You will come back
A conversation about Reincarnation and Karma
by F. E. Goold
New revised edition
THE BLAVATSKY INSTITUTE,
Toronto , On. Canada
First Printing 1958, Second Printing 1959, Third Printing 1960, New Revised Edition 1964
If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts;
but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.
- Francis Bacon.
Mr. Asketh: I have been studying the Christian faith more seriously of late than I have ever done before, and I have raised doubts on several points. Have you read 'Mere Christianity', by C. S. Lewis, and 'Christian Faith Today', by Bishop Stephen Neill?
Student: Yes, I know both of them. Are those the books you're reading?
Mr. A.: Those, and Bishop Robinson's controversial 'Honest to God', along with several other books including the Bible. But somehow the things that bother me most I find aren't dealt with in any of these books.
Student: What, for instance?
Mr. A.: Well, it seems to be assumed that we're born once and then, hopefully, we live forever. I'm beginning to wonder about that and to question whether it is true.
Student: What's the matter with it?
Mr. A .: I think it is absurd to say that souls are created at a point in time, then survive the death of the physical body and go on living forever. It's illogical and unscientific to say that we survive the body but did not pre-exist it. In other words, that you have a beginning, but no end!
Student: Yes, I know what you mean. As one observes life, there seems to be a law of periodicity operating. There's day and night, life and death, sleeping and waking, winter and rebirth in spring, and the ebb and flow of the seas. If there is such a law of the universe, it is by-passed in the one-life theory.
Mr. A.: Another thing involved in the one-life theory which I don't think is logical is that one's destiny forever is determined in seventy or even 100 years of earthly experience. Such a short life span is utterly insignificant compared with the eternity the churchmen talk about, or even that geologists and astronomers deal with. It seems to me the be-ye-perfect command must take more than one lifetime to fulfil.
Student: Yes, indeed. It would seem logical, wouldn't it, that it would take hundreds of successive human existences. And that reminds me of the way Wordsworth puts it:
"Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting.
The soul that rises with us, our life's star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar .
in entire forgetfulness
And not in utter nakedness
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God who is our home."
A point you might consider in relation to this one-life theory is that from the days of Jesus, there was the division of His teaching into two parts - the revealed and the unrevealed, the Mysteries for the disciples, given in secret and apart, and the Parables for the multitude. The Bible is clear on that: "Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the Kingdom of God, but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables." That's St. Mark. Then again, we find Jesus saying to His disciples, "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet."
Mr. A.: Although those words are so familiar, I have never known any emphasis to be placed on the existence of a hidden teaching. Do you think this has real significance?
Student: Yes, I'm sure of it. Read Wm. Kingsland's book, 'The Gnosis or Ancient Wisdom in the Christian Scriptures'. This whole work deals with esoteric Christianity which, like other religions, had its secret teaching which was confined to the few. Kingsland says (p. 26, Gnosis)
" There always has been and there always must be an exoteric doctrine for the masses, and esoteric teaching for those who - as Plotinus says 'are fortunately able to perceive it.' "
Clement of Alexandria, one of the early Church Fathers, is quoted as saying,
"The Mysteries of the Faith are not to be divulged to all . . . It is requisite to hide in a mystery the wisdom spoken."
Mr. A.: What happened to this secret teaching?
Student: The inner, esoteric side of Christianity was lost in the flood of ignorance which swept over Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire. The crude interpretation - the teaching for the multitude - replaced the spiritual truths originally known to the few. Some fragments survived, but as a systematic teaching, it disappeared. As you know, the struggle between learning and ignorance, knowledge and superstition has raged for centuries. What emerged from this struggle is enough of original Christianity for the heart, but not nearly enough to satisfy the inquiring intellect.
Mr. A.: Another teaching which I don't understand or accept is the one about forgiveness of sins. How can you square that with what St. Paul said in his sixth letter to the Galatians about not being deceived, that God is not mocked: "For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."
Student: Actually, I don't think you can reconcile the two. This is a universe of law, There'd be chaos if that weren't so. It is the inviolability of law that alone makes science possible. Sir Edwin Arnold has put it rather beautifully in 'The Light of Asia':
"Before beginning and without an end,
As space eternal and as surety sure,
Is fixed a Power Divine which moves to good,
Only its Laws endure . . . .
It knows not wrath nor pardon; utter-true
Its measures mete, its faultless balance weighs;
Times are as nought, tomorrow it will judge,
Or after many days. . . .
Such is the Law which moves to righteousness,
Which none at last can turn aside or stay;
The heart of it is Love, the end of it
Is Peace and Consummation sweet. Obey!"
