Theosophists take a long-time view of the world, of humanity, and of the physical universe. This view is in sharp contrast to the traditional orthodox religious understanding, with its "one-life-life" for the human soul and a physical world not more than a few thousand years old. Theosophists hold that there is and must be a more rational as well as a more spiritual picture of man's relationship to God than is usually presented by the old time, but really very modern church. It is known that man has existed on this earth for millions of years. It would be strange, would it not, that the machinery for effecting the "salvation" of the human soul, should have waited until around 2,000 years ago? What about the many hundreds of billions of souls who lived on this earth prior to the time of the coming of Jesus? What provision for their redemption through Grace or otherwise?
For centuries the church has maintained a doctrine that the human soul was "created" at the moment of birth, without having had any previous existence. This created being has the power of achieving "eternal life" through Grace, by acceptance of certain faiths and doctrines. This teaching gives to the traveler just one short span of life in which to learn all its multiple lessons, and to prepare itself for a possible eternal life hereafter.
With such a foundation of understanding of the environment and background of man's history and evolution, it is small wonder that an acceptance of the Theosophical view of the world of matter and of life should present certain difficulties to those who have uncritically taken for granted the kind of world which the church has presented to its adherents.
First of all it must be understood that man is a creature who on this plane has a very limited power of comprehension. Being only one of the "creatures" man cannot expect to fully comprehend his Creator. Being less than a speck on the horizon of the physical world, his vision, even with the aid of instruments, is far too limited to give him anything like a complete view; his mental perception being bound by a three-dimensional physical world. There is good evidence, however, that we live in a multiple-dimensional world, the greater portion of which we have absolutely no means of sensing, let alone comprehending, in any real way.
So, what Theosophy conceives to be the nature of our world, is in part what you might call "natural assumptions," or postulates — concepts that seem to explain to a great extent and in the most reasonable and probable way, the phenomena that appear to our limited senses to happen.
In the first place, Theosophy insists that the worlds of both physical and living things must be without beginning, and without end, either as to time, or as to degrees or levels of development. The essence of physical matter never was created, although its elements have repeatedly gone through innumerable forms. It is likely that in the past, matter has completely disappeared in what has been called the "night of Brahm," which means probably that matter was dissolved and became suspended in the eternal ethers. Later this same matter was precipitated and became again "manifest" on this plane. It is this phenomenon which probably is referred to when "creation" is mentioned in certain ancient writings.
Therefore, there was, and is no beginning and no end of physical things, except as relates to what is known as "composition," or the reshaping and reshuffling of the elements into different combinations of forms.
Scientists point out that in physical dimensions the human frame stands midway between the electron and the star — on the one hand, units of matter so tiny that they cannot be perceived by the finest microscope, and on the other, stars so gigantic that it would require millions of our earth planets to approximate their mass.
In a very similar way, man in his present mental and spiritual development represents a middle stage of evolution between the lowest and the highest forms of life. During the countless ages of the past we as personalities have passed through many many stages of development at lower levels. The lower forms, following in our footsteps, and to whom our present stage of evolution would seem like godhood, will one day enter the human kingdom.
By the same token countless hordes of beings have trod this road many millions of years ago, and are now far, far ahead of us on the steep pathway beyond. Their level of intelligence and spirituality is utterly beyond our ability to comprehend. We are destined, however, to reach their level of development, while those ahead keep on rising. Those who have gone thus far ahead are often referred to as "illuminati," and in some cases as "Masters." Many of them devote their lives to helping those who are on the lower rungs of the ladder. In short, life is an endless ladder, extending infinitely into the depths, and infinitely into the heights. And at every point on that ladder, there are millions of living, evolving beings, each on an endless journey upward and onward.
Now the nature of this thing we call "matter" is often grossly misunderstood. The uninitiated think of just one "material" world. As a matter of fact this so-called matter is also a substance which manifests itself in countless levels and degrees of fineness. As the Bhagavad-Gita puts it: "God expresses on all the various levels of existence only through the matter of many planes." In short, all phenomena occur only by the movements of matter, activated by some form of force. When we think, this phenomenon of our mental activity is the result of the activation of a higher form of matter on what we call the mental plane. The same is true of our emotional experiences, because only through the movement of matter do we experience our ordinary emotions. From this it is obvious that it is a mistake for us to depreciate events that involve the movement of such matter. The truth is, it is impossible for any being to have any experience or any consciousness whatever, except by virtue of the movement of matter on some plane.
The foregoing may help to give a foundation for an understanding of the doctrine known as "Reincarnation." This concept is based on the dual nature of the human entity. In its essence mankind is eternal, in the sense that it always has had a living existence, and will always continue to live, somewhere and on some level. The eternal part of the human being is not this physical body, not this mental or emotional organism, nor any combination of these. Theosophists call this combination our "Personalities," while the eternal man is known as the "Individuality." Reincarnation takes place when a spark of the Individuality is projected into this world, in the form of an infant, which lives its life here, and passes on the lessons of this life to the eternal Individuality. At the time of physical death, all that is not the lower physical is reabsorbed into the Individuality.
By this process the eternal human gains repeated and multiple experiences through the life of what we call the "Personality," which is not the real man at all. It is not the eternal Individuality which reincarnates, but just a branch, or projection, in the forms of physical body, mental and emotional equipment which make up the men and women we are and that we know.
Investigation by others as well as Theosophists has determined that even on this physical universe we live in an orderly world. It is a world of cause and effect. Nothing happens without a cause. Nothing happens that is not basically a movement of matter driven by an activating force or energy. Such movement is merely the result of causes, often far removed from the observable effects.
The sum of all the dynamic and latent causes affecting any particular personality, is called "Karma." The proper understanding of Karma indicates that we are not punished or rewarded for either our misdeeds or our virtues, but definitely by them. By our thoughts and actions (in both cases actions on differing planes) we start activating currents of energy into motion. Eventually those forces affect us, usually by modifying the environmental situations in which we must make our way. It should be understood that what is true for the Personalities of the race is also true for groups, nations, and even for all humanity. Certain group actions bring a Karma or effect which conditions our later ability to function.
It is obviously impossible for the average theosophist to prove, or to demonstrate the truth of reincarnation, except on the basis of its reasonableness — its rationality. The doctrine of reincarnation does, however, provide the explanation which all experience shows to be most "probable," which, by the way, is a type of explanation which science often accepts, as many explanations must be accepted, "tentatively." No rational explanation of the many otherwise contradictory and unjust situations of human existence is to be found apart from that given by the doctrines of Reincarnation and Karma.
The Theosophical ForumTHEOSOPHICAL UNIVERSITY PRESS ONLINE