- A STUDY IN HUMAN EVOLUTION
The Resurrection of the Body and The Reincarnation of the Soul
by Théophile Pascal
Translated by Fred Rothwell
Theosophical Publishing Society - London 1910
Part 2 of 2 - Click here to go to Part 1
AND THE RELIGIOUS
AND PHILOSOPHIC CONSENSUS OF THE AGES
[Page 159] In the rapid review we are now about to make of the religion and philosophy of the past, we shall find that, under many and divers names and veils, the doctrine of Rebirths has been taught from the farthest antiquity right up to the present time. There is not a nation that has not preserved clear traces of this doctrine; not a religion that has not taught it, either openly or in secret, or, at all events, retained the germ of the teaching; and if we count only those peoples of whose national religion it forms part, i.e Hindus and Buddhists, the number of believers in Reincarnation may be summed up in round figures at 540 millions of the present population of 1400 millions throughout the world. The greatest of philosophers, both ancient and modern, have regarded palingenesis as the basis of life, but [Page 160] whereas in the past the pledge of initiation prevented its details from being promulgated, in our days, along with the flood of light which this cycle has brought us, the veil of secrecy has been partially lifted, and theosophy has been privileged to set forth this glorious teaching in its main outlines and its most important details.
Northern India was the cradle of the present race — the fifth — the Eden of our humanity, our physical, moral, mental, and spiritual mother. [The fifth, or Aryan race, in theosophic nomenclature; the fourth was that of Atlantis; the third lived on the great southern continent, Lemuria; the two preceding ones were, so to speak, only the embryologic preparation for the following races] From her womb issued the emigrant hordes that peopled Europe after spreading over Egypt, Asia Minor, and Siberia; it was her code of ethics that civilised Chaldaea, Greece, Rome, and the whole of the East; our own code is full of traces of the Laws of Manu, whilst both the Old and the New Testament are, in many respects, an abridged and often almost a literal copy of the sacred Books of ancient Aryavarta.
The presence of the doctrine of reincarnation in the Vedic hymns has been disputed; this proves [Page 161] nothing more than the present fragmentary condition of the Vedas. Nothing, indeed, could be more absurd than to find that the sacred Scriptures of India had maintained silence on a doctrine which, along with that of Karma, form the two main columns of the Hindu temple; for the Brahman as well as for the Buddhist — who is only a member of a powerful offshoot of Hinduism — these two laws rule throughout the whole Universe, from the primordial kingdoms up to the gods, including man; and the principal, nay, the only goal of human life is Moksha — salvation, in Christian terminology — liberation from the chain of rebirths.
In this land, in which, along with strict obedience to the rules of conduct set forth by its great Teachers, there existed the most complete freedom of opinion, and where the most divergent and numerous philosophic sects consequently developed, there has always been perfect unanimity regarding the doctrine of rebirth, and in that inextricable forest of metaphysical speculations two giant trees have always overtopped the rest: the tree of Karma and the tree of Reincarnation.
In spite of the intentional obscurity in which we are left as to the teachings regarding rebirth from the time of the decadence of India, it is no difficult matter, with the aid of theosophy, to discover its main points. Thus we find in them the return of [Page 162] the “life-atoms”[The “life-atoms”, infinitesimal particles which by aggregation form the human body. Certain of these atoms are preserved, on the death of the body, as germs which will facilitate the reconstruction of the physical body at the next rebirth] and animal souls [The divine Essence which animates animals, and so, in another sense the astral bodies of men and animals, bodies whose particles transmigrate as do the physical atoms] to existence in new physical bodies; the rebirths of the human Egos are indicated in their main phases; but here, the deliberate omission of certain points which had long to remain incomprehensible — and consequently dangerous — to the masses, makes obscure, and at times absurd, certain aspects of transmigration. I have heard a great Teacher clearly explain these points to some of the most enlightened of the Hindu members of the Theosophical Society, but I do not feel authorised to repeat these explanations, and so will leave this portion of the subject under a veil, which the reader will, with the aid of intuition, be able to lift after reflecting on the following pages.
The Sages of ancient India, then, teach three distinct phases in the return-to-birth process: Resurrection, Transmigration or Metempsychosis and Reincarnation properly so-called.
The human body is a species of polyp colony, a kind of coral island like those that emerge above [Page 163] the waves of the Pacific, by reason of the collective efforts of lower organisms.
The most numerous of the compounds of the human aggregate are known to physiology as microbes, bacteria, and bacilli; but amongst them our microscopes discover only comparative monsters, “ those that are to the ordinary infinitesimal organisms as the elephant is to the invisible infusorium”.[H.P. Blavatsky, Secret Doctrine]
Each cell is a complete being; its soul is a vital ray of the general life of our planet; its body consists of molecules that are attracted and then repelled, whilst the cellular soul remains immutable in the ceaseless fluctuations of its corporeal elements.
The molecules, too, are animated by a vital soul, connected with the cellular soul, which, in turn, is subordinate to a higher [These words are relative; they express differences in the evolution of souls] unit of the collective life of the human body.
The most infinitesimal of these beings — often called “lives” — penetrate the body freely; they circulate in the aura [The atmosphere of subtle physical elements radiating round the human body and acting in a defensive rôle by preventing the penetration of unhealthy elements from the immediate surroundings] and in each plexus of the [Page 164] organism; there they are subjected to the incessant impact of the moral, mental, and spiritual forces, and become impregnated with a spirit of good or of evil, as the case may be. They enter the cells and leave them with intense rapidity, for their cycles of activity as well as of passivity are being incessantly repeated.
We are all the time emanating millions of “lives”, which are at once drawn into the different kingdoms of Nature to which they carry the energies they have gathered in us; they impress on their new organisms the tendencies we have given them, and in this way become ferments of regeneration or of decay; they aid or retard, pollute or purify, and it is for this reason that it is not a matter of indifference whether one lives in town or country with men or animals, the temperate or the intemperate, the wicked or the good. The animal gains from association with human beings, man loses from association with animals; the disciples of the great schools of initiation, at a certain stage of their discipline, are carefully isolated from any inferior contact.
It is these subtle forces that are at play in the physical accomplishment of an action.[The “material sin” of Manu] “For material sins”, says Manu, “one [One, here means the “life atoms” of a man’s body] passes into [Page 165] mineral and vegetable forms”. When, at death, the outer sheath of man disintegrates, these “life atoms” are thrown back into the general surroundings of the earth, where they are subjected to the magnetic currents around; these currents either attract or repel them, and thus bring about that wise selection, which directs them to organisms in affinity with them.
The doctrine of metempsychosis [The word is here used in a generic sense; in the present work, it would be more precise to replace it by the world Resurrection] is true only for the atoms or emanations sent out by man after death or during the whole course of life. The hidden meaning of the passage from Manu, where we read that “he who slays a Brahman enters into the body of a dog, a bear, an ass, a camel, etc” does not apply to the human Ego, but only to the atoms of his body, i.e to the lower triad [This"triad" comprises the visible matter of the body, the etheric substance, and the life (Prâna) which the human ether absorbs and specialises for the vitalising of the body. See Man and his bodies, by Annie Besant ] and its fluidic emanations, as H. P. Blavatsky says, and she adds:
“The Hîna-yâna, the lowest form of transmigration of
the Buddhist, is as little comprehended as the Mahâ-yâna, its highest
form, and, because Sâkya
Muni — the Buddha — is shown to have once [Page
166] remarked to his
Bhikkus — Buddhist monks — while pointing out to them a broom, that it
had formerly been a novice who neglected to sweep out the Council room, hence was
reborn as a broom(!), therefore the wisest of all the world's sages stands accused
of idiotic superstition. Why not try and understand the true meaning of the figurative
statement before criticizing ? Is or is not that which is called magnetic effluvia
a something, a stuff or a substance, invisible and imponderable though it be ? .
. . The mesmeric or magnetic fluid which emanates from man to man, or even from man
to what is termed an inanimate object, is far greater. Indeed, it is ' life atoms'
that a man in a blind passion throws off unconsciously. Let any man give way to any
intense feeling such as anger, grief, etc., under or near a tree, or in direct contact
with a stone, and many thousands of years after that any tolerable psychometrist
will see the man and sense his feelings from one single fragment of that tree or
stone that he has touched. Why then should not a broom, made of a shrub, which grew
most likely in the vicinity of
the building where the lazy novice lived — a shrub, perhaps, repeatedly touched
by him while in a state of anger, provoked by his laziness and distaste
duty — why should not a quantity of his life atoms have passed into the materials
of the future broom,
and therein have [Page
167] been recognized by Buddha owing to his superhuman (not supernatural)
powers?” [H.P. Blavatsky, The
4, pages 287, 288]
Such is the meaning of the Resurrection of the body, taught in the Christian church in a form that is repellent to reason, for it kills the spirit of the doctrine and leaves this latter like a corpse from which the life has gone.
After the disintegration of the body, the kâmic [The finer elements invisible to the physical eye. Their function is sensation, and by their association with the human mental body incarnated in them, they give birth to the emotions and passions, in a word, to the animal in man.] elements continue for some time, as a “shade” [The Umbra of the Latin races] or a “phantom”, [The Kâma Rûpa of the Hindus] in the finer and invisible atmosphere; [The purgatory of Christians, the astral plane of theosophists, and the Kâmaloka of Hindus.] then they, in turn, become disintegrated by the various forces of this environment, [By the fire of purgatory, says the Catholic metaphor] and are lost in the strata of matter from which they have been taken. Like the physical elements (life-atoms), they whirl about in their environment and there submit to the same law of attraction and repulsion as that which controls universal selection; they are drawn towards the kâmic elements of men and [Page 168] animal's, and it is here that we ought to place the list of those misdeeds, by reason of which these elements pass into bodies of animals or men of inferior development. “A drunken priest becomes a worm”, says Manu, “a stealer of corn, a rat; the murderer of a Brahman, a dog, a tiger, or a serpent” — and this means that those elements which, in man, serve as a basis for the passions, at death, pass over into the bodies of animals that possess the same passions or experience the same needs.
The transmigration of human souls into the bodies of animals is still generally accepted amongst the less intelligent Hindus; it has contributed, perhaps more than anything else, to that wonderful respect for life one meets with all over India, The thought that some ancestor or other might happen to be in the body of an animal prevents its destruction; even the sacrifice of his life offered by a man to one of his brothers in the animal world is regarded as a sublime virtue, and legend tells us of the Buddha, the Lord of Compassion, giving himself up as food for a famishing tigress, that she and her cubs might not perish of hunger.
The process of disintegration [See A Besant’s masterly work on Reincarnation]which, after dis-incarnation, destroys the physical, astral, and mental [Page 169] bodies of the man leaves the Soul — or, to be more exact, the causal body, for the soul is not the causal body any more than it is any of the other human vehicles — intact. Indeed, the causal body is at present the only vehicle that resists the cyclic dissolution of the human compound; this it will be subjected to only when the divine spark which constitutes the Soul — an eternal spark in its essence, since it is a fragment of God, and immortal as an “ego”, once it has attained to individualization, the goal of evolution — has formed for itself a new and superior body with the substance of the finer planes above the mental; but ages will pass before the masses of mankind reach this point.
After thus throwing off, one after the other, all its sheaths, the Ego finds that it has ended a “life-cycle”, and is preparing to put on new bodies, to return to reincarnation on earth. On Reincarnation properly so called, the Hindu scriptures are so precise and complete, so generally accepted, that it is unnecessary to quote from them in detail. A few extracts will suffice.
These we will take from the Bhagavad Gîtâ, that glorious episode in the mighty civil war which shattered India, and left her defenceless against the successive invaders who were to complete her fall. This great epic poem introduces to us Arjuna, a noble prince, about to take part in the strife. The [Page 170] two armies, arrayed for battle, are on the point of engaging, arrows have already begun to pierce the air. In the opposing ranks Arjuna sees cherished relatives, dear friends, and revered teachers, whom destiny has placed in hostile array, thus giving to the battle all the horrors of parricide and fratricide. Overwhelmed with grief and pity, his heart moved to its inmost depths, Arjuna drops his bow on the ground and thus addresses his Teacher, the divine Krishna:
“Seeing these my kinsmen arrayed, O Krishna, eager to fight,
“My limbs fail and my mouth is parched, my body quivers and my hair stands on end.
“Gândiva (Arjuna's bow) slips from my hand, and my skin burns all over; I am not able to stand, and my mind is whirling.
“And I see adverse omens, O Keshava (hairy one). Nor do I foresee advantage by slaying kinsmen in battle.
“For I desire not victory, O Krishna, nor kingship nor pleasures; what is kingship to us, O Govinda (Thou who knowest all that is done by our senses and organs), what enjoyment or even life ?
“Those for whose sake we desire kingship, enjoyments, and pleasures, they stand here in battle, abandoning life and riches.
“Teachers, fathers, sons, as well as grandfathers, [Page 171] mothers, brothers, fathers-in-law, grandsons, brothers-in-law, and other relatives.
“These I do not wish to kill, though (myself) slain, O Madhûsudana (slayer of Madhu, a demon), even for the sake of the kingship of the three worlds (the habitations of men, gods, and semi-divine beings); how then for earth ?
“I will not do battle”.
The divine Krishna then smiled upon his well-beloved disciple, and said to him:
“Thou grievest for those that should not be grieved for, and speakest words of wisdom (words that sound wise but miss the deeper sense of wisdom). The wise grieve neither for the living nor for the dead.
“Nor at any time verily was I not, nor them, nor these princes of men, nor verily shall we ever cease to be hereafter.
“As the Dweller in the body seeketh in the body childhood, youth, and old age, so passeth he on to another body; the well-balanced grieve not thereat. ... .
“These bodies of the Embodied One, who is eternal, indestructible, and boundless, are known as finite. Therefore fight, O Bhârata.
“He who regardeth This (the Dweller in the [Page 172] body) as a slayer, and he who thinketh it is slain, both of them are ignorant. It slayeth not, nor is it slain. . . .
“ Who knoweth It indestructible, perpetual, unborn, undiminishing; how can that man slay, O Pârtha, or cause to be slain ?
“As a man casting off worn-out garments, taketh new ones, so the Dweller in the body, casting off worn-out bodies, entereth into others that are new.
“Weapons cleave It not, nor fire burneth It, nor waters wet It, nor wind drieth It away. . . .
“ Further, looking upon thine own Dharma,[Dharma is a wide word, primarily meaning the essential nature of a thing; hence the laws of its being, its duty; and it includes religious rites, appropriate to those laws. This definition, as also the extracts quoted, are taken from A Besant’s translation of the Bhagavad Gîtâ] thou shouldst not tremble, for there is nothing more welcome to a Kshattriya than righteous war”.
Here are other extracts of this wonderful teaching:
“Many births have been left behind by Me and by thee, O Arjuna. I know them all, but thou knowest not thine, Parantapa”.
“He who thus knoweth My divine birth and action, in its essence, is not born again, having abandoned the body, but he cometh unto Me, O Arjuna”.
“Having attained to the worlds of the pure doing, [Page 173] and having dwelt there for eternal years, he who fell from Yoga is reborn in a pure and blessed house. . . . There he obtaineth the complete yogic wisdom belonging to his former body, and then again laboureth for perfection, O joy of the Kurus!”
“But the Yogi, verily, labouring with assiduity, purified from sin, fully perfected through manifold births, he treadeth the supreme Path. . . . He who cometh unto Me, O Kaunteya, verily he knoweth birth no more”.
The daily life of Hindu and Buddhist is so entirely based on Reincarnation and on its foundation, the law of Causality, that this faith gives them patience in the present and hope for the future; for it teaches that man, every moment he lives, is subject to the circumstances he has created, and that, though bound by the past, he is yet master of the future.
Why cannot we, in this troubled Europe of ours, accept this belief as the solution of the distressing problem of the inequality of conditions, for to the weak in rebellion against oppression it would come as a soothing balm, whilst the strong would find in it a stimulus to devoted pity such as wealth owes to poverty and happiness to misfortune ? Herein lies the solution of the whole social problem. [Page 174]
If we pass from India to Egypt, the land of mystery, we again find the world-wide doctrine of palingenesis hidden beneath the same veil.
According to Egyptian teaching, the theory of the “fall of the angels” was accepted; the fallen angels were human souls [Human souls, not all of them, but only the pious ones, are daimonic and divine. Once separated from the body, and after the struggle to acquire piety, which consists in knowing God and injuring none, such a soul becomes all intelligence. The impious soul, however, remains in its own essence and punishes itself by seeking a human body to enter into, for no other body can receive a human soul, it cannot enter the body of an animal devoid of reason: divine law preserves the human soul from such infamy. Hermes Trismegistus, Book 1, Laclé: Hermes to his son Tat] who had to become reincarnated till they reached a state of purification; fallen into the flesh, subjected to its vicissitudes and passions, these souls had to evolve, in successive rebirths, until they had developed all their faculties, obtained complete control over the lower nature, and won back their original purity; then this latter would no longer be the unconscious purity of youthful innocence, but the conscious purity of mature age, i.e of the soul that has known both good and evil in the course of its experiences, has overcome the serpent of matter, the tempter, and voluntarily chosen the life of virtue.
The “Judgment” of the after-life is determined [Page 175] by the degree of purity that has been attained; if insufficient, the soul returns to earth, there to inhabit a human, an animal, or a vegetable form, in accordance with its merits or demerits.
These lines prove that the Egyptian teaching has come down to us, covered with gross dross and slag, as it were, which must be subjected to careful sifting; when this is done, we see that it also sets forth the transmigrations to which the elements of the various vehicles are subjected, [Bodies] the physical ternary [The physical body with its etheric “double”, and life (prâna)] rises from the dead, the animal man [The kâmic body] transmigrates; and man, properly so-called, [ The causal body ] reincarnates, but the details of these processes have been so confused in such fragments of Egyptian palingenesis as we possess that it is no easy matter to find the traces of this classification.
