An intense and far-reaching quest is insistently and subtly manifesting in humankind the world over. Hearts are heavy with care, and many minds are replete with bewilderment and restless confusion. Particularly is this true of the Western nations, who, harassed by the self-inflicted perplexities of a mechanistic philosophy, and now losing faith in a seemingly unjust Creator, are plagued by a cynical and desperate outlook. Yet the peoples of the world have only to open their hearts and minds to Truth, for it does exist, in purity and immediate accessibility. Once souls are turned in sincere search for the realization of life's true meaning — for the answer to the enigma of the inexorable Sphinx — there is no longer room for self-created despair and disharmony.
There has long been made available to the public full and fascinating collations of material which reveal, to a surprising degree perhaps, the widespread acceptance and understanding of the ancient and eternal doctrines of Reincarnation and Karman, which doctrines once permeated, in a natural and unquestioning way, the whole of civilization. Through the advancing ages, however, portions of the world have forgotten, have obscured the truth in a murky materialism which lauds wealth, personal gain and power, and condemns the altruistic philosophical motive which embodies the potentialities for the realization of the Brotherhood of man — the law of harmonious interdependence fundamental in Nature.
People may and do vary in motive, in depth of sincere desire to obtain, or more accurately to awaken, the realization of the truth latent within all hearts. Many are curious, but are satisfied with contemporary dogma and creed. There are those who know that the dark corners of life can be illuminated by the understanding of the doctrine of Reincarnation and of its sister truth, Karman. Happy are those whose eyes are unveiled of the mists of skepticism, obdurate bigotry, and inflexible opinion, who can look with clear sight upon this doctrine so comprehensible, logical and satisfying, and begin to understand deep within.
Many Theosophical writers are chiefly concerned with reaching the Western mind, as the doctrine of Reincarnation is already inherent in most of the Eastern religious and ethical systems, and has been for countless ages. Of course, original Christianity also included the teachings of re-birth. To the modern Christian this fact is foreign because the truth has been veiled and distorted as the religion has passed from a purer state to one which dwells on the indoctrination of malformed conceptions.
Reincarnation is part of the Universal law of Reimbodiment, which includes all creatures in all degrees of evolution. In specific application to mankind, reincarnation is the reimbodiment of the soul or Ego in the flesh body upon the earth many times, for the purpose of spiritualizing the Ego through the experience offered in the human realm of existence. The doctrine implies the immortality of the soul, and reveals the supreme justice of the laws which govern evolution. Within all sentient beings dwells a center of consciousness which is a portion of the great Universal Consciousness which is Reality and the native substance of Being.
E. D. Walker, in his book, Reincarnation: A Study of Forgotten Truth, describes the soul as
an eternal water-globule, which sprang in the beginningless past from mother ocean, and is destined — after an unreckonable course of meanderings in cloud and rain, snow and stream, spring and river, mud and vapor — at last to return with the garnered experience of many separate existences into the central Heart of all.
This teaching stands aloft, and is accountable, with unsurpassed depth and logic, to any current "enlightened reason."
To the skeptic who sees no evidence to support the doctrine, this philosophy offers many ideas which appeal to the imagination, intelligence, and to sound reasoning. For the believer by blind faith who envisions the soul after death in a region of eternal bliss, and who finds no explanation for the origin of the soul; for the fatalistic or scientific materialist who relegates all the tangible and intangible human faculties to a "variety of atomic qualities" which does not find a reason for the vast and variegated character of living things — for these a study of Reincarnation reveals the complete sequential picture which rounds out the incomplete and often irrational creeds and doctrines which exist.
Most of the world professes belief in the immortality of the soul. Yet, an immortal state succeeding death, as the Christian asserts, should necessarily presuppose a pre-existent state. The Christian idea of "special creation" at birth must therefore have to include annihilation at death, for it is meaningless to think of something created spontaneously from nothing and enduring forever more. What is created in such a manner must logically be destroyed when a life span is complete. None of the ordinary schemes so satisfies the inner sense of logic, reason and intuition as does the idea that the soul of man and indeed of all beings, is of an eternal past, an eternal present, and an eternal future, prevailing as an eternal now, and that this soul is periodically embodied by the unfailingly just laws of Nature. Each of the separate souls is a part of an Over-Soul, in Emerson's terminology, which encompasses and composes all the offspring, or individual souls, which contain, complete within themselves, the entire nature of the Universal Soul.
