Theosophy – July 1897


Man may be studied from two aspects. First: as a bundle of organs, tissues, cells, molecules, and atoms; in short, as an aggregate of elements and functions. Second: as an individual whole, in which all elements are, in an orderly sequence, subordinate to the Individual. In perfect health the individual not only dominates the elements, but is practically unconscious of their existence. When the organs and functions are out of order the individual is hampered in his manifestations, but he practically remains the same.

The body is thus the chariot; the vital energies the horses; and the Individual, the Thinker, the Ego, is the driver. These are the logical deductions from all the facts and phenomena of human existence, and warranted by every known law of physics and physiology, and volumes might be cited in their support.

The next point in our study of man will be to determine the relations of the Thinker or Ego to the organs, or body as a whole, (a) Has the driver any existence independent of, or separate from the chariot? (b) Are the two separable? (c) Does the driver build the chariot, or (d) does the chariot build (create) the driver, or (e) does something else create both?

The separability of the body from its animating intelligence is the common phenomenon of death, with the visible remainder, the body, and its final dissolution or decomposition. If the animating Ego still exists it is invisible to ordinary vision, and it ceases to manifest on the physical plane. The chariot remains, but driver and horses disappear. Separation has taken place. It being abundantly proven that under certain circumstances, separation between Ego and body takes place, the next question is, does separation either in whole or partially take place under any other circumstances?

In answer to this question stand all the phenomena of syncope, catalepsy, trance, and the higher subjective phenomena of hypnotism; proving beyond all possible denial that partial separation, and sometimes almost as complete as at death, does take place. Beyond all these incidental and often, apparently, accidental separations between thinker and vehicle, stands the psychological science of the East, the science of Yoga, which is supported by all the empirical evidence, known in the West, including the whole record of hypnotism, mesmerism, etc., etc. The "projection of the double," i. e., the appearance of the individual at places distant from where the body is known to be, gives evidence at this point of the separability of the Ego and its physical body.

Returning now to the more complete separation of Ego and vehicle as it occurs at death, we have abundance of evidence that what is invisible to ordinary vision, is visible to the clairvoyant. I have had the process of separation described and the invisible residuum fully defined by one whom I knew to be entirely ignorant of the science and philosophy involved, and such evidence is fully corroborated by thousands of witnesses in all times.

By the foregoing line of evidence I find the conclusion inevitable that man, as we find him, is an ego, inhabiting, and manifesting through a physical body, dependent upon that body for manifestation on the physical plane, and with the strong probability that the Ego both antedates and survives the physical body. In other words: there is overwhelming evidence of Incarnation.

From the nature of man and the fact of incarnation, we come to consider the question of Reincarnation. All religions, all mythology and all traditions even of the most barbarous and primitive people assume the immortality of the soul, and while this fact does not amount to proof, it does create a strong probability in its favor. Such an instinct or intuition, universally held, must of itself have had a sufficient cause. If, however, (d) is true, and the chariot builds the driver; if the body creates the soul; if the Individual, the Thinker, the Ego, is the fortuitous result of an aggregation of atoms and molecules, or of the association of organs and functions, then, I hold, that with the dissolution of the atoms and molecules of the body, and the disappearance of vital movements and final dissociation of organs and functions, no Ego or soul survives. That which begins in time, ends in time. The question of immortality is, therefore, completely involved in the question of Reincarnation. If the Individual does not antedate, and in some way help to create the body, I hold that there is neither evidence, philosophy, nor probability that it survives it.

The next line of evidence is found in the theory of Evolution. If man lives but once upon this earth in a physical body, not only is there no evidence or hope of immortality, but, so far as the whole human race is concerned, no evolution possible. The increment supposed to be carried forward by heredity, generation after generation. and the potential yet unconscious evolution of all progenitors, is completely annulled by the law of cycles, and the descent again to barbarism, and the final disappearance of all previous civilized races. In other words, the law of evolution is met by the facts of atavism and the equally universal law of degeneracy, so far as physical life is concerned.

If, therefore, man lives but once upon this earth, Creation is without motive, evolution a farce, and immortality impossible.

By accepting the theory of Reincarnation every paradox disappears, and every difficulty is at an end. The perfection of man stands revealed as the purpose of his creation; and evolution, through repeated incarnations, is the orderly process by which such perfection is attained, while the persistence of the Ego constitutes the immortality of the soul.

These, in brief, are the considerations that lead me to believe in Reincarnation as a logical necessity, based on all facts in human experience, fortified by all we know of the science of man and the philosophy of evolution. Outside of all such evidence, stand certain empirical facts in individual experience, viz., a large number of individuals, both children and adults, who seem to remember previous lives. It may readily be granted, that outside such individuals and in the absence of other, and corroborative evidence, such cases, for the mass of humanity who have no such recollection of previous existence, do not constitute proof of Reincarnation. They are charged to imagination, self-deception and the like. In the cases occurring spontaneously in young children, which cases are many and rapidly on the increase, imagination must be innate, as these children often horrify their orthodox parents by their recitals.

On the other hand, taken in conjunction with the consideration previously noted, we must I think add empirical proof to reason, logical necessity and probability, in favor of the theory of Reincarnation.

In conclusion, I hold that there is no Universal Law generally admitted by science that is supported by more evidence than this Law of periodical embodiment and disembodiment of the Ego in a physical vehicle. Not a single fact or probability stands recorded against it. All the evidence we have is in favor of it. I hold, therefore, that the theory of Reincarnation merges, by sufficient evidence, into a Universal Law of Nature; the most beneficent of all human conceptions; the most valuable of all scientific discoveries; the most comprehensive of all philosophical deductions.


1. The first of a series of articles under this heading to be contributed by well-known exponents of Theosophy. (return to text)