Universal Brotherhood – November 1897

WHY I BELIEVE IN REINCARNATION — George E. Wright

The tendency of thinking, especially in recent times, has been more and more in the direction of freedom from established forms. Some advance has thus been made, although real knowledge is still to a great degree unattained by the world at large. Intellectual development ought to be as gradual as physical, and if, as science admits, the world of matter has taken millions of years to reach its present standard, then the mind of Man should have acquired its limited capacity only through equally vast ages of experience. It may be admitted that Mind, as we understand it, came into existence long after material forms were organized, and is therefore in a cruder stage of development than the latter, but this is only additional testimony to the truth of the grand principle of evolution. Darwin showed how the same emotions which animate human beings were expressed, though less perfectly, in the lower animals, and argued from this our descent or ascent from the brute creation. But he proved herein more than he intended; he proved the evolution of Mind as well as of Matter.

If there were no restraining forces in the world of thought we might see a progress so rapid as to be unhealthy or even destructive. But there is, first of all, a conservative element in the makeup of most men which induces them to cling to recognized beliefs, to reject or even to ridicule or oppose novel theories and facts. Men of scientific acumen and learning have been known not only to condemn hastily the greatest scientific discoveries, but even to refuse them an investigation. In the field of religion this conservatism is still more strongly marked. Leaving out of consideration the masses, — the millions of unthinking, unreading, blind followers of creeds and cults, — it is truly remarkable how many educated and intellectual people are in religious matters mere passive tools, clinging without question to the most absurd and childish beliefs.

Another important hindrance to the evolution of Mind has been the decadence of races and nations with their accumulated civilizations. Ancient Egypt had stored up in its priesthood many esoteric truths which failed of transmission to a later age. The resurrected library of Sargon shows but dimly the high state of culture prevailing in Chaldea six thousand years ago. In India the seventh school of philosophy, the Occult, is a dead-letter, except as it is preserved in a fragmentary condition by a few rare hermits in cavern and forest. Yet as evolution is not by any means a steady growth, but meets with all kinds of interruptions and setbacks, and is generally thought to proceed in cyclic fashion, owing to the frequent recurrence of old ideas, we can trace throughout all the ages the evolution of the World-Mind, in spite of human weakness and error, superstition and folly, the death of individuals and the decline of civilizations.

One of the most essential features of a rational theory of evolution is time — long time — periods that can hardly be measured by years. This is conceded by Darwin and all other writers who have adopted his principle relating to the physical development of the globe. A hundred million years are not regarded by physicists as too long a period for the atoms of the earth to arrange themselves into their present infinite variations of form. As this is a mere guess, however, it would be just as easy to estimate the time required at two hundred millions or a thousand billions of years. The only sensible method of estimating is to give no figures, but only to say that the process of evolution must have consumed tremendous, measureless, ages. Neither Darwin nor any other recognized authority has dared to name the number of years that have elapsed since the first and lowest man evolved out of the highest type of the lower animal. It should be borne in mind that at that distant date even the animals could not have been developed to anywhere near their present stage, none having then been domesticated; consequently the first man must have been of the most primitive and savage kind — a mere freak or "sport" of Nature. Science now admits the existence of Man in the tertiary epoch of geology, which could not have been less than 250,000, and more probably was 850,000 years ago. But that admission is made with extreme reluctance, and is still regarded by many as a tentative theory. Likewise the presumption that color in races is due to climate has been fiercely combatted by the more conservative writers, who see that to admit its probability would be to raise afresh the question of long chronology. To change the color of a whole race from black to white without miscegenation would require thousands or hundreds of thousands of years. Yet if all prejudice were banished, and the question calmly considered, it must be seen that, given a common ancestry, the variations of color in human races can only be due to differences in climate, notwithstanding Darwin's argument in favor of sexual selection.

