Copyright © 2011 by Theosophical University Press
Continuance in and by repetitive finite existences of the reimbodying monad in various bodies or rupas, to use the Sanskrit word, is the essence of the doctrine of reimbodiment, which in the case of man, is called reincarnation.
A human soul in former lives did certain acts, thought certain thoughts, had certain emotions, and all of these affected other people as well as the man himself. These various motions of man's nature are the resultant action of causal forces having their seat in the intermediate nature, and therefrom not only governing and shaping man's thoughts and actions as well as his emotions, but likewise, because of the impact, powerfully affecting even the atoms of the physical body in which the soul at any time lived. Then when death came there was release from physical bondage, and the human spirit-soul gathered into itself this intermediate nature and returned to the spiritual realm, destined in good time to reissue in order to inhabit another physical body. In that spiritual realm the intermediate nature, resting in the bosom of its parent monad or spirit-soul, has repose and ineffable bliss; for the afterdeath state of recuperation and of mental assimilation is also the opportunity for a full flowering, albeit temporary, of all that the human soul in its last life held dearest and highest, but which it had had no possibility of experiencing in fullness.
This afterdeath state or condition is known in modern theosophy under the name of devachan, a Tibetan term of which the Sanskrit equivalent is sukhavati or "happy land." Thus the soul or excarnate human ego rests in blissful repose in those various realms of the devachan which correspond with its own state of consciousness, and for the period of its stay there it is unutterably happy. Its entire experience in these regions of spiritual peace is unspoiled by the remotest suggestion of contrarieties or unhappiness. Then, when its cycle in those states of consciousness comes to an end, it slowly at first, and later more rapidly, descends the hierarchical series or grades and finally enters into a new earth-incarnation — psychomagnetically drawn back to the sphere where it had lived before. At this stage of its postmortem adventure it can go only wither its attractions draw it, for the operations of nature do not just happen, helter-skelter, but take place only in accordance with law and order. Effect inevitably follows cause, and this chain of causation lasts from eternity to eternity as a concatenation of interlinked events succeeding each other in regular and unbroken serial order.
The entire process is a systematic and compensatory interplay of forces, psychological and other, the forces predominating in each case being those which originate in the individual soul itself. Hence it is those forces which are most familiar to it that the soul follows most easily; and in consequence these are the forces, now acting as impulsive causes, which attract it back to the scene of its former activities, our earth. The forces thus operative as impulsing causes are they which were formerly sown as seeds in the fabric of the soul when it last lived on earth; and their springing into action toward the end of the devachan is equivalent to saying that they feel the attraction of the earth where previously they had been evoked and "born" as seeds of future causes.
As the prodigal son of the parable in the New Testament is said to have returned to his home, the memories of his childhood bringing him back there because of the sway of their strong yet subtle influence over his mind and heart, so does the reimbodying monad return to earth-life.
Thus are hearts reunited on earth which have formerly loved each other, and minds which have understood each other meet again in sympathetic intercourse. For those who have loved once will meet again. In fact they cannot do otherwise. Love is the most magnetic thing in the universe; its whole essence implies and signifies union and reunion. The impersonal Eros of the universe is the cosmic energy which holds the stars and planets in their courses, and it governs the building and the structure of atoms. It is all-permeant and in consequence all-powerful. It is the cause of the energy which works in such myriad forms and everywhere, operative alike in star and in atom, holding them together in inescapable embrace; yet, marvelous paradox, it is this same power which guarantees the individual integrity of every cosmic unit. It is also the mystic and wonderful magnetic sympathy which brings together human beings; man to man as brothers, woman to woman as sisters, and in one of its human fields of action, man to woman and woman to man in a genuine marriage.
It is to be distinctly understood, that the love here spoken of is the entirely impersonal love of the cosmic divinity, which, because it is all-permeant, and no smallest particle in the universe can be outside of its spheres of influence, is likewise in its most material manifestations the causal force which often takes erratic, apparently irregular, and reprehensible forms. It is not the cosmic essence which is to be reprehended, for its action is invariably impersonal; but human beings, because possessing their modicum of free will and choice, can misuse this cosmic energy to ignoble ends — and by this very same cosmic energy, such misuse is impersonally and almost automatically reactive in the production of suffering, pain, and often disease. Yet even here, because the heart of nature is infinite compassion, such suffering and pain are the means by which we learn.
Reincarnation does not separate; on the contrary, it unites. One looks into the eyes of a stranger, and intuitively one sees an old friend. Instant comprehension, quick understanding, and magnetic sympathy are there. Were reincarnation not a fact in nature, human beings obviously would not be brought together again; although in the lives that follow each other it is quite possible that, due to karmic causes, the same individuals may not be reunited on every occasion when reimbodiment takes place.
There is, furthermore, another and far more comprehensive teaching than that of reimbodiment. This teaching regards the ultimate reunion of all entities in the divine essence, when the universal period of manifestation or the cosmic manvantara shall have completely run its course. During this reunion, each entity, while becoming at one with the divine essence, will nevertheless retain its monadic or seed-individuality yet will, in addition, feel a cosmic sense of complete oneness with all the multitudes of others. Our mentality, beclouded with personal fogs and distorted with emotions and passions, cannot easily comprehend this; but it is the fundamental significance of the teaching so common in the higher Oriental philosophies of an individual's becoming "absorbed" in the paramatman, or Brahman, or cosmic spirit. Such absorption — which is only in the sense of complete self-identification with the cosmic self, the while retaining the deathless seat of monadic individuality — is the regeneration or indeed the expansion of one's own self-consciousness, now become divine, into the realization of utter oneness with everything else. This lasts as long as the absorption continues, which may be for aeons of cosmic time.
The thoughts that we think in one incarnation affect us powerfully, because of karmic reaction, in the next and indeed in all succeeding reimbodiments. It is by and through thoughts that we grow. We think thoughts and we are affected by them. They stamp themselves indelibly upon the fabric of our consciousness. We are like a wonderful magical picture-gallery in all parts of our constitution, visible and invisible — in one sense like a palimpsest, receiving imprint upon imprint, each imprint remaining indelibly and yet being magically modified although overlaid by all succeeding imprints.
