quotation from Herodotus in H. P. Blavatsky's Theosophical Glossary, s.v. "Pre-Existence."). Yet these same Egyptians, evidently anticipating the misunderstandings that might arise on this point in the future, left us a record, written in stone, of just what they did mean by "animal transmigration." Their initiates and philosophers, artists and sculptors gave to posterity the Sphinx, an immense statue with a human head carried on the body of a recumbent lion. On its face is a most wonderful expression of serenity and calm, and its eyes seem directed to some distant scene as though their owner were engaged in contemplation of something far beyond this earth.
Could there be a more striking way of illustrating the idea that man is a composite being — consciousness and intelligence temporarily housed in an animal body, which for the time being is the vehicle of the consciousness during its sojourn in the material world?
A statue with a human head on a human body would have taught no lesson, but a human head on a lion's body called attention to the duality of man's nature, and by showing the body in repose they symbolized that when man's body with its feelings and appetites is under control and at rest, then the consciousness, even while in this world, is free to rise in contemplation to other and higher planes of being.
The idea of illustrating the duality of man's nature by the symbol of a human head superimposed on an animal body was not unique to Egypt. The ancient Assyrians used exactly the same method of teaching, but utilized the body of a bull instead of that of a lion. The Assyrians added an extra feature, making the bull winged, to emphasize still further that the human consciousness is not earth-bound, but may rise to higher planes of consciousness even while embodied.
The ancients did not need to safeguard against their contemporaries mistaking the symbolism, for these were intelligent enough to know that no such creatures as the Sphinx or the winged bull existed. Should not we likewise know that when the ancients speak of men as incarnating in animal bodies, they mean in human bodies with animal propensities?
Kindergarten Teachings for Kindergarten Minds.
Another factor that may have contributed to the general misunderstanding on this subject is that due to the undeveloped mentality of the masses it was impossible to explain to them the intricate workings of the Law of Cause and Effect, whereby the causes sown in one life produce their effect in a future incarnation. Yet these masses needed some teaching that would instill respect for virtue and promote self-control. Also something was needed to arouse sympathy and compassion towards the lower forms of life. The teaching that the human soul after an evil life might inhabit the body of some animal was a convenient simplification that could be used for this purpose and this makes it understandable why those who knew better used this as a threat to keep others "in line" who could not be reached through the undeveloped higher faculties of their immature natures. It was used as a "kindergarten teaching" for "kindergarten minds."
Do not we use a similar method ourselves when we try to teach three or four year olds the dangers of playing with matches? It is impossible to do this by speaking to the child about dangers that the child has not experienced and so we conjure up some frightening picture, and perhaps tell it that "the goblins will get you" or something similar that might make an impression on the child's mind. It is a temporary expedient, used for the child's protection, but should be followed by a true explanation as soon as the child is able to understand. It is a truth taught in the form of a fable. The danger is real, but the description of it is symbolical.
Is not the doctrine of Heaven and Hell a similar case? This was accepted literally at one time and perhaps still is in some quarters, but this conception is gradually being replaced by an understanding that it is a symbolic presentation of actual facts, namely that clean and virtuous living will bring health and happiness and that the reverse will bring suffering and unhappiness. It is a convenient abbreviation with all the details left out.
The danger in using such methods of teaching lies in the fact that when the mind has developed sufficiently to see that the literal interpretation is not true, it may not recognize the truth behind the symbology, and then conclude that there is no basis for the teaching.
It is at this critical point that further teaching must be given to explain the hidden truth and it is to furnish this hitherto lacking information that the Ancient Wisdom has been re-stated for the benefit of mankind.
We too use Symbolic Expressions.
Before we ridicule the ancients for their symbolic statements, which seem so foolish to us because we take them literally, it might be well to remember that we too use symbolic statements, which are liable to misinterpretation by future generations.
Our Christian Bible is full of such figurative expressions. There we find men compared to sheep and goats and Jesus, the Son of God and the Savior referred to as a lamb. Jesus also speaks of himself as a vine and his disciples as the branches of this vine. The symbology of this is well understood today, but suppose that our civilization is destroyed and that after some 10,000 years only a few incomplete records, such as those referred to above, remain, and that someone tries to reconstruct our ideas on religion from these incomplete fragments. Would this individual be justified in drawing the conclusion that the "men" of the 20th century really used sheep and goat bodies, and that the world was actually saved by a grapevine?
If we could speak across the interval of a hundred centuries would we not address our 120th century descendant in perhaps not too polite language, and ask how he could possibly take literally something that is so clearly a symbolical presentation intended to convey an idea and make it understandable to the man in the street? And would we not tell him that even the most simple-minded individual of our time, the 20th century, would understand that such expressions are symbolical?
And suppose the ancients who accepted Reincarnation could see the misconceptions that have arisen in regard to it in the twentieth century, is it not probable that they in their turn would express surprise at our failure to understand their symbology?
As explained in Chapter I (Involution and Evolution) and Chapter II (The Schoolhouse of Nature), the evolving life-unit or Monad begins its evolutionary journey by embodying in the lowest forms of Nature after which it gradually and after immense time-periods embodies in successively higher Kingdoms of Nature. All this evolution takes place before the Monad has reached the human stage and is an orderly upward march, not a helter-skelter, back-and-forth process.
