SOME TESTIMONY FROM NATURE
by E. L. GARDNER
An original publication of The Theosophical Society in England, 50 Gloucester Place, London, W.I.
FACT AND THEORY
LIFE AND FORM
WHAT IS INSTINCT?
HEREDITY AND REINCARNATION
THE MEMORY OF PAST LIVES
FACT AND THEORY
The Theosophical theory of reincarnation should be dissociated from the ideas of transmigration and metempsychosis. These latter are variations of the ancient teaching concerning the evolution of the human soul, and imply that the soul of man may, on returning to this world, incarnate as an animal. That is not the teaching of Theosophy. Once a kingdom has been attained never again can the particular life that has achieved that standing descend to the level of a younger or lower kingdom. Hence, once a man, that status of humanity is retained.
Testimony from nature should be scientific in the sense of being supported by careful observation. Science is based on observed facts, and these facts are recorded usually by many people; the observations are correlated, inferences drawn, deductions made, theories formulated, and at last an hypothesis is accepted as fitting all the known facts of the case and is retained until it can be proved to be lacking in some essential particular and hence false. It is along those lines that the theory of reincarnation obtains very substantial support. In one respect perhaps, it will fall short of the ordinary scientific foundation, for there are not very many as yet who can testify from direct observation that the soul reincarnates again and again. On the other hand, this might be said of many facts which we are quite accustomed to accept. Who amongst us knows of his own knowledge that the world is a sphere and that it revolves round the sun ? Those who have actually proved this to their own satisfaction are very few, yet we accept the theory freely, because it alone fits certain facts with which we are familiar and similarly, the theory of reincarnation alone accounts for certain facts that are overwhelmingly insistent.
There are two theories that may be regarded as possible in accounting for the situation. First, that each conscious soul is specially created or 'arrives' at the time of birth, and the second, that man is subject to repeated births, gradually building up through the experiences of many incarnations his faculties and character. Of these two it is reasonable to assume one to be true, if we disregard the purely materialistic 'fortuitous concourse of atoms'.
Of the first, special creation, we
must at the outset allow that that which has a beginning in time has also an
ending in corresponding time. Hence every life that begins with a physical
birth must end with death. That is a difficulty that has to be met by
anyone who claims 'special creation' for the soul and at the same time believes
in immortality. Then we have to face the appalling inequalities that we meet
with on every hand throughout the world. Certain people are born amid circumstances
with apparently every advantage on their side, and other people, equally valuable
surely in the sight of an impartial Deity, are born among savage tribes, who,
little superior to animals, can never know anything of the culture of civilized
life. Some souls are born in a mansion, others in a slum; many with perfectly
sound and healthy bodies, others with crippled physical vehicles, that are a
severe handicap throughout their incarnation. On the one hand an environment
that will at any rate favour the making of a saint, and on the other hand circumstances
that will almost compel the development of a criminal.
On a theory of special creation, how are we to reconcile a conception of a just God with these fearful inequalities, all obviously arbitrary and hideously unjust ? It says much indeed for man's intuition that his spiritual faith can survive a contemplation of the world in the light of 'special creation'. In an attempt to square this theory with belief in a beneficent Creator, the dogmas of 'original sin' and a 'substitutionary sacrifice' of a very literal character have been invented.
The theory of special creation indeed leaves us stranded in a maze of difficulties, and we can only extricate ourselves by postulating some arbitrary and indeed miraculous interference equally unreasonable. All these melt away in the light of the second theory - reincarnation, for in this teaching we find equity and justice.
LIFE AND FORM
In terms of spiritual values there can be no time limits. Life rests in eternity; it has no beginning, no ending, but simply- is. Manifestation, involving time and space, may be taken as an expression of life, not its beginning. Life 'flows' into planes of form, through vehicles or abodes (bodies) ; these have beginning and ending; not so the Life. It is a mighty 'becoming', a yearning to know by assuming the limitations of vehicles, of bodies; hence the achievement of consciousness or awareness. These bodies serve to manifest the capacities of the Life, and allow that Life gradually to become conscious, or aware of itself by seeing itself in forms, as in a mirror. Life is one; the forms are diverse.