Our entire constitutional being, both as a whole and in its parts, is like sensitive photographic film constantly renewed and constantly receiving and retaining impressions. Everything that passes in front of the "film" is instantly stamped upon it, psychophotographed; for each one of us is such a psychophotographic "film." It is thus that our characters are shaped and therefore affected by our thoughts and emotions, by the passions that guide or misguide us, and even by the actions that all these produce.
Thoughts are energies, imbodied, elemental energies. They do not originate in a man's mind. These elemental entities pass through the sensitive transmitting-apparatus which our mind is, and thus we color the thoughts as they pass through us, giving them a new direction, a new karmic impulse. No thought was ever created in a human brain. The inspirations of genius, the loftiest productions of the human spirit, simply come to us through lofty and great minds, capacious channels which could transmit so sublime a flow.
A man can become degenerate by constantly thinking low and degenerate thoughts. Contrariwise, a man can raise himself to the gods by exercising his spiritual will and by opening his nature to receive only those sublime thoughts which leave impressions upon the fabric of his being of a kind which automatically become active as an unceasing flow of inspiration; and he can bar the way to lower thoughts so that they do not impress themselves upon him in any permanent manner.
On the cosmic scale, the mystical picture-gallery of eternity is the astral light; and there is a part of our constitution — in fact ninety-nine percent of its totality, called the auric egg — which is a perfect picture-gallery. To change the figure of speech: it is not only a receiving-station, but a sending-station, for inner "radio-messages" of every kind. Everything that happens around us, therefore, is indelibly stamped upon the auric egg, if we allow our consciousness to cognize and to receive the happenings. But by our will and by inner magical processes that each one of us instinctively, albeit unconsciously follows, we can strengthen the akasic barrier which automatically keeps out evil thoughts, so that they make no lasting impression upon us; that is, they find no lodgment in our being, and consequently their effect on the reincarnating ego is virtually nil. But if we allow them to affect us, the impression made remains. It is indelibly stamped on the fabric of our consciousness and thereafter we have to work so to modify or to spiritualize the impressions that when the automatic reproduction comes forth in the next rebirth it will do so no longer as a reproduced cause for evildoing, and in consequence will have very little causal power.
The processes of individual reimbodiment take place because of the action which never sleeps during the cosmic manvantara of that law inherent in nature, commonly called the law of cause and effect. This chain of causation stretches from manvantara to manvantara, and indeed from eternity to eternity; but the entities evolving within its scope move always forwards under the still larger karmic law which governs the enclosing entities of which the former entities are component parts. Thus we have in this picture "wheels within wheels," the greater enclosing the less; and the less, while following strictly their own karmic destiny, at the same time being under the still more masterful sway of the larger karma of the greater wheel of life.
All karmic action takes place according to the law of cycles, a fundamental operation of nature, which is itself a phase of cosmic karma. Indeed, cyclical or repetitive action in nature manifesting everywhere is but one of the modes by which cosmic karma works out its mysterious ends. Nature repeats herself constantly and continuously, so that the great is mirrored in the small and the small is but a reflection of the great; and hence whatever is in the great, is in the small in miniature.
Now why is nature everywhere and continuously repetitive in her operations and structure? The answer is found in the fact that all operations of nature must follow grooves of action previously made; which is equivalent to saying pathways of force or energy, lines of least resistance. We see this manifestation of universal periodicity operative around us everywhere: day and night, summer and winter, springtime efflux, autumnal reflux, are familiar examples in point. All the planets of our solar system follow the same general orbital course; growth proceeds according to cyclic or periodic laws; diseases follow cyclical laws likewise. The period of the sunspots is still another instance of cyclical periodicity. In fact, periodicity prevails everywhere throughout Mother Nature; not merely on our physical plane, but equally in the invisible planes.
Hence it is that death and birth for human beings are equally cyclical or periodical. We are no exception to nature's cosmic modes and functions. How could we be? We are not different from the universe, for we are inseparable and integral parts thereof. We are not out of it nor apart from it, nor can we ever be so. Man cannot free himself from the universe; nothing can. Whatever he does, he does of necessity, but not by Fate, because he is the creator of his own destiny, which, precisely because it is throughout time progressively enacted in the bosom of the universe, of necessity, therefore, is continuously governed by the inherent laws of periodicity ruling therein. Periodical or cyclical action may truly be called a habit of nature, and just so are human habits acquired, by repetition, until finally the entity follows the habit automatically: for the time being it is "law" controlling his actions. Birth and death, therefore, are actually ingrained habits of the reincarnating entity; and this habit of reincarnation will continue through the ages until it is slowly broken by growing distaste for material life on the part of the reincarnating ego, because the attraction toward this place slowly loses its hold. It is all part of the natural processes of unending evolutionary growth, as the reimbodying monad passes during its peregrinations through the worlds and spheres of Cosmic Life.
Sometimes the minds of men are bitter and obstinate against their own best interests. They will oppose and fight what they themselves know to be the better thing, and choose the worse. Thus they sow seeds which they must reap at some time as fruits, but having reaped, they will then sow other seeds infallibly; and thus it is that however low a man may "fall," as we say, always he has other chances for self-recovery, ad infinitum. Does anyone think that this doctrine opens the door to licentious practices or to selfish and evil works? If such be his thought he has not understood the Law. Bitter always are the fruits of retribution, for there is no escape from the consequences of an act once done, of a thought once thought, or of an emotion once liberated; for exactly what ye sow that shall ye reap, until through bitter experiences the fundamental lesson of life is learned, which is the bringing of the self into ever greater harmony with the cosmic self.
