Facts and Fancies About Reincarnation, Part 1
OVER the Occident has swept from dreamy Oriental skies, during the past forty-five years, a balmy breeze of metaphysical speculation laden with the aroma of the choicest flowers of eastern thought. Upon the West it has had a salutary influence, warming the chill winds that blow so constantly from the icebergs of the practical that they threaten to force upon us a frigid climate of materialism.
The more spiritual inhabitants of the Occident were quick to recognize the advantages to be derived from the East, and opened wide the windows of their souls to the genial influx, absorbing often without discrimination all that the aromatic zephyrs wafted to their shores. Unfortunately, the flowers of Oriental thought are not all friendly to the human race; for amid the wholesome varieties whose perfumes become an invigorating tonic to the spiritual nature are to be found others noxious, whose noisome odors poison and atrophy the soul. Another efflorescence, the subject of this lesson, scarce less deadly in character, has a most fascinating
fragrance that intoxicates as a subtle stimulus. Its effect is to interest in things spiritual, to give high ideals and lofty aspirations; but at the same time to dim the spiritual sight and confuse the mind. It numbs the senses of the soul by refuting their evidence, and sinks the intellect into a state of dull apathy where, rather than make the effort to acquire knowledge at first hand, it is content blindly to accept the statements of others.
So thoroughly has western occultism become intoxicated with this insidious teaching of human reincarnation and karma that one scarcely can open a book upon occult subjects without finding some reference to it within a few pages, its verity being taken as a matter of course. Occult periodicals teem with references to it, and one seldom mentions a phenomenon in which occult forces play a part without being called upon to explain its relation to reincarnation. Upon the shelves of our public libraries are volumes written to prove its truth, but strangely enough, we find little there analyzing it or criticizing it. The student upon his first approach to occult science is impressed generally with the notion that he must accept unquestioningly the dogma of human reincarnation as the foundation of truth if he is to accept any part of occult teachings. So fully has this subtle doctrine permeated western esoterics that few have the hardihood to express their opinions if these are contrary to the popular current. It is so firmly entrenched that anyone daring to present the opposite side of the question is, if possible, immediately squelched, discredited, and made an object of discountenance and suspicion.
Now, I amconvinced it is a most dangerous omen when people permit themselves to be so dominated by any new idea, religious or political, that they fear to hear it criticized. It is an augur of approaching mental slavery. Prohibiting critical investigation has been the method employed through countless ages by religious and political autocracies, and where successful has never failed effectually to block the path of mental and spiritual progress. Error must ever be hedged and protected by a wall of prejudice and intolerance, but truth is strong enough to withstand in the open the assault of mental conflict.
Before saying more, that my position may not be misinterpreted, I may mention that among those I esteem highly are students who make human reincarnation the groundwork of their belief. Others equally esteemed are steeped in the tenets of the various orthodox sects. Nevertheless, these people are intellectual, and they are clever in applying occult forces and in discerning occult truths that do not happen to conflict with their religious preconceptions. These good friends are morally worthy, possess high ideals, and are prompted by the best of motives.
Then again, there undoubtedly have been Christian Mystics who have believed devoutly in vicarious atonement, and there have been Oriental Mystics accepting reincarnation, who have been of unparalleled virtue and goodness. So today there are many worthy persons in both classes. And it is not my desire in issuing this lesson to wound the sensibilities of these who hold to ideas at variance with my own, or to imply, upon their part, lack of intelligence. I do, however, feel in duty bound to exercise the prerogative necessary to mental freedom; the right of honest disagreement between scientific investigators.
It has been well said that it is easier to rescue truth from error than from confusion. Science and philosophy have found it no difficult task to overthrow falsity once there is something tangible to grasp. But a hazy chimera presents no secure hold for the reason. Could the tenets of human reincarnation be sharply defined it could be grappled straightway and its strength proved. But there is nothing definite about it; for in scarcely two schools are the same things taught, and those advocating it most persistently do not agree in its essential details.
The number of incarnations in human form necessary are given by Mr. Sinnett, who was the first to publish anything regarding the appointed number of reincarnations, as not less than 686, and normally not far short of 800, but varying within narrow limits. One strong school in America teaches that two or three incarnations are all that are necessary, and various other centers teaching reincarnation range between these figures.
As to the time elapsing between incarnations we find in Mr. Sinnett’s Esoteric Buddhism that rebirth in less than 1500 years is spoken of as almost impossible. But a prominent school in France, whose teachings are gaining ground in America, teaches it not to be uncommon for one to reincarnate in the offspring of his own child and thus be his own grandparent. The teachings fluctuate between these extremes, the most generally accepted in America at present being perhaps that about 500 years elapses between rebirths.
The precise effect of karma also is the subject of much discussion, some leaders of the old school holding that the evil wrought in one life returns only in a general way in a future life, while many of the newer teachers insist on a specific reaction of the good or evil—that amurderer will be murdered in a future life by his former victim, etc. In addition to this indefiniteness, which makes plausible explanations easy because almost anything may happen in so wide a range of possibilities, there are woven about these doctrines, by the morbid imaginations of semi-lucid mystics who pose as teachers and thus find their way into print, such fantastic fabrics of illusion as were never dreamed of by that most erudite founder of Theosophy, H.P. Blavatsky, who was instrumental in introducing reincarnation to the West. Lacking definite information concerning the theories they are taught, the minds of many students become filled with hazy and ill-defined notions. Such phantasy thinking conduces to a negativeness in which they become unwittingly easily influenced by unseen malign forces.
