From the time of old Egypt, yes, from time that penetrates far beyond the conception of humanity, there has continued to loom up, and alike disappear beneath the sods of oblivion, untold phases of religious sation. Beginning with the Vedic philosophers, many thousand years before the Christian era, and ending with Herbert Spencer of the Nineteenth Century, all the greatest minds had but one object that engrossed their attention, and that object was then, as it is to-day, the unveiling of the mysteries of man and nature. Ages ago, as now, there was unbrotherliness, misery, war, pestilence and selfishness in the world; for ages good and evil, sorrow and happiness, poverty and wealth have been in deadly conflict for supremacy; then, as now, the question was asked, "Whence, Where and Whither?" Throughout history man's inhumanity to man, the unequal social conditions, the great diversity of mental powers, the great disparity in the physical constitutions of men, and the seeming unjust distribution of wealth have formed the basis for legislation, while the mysterious processes of being, life and death have busied and perplexed the philosopher.
I can imagine the artist-philosopher painting a panoramic view of life. "First, we see on the canvas as it flits by, the fresh sweet face of a babe, wrapped in its white robes of innocence, sleeping away the passing hours. Soon he becomes a towering man, with the glitter of wealth in one hand and the records of selfishness and disgrace in the other, and as he scans the western horizon with its lowering sun, there comes swelling up in his bosom a sad and mournful sigh of regret, for life is closing, and that man must die. Now, he is an old man, tottering on the verge of an impenetrable sea of gloom; the dark and turpid waves are eagerly lashing about his feet, and his white locks are blown to and fro in the angry winds of dissolution. Lastly, a frame, leaning towards that land of shadows, the unexplored mysteries of the future."
The poet says that "Man is but a moving shadow that frets its hour upon the stage and is seen no more." It spreads its white wings, like a far-off sail on the distant sea, and then, like a ghost from an unknown land, it vanishes amidst the mists of eternity. And so the world continues to roll on, events come and go, time changes and the course of things move by with the subtlety of an ever-moving Drama. Man stands aghast as he beholds this grand and glaring phantasmagoria of nature! He looks out into the immensity of space, and there, revolving in silent majesty, are both solar and sidereal systems of innumerable millions! He looks at the earth upon which he stands as it revolves with inconceivable velocity through the realms of endless duration, and then in agony and disappointment he cries out: "oh, god! what is life, and what am i!" To which no reply comes but the hollow mockery of bitter silence. And I ask you, my readers, in all seriousness, "Oh, what is life and what are we?"
Do we go to our present day religious teachers and ask them this most important question, and what do they tell us?
Most illogically and without the least warrant the orthodox religious teachers tell us that all humanity is cursed; that man is hopelessly steeped in the mire of total depravity; that every soul is an independent and miraculous creation by God, with the curse of its creator upon it. Like lash-carriers, we are thrust through the pneumatic tubes of existence, bounded by the iron walls of fate, predestined to travel the marked out path regardless of any inherent virtue or passing aspirations. But, God in his infinite goodness and boundless mercy has kindly sent his son, Jesus, to the rescue, so that all who believe on Him will be saved. For, did he not die on the cross to save sinners? And did not his blood wash away all our sins, no matter how vile, how atrocious, how bloody the transgression?
Now let us see what materialism, the very antithesis of orthodoxy, has to say. What comfort, what excuse, what reason does it give for existence, life and death?
Here we find an hypothesis as hopeless as the one life and vicarious atonement theory, and as surely doomed. For according to these soulless beings (the materialist insists that he neither is nor has a soul), man is but a mere complex, intricately arranged system of organs, an automatic animal machine into which, as Ingersoll once said, we put food and drink, and this food and drink in some blind manner is transmuted into thought. With him conscience is but the result of the chemical combustion of a piece of cheese and a glass of beer; with him the charitable act of subscribing to an orphan asylum is but the result of the digestion of his clubhouse luncheon, and the forgiving of an insult but the sure indication of a healthy liver. Here we find no intelligence, all is matter, and all forms are but aggregations of atoms, fortuitously thrown together by blind force. A little protoplasm and blind force, together with heredity and environment, is all he needs to account for the beautiful flowers, the songs of the birds, the merriment of the children, the earth, the solar system or the whole universe! With him life is all chance, a bore and of no consequence, and suicide the enviable means of quickly ceasing to exist.