There is no lesson in life so sorely needed as this: that retributive justice is of the very essence of cosmic being; and it is this which accounts for the marvelous order and symmetry of structure evident throughout universal nature. However successful a man may at any time be in apparently escaping the retributive consequences of his misdeeds, sooner or later by nature's automatic habit he will be brought face to face with the living ghosts of what he now thinks is his dead past, and he will be obliged despite himself, consciously or unconsciously, to make amends to the full. Paul in the Epistle to the Galatians spoke truly: "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." (vi, 7) Again, as the ancient Buddhist scripture, the Dhammapada, has it, "as the wheel of the cart follows the foot of the ox."
In our Occidental countries during the last two or three hundred years, there have been but two alternative explanations of man's nature, origin, and destiny: the theological and the scientific. Christian theology has held for centuries that man has an "eternal" soul, which nevertheless was created at birth or thereabouts, and which at death will suffer one of two irrevocable destinies: eternal damnation in the flames of a never-ending hell, or an endless existence in a "heaven" in which the soul shall sit on the right hand of Almighty God, singing hymns of praise to the Eternal forever and forever. In neither case has it ever been shown that the human soul could have earned such a destiny. To have merited eternal damnation in endless torture, the soul assuredly, by any measure of justice, must in its life on this earth have committed infinite sin, so grave, so deeply staining it, that an eternity of suffering cannot purge it. Or, on the other hand, the human soul must have been so supremely and divinely strong and good from its "creation" that an eternity of alleged felicity would be a reward barely sufficient for such ineffable virtue!
The alternate explanation that man is naught but a physical body, and that when this body dies all is ended, seems as arbitrary as is the theological one. Be this as it may, there would seem to be something almost preferable in the idea of annihilation, when contrasted with the uninspiring heaven of the old theology or its thoroughly repulsive hell. One is reminded of an exclamation attributed to Voltaire in this connection: "Meme le neant ne laisse pas d'avoir du bon!" — "Even annihilation is not without its good!" The idea of such utter and virtually instantaneous annihilation of a wellspring of cosmic energy — which is what a man actually shows himself to be — is not only unreasonable, but, what is worse, is thoroughly unphilosophical. One is driven to the conclusion that the two explanations of man's constitutional nature and of his destiny, until recently offered in Occidental countries, fail woefully to meet the conditions of the case on the one hand, and to satisfy the intellect on the other hand.
The forces and matters of which man's entire constitution is composed are the forces and matters of universal nature. To suppose that these forces and matters can violate their own essential characteristics, and man be driven to go either to an eternal hell or to an eternal heaven by the mandate of some supposititious and dictatorial creative entity — neither of which destinies the struggling and limited man can have in justice merited, and for either of which there is not the slightest attraction for the ensouling monad; or, to suppose that such an entity as man, who is an inseparable portion of Mother Nature, is wiped out of existence by a mere change of state and by the dissolution of his lowest composite part, the body, is an unprovable hypothesis.
What becomes of those forces that were in action? What becomes of these which at death were merely beginning to exhaust themselves? It is obvious that no man works out all the results of the thoughts he has had and of the deeds he has done, of the good and of the mischief he has caused, in one lifetime. Whither have these unexhausted forces gone? Are they annihilated? If so, what brought about such annihilation, and what proof is there that such annihilation has occurred beyond speculative hypothesis? Do we simply make futile gestures on the stage of life and then die into nothingness?
Every one of us is weighed momently in the scales of ever active and unerring natural justice through the sleepless working of cosmic laws. We cannot disturb equilibrium in nature, nor alter even by our dying her streams of cause and effect, without having something happen to us in return. Every act we do; every thought we think, affects our conduct; thus each must have its inevitable effect, strictly proportionate to the force which gives it birth. The point to emphasize here is: where does that force or energy express itself in results? After death only, or in future lives? The answer is both, but mostly in future lives on earth, because an earth-force can find no effectual manifestation of itself in spheres not of earth. A cause must have its results where its action lies, and nowhere else, although it is perfectly true that those thoughts and acts affect the fabric of the actor's being to such an extent that even postmortem states are modified by what has been done during life. This is because such thoughts and acts profoundly modify the substance of the will and intelligence from which they originally flowed forth — i.e. man's constitution. Indeed, the energies within us which have manifested as intimations of higher things, of inner energic operations, do survive and find at least partial expression in the afterdeath state; they cannot do otherwise, being manifestations of pure energy which is deathless, and therefore more akin to the spiritual spheres than to earth, in which our lower propensities find their full expression.
We see, then, that a man is born and reborn, and many times, not by the mandate of anyone outside of himself, nor through any merely automatic action of soulless substance, but solely from the causes set up by himself within himself, which causes, acting as effects, impel him to return to the fields whereon he labored in other lives on earth. In our present life, all of us are setting in motion causes in thought and action which will bring us back to this earth in the distant future. We shall then reap the harvest of the seeds of thought and emotions and action that we are in this life planting in the fields of our inner constitution.
This is that chain of necessity, that web of destiny, which each soul forges, link by link, as the days fly by, the unbreakable chain of cause and effect — karma. When death comes, the seeds of those causes sown by us when alive on earth, which have not yet come forth into blossom, remain as impulses lying latent like sleeping seeds for future flowerings into action in succeeding lives. Being causal seeds called into being through the physical body and its own inferior and interior economy, in those invisible realms in which the psychological nature of us after death lies asleep, of course they cannot manifest themselves. But, and there is the real point: when the human soul in its postmortem period of unspeakable bliss has finished its period of the recuperation of its own forces, those seeds immediately begin to sense the growing tide of vitality from the human soul which is now awakening. Those seeds then begin to germinate into ever growing tendencies toward self-expressions. It is this steadily growing tide of awakening lower forces or energies, brought over from the past life and hitherto sleeping in seed-form, which attracts or pulls the soul downwards into a new earthly incarnation. It is automatically drawn toward the family on earth which in atmosphere and environment is the most akin to its own tendencies and attributes, and thus in this sympathetic field it incarnates itself as a human infant. Once the connection with the human germ is made, from that moment the lower elements of the reimbodying soul begin to form its body to be; and, once the child is born and the days of childhood have passed, the processes of the then developing higher nature within the lower nature imbodied in the physical frame become visible. Every man who has examined the psychological processes of his own thoughts and feelings, realizes that as the years pass there is an unceasing and progressive series of inner revelations, the beginnings and enlargements of new understanding.