For instance, Herodotus tells us:
“The Egyptians were the first to hold the opinion that the soul of man is immortal, and that when the body dies it enters into the form of an animal which is born at the moment, thence, passing on from one animal into another until it has circled through the forms of all the creatures which tenant the earth, the water, and the air, after which it enters again into a human form and is born anew. The [Page 176] whole period of the transmigration is (they say) three thousand years”. [History. Book 2, Chapter 123]
This passage evidently refers to the resurrection of the “life-atoms”. H. P. Blavatsky, in the Theosophist, vol. 4, pages 244, 286, confirms this in the following words:
“We are taught that for 3000 years, at least, the ' mummy,' notwithstanding all the chemical preparations, goes on throwing off to the last invisible atoms, which, from the hour of death, re-entering the various vortices of being, go indeed ' through every variety of organized life forms.' But it is not the soul, the fifth, [The causal body] least of all, the sixth [The buddhic body, which, in ordinary man, is only in an embryonic stage] principle, but the life atoms of the Jiva, [Generally called Prâna, in man. Jiva is the solar life which, on being transmuted by the physical body, becomes Prâna, the human physical life. Both Jiva and Prâna differ from each other in nature and in vibration.] the second principle. At the end of the three thousand years, sometimes more, sometimes less, after endless transmigrations, all these atoms are once more drawn together, and are made to form the new outer clothing or the body of the same monad (the real soul) which they had already been clothed with two or three thousands of years before. Even in the worst case that of the annihilation of the conscious personal principle,[The mental body] [Page 177] the monad, or individual soul, [The causal body. In annihilation — what has been called the loss of the soul — the kâmic principle (astral body) in the course of a rather long succession of lives, does not allow the mental body to become separated from it in purgatory; it keeps it imprisoned up to the time of its disintegregation; the causal body reaps nothing from the incarnations, at each re-birth it loses the forces it is putting forth in order to form the new mental body. It gradually atrophies until the time comes when it is no longer fit to make use of the ordinary bodies of the race to which it belongs. Then it remains at rest, whilst the mental body gradually disintegrates; afterwards it takes up once again its series of incarnations in the imperfectly evolved bodies of primitive races. This will be understood only by those who have studied theosophy] is ever the same, as are also the atoms of the lower principles, [In this passage, H. P. Blavatsky alludes to the few etheric, astral, and mental atoms which, at each dis-incarnation, are incorporated in the causal body and form the nuclei of the future bodies corresponding to them] which regenerated and renewed in the ever flowing river of being, are magnetically drawn together owing to their affinity and are once more reincarnated together”.
Certain authors have stated that belief in Resurrection was the origin of embalming, because it was thought that after three thousand years the soul returned to the same body, that it immediately rose again, when the body had been preserved, whereas if such had not been the case, it entered wherever it could, sometimes even into the body of a lower creature. Herodotus, however, says that after the cycle of three thousand years the soul enters a new [Page 178] body, not the mummified one, [History, Vol 2, book 2, Chapter 123 (already quoted)] and this would lead one to imagine that there were other reasons for the process of embalming. Indeed, it became general only during the decline of Egypt; at the beginning, it was reserved for the hierophants alone, with the object of allowing their physical molecular elements to pass into the still coarse bodies of the masses and help forward ordinary souls by the powerful influence of the magnetic potency with which they were charged. It is also for this reason that the body of a Yogî, in India is interred, whilst in the case of other men cremation is the rule.
On the other hand, among the multitude of beliefs left in Egypt by degenerate traditions, there were found some which hinted, more or less clearly, at occult truths, and which might have perpetuated or generalized this practice. It was supposed, according to Servius, that the transmigrations [Of the elements of the personality - of the astral body, in all probability] began only when the magnetic bond between the soul and its remains had been broken by the complete disintegration of the corpse; consequently they did all in their power to preserve this latter.
This belief may readily be connected with theosophic teaching which says that the affinity existing between the visible corpse and the soul clad in its [Page 179] kâmic (astral) body, the animal soul in Kâmaloka (Purgatory), is capable, in certain cases, of detaining this soul on earth, after its dis-incarnation, and thus delaying, for a longer or shorter period, the disintegration of the elements of the passional body. It is these elements, not the soul, that pass over into animal bodies, and, contrary to the opinions set forth in Egyptian exotericism, it is to the interest of the soul to free itself from terrestrial attraction and from its kâmic (astral) vehicle, and not to remain bound down to earth. Consequently, embalming was a mistaken action, the result of an error of doctrine, or at all events of teachings that were incomplete, imperfectly transmitted, and misunderstood.
Egypt multiplied her symbols of palingenesis. Resurrection — in the sense of re-birth in general — was symbolized by the toad which then became the goddess Hiquet. This animal was chosen because it lives in air and in water, [The Ego (soul) also lives in the air (the symbol of heaven) and on the earth (whose symbol is water, dense matter) - in heaven, after dis-incarnation; on earth, during incarnation] because it can remain imprisoned a very great number of years without either air or food [The soul is immortal and needs no food] and afterwards come back to life. G. Maspero, in his Guide du Visiteur au Mustée de Boulac, tells us that the early Christians in Egypt [Page 180] had adopted this symbolism, and that the lamps in their churches were formed in the shape of a toad, and bore the inscription, “I am the Resurrection”, in the Greek language. This goddess-toad may still be seen in the museum of Boulac.
The Scarabeus, or beetle,[ Its name, Khopiroo, comes from the root Koproo, to become, to be born again (H P Blavatsky)] symbolized the “personality”, the expansion of the mental substance, projected, so to speak, by the higher mental body, at each incarnation, into the new kâmic (astral) body; a certain number of them were always deposited with the mummies, and the beetle was represented standing on an ear of corn, a symbol of the attainments acquired during the past earth life. Indeed, the development of the Ego is effected by that of the personality it sends on to the earth each incarnation; it is the new mental body which controls the new astral and physical bodies of each incarnation, and which is, in very truth, the flower and the fruit of the labour of life.
Sacred Egyptology tells us that the scarabeus [Page 181] requires to be “osirified”, united to its “living soul”, or Ego, which sent it forth. I will now give the reason for this emanation.
When, after dis-incarnation, the purgatorial life begins, the Ego endeavours to throw off the kamic (astral) body, to pass into the higher world — the mental plane — which is its home, there to enjoy the delights of heaven. Thereupon a veritable battle begins. On the one hand, the Ego endeavours to withdraw the mental body, which, at the beginning of the incarnation, it sent into the kâmic body, and to take it to itself; on the other hand, the passional body [Also called kâmic body, astral body, body of desire, etc] - which instinctively feels its life bound to that of the mental element, which gives it its strength, vital activity, and personal characteristics — tries to keep back this centre of individual life, and generally succeeds in doing so up to a certain point. When desire, during incarnation, has regularly gained the victory over the will, the passional body, or Kâma, maintains the supremacy beyond the grave, and the Ego, in endeavouring to rescue its mental projection from the kâmic bonds, yields up a more or less considerable fragment thereof, and this fragment is restored to liberty only when the passional body of the deceased has become disintegrated by the [Page 182] forces of the astral world. This has been called the fire of purgatory.
On the other hand, when the Ego, during life, has always refused the appeals of the lower nature, it easily withdraws, after death, from the net of passion, the substance it has infused therein, and passes with this substance into that part of the mental plane which is called “heaven”.
is the struggle that Egypt committed to her annals when she inscribed upon
papyrus or engraved upon stone the journeyings of the soul into the world of
shades. The soul — the mental personality — which demands “osirification”, and
invokes the Ego, its god and projector, beseeching him to draw it to himself
may live with him, is the lower “I”. This “I” has not exhausted the “desire
live” on earth; its desire is impressed on the germs it has left in the causal
body, and brings the Ego back to incarnation; this is the reason it prays and
resurrection [Reincarnation] of its “living
soul”, the Ego.
Denon, in his Journeyings in Egypt, has made known to us the Sha-En (the
book of metamorphoses), written in hieratic signs and republished in Berlin,
in the year 1851. Explicit mention is here made of reincarnations, and it is
that they are very numerous. [Page 183]
The third part of the Book of the Dead sets forth a detailed account of the resurrection of an Osiris; the identification of the departed one with Osiris, God of Light, and his sharing in the life, deeds, and power of the God; in a word, it is the final reintegration of the human soul with God.
The loftiest and most suggestive of Egyptian palingenetic symbols is unquestionably that of the egg. The deceased is “resplendent in the egg in the land of mysteries”. In Kirrcher's (Oedipus Egyptiacus [Vol 3, p 124] we have an egg — the Ego freed from its vehicles — floating over the mummy; this is the symbol of hope and the promise of a new birth to the soul, after gestation in the egg of immortality. [The causal body illumined by the divine Essence, which theosophy names Âtmâ-Buddhi]
The “winged globe”, so widely known in Egypt, is egg-shaped, and has the same meaning; its wings indicate its divine nature and prevent it from being confused with the physical germ. “Easter eggs” which are offered in spring, at the rebirth of Nature, commemorate this ancient symbol of eternal Life in its successive phases of dis-incarnation and rebirth.
It is said that the Magi taught the immortality of the soul and its reincarnations, but that they considerably [Page 184] limited the number of these latter, in the belief that purification was effected after a restricted number of existences on the soul returning to its heavenly abode.
Unfortunately we know nothing definite on this special point in Chaldaean teaching, for some of the most important sources of information were destroyed when the library of Persepolis was burnt by the Macedonian vandal, Alexander the Great, whilst Eusebius — whom Bunsen criticizes so harshly [He calls him “the prince of lying fathers and dishonest writers”. (Egypt vol 1, p 200] - made such great alterations in the manuscripts of Berosus, that we have nothing to proceed upon beyond a few disfigured fragments, [Eusebius even confesses this himself: “I have set forth whatever is calculated to enhance the glory of our religion, and kept back everything likely to cast a stain upon it”. (Proeparatio Evangelica. Boom 12, Chapter 31] And yet Chaldaeism comprises a great mass of teachings; he whom we know as “ the divine Zoroaster” had been preceded by twelve others, and esoteric doctrine was as well known in Chaldaea as in Egypt.
The descendants of the Chaldaeans — Fire-worshipers, Mazdeans, Magi, Parsees — according to the names they received at different periods — have preserved the main points of palingenetic instruction up to the present, and, from time to [Page 185] time, have set them forth in the most charming style of Oriental poetry. Book 4 of the great Persian poem, Masnavi i Ma'navi, deals with evolution and its corollary, reincarnation, stating that there is one way of remembering past existences, and that is by attaining to spiritual illumination, which is the crown of human evolution and brings the soul to the threshold of divinity.
“If your purified soul succeeds in escaping from the sea of ignorance, it will see, with eyes now opened, ' the beginning' and 'the end'. Man first appeared in the order of inorganic things; next, he passed therefrom into that of plants, for years he lived as one of the plants, remembering naught of his inorganic state, so different from this, and when he passed from the vegetable to the animal state he had no remembrance of his state as a plant. . . Again the great Creator, as you know, drew man out of the animal into the human state. Thus man passed from one order of nature to another, till he became wise and intelligent and strong as he is now. Of his first soul he has now no remembrance, and he will be again changed from his present soul. In order to escape from his present soul, full of lusts, he must rise to a thousand higher degrees of intelligence.
“Though man fell asleep and forgot his previous states, yet God will not leave him in this [Page 186] self-forgetfulness; and then he will laugh at his own former state, saying: 'What mattered my experiences when asleep, when I had forgotten the real state of things, and knew not that the grief and ills I experienced were the effect of sleep and illusion and fancy ?”
These lines are concise, but they sum up the whole of evolution, and render it unnecessary to quote at greater length from Chaldaean tradition on this point. Still, those who desire other passages relating to the same doctrine may find them in the “Desatir”. [Namae-Sat Vakhshûr-i-Mahabad, also in the fourth “Journey” in chapter 4 of Jam-i-Kaikhoshru (see The Theosophist, p 333, volume 21]
India — and perhaps also Atlantis — in early times sent pioneers
into the West to spread religious teachings amongst their energetic inhabitants;
those who settled in Gaul and the British Isles were the Druids. “I am
a serpent, a druid”, they said. This sentence proves that they were priests,
and also the Atlantean or Indian origin of their doctrines; for the serpent was
the symbol of initiation in the sacred mysteries of India, as also on the continent
of Atlantis. [Page
We know little of their teaching, which was entirely oral, though it covered so much ground that, according to Caesar, not less than thirty years of study were needed to become a druid. The Roman conquest dispersed them by degrees; then it was that their disciples, the bards, committed to writing more or less imperfect and mutilated fragments of the teachings of their masters. Their “triads” [See Bardic Triads, by E Williams. Translated from the original Welsh] are undoubtedly akin to Hindu teachings; Evolution results from the manifestation of the Absolute, it culminates in man, who possesses a maximum of individualization, and terminates in the personal, conscious union of the beings thus created with the ineffable All.
The Absolute is “Ceugant”; manifestation, or the Universe, is “Abred”; the divine state of freed souls is in “Gwynvyd”; these are in the three circles, [“'Abred' is the circle of the migrations through which every animated being proceeds from death: man has passed through it”. Triad 13.
“Transmigration is in 'Abred '. ” Triad 14.
“There are three primitive calamities in 'Abred': the necessity of evolution (of rebirths), the absence of memory (of past incarnations) and death (followed by rebirth)” Triad 18 (the words in parentheses are our own).
“By reason of three things man is subjected to 'Abred' (or transmigration): by the absence of the effort to attain knowledge, by non-attachment to good, and by attachment to evil. As the result of these, he descends into ‘Abred’ to the stage of corresponding to his development, and begins his transmigrations anew.” Triad 25.
“The three foundations of science are: complete transmigration through every state of being, the memory of the details of each transmigration, the power to pass again at will through any state, to acquire experience and judgment. (a) This come to pass in the circle of Gwynvyd.” Triad 36.
The liberated being has power to call up the past, to tune his consciousness
with that of every being, to feel everything that being feels, to be that being] [Page 188]
In “Ceugant” there is only the Unknowable, the rootless Root. Souls are born and develop in “Abred”, passing into the different kingdoms; “Amwn” is the state through which beings pass only once, which means that the “ I”, when once gained, continues for ever. “Gwynvyd” is the world of perfect and liberated souls, eternal Heaven, great Nirvâna.
During this long pilgrimage, the Monad — the divine fragment in a state of incarnation — undergoes an endless number of rebirths, in myriads of bodies.
“I have been a viper in the lake”, said Taliesin, the bard; [In the poem Cad-Godden, quoted by Pezzani in La Pluralité des Existences de l’Âme, p 93. Taliesin is a generic name indicating a function rather than the name of an individual] “a spotted adder on the mountain, a star, a priest. This was long, long ago; since then, I have slept in a hundred worlds, revolved in a hundred circles”.
It was their faith in rebirth that gave the Gauls [Page 189] their indomitable courage and extraordinary contempt of death:
“One of their principal teachings”, said Caesar, [Gallic War (Book 2, Chapter 6) Valerius Maximus relates that these nations lent one another money which was to be paid back in the other world, and that at Marseilles a sweet-tasted poison was given to anyone who, wishing to commit suicide, offered the judges satisfactory reason for leaving his body] “ is that the soul does not die, but passes at death into another body — and this they regard as very favourable for the encouragement of valour and for inculcating scorn of death”.
Up to a few years ago, belief in the return of the soul to earth was still prevalent in those parts of Brittany in which civilisation had not yet exercised its sceptical, materialising influence; there even existed druids — probably degenerate ones — in Great Britain and France; in the Saône-et-Loire district, they seem to have been called the “Adepts of the White Religion”, [The Mystery of the Ages ] by the Duchesse de Pomar] both in them and in their ancestors, belief in rebirth remained unshakable.
ANCIENT GREECE (Magna Groecia)
In Greece, the doctrine of Rebirths is met with in the Orphic tradition, continued by Pythagoras and Plato. Up to the present time, this tradition has probably found its best interpreter in [Page 190] Mr G R S. Mead, an eminent theosophist and a scholar of the first rank. We recommend our readers to study his Orpheus, if they desire a detailed account of this tradition.
Its origins are lost in antiquity, only a few obscure shreds remaining; Pherecydes, however, [In Theologia or the Seven Adyta] when speaking of the immortality of the soul, refers to the doctrine of Rebirths; it is also presented very clearly by both Pythagoras and Plato.
According to the Pythagorean teaching, the human soul emanates from the Soul of the World, thus affirming, at the outset, the divine nature of the former. It teaches subsequently that this soul assumes successive bodies until it has fully evolved and completed the “Cycle of Necessity”. [The “Cycle of Necessity” extends from the time when the soul begins to evolve to the moment when it attains to liberation]
Pythagoras, according to Diogenes of Laertius, [Life of Pythagoras. Book 8, Chapter 14] was the first in Greece to teach the doctrine of the return of souls to earth. He gave his disciples various details of his past lives; he appears to have been the initiate Oethalides, in the times of the Argonauts; then, almost immediately afterwards, Euphorbus, who was slain by Menelaus at the siege of Troy; again he was Hermotimus of Clazomenae, who, in the temple of Juno at Argos, [Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Book 15] recognized [Page 191] the shield he was carrying when his body was slain as Euphorbus, and which Menelaus had given as an offering to the goddess; [All that remained of the shield was the carved ivory ornamentation, the iron had been eaten away by rust] at a later date he was Pyrrhus, a fisherman of Delos, and, finally, Pythagoras.
In all likelihood this genealogy is not correct in every detail, it comes to us from the disciples of the sage of Samos, who were not very trustworthy in their reports.
Empedocles, one of the early disciples of Pythagoras, said that he inhabited a female body in his preceding existence. Saint Clement of Alexandria quotes a few lines of his, in which we find the philosopher of Agrigentum teaching the general evolution of forms.
“I, too, have been a boy, a maiden, a star, a bird, a mute fish in the depths of the sea”.
larchas, the Brâhman chieftain, said to the great Apollonius:
“In bygone ages thou wert Ganga, the famous monarch, and, at a later date, captain of an Egyptian vessel'.' [Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana]
Emperor Julian said that he had been Alexander the Great. [Philostratus,
Life of Apollonius of Tyana] Proclus affirmed that he
had been Nichomachus
the Pythagorean. [Marinus, Vita Procli] [Page 192]
The works of Plato are full of the idea of rebirth, and if the scattered fragments of the teaching are gathered together and illumined with the torch of theosophy, a very satisfactory ensemble will be the result.
Souls are older than bodies, he says in Phaedo; they are ever being born again from Hades and returning to life on earth; each man has his daimon, [The Ego, the human soul properly so-called, what Egypt named the liberated intelligence which resumes his sheath of light, and again becomes a “daimon” (Maspero). In antiquity the name of daimon was given to the human soul or to the higher intelligences] who follows him throughout his existences, and at death takes him to the lower world [Hades; the Purgatory of Catholics; the Kâmaloka of the Hindus] for Judgment. [Allusion to the struggle which separates the mental from the astral body in Purgatory] Many souls enter Acheron, [Kâmalóka; Purgatory] and, after a longer or shorter period, return to earth to be incarnated in new bodies. Unpardonable sins fling the soul into Tartarus. [The subterranean hell, the lowest world in Purgatory]
“Know that if you become worse you will go to the worse souls, or if better to the better, and in every succession of life and death you will do and suffer what like may fitly suffer at the hands of like. . . .” [Plato’s Laws, Book 10]
According to Plato, the period between two incarnations [Page 193] is about a thousand years.[ Plato’s Republic, Book 10]. Man has reminiscences of his past lives that are more or less distinct; they are manifested rather by an intuitive impression than by a definite memory, but they form part of the individual, [They are in the causal body] and at times influence him strongly. “Innate ideas” are only one aspect of memory, often it is impossible to explain them by heredity, education, or environment; they are attainments of the past, the store which the soul takes with it through its incarnations, which it adds to during each sojourn in heaven.