This process can be compared to a "migration of Monads" through the various Kingdoms of Nature, "a moving across imaginary borders from one place to another" and can therefore very properly be called a Transmigration.
Every one of us has passed through such transmigrations before we reached our present stage as self-conscious human beings. During these transmigrations we only had the consciousness of minerals, plants and animals.
The pre-human phases of the Monad's evolution are referred to in an aphorism found in the Jewish Qabbalah, which states that: "a stone becomes a plant a plant becomes a beast, a beast becomes a man and a man becomes a god." This does not mean that the bodies of one kingdom change into the bodies of the other kingdoms, but refers to the transmigrations of the Monad from one type of body to another.
The Sufi poet Jalal-ud-din refers to the same subject in the following poem —
I died from the mineral, and became a plant;
I died from the plant and reappeared as an animal;
I died from the animal and became a man;
Wherefore then should I fear?
When did I grow less by dying?
Next time I shall die from the man
That I may grow the wings of angels.
From the angel, too, must I seek advance.
Death and the postmortem experiences of the Human Ego include a passing of the consciousness from the material plane to inner, invisible planes and eventually back again to the material. If the term "transmigration" is used at all in connection with the postmortem experiences of the Human Ego, it should he restricted to such movements of the human consciousness from one plane or condition to another plane or condition within its own proper human sphere of activity.
Poets and writers have not always distinguished between the pre-human transmigrations of the sub-human Monads and the postmortem transmigrations of the Human Ego or Soul, but fused the two ideas into one and this has contributed to the erroneous notion that the Human Ego transmigrates into the lower Kingdoms of Nature.
The atoms that build man's physical body scatter after death. The same happens to all that is discarded at the second death, including the more ethereal particles of the model body as well as certain other energies intermediate between the Human Ego and the model body. All these parts of the former human constitution now return to Nature, each one to its own appropriate plane. Here they are free to enter as building blocks in the vehicles of other entities, to which they are attracted.
In their association with the human entity, whose vehicle they helped to build, they received certain impressions, high or low as the case might have been and it is these impressions that now determine the direction of their travels. They may enter the Plant Kingdom or be drawn into the bodies of various animals or perhaps enter other human bodies.
The atoms of the entire lower part of the human constitution are thus migrating through Nature and transmigrating from one Kingdom to another and then perhaps back again.
It is this fact that the ancients referred to when they said that Man transmigrates through the lower forms of Nature, which statement is correct, if by "Man" is meant the elements of his constitution below the Human Ego, but incorrect if it is applied to the Human Ego or the higher principles above this Ego.
For further elucidation of this subject the reader is referred to The Esoteric Tradition by G. de Purucker, chapters on "Reimbodiment" and "How Man is Born and Reborn."
An Ancient and Widespread Doctrine.
A study of the religions and philosophies of mankind from the remotest antiquity down through the ages will show that reincarnation is one of the oldest and most widely distributed doctrines in the world.
Earlier references to reincarnation lack the details that are found in Theosophical literature for such information was not given out publicly in the past.
In some cases only portions of the doctrine have been presented, while other parts have been omitted. Thus, for instance, some writers dwell almost exclusively on pre-existence without touching on the postmortem phases of the teaching. The doctrine may not always appear in its true form, but under one form or another it has been known all over the world and will be found in many lands even today.
Reincarnation in the Hindu Religions.
Brahmanism and Buddhism, with hundreds of millions of adherents in Asia, both teach the rebirth of the human soul.
In one of the Upanishads called The Bhagavad Gita, which is India's most widely read and best beloved book of devotion, we find man's Inner God, represented by the divinity Krishna, speaking to the Human Soul in these words:
I myself never was not, nor thou, nor all the princes of the earth; nor shall we ever hereafter cease to be. As the lord of this mortal frame experiences therein infancy, youth, and old age, so in future incarnations will it meet the same. One who is confirmed in this belief is not disturbed by anything that may come to pass.
. . . . . . . . . . .
These finite bodies which envelope the souls inhabitating them, are said to belong to Him, the eternal, the indestructible, unprovable spirit, who is in the body . . . . This spirit neither kills nor is it killed . . . . It is not slain when this its mortal frame is destroyed.
. . . . . . . . . . .
As a man throws away old garments and puts on new, even so the dweller in the body, having quitted its old mortal frames, enters into others that are new . . . . Death is certain to all things which are born, and rebirth to all mortals.
. . . . . . . . . . .
Both I and thou have passed through many births . . . . Mine are known unto me, but thou knowest not of thine.
The man whose devotion has been broken off by death goes to the region of the righteous, [the blissful dream-state between incarnations] where he dwells for an immensity of years and is then born again on earth in a pure and fortunate family.
. . . . . . . . . . .
It is even a portion of myself which, having assumed life in this world of conditioned existence, draws together the five senses and the mind in order that it may obtain a body and may leave it again. And those are carried by the sovereign Lord to and from whatever body he enters or quits, even as the breeze bears the fragrance from the flower.
Reincarnation in the Bible.