Whether people consciously recognize them or not, these laws exist. There they are! They operate, and it is we who reward or punish ourselves according as we work in harmony with the laws of the universe, or are foolish enough not to do so.
Mr. A .: St. Paul states very clearly that the individual is responsible for his actions, and that makes sense to me.
Student: Of course, what we are really discussing are the ancient teachings of reincarnation and karma. Jesus and His disciples knew about them. Remember the saying of Jesus: "With what measure you mete it shall be measured to you again." (St. Matthew 7: 2). I think you will agree that that is a stern statement, one which neither expresses nor implies salvation by proxy or future mercy.
Reincarnation means rebirth, and karma is the word for cause and effect. Karma is the law of consequences, the universal law of unerring justice. Karma also means action, and ordinarily an action is thought of as a separate isolated physical act. But it is much more than that. It is all that led up to the act plus the results that follow it. That's karma. The effect is inherent in the cause.
The Hebrew Scriptures abound in statements about this law of consequences. The Psalmist recognized this law when he declared "Unto Thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy; for Thou renderest to every man according to his work." (Psalm 62: 12).
Mr. A.: One wonders why a teaching so in harmony with law and common sense could be set aside. But could we go back to reincarnation and talk about that first. Is there any reference to it in the Bible?
Student: The truth about reincarnation was taken for granted by Jesus and the Apostles as well as by people generally at that time. That would be natural since the doctrine of rebirth was taught practically universally in those days. All the Egyptian converts to Christianity, Church Fathers and others believed in this doctrine, as is shown by the writings of several. You'll remember that when Jesus came to the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, "Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am?" And they said: "Some say thou art John the Baptist; some Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets." (St. Matthew 16: 13-14). Reincarnation is certainly implied there.
Mr. A.: Yes, and I've always been puzzled about that incident of the blind man. You remember in St. John 9:3 the disciples asked Jesus who sinned - this man or his parents that he was born blind. When could the man have sinned to have been born blind?
Student: He couldn't have done so except in a former life. The question itself is equivalent to saying that he had lived and sinned before being born blind. That story is one of the best examples of the disciples and Jesus taking the truth of reincarnation and of karma for granted. Another striking allusion to rebirth is in Matthew 11: 14 where Jesus said of John the Baptist, "And if ye will receive it, this is Elias (Elijah) which was for to come." This statement by Jesus is also repeated in Mark's gospel, 9: 11-13.
Mr. A.: You're saying then that reincarnation was part of early Christianity? Is that right?
Student: Yes, certainly. Up until the sixth century.
Mr. A .: What happened then? How did it become lost to us?
Student: It was expurgated, declared heretical by the Second Council of Constantinople in A.D. 553. This assembly was in reality only the last phase of the violent ten-year conflict inaugurated by the edict of the Roman Emperor Justinian in A.D. 543 against the teachings of the Church Father Origen. Justinian had assumed the headship of the Church. "Imperial edicts regulated public worship, directed ecclesiastical discipline, and even dictated theological doctrines. The Church had to submit for a time to 'Caesaro-papism', a papacy of the Emperor.", ('The Story of the Faith', p. 178, by Rev. Wm. Alva Gifford).
According to The Catholic Encyclopedia (Volumes. IV & XI) this Second Council of Constantinople, having been called by Justinian, was attended by very few bishops and was presided over by Eutychius, Patriarch of Constantinople. Though Pope Vigilius was in Constantinople, he refused to attend.
Regardless of who made up this Second Council, it declared the teaching of the Church Father Origen in regard to the nature and destiny of the soul to be heretical and that declaration has had far-reaching effects. What Origen said, in part, was this "Is it not more in conformity with reason that every soul for certain mysterious reasons is introduced into a body, and introduced according to its deserts and former actions."
Mr. A.: Tell me about this man. Was he the only Church Father who taught this doctrine?
Student: By no means. But Origen was undoubtedly the most outstanding of many who believed and taught as he did. About the man: by race, he was an Egyptian, a Copt, born at Alexandria, 185 A.D., of Christian parents. His father, Leonides, was a man of piety and culture and under his tutelage the precocious boy was educated in the various branches of Grecian learning. As a man, Origen's character was singularly pure and noble and his moral qualities were as remarkable as his intellectual gifts. He belonged to the Alexandrian School of Platonists and was a pupil of Ammonius Saccas who became one of the greatest philosophers of Alexandria. Origen was a most devout Christian; St. Gregory of Nyssa called him "the prince of Christian learning in the third century." Origen wrote voluminously; his 'De Principiis' (On First Principles) and other works are available in English as part of the Ante-Nicene Christian Library.