There can be no doubt that Plato would appear to have taught metempsychosis, i.e .the possibility of a human soul passing into the body of an animal:
“Men who have followed after gluttony and wantonness and drunkenness, and have had no thought of avoiding them, would pass into asses and animals of that sort. And those who have chosen the portion of injustice and tyranny and violence will pass into wolves or hawks or kites, and there is no difficulty in assigning to all of them places according to their several natures and propensities”. [Phaedo]
Under the heading of Neoplatonism, we shall show that, beneath these coarse symbols, Plato [Page 194] concealed truths which it was then necessary to keep profoundly secret; which, even nowadays, it is not permitted to reveal to all.
H. P. Blavatsky tells us that the Old Testament is not a homogeneous composition; that Genesis alone is of immense antiquity; that it is prior to the time when the Libra of the Zodiac was invented by the Greeks, for it has been noticed that the chapters containing the genealogies have been touched up so as to adapt them to the new zodiac, and this is the reason that the rabbis who compiled them twice repeated the names of Enoch and Lamech in the Cain list. The other parts seem to be of a comparatively recent date and to have been completed about 150 B.C.
The first part of the Book of God - as the Scriptures were then called - was written by Hilkiah, jointly with the prophetess Huldah; this disappeared at a later date, and Ezra had to begin a new one which was finished by Judas Maccabaeus. This was recopied some time after, with the object of changing the pointed letters into square ones, and in this way was quite disfigured. The Masoretes ended by mutilating it completely. The result is that the text we now possess is one not [Page 195] more than nine hundred years old, bristling with premeditated omissions, interpolations, and perverted interpretations.[These considerations are taken from the writings of H P Blavatsky, and are also confirmed by modern criticism of biblical texts]
By the side of this initial difficulty we find another, quite as important. Almost every page of the Old Testament contains veiled meanings and allegories, as is frankly confessed by the rabbis themselves.
“We ought not to take literally that which is written in the story of the Creation, nor entertain the same ideas of it as are held by the vulgar. If it were otherwise, our ancient sages would not have taken so much pains to conceal the sense, and to keep before the eyes of the uninstructed the veil of allegory which conceals the truth it contains. . .” [Maimonides. Quoted in The Perfect Way, by A Kingsford and E Maitland]
Does not Saint Paul, speaking of the hidden meaning of the Bible, say that Agar is Mount Sinai ? [Galatians, Chapter 4, verses 24, 25] Origen and Saint Augustine are of the opinion that the Old Testament must be regarded as symbolical, as otherwise it would be immoral; the Jewish law forbade anyone to read it who had not attained the age of thirty years; Fénelon would have liked it to be thrust away in the recesses of the [Page 196] most secret libraries; the Cardinal de Noailles says that Origen, so full of zeal on behalf of the Holy Scriptures, would not allow anyone to read the Old Testament, unless he were firmly anchored in the practice of a virtuous life; he affirms too that Saint Basilius, in a letter to Chilon, the monk, stated that the reading of it often had a harmful influence; for the same reasons, the Index expurgatorius forbids the publication of the Bible in the vulgar tongue, and orders that no one be allowed to read it without the written permission of his confessor.[Starli, part 4, p 5]
A third difficulty arises from the fact that the Old Testament — its dead “letter” and its commandments, at all events — is no longer suitable to our own race. It was intended for a nation that was composed of young souls, at a low stage of evolution, for whom nothing more than the rudiments of instruction were necessary, and on whom stern rules of morality, suitable for advanced souls, ought not to be imposed. This is why divorce [Deuteronomy, Chapter 24, verses 1 to 4] polygamy, [Deuteronomy Chapter 17, verse 17] slavery, [Exodus Chapter 21, verses 2 to 11 ] retaliation, lex talionis [Exodus Chapter 21, verses 23, 24, 25]the blood of sacrifice [Genesis, Chapter 9, verses 5, 6; also Leviticus, Chapter 7] are instituted; it is the reason God is represented as a being to be dreaded, punishing [Page 197] those who do not obey him, wicked, jealous, bloodthirsty.[Exodus, Chapter 6, 12, 14, 22, 32] Bossuet understood all this when he said that the primitive Hebrew race was not sufficiently advanced to have the immortality of the soul taught to it. This, too, is the only explanation we can find for the sensual materialism of Ecclesiastes.[Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3, verses 18, 19, 20, 22].
Consequently one need not be astonished to find that the Old Testament nowhere deals — directly, at all events — with the doctrine of Rebirth.
All the same, here and there we come across a few passages that point in this direction. For instance, we read in Genesis, Chapter 25, regarding the birth of Jacob and Esau:
“And the children (of Rebecca) struggled together within her.
“And the Lord said unto her: Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels, and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder-shall serve the younger.
“And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold there were twins in her womb”.
This passage has been the occasion of lengthy commentaries on the part of certain Fathers of the Church — more especially of Origen. Indeed, either we must acknowledge divine injustice, creating, [Page 198] without any cause, two hostile brothers, one of whom must submit to the rule of the other, and who begin to strive together even before birth, or we must hark back to the pre-existence of the human soul and to a past Karma which had created inequality in condition.
begins the ninetieth Psalm with a verse which only a belief in
reincarnation can explain:
thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations .....”
The dwelling place of the soul, at death, is in heaven, whence it returns to earth when the hour of rebirth has struck; this, in all generations, that is, from life to life, “the Lord is our dwelling-place”.
In Chapter 8 of the Book of Wisdom, Solomon says in more explicit language:
“For I was a witty child, and had a good spirit, yea, rather, being good, I came into a body undefiled”.
This clearly points to the pre-existence of the soul and the close relation that exists between the conditions of its rebirth and the merits or demerits of its past.
Verse 5 of the first Chapter of Jeremiah is similar to verse 23 of the twenty-fifth chapter of Genesis:
“Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee, and before thou earnest forth out of the womb I [Page 199] sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. . . .”
It is the deeds done in the past lives of Jeremiah that accompany him on his return to earth; God could not, in an arbitrary fashion, have conferred on him the gift of prophecy had he not acquired it by his efforts in a past life; unless, here too, we altogether abandon reason and go back to a capricious or unjust — consequently altogether impossible — God.
Contact with the Babylonians, during the Captivity, brought about a rapid development in the Hebrews, who were at that time far more advanced souls than those that animated the bodies of their fathers,[The souls of a race in its maturity are of a more advanced type than those of its infancy or old age] and taught them many important details of religious instruction. It was then that they learned the doctrine of rebirth and that the Kabala came into being, [The Kabala is the secret teaching of the Jews; in it lie hidden doctrines that are too profound to be taught in public]
In it the cycle of rebirths is called Gil’gool'em [Zohar, 2, 99 quoted in Myer’s Qabbalah p 198] or the “revolving of the Incorporeal” in search of the “promised land”. This promised land, the [Page 200] Christian Paradise, or Buddhist Nirvâna, was symbolised by Palestine; the soul in its pilgrimage was brought to this abode of bliss, [Evolution develops the soul, enabling it to reach its goal: the divine state] and, according to the allegory, “the bodies of Hebrews buried in a foreign land contained an animistic principle which only found rest when, by the 'revolving of the Incorporeal,' the immortal fragment had returned to the promised land”. [ The force of evolution comes from God and ceases only when the soul is fully developed, and has reached the “promised land” at the end of its pilgrimage: the divine state].
There are other aspects from which this “revolution of souls” may be regarded. Certain Kabalists speak of it as a kind of purgatory in which, by means of this “revolving”, the purging of the soul is brought about before it enters paradise.
this connection, H. P. Blavatsky states that in the language of the Initiates
words “soul” (âme) and “atom” were synonyms, and were
each other. She says that the “revolution of souls” was in reality only
the revolving of the atoms of the bodies which are continually transmigrating
one body to another throughout the various kingdoms of nature. From this point
of view, it would seem that “Gil'gool'em” is more especially the cycle
transmigration: Resurrection. [Page
The doctrine of the reincarnation of the human soul, however, is clearly set forth in the Zohar:
“All souls are subjected to the tests of transmigration; men know not the designs of the Most High with regard to them; they know not how they are being at all times judged, both before coming into this world and when they leave it; they have no knowledge of the mysterious transformations and sufferings they must undergo, or how numerous are the spirits who coming into this world never return to the palace of their divine King; they are ignorant of the revolutions to which they are subjected, revolutions similar to those of a stone when it is being hurled from a sling. And now the time has come when the veil shall be removed from all these mysteries. . . . Souls must in the end be plunged back into the susbtance from which they came. But before this happens, they must have developed all the perfections the germs of which are implanted within them; if these conditions are not realised in one existence, they must be born again until they reach the stage that makes possible their absorption in God”. [Franck, La Kabbale, p 244 etc].
According to the Kabala, incarnations take place at long intervals; souls completely forget their past, and, far from being a punishment, rebirth [Page 202] is a blessing which enables men to develop and to attain to their final goal.
The Essenes taught reincarnation and the immortality of the soul. Ernst von Bunsen, [The Hidden Wisdom of Christ, 1864, vol I, p 39] speaking of this sect, says:
“Another marked peculiarity of the doctrine of the Essenes was the doctrine concerning the pre-existence of souls. They exist originally in the purest ether, which is their celestial home. By a natural attraction they are drawn towards the earth and are enclosed in human bodies, as in a prison. The death of the body causes the return of the soul to its heavenly abode. The Essenes can, therefore, not have believed in the resurrection of the body, but of the soul only, or, as Paul says, of the ' spiritual body'. This is positively asserted by Josephus”. [De Bell, jud 2, 11]
Although Rome, above all else, was a warlike republic, and religion principally a State cult, that allowed but slight opportunity for the outer expression of spirituality, none the less did it inherit the beliefs of Egypt, Greece, and Persia; the Bacchic mysteries, previous to their degradation, were a [Page 203] copy of the Orphic and Eleusinian mysteries. In the reign of Pompey, Mithraism, a cult borrowed from Persia, was spread throughout the empire. Consequently, we need not be surprised at finding the doctrine of Rebirth mentioned by the great Latin writers.
We will quote only from Virgil and Ovid.
In the speech addressed by Anchises to Aeneas, his son, the Trojan prince deals with the life beyond death, the tortures endured by souls in expiation of their misdeeds, their purification, their passing into Tartarus,[One of the lowest sub-planes of Kâmaloka (Purgatory) into the Elysian Fields, [The Christian Heaven ( Devachan of theosophy) then their return to earth after having drunk of the river of forgetfulness. In Book VI. of the Aeneid, we find Aeneas visiting the lower regions:
“After having for a thousand years turned the wheel (of existence), these souls come forth in a mighty troop to the Lethean stream to which God calls them that they may lose the memory of the past, see the higher regions, [The earth, which is above when compared with Tartarus, but not so in relation to the Elysian Fields; versification imposes such strict limits on expression, that it must have the benefit of poetic licence] and begin to wish to return into bodies”.
Ovid, in his Metamorphoses also deals with the [Page 204] teaching of Pythagoras, his master, on the subject of palingenesis:
Then Death, so-called, is but old matter drest
In some new figure, and a varied vest;
Thus all things are but alter'd, nothing dies,
And here and there th' embodied spirit flies,
By time, or force, or sickness dispossest,
And lodges, when it lights, in man or beast.
Th' immortal soul flies out in empty space
To seek her fortune in some other place”
The New Testament is far more explicit than the Old, even though we find the teachings of reincarnation indicated in only a vague, indirect fashion. All the same, it must not be forgotten that the canonical Gospels have suffered numerous suppressions and interpolations. On the other hand, there can be no doubt that the early Fathers of the Church made use of gospels that are now either lost or have become apocryphal.[Fréret, Examen critique des apologistes de la religion chrétienne, pages 12 and 13, Paris 1823] It has been proved that neither Jesus nor his disciples wrote a single word, and that no version of the Gospels appeared earlier than the second century. [Faustus] It was at that time that religious quarrels gave birth to [Page 205] hundreds of gospels, the writers of which signed them with the name of an apostle or even with that of Jesus, after forging them in more or less intelligent fashion.
Celsus, Jortin, Gibbons, and others have shown that Christianity is directly descended from Paganism; it was by combining the doctrines of Egypt, Persia, and Greece with the teachings of Jesus that the Christian doctrine was built up. Celsus silenced all the Christian doctors of his time by supplying evidence of this plagiarism; Origen, the most learned doctor of the age, was his opponent, but he was no more fortunate than the rest, and Celsus came off victorious. Thereupon recourse was had to the methods usual in those days; his books were burnt.
And yet it is evident that the author of the Revelation was a Kabalist; and the writer of the Gospel of Saint John a Gnostic or a Neoplatonist. The Gospel of Nicodemus is scarcely more than a copy of the Descent of Hercules into the Infernal Regions; the Epistle to the Corinthians is a distinct reminiscence of the initiatory Mysteries of Eleusis; and the Roman Ritual, according to H. P. Blavatsky, is the reproduction of the Kabalistic Ritual.
One gospel only was authentic, the secret or Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, which was used by the Nazareans, and at a later date by Saint Justin and [Page 206] the Ebionites. It contained the esoterism of the One-Religion, and Saint Jerome, who found this gospel in the library of Caesarea about the end of the fourth century, says that he “received permission to translate it from the Nazareans of Bercea”.
These considerations prove that interested and narrow-minded writers selected from the mass of existing traditions whatever seemed to them of a nature to support their spiritual views as well as their material interests, and that they constructed therefrom not only what has come down to us as the four canonical gospels, but also the whole edifice of Christian dogma.
Consequently, we need not be surprised to find in the New Testament only unimportant fragments dealing with reincarnation; but even these are not to be despised, for they prove that the doctrine was, to a certain extent at all events, known and accepted in Palestine.
Reincarnation in the Gospels
Saint Mark, Chapter 6.
v. 14. And King Herod heard of him; and he said, That John the Baptist was risen from the dead. . . .Saint Matthew, Chapter 14.
v. 15. Others said, That it is Elias; and others said, That it is a prophet, or as one of the prophets.
v. 16. But when Herod heard thereof, he said, It is John whom I beheaded; he is risen from the dead [Page 207]
v. I. At that time, Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus.
v. 2. And said unto his servants, This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead.
Saint Luke, Chapter 9
v. 7. Now Herod the tetrarch heard of all that was done by him; and he was perplexed because it was said of some that John was risen from the dead.
v.8. And of some, that Elias had appeared; and of others, that one of the old prophets was risen again.
v. 9. But Herod said, John have I beheaded; but who is this of whom I hear such things ?
The account here given proves that the people as well as Herod believed in reincarnation, and that it applied, at all events, “to the prophets” and to those like them.
Saint Matthew, Chapter 16.
v. 13. When Jesus came into the coasts of Caearea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I, the Son of man, am ? v. 14. And they said, Some say that thou art [Page 208] John the Baptist; some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.The same account is given in Saint Luke, Chapter 9, verses 18, 19.
Saint Matthew, Chapter 17.
v. 12. But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them
v. 13. Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist
He continued in Saint Matthew, Chapter II.
v. 7. Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see ? A reed shaken with the wind ?
v. 8. But what went ye out for to see ? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings' houses.
v. 9. But what went ye out for to see ? A prophet ? Yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet.
v. 14. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias which was for to come.
Here we have a distinct declaration: Reincarnation is a fact; John is the rebirth of Elias.[And yet the Gospel of Saint John denies this (Chapter I, v 21). The contradictions in the gospels are so numerous that they alone have created thousands of infidels] [Page 209]
Judging from these texts, one might be tempted to think that reincarnation was confined to the prophets or to people of importance, but Saint John shows us that the Jews, though perhaps ignorant that it was a law of universal application, recognized, at any rate, that it might happen in the case of any man.
Saint John, Chapter 9.
v. I. And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth,
v. 2. And his disciples asked him, saying: Master, who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind ?
v. 3. Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned nor his parents; but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.
we are dealing with a man blind from birth, and the Jews ask Jesus if
he was blind because he sinned; this clearly indicates that they were referring
to sins committed in the course of a former existence [Stolberg
expresses himself as follows on this matter: “This question was evidently
based on the opinion that the disciples of Jesus had formed; that this man, whose
punishment dated from his very birth, had sinned in a previous life”. (Histoire
de Notre Seigneur Jesus-Christ et de son siècle, Book 3, Chapter 43] the
thought is, therefore, quite a natural, straightforward one, referring to something
well known to everyone and needing no explanation.[Page
As one well acquainted with this doctrine of Rebirth, without combating it as an error or as something doubtful which his disciples ought not to believe, Jesus simply replies:
And yet it appears as though this answer must have been distorted, as so many others have been, otherwise it would mean that the only reason for this man's blindness was the caprice of the Deity.
Reincarnation in the Apocalypse
The Apocalypse, an esoteric book par excellence, confirms the doctrine of Reincarnation, and throws considerable light on it:
“Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in 'the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out. . . .” [Revelation, Chapter 3, v, 12]
another verse it is stated that to him who overcometh “I will give the
morning star”. [Revelation, Chapter 2, v, 28] In
the language of theosophy, this means: He who has overcome the animal soul, shall,
by mystic Communion, be united to the divine soul, which, in the Apocalypse,
is the symbol of the Christ: [Page
“ I, Jesus, am the bright and morning star”. [Revelation, Chapter 22, verse 16]
Another verse clearly characterizes the nature and the cost of victory:
“To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it”. [Revelation, Chapter 2, v 17]
The hidden manna is the ambrosia of the Greeks, the kyteon of the mysteries of Eleusis, the soma of the Hindus, the eucharist of the Christians, the sacred drink offered to the disciples at Initiation, which had the Moon as its symbol, conferred the gift of divine clairvoyance and separated the soul from the body.
The “white stone” is none other than the alba petra, the white cornelian, the chalcedony, or stone of Initiation. It was given to the candidate who had successfully passed through all the preliminary tests. [H P Blavatsky]. The “Word” written on the stone is the sacred Word, the “lost Word” which Swedenborg said was to be sought for amongst the hierophants of Tartary and Tibet, whom theosophists call the Masters.
“He who overcometh” is, therefore, the disciple ready for initiation; it is of him that “a pillar in [Page 212] the temple of God” will be made. In esoteric language, the column signifies Man redeemed, made divine and free, who is no longer to revolve on the wheel of Rebirths, who “shall no more go out”, as the Apocalypse says, i.e shall not again leave Heaven.