The different spiritual, moral, mental, and psychical phases passed through from childhood to adulthood is an analogy and indeed a reproduction in the small of what takes place in the far larger destiny of the reimbodying monad as it peregrinates through time and space, from its first appearance as an unself-conscious god-spark in the beginning of the cosmic manvantara to its present status of a self-conscious human being. The reimbodying entity enters the physiological environment to which it is most strongly attracted, which is but another way of saying it becomes a child in the family to which its own psychomental and vital characteristics draw it most powerfully. Thus "heredity" is seen to be not a thing in itself, for the reimbodying ego in its own constitution possesses certain qualities or attributes which attract it to the family where similar characteristics or attributes are already manifest. Actually therefore "heredity," far from being a causal agent, is merely the continuation of certain types or characters, not passed "from parent to child," but continued from parent to child, and such continuance actually is brought about because of the same characteristics and types inhering in or belonging to the reimbodying egos which take birth as children.
Sometimes we meet people who say: "My God! Am I going to live another life such as the one I now am in? Heaven forbid! I did not put myself here, and heaven knows I don't want to come back to another life like this one!" Well, who put you here? Somebody else? God, perhaps? Then God is responsible and there is no need for you to struggle any more against the life which you so dislike. According to that theory our supposed Creator made us what we are; and, being all-wise, he knows just what we were going to do in every detail, and yet created us to what — damnation or heaven? — neither of which could we ourselves have merited, for we were created for one or for the other in divine omniscience and without the slightest choice on our part!
On the other hand, the theosophical teaching is that every man receives in due course of time throughout duration just what he has built for himself. Once he learns this sublime truth, he will turn his face toward the rising sun, for the sense of moral responsibility will have entered into him and this will guide and control all his future actions.
As one life is not long enough to allow all the powers and faculties of the soul to blossom forth, it is inevitable that man comes again to earth in order that he may bring to consummation his unexhausted aspirations, or overcome all unmanifested tendencies of weakness. The reincarnating entity at birth vitalizes or "overshadows" a male or a female body, in either case by reason of psychomental and emotional experiences in the last few preceding births on earth.
Sex in human beings is a transitory evolutionary event in the destiny of the reimbodying ego; primeval humanity was sexless, and humanity of the far future on this earth will become sexless again, after traversing intermediate states. Sex therefore is not something that reaches into the roots of the human constitution, but is an effect of former thought-deposits, of emotional and psychical mental tendencies in preceding lives on earth, so that these tendencies have become, for the time being, relatively strong influences guiding the reimbodying ego to choose, automatically enough, its next reimbodiment on earth either as a boy or as a girl. Its originating causes are rooted no deeper than the lower part of the human ego or soul, and not at all in one of the nobler or higher principles of man's constitution.
Usually one or the other gender continues, as a quasi-automatic and relatively unconscious choice of the reincarnating ego, through a few incarnations, and then incarnation in a body of the opposite gender occurs for a certain number of times. Why and how does this occur? The predominating cause of gender-change is strong attraction to the opposite gender during the few — or in rare cases it may be a fairly large number — preceding lives on earth. This attraction, which is the instrumental cause of the tendencies and biases spoken of, arising out of thought and emotional energy, feminizes the life-atoms, or masculinizes them, as the case may be; and the natural consequence is incarnation in a body of the gender to which such attraction leads.
The field of sex comes in for its appropriate share of the ever-flowing stream from above, but only when the lower passional nature is so well under control that the voice of the divinity within can be heard, and its injunctions and mandates followed. Thus it is that the most manly men and the most womanly women are not they whose attention is largely captured and their emotions enthralled on the field of sex, but they who can rise above these lower fields of human consciousness into the ether of the higher nature.
Strong affection and strong antipathy are psychomagnetic forces which can sway powerfully the man or woman in whom they exist, either to his future well-being or to his undoing. It was a wise man, who said that love and antipathy are fundamentally the same thing, but polarized to pursue different directions. Antipathy or hate is not always repulsive or repellent in its type of action and consequential results, but seems to have as mysterious an attractive power as love. The analogy of electricity or magnetism with its two poles illustrates the point.
Consequently, where either love or hate persists over the gap of death, as in virtually every case it does, the karmic causes set up reunite those who originally experienced these contrasted feelings, and then they inevitably meet again in later lives. If either the one or the other feeling has been very strong, incarnation of both individuals in the same family may readily take place. Cases of brothers and sisters, and even of parents and children, who are "inexplicably" antipathetic to each other, are sufficiently common to receive universal recognition. Man's whole being is inwrapped in the nature which surrounds him, and he can no more escape the destiny which he himself has built through many previous lives than can the planets of the solar system escape from the gripping control of their central sun.
Other people say: "I don't like the idea of reincarnation. It does not seem to me to be true, because I don't remember my past lives." But why should anyone remember his past lives? We might well ask: "Do you in even this life remember when you first became conscious? Do you remember what happened to you this morning so that you can recall the details of it all and in their proper order? Do you remember what happened on this day of the month one year ago?"