Mr. A.: And you say it was the teaching of this brilliant man that was banned?
Student: Yes, though actually, the teaching was never intelligently met and disproved. It was summarily ousted as incompatible with the weight of prejudice brought against it. In this connection, it is useful to know what 'The Catholic Encyclopedia' (Vol. X, pp. 236-7) says under the heading "Metempsychosis."
"In the face of a belief at first sight so far fetched and yet at the same time so widely diffused, we are led to anticipate some great general causes which have worked together to produce it. A few such causes may be mentioned:
(1) The practically universal conviction that the soul is a real entity distinct from the body and that it survives death;
(2) connected with this, there is the imperative moral demand for an equitable future retribution of rewards and punishments in accordance with good or ill conduct here. The doctrine of transmigration satisfies in some degree both these virtually instinctive faiths.
(3) As mentioned above, it offers a plausible explanation of the phenomena of heredity.
(4) It also provides an explanation of some features of the infra-rational creation which seems to ape in so many points the good and evil qualities of human nature. It appears a natural account of such phenomena to say that these creatures are, in fact, nothing else than embodiments of the human characters which they typify. The world thus seems to become, through and through, moral and human. Indeed, where the belief in a personal Providence is unfamiliar or but feebly grasped, some form of metempsychosis, understood as a kind of ethical evolutionary process is almost a necessary makeshift."
(The words metempsychosis and transmigration are generally misunderstood. Pre-existence, rebirth, reincarnation, are better terms to describe this ancient teaching).
The teaching of reincarnation has never been lost to any but exoteric Christianity. It has always been available to the seekers. Most of the human race lives by this teaching of rebirth, and hundreds of volumes in English and many other languages deal with it. But having been banned by the Second Council, this great truth has been neglected for centuries. However, it is coming back to the Christian world.
Mr. A.: But why, in heaven's name, should this teaching have been banned?
Student: It's fairly easy to see. To admit the teachings of reincarnation and karma is quite incompatible with ecclesiastical Christianity. What becomes of intermediaries if you are responsible? If you unfold your God-given nature life after life, who can help you - except as Jesus and other great teachers always help, by pointing the way? But you, the individual must travel the way. It is not possible to abdicate responsibility in favour of any intermediary whatsoever. Men are fallible, in spite of their claims to be otherwise. Fallible men placed in positions of authority are responsible for much that has gone wrong, not only in Christianity, but in the affairs of the world generally. If you want the history of Christianity, you cannot do better than read 'The Story of the Faith', and 'The Seekers', both by the late Dr. William Alva Gifford.
Mr. A.: Most histories of religion are pretty stuffy!
Student: These aren't. Dr. Gifford was Professor Emeritus of Church History and the History of Religions of the United Theological College in Montreal, and his books are a readable and priceless instruction. In 'The Seekers', the shorter of the two books, he begins with Neanderthal Man, to remind us that Christianity is a very late episode in the life of mankind. He sketches the religious quests of ancient peoples, and then deals with the history of Christianity. He says:
"Orthodox Christian theology never could have arisen except for two things: It gathered about a historic Figure . . . and it developed in an intellectual vacuum. The collapse of the Roman Empire and the slow emergence into civilization of its heirs in western Europe, the Germanic nations, gave Christian orthodoxy nearly a thousand years in which to establish itself. It never could have risen in a more enlightened society; it will not forever survive free enquiry."
Dr. Gifford says further:
"The times are critical. We live, as did the first Christians, at the end of an era, and the Church is entering the new age in an extremely difficult position . . . The historic credentials of most Christian dogmas are quite inadequate, and neither Catholic authoritarianism nor Protestant evasion avails any longer to hold enlightened minds to them. More serious now than the differences between Roman and Protestant Christianity is the indifference of enlightened minds to both."
Many present-day so-called Christian teachings bear little if any relation to Jesus' original message. They have been pieced together through the centuries, like a mosaic.
Mr. A.: To come back to reincarnation, what would you say are the main arguments in favour of it, and against it?
Student: To take the negative side first: The leading objection seems to be that we have no memory of our past lives. The second objection revolves around the apparent injustice that man suffers for actions he is not conscious of having committed. The third has to do with heredity, the relations of the parents to the child; and the fourth objection is that the idea of returning to earth again and again is unwelcome to some people.
Mr. A.: Could I interrupt right there to ask whether one has any choice about returning?
Student: You have no choice. You will come back.
Mr. A.: Assuming that I have lived before, why don't I remember my past lives?