If we examine the text of both Old and New Testament by the light of esoteric teaching, the dead letter, often absurd and at times repellent and immoral, would receive unexpected illumination, and would fully justify the words of the great rabbi, Maimonides, quoted a few pages back. [“Taken literally, the Book of the Creation gives us the most absurd and extravagant ideas of Divinity”]
Origen, the most learned of the Fathers of the Church, adds in his turn:
“If we had to limit ourselves to the letter, and understand after the fashion of the Jews or the people, what is written in the Law, I should be ashamed to proclaim aloud that it was God who gave us such laws; I should find more dignity and reason in human laws, as, for instance, in those of Athens, Rome, or Sparta. . . .” (Homil 7. in Levit)
Saint Jerome, in his Epistle to Paulinus, continues in similar fashion:
“Listen, brother, learn the path you must follow in studying the Holy Scriptures. Everything you [Page 213] read in the divine books is shining and light-giving without, but far sweeter is the heart thereof. He who would eat the nut must first break the shell”. It is because they have lost the Spirit of their Scriptures that the Christians — ever since their separation from the Gnostics — have offered the world nothing more than the outer shell of the World Religion.
The great philosophic body that formed a bridge, as it were, between the Old World and the New was the famous School of Alexandria, founded about the second century of our era by Ammonius Saccas and closed in the year 429 A.D. through the intolerance of Justinian. Theosophical in its origin, this school had received from Plato the esoteric teaching of Egypt and the East, and the dogma of Rebirth was secretly taught in its entirety, though its meaning may have been travestied by the ignorance of the masses to whom only the grosser aspects of the teaching were given.
“It is a dogma recognized throughout antiquity”, says Plotinus,[First Ennead, Chapter I ] “that the soul expiates its sins in the darkness of the infernal regions, and that afterwards [Page 214] it passes into new bodies, there to undergo new trials”.
“When we have gone astray in multiplicity, [The Universe, which can exist only through multiplicity] we are first punished by our wandering away from the path, and afterwards by less favourable conditions, when we take on new bodies”. [Second Ennead, Chapter 3]
“The gods are ever looking down upon us in this world, no reproach we bring against them can be justifiable, for their providence is never-ending; they allot to each individual his appropriate destiny, one that is in harmony with his past conduct, in conformity with his successive existences”. [Second Ennead, Chapter 8]
The following is a quotation from the same philosopher, dealing with metempsychosis, and which, when compared with the foregoing sentences, appears strangely absurd. We make no comment here, as this obscure question will be dealt with a few pages farther on.
“Those who have exercised human faculties are reborn as men; those who have lived only the life of the senses pass into animals' bodies, especially into the bodies of wild beasts if they have given way to excesses of anger . . . those who have sought only to satisfy their lust and gluttony, pass into the bodies of lascivious and gluttonous animals [Page 215] . . . those who have allowed their senses to become atrophied, are sent to vegetate in trees . . . those who have reigned tyranically become eagles, if they have no other vice”. [Third Ennead, Chapter 4]
“The souls that are not destined for the tortures of hell (Tartarus), and those that have passed through this expiation, are born again, and divine Justice gives them a new body, in accordance with their merits and demerits”. [Concerning Abstinence; Book 2].
The following remarkable lines are from lamblichus:
“What appears to us to be an accurate definition of justice does not also appear to be so to the Gods. For we, looking at that which is most brief, direct our attention to things present, and to this momentary life, and the manner in which it subsists. But the powers that are superior to us know the whole life of the Soul, and all its former lives; and, in consequence of this, if they inflict a certain punishment in obedience to the entreaties of those that invoke them, they do not inflict it without justice, but looking at the offences committed by souls in former lives: which men, not perceiving, think that they unjustly fall into the calamities which they suffer. [Egyptian Mysteries, Book 4, Chapter 4] [Page 216]
Proclus gave out the same teaching; he affirmed that he had been incarnated in Nichomachus, the Pythagorean.
In his commentary on the Golden Verses of Pythagoras, Hierocles expresses himself thus:
“The ways of the Lord can be justified only by metempsychosis”.
Damascius and Hermias, as also their masters, proclaimed their belief in Rebirth.
Here a short explanation must be given of what has been said regarding transmigration or metempsychosis, in order that all misunderstanding may be removed.
Neither Pythagoras nor Plotinus nor any of the great Teachers of the past believed in metempsychosis, as it has been described; all their disciples have affirmed it, and these affirmations, set over against a line of teaching which seems to contradict them, because it is incomplete and intended for the less intelligent portion of society at that time, ought to have reminded its opponents that there might be hidden reasons capable of explaining the paradox.
We must first remember that a veil of strictest secrecy was flung over the noblest and most sublime spiritual teachings of the day. According to [Page 217] Bossuet, the teaching of the immortality of the soul seems not to have been deemed suitable for the Hebrew race, and, indeed, it is easy to understand that no double-edged truth should be taught except under conditions that would safeguard it. Ptolemy Philadelphus exiled Hegesias,[This philosopher was surnamed Peisithanatos (the death persuader)] whose eloquent fanaticism had caused some of his disciples to commit suicide, at Cyrene, after a lesson on immortality. Ptolemy ordered those schools of philosophy to be closed which continued teaching this doctrine, for in the case of a people insufficiently developed, the instinct which binds to physical life, and the dread of the torture that awaits guilty souls in the Hereafter, are preferable to doctrines of immortality deprived of the safeguards with which they should be surrounded.
The doctrine of Rebirths called for even stricter secrecy than that of immortality, and this secrecy was accorded it in ancient times; after the coming of the Christ, it grew less rigorous, and the Neoplatonists, though obliged to keep the esoteric teaching to themselves, were permitted to throw light on certain points.
Timaeus of Locris, one of the masters of Plotinus, hinted at the existence of a more profound doctrine in the following words: [Page 218]
“Just as by the threat of punishment imperfectly evolved souls are prevented from sinning, so the transmigration of the souls of murderers into the bodies of wild beasts, and of the souls of unchaste persons into the bodies of swine, was taught; and the previous punishment of these souls in the infernal regions was entrusted to Nemesis (Karma)”.Certain modern commentators — though imperfectly instructed in the teachings of palingenesis — have also seen that the masters of philosophy in the past could not possibly have made a mistake which less far-seeing minds would have avoided. Dacier [Vie de Pythagore, vol I, p 28] says:
“A sure token that Pythagoras never held the opinion attributed
to him lies in the fact that there is not the faintest trace of it in the symbols
we have left of him, or in the precepts his disciple, Lysis, collected together
and handed down as a summary of the master's teachings”.
“Here we have the doctrine of metempsychosis which Plotinus found all around, among the Egyptians, the Jews, the Neoplatonists, his predecessors, and finally in Plato himself. Does Plato [Page 219] take metempsychosis seriously, as one would be tempted to believe after reading the Republic? Did he mention it only to ridicule the superstitions of his contemporaries, as seems evident from the Timaeus ? [In this work, he says: “The winged tribe, that has feathers instead of hair, is formed of innocent but superficial human beings, pompous and frivolous in speech, who, in their simplicity, imagine that the sense of vision is the best judge of the existence of things. Those who take no interest whatever in philosophy become four-footed animals and wild beasts. . . .”]
“However important Plato may have considered metempsychosis, it can scarcely be imagined that Plotinus took it seriously. . . . Even granting that this doctrine were literally accepted by Plotinus, the question would still have to be asked whether the human soul really does dwell in the body of an animal, or simply enters a human body, which, in its passions and vices, recalls the nature of that particular animal”.
The reasons mentioned by Dacier and Jules Simon form only a trifling portion of the whole explanation, but if they are added to the constant protests raised by the disciples of the Masters of the Pythagorean and Platonic traditions, against those who said that their instructors taught metempsychosis in all its crudeness, they assume considerable importance, and show that, although [Page 220] the restrictions of esoteric teaching travestied by the ignorance of the masses may have caused it to be believed that the contrary was the case, none the less the Initiates, from the very beginning, denied that human transmigration into the bodies of animals ever took place.
On this question many of them have frequently said that it is the soul which, in such cases, changes its nature, and assumes the passions of animals into which, as is said exoterically, it transmigrates, though it does not enter into their bodies.
“He who believes that he transmigrates, after death, into the body of a beast or a plant”, says Hierocles, [Commentaries on the Golden Verses of Pythagoras] “is grossly mistaken; he is ignorant of the fact that the essential form of the soul cannot change, that it is and it remains human, and only, metaphorically speaking, does virtue make of it a god, and vice an animal”.
“A human soul”, adds Hermes, “cannot go back into the body of an animal; it is preserved from such pollution, for all time, by the will of the gods”. [ Hermes, Commentaries of Chalcidius on the Timaeus]
Mrs, Besant says as follows in a letter dealing with Theosophy and Reincarnation (The Theosophist, April, 1906):
“Even with the wealth of detail given in the Hindu Shâstras, thousands of facts of the invisible [Page 221] world are omitted, because their statement would hopelessly bewilder the public mind.
If all the details are given, ere the main principles are grasped, hopeless confusion is caused to the beginner.
When an Ego, a human soul, by vicious appetite or otherwise, forms a very strong link of attachment to any type of animal, the astral body (Kâma-rûpa) of such a person shows the corresponding animal characteristics, and in the astral world, where thoughts and passions are visible as forms, may take the animal shapes; thus, after death, in Pretaloka, the soul would be embodied in an animal vesture, resembling or approximating to the animal whose qualities had been encouraged during earth-life. Either at this stage, or when the soul is returning towards reincarnation, and is again in the astral world, it may, in extreme cases, be linked by magnetic affinity to the astral body of the animal it has approached in character, and will then, through the animal's astral body, be chained as a prisoner to that animal's physical body. Thus chained, it cannot go onwards to Svarga, if the tie be set up while it is a Preta; nor go onwards to human birth, if it be descending towards physical life. It is truly undergoing penal servitude, chained to an animal; it is conscious in the astral world, has its human faculties, but it cannot control the brute body with [Page 222] which it is connected, nor express itself through that body on the physical plane. The animal organization does not possess the mechanism needed by the human Ego for self-expression; it can serve as a jailor, not as a vehicle. Further, the “animal soul” is not ejected, but is the proper tenant and controller of its own body. Sri Shankarâchârya hints very clearly at the difference between this penal imprisonment and becoming a stone, a tree, or an animal. Such an imprisonment is not “reincarnation”, . . . the human Ego “cannot reincarnate as an animal”, cannot “become an animal”.
In cases where the Ego is not degraded enough for absolute imprisonment, but in which the astral body has become very animal, it may pass on normally to human re-birth, but the animal characteristic will be largely reproduced in the physical body — as witness the “monsters” who in fact are sometimes repulsively animal, pig-faced, dog-faced, etc.. Men, by yielding to the most bestial vices, entail on themselves penalties more terrible than they, for the most part, realize; for Nature's laws work on unbrokenly and bring to every man the harvest of the seed he sows. The suffering entailed on the conscious human entity, thus cut off from progress and from self-expression, is very great, and is, of course, reformatory in its [Page 223] action; it is somewhat similar to that endured by other Egos, who are linked to bodies human in form, but without normal brains — those we call idiots, lunatics, &c. Idiocy and lunacy are the results of vices different in kind from those that bring about the animal servitude above explained, but the Ego in these cases also is attached to a form through which he cannot express himself”.
“True reason”, says Proclus,[Procli Diadochi in Platonis Timaeum Commentaria] “affirms that the human soul may at times find lodgment in brutes, but that it is possible for it to live its own life and rise above the lower nature whilst bound to it by the similarity of its tendencies and desires. We have never meant anything else, as has often been proved by the reasoning in our commentaries on Phaedrus”
There is a note in the Vâhan [September 1898, page 3] a passage from Phaedrus which sheds all the light that can be shed on the question of metempsychosis; in the space of a few lines everything is said that may be publicly revealed, without trespassing on forbidden ground.
stating that, on returning from the infernal regions, the soul passes into the “life” of
a beast, and that if it were human previously, it afterwards goes into another
human body, the note continues:[Page
“ We must not understand by this that the soul of a man becomes the soul of a brute, but that by way of punishment it is bound to the soul of a brute, or carried in it, just as daemons used to reside in our souls. Hence all the energies of the rational soul are absolutely impeded, and its intellectual eye beholds nothing but the dark and tumultuous phantasms of a brutal life”. [The life of the animal to which it is bound]
This passage contains the explanation of what might be called the metempsychosis of certain human souls at the present time; we once heard a great Teacher fully reveal this mystery to a chosen group of Hindus, but it must for some time to come remain a mystery to the western world. All that can be said on the matter is that it has nothing to do with the incarnation of a human soul in the body of an animal, but rather with a certain temporary karmic bond, in the life Hereafter, between a human soul and an animal one, a bond intended to teach many a hard lesson to the one who has brought upon himself so unpleasant an experience.
included many other facts in human evolution, facts that were plainly taught
to the disciples in the “inner circles” of the ancient Schools and
passed out to the confused medley of public teaching. [Page
The astral body, for instance, of a man of an exceedingly passionate nature, when the soul leaves the physical body, sometimes assumes forms resembling those of the animals which represent these passions on the physical plane, and so the disincarnate soul of an assassin has been said to pass into the body of a wild beast.
Metempsychosis, properly so-called, that is to say, the passing of a human soul into the body of a brute, did however exist during the infancy of the human race, when highly developed animal souls were becoming fit to enter the human kingdom. The bodies of these newly-born human souls were coarse and rudimentary in their nature, showing scarcely any difference in form and organic function from the bodies of the higher animals of that period, for these instruments were very similar to one another. The improvements subsequently effected by human bodies did not then exist; the difference, or distinction, which has now widened into a gulf, was scarcely perceptible, and in the early incarnations of these rudimentary human souls backslidings and falls were so frequent that some of them, thus enfeebled, might find it to their advantage [The instrument must be suited to the development of the artist; too highly developed a body would be bad for a man very low down in the scale of humanity. This will, in some measure explain the paradoxical word here used; the advantage there may sometimes be in putting on a rudimentary body] to become incarnate, at times, in highly-developed [Page 226] animal bodies. But that was always an exception, and the exception has long ago become an impossibility.
We think these explanations, along with those given in other portions of this work, will throw as much light as is permitted publicly on the subject of metempsychosis — a subject frequently discussed and one that has hitherto been so obscure. Such illumination as is here given is due to the teachings of theosophy.
THE EARLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH
The documents to which we have access, dealing with the philosophical and religious history of Christianity in the first few centuries of our era, are go questionable, that we can place but faint reliance upon them, if we would really become acquainted with the thought of that period. We have already seen that the number of spurious or counterfeit productions was so great that a strange kind of sorting out, or selection, took place at the first Council of Nice, resulting in the choice of four so-called canonical Gospels. It is evident, too, that the copyists, compilers, and translators of the period were anxious, above all else, to make facts and [Page 227] opinions agree with their preconceived ideas and personal sympathies or likings. Each author worked pro domo sua, emphasising whatever fitted in with his personal views and carefully concealing what was calculated to weaken them; so that at the present time the only clues we have to guide us out of the labyrinth consist of the brief opinions expressed by a few historians, here and there, on whose honesty reliance may be placed.
In the present chapter, for instance, it is no easy matter to unravel the Truth from out of these tangled threads of personal opinions. Some believe that the early Christians and the Fathers of the Church were reincarnationists; others say they were not; the texts, we are in possession of, contradict one another. Thus, whereas Saint Jerome brings against Origen the reproach of having in his book De Principiis taught that, in certain cases, the transmigration of human souls into the bodies of animals, was possible — as, indeed, seems to be the case — certain writers deny that he ever said anything on the subject. These contradictory affirmations are easy to explain, once we know that Ruffinus, when translating into Latin the Greek text of De Principiis, omitted all that referred to this question, that the conspiracy of silence might be preserved on the matter of Origenian transmigration. [Page 228]
At the close of his article “Origen on Reincarnation” in the Theosophical Review, February, 1906, G. R. S. Mead says:
“It therefore follows that those who have claimed Origen as a believer in reincarnation — and many have done so, confounding reincarnation with pre-existence — have been mistaken. Origen himself answers in no uncertain tones, and stigmatises the belief as a false doctrine, utterly opposed to Scripture and the teaching of the Church”.
Others affirm that Saint Justin Martyr believed in rebirths and even in the transmigration of human souls into animal bodies. In his book Against Heresies, volume 2, chapter 33, the Absurdity of the Doctrine of the Transmigration of Souls is dealt with; and in the following chapter, the pre-existence of the soul is denied! Is this another instance, like the one just mentioned, of tampering with the writings of this Father of the Church ? [G R S Mead tells us that Justin believed in Reincarnation only whilst he was a Platonist; he opposed this teaching after his conversion to Christianity (See Theosophical Review, April 1906]
At times an author gives two contradictory opinions on the same subject. In Tertullian's Apology for the Christians, for instance, we find the following:
“If you can find it reasonable to believe the transmigration of human souls from body to body, why [Page 229] should you think it incredible for the soul to return to the substance it first inhabited ? [Does this obscure passage refer to the resurrection of the body?] For this is our notion of a resurrection, to be that again after death which we were before, for according to the Pythagorean doctrine these souls now are not the same they were, because they cannot be what they were not without ceasing to be what they were. . . . I think it of more consequence to establish this doctrine of the resurrection; and we propose it as more consonant with reason and the dignity of human nature to believe that man will be remade man, each person the person he was, a human being a human being; in other words, that the soul shall be habited with the same qualities it was invested with in its former union, though the man may receive some alteration in his form. . . . The light which daily departs rises again with its original splendour, and darkness succeeds by equal turns; the stars which leave the world, revive; the seasons, when they have finished their course, renew it again; the fruits are consumed and bloom afresh; and that which we sow is not quickened except it die, and by that dissolution rises more fruitful. Thus you see how all things are renewed by corruption and reformed by dying. . . How, then, could you imagine that man, the lord of all [Page 230] these dying and reviving things, should himself die for ever ? ”
After such a clear and noble profession of faith, we may well wonder if it were the same man who, in De Anima, could have both refuted and pitilessly ridiculed the idea of rebirth, and denied the separation of the soul from the body as well as the influence of the former upon the latter. We prefer to believe that we are dealing with two writers, or else that some literary forger, anxious to create a diversion, deliberately made Tertullian responsible for this strange contradiction.
Another reason for the difficulty in unravelling the tangled skein of the religious and philosophical teachings prevalent in the early centuries of Christianity is the lack of precision in the language of the writers, the loss of the key to the special vocabulary they used, and the veils which writers who possessed some degree of initiation, deliberately threw over teachings which could only be given to the masses in general terms.