Neither of these systems gives to the thinking mind any rational explanation of the existing state of things, neither do they account for the wonderful complexity of phenomena seen all about us. Without the perfectibility of man and the gradual attainment of Universal Brotherhood on Earth as the object of existence, through Re-incarnation and Karma, they cannot reconcile the existing horrible state of affairs with an Infinitely good and merciful Father and God. It is only by admitting that man is an immortal soul, living many times in human form in the attainment of perfection, that he creates each succeeding condition and environment by the character of his thoughts and conduct in his previous lives, under the Immutable Law of Cause and Effect we call Karma, that man can know that there is justice and design in nature, and that the intelligence or power behind phenomena is Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless and Immutable. Whether we call it God, Parabrahm, the Unknowable or the Absolute, man has no right to consider himself the special target of God's vengeance or favor, unless he has merited it by breaking the law, either in this or in previous lives. This fact admitted, and we can easily vindicate the ways of God to man. Deny it, and we have the most cruel, fitful and capricious Deity man can conceive.
Now let us consider the question from another aspect. In looking over history you will find that in all ages there have existed great teachers, sages, such as Krishna, Buddha, Pythagoras, Plato, Apollonius, Jesus, Ammonius, Nestor and scores of others. All these great sages have taught the same doctrines, and among them that of the perfectibility of man, Universal Brotherhood and rebirth. It is inconceivable, to me at least, why our Christian brothers refuse to believe in Re-incarnation, for it is taught in the Bible, and Jesus and his disciples believed in it. In the Bible Re-incarnation is not only not refuted, but declared and taught. The early Jews believed in it, and many Jews do so now. During the time of Jesus it was currently understood that John the Baptist was Elias re-incarnated, and Jesus affirmed it when he said, "Elias has come already, but they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed."
Another incident which goes to prove absolutely that the disciples believed in Re-incarnation is found in the second verse of the ninth chapter of John. Here the disciples bring a blind man to Jesus and demand to know, "Master, who did sin, this man or his parents that he was born blind?" This question proves that the disciples really believed that man could sin before being born, and the answer Jesus made is the wise answer of a Teacher. In Revelation is the statement: "Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out" — declaring, as plainly as language can, that unless we overcome our lower nature, we shall continue to go out, to re-incarnate, until we do overcome. Again, in the Bible, the Psalmist says: "Lord thou hast been our refuge from one generation to another. Thou turnest man to destruction, again thou sayest come unto me ye children of men.' And this also is of interest: "For a thousand years in thy sight is but as yesterday, seeing that it is passed like a watch in the night." Pythagoras held that the interval between re-births was exactly one thousand years for the majority of humanity. Again, one of the Apocryphal books says: "Being good I came into a body undefiled", raising the question, Where was the scene of this "good conduct" to merit a body undefiled? Besides the answer Jesus gave to Nicodemus, "You must be born again", there are many other passages which teach the old, true doctrine which has been obscured, but could not be entirely destroyed.
But why quote further? Re-incarnation would be believed in and taught by all Christians had not scheming priests and ecclesiastic vandals cut it out at the Council at Constantinople, and exiled the defenders of the doctrine. Even the great Nestor with all his wisdom could not convince his greedy, degenerated forgers and interpolates.
All this degradation and substitution of the Christ doctrine was clearly and truly prophecied by the illumined Paul, for in his letters to Timothy he says: "The time will come when they will no longer endure sound doctrine, but after their own lusts will they heap to themselves teachers having itching ears, and they shall turn away from the truth and be turned unto fable." Eighteen hundred years after the prophecy, we find over three hundred sects of Christianity! So much for scriptural evidence. Now let us look at the scientific and logical evidence as deduced from nature.
