The secret of the origin of the making of man lies in the making of the universe, in the making of the worlds. We, children of the universe, intrinsic and inseparable parts of it, must ineluctably follow its course, yet in following the general courses of the universe in which we live, likewise do we follow, each one for himself, his own particular life cycle.
In man, then, the evolutionary cyclic course is carried on by means of repeated incarnations. When the period of death or rest has been achieved and run through, and rest no more is needed, then we return to this earth in order to take up again our interrupted work, further to develop, further to evolve. This advancing, this unfolding and pouring forth of the energies of the inner generating life, is what we mean by evolution. In similar fashion do all things evolve in appropriate spheres and during appropriate time periods.
Throughout a single lifetime we do certain acts, using the forces innate in us, and reacting against the stimuli of nature around us; and thus we lay by seeds of action in our characters which become modified by such use of the powers within us. These seeds must some time bring forth their fruit, even as we here today are the fruits of former actions, former thoughts, former aspirations that we followed or did not follow. Either of the two cases is equally important, because our sins of omission are often as serious in their effects upon our character and the lives of others as are our sins of commission, and in both cases we are responsible.
Man expresses through his various vehicles, visible or invisible, through his physical vehicle, for instance, his inner forces, thus following the imperative drive of his character. This is evolution, which as a procedure has two aspects: (1) the unfolding or unwrapping of the inner powers in response to (2) the multitude of stimuli arising out of the world around him. It is thus that man learns, ever going step by step higher and higher, until from his present stage of imperfect development, he will finally reach a state of divinity, each ego becoming a fully self-conscious god, a fully self-expressing god.
But is this the end? Is this the final culmination of his destiny through evolution, after which there is nothing more, a complete stoppage of operation of all forces and powers and faculties which he unfolds? No, there is no absolute end, no absolute ultimate.
Man is in his essence a spiritual being, a monad, adopting for purposes of illustration the old Pythagorean term meaning a unit, an individual. Hence he is a consciousness center, a life-consciousness-center, eternal in its essence, because it belongs to those parts of the universe — the higher worlds of the cosmos — which die not, nor do they pass away. It is what is called in philosophy pure substance, and is not the composite matter of which our physical universe is built, but belongs to the more ethereal and the invisible parts of our universe which lie within and behind our physical universe of phenomenal appearances. Yet while these inner and invisible worlds are the spheres of its activity, in its own essence it is far higher than these are, for it belongs to the divine in the roots or heart of its being.
Now this monad, this spiritual life-consciousness-center, when the time comes for its reimbodiment, is subject to a coarsening or materializing of its outer vestures. Itself remaining always as divinity pure and simple on its own plane, nevertheless it clothes itself in the lower spheres with these vestures of light, as they would seem to our mental and psychical senses. This is not a metaphor, but an actuality, for light is substance, although to us it manifests as an energy merely because it is a substance superior to the matter of our own physical plane.
When man, as an ego-soul or monadic ray, thus passes into physical incarnation he is born into the physical world as a little child, and beginning his career here in this manner, he runs through his life courses on earth. What is the drive behind him? Collectively speaking, it is what he has built into himself in preceding lives, and which is now finding its outlet, now finding its fruitage-ground, and it is in this manner that man works out his karma.
Man likewise is greatly affected by the general karma of the race to which he belongs, and by the general law of consequence appertaining to the universe in which he lives. It is the working out of all these latent potentialities that he has built into himself that makes his life in any one incarnation. It is the working out of these which directs what a man will call his struggles to betterment and his aspirations to higher things. Then, when his course is run in any one lifetime, he passes to his postmortem rest; and when this repose in its turn is ended, then he returns to this sphere in a new cycle of activity, yet in each new incarnation he gains fresh experiences.
Some people object to the teaching of reimbodiment, which in the case of human beings is called reincarnation; and they so object because they do not understand it. These people seem to think that they will come back into the same old body that they had before. Unconsciously in their own minds resides the thought that they will have the same old name, be in the same old station of life, and have the same old troubles, and do the same old work. No.
In the first place, reincarnation before eighteen hundred or two thousand years have passed, is an exceedingly rare thing — so rare that we may forget the exceptions. So far as that goes, look at the differences in the conditions of life as they exist in our own present world, and what they were around two thousand years ago. Yet few indeed complain of being in this life, and most people seem to cling to it rather fervidly.
We do not come back into the same old body. We have a new body, obviously. We do not come back into the same old house, which by the time of our return will have become forgotten dust. Our condition in life may, in our next incarnation, be very much better, or it may be very much worse than the present; for if we do not behave ourselves now when we have the chance of bettering conditions, we certainly will have to take the consequences.
Our universe is ruled by law and order; and this word karma expresses that fact of universal harmony and consistency manifesting as what we call law and order. Everything that we do, everything that we think, is a productive cause, affecting us and those around us, yet leaving the seeds and the fruits of such thoughts and actions in ourself. This is common knowledge. We have laid up for ourself in past lives treasures for happiness; but we may have also laid up for ourself a treasure house of another kind, and we are doing similarly in our present life. We are going to have a body and a character in our next incarnation which will be the exact fruitage or consequence of the entire sum total of what we have thought and done in this life, as modified only by the as yet unexpressed and by the as yet unworked-out consequences of previous lives.