Reincarnation is not presented in the Bible as a specific teaching, but we find a number of statements pertaining to pre-existence and the rebirth of individuals, which demonstrate that their authors accepted the doctrine. Some of these follow:
In Proverbs VIII, 22-31, Solomon says that he existed even before the creation of the Earth, and that his delights were with the sons of men, and in the habitable parts of the Earth; in other words, he must have been born as a human being in that early period, and since he is now, at the time of writing his Proverbs speaking as Solomon, he is again in human form. This is reincarnation. It does not point to future repeated births, but it does not exclude this idea.
In Jeremiah I, 5, the Lord, speaking to the prophet says: "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations."
This implies the pre-existence of Jeremiah.
In Jeremiah XXX, 9; Ezekiel XXXIV, 23 and XXXVII, 24, there are statements that David shall be "raised up" and again become king or shepherd to his people. David had been dead a long time: being "raised up" evidently means that the same soul was to be born again, just as it had been born into, the body called "David" in the previous incarnation.
We find the following in Malachi IV, 5:
"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord."
This is a clear reference to pre-existence and re-birth; Elijah, a prophet known to have existed in the past, is to return in the future. Nothing is said in regard to repeated returns, but it is evident, that if Elijah lived in the past and was reborn here on earth, lived his life, and in due course died, there is no reason why he could not again return from his new postmortem condition, and repeat the process indefinitely.
In John IX, 1, 2, we find the following references to pre-existence —
"And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
The form of the question demonstrates that pre-existence is taken for granted by the disciples and Jesus shows by not repudiating the idea in his answer that it was acceptable to him.
Jesus asked his disciples: "Whom say the people that I am?" They, answering said, "John the Baptist; but some say Elias; and others say, that one of the old prophets is risen again." -- Luke IX, 18, 19
An individual now existing, is here said to be an incarnation of someone known to have existed in the past. The answer to the question is in itself an acceptance of pre-existence, followed by reincarnation and since it does not shock or surprise Jesus the idea must have seemed acceptable to him, in fact the offhand manner in which the idea is treated shows that it must have seemed axiomatic to both Jesus and his disciples.
Incidentally, the quotation shows that "risen again," or "raised again," expressions also used elsewhere in the Bible in similar cases, means the reincarnation of the individual.
There was a belief among the Jews, based on ancient prophesies, that the appearance of their Messiah was to be preceded by the return of the prophet Elijah, and what does "return" mean if not re-birth into a human body?
Referring to ancient prophesies and speaking of John the Baptist, Jesus says:
For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare the way before thee.
Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist . . . .
And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to Come. — Matt. XI, 10-14
And how did Elias "come"? He came by being re-born.
After John the Baptist had been beheaded, and when the disciples had failed to recognize in him Elias, who was to precede the coming of Christ, they ask Jesus:
Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come?
And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things.
But I say unto you, that Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed . . . .
Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist. — Matt. XVII, 10-13
In this quotation and the preceding one, we have Jesus himself stating in unmistakable terms that the soul of John the Baptist was the same as that of Elias. This statement is in full accord with the doctrine of reincarnation. Jesus calls attention to an event that could never have taken place unless reincarnation were a fact. He does not teach the complete doctrine, for that is not his object; he only shows how it applies in one specific case.
The fact that in the Bible reincarnation is taken for granted, rather than taught as a specific doctrine, should not be surprising when it is remembered that for ages before the life of Christ this teaching was well known and generally accepted by the peoples around the Mediterranean.
Various religious sects and schools of philosophy in these countries were based on, or influenced by, the Mystery Schools. These, in their turn were based on Orphic and Pythagorean teachings, which included the doctrine of reincarnation.
Among the Jews the largest and most influential sect, the Pharisees, believed in reincarnation. The Jewish general Flavius Josephus (37-98 A.D.), who was also a priestly official and historian of his people, was himself a Pharisee. In one of his works, The Antiquities of the Jews Bk. XVIII, Ch. I, par. 3, 4, he writes:
They [the Pharisees] believe, that souls have an immortal power in them, and that there will be under the earth rewards or punishments, according as men have lived virtuously or viciously in this life; and the latter souls are to be detained in an everlasting prison, but the former will have power to live again. On account of these doctrines they have very great influence with the people, and whatever they do about divine worship, or prayers, or sacrifices, they perform according to their direction. Such great testimony do the cities bear them on account of their constant practice of virtue, both in the actions of their lives, and in their conversation.
In another of his works called The Jewish War Bk. III, Ch. VIII, par. 5, he writes:
. . . Do not you know that those who depart out of this life according to the law of nature . . . enjoy eternal fame; . . . their souls are pure and obedient, and obtain a most holy place in heaven, from whence, in the revolution of ages, they are again sent into pure bodies . . . .
Another Jewish sect, The Essenes, also believed in reincarnation.
We do not go into detailed explanation of something that is well known or considered self-evident such as the rotation of the earth producing days and nights, if this subject is mentioned, and when a doctrine is so well known and so generally accepted as that of rebirth was at the time of Jesus, we should not expect him to go into detail in regard to it. The off-hand, matter-of-fact way in which the subject is treated implies that it was taken for granted, rather than that there was any doubt about it.