It is an axiom dear to science and to ancient Wisdom as well that matter is indestructible. The ancient Wisdom goes a step further, and, reasoning by analogy, adds that neither can there be any annihilation of consciousness. Science also asserts that nature is a vast animated laboratory, an arena for the struggle for existence, in which the weak are forced to succumb to the stronger under what is known as the law of the "survival of the fittest". Ancient Wisdom agrees to this, but adds that over, above and within all there is both intelligence and design, and that the destruction by nature of her products is but the orderly and wise carrying out of that design. Pope has most beautifully and correctly expressed this great law in his "Essay on Man" when he said:
"All Nature is but art unknown to thee;
All chance, direction which thou canst not see;
All discord, harmony not understood;
A partial evil, universal good."
Nature is continually operating. She produces, preserves for a time and then destroys all her products. Man himself is subject to this same general law, for his body, too, like that of all other creatures, returns to the dust whence it was taken. But the intelligence behind that form cannot be annihilated — it simply seeks new expression.
This process in Nature is marked even in the vicissitudes of the seasons. Spring, like the jovial, playful infancy of all living creatures, represents childhood and youth; for then the plants spread forth their flowers, fishes play in the waters, birds sing and universal nature rejoices. Summer, like middle age, exhibits plants and trees fully clothed in green, fruits ripen, and everything is full of life. But Autumn is comparatively gloomy, for then the leaves fall from the trees, plants wither, insects grow torpid and many animals retire to their winter quarters, or die. The day proceeds with steps similar to the year. Thus the age of man begins with the cradle, pleasing childhood follows, then sprightly youth, afterward manhood, firm, severe and intent on self-preservation. Lastly, old age creeps on, debilitates, and finally totally destroys our tottering bodies. Thus each soul has its own succession of cycles, bound to earth by Karmic ties of the past, to learn the lessons of Brotherhood, which alone can rob existence of its bitterness and pain.
This process, being denied by no one, the only question that can arise in the mind of the skeptic is, "Does the same individual soul Reincarnate on earth in another body of flesh?" The great sages of the past have taught it. The wisdom of Antiquity affirms it. It is found in some form in nearly all religions, many ancient, mediaeval and modern poets knew it, and over one billion inhabitants of the earth believe in it to-day. It is the only system of immortality that is scientific, it is the only logical conclusion, and an absolute philosophical necessity. Even if considered as an hypothesis, it is the only theory that can satisfy the thinking mind why one man is born blind, another deaf and another perfect; why one is a genius, another an idiot; why one is virtuous, another a scoundrel; why one man is lucky, another unlucky; why one is favored by nature and every thing he touches turns into wealth, while his brother's touch turns everything into loss. It shows how every event is justified and why. It explains cataclysms, floods, famines, plagues, wars and all the unlooked-for fortunes and misfortunes of life. It accounts for every abnormal development and every phase of mental, physical and moral phenomena.
The object of life is the attainment of perfection and the realization of Universal Brotherhood. Everything in nature is evolving towards that goal. We are to-day what we have made ourselves. If the heart be impure all actions will be wrong. Krishna said: "Pain is the outcome of evil, happiness is the outcome of good." Buddha said: "By one's self the evil is done, by one's self one suffers, by one's self evil is left undone, and by one's self one is purified." The Burmese say: "As the potter produces from a lump of clay whatsoever he wishes, so a man obtains the destiny prepared by himself." Oliver Wendell Holmes said: "The desire of the soul is the prophecy of his fate." Whatsoever we sow, that shall we also reap. It is for man to evolve still higher; to raise the self by the Self, which is the Christ within. There being no such things as "chance" or "accidents", according to Prof. Huxley, "these names are simply aliases for ignorance", how can we help but conclude with Hume, that "Reincarnation is the only system of immortality that philosophy can listen to"?