Student: You do. Character itself is memory. It is the cumulative distilled essence of your previous experience. Successive bodily lives are linked together like pearls on a cord, the cord being the soul, and the pearls the separate human lives.
Except under hypnosis, you probably could not possibly say what you did exactly ten or twenty years ago today, but you're quite sure you lived. You are a candid, honourable man, but you know there are liars, thieves and murderers at large. You have learned - by precept, example or experience - in past incarnations that dishonesty is base and murder a violation of the law of life. So this time you were born with this knowledge innate, as part of your total character. Dominant tendencies and the resolute following of any line of thought and action reappear as innate qualities. The liars, the thieves and the murderers still have to achieve these lessons. The whole of life is a learning process.
Genius also is memory - cumulative memory. H. P. Blavatsky, in 'The Voice of the Silence', says: "Genius is without exception a talent or aptitude brought from another birth." What else explains a Mozart touring Europe at the age of six?
The arguments for reincarnation are quite conclusive:
1. The whole idea of Immortality demands it. It is unthinkable that from infinitude the soul enters this world for its first and only physical experience, and then shoots off to some endless spiritual existence.
2. Analogy strongly favours reincarnation. The old Hermetic saying "As above, so below" indicates that analogy formed part of the study of life and death in ancient Egypt and Greece. Everything in the world follows analogy. Man is the microcosm of the universe. Analogy is the first key to world problems. It is the guiding law in nature.
3. Science confirms the basic laws governing reincarnation. Nothing is created; nothing is destroyed.
4. The unfoldment of the powers of the soul requires rebirth as the method of development.
5. Reincarnation provides a complete answer to the most perplexing problem of theology - "original sin". This Gordian knot cannot possibly be untied by the one-life theory.
6. Reincarnation explains many curious experiences. 'The Case for Reincarnation', by the Rev. Leslie D. Weatherhead, gives arresting evidence on this point.
7. Reincarnation alone explains the injustice and misery that pervade the world. It also explains the joy.
Mr. A.: Supposing I ask "What am I, what is it that reincarnates?" can I get a satisfying answer?
Student: Yes. Paul is direct in his statement:
" Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? . . . the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are."
To use one of the oldest of similes, you are a spark of the Divine Fire, a ray of the "Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless and Immutable Principle on which all speculation is impossible, since it transcends the power of human conception and could only be dwarfed by any human expression or similitude. It is beyond the range and reach of thought . . . unthinkable and unspeakable."
Mr. A.: Does that explain the hunger so deeply hidden within each of us? The Psalms retell it again and again.
Student: I think so. It is "the inexpressible yearning of the inner man to go out into the Infinite."
Mr. A.: It seems to me we need much more specific information about our divine nature, and. instructions about how to uncover it, how to know our real selves.
Student: That sort of thing is part of the esoteric or hidden part of Christianity, the Mysteries of the Faith, and of other religions also. The lost keys, reincarnation and karma, and other instructions must be sought by individual students like yourself.
They are available, particularly in the writings of H. P. Blavatsky and Wm. Q. Judge.
Mr. A.: Of course, you might say, what good are instructions if people are indifferent to them? Take "Love thy neighbour as thyself." That's a straightforward command, but do we love our neighbour? We don't love him, we exploit him, and call it good business.
Student: But there are those who do love their neighbours, who do question and look for answers, as you are doing. Today, with the advance of science, a religion which fails to teach about the nature of the universe and the nature of man will certainly fail to attract men and women who are intellectually and spiritually awakened. One day these students will discover the statement of the greatest of the nineteenth century spiritual teachers, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky:
"The world needs no sectarian church, whether of Buddha, Jesus, Mahomet, Swedenborg, Calvin, or any other. There being but one Truth, man requires but one church, the Temple of God within us, walled in by matter, but penetrable by anyone who can find the way." - 'Isis Unveiled', Volume 2, page 635.
Mr. A.: To find the way! That is not easy. Where does one look, and where does faith come in? Don't we have to take on faith what we cannot prove?
Student: Yes, of course. Most of what each of us calls "religion" is what we believe. Except for the mystics of all nations and all religions - who have had first-hand experience of Deity - most of us can only say that we believe certain things. We know very little. But modern men and women need a much more adequate working hypothesis than is now provided in orthodox, exoteric Christianity. This is found in reincarnation and karma. These teachings fill a great gap in Christianity. They were once part of Christian teaching and they should be brought back into it. In this connection, it is well to heed the words of an ancient philosopher who said:
"Never utter these words:
'I do not know this - therefore it is false.'