In illustration: electricity expresses itself in many ways; all depends on the mechanism through which the current passes. One may be a motor that will drive tram or train; through another form, a radiator, the energy is converted into heat; or it may pass through a lamp and produce light. Power, heat and light: but if we 'trace the electricity back to its source at the generating station there is no differentiation there, nor, for that matter, in itself is there anywhere any difference. The electric current is all one. Its manifestation depends entirely upon the mechanism or body through which it functions. According to that vehicle and its mode of response the manifestation alters. Similarly Life may be one, differing only by reason of the various vehicles or bodies through which it passes (the diverse forms of the kingdoms of nature) and the life travels in succession through the simpler forms to the higher and more responsive.
The mineral kingdom is the earliest with which we are familiar. Spirit is imprisoned, attains position, in the mineral form. 'Pure light is crystallized' as a great occultist has put it. In the mineral kingdom the earliest lessons to be derived from separation and specialization are learned. Spirit is limited by straight lines, confined within sharp angles, bound about and barred, so to speak, by the facets of the crystal that encloses it. It suffers extreme privation but secures a stable foothold.
Limited and confined within this narrow compass the life begins to have a faint idea, a faint suggestion of separation, and hence of consciousness, of awareness. I t is incarnate and sensation dawns. Incarnation has its distinctive pleasures and they are sought.
An interesting experiment is to spread a solution of some salt on a warm glass plate and watch it under a lens. Presently, as the water evaporates, the salt is expressed in clear-cut lines, angles and crystals, reaching out and growing, for here we have the life of the mineral incarnating. Sweep water over the glass slide again, the crystals disappear: the body is destroyed that gave that life its sense of separation; but again, if we watch, exactly similar crystals will quickly show themselves. The life was driven back as its body was 'destroyed' but a moment or two afterwards, with suitable conditions again provided, the life reincarnated.
The life of the mineral kingdom, generally speaking, has merely secured a foothold, a standing-place, and little more ; but even that helps it to realize something of itself, and leads to the dawn of a primitive awareness or consciousness.
In the course of ages, having learned this much and something of stability in the mineral kingdom, it passes on to the vegetable kingdom. There would seem to be no real break between the mineral and the vegetable, though for some time the distinction between them was held to be that between non-living and living matter. It may be that many even today regard only those forms as being 'alive' that belong to the vegetable, animal and human kingdoms; but ,the experiments of Professor Bose tend to prove conclusively that the mineral kingdom is as much alive as the vegetable, though unable to express itself so fully in its more rigid form.
The experiments and demonstrations that have been conducted, particularly in France, in connection with osmotic pressure, appear to show too that there is no gulf between the life of the mineral and the plant. Given a seed of calcium chloride and a suitable environment, say a solution of potassium carbonate, a form closely resembling a plant is quickly grown. The evidence is irresistible - the life, ever eager to incarnate, when provided with a specially responsive material, seizes it instantly.
In the plant, consciousness is served very much better than in the mineral forms, and sensation becomes well established. Many plants can hear, see and feel - so that in the vegetable kingdom consciousness makes a very great advance. In the plant, as in the mineral, many forms are ensouled from one source, the group soul of the species; and the forms, as they die to the physical environment, release the life. This, with its new experiences, flows back to the group soul, the source whence it came, pooling its separate experiences in the common store, and gaining something itself from the adventures of its fellows.
Having passed through plant forms, the life, now become conscious or aware, enters the animal kingdom. Here is found a nervous system and the beginnings of mentality. The separation between the animals is far more acute than it was between the plants, and this separation leads to the development of conscious awareness in a very much greater degree. In the animal kingdom, and particularly later in the human, a very clear distinction arises between the Life and the body occupied. For instance, the whole process of digestion, quite a complicated procedure, is conducted without any conscious assistance whatever from the life of the man who occupies the body. He knows nothing about the digestive operations that are going on within his physical body; he does not assist, he does not direct; the whole of that work is done by the body for him. And the same may be said of the heart, and indeed of the majority of the bodily organs; all these perform their task without any direct orders nor even much attention from the man within whose abode they function. The eyes will look after themselves; at the approach of any threat of injury they close on their own initiative. This is all so much evidence of the fact that the body is separate and apart from the man who uses it. The man is its tenant and lord and can control it if he will; he can direct its operations as a whole, as a unity, but not in detail - the various organs look after themselves. The Life occupying the body is distinct from the vehicle it uses - standing in much the same relation to it as the hand to an instrument or tool.
WHAT IS INSTINCT?
