In the West, where the object of life is commercial, financial, social, or scientific success, that is, personal profit, aggrandizement, and power, the real life of man receives but little attention, and we, unlike the Orientals, give scant prominence to the doctrine of preexistence and reincarnation. That the church denies it is enough for many, with whom no argument is of any use. Relying on the church, they do not wish to disturb the serenity of their faith in dogmas that may be illogical; and as they have been taught that the church can bind them in hell, a blind fear of the anathema hurled at reincarnation in the Constantinople council about 500 a.d. would alone debar them from accepting the accursed theory. And the church in arguing on the doctrine urges the objection that if men are convinced that they will live many lives, the temptation to accept the present and do evil without check will be too strong. Absurd as this seems, it is put forward by learned Jesuits, who say men will rather have the present chance than wait for others. If there were no retribution at all this would be a good objection, but as Nature has also a Nemesis for every evil doer, and as each, under the law of Karma — which is that of cause and effect and perfect justice — must receive the exact consequences himself in every life for what good or bad deeds and thoughts he did and had in other lives, the basis for moral conduct is secure. It is safe under this system, since no man can by any possibility, or favor, or edict, or belief escape the consequences, and each one who grasps this doctrine will be moved by conscience and the whole power of nature to do well in order that he may receive good and become happy.
It is maintained that the idea of rebirth is uncongenial and unpleasant because on the one hand it is cold, allowing no sentiment to interfere, prohibiting us from renouncing at will a life which we have found to be sorrowful; and on the other, that there appears to be no chance under it for us to see our loved ones who have passed away before us. But whether we like it or not Nature's laws go forward unerringly, and sentiment or feeling can in no way avert the consequence that must follow a cause. If we eat bad food bad results must come. The glutton would have Nature permit him to gorge himself without the indigestion which will come, but Nature's laws are not to be thus put aside. Now, the objection to reincarnation that we will not see our loved ones in heaven as promised in dogmatic religion, presupposes a complete stoppage of the evolution and development of those who leave earth before ourselves, and also assumes that recognition is dependent on physical appearance. But as we progress in this life, so also must we progress upon leaving it, and it would be unfair to compel the others to await our arrival in order that we may recognize them. And if one reflects on the natural consequences of arising to heaven where all trammels are cast off, it must be apparent that those who have been there, say, twenty of mortal years before us must, in the nature of things mental and spiritual, have made a progress equal to many hundreds of years here under varied and very favorable circumstances. How then could we, arriving later and still imperfect, be able to recognize those who had been perfecting themselves in heaven with such advantages? And as we know that the body is left behind to disintegrate, so, it is evident, recognition cannot depend, in the spiritual and mental life, on physical appearance. For not only is this thus plain, but since we are aware that an unhandsome or deformed body often enshrines a glorious mind and pure soul, and that a beautifully formed exterior — such as in the case of the Borgias — may hide an incarnate devil in character, the physical form gives no guarantee of recognition in that world where the body is absent. And the mother who has lost a child who had grown to maturity must know that she loved the child when a baby as much as afterwards when the great alteration to later life had completely swept away the form and features of early youth. The Theosophists see that this objection can have no existence in the face of the eternal and pure life of the soul. And Theosophy also teaches that those who are like unto each other and love each other will be reincarnated together whenever the conditions permit. Whenever one of us has gone farther on the road to perfection, he will always be moved to help and comfort those who belong to the same family. But when one has become gross and selfish and wicked, no one would want his companionship in any life. Recognition depends on the inner sight and not on outward appearance; hence there is no force in this objection. And the other phase of it relating to loss of parent, child, or relative is based on the erroneous notion that as the parents give the child its body so also is given its soul. But soul is immortal and parentless; hence this objection is without a root.