Because it has received so much publicity, the investigator, at the beginning of his studies is usually impressed with the idea that reincarnation is accepted unquestionably by all occultists at the present day who have progressed far along the path, and that it has been the universal belief of all notable reformers, philosophers, and initiates of the past.
As a single example, from innumerable instances that might be cited, of the method by which the beginner in occult studies is impressed that everyone, not only of the present day, but also in the past, who has been noted for wisdom has embraced the doctrine of human reincarnation, it is commonly and stoutly asserted that the doctrine is taught in the Bible, and by the Master, Jesus. Now it is a current saying, based on the controversies of some two hundred Christian Sects, that anything can be proved upon Biblical authority. But to believe that a considerable part of the earth’s inhabitants have studied the Bible for nineteen hundred years without discerning that human reincarnation is one of its fundamental and important teachings, if that teaching is really there, oversteps the bounds of average credulity.
It is cited commonly, in support of the contention that reincarnation is taught in the Bible, that Jesus answered Nicodemus—John 3:3—saying: “3. Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Those who quote this in favor of the doctrine of human reincarnation fail, however, to mention the verses that follow this answer: “4. Nicodemus saith unto Him, How can aman be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? “5. Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except aman be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. “6. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the spirit is spirit. “7. Marvel not that I say unto thee, Ye must be born again. “8. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”
Jesus tells Nicodemus, as plainly as possible, that he must have a spiritual birth. Certainly He could not be explaining the doctrine of human reincarnation in such language. And if He even believed in it He certainly failed in his mission as a teacher. He made his doctrines of Love your Neighbor, andDounto others as You would have them Do unto You, so plain that they were understood by the most ignorant and by the most innocent, as well as by the learned. But if He had ideas on human reincarnation He expressed them so poorly that the greatest scholars in the world during nineteen hundred years failed to discover them.
Another attempt to warp a plain Biblical statement into such form that it appears to uphold a pernicious doctrine is the citation in regard to the transfiguration in Math. 17:12,13: But I say unto you, that Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise also shall the Son ofMansuffer of them. Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist. The obvious thought here conveyed is that John the Baptist carried out the ideas of Elias; for Elias and Moses appeared at the transfiguration talking to Jesus. Yet if Elias had incarnated as John the Baptist, he would now be John the Baptist, and no longer be Elias or appear as Elias. John the Baptist had already been beheaded; and if Elias and John the Baptist were one, John the Baptist being the last incarnation would have appeared at the transfiguration, not as Elias, but as John. As Elias, according to the narrative, was the one to appear, that is proof positive that Elias retained his individuality as Elias and had not reincarnated as John.
As a matter of fact, the personal investigations of an increasing number of Western Initiates, including the author and many others who have undergone special training necessary for such research, all go to disprove the theory of human reincarnation. At no time in its history has The Brotherhood of Light held to this doctrine. Further, among the independent thinkers scattered over the West—those astrologers, psychics, and occultists who do not bow to statements based merely upon authority—there is a rapidly diminishing number adhering to it. Even in India, the home of its birth, it is far from a universal belief, and is stoutly denied by many learned Hindu Initiates.
It should be borne in mind that there is a vast difference between the doctrine of reincarnation and that of human reincarnation. Reincarnation as applied to the soul in its evolution through various progressive forms from mineral up to man, has been almost a universal tenet in the occult schools, and reference to it may be found in the sacred and philosophical writings of all ages. From this fact confusion has arisen; for the human reincarnation school has construed every reference to reincarnation made by any writer of consequence to mean human reincarnation, which is an entirely different doctrine, and strenuously denied by Western Initiates.
Human reincarnation implies that once incarnated as man and gaining self-consciousness in the human state, the soul must repeatedly return and animate other human bodies. Most ancient schools of occultism, including The Brotherhood of Light, believe in reincarnation through various progressive species, but they deny the doctrine of human reincarnation.
