Theosophy – October 1897


When the editor of THEOSOPHY asked me to write a four-page article on "Why I believe in Reincarnation," I replied that I had always believed in it from the time I first heard of the teaching. He answered: "Then tell them that. It will be different from what others say," and as the requests of the editor of THEOSOPHY are always binding on dutiful theosophists, I find myself under engagement to extend the above statement over four pages of this magazine.

It was while I was at college, a good many years ago. I was interested in pretty much everything under the sun, and I fear in a good many things that normally take place under the moon, and when a friend told me of a new book he had just read and which taught a new philosophy, I purchased and eagerly read it. It dealt with the subject of Theosophy. I believed it all at once, the doctrine of reincarnation included, and I remember that I read that book night and day until I not only had finished it but was familiar with every teaching it contained. A few days before this, while the book was being studied by this same friend and before I had heard of it, a party of our friends was discussing things in general and nothing in particular when this friend advanced some of the theories he had just read about in the book. Among them was the teaching of reincarnation, viz., that the human ego or soul is repeatedly born into human bodies on this planet, say once every thousand or fifteen hundred years, in order to acquire the experience and knowledge necessary to enable it to lead a higher life. To my surprise at the end of the evening I found that I had been arguing in favor of reincarnation and other doctrines as set forth in this book. Of course I only knew very vaguely what I had been talking about and it was not until several days later that I found all these novel and most interesting ideas set forth at length in the work in question. It was apparently as clear a case of talking about things learned in some previous life as I have ever heard of and this in itself was to me no small proof of the truth of the special theory in question.

When I say that I believed in the theory of reincarnation from the first hearing of it, I do not mean that my brain immediately accepted the belief. On the contrary, it was only after the most vigorous protests against my gullibility, the citing of all the scientific and philosophic authorities with which it was familiar, that my poor brain became convinced that I was in earnest and gave up the fight. Of course there are other theories advanced by Theosophy which are much more difficult of ready credence than the theory of reincarnation, and it was against these that my brain began its attacks. For example, no one will ever know what protests and ingenious arguments it brought forward to prove that I was a first class idiot to believe in adepts, for my brain did not mince matters nor epithets when discussing these things with me.

When we did finally get through the rougher places and down to a discussion of reincarnation it was suggested to me that this was a very uncomfortable belief, that it would logically entail a giving up of much that I was attached to, that more particularly those things done under the auspices of the moon would be the first to go by the board and that altogether life would be hardly worth living if the responsibility for one's acts were to be so absolutely believed in. Hell was bad enough but here you had something much more definite than hell as a deterrent, something about which there was nothing vague or doubtful but which once accepted meant logically that anyone would be a fool if he continued to do otherwise than as he knew he should. I replied as best I could, that the disagreeableness of a doctrine unfortunately did not militate against its truth; that life at the present time and under the present conditions wasn't quite an unbroken procession of joys; and that if the teaching were really true, contention was futile, and the only thing to do was to conform to it whether you liked it or not; and that further it would probably be a good thing if you did have to stop many things that were now found so pleasant.

The brain immediately replied that that was all very well but that I had no proof that the thing was true and that until I did get some proofs it was silly to tie myself up to so disconcerting and uncomfortable a belief. And then it ingeniously suggested that some of the adepts whom I also believed in, should undertake to dispel all doubts by some interesting and magical performance. This was a double-edged thrust, for it cast a reflection also on one of the harder beliefs that we had already tussled over. I replied that that sort of talk was childish, that it was not argument, that proofs were the ignis fatuus or fool's gold of the modern educated man, that there were lots of things we believed that had never been proved to us, and that in any case there were other ways of finding out things than to have them physically demonstrated to one's brain. I added that I hadn't much respect for my brain anyhow, and then launched into a dissertation on the reasons why reincarnation must be true.

I said that no other explanation of the apparent injustice of life was possible; that in a world where everything orderly seemed to be done by process of law, it was irrational to suppose that the highest of all created beings were alone neglected and left to blind chance or to the more terrible caprice of an anthropomorphic Deity. We saw around us every day sons of the same mother, one endowed with beauty, talent, a quick apprehension and a serviceable brain, while the other might be a dwarf or cripple, a congenital idiot or a hopeless dullard, or moral pervert with no chance in the struggle for existence in competition with his more fortunate brother. Worse than this we saw multitudes of children born into an ignorant, poverty stricken or criminal environment that made right living a practical impossibility, while others and the fewer in number, born perhaps at the same moment were from birth surrounded by every safeguard and advantage that wealth and education could furnish; and according to the orthodox teaching we were expected to believe that all this was right while we were given no sufficient reason for thinking so.

I asked my brain how he would like to have been born in a New York slum, and that if he had been whether the theory of reincarnation might not have been some comfort to him, since it would have carried with it an assurance that his being there was the inevitable result of past actions and that getting away was sure to follow proper actions in this life.

The brain replied that that might or might not be so, but why if he had lived before didn't he remember something about it? I had him there, for I told him promptly that he hadn't lived before and that if he went on in the way he was at present he wouldn't live again; and I asked him how he could expect to remember something he had had nothing to do with. I told him also that he was simply a part of me for this one life, a sort of tool or instrument with which I had been furnished to enable me to express myself properly on the physical plane. This sobered him a little but he had nerve enough left to ask me if I myself remembered my past lives, and if so why I had never told him anything about them. I said that it was none of his business what I did or did not remember, but in any event it would be very injudicious for him to know anything about it as he would be sure to make foolish use of the information. Then he asked me why, if I knew all about such things, I had had to wait until I read them in a book to learn them. He thought this was a particularly clever question but I informed him that as he was the instrument I used at that present time the knowledge that I could give him was in great degree limited to what he already had some experience of, and that further if he were less obstinate it would be to the great advantage of us both, as then we could both get much more information on all such topics. I tried to explain that I really did know all about all these things but that the knowledge was of no use to me or to anyone else until I could express it on the physical plane and to do that I must have his help, and that until he could see his way clear to believe not only this particular doctrine but also in the realities of the soul-life generally, we could be of very little use to each other. I pointed out that we had much knowledge and experience not acquired in this life; that we knew things we had never studied and could do things we had never been taught. Heredity and instinct would explain some of this natural wisdom, but there were large portions of it necessarily outside the operations of these great laws.

I also explained that so far as this particular teaching was concerned it was already believed in by three quarters of the human race, and that even if he were not prepared to give it absolute credence, should he accept it as a working hypothesis it would be of considerable assistance tome in formulating a coherent philosophy of life. After fully realizing that according to the teaching he would have no immortality unless he did accept it we compromised the matter in that way, and for some years he accepted the belief provisionally until he could see what would turn up.

Sooner or later, I now forget just when, the inherent truthfulness of the theory had its effect, and this, combined with the influence of living in an atmosphere of people all of whom believed in themselves, quite convinced him. From that he went on to become an enthusiastic advocate of the doctrine. It is an occult truism that as soon as you cease to care for a thing you will get it and as soon as you no longer need proof of the truth of a teaching you will have that in many and various ways. So in the course of time when there were no longer any doubts in the brain, even shadowy little doubts that do not come to the surface, then and then only did the no longer needed proof come.