With this cry we speed on their way young men as they leave college, brides and grooms as they start upon honeymoons, and friends on birthdays, at leave-takings, or on the commencement of any work. Is it a relic of olden days when alchemists searched for elixirs of life, drinking which one might live forever? And if it were possible to make one body of flesh last so long, would it not become as tedious as if a woman were to wear the same dress throughout her whole life? There must be more to it than the gay and casual godspeed it sounds; more than the idea that as life is so full of interesting experiences we should prolong it as much as possible: an unconfessed memory, perchance, of the ancient belief that life is eternal.
Twenty-five hundred years ago when the Buddha gave up all hope of earthly happiness for himself in order to teach his countrymen what freedom was, he did not tell them that they lived more than one life on earth. They knew it. His message concerned the way of obtaining release from the necessity for continual rebirths. He taught, as have many before and since his day, that man is responsible for what comes to him in life.
Two thousand years ago when Jesus the Christ brought tidings of the Treasures of Heaven, he showed, as did the Buddha, that when we accumulate material possessions we must lose them at death, but that when we gather the Treasures of Heaven — the imperishable, incorruptible truths of life — we gain what lasts forever. Some people say that Jesus did not teach reincarnation, or rebirths of the same individual soul; and others point to various places in the Bible where, they claim, he referred to it. However that may be, it is said that this teaching was removed from the canons of the Christian church at the Council of Nicaea in the sixth century A. D. If it was removed, it must have been among the original doctrines, and the Christ obviously had no need to emphasize it. His work was to bring understanding to men of the truths they did not know, not to repeat familiar knowledge.
In the years since Christianity first gripped the hearts of men, changes have taken place in our thought-world, and in the last century more rapidly than in all the preceding time. From complete acceptance of dogmas laid down by those in authority, through splits caused by trivial things such as details of rites and ceremonies, to complete schisms where men rebelled against the whole religious system and therefore went to the extreme of total unbelief and atheism, into materialism and denial of anything higher than could be known by the five senses, we are today emerging into a realization of what life can mean when we use our divine right to think for ourselves.
We no longer describe life in terms of a personal God and his relation to man, nor is our God the compound of bogey man and fairy godmother He once was. We fear not the punishments He may inflict upon us, nor do we pray nightly for favors at His hand. This earth is no longer the limit of our horizon, nor are we so much concerned with man as an individual apart from other men. The emphasis today is laid upon "humanity" and its relation to the universe, and the universe includes our whole solar system, visible and invisible. Thanks to modern science and philosophy, we know again that the universe itself is a living, growing, being, and that it, like man, has a body which is visible, and inner parts which are invisible; and that every part of it exists by reason of the presence in it of lesser beings, which together form the suns, stars, planets, human, and sub- and super-human kingdoms of nature.
Life is the one reality, eternally enduring, and its appearance is always changing. Upon the background of Life countless beings are born and live out their little span. Individual forms die, but this death is not final. Physical death is no more the end of man than the replacement of worn out garments by new ones is the end of the human body. Birth and death are equally doors to the "Mansions of my Father's House" and birth on earth means death in some other sphere, just as death on earth means birth into another sphere; but not for a permanent existence in regions where angels play harps throughout endless time. When the impulse is spent that took us into the invisible parts of the universe at death, we return to earth to take up our task where we left it.
Life is like a grand school, and the classes in it are the kingdoms of nature. All the beings which comprise these kingdoms are made of life-atoms, which are the least evolved forms of life-consciousness. We get the idea better by reflexion on what physical science has to say about the ultimate particles of matter. All ninety-two chemical elements, it tells us, are reducible to atoms of identical substance, called electrons and protons, the electronic and protonic content alone determining whether the atoms are of hydrogen, carbon, copper, water, gold, or what-not. Thus, it is not the life-atoms that determine the character of the being they form, but the consciousness itself which draws by magnetic attraction to itself all the atoms of various grades which it needs for its present body. For even life-atoms, minute and undeveloped as they are, are composite structures, and just as the physical atom is composed of electric energy which expresses itself in the positive and negative forms of protons and electrons, so is the life-atom composed of consciousness-energy which expresses itself in the positive and negative forms of spirit and matter. Every point in space is a life-center, a consciousness, otherwise it would not be in space, for a living organism cannot be composed of dead things. But these life-centers are no more capable of action in themselves than drops of water while they are still within the body of the sea. Only when consciousness becomes linked to earth — or any sphere of action — by the twin substances spirit and matter, does it become an individual being, which thereafter suffers birth and death, or entry into and exit from the various classes in our school of life.
These classes are roughly: the kingdoms of the elements, the minerals, the plants, beasts, and men. In ages past, in other imbodiments of the earth — yes indeed, earths are reborn too — we went through the kingdoms inferior to the human one by one, returning again and again until we had experienced all we could in these classes. When the earth was born this time, millions of years ago, we started with it in the preparatory stages of the human kingdom. There is no haste in nature, and the well-ordered processes of life even today provide opportunity for us to review the knowledge which formerly we gained unconsciously. The whole evolutionary cycle of the passage of a consciousness through the kingdoms from the lowest up to the human is condensed into the short space of nine months in the pre-natal condition of every child. It is first in the human kingdom that consciousness can become self-conscious. Indeed, this is the distinctive mark of men: they have the intellectual faculty by virtue of which they may direct their own evolution, setting its pace according to their character and will power.