That it is not taught by Western Initiates is evidenced by the writings of H. P. Blavatsky who introduced human reincarnation to America. According to her own testimony, “I first worked under the Egyptian part of the African section and later under the Indian section.” While writing Isis Unveiled she worked largely under the direction of Western Initiates, and in various places in the original edition of that work stoutly denies human reincarnation. Isis Unveiled, Vol. I, p. 351, reads: Reincarnation, i.e., the appearance of the same individual, or rather his astral monad, twice on the same planet, is not a rule in nature; it is an exception, like the teratological phenomena of a two-headed infant. Again, she says that when it does occur the designs of nature have been interfered with and she must make another effort, but— If reason has been so far developed as to become active and discriminative, there is no reincarnation on this earth, for the three parts of the triune man have been united together, and he is capable of running the race. Those are precisely the views held by Western Initiates and it was not until removing her headquarters to India and coming directly in contact with Hindu teachers that H.P.B. finally accepted the doctrine of human reincarnation. Ample testimony of this is to be found in Old Diary Leaves, by H. C. Olcott, President-founder of the Theosophical Society, who was the constant companion and co-worker of H.P.B. during the time she was writing Isis Unveiled. Mr. Olcott says: I believe she wrote then as she did later, exactly according to her lights, and that she
was just as sincere in denying reincarnation in 1876—1878 as she was in affirming it after 1882. H.P.B. revisited Simla without me in 1881, and the two friends above mentioned (Mr. Sinnett and Mr. A. C. Hume) received in due time from the Masters the Reincarnation theory. Mr. Sinnett expounded it in Fragments No. 4 (Theosophist, Vol. IV, No. 1, October, 1882), where he laid the basis of the doctrine of Terrestrial Reincarnation. This was seven years after the founding of the Theosophical Society and six years after the date of Mr. Olcott’s conversation in New York with a Mahatma, in which reincarnation was convincingly denied. I do not doubt, therefore, that H.P.B. was sincere; for while working under the Western Initiates she denied reincarnation, but after her removal to India her mediumistic nature, which was remarkably pronounced, absorbed and became enamored with the doctrine by which she then was environed. The dogmas of her later associates, whose minds had been trained for magic, invaded her mentality despite her previous training.
Returning to the occult student’s first impressions; he is informed that a large portion of the globe’s inhabitants believe in human reincarnation. This is sadly true, even as in Galileo’s day most of the people, including the learned, believed the world flat. In fact, the multitude in times past have mostly been outrageously wrong. And there is no assurance that at the present day they constitute a competent jury to pass a verdict upon truth.
Neither is it wise to place reliance upon the claims to knowledge of others; for history is a chronicle of mistaken authority. The only safe plan is to keep the mind open until such time as one can evolve the necessary faculties to prove truth at first hand, keeping in mind that the mediumistic tendencies of the human race are such that whatever political, religious, or moral ideas are held by a few dominant minds are usually accepted by the rest without criticism or analysis. Thus nations are subject to waves for war, for peace, for reform, and for various other things, and few stop to consider how they are carried along on the mental tide without adequate reason. They are possessed of a new set of ideas, often made plausible by the flimsiest arguments, that instantly blot out their former convictions.
Such an argument in favor of reincarnation is the appeal to the principle of justice, a principle firmly seated within the human breast. Man is reluctant to believe the Creator unjust, and ardently seeks some method of reconciling the apparent injustices perpetrated by nature. At first glance human reincarnation seems to solve the problem of these inequalities of life. But a closer scrutiny reveals that it has completely failed to give a reasonable solution as does a belief in the whims and caprices of the Jewish Jehovah. In the first place, if we use these inequalities as material for argument, their value must be ascertained. If they possess real value the inequalities are real, but if their value is indeterminate, so also must be the inequalities.
Now the materialist stoutly affirms that health, wealth, honor, intellect, etc., which form the apparent inequalities of life, are of real value. The occultist, on the other hand, maintains that the real man is spiritual and immortal, that external experiences have no value in themselves, but are the means through which real values for the soul may be created. That is, an experience may be made the means of spiritual progress, but this value lies not in the experience, but in the soul’s attitude toward it. Consequently, as even the worst calamities may be made a means of soul progression, these also may be made valuable.
Thus it is a matter of common observation that hardships, trials, and sorrows are more readily turned into values of progress than the so-called good fortunes. Few ever turn their faces toward the rising sun of spirituality until they have drained the cup of adversity to the dregs. The successful man, all too often, is too absorbed by business cares, the wealthy woman by social ambitions or pleasures, the man of science in his work, to care for higher things. And so, not infrequently, those materially fortunate are spiritually cursed.
If we admit that events in themselves possess value we should incline to the view that the severest and most painful experiences have the greatest value, and that the Scriptures are correct in implying that whomsoever the Lord loveth He chastiseth. From this viewpoint we are compelled to draw the conclusion that material advantages are the worst punishment inflicted by divine justice; for scarcely shall a rich man enter into the kingdom of heaven. This completely reverses the popular conception of karma, and would indicate that the prosperous man is now paying by his prosperity for some heinous crime committed in a past life. But with Socrates, Epicretus, Aurelius, and a host of other thinkers, I amunwilling to admit the value of events in themselves. I hold that good may be derived from any event of life by utilizing it for progress, in which case the value lies not in the event, but in the soul’s attitude. So, what is used by one soul for progress is by another permitted to become a hindrance, no two probably needing the same experiences to develop their latent possibilities, nor would they make the same progress under the same circumstances. Let us not forget that the spiritual geniuses of the past have had their soul powers forged in the furnace of material affliction. To them adversity proved a great blessing. From this it might be thought that for good deeds one should be rewarded in the next life by the direst of circumstances and be made the subject of severest persecutions. But all souls might not respond alike to such vigorous treatment. No doubt there are some weak ones who need the tender hot-house care of material blessings, though these seem at a disadvantage and seldom make a thrifty spiritual growth.