If the argument of "not remembering" is worth anything as used against the fact of reincarnation, then the same rule holds good here. Add to this the fact that in each new body there is a new physical brain, which is the instrument of physical memory, and it is clear that it is no argument to allege against previous existence that the brain does not remember things which took place before it existed, for the simple reason that it was not there to remember what took place. Nonetheless memory does inhere in the interior structure and fabric of the reimbodying ego — and it is possible, although extremely difficult, to dislodge from the strata of consciousness not only past events in their general aspect, but likewise in their minute details. But this, fortunately for the vast mass of human beings, is something they cannot do; for could one look back into his past lives and see the horrors, the agonies of heart and mind, and so forth, one would shrink from the revelation as from a glimpse into hell, despite the fact that one would certainly likewise find deeds of nobility and daring, instances of self-abnegation, and all else which has beautified the lives of the past. No one who really knows what looking into one's past incarnations signifies would ever yearn to do so, but would bless his natal star that before birth he passed through the River of Lethe, of blessed oblivion, and is no longer haunted by the gibbering ghosts of memories of the past. There is little doubt that the revelations would drive him into a madhouse. To the question asked by A. P. Sinnett: "Have you the power of looking back to the former lives of persons now living, and identifying them?" the Master K.H. answers: "Unfortunately, some of us have. I, for one do not like to exercise it." (The Mahatma Letters, p. 145)
Consider a child's mind, how it develops from infancy through childhood, youth, and manhood. At each stage it acquires new powers and faculties, and takes on new outlooks; it remembers and then straightway forgets a vast number of things that made no impression of importance on the mind. Nevertheless, somewhere in the inner constitution of the man everything has been indelibly recorded, even to the minutest details.
A striking proof that individuality persists occurs in those cases of psychological amnesia, where a man suddenly suffers complete loss of personal memory and indeed of his real identity. Then, after a lapse of time, memory returns perhaps as suddenly as it had left the sufferer. According to the "Don't remember my past lives" theory, such a man never had his former life; he never was his former self — simply because he has completely forgotten all such events, due to his strange malady.
As a matter of fact we do remember, but in generals rather than in particulars. We remember the things that have most impressed themselves upon our consciousness in a lifetime, and thus have stamped themselves into our character and molded it; which have so ingrained themselves on the tablets of the memory, of the mind and of the soul, that they have remained with us as indelible and operative facts and functions of consciousness. Our love of truth, even, is the reminiscence or memory of knowledge gained in former lives.
Tennyson wrote a sonnet in his early life, which for some unknown reason is usually omitted from the late editions of his works.
As when with downcast eyes we muse and brood,
And ebb into a former life, or seem
To lapse far back in some confused dream
To states of mystical similitude;
If one but speaks or hems or stirs his chair,
Ever the wonder waxeth more and more,
So that we say, "All this hath been before,
All this hath been, I know not when or where."
So, friend, when first I look'd upon your face,
Our thoughts gave answer each to each, so true —
Opposed mirrors each reflecting each —
That tho' I knew not in what time or place,
Methought that I had often met with you,
And either lived in either's heart and speech.
— Early Sonnets, I
Yes, this is one of the things that we consciously bring back with us — love, recognition of spiritual sympathies, and that which is the root of all these, Character.
What is Character — that sum-total of a soul? It is not merely the thoughts that it had, the emotions under which it worked, and the source of all the deeds that it did — character is more than all these. It is the inner flow of a spiritual life, a center or force, from which emanate the original motives resulting in action, intelligence, and moral impulses. Hence, the character of an entity is that entity's self, dual in manifestation but unitary in essence; the essential stream of consciousness, and the composite fabric of thought, emotion, and consequent impulse born from the impact of the forces of the essential center upon the environing universe in which it lives and moves and has its being.
Using the word character in the more limited sense, as signifying the color of individuality which manifestation evokes from the essential self, and which therefore makes one entity "characteristically" different from some other entity, it becomes evident that "character" thus used, is psychologically located in the evolved products of experience which form the web and woof of the manifesting monad, and therefore is the aggregated karmic consequences of past lives. Every tree, plant, beast, indeed every atom or molecule has its own character precisely as man has his character which distinguishes him from all other men. In all these cases this character is the karma of the entity's past, so that in very truth a man is his own karma.
Plato ascribed all knowledge, wisdom, and innate learning to reminiscence, re-collection of the thoughts that we had, and of the things both ideal and material that we made a part of our very soul in other lives. These memories we bring over with us from previous lives as our character; for the character of a man is the source of all his capacities, genius, aptitudes and instincts, attractions and repugnances.
Whence came all these elements of our character? Certainly they did not just happen, for the reason that we live in a world of order, of strict causational activity by which consequences follow upon previous originating causes. It is the working of this chain of causation which brings about the building of character or, more accurately, the evolution or emanation of the inmost forces or impulses of one's spirit-soul seeking always new outlets for further expansion in ever-renewed fields of life. Each one of us is following that particular line of life which for him is necessitated by the directing influences of the collection of all qualities and tendencies gleaned out of his former incarnations and massed together today, as his present character, around the monadic self which is the core of his being.
Nature is fundamentally kindly, for her heart is compassion absolute. The whole urge of life is a constant pressure to betterment, and nature thus gives to us through repeated incarnations innumerable chances to learn better by our mistakes, and to round out our characters. It is by no means the poor, or those who suffer, who are necessarily the most unfortunate in the long run. A child born with a treasure-house of capacity in its spirit-soul, and possessing therefore a character urged on by noble aspiration, has something of which a pampered child of fortune may know nothing. The former has something of unspeakable value to fall back upon despite whatever trials and grief may come upon him, and that something — is himself! He has ineffable treasures lying ready for use in his own soul-essence, which may be drawn upon almost at his will. On the other hand, what is popularly called a fortunate life from the standpoint of material prosperity may not be a good thing for a weak soul in view of the almost unending series of opportunities that temptation opens for his going downwards on life's pathway. In some future life, the chain of causation will lead that weak soul whither its attractions may draw it.
Nature makes no radical mistakes. Reincarnation is but the karmic result of a balancing of the forces in the constitution of human beings. The reason why a cause set in motion in one life may not manifest in that life, nor perhaps in the next, is simply that no opening has yet occurred. Thus it is that causes may lie latent in the man's character for one or two or even a dozen lives, before they find their proper field of expression.