One must study to know,
Know to understand,
Understand to judge."
- 'Isis Unveiled' , Volume 1, page 638.
Mr. A.: Does returning life after life mean that it was we who formed the civilizations of the past?
Student: Who else? What but reincarnation explains the rise and fall of civilizations through the incarnation therein of advanced men and women and their subsequent departure to other races and continents?
Mr. A.: Look at what is happening here in America now! People are pouring into this continent from every corner of the globe.
Student: Eventually they will be developed into a great new race through the process of reincarnation. America has a long future stretching ahead thousands upon thousands of years when we shall have become much more mature than we are now.
Mr. A.: That's an encouraging thought!
Student: That isn't all that's encouraging. Rebirth is the method of evolution. It is the process by which Nature progressively unfolds the limitless capacities latent in all forms of life, including human beings.
If you want to learn about this, read Wm. Q. Judge's book, The Ocean of Theosophy. It has only 153 pages and four of its seventeen chapters deal with reincarnation and karma. The rest of the book outlines the major doctrines of occult philosophy. Mr. Judge has a genius for direct, simple statement. 'The Ocean' first appeared as a series of newspaper articles but it has been so popular that it has gone through seventeen editions in English alone.
Mr. A.: What was Mr. Judge's connection with Madame Blavatsky?
Student: He was Co-Founder with her of the first Theosophical Society established in New York City on Nov. 17, 1875. And, while we are on the subject of origins, let me say that it is important to distinguish between the original literature of Theosophy and all later works called "theosophical." Although no special authority attaches to any theosophical book because of its authorship, the writings of these two are "authoritative" in the sense that inquirers who wish to know what Theosophy teaches will find it in pure form in the works of H. P. Blavatsky and William Q. Judge.
Mr. A.: In view of the fact that reincarnation was blotted out of "official" Christianity for so many centuries, one wonders how men and women have managed without it.
Student: Many of them re-discovered it just as you are doing. One of the most profound statements in the Bible is "Knock and it shall be opened unto you, seek and ye shall find."
Mr. A.: Do the poets and philosophers have anything to say about reincarnation?
Student: They certainly do. The Poet Laureate of England, John Masefield, begins his poem "My Creed" thus:
"I hold that when a person dies,
His soul returns again to earth
Arrayed in some new flesh disguise,
Another mother gives him birth.
With sturdier limbs and brighter brain,
The old soul takes the road again."
And then there is the famous epitaph of Benjamin Franklin:
Like the cover of an old book,
Its contents worn out,
And stripped of its lettering and gilding,
Lies here, food for worms.
But the work shall not be lost,
For it will, as he believed, appear once more,
In a new and more elegant edition
Revised and corrected
Those are only two quotations from more than 400 Western thinkers quoted in 'Reincarnation - An East-West Anthology'. In 350 pages, that volume demonstrates the rebirth idea to be a very real part of our Western heritage, from ancient Greece and Egypt right down to modern times. One of the most striking statements, to my mind, is Thoreau's:
"I lived in Judea eighteen-hundred years ago but I never knew that there was such a one as Christ among my contemporaries . . . And Hawthorne, too, I remember as one with whom I sauntered in old heroic times along the banks of the Scamander amid the ruins of chariots and heroes . . . As the stars looked to me when I was a shepherd in Assyria, they look to me now a New Englander . . . As far back as I can remember I have unconsciously referred to the experiences of a previous state of existence."
Thomas Edison said the only survival he could conceive of was to start a new earth-cycle again; and Henry Ford found that reincarnation put his mind at ease. "When I discovered reincarnation, it was as if I had found a universal plan. I realized that there was a chance to work out my ideas; I was no longer a slave to the hands of the clock."
And then there's David Lloyd George, Great Britain's Prime Minister during World War I (1916-22). He said the conventional heaven with its angels perpetually singing, etc. nearly drove him mad and made him an atheist for ten years. The 'Anthology' quotes him as saying: "My opinion is that we shall be reincarnated."
That famous Methodist theologian referred to earlier, the Rev. Dr. Leslie D. Weatherhead, C.B.E., now Minister Emeritus of The City Temple, London, England, is quoted at some length in the 'Anthology' from a lecture delivered to the City Temple Literary Society, under the title, 'The Case for Reincarnation'. This, the Opening Lecture of his 21st year as President of that Society, is available in booklet form. In it, he very sensibly asks "How can a world progress in inner things . . . if the birth of every new generation fills the world with unregenerate souls full of original sin? There can never be a perfect world unless gradually those born into it can take advantage of lessons learned in earlier lives instead of starting at scratch."
