The Path – March 1894


It is possible that since in our Western thought there is a good deal of hesitation about accepting the idea of reincarnation, involving, as it does usually, the belief in a previous objective state of existence of which no direct evidence can be offered and no memory remains, much might be done towards making the way plain by more constantly insisting on the simple fact of incarnation. Once people begin to think of themselves as dual entities, part physical and part non-physical, and of the non-physical being incarnated in the flesh in the ordinary course of Nature's providence, the further idea of a repetition of the process will easily creep into acceptance. Christians cannot reject incarnation in respect of Jesus of Nazareth. By-and-bye they will apply it to themselves. Belief in reincarnation will follow naturally. Let us teach that we are descended from the right hand of the Father, and that our destiny lies upward again towards that everlasting seat.

I have not met in my Theosophical reading any treatment of one aspect of reincarnation which has impressed me in considering the objection of failure of memory of past lives. While not a linguist I have devoted some attention to languages, and have been interested in many curious facts concerning idioms, and in the complete representation of ideas obtained in translating from one language to another. In the first place take the Irse, or Irish Keltic. The idiom requires that in giving expression to sensations such as hunger, thirst, fear, happiness, etc., the verb is used with prepositional pronouns. "I fear" would in Irish be literally expressed as "Fear is on me;" "I am hungry" as "Hunger is on me"; "I wish it" as "It is a wish with me". In the other case, take the salutations of various nations. We ask "How do you do?" or "Howdy?" according to our academic or provincial training. The Frenchman enquires "How do you carry yourself?" The German wonders "How goes it?", and the Chinese "Have you eaten rice?" All these indicate the same underlying idea, but a different method in each case of conceiving and expressing it.

I do not purpose discussing the question of the possibility of conceiving an idea without giving it formal expression, but it is undeniable that the average man cannot think without words; he cannot have ideas until he has the means of expressing them. This is admitted by those who declare the English language deficient in terms fit to convey the force of the metaphysical conceptions found in the Sanskrit. Interesting light is also thrown on the subject in connection with the training of blind deaf-mutes, to whom a form or vehicle of expression is indispensable before reason manifests itself. The brain must be taught or trained to recognize certain symbols, either of form or of sound, before it can become a medium for the conveyance or expression of ideas.

But most of us speak only one language, and that English. We cannot understand a person speaking in a strange tongue, however clearly he conceives his idea in his own mind. The unfamiliar sounds convey nothing to the brain. Could one's brain respond directly to another's brain vibration, mere language would be unnecessary. It is probable that the idea would be transmitted directly without the circumlocution of mouth and ear. This appears to be indicated by what is called thought-transference, varied in Mr. W. T. Stead's experience of automatic writing.

Confined, then, as we are to one language for the recognition of ideas, and that a language scarcely four hundred years old, doubtfully intelligible even in Chaucer, it seems unreasonable to suppose that we could recognize the ideas we formed in the language of another birth until at least we were familiar with the language we actually used in that previous existence, or until such a cultivation of the brain had been successfully undertaken as would permit the direct reception of thought impressions from the astral matrix. Neither can it be denied that this is the case, since we all have ideas "occurring" to us, as we say, for which we cannot account, and which have no apparent origin in our immediate surroundings. May they not be a direct survival from other lives in which they had been promulgated in the speech of the nation and period to which we then belonged? This we could not deny or affirm in the absence of familiarity with the forgotten language. It would be of interest to make enquiry among linguists, especially among those versed in the dead languages of all ages, as to whether any of these old tongues presented readier channels of thought than others, or than the present mother-tongue.

It is evident that the most important point is the necessity of clearly conceiving ideas in themselves, rather than their aspects presented by idiom, or by the varying expression of different languages and thinkers. This of course involves the practice of concentration and the development and control of imagination, the creative faculty on the mental plane.

The Path