Consider now for a moment the existence of what is called instinct. Instinct provides fairly clear evidence of a carry-over of experience - not to be explained by heredity, but strongly supporting the reincarnation theory .Many young birds will run to their mother on the approach of a danger they have never met before. For instance, the young of the partridge will seek such protection directly an owl appears. This is usually held to be due to an instinctive fear and is usually ascribed to heredity. But there is a flaw here in the argument. The partridges that had been seized and killed would have no opportunity of breeding young ones. No partridge that had suffered from owls or other birds of prey could communicate the experience by heredity. The question at once arises: how do the young partridges know that an owl is likely to harm them ? An obvious explanation that one can suggest is that the Life of the bird group-soul is continuous, and having had many experiences before in birds' bodies, has gradually accumulated this particular memory, which we call instinct, through misadventures in previous lives. By the way, no subtle influence exercised by the owl is necessarily felt by the birds; sight alone is sufficient to arouse the fear.
A large moth, for instance, is coloured in a curious way; the two wings underneath represent very closely the big, round eyes of an owl, and the whole moth, on the wing, or on a twig with wings extended, resembles to a remarkable degree an owl's face. As one of these moths fluttered over some young partridges it was noticed that they flew at once to their mother, evidently frightened by the sight of what seemed to be an owl. The moth doubtless had become specialized in this way, by the process known as natural mimicry, so that insect-eating birds might mistake it and leave it unmolested; but the fact that the moth excited fear in the young partridge proves that the mere sight of an owl's head can arouse terror - and this instinct must be born of the memory gathered from experiences in previous lives.
One might add other instances of similar significance. When the telegraph wires were first carried across the continent of America, it is recorded that very many birds perished by colliding with the unfamiliar obstacle. Very shortly, in a year or two, the wires ceased to be a danger, the birds apparently becoming quite familiar with them. This seems difficult to explain except on a theory of reincarnation and instinctive memory, because there can be no question of heredity here. The birds killed by the wires had no progeny!
Throughout the journey through the forms of the kingdoms of nature a constant endeavour is made by the Life to build vehicles that will serve it, through which it can express itself ever more fully, continually reincarnating, attempting always to produce a more efficient body that shall be responsive in a greater measure to the Life that uses it. The will to function appears always to precede the organ that functions.
Nature's methods, if they are sure, are also very slow. There is no sudden leap to perfection - progress is laborious and gradual from the lower levels to the higher. This is also true of familiar objects that man has produced for everyday use. Trace to its beginnings the house we live in today, and it will be found to be the result of a long series of experiments. First a cave under a hill or the protection of a tree; primitive man finds the seasons objectionable in such circumstances, he pulls the branches down and builds himself a rough bower; later, having developed skill in tool-making, he cuts the trees and builds a better protection, and so on, from the simplest beginnings to the present day.
Examine any plant, any animal, and it will be found that the same gradual evolution of faculty and organ holds good. Consider the human ear for instance; it is most interesting to trace it back to its origin. The ears we use today began as the simplest of organs, specialized from the body in general, and giving an ability to respond to a few coarse vibrations only. Cultivated to an increasing sensitiveness, they retired from the surface of the head inwards for protection, and today the human ear is one of the most wonderfully developed sense-intruments conceivable.
Whatever may be selected for examination, it will always be found that the growth is due to a slow and gradual improvement; everything follows that rising incline. This applies equally to the life side as to the form side. The skill of the mechanic, for instance, is not acquired in a day or two. Seven years used to be regarded as the usual time for a lad, to become skilful in the use of tools. No matter what his ability he cannot hope to develop efficient skill in much less All form and life, around us and within us, will be found to follow the rule of gradual development, of progressive evolution. And if human consciousness is to attain the consciousness of divinity it must surely tread the same slow evolutionary incline. The vast curriculum afforded by the experiences of the physical world may reasonably be regarded as designed for preparation and instruction, and many lives obviously are necessary if that task is to be accomplished.
Every creation needs three factors for its production, i.e. its manifestation. Artistry is creation, and as example, we may take sculpture. Three factors must be present before the work of art, the new creation, is produced. First the sculptor himself, second the block of marble, and the third factor is the thought- form of the statue in the mind of the artist. He must project the thought-form that he sees in his mind's eye, as we say, into the block of marble, and then with chisel hew away the unwanted material. This third factor of the thought-form is of course as necessary as the more obvious two: always three are indispensable. Consider music. The musician and his instrument in combination will produce nothing without the third. The third factor is the melody that must be present in the mind of the artist before it be born through his instrument. Three factors, which may be regarded as equal in value, must always precede a new creation. And this, we may expect, holds good in the case of the birth of a child. Its 'three' are the father and mother and the reincarnating ego seeking a new body. A while ago a well-known geologist who had done much work in Australia reported that among the aborigines it was a belief that months before a child was born, the spirit of the child was present with the mother. This perhaps is only of passing interest but as the Australian native could hardly be expected to have evolved it himself, it points to some far away teaching that was probably common to the people of whom the aborigines are the degenerate descendants. That the reincarnating ego must be there if the child is to be born alive, is supported by the observations of competent clairvoyants, and is entirely in harmony with the general rule of 'three factors'.