Mr. A.: I wonder what effect it would have on people if these teachings of reincarnation and karma were taken seriously by a large number of people.
Student: But they are taken seriously by a large number of people. Two-thirds of the human race believe in reincarnation. It is the materialistic Christian West that put it aside.
The East never lost it.
Mr. A.: Come to think of it, in 'Christian Faith Today', Bishop Neill testifies to "the determinative influence" in Indian history over more than 2,000 years of these doctrines of reincarnation and karma. But even having these teachings, the East hasn't produced an ideal civilization according to my way of thinking.
Student: I agree, they haven't. In contrast to Christianity which ruled out reincarnation, Hinduism and Buddhism kept it, but in the course of time the original teachings of the great Upanishads were perverted or misapplied. Here, for example, is a quotation from the Kathopanishad:
"The pilgrim is not born, nor dies he ever . . . Unborn, eternal, ever-lasting, ancient, unslain, he remains though the body be slain . . . The Self must be known on earth. The idea that a man who is ignorant of the truth here, may entirely reach it after death is guarded against; even in the highest world it is still as light and shadow compared to the perfect light of reality."
We need to make a sharp distinction between the philosophy of reincarnation and those religious interpretations of it which place the emphasis on other-worldly consummations. Hinduism and Buddhism emphasize Nirvana as the goal; Christianity talks about heaven. In all these cases one more or less endures life in a physical body here on earth, as a kind of purgatory.
Mr. A .: I can't see that there is any psychological difference between the goal of a Hindu or Buddhist devotee and the goal of a Christian.
Student: What we've been saying is that when religious interpretation takes over, the philosophy of reincarnation and its central message is lost. Listen to the Upanishads again:
"Reality can only be known by one in the human state of existence . . .
This knowledge must be attained here in the body."
And remember how beautifully Tagore translated Kabir's Song:
"If your bonds be not broken whilst living, what hope of deliverance in death?"
In a footnote on p. 459, Vol. I, 'The Secret Doctrine', Madame Blavatsky says: "To live as a plant, the seed must die. To live as a conscious entity in the Eternity, the passions and senses of man must first DIE before his body does." "Death is not the great informer or producer of knowledge," to quote Wm. Q. Judge. "It is only the great curtain on the stage, to be rung up next instant. Complete knowledge must be attained in the triune man: body, soul and spirit. When that is obtained, then he passes on to other spheres, which to us are unknown and are endless. By living as long as one can, one gives the Self that longer chance."
Mr. A.: What I would like to get hold of is the central message of reincarnation you spoke of earlier .
Student: Very good: Here it is: Reality is to be experienced here not somewhere else. Your opportunity is NOW, not later. This is the essentially theosophical view of reincarnation. And it is also the inner, esoteric meaning of the Upanishads, and of Jesus and of Paul the Initiate. We must not confuse the Nirvana of the Hindus and Buddhists and the heaven of Christianity, with the infinite opportunity and continuity ad infinitum which is the true inner teaching. Have I made this clear?
Mr. A.: Yes. I think you have. The horizon recedes. Along with the teaching that what man sows, man will surely reap, it seems to me this broad conception of gradual attainment through rebirth would have a most sobering effect on people.
Student: Not just sobering! There is hope as well, a great deal of hope. Character is the spiritual fabric woven by evolution. It is the only thing we take with us through the portal of death, and it is what we bring back with us as our heritage from the past when we return to incarnation. Reincarnation and karma are the hidden core of the gospel of Jesus. One does well to refrain from confusing Christianity with the religion of Jesus. They are not identical, inasmuch as Christianity is split up into over 300 different sects, whereas Jesus had but one doctrine; He gave forth once again the old doctrine taught to Him by the ancient theosophists of whom He was a disciple.
Mr. A.: I still have a good many unanswered questions.
Student: That's understandable, but if people ask questions in sincerity, they usually find the answers. We've been talking about just two of the fundamental teachings but their study opens upon the road that leads to the heart of the universe. Here is the instruction:
"Have perseverance as one who doth forevermore endure. Thy shadows [personalities or physical bodies] live and vanish; that which in thee shall live for ever, that which in thee knows, for it is knowledge, is not of fleeting life, it is the man that was, that is, and win be, for whom the hour shall never strike." - 'The Voice of the Silence', by H. P. Blavatsky.