Reincarnation in the Early Christian Era.
During the first few centuries of the Christian era, there was little established church organization, but the teachings were preserved and elaborated on by the followers of the Apostles. The leaders among these, the most learned and most highly respected, were the so-called "Church Fathers." Among the best known of these are Clement of Alexandria, Origen and Synesius. According to H. P. Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine (Vol. I, p. xliv) these men had all been initiated into the Mysteries and must therefore have been well acquainted with the doctrines of pre-existence and reincarnation, a fact apparent from their writings.
Clement (about 150-220 A.D.) who was duly canonized a saint of the Christian Church shows that he believed in pre-existence when he writes in Chapter I of his Exhortation to the Heathen: "But before the foundation of the world were we, who, because destined to be in him, pre-existed in the eye of god . . . ."
Origen (186-254 A.D.), a disciple of St. Clement and of Ammonius Saccas, the founder of the Neo-Platonic School, is considered one of the greatest Christian scholars and thinkers. One quotation from his writings, showing that he rejected the idea of transmigration into animals, has already been given. Other quotations showing that he accepted the doctrines of pre-existence and reincarnation, follow:
[T] hose who maintain that everything in the world is under the administration of divine providence (as is also our own belief), can, as it appears to me, give no other answer, so as to show that no shadow of injustice rests upon the divine government, than by holding that there were certain causes of prior existence, in consequence of which the souls, before their birth in the body, contracted a certain amount of guilt in their sensitive nature, or in their movements, on account of which they have been judged worthy by Divine Providence of being placed in this condition. (Origen's On First Principles Bk. III, Ch. III (Sec. 5)
In this quotation Origen deals with the age-old problem of injustice and points out that the doctrine of pre-existence is the only explanation that can remove the stigma of injustice from the divine government.
In Bk. IV, Ch. I. Sec. 23 of the same work Origen writes:
Everyone, accordingly, of those who descend to the earth is, according to his deserts, or agreeably to the position which he occupied there, ordained to be born in this world, in a different country, or among a different nation, or in a different mode of life, or surrounded by infirmities of a different kind, or to be descended from religious parents, or parents who are not religious; so that it may sometimes happen that an Israelite descends among the Scythians, and a poor Egyptian is brought down to Judaea.
Although these statements put emphasis on pre-existence it is easy to see that they include reincarnation, even if this is not specifically referred to. If an "Egyptian is born in Judaea" it means that the Egyptian died and the soul was later incarnated in the body of a Judaean. And how did the Egyptian come into being? Was he not an incarnation of some earlier individual, perhaps a member of some other nation? And was not this earlier individual the incarnation of someone still earlier and so forth? And if this chain extends indefinitely backwards does not this imply that it must also extend indefinitely into the future? Why should it be assumed that the "Judaean" was the end of the chain? When he dies, must not his soul seek new embodiment?
Synesius, the Christian bishop, who lived in the fourth and fifth centuries was a Neo-Platonist, and the Neo-Platonists taught reincarnation.
E. D. Walker in his Reincarnation (p. 214) says that it is known of Synesius "that when the citizens of Ptolemais invited him to their bishopric, he declined that dignity for the reason that he cherished certain opinions which they might not approve, as after mature reflection they had struck deep roots in his mind. Foremost among these he mentioned the doctrine of pre-existence."
We find then that up to the fifth century A.D. the doctrines of pre-existence and reincarnation were known to, accepted by and openly taught by the highest church authorities, and if these church leaders accepted these doctrines it must be assumed that their followers also accepted them.
Reincarnation condemned as heretical.
The question now arises: If these doctrines were so generally accepted in the early centuries of the Christian era, what caused their later disappearance?
It is possible that the church leaders found the doctrine of reincarnation too difficult to explain to the multitude. It is also possible that the popular misconception of transmigration into animals, which was so generally associated with reincarnation, did its part to discredit the true doctrine, and that for these reasons the later church leaders introduced the doctrine of a new soul being created for each individual at his birth.
As this idea became more generally adopted, the older teaching was gradually pushed into the background and was taught more and more secretly, if at all.
Even after it had been dropped as an official church doctrine, however, the old idea still lingered on and retained a large number of adherents. For a long period the two doctrines existed simultaneously, but since they were mutually contradictory something had to be done to stamp out the older teaching, which was now looked upon as heretical.
A council of church leaders was consequently summoned to pass judgment on this doctrine as taught by Origen, together with some of his other teachings, which were also considered heretical. This meeting, or Home-Synod as it was called, was convened in Constantinople, about the year 538 under the Patriarch Mennas. Fifteen specific teachings of Origen's were taken up for discussion and all of these were, after much heated debate, formally condemned and anathemized. Those referring to pre-existence are listed below.
Origen's teachings were to the effect (from a summary by G. de Purucker in The Esoteric Tradition pp. 42, 43):
#1) That the soul pre-exists before its present earth-life; and is ultimately restored to its original spiritual nature and condition.
#4) That man now has a material or physical body as a retributive or punitive result of wrong-doing, following upon the soul's sinking into matter.
#5) That even as these spiritual beings formerly fell into matter, so may and will they ultimately rise again to their former spiritual status.