HEREDITY AND REINCARNATION
Reincarnation explains differences in children. The case for heredity in this matter is rather weak. If heredity alone is to explain the reason why a child resembles his parents, the same argument will lead us to conclude that all children must be like their parents or forebears, which demonstrably is not true. Also frequently there are wide differences in character between children of the same family. If, then, heredity is to explain anything, it should help us to an adequate understanding of the divergences met with on every hand. Such an understanding, in the absence of the theory of reincarnation, is lacking.
If we examine the forms used by the Life as it rises through the kingdoms from the mineral, we shall find in the plant and animal wider and wider divergences between progeny and parents as the higher levels are approached - and the reason for this is that consciousness with an individualistic bias is beginning to assert itself. The reincarnating Life, having had certain experiences, tends to become more distinctly separate, more specialized: and in the highest, the human kingdom, the widest divergences between parent and child exist. In the mineral kingdom the chemist is confident that the compounds of his elements will always give the same results. In the plant kingdom this is not so certain, though usual: variations creep in, in consequence of the growth of the life. But generally speaking, the cultivator may depend on the progeny closely resembling the parents. In the animal, variations in the young are more common and often pronounced, though again a close similarity is apparent. But in the human kingdom the variations, particularly in character and disposition, are strongly marked; and the only explanation that may justly claim a certain adequacy is that the individual life incarnate in human form embraces an ever-increasing store of experiences, has assimilated these and transmuted them into faculty, and at each new human birth stamps the new personality with an individual temperament and character. It is this latter that is now inherent in the Life itself, the parents only providing a physical medium through which it may be expressed. Reincarnation alone seems to fit the facts.
THE MEMORY OF PAST LIVES
The continuity implied in reincarnation involves memory and the objection frequently advanced is that, if we have lived so often before, surely we should remember our previous experiences. Well, the fact is we do remember them. We remember, however, in the mass, not in detail. This applies to much indeed of the current physical life. Very few of us, for instance, can remember the difficulties overcome in learning to read and write; we do not recall the labour involved in making straight lines and pothooks, of putting letters together and building up syllables into words and words into sentences; yet when we left school we were able to read and write, though the details of this accomplishment can now no longer be recalled. The mass result of the education remains; and similarly everything we have acquired in previous lives remains with us as faculty in the mass, to be developed and expressed in this life with comparative ease. How otherwise explain the musical prodigy who in his early youth is able to excel those who have devoted their whole life to the mastery of some instrument ? How otherwise explain it, except by this that he has applied himself to the study and practice of musical technique for several lives ? It may not have been the best thing for him to do, though the world gains by his one-pointed devotion. The long specialization in music has resulted in the 'prodigy' displaying an ability far beyond the ordinary - an ability founded on the closely applied work of former lives.
Another lad is extraordinarily expert in mathematics. That perhaps is even more difficult to explain on the assumption of special creation than anything else. Agile mentality of a high order is here found, and this faculty argues a lengthy and laborious training, the training of a reincarnated soul who in previous lives became interested in and devoted to mathematics, and hence in this life finds the subject easy to handle. Reincarnation would seem to be the only explanation of such phenomenal capacities.
Of the two possible theories-- 'special creation' and 'reincarnation' - the latter alone can claim the support of acceptable evidence. Observation, inference and deduction ail point to reincarnation as being the rule of life. Whatever field of activity be examined, in whatever kingdom, all progress is found to be due to striving effort, leading to gradual evolutionary development. Reincarnation is consistent with nature's processes, it satisfies the claims of reason, and explains, as nothing else does, the facts of life. In its light we contemplate the Divine Life entering and passing through the forms of the successive and progressive kingdoms of nature, attaining self-consciousness in the human, and, with intermittent periods of rest and assimilation, gathering from the experiences of many incarnations the skill to reach a lofty, conscious and spiritual goal.
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