And the instruction regarding karma is equally heartening: "Learn that no effort, not the smallest - whether in right or wrong direction - can vanish from the world of causes. E'en wasted smoke remains not traceless . . . Thou canst create this 'day' [incarnation] thy chances for thy 'morrow" [next incarnation.] In the Great Journey [the whole complete cycle of existences] causes sown each hour bear its harvest of effects, for rigid Justice rules the world. With mighty sweep of never erring action, it brings to mortal lives of weal or woe, the karmic progeny of all our former thoughts and deeds." - 'The Voice of the Silence', by H. P. Blavatsky.
Mr. A.: You said we had been the men and women of previous civilizations, I'd like to know more about that.
Student: In all the great religions of the world, the life of man is held to be a pilgrimage. This is not just from the cradle to the grave; it is through millions and millions of years. As he is a spiritual being, the continuity of his existence is unbroken.
Nations and civilizations arise, grow old, decline, disappear, but the Pilgrim lives on, the witness and participator in the innumerable changes, but he is primarily engaged in a pilgrimage back to his Source. This is made very clear in the writings of Madame Blavatsky and William Q. Judge.
Carlyle put it well:
"The essence of our being, the mystery in us that calls itself "I" - what words have we for such things - it is a breath of heaven, the highest Being reveals himself in man. This body, these faculties, this life of ours, is it not all as a vesture for the UNNAMED?"
- Quoted by H. P. Blavatsky, in 'The Secret Doctrine', Facsimile of Original Edition of 1888, Vol. I, pp. 211-2.
Mr. A.: Could you give me more details about karma, how it works out in the individual life? I believe you called reincarnation and karma the doctrines of hope and responsibility. Would you please explain that a bit more fully?
Student: Everyone has three kinds of karma. First, that from the past incarnations not yet exhausted. Second, the karma you've made and are making in this life which may be felt during this life, or which may not come to fruition until future births. Then there is the Third type of karma that is held over and doesn't come into operation in this life because the man and the environment don't furnish the appropriate means for bringing it into action. This is likened to vapour held in suspension in the atmosphere, invisible, but which will fall as rain the moment conditions are ripe.
Mr. A.: Where does heredity come into this?
Student: According to the ancient wisdom in the case of human incarnation, the law of karma, racial or individual, overrides heredity which is its servant. Family likenesses are generally explained as due to heredity, but what about the mental and moral differences within a family? Reincarnation explains the likenesses by the fact that karma directs a soul to parents who will provide by physical heredity a body suitable to express his characteristics, as, for instance, a nervous system necessary for the expression of musical faculties. Reincarnation explains the unlikenesses by pointing out the difference in the mental and moral evolution of individuals. Each has had a distinctive past of his own and has learned, or not learned, certain lessons, and has set up ties in the past that drew him back to birth in that family. Science leaves all this unexplained. Nothing can explain it but reincarnation and karma. The child of a genius is often commonplace in intelligence, and then again parents of quite ordinary intelligence will give birth to a genius. Remember that the evolution of form, and the evolution of life that ensouls the form are parallel processes. You get what you have earned. As St. Paul said, you reap what you've sown.
Mr. A.: Granted that reincarnation is true, when we die, where do we go; what becomes of us?
Student: Your question concerns the period between incarnations and where you spend it.
Mr. A.: You mean there is a gap between incarnations?
Student: I wouldn't call it a gap. When you eat a meal, you need time to digest it. The period between incarnations is analogous to that. You need time to assimilate what you experienced. Remember what Jesus said about not laying up for yourself treasure where moth and rust would corrupt, but to lay up treasure in heaven, for where your treasure was, there would your heart be also. This refers to the time between incarnations which, in Christian terms, you spend "in heaven." It is the subjective state in which each of us lives between two earth lives, after the death of the gross physical body. This period between incarnations is one of happiness.
Mr. A .: It seems to be right that here on earth we should atone for our misdeeds. How long does the inter-incarnation period of happiness last?
Student: That depends on the degree of one's evolutionary development and spirituality.
Mr. A.: I recall a verse in the Bible (I Cor. 15:26) that says the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. What about that?
Student: 'The Secret Doctrine' (Vol. II, fu. p. 609) states that "Death came only after man had become a physical creature." Presumably it will end when he ceases to be physical. The Bible states this in another way, (Rev. 3: 12) "Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out." The "going out", of course, refers to reincarnation.
Let us take a look at the three worlds in which we continually live. We act in the physical world; we think in the world of the mind, and we are generating desires of various kinds all the time that work out on the plane of the desire world. Be sure of this: Thought is the most potent factor in the creation of human karma, thought and motive. In all of these three worlds, the chains that bind us are of our own forging. We can file them away or rivet them tighter. Your physical body, the house you live in, is of your own building. Your parents gave you the original model but you have been rebuilding it every seven years since you were born. Remember the Eastern proverb translated by Sir Edwin Arnold:
"Look! the clay dries into iron,
But the potter moulds the clay;
Destiny today is master,
Man was master yesterday."