#13) That the soul of Christ pre-existed like the souls of all men; and that Christ is similar in type to all men in power and substance.
After the condemnation of these Origenistic doctrines by the church authorities, pre-existence and reincarnation could no longer be taught or tolerated as part of the church teachings. This being the case, does it not seem likely that the literature of the Church would be subjected to a reexamination and any references to them eradicated? May it not therefore be possible that the earlier writings such as the gospels might have contained more direct references to pre-existence and reincarnation, than they do now?
The Greek original of Origen's great work On First Principles, in which are found most of his references to reincarnation, is no longer available, but a Latin translation of it exists. In the Prologue to this translation, made by the Latin theologian Tyrannius Rufinus (345-410), the translator refers to earlier translators of Origenistic writings and their practice of making changes from the Greek original, where the latter disagreed with the then prevailing Christian beliefs. Rufinus then states that he has adopted the same method, according to which the translator, if he found any so called "stumbling blocks" in the original Greek, "so smoothed and corrected them in his translations that a Latin reader would come upon nothing discordant with our Christian belief." (Quoted in The Esoteric Tradition, 3rd & rev. ed., pp. 332-2)
Bearing in mind that in Rufinus' time the Church authorities began to look with disfavor on the doctrines of pre-existence and reincarnation, is it not likely that these doctrines would have been singled out as just such "stumbling blocks" as Rufinus refers to and that they therefore were subjected to Rufinus' method of "smoothing and correcting?"
Even the Latin translation as it is leaves no doubt of Origen's belief in rebirth, but Rufinus' own admission arouses the suspicion that if the Greek original were available, we might find in it still more explicit and stronger references to the subject.
Referring to the anathemas of the Home-Synod, is not the whole procedure of a group of students, supposedly followers of Jesus, taking upon itself to condemn a doctrine, definitely affirmed by him, open to question and criticism?
In Matt. XI, 10-14 and XVII, 10-13, referred to above, Jesus himself makes use of the doctrines of pre-existence and rebirth to explain to his disciples the identity of John the Baptist with Elijah. Jesus shows that he knows these doctrines; instead of condemning them as erroneous, he shows by using them, that he approves of them.
Added to this we have the testimony of the earliest Church Fathers showing that these doctrines were still retained by the Church in the early centuries of our era.
Then, 500 years after the death of their Teacher, we find a group of his supposed followers condemning doctrines, which their Teacher had endorsed.
Here is a direct conflict of ideas. If Jesus was right, the Home-Synod was wrong, and vice versa. Who was in the best position to know, Jesus or the later Church authorities?
If Jesus' utterances are accepted by his followers as coming from the Son of God, how can these same followers pick out one of these utterances and condemn it as being wrong? Is not this a case of the pupils correcting their Teacher?
The Church authorities might have protested against the false notion of transmigration into animals, which was so widespread among the uneducated, for this was a doctrine which Jesus never endorsed and one which does not appear in the Bible. If this was the case, they should be highly commended for removing a gross popular misconception. But when they went so far as to reject the true doctrine with the false, they threw away the kernel with the shell.
Are we justified in accepting parts of Jesus' teachings and rejecting other parts? And if we accept all his teachings, we must also accept reincarnation, for it is one of them.
Other Believers in Reincarnation.
Among other religions, philosophies, sects and racial groups, who have taught reincarnation or accepted it in some form or other, are the following:
Taoism in China.
The Mysteries taught in the temples of Egypt.
The Hermetic Philosophy.
Zoroastrianism or the Mazdean religion.
The Orphic religion.
The Pythagorean philosophy.
The Mystery Schools of Greece and Asia Minor.
The Jewish Kabala.
The Pharisees and Essenes.
The early Christian Church.
The American Indians and the Eskimos.
West African natives.
Besides the founders or heads of the various groups referred to, who of course believed in reincarnation, there are a number of individuals, who show by their writings that they approve of the idea. Among these we find the following names:
Dr. Henry More
Honore de Balzac
Jean B. F. Obry
Prof. Francis Bowen
James R. Lowell
William R. Alger
Thomas Bailey Aldrich
James Freeman Clarke
Prof. Frederick H. Hedge
Sir Edwin Arnold
Prof. William Knight
Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Sir H. Rider Haggard
George Russell (AE)
Sir Humphrey Davy
More names could be added to this list, but what is given should be sufficient to show the antiquity and widespread prevalence of the doctrine as well as its appeal to philosophers, writers and poets up to the present time.
The fact that a certain group or certain individuals accept a doctrine is in itself no proof that this doctrine is true. Neither is the fact that another group or other individuals reject the same doctrine a proof that it is false. But if in one of these groups we find some of the greatest philosophers and religious teachers that the world has known as well as many lesser, but well known thinkers, should not this indicate to us that here is a subject that should not be passed over lightly? We accept their ideas on other matters, for which they are famous; why should we ignore their opinion on reincarnation?
Quotations giving the opinions on reincarnation held by the groups and individuals listed, are available. To present all of these a small volume would be needed, and therefore only a few such quotations will be given for the present. Much of the following is quoted from E. D. Walker's Reincarnation, 1923 Edition.