I have heard an objection of another kind, running in the contrary direction, and it is this: "I do not like the idea that I am going to come back and be another person. I want to be myself I want this body and not a new one." Those who make this objectional also do not understand. As a matter of fact, they are going to keep that same body. Now this sounds like a contradiction of what I have just said, but it is not; it is a paradox.
The fact is that our body is composed of hosts of lives, of smaller and inferior entities, which are nevertheless learning entities just as we are. And I may add in passing that we too are hosts of smaller lives, smaller and inferior to cosmic entities far greater than we are. But the hosts of lives inferior to us and which compose our bodies — what are they? Are they for all eternity just standing still as they now are? No, they are evolving even as we are evolving. They came from us originally; they are our own children; they are what we call our life-atoms. They sprang from us; we sent them forth, and we shall have to meet them again when they return to us at our next incarnation, through and by the action of psychomagnetic attraction. They will provide for us when they reaggregate themselves into a physical form for our next incarnation; and we shall have a body consisting of just what we have impressed upon them today and in past lives by our thoughts, by our acts, and by the consequences of our thoughts and acts.
So that the next body that we shall get will be — not the same old body that we had before; not the same John Smith or Mary Brown, not at all; for John Smith and Mary Brown are but a name and a form. But our new body will be composed of those same life-atoms in which we lived and worked and expressed ourself in the preceding incarnation, which is our present life. And remember that these life-atoms exist not merely on this physical plane where our physical body is, but they exist likewise on the intermediate planes; that is to say, on the astral and emotional planes, as well as on the intellectual and spiritual planes.
It is by means of these life-atoms on all the different planes that the ego-self, emanated from the monad, is able to build for itself new bodies, inner and outer, in the new incarnation. It passes through all the intermediate planes, building up for itself from the same old life-atoms that it before had — its own children, waiting for it there — a vehicle or body appropriate to each such plane. Similarly is it on the physical plane where the physical body is. Here we have the original and correct explanation of the much misunderstood Christian doctrine called the Resurrection of the Dead.
Now there are three methods, we are told, by which reimbodiment proceeds, and these three work together in strict harmony. One method is what we commonly call reincarnation, which the mystics among the ancient Greeks spoke of as metensomatosis, that is to say, coming again into body after body, "re-imbodying." This word was taken over from the Greek Mysteries by Clement of Alexandria, one of the earliest of the Christian Fathers, although with certain modifications due to his Christian bias.
The second method is the procedure called metempsychosis, that is to say, coming again into a soul, or psyche — "re-ensouling."
The third method, which the Greeks kept secret in their Mysteries, but which certain of their philosophers such as Pythagoras, Plato, Empedocles, and later the Neoplatonists more or less openly hinted at or taught, is the activity of the monad, the spiritual fire at the core or heart of each one of us. This monad manifests our spiritual self, because it is that spiritual self, a consciousness center which is the fountain of our being, whence issue in flooding streams all the nobler energies and faculties of its own character, and which, considered as a unit, furnish the urge or drive or impulse behind all evolutionary progress.
First, then, there is the activity of the monad, the highest. During the process of incarnation the activities of this monad develop the intermediate nature which ensouls soul after soul, and this is the real meaning of this old Greek word metempsychosis; and these souls thus invigorated, inspired, and driven by the ensouling monad, ensoul body after body, which is metensomatosis, or reincarnation, as the word is commonly and properly used.
Hence, evolution proceeds on three general lines: the spiritual, the mental-emotional, and the astral-vital; and the physical body is the channel through which all these inwrapped capacities, tendencies, and powers, express themselves on the physical plane, if the environment at any particular moment or at any particular passage of time be appropriate and fit for the expression of this or that or of some other such attribute, power, or faculty. The combination of these two — the inner urge, the drive, and a fit and appropriate environment or field — means the evolving, the coming out into manifestation, the expression, of those inner forces or powers.
The strength of the doctrine of reincarnation lies in itself, in its appeal to our intellectual and logical faculties, in its own persuasiveness, in the manner in which it answers problems, in the hope that it gives, in the light that it sheds upon collateral questions of human life, and indirectly upon the problems of the physical world surrounding us. It is through and by reincarnation as a natural fact that we learn the beauty of the inner life and thereby grow, developing a larger comprehension, not only of ourselves, but of the loveliness inherent in the harmony of the universal laws. For there is back of all things beauty, and bliss, and truth.
What men call evil and misfortune and accidents, and the disastrous phenomena of the physical world which sometimes occur, arise out of the conflicts of the wills and powers of the various hosts of imperfect but evolving entities, one of such hosts being what we collectively call humanity.
Reimbodiment is a universal fact because it is a law, that is to say, a continuous and consistent operation of nature, running throughout all being. The universe reimbodies itself when its course has been run, and after its period of rest which thereupon follows. Men do likewise; not because reincarnation is for them alone, but because it is the same fundamental law of cyclic beginnings and endings.
No god created the law of our reimbodiment. It is an intrinsic function of nature, and it acts in that way only because it can act in no other way, being simply a statement of the doctrine of consequences — of consequences following upon originating causes.
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1985. Condensed from the author's Man in Evolution. Copyright © 1985 by Theosophical University Press)