While it is true that we have no historical records dating back of five or six thousand years B.C. we do have a knowledge of the existence of civilized society at that time, with a high cultivation of the arts, to achieve which from a savage state would have required vast stretches of time. Geology points to hundreds of thousand of years. Is it not probable that during that period of gradual evolution races were born, grew into civilized communities, and passed away; that continents rose up out of the deep, were peopled, and again sank out of sight; that mountain chains were forced up by the billows of internal fire, and were anon transformed by earthquakes into valleys and fertile lands, — and, that, through it all, though history might be lost in the obscuring mist of time, the great law never failed to work, slowly and painfully, upon the mind and soul of Man?

Materialistic writers of the present day regard mind as a mere property of the physical brain, a thought being thus considered as a vibration of the brain atoms. Regarding this inadequate theory Dr. Paul Carus, the learned editor of the Monist, says: "So long as we regard our bodies as our true existence, and mind as a mere function of the body, we cannot reach a satisfactory view of the world, and shall be unable to explain our deepest and holiest aspirations. Our body is transient; it is doomed to die; indeed its very life is a continuous death, a constant decay, and an incessant burning away. Yet the soul, the so-called function, is permanent. As we inherited our soul from the past, so we shall transmit it to the future. The sacred torch of mental life is handed down from generation to generation, and the spiritual treasures increase more and more with the immortalized results of our labors." This explanation, though not as precise as desirable, may be allowed to stand for the present; mind, soul and spirit, far from being identical, as is so often thoughtless declared, in reality may be regarded as expressing different and advancing stages in human evolution. The mind, representing the mere intellect or accumulated book knowledge of the ages, becomes soul when it has developed intuitive or original wisdom. This real wisdom is the bridge which unites the mind with the spirit, and leads up to the latter in the natural course of evolution.

Thus we find that thought is not the actual vibration of physical brain atoms, but is the message of the inner self or soul to the physical atoms, setting up therein the vibrations which produce the so-called thought-forms of recent occult science.

But in order to arrive at a clear understanding of this metaphysical subject, it is better to trace the existence of mind downward or backward to its lowliest origin. Darwin has amply proven that mental facilities as well as emotions are plainly observable in all domestic animals and in many that are untamed. Love, gratitude, terror, courage, — these and many more such emotions are found even in the lower animals, while in the lowest organisms is displayed an instinct which may be recognized as incipient mind. The beaver, the ant, the dog and the horse, as well as many other animals, undoubtedly exercise reason and judgment, and the instinct of the migratory birds is unquestioned.

It is difficult to draw the line betwixt intelligence and instinct. Up to a comparatively recent period the former was thought to be peculiar to man and the latter to the lower animals. This was, generally speaking, the attitude of the Church. The science of today, however, places the dawn of intelligence far down in the scale of animal development. Such animals as are guided only by instinct belong to the lowest forms; in fact, it may be observed that no creature stands so low in the scale of evolution as to be without this inward impulse by which it is directed to do what is necessary for the continuation of the individual and of the species. Thus the primitive instinct of self-preservation, as seen in the cuttlefish when endeavoring to escape from an enemy, gradually develops into the sexual selection of the butterfly, and thence onward through inheritance, acquired habit, imitation, and association, to the expression of the emotions, and thus on through vast ages of minute variation to the evolution of mind. Intellect is no more than the accumulated knowledge derived from experience. It would not be difficult to cite a vast number of instances, resulting from actual observation in the past, to illustrate the gradations of mental growth in the animal world, up from the indications of instinct in the feeblest insect to the self-conscious reasoning of the human being, These facts which have been scientifically proven, together with many others which can be verified by analogy, leave us in a deplorable position if we accept the ordinary theory of birth, life and death. But taken in connection with reincarnation, they give us a complete philosophy, — complete and satisfactory. It is not even necessary to cite the argument of justice, or the doctrine of karma. I believe in reincarnation on account of all these familiar reasons, but I also believe that the scientific facts as above outlined are alone sufficient to convince us not only of the truth of reincarnation., but of its absolute necessity.


Universal Brotherhood

THEOSOPHICAL UNIVERSITY PRESS ONLINE