Over radio station XQHB, Shanghai, China, last spring, a series of fifteen minute expositions of the main doctrines of Theosophy was given by Miss Elsa-Brita Bergqvist and Miss Inga Sjostedt. This present broadcast, given by Miss Sjostedt on April 27th, gives an historical outline of one of the most important Theosophical teachings — the doctrine of Reincarnation.
Good Evening, everybody:
Last Sunday the speaker elaborated the fascinating theme of initiation and its universal symbology, and explained such symbols as the Crucifixion and the Resurrection — both of them actual occurrences in the solemn rites of true initiation.
Initiation means the making of perfected men, of Masters of Life, human beings who work with Nature and understand her occult laws, men who have achieved union with their Divine Ego — that same Divine Ego which lies dormant in the average man and gleams but fitfully through the mind of a genius.
The obvious objection to the teaching about Initiation from one who is not familiar with Theosophy would be: "How can the average man even dare to think of perfection as he lives his average life and neither rises to sublime heights nor dares to descend to sublime depths?" The answer would be that we live not one life on earth, but countless lives, and each time we return to the earth to pick up the threads of our half-completed destiny we learn something more from our experiences, and build into the fabric of our being more sympathy for suffering, greater intellectual powers and an increasing understanding of life in all its aspects — physical, mental and spiritual. In this way, coming back to earth in life after life, we can ultimately reach comparative perfection.
The teaching of Reincarnation is as old as the hills and has always existed in all great religions. At times when conditions were intellectually and spiritually degenerate, this teaching has been withheld from general knowledge and taught only in secret. Even the early Christians believed in the rebirth on earth of the human ego, and no wonder, for early Christianity was a mixture of ancient Hebrew and Chaldean thought — which was reincarnationist — and of Greek Mystery teachings, which were also based on the doctrine of Reincarnation. It is only in later centuries that modern Christianity evolved its present-day beliefs of one sole life on earth and a state of eternal, changeless felicity or suffering after death.
The following is a quotation from Origen, an early Christian Church Father:
Every soul comes into the world strengthened by the victories or weakened by the defeats of the previous life.
How many Christians today would accept such a statement from an authority of their own Church! Yet Origen, together with Clement of Alexandria, formulated the theology of the Christian religion. His doctrines were later anathematized by the Church, but that only happened some time after his death when the Church was already changing its basic attitude. We have forgotten the past, and instead of investigating the sources of present-day Christianity, content ourselves with accepting the modern interpretations.
The Jewish historian, Josephus, who lived in the first century a. d., and who was a Reincarnationist like the majority of the Jews of his time, writes the following:
Do you not know that those who depart out of this life. . . and pay the debt which was received from God. . . obtain the most holy place in Heaven, from whence, in the revolution of ages, they are again sent into pure bodies?
And here is a quotation from Philo Judaeus, the Jewish philosopher and historian, who was a contemporary of Jesus in Alexandria:
Of these [souls], those which are influenced by a desire for mortal life, and which have been familiarized to it, are again reborn to it.
Now, it is an interesting fact that Josephus was a Pharisee and that as such he was a firm believer in Reincarnation. If we remember that Christianity largely derives from the Jewish scriptures, and that Christ came to teach the Jews; if we also realize that the majority of the Jews were Pharisees — just as today the Western nations are mainly Christian — and that the Pharisees were Reincarnationists, it seems almost incredible that we have lost this teaching so completely.
Even in the New Testament there are definite traces of a belief in Reincarnation, though no doubt the compilers and translators of the four Gospels — whoever they were — tried to change the text to suit their personal opinions. In several places it is mentioned that the people thought that John the Baptist was Elias returned to earth again. In fact Jesus himself is quoted as saying that John the Baptist was indeed Elias. There is a passage from the Gospel according to St. Luke, chapter 9, verses 7 and 8, which refers to Jesus and the opinion the people held about him. Here it is:
Now Herod. . . heard of all that was done by him. and he was perplexed, because that it was said of some, that John was risen from the dead; And of some, that Elias had appeared; and of others, that one of the old prophets was risen again.
This passage cannot possibly be misunderstood. It is quite clear that the people believed that Jesus was a reincarnated Elias, John the Baptist resurrected, or one of the old prophets reborn. The fact that they believed this possible shows that they were more than familiar with the belief in Reincarnation and that it was by no means an uncommon belief among the Jews. Even Josephus, the Jewish historian referred to before, says in one of his books that some thought that Jesus was Moses, their first legislator, come to life again.
The belief in Reincarnation was so current among the Jews at the time of Jesus that this teaching is mentioned very casually by the thinkers of that era — not elaborately, as if trying to convince an incredulous people, but carelessly, as though taking it for granted that nobody would question such a belief.
The Greek philosophers who were initiated into the Mysteries of their sacred Colleges, were Reincarnationists. Such were Plato, Pythagoras, and many others equally famous. An interesting point when studying Christian origins is that almost all Christian symbols are taken from so-called pagan sources and the Greek Mysteries. H. P. Blavatsky, the great Theosophist, tells us that some of the early Popes were initiates, but that the inner knowledge was lost in later times, and the later Popes had lost the true meaning of Christian symbols and the esoteric teachings of the Church.
Here is one more quotation from the New Testament which is a most interesting one and deserves a close scrutiny. It is from the Gospel according to St. John, chapter 9, verses 1 and 2:
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 answer that Jesus gave need not concern us. He replied that the man was born blind so that the glory of God should be made evident in him. This can be interpreted in many ways, to suit different beliefs. But here is the point: the disciples of Jesus must have known better than anybody else what Jesus taught and believed, and these disciples asked him whether a man born blind, born blind, please note, was so born because of his own sin or that of his parents! Obviously a man cannot be born blind because of his sin unless he has lived and sinned before! What is more, if Jesus had been against Reincarnation he would surely have rebuked his disciples for asking such a question, whereas his answer showed neither anger nor astonishment.
Two of the oldest nations, the Egyptians and the Hindus, have a wealth of allegorical teaching among their sacred traditions, the most important among which is the teaching of rebirth. The ancient Hindu system of Yoga is nothing but a means of training the body and mind through which a man attains union with his divine Self and so escapes the round of rebirths which the average man has to pass through; and as the Yogi trains himself in spiritual perception he begins to remember his past lives, first in flashes, as it were, and later in fuller detail. We have proof of Reincarnation everywhere; in analogy, in religious history, and through personal testimony, and it is time that the nations of the West should begin to revive this ancient doctrine which alone can give a logical and philosophical background to human life.
We have sketched this evening a historical outline of the doctrine of Reincarnation as a universally diffused doctrine. Next Sunday we will give a philosophical description of the doctrine itself.
The Theosophical ForumTHEOSOPHICAL UNIVERSITY PRESS ONLINE