Character is in its essence the Self, or perhaps, more accurately stated, it is the clothing which the Self weaves around itself, partly composite of the essence of the Self, and partly of the robes of experience and knowledge garnered in former lives. Character in its manifestation in earth-life is thus, at least in part, that which is evolved forth from the Self and in part the treasury of knowledge and experience. This unfolding growth is the flowing forth into active manifestation of powers and attributes of the spirit, and this manifestation becomes fixed and rendered permanent because of the building or composition of inner and invisible vehicles in the human constitution which in their aggregate are man's psychological or psychomental nature. This nature or character expresses itself through the physical brain, and the physical brain reacts automatically and instinctively to the powers, impulses from the invisible psychological nature flowing from within forth into self-expression.
In order to understand more clearly how man is born and reborn, one should have some knowledge as to just what comes back into physical life on this earth. It is not the "spark" or center of divinity which, without intermediate sheaths of consciousness, incarnates. This is impossible, for such a solution of continuity between the spiritual and the coarse flesh and blood would be too great a gap; intermediate and transmitting factors are required in order to "step down" the tremendous fire of the spirit so that it may reach by means of its emanated ray the physical brain and body. Furthermore, such physical experience the divine spark does not need; for it soars high above such lowly conditions which it had evolved through in far-past aeons of evolutionary cyclings in matter in order to become an unfolded monad. The divine spark remains forever in its own sphere of utter consciousness and bliss, of ineffable light and power. Yet it is the essential core of us, our divine root; which means that each man is in his inmost illuminated by such an individual monad.
Nor is it the physical body which reincarnates, for this body is but the instrument through which the reincarnating entity expresses itself on this physical plane; and, moreover, at the end of each life the body breaks up into its component parts. It is the reincarnating ego which by means of its projected ray reimbodies and therefore holds together its physical vehicle the body. Nevertheless, in one sense it can be said that the physical body of one earth-life reimbodies itself not in but as the physical body of the next life. This is because of the peregrinating life-atoms which, at the dissolution of the body at death, become freed and pursue their wanderings through the elements and kingdoms of nature. They are attracted together again in order to form the body in the next earth-life by reason of the strong psychomagnetic attraction exercised upon them by the "descending" reimbodying ego.
There are between the divine-spiritual monad and the physical body, a number of intermediate planes of the human constitution, and each one has its own characteristic faculties and powers. Each such intermediate plane is the field of manifestation of one of man's consciousness-centers or monadic principles. To be exact, it is a certain part of this intermediate or psychological nature which reincarnates in life after life; for it is the fountain whence springs into self-conscious functioning the "personal entity," which takes up again the threads of its destiny on this earth.
How long is it before the reincarnating entity returns to this earth? It depends upon a number of factors. There is a rule in occultism, based on the operations of nature, that a human being does not normally reincarnate under one hundred times the number of years last lived on earth. Taking then the average of human life in the present age as being of fifteen years' duration only, and multiplying this by one hundred, we see that the average period of time between death and the next rebirth on earth is fifteen hundred years, although no claim is made that this is exactly accurate. There are times when the average length of human life may be twenty or even forty years, and therefore this postmortem period varies greatly, even enormously, in certain cases.
The fact is that the length of time passed in the devachan is governed by the intensity of spirituality inherent in the man when alive on earth, rather than by any merely statistical rule of averages.
It may seem strange that there should be such a great difference between the relatively small amount of time spent by a man in earth-life and the much larger time-period he passes in the invisible worlds between earth-lives, especially when one remembers that the periods of manvantara and pralaya are said to be more or less equal; nevertheless the analogy is perfect. When we speak of manvantara and pralaya we speak of visible and physical things; but when we consider a man as a manifestation we are reminded of the strange paradox that as an evolving soul he is more highly evolved than is the earth on which he lives. Therefore, albeit in his own smaller consciousness-sphere, more than does the spirit of the earth, a man has dreams of beauty, hopes cherished throughout years and years of earth-life, and intuitions of spiritual sublimity which no earth-life is long enough to bring to fulfillment. Consequently, with these spiritual aspirations and intellectual longings filling his being, he requires a longer time of recuperation and of unfettered spiritual-mental activity in which to give them a chance for flowering. However illusory they may be in themselves, they are very real and intensely "felt" by the ego in whose consciousness these dreams take place.
Such is the devachan: a period of spiritual and loftily intellectual flowering of inhibited energies, producing their effect on the fabric of character of the dreaming entity which experiences them and who thus assimilates them. Thus it is that in the devachan character is more strongly molded or modified by reason of these spiritual and intellectual expansions of consciousness than even in the earth-life which is a world of causes, while the devachan is a world of effects.
In a solar system, in its manvantara and pralaya, the cosmic day equals the cosmic night; for here we deal with physical things in which the scales are balanced. This statement is in no wise intended to convey the idea that the solar system has no spiritual or invisible portions. What is alluded to is the distinction between the cosmic day and cosmic night on the one hand, and the life-periods of the entire human constitution on the other hand, with its spiritual and intellectual nature immensely more evolved than man's physical body.
Our human "day," our earth-life, is in the average case so filled with spiritual yearnings and intellectual aspirations for beauty and wisdom, that no lifetime on earth is long enough to bring them to fulfillment; but because they are intense spiritual and intellectual forces seeking expression in function and action, and usually thwarted, we have the openings for their expression in the devachan. But when we recollect that the continuity of consciousness is unbroken always, because man essentially is a stream of consciousness, and that objective consciousness occurs to us at periodical intervals when we come back to earth, then it is clear that these aspirations, however much they may have been fulfilled in the devachan, return with us each time with a little more chance of fulfillment. When we remember how these reimbodiments of the ego will continue as long as our planetary chain endures in the present manvantara, we realize more clearly that we shall return to earth hundreds and hundreds of times, and that at each return, if our karma permit, we are better fitted to make these aspirations and spiritual and intellectual longings more intimate parts of the fabric of our character, which thus steadily is improved and ennobled as the aeons pass.