Rabbi Manasseh Ben Israel (1604-1657) Jewish theologian and Kabalist, Chief rabbi at synagogue at Amsterdam writes in Nismath Hayem:
The belief or the doctrine of the transmigration of souls [i.e. reincarnation] is a firm and infallible dogma accepted by the whole assemblage of our church with one accord, so that there is none to be found who would dare to deny it . . . . Indeed, there are a great number of sages in Israel who hold firm to this doctrine so that they made it a dogma, a fundamental point of our religion. We are therefore in duty bound to obey and to accept this dogma with acclamation . . . . as the truth of it has been incontestably demonstrated by the Zohar and all the books of the Kabalists.
The German philosopher Schopenhauer (1788-1860) writes in his The World as Will and Idea:
What sleep is for the individual, death is for the will [Ego]. It would not endure to continue the same actions and sufferings throughout an eternity, without true gain, if memory and individuality remained to it. It Rings them off, and this is Lethe [the river of forgetfulness] ; and through this sleep of death it reappears refreshed and fitted out with another intellect, as a new being . . . .
These constant new births, then, constitute the succession of the life dreams of a will [Ego] which in itself is indestructible . . . .
Speaking for himself and quoting J. B. F. Obry, a French authority on Hinduism, Schopenhauer says:
The deep conviction of the indestructibleness of our nature through death, which every one carries at the bottom of his heart, depends altogether upon the consciousness of the original and eternal nature of our being.
We find the doctrine of Metempsychosis [i.e. reincarnation], springing from the earliest and noblest ages of the human race, always spread abroad in the earth as the belief of the great majority of mankind; nay, really as the teaching of all religions, with the exception of that of the Jews and the two which have proceeded from it: in the most subtle form, however, and coming nearest to the truth in Buddhism.
With reference to the universality of the belief in Metempsychosis, Obry says rightly in his excellent book, Du Nirvana Indien, p. 13, "This old belief has been held all round the world, and was spread in the remote antiquity to such an extent that a learned English churchman has declared it to be fatherless, motherless, and without genealogy." Taught already in the "Vedas," as in all the sacred books of India, metempsychosis is well known to be the kernel of Brahmanism and Buddhism. It accordingly prevails at the present day in the whole of non-Mohammedan Asia, thus among more than half the whole human race, as the firmest conviction, and with an incredibly strong practical influence. It was also the belief of the Egyptians, from whom it was received with enthusiasm by Orpheus, Pythagoras, and Plato. The Pythagoreans, however, specially retained it. That it was also taught in the mysteries of the Greeks undeniably follows from the ninth book of Plato's Laws. The Edda also, especially in the Voluspa, teaches metempsychosis. Not less was it the foundation of the religion of the Druids. Even a Mohammedan sect in Hindustan, the Bohrahs, of which Colebrooke gives a full account in the Asiatic Researches, believes in metempsychosis, and accordingly refrains from all animal food. Also among American Indians and Negro tribes, nay, even among the natives of Australia, traces of this belief are found . . . .
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), the American philosopher and essayist, writes in Representative Men:
The soul having been often born, or, as the Hindus say, traveling the path of existence through thousands of births," having beheld the things which are here, those which are in heaven and those which are beneath, there is nothing of which she has not gained the knowledge; no wonder that she is able to recollect, . . . what formerly she knew . . . . For inquiry and learning is reminiscence all.
In his essay The Oversoul he says: "The child is born full grown, assuming a past developing through previous existences" and in Experience he says: "We wake and find ourselves on a stair. There are stairs below us, which we seem to have ascended; there are stairs above us, many a one, which go upward and out of sight."
Emerson also says in Immortality: "We must infer our destiny from the preparation. We are driven by instinct to have innumerable experiences which are of no visible value, and we may revolve through many lives before we shall assimilate or exhaust them."
In the journal of Charles Emerson is found the following from his brother Ralph Waldo:
The reason why Homer is to me like a dewy morning is because I too lived while Troy was, and sailed in the hollow ships of the Grecians . . . . my soul animated the frame of some nameless Argive . . . We forget that we have been drugged by the sleepy bowl of the present.
In Ways of the Spirit, and other Essays, by the Unitarian clergyman and author Frederick Henry Hedge (1805-1890), the twelfth chapter, upon "The Human Soul" argues strongly for reincarnation.
We reach back with our recollection and find no beginning of existence. Who of us knows anything except by report of the first two years of earthly life? No one remembers the time when he first said "I," or thought "I." We began to exist for others before we began to exist for ourselves. Our experience is not co-extensive with our being, and memory does not comprehend it. We bear not the root, but the root us.
What is the root? We call it soul. Our soul, we call it; properly speaking, it is not ours, but we are its. It is not a part of us, but we are a part of it. It is not one article in an inventory of articles which together make up our individuality, but the root of that individuality. It is larger than we are and other than we are — that is, than our conscious self. The conscious self does not begin until some time after the birth of the individual. It is not aboriginal, but a product, — as it were, the blossoming of an individuality. We may suppose countless souls which never bear this product, which never blossom into self. And the soul which does so blossom exists before that blossom unfolds.