There is one very important point to consider; and this is that in the earlier centuries, outside the circles of initiation, there was not that precision which the present-day teaching of theosophy has given to the doctrine of Reincarnation; this latter, in the mind of the people, became confused with the doctrine of Pre-existence, which affirms that [Page 231] the soul exists before coming into the present body, and will exist in other bodies after leaving this one. This confusion has continued up to the present time, and we find schools of spiritualism in England and America, as well as in other countries, teaching that existence on earth has been preceded and will be followed by a great number of existences on the invisible planes.
reality, this is the doctrine of Rebirths, though there is nothing precise about
the teaching. Whether the soul has a single physical body, or takes several in
succession, it is none the less continually evolving as it passes into material
vehicles, however subtle the matter be; the difference is, therefore, insignificant,
unless we wish to enter into details of the process involved, as was the case
in the West in the early centuries of Christianity.
Did the Fathers of the Church teach Pre-existence ? There can be no doubt on this point. In a letter to St. Anastasius, Rufinus said that “this belief was common amongst the early Christian fathers”. Arnobius [Adversus Gentes. “We die many times, and as often do we rise again from the dead”] shows his sympathy with this teaching, and adds that St. Clement, of Alexandria, “wrote wonderful accounts of metempsychosis” ; and afterwards, in other passages of the same book, he appears to criticize the idea of the plurality of [Page 232] lives. St. Jerome affirms that “the doctrine of transmigration has been secretly taught from ancient times to small numbers of people, as a traditional truth which was not to be divulged”. [Hyeronim, Epistola ad Demetr. . .] A. Franck quotes this passage on page 184 of his Kabbale; Huet, too, gives it in Origeniana [Book 2, quest 6, No 17] The same Father proves himself to be a believer in Pre-existence, in his 94th Letter to Avitus, where he agrees with Origen on the subject of the interpretation of a passage from St. Paul, [Ephesians, ch I, v 4 . . . . he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world] and says that this means “that a divine abode and true repose are to be found in Heaven”, and “that there dwell creatures endowed with reason in a state of bliss, before coming down to our visible world, before they fall into the grosser bodies of earth. . . .”
Lactantius, whom St. Jerome called the Christian Cicero, though he opposed pagan doctrines, maintained that the soul was capable of immortality and of bodily survival only on the hypothesis that it existed before the body.[Institut divin, 3, 18]
Nemesius, Bishop of Emissa in Syria, stoutly affirmed the doctrine of Pre-existence, declaring that every Greek who believed in immortality believed also in the pre-existence of the soul. [Page 233]
St. Augustine said:”Did I not live in another body, or somewhere else, before entering my mother’s womb?” [Confessions, I ch 6]
In his Treatise on Dreams, Synesius states that “philosophy assures us that our past lives are a direct preparation for future lives. . . .” When invited by the citizens of Ptolemais to become their bishop, he at once refused, saying that “he cherished certain opinions of which they might not approve, as, after mature reflection, they had struck deep root in his mind. Foremost among these, he mentioned the doctrine of Pre-existence”.
Dr. Henry More, the famous Platonist of the seventeenth century, quotes Synesius as one of the masters who taught this doctrine, [On the Immortality of the Soul, Chapter 12] and Beausobre reports a typical phrase of his, [Histoire de Manichée et du Manichéisme, Volume 2, Page 492] “Father, grant that my soul may merge into Light and be no more thrust back into the illusion of earth”.
St. Gregory of Nysa says it is absolutely necessary that the soul should be healed and purified, and if this does not take place during its life on earth, it must be accomplished in future lives.
St. Clement of Alexandria says that, although man was created after other beings, “ the human [Page 234] species is more ancient than all these things”. [Stromata, Volume 3, Page 433, Edition des Bénédictins ] his Exhortations to the Pagans, he adds:
“We were in being long before the foundation of the world; we existed in the eye of God, for it is our destiny to live in him. We are the reasonable creatures of the divine Word; therefore, we have existed from the beginning, for in the beginning was the Word. . . . Not for the first time does He show pity on us in our wanderings, He pitied us from the very beginning”.
He also adds [Stromata, vol 3, p 433. Edition des Bénédictins]
“Philolaus, the Pythagorean, taught that the soul was flung into the body as a punishment for the misdeeds it had committed, and his opinion was confirmed by the most ancient of the prophets”.
As regards Reincarnation, i.e the descent of the human soul into successive physical bodies, and even its temporary association with the physical bodies of animals, more than one Christian writer advocated this teaching.
Chalcidius, quoted by Beausobre in the book just mentioned, says:
“The souls, that are not able to unite with God', are destined to return to life until they repent of their misdeeds”.
In the Pistis Sophia, a Christian treatise on the [Page 235] mysteries of the divine Hierarchies and the evolution of souls in the three worlds, we find the doctrine of Rebirth frequently mentioned:
“If he is a man who (after passing out of his body) [The words in parenthesis are by the author] shall have come to the end of his cycles of transmigrations, without repenting, . . , he is cast into outer darkness”.
A few pages earlier, in the same work, we find:
“The disincarnate soul which has not solved the mystery of the breaking of the bonds and of the seals is brought before the virgin of light, who, after judging it, hands it over to her agents (receivers], who carry it into a new body”.
Let us now see what Origen says on the matter: [Cont. Sels Book 4, Chapter 17]
“Celsus, then, is altogether ignorant of the purpose of our writings, and it is therefore upon his own acceptation of them that he casts discredit and not upon their real meaning; whereas if he had reflected on what is appropriate [ τι ακολουθει ] to a soul which is to enjoy an everlasting life, and on the idea which we are to form of its essence and principles, he would not so have ridiculed the entrance of the [Page 236] immortal into a mortal body, which took place, not according to the metempsychosis of Plato, but agreeably to another and higher order of things”.
The teaching of Origen is not easy to set forth clearly, for he is very reticent about many things, and employs a language to which present-day philosophy cannot always find the key; still, the teaching seems to be full and complete. It comprises pre-existence and even those special associations of certain human souls with animal souls, which we have just spoken of and which form one of the chief mysteries of metempsychosis.
In the following words he explains the existence of souls in previous worlds:
“The soul has neither beginning nor end.
“Rational creatures existed undoubtedly from the very beginning in those (ages) which are invisible and eternal. And if this is so, then there has been a descent from a higher to a lower condition on the part not only of those souls who have deserved the change, by the variety of their movements, but also on that of those who, in order to serve the whole world, were brought down from those higher and invisible spheres to these lower and visible ones, although against their will. ' For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope ' (Rom., Chapter 8, v. 20); so that [Page 237] both sun and moon and stars and angels might discharge their duty to the world, and to those souls who, on account of their excessive mental defects, stood in need of bodies of a grosser and more solid nature; and for the sake of those for whom this arrangement was necessary, this visible world was also called into being.
“This arrangement of things, then, which God afterwards appointed not being understood by some, who failed to perceive that it was owing to preceding causes originating in free will, that this variety of arrangement had been instituted by God, they have concluded that all things in this world are directed either by fortuitous movements or by a necessary fate, and that nothing is in the power of our own will”. [De Principiis, Book 3, Chapter 5]
“Is it not rational that souls should be introduced into bodies, in accordance with their merits and previous deeds, and that those who have used their bodies in doing the utmost possible good should have a right to bodies endowed with qualities superior to the bodies of others? ” [Contra Celsum, Book I ]
All souls will arrive at the same goal [ Contra Celsum, Book I, Chapter 6] ; it is the will of souls that makes of them angels, men or demons, and their fall can be of such a nature that [Page 238] they may be chained down to the bodies of animals: [De Principiis, Book 3, Chapter 5] Certain souls, on attaining to perfect peace, return to new worlds; some remain faithful, others degenerate to such a degree that they become demons. [De Principiis, Book 4, Chapter 5]
Concerning bodies, he says:
“The soul, which is immaterial and invisible in its nature, exists in no material place, without having a body suited to the nature of that place; accordingly, it at one time puts off one body which was necessary before, but which is no longer adequate in its changed state, and it exchanges it for a second”. [Contra Celsum Book 7, Chapter 32]
Although metensomatosis (re-embodiment of the soul), i.e the true teaching of Origen, was not clearly expounded, it considerably influenced the early Christian philosophers, and was favourably received up to the time of its condemnation by the Synod of Constantinople. It appeared in most of the sects of that time and in those of the following centuries: Simonians, Basilidians, Valentinians, Marcionites, Gnostics, Manichaeans, Priscillianites, Cathari, Patarins, Albigenses, Bogomiles, etc. . .
Chivalry, too, in these ages of darkness and persecution, was an instrument for the dissemination [Page 239] of esoteric doctrines, including Reincarnation.`The heart of this noble institution consisted of students of divine Wisdom, pure devoted souls who communicated`with one another by means of passwords.
The Troubadours were their messengers of the sacred Teaching, which they skillfully concealed in their songs, carrying it from group to group, from sect to sect, in their wanderings. “Sons of the teachings of the Albigunses ant of the Manichaean-Marcion tradition” [E. Aroux. Les Mystères de la Chevalerie] they kept(alive belief in the rebirths of the soul. “Izarn the Monk”, in his book Histoire d' un Hérétique [Quoted by I Cooper Oakley in Traces of a Hidden Tradition in Masonry (and Mediaeval Mysticism, a very interesting work on the sects which connect the early centuries with modern times] apostrophized an Albigensian bishop in the following terms :
“Tell me what school it was in which you learnt that the spirit of man, after losing his body, passes into an ox, an ass, a sheep, or a fowl, and transmigrates from one animal to another, until a new human body is born for it ?”
Izarn was acquainted with only so much of the teachings of the Troubadours as had got abroad and been distorted and misrepresented by ignorant or evil-minded persons; still, his criticism plainly shows traces of the teachings of palingenesis in the [Page 240] darkest and most blood-stained periods of the Middle Ages.
The Inquisition put an end to the Troubadours, though certain of them, Dante and St. Francis of Assisi, for instance, by reason of their popularity or the special circumstances of the case, were left in peace. In Europe the secret teaching was continued by the Rosicrucians; the Roman de la Rose is pure Hermetic esotericism. The struggle of official Christianity — that of the letter — against those who represented the spirit of the Scriptures, raged ever more bitterly, and the idea of Rebirth disappeared more and more from the Church; its sole representatives during the Middle Ages were St. Francis of Assisi, the learned Irish monk, Johannes Scotus Erigena, and St. Bonaventura, “the Seraphic Doctor”. At the present time there remains nothing more than a disfigured and misunderstood fragment of this idea: the dogma of the Resurrection of the Body.
[See L’Islamisme et son Enseignement Ésotérique, by Ed Bailly. Publications théosophiques, Paris 1903]
It has been said that the Arabs believed in Reincarnation before Mohammed forbade it. Some, however, think that the Koran was written [Page 241] only after the death of the Prophet, and that the latter committed nothing to writing, but taught by word of mouth. Besides, it is clear that Mohammedanism is an offshoot of Zoroastrianism and Christianity. Like these, it teaches the Unity of the Whole, the divine Presence in all creatures and things (Ubiquity], Predestination, which is only one form of Karma, and Resurrection, which expresses one phase of Palingenesis.
Mohammed, like all great mystics, had discovered or learnt many of the truths of esotericism. The verses of the Koran that refer to the “Companions of the Cave” [Chapter 18] indicate that he knew more than he taught in public, and that there may be some ground for certain Asiatic nations holding the exaggerated belief that he was an Avâtâr, [ Islam is now awaiting the coming of the Mahdi, its last prophet; prophecy says that he will be the reincarnation of Mohammed (Borderland, April 1907) the tenth incarnation of the Aum — the Amed, the Nations' Desire. [This is the reason Afghans still undertake pilgrimages to Mecca] He was a Disciple.
Had there not been in the heart of Islamism a strong germ of esoteric teaching, Sufism could never have sprung from it. The Sufis are the saints of Mohammedanism, they are those who aspire after the union of the individual “I” with the [Page 242] cosmic “I”, of man with God; they are frequently endowed with wonderful powers, and their chiefs have almost always been thaumaturgists.
The New Koran, a modern exposition of part of the secret doctrine of Islam, shows the correctness of this view. In it we find the following passages on the subject of Palingenesis:
“And when his body falleth off altogether, as an old fish-shell, his soul doeth well by the releasing, and formeth a new one instead.
“The disembodied spirits of man and beast return as the clouds to renew the young streamlets of infancy. . . .
“When a man dieth or leaveth his body, he wendeth through the gate of oblivion and goeth to God, and when he is born again he cometh from God and in a new body maketh his dwelling; hence is this saying:
“The body to the tomb and the spirit to the womb. . . .
“This doctrine is none other than what God hath taught openly from the very beginning. . . .
“For truly the soul of a man goeth not to the body of a beast, as some say. . . .
the soul of the lower beast goeth to the body of the higher, and the soul of
the higher beast to the body of the savage, and the soul of the savage to the
man. . . .[Page
“And so a man shall be immortal in one body and one garment that neither can fade nor decay.
“Ye who now lament to go out of this body, wept also when ye were born into it. . . .” [Chapter 22, verses 5, 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20, 41 Quoted by Lady Caithness in Old Truths in a New Light]
“The person of man is only a mask which the soul putteth on for a season; it weareth its proper time and then is cast off, and another is worn in its stead. . . .
“I tell you, of a truth, that the spirits which now have affinity shall be kindred together, although they all meet in new persons and names”. [Chapter 23, verses 17, 26, 27, etc]
In Asiatic Researches, Colebrooke states that the present Mohammedan sect of the Bohrahs believes in metempsychosis, as do the Hindus, and, like the latter, abstains from flesh, for the same reason.
Thus we find the doctrine of Reincarnation at the heart of all the great religions of antiquity. The reason it has remained in a germinal state in recent religions — Christianity and Islamism — is that in the latter Mohammed did not attain to the degree of a Hierophant, and in all likelihood the race to which he brought light did not greatly need to become acquainted with the law relating to the return to earth life; whereas in the former the real teachings of the Christ were lost when the Gnostics [Page 244] were exterminated, and Eusebius and Irenaeus, the founders of exoteric Christianity, unable to grasp the spirit, imposed the letter throughout the religion.
THE DOCTRINE OF REBIRTH IN MODERN PHILOSOPHY
In antiquity, science and philosophy were scarcely anything else than parts of religion [By religion is here understood the devotional aspect and the scientific side of the teaching of Truth, i.e the science of the divine Soul]; the most eminent scientists and the greatest philosophers alike were all supporters of the established form of religion, whenever they did not happen to be its priests, for the temples were the common cradle of science and philosophy. No wonder, then, that we find these three great aspects of Truth always hand in hand, never opposed to or in conflict with one another through the whole of antiquity. Science was for the body, philosophy for the intellect, and religion for that divine spark which is destined to flash forth and finally become a “god” in the bosom of the World Soul. Every intelligent man knew that on this tripod lay the life of the individual, the life of society, and the life of the world. Divorce between these took place only at a later [Page 245] date, when the divine Teachers had disappeared, and mutilated traditions handed down to the nations nothing but disfigured and incomplete teachings buried beneath the ruins of temples that had been crumbling away ever since spiritual Life had left them.
Then followed the era of separation; science and philosophy became debased and went their own ways, whilst a degenerate religion reflected nothing higher than the narrow mentality of fallen ministers. As this degradation continued, there sprang into being religious wars, monstrosities that were unknown in those times when Divinity shed illumination and guidance on the nations by means of those mighty souls, the Adept-Kings: gods, demi-gods, and heroes.
Nevertheless, Truth never remained without her guardians, and when apostleship had been destroyed by persecutions the sacred treasure which was to be handed down from age to age was secretly entrusted by the sages to faithful disciples, Thus did Esoterism pass through fire and bloodshed, and one of its greatest teachings, the doctrine of Palingenesis, has left a stream of light in its wake. Now we will give a rapid sketch of it in modern times, examining the philosophical teachings of the greatest of recent thinkers. We will borrow mainly from Walker's work on this [Page 246] subject, quoting only the writers most deserving of mention, and making only short extracts, for all that is needed is to plant a few sign-posts to guide the student along the path.
In the 128th verse of Lalla Rookh, Thomas Moore speaks of rebirths:
“Stranger, though new the frame
Thy soul inhabits now, I've traced its flame
For many an age, in every chance and change
Of that Existence, through whose varied range, —
As through a torch-race, where, from hand to hand
The flying youths transmit their shining brand, —
From frame to frame the unextinguished soul
Rapidly passes, till it reach the goal!”
Paracelsus, like every Initiate, was acquainted with it, and Jacob Bohme, the “nursling of the Nirmânâkayas”, [Nirmânakâyas are beings who have become perfect, and who, instead of entering the Nirvana their efforts have won, renounce peace and bliss in order to help forward their human brothers in their evolution] knew that it was a law of Nature.
Giordano Bruno - also a great Soul - quotes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book 15, Line 156, etc, as follows:
“O mortals ! chill'd by dreams of icy death,
Whom air-blown bubbles of a poet's breath,
Darkness and Styx in error's gulph have hurl'd,
With fabled terrors of a fabled world;
Think not, whene'er material forms expire, [Page 247]
Consumed by wasting age or funeral fire,
Aught else can die: souls, spurning death's decay,
Freed from their old, new tenements of clay
Forthwith assume, and wake to life again.
......... All is change, Nought perishes ”.....
[0 ! genus attonitum gelidae formidine mortis,
Quid Styga, quid tenebras, quid nomina vana timetis,
Materiam vatum, falsique piacula mundi ?
Corpora sive rogus flammâ, seu tabe vetustas
Abstulerit, mala posse pati non ulla putetis
Morte carent animae: semperque priore relictâ
Sede, novis domibus habitant vivuntque receptae
Omnia mutantur, nihil interit.......]
Campanella, the Dominican monk, was sent into exile on account of his belief in the successive returns of the soul to earth.
The Younger Helmont, in his turn, was attacked by the Inquisition for teaching this doctrine in his De Revolutione Animarum, in which he brings forward, in two hundred problems, all the arguments that make reincarnation necessary.
Cudworth and Dr Henry More, the Platonists of Cambridge, were faithful believers in Palingenis; whilst Joseph Glanvill, in Lux Orientalis, finds that there are “Seven Pillars” on which Pre-existence rests.
Dr Edward Beecher, in The Conflict of Ages [Page 248] and The Concord of Ages, as well as Julius Müller, the well-known German theologian, in The Christian Doctrine of Sin, warmly uphold it.
Schelling acknowledges it in his Dissertation on Metempsychosis.
Leibnitz, in his Monadology, and more especially his Theodicy, witnessed to his belief in this doctrine. Had he dared to speak out his thoughts openly, he would more effectively have advocated his “Optimism”, by the teachings of evolution and rebirths, than by all the other arguments he advanced.