Some urge that Heredity invalidates Reincarnation. We urge it as proof. Heredity in giving us a body in any family provides the appropriate environment for the Ego. The Ego only goes into the family which either completely answers to its whole nature, or which gives an opportunity for the working out of its evolution, and which is also connected with it by reason of past incarnations or causes mutually set up. Thus the evil child may come to the presently good family because parents and child are indissolubly connected by past actions. It is a chance for redemption to the child and the occasion of punishment to the parents. This points to bodily heredity as a natural rule governing the bodies we must inhabit, just as the houses in a city will show the mind of the builders. And as we as well as our parents were the makers and influencers of bodies, took part in and are responsible for states of society in which the development of physical body and brain was either retarded or helped on, debased or the contrary, so we are in this life responsible for the civilization in which we now appear. But when we look at the characters in human bodies, great inherent differences are seen. This is due to the soul inside, who is suffering or enjoying in the family, nation, and race his own thoughts and acts in the past lives have made it inevitable he should incarnate with.
Heredity provides the tenement and also imposes those limitations of capacity of brain or body which are often a punishment and sometimes a help, but it does not affect the real Ego. The transmission of traits is a physical matter, and nothing more than the coming out into a nation of the consequences of the prior lives of all Egos who are to be in that race. The limitations imposed on the Ego by any family heredity are exact consequences of that Ego's prior lives. The fact that such physical traits and mental peculiarities are transmitted does not confute reincarnation, since we know that the guiding mind and real character of each are not the result of a body and brain but are peculiar to the Ego in its essential life. Transmission of trait and tendency by means of parent and body is exactly the mode selected by nature for providing the incarnating Ego with the proper tenement in which to carry on its work. Another mode would be impossible and subversive of order.
Again, those who dwell on the objection from heredity forget that they are accentuating similarities and overlooking divergencies. For while investigations on the line of heredity have recorded many transmitted traits, they have not done so in respect to divergencies from heredity vastly greater in number. Every mother knows that the children of a family are as different in character as the fingers on one hand — they are all from the same parents, but all vary in character and capacity.
But heredity as the great rule and as a complete explanation is absolutely overthrown by history, which shows no constant transmission of learning, power, and capacity. For instance, in the case of the ancient Egyptians long gone and their line of transmission shattered, we have no transmission to their descendants. If physical heredity settles the question of character, how has the great Egyptian character been lost? The same question holds in respect to other ancient and extinct nations. And taking an individual illustration we have the great musician Bach, whose direct descendants showed a decrease in musical ability leading to its final disappearance from the family stock. But Theosophy teaches that in both of these instances — as in all like them — the real capacity and ability have only disappeared from a family and national body, but are retained in the Egos who once exhibited them, being now incarnated in some other nation and family of the present time.
Suffering comes to nearly all men, and a great many live lives of sorrow from the cradle to the grave, so it is objected that reincarnation is unjust because we suffer for the wrong done by some other person in another life. This objection is based on the false notion that the person in the other life was some one else. But in every life it is the same person. When we come again we do not take up the body of some one else, nor another's deeds, but are like an actor who plays many parts, the same actor inside though the costumes and the lines recited differ in each new play. Shakespeare was right in saying that life is a play, for the great life of the soul is a drama, and each new life and rebirth another act in which we assume another part and put on a new dress, but all through it we are the self-same person. So instead of its being unjust, it is perfect justice, and in no other manner could justice be preserved.
But, it is said, if we reincarnate how is it that we do not remember the other life; and further, as we cannot remember the deeds for which we suffer is it not unjust for that reason? Those who ask this always ignore the fact that they also have enjoyment and reward in life and are content to accept them without question. For if it is unjust to be punished for deeds we do not remember, then it is also inequitable to be rewarded for other acts which have been forgotten. Mere entry into life is no fit foundation for any reward or punishment. Reward and punishment must be the just desert for prior conduct. Nature's law of justice is not imperfect, and it is only the imperfection of human justice that requires the offender to know and remember in this life a deed to which a penalty is annexed. In the prior life the doer was then quite aware of what he did, and nature affixes consequences to his acts, being thus just. We well know that she will make the effect follow the cause whatever we wish and whether we remember or forget what we did. If a baby is hurt in its first years by the nurse so as to lay the ground for a crippling disease in after life, as is often the case, the crippling disease will come although the child neither brought on the present cause nor remembered aught about it. But reincarnation, with its companion doctrine of Karma, rightly understood, shows how perfectly just the whole scheme of nature is.
