Births have brought us richness and variety,
And other births will bring us richness and variety.
. . . . . . . . . . . .
And as to you Life I reckon you are the leavings of many deaths. — Walt Whitman
In considering the above quotation from Walt Whitman, out of many similar sayings by him, let us start with two statements:
(a) The penalty of Life is Death.
(b) Death is also the reward of Life.
The most hardened criminal shrinks from the death-sentence. To him it means either extinction, which no human mind can picture, or eternal torment.
The righteous man, religious or not, feels he has done his duty to whatever gods there be, to himself, to his neighbor; and therefore has no fears that he may cease to be, or that 'The Everlasting Arms' will ever fail to enfold him.
(a) The penalty of Death is renewed Life.
(b) Life is also the reward of Death. It is 'Another Chance.'
Life and Death are the alternations of the Spirit (or Soul) of man — rebirth into earth-life, which is the night of the Spirit, and death out of earth-life, which is the liberation of the Spirit into the 'Heaven-world,' for which each religion has its own name: Valhalla, Elysium, Isles of the Blest, Paradise, The Happy Hunting Grounds, Devachan, etc. Let us see what the Christian Scriptures say:
Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. (Galatians, 6-7)
I was a well-formed child, and a good soul fell unto me. Or rather, I was good and entered into an undented body. (Wisdom of Solomon, 8, Goodspeed's translation)
Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out. (Revelations, 3:12)
Upon reawakening into earth-life after the sleep called death, each one reaps what he has sown in his former lives:
The bygone wrongs bring forth sorrows and woes
The bygone right breeds bliss.
— Sir Edwin Arnold: The Light of Asia
The evil man has an evil rebirth, the seeds of which he has planted in his own nature, and in the natures of his fellows, in his former lives. The good man has a correspondingly good rebirth.
There is no other reasonable explanation of the inequalities, the 'injustices' of birth. Why should a supposedly 'new Soul fresh from the hands of his Maker' be damned at the start of that life through no fault of his own — or that of his parents? Why should he re-enter life with 'hereditary' handicaps of disease, crime, drunkenness; or the equally serious spiritual handicaps of unearned wealth and irresponsibility?
Life and Death are the cyclic paths of the Spirit of man through Time to Eternity and back again. 'Heavenly' rest being a glimpse of Eternity between lives, to refresh and renew the weary Pilgrim on his age-long quest until, having overcome, 'he shall go no more out.'
Rebirth is the key to the puzzle and tragedy of human lives. It is chance after chance throughout the ages to overcome and reach perfection. It has been, and now is, the belief of the majority of mankind.
Only a few so far have reached the goal. They are the Spiritual leaders and teachers of mankind. To 'worship' them is to misread their lives and their message: 'Come up higher, friend,' and to fall behind in the race open to all comers on the same terms: "The Kingdom of heaven is within you . . . Be ye therefore perfect even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."
In the heartening words of Robert Browning:
. . . I shall thereupon
Take rest, ere I be gone
Once more on my adventure brave and new:
Fearless and unperplexed,
When I wage battle next,
What weapons to select, what armour to indue.
(From Sunrise magazine, October 1953; copyright © 1953 Theosophical University Press)