Chevalier Ramsey, in The Philosophical Principles of Natural and Revealed Religion, writes:
“The holy oracles always represent Paradise as our native country, and our present life as an exile. How can we be said to have been banished from a place in which we never were ? This argument alone would suffice to convince us of pre-existence, if the prejudice of infancy inspired by the schoolmen had not accustomed us to look upon these expressions as metaphorical, and to believe, contrary to Scripture and reason, that we were exiled from a happy state, only for the fault and personal disobedience of our first parents. . . .
“Our Saviour seems to approve the doctrine of pre-existence in his answer to the disciples, when they interrogate him thus about the man born [Page 249] blind, [St. John’s Gospel, Chapter 9, verse 2] ' Master, who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind ?' It is clear that this question would have been ridiculous and impertinent if the disciples had not believed that the man born blind had sinned before his corporal birth, and consequently that he had existed in another state long ere he was born on earth. Our Saviour's answer is remarkable, ' Neither hath this man sinned nor his parents, but that the works of God might be manifested in him.' Jesus Christ could not mean that neither this man nor his parents had ever committed any sin, for this can be said of no mortal; but the meaning is that it was neither for the sins committed by this man in a state of pre-existence, nor for those of his parents, that he was born blind; but that he was deprived of sight from his birth, by a particular dispensation of Providence, in order to manifest, one day, the power of God in our Saviour. Our Lord, therefore, far from blaming and redressing this error in his disciples, as he did those concerning his temporal kingdom, answers in a way that seems to suppose with them, and confirm them in the doctrine of pre-existence. If he had looked upon this opinion as a capital error, would it have been consonant or compatible with his eternal wisdom to have passed [Page 250] it over so lightly and thus tacitly authorised it by such silence ? On the contrary, does not his silence manifestly indicate that he looked upon this doctrine, which was a received maxim of the Jewish Church, as the true explanation of original sin?
“Since God says that he loved Jacob and detested Esau ere they were born, and before they had done good or evil in this mortal life, since God's love and hatred depend upon the moral dispositions of the creature, ... it follows clearly that if God hated Esau, type of the reprobate, and loved Jacob, type of the elect, before their natural birth, they must have pre-existed in another state.
“If it be said that all these texts are obscure, that pre-existence is largely drawn from them by induction, and that this belief is not revealed in Scripture by express words, I answer that the doctrines of the immortality of the soul are nowhere revealed, least of all in the oracles of the Old and New Testament. We may say the same of pre-existence. This doctrine is nowhere expressly revealed as an article of faith, but it is evidently implied in the Wisdom of Solomon, by the author of Ecclesiasticus, by our Saviour's silence, by St. Paul's comparisons, and by the sacred doctrine of original sin, which becomes not only [Page 251] inexplicable, but absurd, repugnant, and impossible, if that of pre-existence be not true. . . . The Fifth General Council held at Constantinople pronounces anathema against all those who maintain the fabulous doctrine of pre-existence in the Origenian sense. It was not then the simple doctrine of pre-existence that was condemned by the council, but the fictitious mixtures and erroneous disguises by which this ancient tradition had been adulterated by the Origenites.
Soame Jenyns writes:
“That mankind had existed in some state previous to the present was the opinion of the wisest sages of the most remote antiquity. It was held by the Gymnosophists of Egypt, the Brâhmans of India, the Magi of Persia, and the greatest philosophers of Greece and Rome; it was likewise adopted by the Fathers of the Christian Church, and frequently enforced by her early writers; why it has been so little noticed, so much overlooked rather than rejected, by the divines and metaphysicians of latter ages, I am at a loss to account for, as it is undoubtedly confirmed by reason, by all the appearances of nature and the doctrines of revelation.
“In the first place, then, it is confirmed by reason, which teaches us that it is impossible that the conjunction of a male and female can create an [Page 252] immortal soul; they may prepare a material habitation for it; but there cannot be an immortal, pre-existent inhabitant ready to take possession. Reason assures us that an immortal soul, which will exist eternally after the dissolution of the body, must have eternally existed before the formation of it; for whatever has no end can never have had any beginning,
“Reason likewise tells us that an omnipotent and benevolent Creator would never have formed such a world as this, and filled it with such inhabitants if the present was the only, or even the first, state of their existence; for this state which, if unconnected with the past and the future, would seem calculated for no purpose intelligible to our understanding, neither of good or evil, of happiness or misery, of virtue or vice, of reward or punishment; but a confused jumble of them all together, proceeding from no visible cause and tending to no end. . . .
“Pre-existence, although perhaps it is nowhere in the New Testament explicitly enforced, yet throughout the whole tenour of these writings is everywhere implied; in them, mankind is constantly represented as coming into the world under a load of guilt; as condemned criminals, the children of wrath and objects of divine indignation; placed in it for a time by the mercies of God [Page 253] to give them an opportunity of expiating this guilt by sufferings, and regaining, by a pious and virtuous conduct, their lost state of happiness and innocence. . . .
“Now if by all this a pre-existent state is not constantly supposed, that is, that mankind has existed in some state previous to the present, in which this guilt was incurred, and this depravity contracted, there can be no meaning at all or such a meaning as contradicts every principle of common sense, that guilt can be contracted without acting, or that we can act without existing. . .”
The following is a quotation from Hume, the great positivist philosopher:
“Reasoning from the common course of nature, what is incorruptible must also be ingenerable. The soul, therefore, if immortal, existed before our birth, and if the former existence in no way concerned us, neither will the latter. . . . Metempsychosis is, therefore, the only system of this kind that philosophy can hearken to”. (The Immortality of the Soul.)
Young, in his Night Thoughts (Night the Sixth), has the following lines:
“Look nature through, 'tis revolution all;
All change, no death. Day follows night; and night
The dying day; stars rise, and set, and rise;
Earth takes th' example....
......All, to reflourish, fades;
As in a wheel, all sinks, to re-ascend.
Emblems of man, who passes, not expires”. [Page 254]
“It is not more surprising to be born twice than once; everything in Nature is resurrection”, said Voltaire.
Delormel, Descartes, and Lavater were struck with the tremendous importance of the doctrine of Palingenesis,
The Philosophy of the Universe, of Dupont de Nemours, is full of the idea of successive lives, as a necessary corollary of the law of progress; whilst Fontenelle strongly advocates it in his Entretiens sur la Pluralité des Mondes.
It is needless to state that these ideas formed part of the esoteric teachings of Martinez Pasqualis, Claude Saint-Martin, and their followers.
Saint-Martin lived in times that were too troubled for him to speak freely. In his works, however, not a few passages are found in which there can be no doubt that reincarnation is hinted at, to anyone able to read between the lines. (Tableau naturel, Volume I, page 136; L'homme de Désir, page 312.)
In his (Oeuvres Posthumes (Volume I, page 286) appears this remarkable passage:
“Death ought to be looked upon only as one stage in our journey. We reach this stage with tired, worn-out horses, and we start again with [Page 255] horses that are fresh and able to take us farther on our road; all the same, we must pay what we owe for the portion of the journey that has been traversed, and until the account is settled, we are not allowed to continue our way”.
Goethe writes as follows to his friend Madame von Stein:
“Tell me what destiny has in store for us ? Wherefore has it bound us so closely to each other ? Ah! in bygone times, thou must have been my sister or my wife . . . and there remains, from the whole of those past ages, only one memory, hovering like a doubt above my heart, a memory of that truth of old that is ever present in me”.
Ballanche, an orthodox Christian mystic, says:
“Each one of us is a reincarnating being, ignorant both of his present and of his former transformations”. (Pal. Sociale, Book III., page 154.)
“Man is brought to perfection only by becoming a more perfect order of things, and even then he does nothing more than bring back, as Plato said, a confused memory of the state that preceded his fall”. (Essai sur les Institutions Sociales, vol. ii., p. 170.)
“This life we spend on earth, shut in between an apparent birth and an equally apparent death, is, in reality, only a portion of our existence, one [Page 256] manifestation of man in time”. (Orphée, vol. iv., p. 424.)
“Our former lives belong to astronomical cycles lost in the mighty bosom of previous ages; not yet has it been given to us to know them”. (Orphée, vol. iv., p. 432.)
Balzac's Seraphita abounds with references to the idea of successive lives:
“All human beings spend their first life in the sphere of instincts, in which they endeavour to discover how useless are the treasures of earth”.
“ . . . . How often we live in this first world. . . .”
“Then we have other existences to wear out before we reach the path on which the light shines, Death is one stage on this journey”.
Constant Savy [The following passages are taken from three of C Savy’s works: Commentaires du Sermon sur la Montagne (1818): Pensées et Méditations (1829); Dieu et l’Homme en cette Vie et Au delà (1838) describes as follows the conditions of immortality and a succession of lives by means of reincarnation:
“In proportion as its soul is developed by successive lives, the body to which it is to be united will necessarily be superior to those it has worn out; otherwise there would be no harmony between these two elements of human existence; the means [Page 257] given to the soul would bear no relation to the development of its power. This body, gifted with more perfect and numerous senses, could not have an equal value for all. . . .
Besides these natural inequalities are also advantageous for individual progress in another way; the errors resulting therefrom cause truths to be discovered; vices laid bare almost form a reason for the practice of virtue by all men, or at all events they protect one from vice by reason of the horror they inspire; the ignorance of some arouses the love of science in others; the very idleness which dishonours some men inspires others with a love for work.
“So that these inequalities, inevitable because they are necessary, are present in the successive lives we pass through. There is nothing in them contrary to universal harmony; rather, they are a means for effecting this harmony, and are the inevitable result of the difference in value that bodies possess. Besides, no man remains stationary; all advance at a more or less rapid rate of progress. . . .
“When faith is born, it is an illumination. Since man's immortality is one progressive advance, and, to effect this, he prepares the life he enters by the life he is leaving; since, in short, there are necessarily two worlds, one material, the other intellectual, [Page 258] these two worlds, which make up the life to come, must be in harmonious relationship with our own.
“Man's work will, therefore, be a continuation of his past work. . . .
“I would never believe that our intelligence, which begins to develop in this life, comes to a halt after such an imperfect growth, and is not exercised or perfected after death. . . .
“ . . . . Nature always advances, always labours, because God is life and he is eternal, and life is the progressive movement in the direction of the supreme good, which is God himself. Could man alone in the whole of nature, man so imperfect and full of faults, stop in his onward course, either to be annihilated, or suddenly, without participating in it, though he was created free, find that he was as perfect as he could possibly be ? This is more than I can understand.
“No, when the time comes, man will not find that his life has been useless, a thing for mere contemplation; he will not find that he is improved without personal participation therein, without effort and toil on his part; above all, he will not be reduced to a state of nothingness. He will again have a life of toil; he will participate, to the extent God has permitted him, in the endless creations produced by divine omnipotence; he will again [Page 259] love, he will never cease to love; he will continue his eternal progress, because the distance between himself and God is infinite”.
Pierre Leroux says:
“If God, after creating the world and all creation, were then to abandon them, instead of guiding them from life to life, from one state of progress to another, to a goal of real happiness, he would be an unjust God. It is unnecessary for St. Paul to say: ' Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus ?' (Romans, Chapter 9, v. 20.) There is an inner voice, doubtless coming to us from God himself, which tells us that God cannot bring about evil, or create in order to cause suffering. Now this is what would certainly happen were God to abandon his creatures after an imperfect, a truly unhappy life. On the other hand, if we regard the world as a series of successive lives for each creature, we see very well how it comes about that God, to whom there is neither, time nor space, and who perceives the final goal of all things, permits evil and suffering as being necessary phases through which creatures must pass, in order to reach a state of happiness which the creature does not see, and, consequently, cannot enjoy in so far as it is a creature, but which God sees, and which, therefore, the creature virtually enjoys in him, for the time [Page 260] will come when it will partake of that happiness”. [De l’Humanité, vol 1, p 233]
In Fourier we find the following lines: [Théorie de l’Unité Universelle, , Volume 2, pages 304 - 348]
“Where is there an old man who would not like to feel certain that he would be born again and bring back into another life the experience he has gained in the present one ? To affirm that this desire cannot be realized is to confess that God is capable of deceiving us. We must, therefore, recognize that we have already lived before being what we now are, and that many another life awaits us, some in this world, and the rest in a higher sphere, with a finer body and more delicate senses. . . .”
Alphonse Esquiros expresses himself as follows: [Vie Future au Point de Vue Socialiste, and Confession d’un Curé de Village.]
“The question may well be asked whether the talents, the good and the evil tendencies man brings with him at birth may not be the fruit of acquired intelligence, of qualities and vices gained in one or many former existences. Is there a previous life the elements of which have prepared the conditions of the life now being lived by each of us ? People in ancient times thought so. Inborn dispositions, [Page 261] so different in children, caused them to believe in impressions left by previous existences in the imperishable germ of man. From the time when intelligence begins to show itself in children we faintly discern a general attitude towards things, which is very like a memory thereof. It would appear that, according to this system, no one is unconnected with the elements he introduces into life at each birth.
“All the same, rebirth in humanity constitutes no more than an initial circle of tests. When, after one or several incarnations, man has attained to the degree of perfection necessary to cause a change, he passes to another life, and, in another sphere, begins an existence of which we know nothing, though it is possible for us to regard it as linked to the present life by the closest of bonds. , . .
“The limit to the progress man must have attained to, before entering upon another circle of tests in another sphere, is at present unknown to us; science and philosophy will doubtless succeed in determining this limit later on.
“They alone are reborn to earthly flesh who have in no way raised the immortal principle of their nature to a degree of perfection that will enable them to be reborn in glory. . . .
“I affirm the perpetual union of the soul to organic bodies; these bodies succeed each other, [Page 262] being born from one another, and fitting themselves for the constitutive forms of the world's traversed by the immortal ego in its successive existences. The principle of life, extended to divers evolutions of rebirth, is ever for the Creator nothing more than a continuation of one and the same state. God does not regard the duration of a being as limited to the interval between birth and death; he includes all possible segments of existence, the succession of which, after many interruptions and renewals, forms the real unity of life. Must souls, when they leave our globe, put on, from sphere to sphere, an existence hidden from us, whose organic elements would continually be fitting themselves for the characters and natures of the different worlds ? Reason can come to no decision on this point. Only let us not forget that the soul always carries off a material germ from one existence to the next, making itself anew, so to speak, several times, in that endless ascent of lives through the worlds, wherein it attains, heaven after heaven, a degree of perfection increasingly linked with the eternal elements of our growing personality.
“It may be seen, from what is here stated, how vain is the hypothesis of perfect bliss following on the death of the righteous.
“It is useless for the Christian to soar beyond time, beyond some limit that separates him from [Page 263] infinite good; he cannot do this by a single effort. God proportions his intervention and aid to the totality of the states man must pass through in the course of an indefinitely long series of existences. . . .”
M. d'Orient, an orthodox Catholic, writes as follows: [Destinées de l’Âme]
“In this doctrine, so evidently based on reason, everything is linked and held together: the foreknowledge of God and the agreement thereof with man's free-will. This problem, hitherto impossible to solve, no longer offers any difficulty, if by it is meant that God, knowing before birth, by reason of his previous deeds, what there is in the heart of man, brings man to life and removes him from it in circumstances that best fit in with the accomplishment of his purposes. . . .
“We see in this way how it is that God is the controller of all the main events that take place in the world, for the knowledge he has of souls in former lives, and his power to dispose of each and all in the way he pleases, enable him to foresee events in his infinite knowledge and arrange the whole sequence of things in conformity with his plans, somewhat as an ingenious, skillful workman, by the aid of various colours, conceives of and arranges the life-like reproduction of a mosaic, a [Page 264] picture, or a piece of inlaid work. We understand all his forecasts of the future, how it was that Daniel foretold so exactly the greatness of Alexander and his conquests; how Isaiah called Cyrus by name many centuries before these mighty conquerors appeared to spread confusion and terror over the world; how God, in order to show forth his might before the nations and spread abroad the glory of his name, is said to have hardened Pharaoh's heart and roused his obstinate will; for all that was needed in order to bring to pass these various results was for God to call back into existence certain souls he knew to be naturally suited to his purpose. This is distinctly pointed out in the passage from the apostle St. Jude, which, if we accept the meaning that first offers itself to the mind, would seem positively to imply that certain souls had undergone a sentence of eternal reprobation: ' For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness. . . .'
“And so there falls away and disappears the greatest difficulty in the doctrine of grace, which consisted in explaining how it came about that God made some men pitiful and others hard-hearted, without there being in him either justice or acceptance of persons; showing pity, says St. Augustine, [Page 265] only by grace that was unmerited, and hardening hearts only by judgment that was always just; since evidently according to this theory it is not (as Origen has already said) apart from previous merit that some are formed for vessels of honour, and others for vessels of shame and wrath. That harsh sentence pronounced upon Judas by the Bishop of Hippon, which so grievously scandalized most of the Catholic theologians, although only the confirmation of the quotation from St. Jude, viz., that the wretched man had been predestined to shed the Saviour's blood, will seem to be a very just one in the sense that God causes that already lost soul to be born again, that demon, as Jesus Christ called him, for the very purpose of perpetrating the hateful crime.
“Consequently the most sublime mysteries of religion, the most wonderful facts regarding the destiny of the soul, find their natural explanation in a clear understanding of this doctrine of metempsychosis, however strange and extraordinary it may at first appear. What more striking proof can be asked for, what stronger and more convincing reason than such agreement, concerning matter wherein all positive proof will always, humanly speaking, be impossible? A doctrine which meets all. the facts of the case so accurately, which explains, without difficulty, all the phenomena of our [Page 266] existence in this world, can, of necessity, be nothing else than true”.
Jean Reynaud expresses himself in these terms in Terre et Ciel:
“How glorious the light that would be cast on the present order of things on earth by a knowledge of our former existences! And yet, not only is our memory helpless regarding the times that preceded birth, it is not even conscious of the whole of the intervening period, often playing us false in the course of a lifetime. It retains absolutely nothing of the period immediately preceding birth, and scarcely any trace of our education as children; we might even be altogether ignorant of the fact that we were children once, were there not around us witnesses of that time. On every hand we are wrapped in a veil of ignorance, as with a pall of darkness, we no more distinguish the light beyond the cradle than that beyond the tomb. So far as memory is concerned, it would seem that we might be compared with a rocket such as we sometimes see flashing through the sky in the night-time, leaving behind it a line of light, this light never shows anything more than a limited portion of the way. Of like nature is memory, a trail of light left behind on our journey; we die, and everything is dark around us; we are born again, and the light begins to appear, like a star through the mist; we [Page 267] live, and it develops and grows, suddenly disappears again and reappears once more; from one eclipse to another we continue our way, and this way, interrupted by periods of darkness, is a continuous one, whose elements, only apparently separated, are linked to each other by the closest of bonds; we always bear within ourselves the principle of what we shall be later on, we are always rising higher. Question us on our past, and, like the rocket, we reply that we are going forward, but that our path is illumined only in our immediate neighbourhood, and that the rest of the road is lost in the blackness of night; we no more know from where we came than we know our destination, but we do know that we came from below and are rising higher, and that is all that is necessary to interest us in ourselves and make us conscious of what we are. And who knows but what our soul, in the unknown secret of its essence, has power some day to throw light on its successive journeyings, like those streaks of flame to which we are comparing it ? There are strong reasons for thinking that such is the case, since the entire restoration of memory appears, with good reason, to be one of the main conditions of our future happiness. . . .