Analogous relations between the various living things upon the earth are further evidence of a oneness, manifest in different forms. The process of the developing embryo, which the biologists examine, is a recapitulation of the numerous forms which the Ego has ensouled in its evolutionary progress. Physical evolution necessarily demands a parallel evolution of the moral, intellectual and spiritual aspects of man. This appeals to the receptive mind as conclusive evidence that this evolutionary process necessitates a long series of lives, each with its contribution of enriching experiences for the progress of each evolving entity.
Today our attention is called to the fact that science has begun to realize that the soul is reimbodied and that the marvelous "corporeal organism" is directed by a "pre-existent soul-monad." The law of cause and effect which science demonstrates experimentally is unavoidable evidence of an underlying cause which produces the effects of which we are consciously aware at all times. Plato once remarked that "the soul has a natural strength which will hold out and be born many times . . . and always weaves her garment anew."
Further, this teaching is evidenced in a satisfying explanation of "original sin," which idea plagues the minds of many religionists. Original sin, attributed to the fall of Adam, is a misrepresentation of the idea and fact of Karman, or the Law of Consequences. How much grander to think that man is not born in a state of corrupt depravity, but is essentially Divine, with a free will which determines the nature and extent of suffering and evil, or of goodness and happiness which will be each man's lot!
A final evidence of Reincarnation is its service as a satisfactory explanation for the strange reminiscences and experiences which men often know. How often are we awed by a peculiar sense of familiarity with new people, places and situations. Does not this attest to previous associations? Accounts of strange experiences are found in the writings of such literary lights as Coleridge, Poe, Hawthorne, Dickens, and men of the deeper past as well as our contemporaries. Eastern and Western prose and poetry are replete with convictions of belief and evidence of understanding of this ancient, undying doctrine. Men need only use a discerning eye, and exercise a broad fluidity of thought and opinion to unearth the many affirmations of Reincarnation, metempsychosis, and Reimbodiment which appear throughout the literary world.
Such a magnificent and all-encompassing teaching incurs natural objections from those to whom it is foreign, and to whom it is apparently antagonistic to popular religion. Briefly, these objections are classed in four general categories. The first most often presented is: "Why do we have no memory of our past lives?" The fact is, we do, as nothing is lost in the Universe. Details are obscured, but character remains as the result of the causes which we self-established in past lives. Character is the result of Karman, which directs and molds our very persons.
To the plea of injustice for having to suffer for forgotten deeds of the past, the fact of the absolute balance and infallible law of Justice which rules all life, is pointedly reiterated in the Wisdom-Religion doctrine. Whether our lives are going to reflect high ideals in ethical and moral standard and action, causes which result in effects of just consequence, depends wholly on our own choice.
Heredity, which seems to conflict with the Wisdom-Religion doctrine is, on the contrary, more thoroughly and logically explained than science has heretofore satisfactorily done. And for those who fear the loss of contact with loved ones, it is well to understand, and comforting to know, that kindred souls have imperishable bonds which maintain an attraction throughout the countless ages and phases of evolutionary progress.
Reincarnation, referred to in the Christian Bible as pre-existence, is therein alluded to many times. Solomon, in Proverbs, spoke with wisdom when he said, "The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before the works of old — when he prepared the heavens I was there." This and the very familiar passage, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was made flesh . ..," from the Gospel of St. John, are further examples of the presence of the pre-existence idea which conduces directly to the spiritual idea of Reincarnation within the Bible. Allegories therein delineate the progress of the soul and teach the responsibility of the individual in matters of his own sin.