How long before, it is impossible to say; whether the birth, for example, of a human individual is the soul's beginning to be; whether a new soul is furnished to each new body, or the body given to a pre-existing soul. It is a question on which theology throws no light, and which psychology but faintly illustrates. But so far as that faint illustration reaches it favors the supposition of pre-existence. That supposition seems best to match the supposed continued existence of the soul hereafter. Whatever had a beginning in time, it should seem must end in time. The eternal destination which faith ascribes to the soul presupposes an eternal origin. On the other hand, if the pre-existence of the soul were assured it would carry the assurance of immortality.
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The birth of the soul into the present was the death of the old — "a sleep and a forgetting." The soul went to sleep in one body, it woke in a new. The sleep is a gulf of oblivion between the two.
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It is commonly conceded that there are native differences of character in men, — different propensities, tempers, not wholly explained by difference of circumstances or education. They show themselves where circumstances and education have been the same; they seem to be innate. These are sometimes ascribed to organization. But organization is not final. That, again, requires to be explained. According to my thinking, it is the soul that makes organization, not organization the soul. The supposition of a previous existence would best explain these differences as something carried over from life to life, — the harvest of seed that was sown in other states, and whose fruit remains, although the sowing is remembered no more.
In the Princeton Review for May, 1881, the American philosopher Professor Francis Bowen (of Harvard University) (1811 - 1890) published a very interesting article on "Christian Metempsychosis," in which he urges the Christian acceptance of reincarnation.
Our life upon earth is rightly held to be a discipline and a preparation for a higher and eternal life hereafter. But if limited to the duration of a single mortal body, it is so brief as to seem hardly sufficient for so grand a purpose. Threescore years and ten must surely be an inadequate preparation for eternity. But what assurance have we that the probation of the soul is confined within so narrow limits? Why may it not be continued, or repeated, through a long series of successive generations, the same personality [individuality] animating one after another an indefinite number of tenements of flesh, and carrying forward into each the training it has received, the character it has formed, the temper and dispositions it has indulged, in the stage of existence immediately preceding?
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Why should it be thought incredible that the same soul should inhabit in succession an indefinite number of mortal bodies, and thus prolong its experience and its probation till it has become in every sense ripe for heaven or the final judgment? Even during this one life our bodies are perpetually changing, though by a process of decay and restoration which is so gradual that it escapes our notice. Every human being thus dwells successively in many bodies, even during one short life.
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If every birth were an act of absolute creation, the introduction to life of an entirely new creature, we might reasonably ask why different souls are so variously constituted at the outset. We do not all start fair in the race that is set before us, and therefore all cannot be expected, at the close of one brief mortal pilgrimage, to reach the same goal, and to be equally well fitted for the blessings or the penalties of a fixed state hereafter. The commonest observation assures us that one child is born with limited capacities and perhaps a wayward disposition, strong passions, and a sullen temper; that he has tendencies to evil which are almost sure to be soon developed. Another, on the contrary, seems happily endowed from the start; he is not only amiable, tractable, and kind, but quickwitted and precocious, a child of many hopes. The one seems a perverse goblin, while the other has the early promise of a Cowley or a Pascal. The differences of external condition also are so vast and obvious that they seem to detract much from the merit of a well-spent life and from the guilt of vice and crime. One is so happily nurtured in a Christian home, and under so many protecting influences, that the path of virtue lies straight and open before him — so plain, indeed, that even the blind could safely walk therein; while another seems born to a heritage of misery, exposure and crime. The birthplace of one is in central Africa, and of another in the heart of civilized and Christian Europe. Where lingers eternal justice then? How can such frightful inequalities be made to appear consistent with the infinite wisdom and goodness of God?
If metempsychosis, [reincarnation] is included in the scheme of the divine government of the world, this difficulty disappears altogether. Considered from this point of view, every one is born into the state which he has fairly earned by his own previous history. He carries with him from one stage of existence to another the habits or tendencies which he has formed, the dispositions which he has indulged, the passions which he has not chastised, but has voluntarily allowed to lead him into vice and crime.
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Nothing prevents us, however, from believing that the probation of any one soul extends continuously through a long series of successive existences upon earth, each successive act in the whole life-history being retributive for what went before. For this is the universal law of being, whether of matter or mind; everything changes, nothing dies in the sense of being annihilated. What we call death is only the resolution of a complex body into its constituent parts, nothing that is truly one and indivisible being lost or destroyed in the process . . . . The human soul, which, as we know from consciousness, is absolutely one and indivisible, only passes on after the dissolution of what was once its home to animate another body . . . . We can easily imagine and believe that every person now living is a representation of some one who lived perhaps centuries ago under another name, in another country, it may be not with the same line of ancestry, and yet one and the same with him in his inmost being and essential character. His surroundings are changed; the old house of flesh has been torn down and rebuilt; but the tenant is still the same. He has come down from some former generation, bringing with him what may be either a help or a hindrance; namely, the character and tendencies which he there formed and nurtured. And herein is retribution; he has entered upon a new stage of probation, and in it he has now to learn what the character which he there formed naturally leads to when tried upon a new and perhaps broader theater. If this be not so, tell me why men are born with characters so unlike and with tendencies so depraved . . . . They bring with them no recollection of the incidents of their former life, as such memory would unfit them for the new part which they have to play. But they are still the same in the principles and modes of conduct, in the inmost springs of action, which the forgotten incidents of their former life have developed and strengthened. They are the same in all the essential points which made them formerly a blessing or a curse to all with whom they came immediately in contact and through which they will again become sources of weal or woe to their environment. Of course, these inborn tendencies may be either exaggerated or chastised by the lessons of a new experience, by the exercise of reflection, and by habitually heeding or neglecting the monitions of conscience. But they still exist as original tendencies, and as such they must make either the upward or the downward path more easy, more natural, and more likely to reach a goal so remote that it would otherwise be unattainable.