“In like manner the soul, passing from one abode to another, and leaving its first body for a new one, ever changing its appearance and its dwelling [Page 268] guided by the Creator's beams, from transmigration to transmigration, from metamorphosis to metamorphosis, pursues the palingenesic course of its eternal destiny. . . .
“... Let us, then, add the teachings of metempsychosis to those of the Gospel, and place Pythagoras by the side of Jesus. . . .”
André Pezzani concludes in the following words his remarkable book on The Plurality of the Soul's Lives:
“Apart from the belief in previous lives, nothing can be explained, neither the coming of a new soul into this evil world, the often incurable bodily infirmities, the disproportionate division of wealth, nor the inequality in intelligence and morality. The justice of God lies behind the monstrous phantom of chance. We understand neither what man is, whence he comes, nor whither he goes; original sin does not account for the particular fate of individuals, as it is the same for all. Roughly speaking, it clears up no difficulties, but rather adds to them the most revolting injustice. Once accept the theory of pre-existence, and a glorious light is thrown on the dogma of sin, for it becomes the result of personal faults from which the guilty soul must be purified.
“Pre-existence, once admitted as regards the past, logically implies a succession of future [Page 269] existences for all souls that have not yet attained to the goal and that have imperfections and defilements from which to be cleansed. In order to enter the circle of happiness and leave the circle of wanderings, one must be pure.
“We have opposed error, and proclaimed truth, and we firmly believe that the dogmas of pre-existence and the plurality of lives are true”.
Thomas Browne, in Religio Medici, section 6, hints at Reincarnation:
“Heresies perish not with their authors, but, like the river Arethusa, though they lose their currents in one place, they rise up again in another . . revolution of time will restore it, when it will flourish till it be condemned again. For as though there were a Metempsychosis, and the soul of one man passed into another, opinions do find, after certain Revolutions, men and minds like those that first begat them. . . Each man is not only himself, there hath been many Diogenes and as many Timons, though but few of that name; men are lived over again, the world is now as it was in ages past there was none then but there hath been someone since that parallels him, and is, as it were, his revived self”.
in The Divine Education of the Human Race, vigorously opposes a Lutheran
divine who rejects reincarnation: [Page
“The very same way by which the race reaches its perfection must every individual man — one sooner, another later — have traveled over. Have traveled over in one and the same life ? Can he have been in one and the self-same life a sensual Jew and a spiritual Christian ?
“Surely not that! But why should not every individual man have existed more than once in this world ?
“Is this hypothesis so laughable merely because it is the oldest? Because the human understanding, before the sophistries of the schools had disciplined and debilitated it, lighted upon it at once ? Why may not even I have already performed those steps of my perfecting which bring to men only temporal punishments and rewards ? And once more, why not another time all those steps, to perform which the views of Eternal Rewards so powerfully assist us ? Why should I not come back as often as I am capable of acquiring fresh knowledge, fresh expertness ? Do I bring away so much from once that there is nothing to repay the trouble of coming back ?
“Is this a reason against it ? Or because I forget that I have been here already? Happy is it for me that I do forget. The recollection of my former condition would permit me to make only a bad use of the present. And that which even [Page 271] I must forget now, is that necessarily forgotten forever? ”
Schlosser gives expression to similar thoughts in a fine work of his: Über die Seelenwanderung.
Lichtemberg says in his Seibstcharacteristik :
“I cannot get rid of the thought that I died before I was born, and that by this death I was led to this rebirth. I feel so many things that, were I to write them down, the world would regard me as a madman. Consequently, I prefer to hold my peace”.
Charles Bonnet is the author of a splendid work, full of noble and lofty thoughts, on this subject. It is entitled Philosophic Palingenesis.
Emmanuel Kant believes that our souls start imperfect from the sun, and travel through planetary stages farther and farther away to a paradise in the coldest and remotest star in our system. (General History of Nature?)
In The Destiny of Man, J. G. Fichte says:
two systems, the purely spiritual and the sensuous — which last may consist
of an immeasurable series of particular lives — exist in me from the moment
when my active reason is developed and pursue their parallel course. . . .
“All death in nature is birth. . . . There is no death-bringing principle in nature, for nature is only life throughout. . , . Even because [Page 272] Nature puts me to death, she must quicken me anew. .
Herder, in his Dialogues on Metempsychosis, deals with this subject more fully:
“Do you not know great and rare men who cannot have been what they are in a single human existence; who must have often existed before in order to have attained that purity of feeling, that instinctive impulse for all that is true, beautiful, and good ? . . . Have you never had remembrances of a former state ? . . . Pythagoras, larchas, Apollonius, and others remembered distinctly what and how many times they had been in the world before. If we are blind or can see but two steps before our noses, ought we, therefore, to deny that others may see a hundred or a thousand degrees farther, even to the bottom of time . . . ?
“He who has not become ripe in one form of humanity is put into the experience again, and, some time or other, must be perfected.
am not ashamed of my half-brothers the brutes; on the contrary, so far as I am
concerned, I am a great advocate of metempsychosis. I believe for a certainty
that they will ascend to a higher grade of being, and am unable to understand
how anyone can object to this hypothesis, which seems to have the analogy of
the whole creation in its favour”. [Page
Sir Walter Scott had such vivid memories of his past lives that they compelled a belief in pre-existence. Instances of this belief may be found in The Life of Scott, by Lockhart (vol. 7, p. 114, first edition).
According to Schlegel:
“Nature is nothing less than the ladder of resurrection, which, step by step, leads upward, or rather is carried from the abyss of eternal death up to the apex of life”. (Aesthetic and Miscellaneous Works; and, The Philosophy of History)
Shelley held a firm belief in Reincarnation:
“It is not the less certain, notwithstanding the cunning attempts to conceal the truth, that all knowledge is reminiscence. The doctrine is far more ancient than the times of Plato”. (Dowden's Life of Shelley, vol. I, p. 82.)
Schopenhauer adopted the idea of Reincarnation which he had found in the Upanishads; regarding this portion of his teaching, his contemporaries and followers set up a kind of conspiracy of silence. In Parerga and Paralipomena, Volume 2, Chapter 15, Essay on Religions, he says:
“I have said that the combination of the Old Testament with the New gives rise to absurdities. As an example, I may cite the Christian doctrine of Predestination and Grace as formulated by Augustine and adopted from him by Luther, [Page 274] according to which one man is endowed with grace and another is not. Grace thus comes to be a privilege received at birth and brought ready into the world. . . . What is obnoxious and absurd in this doctrine may be traced to the idea contained in the Old Testament, that man is the creation of an external will which called him into existence out of nothing. It is quite true that genuine moral excellence is really innate; but the meaning of the Christian doctrine is expressed in another and more rational way by the theory of Metempsychosis, common to Brâhmans and Buddhists. According to this theory, the qualities which distinguish one man from another are received at birth, i.e., are brought from another world and a former life; these qualities are not an external gift of grace, but are the fruits of the acts committed in that other world. . . .
“What is absurd and revolting in this dogma is, in the main, as I said, the simple outcome of Jewish theism with its ' creation out of nothing', and the really foolish and paradoxical denial of the doctrine of metempsychosis which is involved in that idea, a doctrine which is natural to a certain extent, self-evident, and, with the exception of the Jews, accepted by nearly the whole human race at all times. . . . Were an Asiatic to ask me for a definition of Europe, I should be forced to answer [Page 275] him: It is that part of the world which is haunted by the incredible delusion that man was created out of nothing, and that his present birth is his first entrance into life”.
In The World as Will and Idea, he also says :
“What sleep is for the individual, death is for the Will (character).
“It flings off memory and individuality, and this is Lethe; and through this sleep of death it reappears refreshed and fitted out with another intellect, as a new being”.
In Parerga and Paralipomena, Volume 2, Chapter 10, he adds:
we clearly understand the real nature of our inmost being, we should see how
absurd it is to desire that individuality should exist eternally. This wish implies
that we confuse real Being with one of its innumerable manifestations. The individuality
disappears at death, but we lose nothing thereby, for it is only the manifestation
of quite a different Being — a Being ignorant of time, and, consequently,
knowing neither life nor death. The loss of intellect is the Lethe, but for which
the Will would remember the various manifestations it has caused. When we die,
we throw off our individuality, like a worn-out garment, and rejoice because
we are about to receive a new and a better one”. [Page
Edgar Allen Poe, speaking of the dim memories of bygone lives, says:
“We walk about, amid the destinies of our world-existence, encompassed by divine but ever-present Memories of a Destiny more vast — very distant in the bygone time and infinitely awful.
“We live out a Youth peculiarly haunted by such dreams, yet never mistaking them for dreams. As Memories we know them. During our Youth the distinction is too clear to deceive us even for a moment.
“But now comes the period at which a conventional World-Reason awakens us from the truth of our dream ... a misshapen day or a misfortune that could not be traced back to our own doings in this or in another life . ...” (Eureka)
Georges Sand, in Consuelo, sets forth the logic of Reincarnation; and G. Flammarion expounds this doctrine in most of his works: Uranie; Les Mondes Imaginaires et les Mondes Réels; La Pluralité des Mondes Habités, etc.
Professor William Knight wrote in the Fortnightly Review for September, 1878:
seems surprising that in the discussions of contemporary philosophy on the origin
and destiny of the soul there has been no explicit revival of the doctrines of
Pre-existence and Metempsychosis. [Page
. . . They offer quite a remarkable solution of the mystery of Creation, Translation, and Extinction. . . .
“Stripped of all extravagances and expressed in the modest terms of probability, the theory has immense speculative interest and great ethical value. It is much to have the puzzle of the origin of evil thrown back for an indefinite number of cycles of lives and to have a workable explanation of Nemesis. . . .”
Professor W. A. Butler, in his Lectures on the History of Ancient Philosophy, says:
“There is internally no greater improbability that the present may be the result of a former state now almost wholly forgotten than that the present should be followed by a future form of existence in which, perhaps, or in some departments of which, the oblivion may be as complete”.
The Rev. William R. Alger, a Unitarian minister, adds:
“Our present lack of recollection of past lives is no disproof of their actuality. . . . The most striking fact about the doctrine of the repeated incarnations of the soul ... is the constant reappearance of that faith in all parts of the world and its permanent hold on certain great nations. . . .
“The advocates of the resurrection should not [Page 278] confine their attention to the repellent or ludicrous aspects of metempsychosis, . . . but do justice to its claim and charm”. (A Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life.}
Professor Francis Bowen, of Harvard University, writes in the Princetown Review for May, 1881, when dealing with the subject of Christian Metempsychosis:
“Our life upon earth is rightly held to be a discipline and a preparation for a higher and eternal life hereafter. But if limited to the duration of a single mortal body, it is so brief as to seem hardly sufficient for so great a purpose. . . . Why may not the probation of the soul be continued or repeated through a long series of successive generations, the same personality animating, one after another, an indefinite number of tenements of flesh, and carrying forward into each the training it has received, the character it has formed, the temper and dispositions it has indulged, in the stage of existence immediately preceding ? . . .
“Every human being thus dwells successively in many bodies, even during one short life. [Alluding to the complete renewing of the material molecules of the body, every seven years.] If every birth were an act of absolute creation, the introduction to life of an entirely new creature, we might [Page 279] reasonably ask why different souls are so variously constituted at the outset. . . . One child seems a perverse goblin, while another has the early promise of a Cowley or a Pascal. . . . The birthplace of one is in Central Africa, and of another in the heart of civilized and Christian Europe. Where lingers eternal justice then ? How can such frightful inequalities be made to appear consistent with the infinite wisdom and goodness of God? . . .
“If metempsychosis is included in the scheme of the divine government of the world, this difficulty disappears altogether. Considered from this point of view, everyone is born into the state which he has fairly earned by his own previous history. . . We submit with enforced resignation to the stern decree; . . . that the iniquities of the fathers shall be visited upon the children even to the third and fourth generation. But no one can complain of the dispositions and endowments which he has inherited, so to speak, from himself, that is, from his former self in a previous stage of existence.
it matters not, so far as the justice of the sentence is concerned, whether the
former self from whom we receive this heritage bore the same name with our present
self, or bore a different name. . . [Page
Professor F. H. Hedge, in Ways of the Spirit, and other Essays, page 359, maintains that:
“Whatever had a beginning in time, it should seem, must end in time. The eternal destination which faith ascribes to the soul presupposes an eternal origin. . . . An obvious objection, and one often urged against this hypothesis, is the absence of any recollection of a previous life. The new organization with its new entries must necessarily efface the record of the old. For memory depends on continuity of association. When the thread of that continuity is broken, the knowledge of the past is gone. . . .
“And a happy thing, if the soul pre-existed, it is for us that we remember nothing of its former life. . . . Of all the theories respecting the origin of the soul this seems to me the most plausible, and therefore the one most likely to throw light on the question of a life to come”.
Spiritualists of Europe — those belonging to the school of Allan Kardec,
at all events — place reincarnation in the very forefront of their teaching.
We may add that those of America do not acknowledge that the soul has more than
one existence on earth, driven, however, by the logic of things, which insists
on progress, they state that there are a series of lives passed in subtler bodies
on invisible planets and worlds. [Page
All true philosophers have been attracted by the mystery of palingenesis, and have found that its acceptance has thrown a flood of light on the questions that perplexed them.
In Asia there are 400 millions of believers in reincarnation, including the Chinese, Tartars, Thibetâns, Hindus, Siamese, Mongolians, Burmese, Cambodians, Koreans, and the people of Japan.
Tradition has handed down this teaching even to the most savage tribes. In Madagascar, when a man is on the point of death, a hole is made in the roof of his straw hut, through which his soul may pass out and enter the body of a woman in labour. This may be looked upon as a stupid superstition, still it is one which, in spite of its degenerate form, sets forth the doctrine of the return of souls back to evolution through earthly experiences. The Sontals, Somalis, and Zulus, the Dyaks of Borneo and Sumatra, and the Powhatans of Mexico have similar traditions. In Central Africa, slaves who are hunchbacked or maimed forestall the hour of death by voluntary self-immolation, in the hope of being reborn in the bodies of men who will be free and perfectly formed.
To sum up: all tradition, whether popular, philosophical, or religious, is instinct with the teaching of Rebirth.[Page 282]
Reincarnation and Forgetfulness of the Past
Sceptics are ever bringing forward against reincarnation the absence of all memory of past lives, convinced that there can be no answer to this argument.
They do not reflect that human ignorance is a bottomless abyss, whilst the possibilities of Life are endless. The schools of the future will smile at the claims made by those of the present, just as the latter doubtless regard with pitying indulgence that school which, only a few years ago, in the person of one of its most famous members, Dr. Bouillaud, mercilessly condemned the exponent of Edison's invention, because the savant, listening to a phonograph for the first time, could not believe that it was anything else than ventriloquism! Instances of this kind are sufficiently numerous and recent not to be forgotten, in spite of the shortness of human memory.
In the present instance, there are many men of science who have not yet been made sufficiently wise by experience to see that the very mystery of memory itself might furnish an explanation of that general absence of all power of recollection, which now seems to them altogether incompatible with the doctrine of Rebirth. [Page 283]
So as not to appear to be running away from this objection, by dealing with it only on the surface, we will endeavour to develop the question somewhat, for we shall have to set forth to readers unacquainted with theosophical teachings — which alone, up to the present, have thrown light on these difficult subjects — certain doctrines which will be well understood by none but theosophists, since they are incapable of proof by a simple statement thereof, but form part of a long chain of teachings. We will offer them simply as theories — though they are facts to us — theories that contain many an error, it may be, and are imperfectly stated, though capable of widening the horizon of thought and shedding a brilliant light upon many an obscure question. Earnest seekers after truth, it is hoped, will not be disheartened by the difficulties of the subject, but will endeavour to grasp the meaning of the following pages, by reading them over again, if need be.
First, a few words must be said on memory in general, next we will give a rapid sketch of what constitutes memory in atoms and molecules, in the varied forms of the many kingdoms of nature and in human forms; finally, we will speak of cosmic Memory, that veritable Judgment Book which takes account of all the vibrations of the Universe.
Amongst beings capable of memory, a distinction [Page 284] must be made between those which have not reached the stage of self-consciousness, and those which have done so, for memory, properly so-called, takes for granted an “I”. That which has not an “I” can only have a memory of which it is not conscious [Whose consciousness, however (along with memory), is at the summit of the hierarchy which is its origin]; the atom, for instance, of whose memory we shall speak later on; that which has only a rudimentary “I” possesses only a rudimentary memory from the point of view of its bearing on the individual—such is that possessed by the souls of the lower kingdoms, that which constitutes instinct; to the perfect “I” alone belongs an individual memory — the human memory, and that of beings who have attained to the superhuman stage. This memory may be defined as the faculty possessed by an individualized “center of consciousness” voluntarily to reproduce the vibrations it has received or generated.
A “center of consciousness” is a form that serves, for the time being, as the instrument of an individualized ray of that indefinable principle called the soul. But for the presence of this individual soul in a form, this latter would remain inactive as a center of consciousness — although active in its constituent parts [ Molecules and atoms have a particular consciousness of their own which does not cease to function when, on the departure of the individual soul, the body, as such, ceases to function ] - and could it not then, consciously, [Page 285] either generate or receive vibrations on the plane from which the soul is momentarily absent — it could only transmit them; for instance, when a man is in a brown study, he is not conscious in his brain, of what is taking place on the physical plane.[If sufficiently developed, however, he can be made conscious of this in a higher vehicle]
The vehicles of consciousness are often numerous in a being, and the more numerous in proportion to the degree this latter has attained in the scale of evolution. The present-day man possesses four bodies: the visible, the astral, the mental, and the causal. They are not all equally developed, and therefore not equally conscious, for the clearness and intensity of consciousness depend on the degree of perfection of its vehicles, just as the beauty of electric light depends on the perfection of the apparatus producing it.