A serious misconception which has been widespread throughout the world for some ages is that of the passage or the transmigration of the soul through animal forms as a consequence of corporeal sins. This erroneous conception is found within certain schools of Brahmanism and Buddhism in the East. The idea has permeated the native races of Africa and America which believe that immediately after death the soul must find a habitat, and thus passes to animal bodies. Some Eastern philosophies affirm the presence of the human souls of relatives and friends within animal bodies, and so prohibit the slaughter and consumption of them. Distortion of the inner idea of transmigration has resulted in these grotesque conceptions of the truth. Actually, it is the component atomic constitution of a man which disperses after death and seeks the various home-planes of consciousness, be they animal, vegetable, mineral, or divine. The Higher Ego or human element of man could not possibly assume an animal habitat after it has reached the evolutionary height of humanhood. E. D. Walker appropriately remarks:
It would be as impossible for a gallon to be contained in a pint measure, as for a human spirit to inhabit an animal body.
Fearsome conjectures of Hell and blissful hopes of an eternal paradise of a conventional Heaven, coupled with an unassuaged fear of death characterize much thought today. The beautiful teachings, of which Reincarnation is a part, are, however, embracing far greater portions of the total consciousness of man than has been true for great time periods. Slowly is man beginning to understand that the only Hell is that evil and misery which he self-predisposes and precipitates. The Heaven of blissful rest is called by Theosophy the Devachanic state between incarnations.
Death is not the terrifying conclusion to existence, but the liberator of the soul as it moves from stage to stage in the great evolutionary plan. The personality is mortal, the soul and spirit, immortal. Through the beneficent law of Karman man proceeds along the path to ever greater spiritual heights. Karman, the Benefactor, perfect in action, equitably dealing with the causes set up by individual wills, directs and molds the infinite number of evolving beings. And it is this infallible law of Justice, operating in and through the inner, causal and invisible as well as the visible worlds — Karman — which activates the reincarnating process.
The most natural question then to arise in the probing mind is: "What reincarnates?" It cannot be the physical body, for we know that that disintegrates soon after death; nor is it the personality with which we are so familiar and which we too often mistake as the real man — the personality which is found to be a mere mask of the Inner Man, the Essential Being. So that which perpetuates the human being, with his numerous appearances on this earth in varying personalities, is "the ego, the individual and immortal, not personal I; the vehicle, in short, of the Atma-Buddhic Monad," says H. P. Blavatsky in The Key to Theosophy.
To cover the intricate and fascinating process by which the Ego reincarnates into earth lifers a study complete in itself. Consequently, a very brief outline of the occurrence is all that can be mentioned here.
When the man dies — and death is only a passage to another state of consciousness, not the annihilation of the real Being — there occurs a breaking up of the astral-vital energies, followed by the dissipation of the personality, or mental-emotional being. The Spiritual Ego, Buddhi-Manas, absorbs all the good which the personality has enfolded and expressed, and this Ego then retires to a blissful rest in the Devachanic state or heaven-world of subjective consciousness.
For a time after the death of the physical body the Ego hovers near the earth where its attraction is strongest, and it experiences a panoramic review of the life just past, seeing every event in full detail. This experience makes clear to the Ego the reasons for every incident which came to pass in the human society, linking them in such a manner as to depict the complete pattern, and to confirm the justice of Nature.
After a period of time, relative as time is, the Ego is awakened by the magnetic force of Karmic seeds or causes which demand their equitable consequence. In perfect cosmic rhythm the Law of Reimbodiment marks the course of the Ego, as it is once again drawn to material manifestation, reclothing itself with the several sheaths of consciousness or principle-substance, composed of the life-atoms of which all planes of substance are formed. The Ego builds its physical body, and once more appears on earth in order to undergo its next series of lessons through experience in the human realm.
No one retires at night with a deadly fear of the permanent loss of waking consciousness — sleep comes as a welcome rest to tired body and mind. In parallel manner, no one should approach the event of death with the terrible fear of the consequences. For, as so often said in our Theosophical literature, "Sleep is the imperfect death, and death the perfect sleep." The cycle is repeated throughout all forms and planes of being, always for the purpose of spiritualizing the vehicles of the Essential Self.
This is Karman and Reincarnation — twin doctrines basic in the whole of Eternal Truth. Beautiful, practical, and as real to the heart and mind as they are inherent in Being. As Man looks up and out he cries for understanding — for as Frances Quarles once said:
"The weary traveller oft doth seek to know
How far he's come, how far he has to go."