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An eternity either of reward or punishment would seem to be inadequately earned by one brief period of probation. It is far more reasonable to believe that the future life which we are taught to expect will be similar to the present one, and will be spent in this world, though we shall carry forward to it the burden or the blessing entailed upon us by our past career. Besides the spiritual meaning of the doctrine of regeneration, besides the new birth which is "of water and of the Spirit," there may be a literal meaning in the solemn words of the Savior, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
Rev. William R. Alger (1822-1905), a Unitarian minister and author, devoted half his lifetime to the production of a large volume on immortality entitled A Critical History of the Doctrine f a Future Life a book considered a standard authority on that topic. In the first edition, published 1860, the writer characterizes reincarnation as a plausible delusion, unworthy of credence. For fifteen years more he continued studying the subject, and the last edition (1878) gave the final result of his ripest investigations in heartily endorsing and advocating reincarnation:
[O]f all the thoughtful and refined forms of the belief in a future life none has had so extensive and prolonged a prevalence as this [reincarnation]. It has the vote of the majority, having for ages on ages been held by half the human race with an intensity of conviction almost without a parallel. Indeed the most striking fact, at first sight, about the doctrine of the repeated incarnations of the soul, its form and experience in each successive embodiment being determined by its merits in the preceding ones, is the constant reappearance of the faith in all parts of the world, and its permanent hold on certain great nations . . . .
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The thoughts embodied in it [reincarnation] are so wonderful, the method of it so rational, the region of contemplation into which it lifts the mind is so grand, the prospects it opens are of such universal reach and import, that the study of it brings us into full sympathy with the sublime scope of the idea of immortality and of a cosmopolitan vindication of Providence uncovered to every eye. It takes us out of the littleness of petty themes and selfish affairs, and makes it easier for us to believe in the vastest hopes mankind has ever known.
The late industrialist and automobile manufacturer, Henry Ford, in an interview with Geo. Sylvester Viereck (The San Francisco Examiner, August 26, 1928), gives his views on reincarnation.
I adopted the theory of reincarnation when I was twenty-six . . . .
Religion offered nothing to the point — at least, I was unable to discover it. Even work could not give me complete satisfaction. Work is futile if we cannot utilize the experience we collect in one life in the next.
When I discovered reincarnation it was as if I had found a universal plan. I realized that there was a chance to work out my ideas. Time was no longer limited. I was no longer a slave to the hands of the clock. There was time enough to plan and to create.
The discovery of reincarnation put my mind at ease. I was settled. I felt that order and progress were present in the mystery of life. I no longer looked elsewhere for a solution to the riddle of life.
If you preserve a record of this conversation, write it so that it puts men's minds at ease. I would like to communicate to others the calmness that the long view of life gives to us.
We all retain, however faintly, memories of past lives. We frequently feel that we have witnessed a scene or lived through a moment in some previous existence. But that is not essential; it is the essence, the gist, the results of experience, that are valuable and remain with us.
John Masefield (1875-1967), playwright and Poet Laureate of England, expresses his views on Reincarnation in a beautiful poem called "A Creed."
I hold that when a person dies
His soul returns again to earth;
Arrayed in some new flesh-disguise
Another mother gives him birth.
With sturdier limbs and brighter brain
The old soul takes the road again.
Such is my own belief and trust;
This hand, this hand that holds the pen,
Has many a hundred times been dust
And turned, as dust, to dust again;
These eyes of mine have blinked and shone
In Thebes, in Troy, in Babylon.
All that I rightly think or do,
Or make, or spoil, or bless, or blast,
Is curse or blessing justly due
For sloth or effort in the past.
My life's a statement of the sum
Of vice indulged, or overcome.
I know that in my lives to be
My sorry heart will ache and burn,
And worship, unavailingly,
The woman whom I used to spurn,
And shake to see another have
The love I spurned, the love she gave.
And I shall know, in angry words,
In gibes, and mocks, and many a tear,
A carrion flock of homing-birds,
The gibes and scorns I uttered here.
The brave word that I failed to speak
Will brand me dastard on the cheek.
And as I wander on the roads
I shall be helped and healed and blessed;
Dear words shall cheer and be as goads
To urge to heights before unguessed
My road shall be the road I made;
All that I gave shall be repaid.
So shall I fight, so shall I tread,
In this long war beneath the stars;
So shall a glory wreathe my head,
So shall I faint and show the scars,
Until this case, this clogging mould,
Be smithied all to kingly gold.