Indeed, our sublimest dreams do not ever come true, because in the process of realization they continually expand and evolve to something grander and higher still. How often is this fact illustrated in the case of the growing child, who when a lad no longer hankers after the things of the nursery, and who when a man puts aside the things of youth.
The higher a human being stands in the evolutionary scale, the longer the devachan is, as a rule; whereas the more grossly material the human being is, the shorter is his devachan. Thus it happens that grossly-minded human beings reincarnate very quickly, relatively speaking; whereas spiritually-minded human beings remain much longer in the invisible worlds. Why? Because their souls are native there, and their larger spiritual awakening makes them feel more strongly their affinity with those worlds, while this gross material sphere is in a sense a foreign country to their souls. For, just as a man in any one incarnation on earth lives a life more-or-less fully directed and controlled by the karma of that man, thus fixing a term to that life within reasonable bounds of variation, just so after death is the devanchanic period limited or lengthened by the karma of the earth-life just lived, conjoined with the remaining karma, unexpended, of previous lives. If the individual has been of spiritual character, one whose idealistic yearnings have not, while in earth-life, received more than a modicum of fulfillment because the last incarnation gave no full opportunity for expression, then the probability is that the devachanic interlude will be a long one.
If on the contrary, the man during the last incarnation has lived a life intensely enwrapped in the things of this material sphere, if he hungers after sensation until the craving becomes a disease of the soul, then the attraction of this material sphere on that devachanic entity will be a strong one; and, therefore, just as soon as the small portion of unfulfilled spiritual hopes has been satisfied, when their energy has been expended in the devachan, then will the strong attraction earthwards prevail. In such cases the devachanic period is a very short one.
The great majority of us have a period of devachanic existence of medium length. An averagely good man, who has lived to old age — let us say eighty-five years — will remain in the invisible realms of life, according to the rule, some eighty-five times one hundred — eighty-five hundred years. A man who dies at the age of forty may pass four thousand years more or less in the invisible realms before he returns to earth. Yet, this rule should not be applied in too rigid and iron-clad a manner. The cases vary enormously, when they are considered as individuals, with intricate karma in each case; so that while the rule is true when applied to statistical averages, it almost certainly will be modified where individuals are concerned. For example, a man like Plato might pass (did not other conditions enter into the problem to complicate it) many thousands of years in the devachan.
There are also the saintly men; and beyond these again, men of still higher spiritual and evolutionary rank — the truly great ones and the buddhas and the christs. These last are so highly evolved that they do not need the postmortem period of recuperative assimilation of the experiences of the life last past. Hence it is that the postmortem destiny of the last two classes is different from that of the bulk of mankind. They return quickly to earth as a rule, and do so solely at their own wish, and motivated by a holy desire to help the evolutionary progress of their fellowmen. For when we analyze the devachanic state closely, we must come to recognize that, however beautiful and spiritual it may be, and however much of an opportunity for recuperation it is, it nevertheless is a state of spiritual isolation for the time being, and therefore is, essentially at least, a selfish state. Yet for the great majority of human beings the devachan is a necessary spiritual interlude, precisely because it is a period of recuperation and undisturbed peace in which occurs a rebuilding of the inner substance of the constitution through the assimilation of the experiences of the life just closed. Nevertheless it is essentially a selfish existence because so wholly isolated from life and the existence of other beings. For hundreds or perhaps thousands of years the devachanic entities are immersed in roseate dreams of ineffable happiness and peace, and the world left behind may be going to perdition for all they know or care. If they did know and did care about it, this would introduce unspeakable distress and misery into the condition, which is de facto an utter impossibility, for then it would no longer be the devachan.
Now such is not the state of mind or of spirit of the Buddhas of Compassion, whose whole being is devoted in purely unselfish service to the benefit and forward progress of all other beings irrespective of type, evolutionary grade, or spiritual and moral standing. Thus it is impersonal love for all things both great and small that will free us even from the glorious dreams of the devachan; and it is just this spirit of yearning to help all, without distinction and yet entirely in accordance with cosmic law and harmony, which is the very core of the spirit ruling the Buddhas of Compassion.
The time is coming in the far-distant future when human beings will have so greatly unfolded the spiritual powers and faculties which now lie latent, that all mankind will then have become exemplars of the spirit which rules the hierarchy of the Buddhas of Compassion. It is toward this great consummation of evolution that humanity is steadily marching, although quite unconsciously; yet consciously so, as far as the mahatmas and their chelas are concerned. In the Great Brotherhood, as exemplified in the lives and teaching of its members, the same spirit lives and works that guides the Hierarchy of Compassion, because it is the representative on this earth of this hierarchy. Therefore the training of the chelas of the mahatmas is one which is deliberately pursued in order to stimulate, as far as possible under karmic law, the spiritual and intellectual faculties of the chelas or disciples so that they may run the evolutionary race more rapidly than the average of mankind.
One of the methods of this training is an endeavor to bring about the shortening of the devachan so that, outside of all other factors, more time may be gained by the chela in self-conscious striving and beneficent activity, which is impossible when the reimbodying ego is engulfed in the dreams of the devachan.
Thus for a number of lives the chela does everything in his power, under the guidance of his teacher, in order to shorten the period of devachan by following methods which comprise, among other things, an intense spiritual and mental concentration of practicing an impersonal love for all that lives, which includes an equally intense desire to aid all beings whatsoever to grow spiritually and intellectually greater. This striving or effort thus changes the locus of the chela's consciousness from the ordinary place that it occupies into a more spiritual and therefore more impersonal part of his inner being. This removal to higher planes of the disciple's consciousness cuts at the root of the causes which bring about devachan, gradually making the need for the devachan weaker. The idea is that the disciple is placing his self-conscious active faculties in a part of himself which no longer needs or calls for the devachanic period of recuperation.
It is the teachings of the ancient wisdom and their spread in the world which should be the thought-center of the one so aspiring, for this aspiration brings into spiritual operation the higher desire-energies which in their activity reach beyond the death of the body. Being rooted in the spiritual realms, although having their field of action on earth, they are in consequence constantly working to bring about even during earth-life, a locating of the self-conscious center in the spiritual realms, and thus again they raise the practitioner of this only true spiritual yoga far above the call and the need of the devachanic postmortem interludes.