Memory of a prior life is not needed to prove that we passed through that existence, nor is the fact of not remembering a good objection. We forget the greater part of the occurrences of the years and days of this life, but no one would say for that reason we did not go through these years. They were lived, and we retain but little of the details in the brain, but the entire effect of them on the character is kept and made a part of ourselves. The whole mass of detail of a life is preserved in the inner man to be one day fully brought back to the conscious memory in some other life when we are perfected. And even now, imperfect as we are and little as we know, the experiments in hypnotism show that all the smallest details are registered in what is for the present known as the sub-conscious mind. The theosophical doctrine is that not a single one of these happenings is forgotten in fact, and at the end of life when the eyes are closed and those about say we are dead every thought and circumstance of life flash vividly into and across the mind.
Many persons do, however, remember that they have lived before. Poets have sung of this, children know it well, until the constant living in an atmosphere of unbelief drives the recollection from their minds for the present, but all are subject to the limitations imposed upon the Ego by the new brain in each life. This is why we are not able to keep the pictures of the past, whether of this life or the preceding ones. The brain is the instrument for the memory of the soul, and, being new in each life with but a certain capacity, the Ego is only able to use it for the new life up to its capacity. That capacity will be fully availed of or the contrary, just according to the Ego's own desire and prior conduct, because such past living will have increased or diminished its power to overcome the forces of material existence.
By living according to the dictates of the soul the brain may at least be made porous to the soul's recollections; if the contrary sort of a life is led, then more and more will clouds obscure that reminiscence. But as the brain had no part in the life last lived, it is in general unable to remember. And this is a wise law, for we should be very miserable if the deeds and scenes of our former lives were not hidden from our view until by discipline we become able to bear a knowledge of them.
Another objection brought up is that under the doctrine of reincarnation it is not possible to account for the increase of the world's population. This assumes that we know surely that its population has increased and are keeping informed of its fluctuations. But it is not certain that the inhabitants of the globe have increased, and, further, vast numbers of people are annually destroyed of whom we know nothing. In China year after year many thousands have been carried off by flood. Statistics of famine have not been made. We do not know by how many thousands the deaths in Africa exceed the births in any year. The objection is based on imperfect tables which only have to do with western lands. It also assumes that there are fewer Egos out of incarnation and waiting to come in than the number of those inhabiting bodies, and this is incorrect. Annie Besant has put this well in her "Reincarnation" by saying that the inhabited globe resembles a hall in a town which is filled from the much greater population of the town outside; the number in the hall may vary, but there is a constant source of supply from the town. It is true that so far as concerns this globe the number of Egos belonging to it is definite; but no one knows what that quantity is nor what is the total capacity of the earth for sustaining them. The statisticians of the day are chiefly in the West, and their tables embrace but a small section of the history of man. They cannot say how many persons were incarnated on the earth at any prior date when the globe was full in all parts, hence the quantity of egos willing or waiting to be reborn is unknown to the men of today. The Masters of theosophical knowledge say that the total number of such egos is vast, and for that reason the supply of those for the occupation of bodies to be born over and above the number that die is sufficient. Then too it must be borne in mind that each ego for itself varies the length of stay in the post-mortem states. They do not reincarnate at the same interval, but come out of the state after death at different rates, and whenever there occurs a great number of deaths by war, pestilence, or famine, there is at once a rush of souls to incarnation, either in the same place or in some other place or race. The earth is so small a globe in the vast assemblage of inhabitable planets there is a sufficient supply of Egos for incarnation here. But with due respect to those who put this objection, I do not see that it has the slightest force or any relation to the truth of the doctrine of reincarnation.