The Ego — the man — is the consciousness that is called forth by the soul in the causal body. This consciousness varies in power with the development of the body that gives birth to it. At first it is dim and uncertain, [When man has barely entered the human stage - in primitive man] and acquires some degree of intensity only when it receives, through the mental and astral vehicles, the simple and intense vibrations of [Page 286] the physical body.[ Consciousness begins in the physical body, its simplest instrument] In savage races, for instance, man possesses a definite consciousness only in his waking condition; as soon as the soul is attached to the astral body, externalized by sleep, it experiences only a dim consciousness in this undeveloped vehicle. In advanced races, the astral body, being far more developed, brings about distinct consciousness during sleep. As man evolves, consciousness begins to function in the mental and the astral bodies, without the assistance of the vibrations of the lower vehicles, and when all the grades [There are other vehicles above the causal body] of matter which compose the human constitution are thus vitalized, man has become perfect; he knows the Universe because he feels it within himself — he echoes it, so to speak, and possesses all its powers, [All the powers of the Universe are in the divine germ, as the tree is in its seed]
In ordinary man, the memory of events that have taken place in his waking state can be brought back by that special effort of will which sets in motion the cerebral molecules that have previously been put into vibration by these events.
Sometimes the will, of itself, is powerless to recall this vibration, either because the brain is tired or in some unfavourable condition or other; it is then [Page 287] aided by bringing its automatism into play, by endeavouring, for instance, to call back one constituent element of the fact desired, a place, sound, scent, person, etc., and often in this way is brought about the vibration of the molecules that constituted the rest of the circuit, and the fact sought for presents itself; association of ideas is a phenomenon based on this mechanical process.
A third method — a far more difficult one — is also used: the bringing of every mental effort to a standstill. The suppression of thought, when sufficiently complete, brings the brain into a state of calm, allows of the soul concentrating on the astral body whose memory is keen and only slightly subject to obstruction, and then it often happens that the vibration of the astral memory repercusses on to the physical apparatus which suddenly remembers the thing desired.
On the death of the physical, the soul acts in the astral body; there it retains a complete memory of life on earth, but the vibrations of the physical plane no longer reach it, [Because it no longer has a dense physical body. There are exceptions to this rule, but there is no necessity to mention them here] these memories soon cease to occupy its attention, and it gives itself up wholly to the impressions received from the new world into which it has entered. In this first stage of the [Page 288] after-life, then, there is a kind of darkening of the memory of the past earth life — darkening, not oblivion.
When the purgatorial life is at an end and the astral body disintegrates in its turn, the soul functions in the mental body, in the mental world.[The Christian Heaven, the Devachan of theosophy] On this new plane, the memory of the worlds left behind continues, though far less clearly than the memory of the physical existed in the astral world; this is owing to the fact that, in ordinary man, the mental body is not sufficiently developed to constitute a complete vehicle of consciousness, capable of registering all the vibrations that come to it; everything in the past that has been purely the work of the astral or the physical plane then disappears from his memory; there remain only memories that have been caused either by the mental qualities or qualities superior to these, all the highest elements concerned with affection, intelligence, or art. The mental world, generally speaking, is seen only to a small extent or not at all, because of the incomplete development of the mental body. Besides, recollections assume a new character; [This character has already appeared on the astral plane, though not in so striking a fashion] every thought takes a concrete form — that of a friend, for instance, appears as the friend [Page 289] himself, speaking and thinking, more vivid than on the earth plane: [Unity exists on the plane of the Ego, and the latter sends his thought into the forms made out of his vehicles; this will be understood only by the few, but an explanation cannot be given at this point, without writing a volume on the whole of theosophy]everything is dramatized in marvellous fashion, and life is intense throughout the realms of paradise.
mental body, after exhausting the forces that make it up, also dies, and the
soul is “centered” in the only vehicle it has left, the causal body,
a body that is immortal, one may say, up to a certain point, since the soul retains
it until the time comes when it can function in a still higher and more lasting
vehicle, [We are still dealing with the ordinary man] and this
happens only after millions of years.[When liberation is attained.
This can be effected rapidly by those who will to attain it] Here,
another diminution of memory takes place, because the soul loses a large portion
of its consciousness when it comes into contact with none but the vibrations
of this body, which is even more incompletely developed than the former ones,
though holding within itself all the germs of these latter. The Ego then remains
apparently sunk in sleep for a varying period, though never for very long; then
the germs in the causal body become active, build up a new series of bodies in
succession — the mental, the astral, and finally the physical — and
the soul returns once more to incarnation. [Page
It will now be understood how it comes about that a soul of average development — on entering a new cycle, with the memory of the last cycle considerably obliterated by the loss of the physical, astral, and mental bodies, sheathed in new bodies on these planes, bodies that have nothing in common with the life of the past — is unable to impress its dim memories on to the brain; but it will also be seen that, with the progress of evolution, the soul acquires ever clearer consciousness in the causal body, in which it finally preserves the memory of the various life-cycles. Since, at this stage, it has become capable of projecting its vibrations, voluntarily, through the lower bodies, it is able to transmit this memory first to the mental body, then to the astral, and lastly to the physical body; when this is possible, man, in waking consciousness, remembers his former lives.
This transmission requires a purificatory process in the vehicles and a special training of the will. The matter of all the bodies — that of the brain in particular — must be refined, its constituent elements must be subtler, and its atoms must be fully awakened to activity: [Only four of the seven atomic spirillae are active in this our fourth planetary Round (one for each Round). They can be rapidly vitalized by the will] whereupon the cerebral cell becomes capable of responding to the thought of [Page 291] the Ego, i.e of vibrating in harmony with the higher matter.
The second condition of the brain's receptivity is that this organ be brought into a state of complete rest. So long as the waking consciousness is active, the brain vibrates powerfully, and if, at this time, the soul sends the brain its thought, this latter can no more make an impression on the existing cerebral activity than a faint note could be heard amid the clash of an orchestra. Consequently, man, by the training of his will, must have acquired the power to stop the thinking activity in the waking state, and to “center” his attention on the causal body, the only vehicle in which he can know the facts of his past incarnations; this done he is able, at will, to project on to his brain the scenes of his former lives and to imprint them thereon with greater distinctness, in proportion to his development and training.
In order to avoid continued explanations, we will deal with another side of the question, however incomprehensible it be to such as have not studied theosophy.
A vehicle of consciousness is both a registering apparatus [When the soul is “centered” in it] and a conductor of vibrations. [The vibrations, whether registered as they pass or not registered, continue their course through the substance of the Universe] The [Page 292] kinds of matter of which forms are made up are perfectly graduated; the finest atom of the physical body is built up of the densest atoms of the astral plane, the finest atom of the astral body is made of the densest atoms of the mental plane, and so on. Each atom is linked to the one that precedes and to the one that follows it in that immense chain which stretches from the densest to the subtlest plane of the Cosmos. Every vibration follows this path, passes in all directions — in the seven [Science even now recognizes four of these dimensions] dimensions of space — and terminates in the very Center of consciousness, the Logos, God incarnate in the world.
It is then comprehensible, even logical, that God should be both conscious, on his receptive side, of everything that takes place in the world (omniscient), and should produce, on his active side, all the forces of the world (omnipotent]. It is likewise admissible that the human soul, when fully developed, should find in the causal body the memory of the facts that have echoed therein, from the time when it could function consciously in it. But, it will be asked, how could it find, in the causal body, memories of existences it has not been able to register individually, of which it has not been conscious, those, for instance, that form the early [Page 293] stages of its evolution at a time when it was conscious only in the lower vehicles ?
possesses many store-houses. The vibrations of which it is composed affect the
whole Universe, there is not a single local shock that is not felt throughout
all the worlds. The eternal registering of things takes place in the great center
of consciousness, God, or rather, it exists in him, for to him there is neither
future nor past, only one eternal present; evolution is unceasingly accomplished [This
is said in order to satisfy such as are of a metaphysical turn of mind, and frequently
prone to criticism]; but if we look upon ourselves as finite
beings, living in the illusion of time and space, we find that vibrating matter
preserves for a longer or a shorter period the movement imparted to it. The denser
the substance, which forms the medium in which vibration takes place, the feebler
the vibration; that is why it speedily ceases on the physical plane; it continues
long, however, in the higher conditions of matter, and it is there we must look
for it, [When the inner senses are developed] if we would recall
certain events at which we have not been present. When anything exciting, a murder,
a battle, for instance, has happened anywhere, the subtler atoms of the surrounding
objects receive a powerful shock and continue to vibrate for centuries. Those
who have [Page
294] developed their inner senses can thus witness the scene which
is continually repeating itself, or rather, is happening all the time.[A
question will doubtless at once rise to the minds of many readers; how can the
same atoms produce, at once and almost eternally, millions of different facts
? We will reply briefly. Science has been able to conceive of an explanation
of a fact apparently quite as absurd — the phenomenon of the balls of Russian
platinum mentioned by Zõllner (Transcendental Physics, ch.
9) which pass through hermetically sealed glass tubes, and that of the German
copper coins dropping through the bottom of a sealed box on to a slate — by
accepting a fourth dimension of space. Who would affirm that the dimensions of
space are limited to four? “Or that the science of the immediate future
will not be brought face to face with facts, and find, in a fifth or sixth dimension
of space, a possible explanation of the phenomenon here mentioned, one which
initiated seers can test whenever they please, because it is a real fact?
Still, as these seers say, the coarsest atoms generally register only one image, others register fresh images, so that in many cases there is quite a superposition of images which must be carefully examined to avoid errors] Thus, psychometrists [A psychometrist is a person endowed with a very fine nervous system, capable of repeating the delicate vibrations which act upon the inmost atoms of a body. In this way, by placing himself in presence of an object that has been in contact with some individual, he can clearly describe the latter's physical, moral, and mental characteristics. Hitherto, Buchanan and Professor Denton have been the most remarkable psychometrists; the experiments related in their works have been made before witnesses and permit of no doubt whatever as to the reality of this strange faculty.] in presence of a portion of a fossil, are enabled to bring back scenes that this fragment has witnessed millions of years ago. [Instances of this are numerous in Professor Denton's The Soul of Things] [Page 295] In these cases, the memory of the facts is connected with that of the atoms which register it; this memory can only be recalled by coming into contact with these atoms.[This memory is preserved in the first “life-wave”]
There is also another memory, midway between the unconscious memory of atoms and the conscious memory of the human soul; that of the forms of the various sub-human kingdoms. It is only slightly conscious, for it is not individualized; all the same, it is precise in its nature. It dwells in the vital essence of the form, an essence taken from a collective “block” which supplies a portion of its substance to the individuals of the same species; this incarnate portion of essence, when the form disintegrates at death, returns to the parent “block”, to which it communicates the result of its experiences, and when the latter sends out a portion of itself, into a new form, this tentacle, which is, so to speak, the soul of the form, is in possession of the whole of the experiences of the “block”. [This is instinct, i.e. a semi-conscious memory, located in the “life-wave” of the second Logos] This explains how it is that the individual members of certain hostile species know one another from birth — the chicken, for instance, which, immediately it has left the egg, trembles before the hawk hovering above in the [Page 296] air; such is also the reason why a duckling plunges into water as soon as it comes to a pond, and the same instinct impels a bird to leave its nest and trust itself to the air when fully fledged.
In these collective souls, belonging to the mineral, vegetable, and animal kingdoms, there can be recovered the past to which they bore witness, when the atoms of their bodies have been dispersed and entered into new combinations
When the elemental Essence [The divine Essence incarnated in the matter of the lower planes of the Universe] has definitely split up, and the “blocks” have become separate, individualized, human fragments, [When the “essence”, after the destruction of the form to which it gives life, no more returns to the parent-block from which it came, it has become individualized, ready to enter into the human kingdom] each of these fragments is a causal body, a definite, immortal center in the total Center. Consequently there are in man three kinds of memory: atomic memory, that of the atoms of his bodies; instinctive memory of the special elemental essences which are the collective souls of his various vehicles; and finally, the individual memory of the center, [The memory of the third life-wave, of the first Logos] which is one with the total Center from which it comes.
This element of unity, this human “I” in the divine “I”, when sufficiently developed, is able to [Page 297] evoke the memory of all the events in which it has participated in the causal body, and also the memory of those it has witnessed as a collective soul (elemental “block”) in bygone ages when active in various mineral, vegetable, and animal species. As a center in the great Center, it can also call forth the memory of everything in the Universe that its consciousness can grasp.[Everything for instance, that concerns the planes of the planetary system, on which it has finished its evolution] And when, in this long pilgrimage, it has developed to the farthest limits of the Universe it knows all that has been, is now, and is to be in this Universe, consequently it knows both what it has and what it has not participated in, for everything in the Universe has then become part of itself.
Thus it is seen that the memory of the past is everywhere registered, and that the difficulty a man has in bringing it back is caused by nothing more than his imperfect development. Once he has entered the “Strait Gate”, [The passing of consciousness from the causal body to the nascent buddhic body] and his consciousness is awake on the first plane of Unity: [The buddhic plane (the one immediately above the mental) is one in which the forms are so subtle that they no longer limit the Life (the Soul of the World) animating them. This Life comes directly into contact with the Life which causes all forms to live; it then sees Unity: it sees itself everywhere and in everything, the joys and sorrows of forms other than its own are its joys and sorrows, for it is universal Life] he becomes able [Page 298] to read the Great Book of Nature, in which all vibrations are kept in potentiality; he can revive them by an effort of will, similar to that he makes in a waking state, when he wishes to bring back past impressions to his brain. The difference lies in the fact that, in the latter case, being in the physical body, he calls up the memory retained in the astral body; whilst in the former case, being in the causal body, he brings memory within the influence of the buddhic body, or even at times of higher bodies still. The more the Being grows, and becomes able to fix his consciousness on the higher planes, the wider extends his sphere of influence, approaching that of divine Consciousness.
It is ignorance that brings forward this objection regarding loss of memory, ignorance of life and of death, ignorance of the phenomena that follow the last breath of a dying man, as well as of those preceding the first faint cry of a new-born child. Sceptics, however, might have shown a little more indulgence, for, as they are well aware, ordinary memory is even now so unreliable that a man has great difficulty in recalling the whole of the thoughts that have entered his brain during the last few minutes; he has forgotten the details of the various events of the week; the facts of the past year have mostly vanished from his mind, and when he comes to the end of the journey, mere fragments of the [Page 299] story of his life are all that is left. For all that, he has all the time retained the notion of the identity of his “I” ; he has the same body, the same senses, and the same brain; his environment is the same; everything is there to bring about association of ideas, to awaken memory. On the other hand, centuries have elapsed before Rebirth takes place; the human being has undergone the most radical changes and modifications; everything in him that was perishable has disappeared, and is preserved only in a germinal state. The visible bodily sheath has had its atoms scattered to the four elements; the etheric body [This body is composed of physical matter, and therefore belongs to the physical plane. It has been given a special name, not only because it is made of ether, but because it can be separated from the physical body] has become separated from the physical molecules whose vital support it formed; the body of passions and desires (astral body) has lived for a few years in what Catholics call Purgatory, Greeks, Hades, and Hindus, Kâma-loka; after which, only germs have been left behind; then the intelligence (mental body) has been dispersed in turn and endures only in a germinal state. Almost everything that made up the man of bygone times has disappeared, and is now concentrated in a complex germ hidden away in the causal body and destined to develop a new [Page 300] personality later on,[The whole of the bodies: mental, astral, and physical] heir to the former one, though it will not be capable of remembering events in which it took no part.
This is the explanation of the myth of Lethe.
The soul, in the causal body, drinks of the river of Life, and from its sleep-giving draught forms the sheaths of the new incarnation, the new bodies that altogether blot out the memory of the past; it is, in very truth, a new-born babe who appears on earth.
The Root-Being, [The Ego (soul) in the causal body] however, survives the successive wrecks of fleeting personalities, remaining in the new man as a guide, as the “Voice of Conscience”. He is the Watcher who strings, as on a thread, the numberless pearls (personalities) which form the inevitable cycle of human evolution, and is able, when fully developed, to summon up the distant panorama of past lives. For him, nothing is lost.
The pioneers of the race have obtained direct proof of successive incarnations, but apart from these rare and special instances, ordinary individuals frequently have reminiscences and distinct memories which are not investigated, either because they are fragmentary in their nature or are related by children. In India, where the natives believe in Reincarnation, such cases are regarded [Page 301] without astonishment, and efforts are made to prove their truth by serious investigation, whenever possible. And such proof is often possible. When a child dies in infancy, before he is able to use his body intelligently and of his own free will — before being able to generate karma — the higher sheaths (the astral and mental bodies) are not separated into their component parts. Return to earth quickly takes place, the memory of the past life exists in the astral body — which has not changed — and, more especially during the first few years of life, can be impressed on the new brain with tolerable ease, if this latter is at all delicately constituted. Then if reincarnation takes place in the same country and in the neighbourhood of the past incarnation, it can be proved to be true. Such instances do exist; the reason they are not mentioned here is that they would add nothing to the general proofs on which stress has been laid in this work. These proofs form part of universal Law; they cannot be separated therefrom.
We have now come to the end of our study: a task to which we have certainly not been equal, so far is it beyond our powers. As, however, we have drawn inspiration from our predecessors, so [Page 302] have we also, in our turn, endeavoured to shed a few more rays of light on certain points of this important subject, and indicate fresh paths that may be followed by such as enter upon this line of investigation in the future.
It is our most ardent desire to see this fertile soil well tilled, for it will yield an abundant harvest. Mankind is dying in strife and despair; the torrent of human activity is everywhere seething and foaming. Here ignorance buries its victims in a noisome den of slime and filth; there, the strong and ruthless, veritable vampires, batten on the labour and drain away the very life of the weak and helpless; farther away, science stumbles against the wall of the Unknown; philosophy takes up its stand on the cold barren glacier of intellectualism; religions are stifled and struggle for existence beneath the age long accumulations of the “letter that killeth”. More now than ever before do we need to find a reason for morality, a guide for science, an Ariadne's thread for philosophy, a torch to throw light on religion, and Love over all, for if mankind continues to devote the whole of its strength to the pursuit of material benefits, if its most glorious conquests become instruments to advance selfishness, if its progress merely increases physical wretchedness and makes moral decadence more terrible than before, if the head continues to silence the appeals [Page 303] of the heart, then divine Compassion will have no alternative but to destroy beneath the waters of another flood this cruel, implacable civilisation, which has transformed earth into an inferno.
Amongst the most pressing and urgent truths, the most fruitful teachings, the most illuminating doctrines, the most comforting promises, we have no hesitation in placing the Law of Rebirths in the very front. It is supported by ethics, by reason, and by science; it offers an explanation of the enigma of life, it alone solves almost all the problems that have harassed the mind of man throughout the ages; and so we hope that, in spite of its many imperfections, this work of ours will induce many a reader to say: Reincarnation must be true, it could not be otherwise!
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