And in 'The Light of Asia', Arnold says this beautifully:
Pray not! the Darkness will not brighten! Ask
Nought, from the Silence, for it cannot speak!
Vex not your mournful minds with pious pains!
Ah! Brothers, Sisters! seek
Nought from the helpless gods by gift and hymn,
Nor bribe with blood, nor feed with fruits and cakes;
Within yourselves deliverance must be sought;
Each man his prison makes.
Mr. A.: That's hard for some people to see. For them, life appears as Shakespeare described it "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." Without adequate explanation of the mystery of life and its seeming injustices, some people develop a deep sense of futility.
Student: It would help such people to know that life does have a purpose, that it isn't a tale told by an idiot, that they ascend through all the degrees of intelligence by self-induced and self-devised efforts.
Mr. A.: There's high dignity in that.
Student: Well, here's a bit more: "The pivotal doctrine of the Esoteric philosophy admits no privileges or special gifts in man save those won by his own Ego through personal effort and merit throughout a long series of metempsychoses and reincarnation." That, for your information, is part of the Third Fundamental Proposition of the Secret Doctrine, the accumulated wisdom of the ages.
Mr. A.: If that's the third, what are the first two?
Student: The First is what is denominated "Deity", "an Omni-present, Eternal, Boundless and Immutable PRINCIPLE" which we spoke of before.
The second Fundamental Proposition is "that law of periodicity," - cyclic law, by means of which man, the Eternal Pilgrim, evolves.
Mr. A.: Are these Three Fundamental Propositions what you would call the Theosophical Credo?
Student: Not exactly. Deity, Law, and the Universality of all life are the basic ideas which underlie and pervade the entire system of thought. " on their clear apprehension depends the understanding of all that follows " says H. P. Blavatsky. The Proem of 'The Secret Doctrine', pp. 14-17, states these Propositions in full.
Mr. A.: You make this sound important.
Student: It is. Not only important, it is imperative. Observe the muddled concepts of students who have failed to grasp these basic truths, the guidelines.
Like the ocean, the teachings become gradually deeper.
Mr. A.: Well, then, we're right back where we started when you mentioned that in Early Christianity there were parables for the multitude and the Mysteries for the few.
Student: Religious teachers down the ages have used symbols - verbal and graphic - to help the developing human mind lay hold of Truth.
Mr. A.: Sounds to me as though reincarnation and karma were part of these fundamental propositions. Am I right?
Student: You are indeed. They are the very warp and woof of it. The widespread knowledge of these laws would completely change the character of our civilization, including Christianity.
For logic, consistency and profound philosophy, these teachings have no equal on earth.
is a road, steep and thorny, beset with perils of every kind - but yet a road;
and it leads to the Heart of the Universe. I can tell you how to find Those who
will show you the secret gateway that leads inward only, and closes fast behind
the neophyte for evermore. There is no danger that dauntless courage cannot conquer.
There is no trial that spotless purity cannot pass through. There is no difficulty
that strong intellect cannot surmount. For those who win onwards, there is reward
past all telling: the power to bless and save humanity. For those who fail, there
are other lives in which success may come."
- H. P. Blavatsky
Books by H. P. Blavatsky:
The Secret Doctrine
Index to the Secret Doctrine, for students
The Secret Doctrine and Index
The Key to Theosophy
Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge
The Voice of the Silence, a manual of devotion
Books by William Q. Judge:
The Ocean of Theosophy
The Scope of Reincarnation
Letters That Have Helped Me
Notes on the Bhagavad-Gita
Patanjali's Yoga Aphorisms
Vernal Blooms, selected articles from W. Q. J.
The Light of Asia, by Sir Edwin Arnold
The Theosophical Movement, 1875-1950
The Friendly Philosopher, Letters and Talks, by Robert Crosbie
Answers to Questions on the "Ocean", by Robert Crosbie
The Eternal Verities, for children
Teacher's Manual and Guide to the "Eternal Verities"
"Because-" For the Children Who Ask Why
Occult Tales, by H, P. Blavatsky and Wm. Q. Judge
Light on the Path
From The Book of Images, a volume of Indian tales
Through the Gates of Gold
Selections From The Upanishads and The Tao Te King
Reincarnation - An East-West Anthology
Index to Theosophy Magazine - Vol.'s 1-43
The Gnosis or Ancient Wisdom in the Christian Scriptures, by Wm. Kingsland