The man who craves for peace for himself, who yearns to gain knowledge for himself, or perhaps who lives in a religious or musical or philosophical or poetical or scientific or other similar world of his own, without the overmastering desire to help others — is the man whose devachan will be the longest, the most definite in character, and in consequence the most intense. Why? Because it is the concentration of the self — the human self — in these things for one's own individual gratification and delight, that brings about the devachanic fruition of what was longed for on earth and for which no single earth-life is in any wise sufficiently long to attain adequate fulfillment thereof. It is precisely these thwarted yearnings for accomplishment in beauty, in high thinking, and in spiritual delights, for the individual, which produces the devachan after death.
Thus when the chela is in training under proper instruction, and is no longer concentrated on the individual self, then he rises above the plane in which the devachan in its myriad states of consciousness takes place. Hence the disciple begins by shortening his devachan, and finally passes beyond the need of experiencing it.
However, this turning of the individual in training toward the impersonal and selfless life does not at any time involve the abandonment of human obligations already assumed or at any time undertaken. The exact contrary of this is the case. No man can be a true disciple or chela of the masters who willfully, or thoughtlessly, repudiates obligations and duties which are not yet fulfilled. Such action would be precisely the opposite of that which the chela is striving to follow; for it would be but a new kind of concentration, and in this case a very selfish one, of his wishes and his attention upon himself and running directly contrary to the impersonal and selfless life, involving forgetfulness of his own personal desires of which he has become the pledged opponent.
A question asked in connection with reimbodiment: Do animals reincarnate? The answer is yes. Animals reincarnate or reimbody themselves just as all other "animate" entities do; for an animal is a ray from a reimbodying monad, just as a human being is. Yet there are certain important differences: the human is a more or less highly individualized and awakened ego, while in the case of the beasts the awakening egoity, otherwise the functioning of the manasic consciousness, is but in its elemental beginnings. Human beings reincarnate as more or less individualized egos, each possessing in consequence willpower, intellectual discrimination, judgment, and the moral instinct directing its choices to good or ill, all which faculties exist indeed in the beasts, but latent in them. Even vegetation reimbodies itself; as do the atoms in their own particular sphere. But in none of the kingdoms below the human are the individual cases of reimbodiment the reincarnation of more-or-less developed ego-souls as is the case with individual human beings.
The animal reincarnates as a thickly-sheathed and but dimly-luminous monadic ray, lacking the definite attributes or faculties of a human being, because evolution has not yet brought these faculties into self-expression. In very truth, we may say that the beast is an undeveloped or baby-ego, just as the babe is an undeveloped or baby-human.
Man is a center of force of not only a spiritual and intellectual and psychical character, but a focus from which flow into manifestation the vital, astral, and physical qualities of the human constitution. Man thus carves his own destiny, and wraps himself into the tangles of the web of his being, bringing about for himself not only the aeons-long pilgrimage which he makes through the spheres, but likewise producing the vehicles in which he dwells in these various spheres or worlds.
The point of importance is that man gets exactly what he himself desires. He can raise himself in time to godhood, which in the long course of evolution he will ultimately attain; but while working toward this consummation of human evolution, he can likewise bring himself into all-various depths of ignoble existences. This is what was at the back of the old proverb: "For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he." It is the direction in which a man's thoughts and desires are set which in all cases determines not only his destiny, but the path which he will follow, the pitfalls which he will encounter, or the happiness which he will make for himself as he travels through the ages.
No one has ever expressed this key thought of the esoteric teaching better than did Yaska, and ancient Hindu writer in his Nirukta X, 17, 6:
Yadyad rupam kamayate devata, tattad devata bhavati.
Which translated into English is: "Whatever body (or form) a divine being longs for, that (very body or form) the divine being becomes."
The reimbodying ego in its peregrination throughout the worlds and spheres does not, because it cannot, stand apart from the universe, and therefore merely enter into body after body; but because of its own past karma, which is the sum-total of itself, becomes the beings and things it longed or yearned for. Its longings and yearnings impel it not only to take unto itself bodies exactly correspondential in attribute and quality with its own inner impelling urges, but it allies itself so straitly with these that it becomes them — simply because it has longed for them and made itself alike unto them.
This great truth of nature shows why the latent karmic seeds of impulse, quality, and attribute, coming over from past manvantaras, impel the peregrinating monad to undertake its aeons-long journey into the worlds of form and matter, identifying itself thereby with them for ages and ages, until its own self-born and inherent yearnings and longings for higher things attract it back again to the higher spheres and worlds of spirit. Here is the key to the reasons why the spiritual monad "falls" into matter, and later rises therefrom, becoming in time a fully self-conscious divinity; and furthermore, why and how the reimbodying ego is drawn to the heavens and to the hells.
Reimbodiment is the doctrine of repeated opportunities for all, continuously recurring in cyclical order, in life after life, giving the reincarnating ego repeated opportunities to evolve the powers and attributes of the spiritual monad within. It is thus that the great ones became what they are.
The human soul, the reimbodying ego, cannot escape the attractions of its own previous making; it has woven around itself by its own acts, thoughts, its own vibrant emotions, the web of destiny in which it is held. All these are what bring it back into physical life.
For whether the spirit of man temporarily dwell beyond Sirius or the polar star, or the outermost bounds of space, it cannot limit the action of the universal forces. They will call it back to the place of former attraction, and those seeds will blossom — if not in this life, then in some subsequent life or lives, when the barriers fall before the pressure for outward expression of inner karmic impulses. These seeds will find their fruition in him, their originator and "creator."
Life is in very truth that still, small, path, as the Hindu Upanishads put it, which leads him who follows it to the very Heart of the Universe; and this mystic journey brings the fulfillment of the great quest of all human souls.