When this earth dies and we have been through all the classes the human kingdom offers, is that the end? Indeed no. Our modern philosophy sees no end, no Judgment Day upon which everything is summarily interrupted, and after which there is no opportunity for growth. When our lessons in the human stage are learned there are superhuman kingdoms in which we continue, beginning at the elementary grade that will prepare us for the fuller knowledge and experience that awaits us. And so it will be forever. When the door of one kingdom closes behind us the door of a higher one opens before, always the horizon is beyond our reach, always the new sphere has greater opportunities than the old. Search as we may, we shall never reach the end of all knowledge — and really, we don't want to, for if it ever came to pass then immediately all interest in life would cease. It is the measure of uncertainty and the flavor of adventure that keep us alive even when all the world seems set against us and life presents no front but poverty and sorrow.
Now let us compare our present point of view with the old one, and determine why life proves to be worthwhile whatever it may bring. According to the old belief this was the situation: A baby was born of a man and woman. God created the soul — out of what material is not clear — which thereafter possessed certain characteristics, God-given. The man grown from this baby was not responsible for his faults and virtues, but God forgot, and punished and rewarded him for actions which he could not help performing. If the man suffered in life, it was God's will and he was supposed to endure it. If he endured patiently he went to Heaven, if he rebelled he went to Hell. Whichever his destination he was doomed to boredom, for he could never get away from it. If in this one and only life he had no opportunity to use talents which he knew himself to have, the world was so much the poorer. This was an undiscriminating God, betraying stupidity greater even than that of men!
In our modern philosophy nothing happens by chance. Human regulations are seen as imperfect reflexions of a cosmic orderliness that rules all life. No being of any kind is born through the creative effort of an external power; the impulse to birth comes always from within, and the body which each one has it makes for itself. A child is born in one family because in past lives he has made certain conditions necessary for his future development which this particular family can provide. From the perspective of our long life of eighteen million years — it was that long ago when we started on this earth as thinking men — we see that we suffer no injustice even though we cannot trace the causes of our afflictions. We may be sure that in earlier lives we must often have yielded to certain unworthy impulses which we are now able to control.
The simplest analysis of the human being is still the same as St. Paul made it of old: body, soul, and spirit. The body is made by way of human parents, but the atoms composing it are those which formed it in previous lives. This does not mean that the man will look and be just the same in every life, because there is a constant circulation of life-atoms throughout the universe, and at the death of a body the life-atoms are free to evolve in the various realms to which they are native. Physical life-atoms may enter the earth, perhaps helping to fertilize a field of flowers; soul-life-atoms will find their way to realms superior to the earth, perhaps to what we call the heaven-worlds; and spiritual life-atoms will go to realms higher still, perhaps to what the ancients called the Seven Sacred Planets. The soul is actually the same from life to life. The soul does the reincarnating, and comes to earth again and again until it is able fully to reflect the glory of the spirit. This is the task which can be done self-consciously only after the human stage is reached. The means by which it can be done must be sought in the thinking capacity which man alone of all the lower kingdoms possesses. If we refuse to think we place ourselves in the ranks of the "living dead." Life is growth, change, motion, and it is a living death to yield to stagnation, monotony, and inertia.
Those who want to prolong this one life beyond our pitifully low average of forty years are recommended to adopt hobbies. This is a good way. A better is to cultivate the divine curiosity which keeps us exploring every possible road of knowledge. Ancient and modern religion, science, and philosophy are great fields for the exercise of our intellectual muscles; and when we find, as we must, similarities of teaching in religions of people from parts of the earth remote in time and space, we find ourselves nearer the fountain-source to which all individual revelations are traceable. It is great fun to a Theosophist to watch the progress of science, as it reaches gradually to conclusions which more than fifty years ago were given to the world by the first Theosophist of our times, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. All honor is due to these sincere men who are testing theories by their own methods. If they are slow to recognise and admit the truth of Mme. Blavatsky's dicta, perhaps it is not their fault so much as the fault of the rest of us who have been unwilling to start thinking on our own account. Talk about a long life, — why, we have not begun to live as long as the level of our thoughts is no higher than: Where shall we go? What shall we do? How can we get this, that, or something else that we covet?
Do you think, perhaps, that a life of intellectual inquiry would be an unbalanced one? Have you pictured to yourself a wizened, little hunchback poring over musty books in old libraries, squint-eyed, or at least bloodshot? If so, let me quickly set you right. The ideal Theosophist, who is our modern philosopher, is keenly alive to the beauty and joy of life, sensitive to the needs of his fellowman, eager to learn all he can, but fully aware that life itself is his best teacher. If he never saw a book he still could climb to the heights of wisdom by applying his knowledge of the brotherhood of man. It is no idle dream of a visionary, nor gush of maiden aunt. Though "hard-headed" business-men say you cannot treat men as brothers because they cheat and rob you at every turn unless you do it to them first, they will come to it at last. Our co-operative institutions even now presage it, though as yet they seem to personify a group rather than individual selfishness.
Let us study the sun if we would truly know this brotherhood. There it shines in the heavens, appearing to be a solid mass; but see, through that pane of glass a little light enters our room. In a lath-house many rays stream in, as the body of the sun seems to be split by the laths. In the desert men may die from too much sun, but in northern countries there are long days when there is no sunlight at all. When the sun shines here it is dark in Japan, and the English day begins eight hours earlier than ours. With all this the sun reigns throughout the universe as dispenser of life-giving energy to all beings. Yet this is but the physical sun, the body only of a greater Sun which we do not see; and as the physical sun acts on physical beings, so does the greater Sun act on spiritual beings. This is the "Father Sun" of the reverent ancients, the parent of man's Inner God. And this Inner God is the "Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world." This glorious light is ours for the taking, and we take it first when we begin to think for ourselves. We are what we think, and if we grovel in material things we are indeed "worms of the dust"; but if we yearn toward the stars we know that in the not too distant future we shall walk the earth as masters, perfectly reflecting the beauty of the Eternal. Long Life To You!