THEOSOPHY, Vol. 59, No. 3, January, 1971
(Pages 69-74; Size: 17K)

REINCARNATION AND HEREDITY(1)

SOME urge that heredity invalidates reincarnation. We urge it as a proof. A well known writer has said: "Heredity is a puzzle. The race is linked together in a curious tangle, so that it is almost impossible to fix the responsibility. ... We try to study this problem in our asylums and prisons, and we get a great many interesting facts, but they are too conflicting to guide legislation. The difficulty is to relieve a person of responsibility for the sins of his ancestors, without relieving him of responsibility for his own sins." This is the general view. It becomes a puzzle, especially to those who are trying to decide on whom responsibility ought to rest.

None of the observed and admitted facts in respect to heredity should be ignored, nor left out of sight. We are bound to admit that leanings and peculiarities are transmitted from father to son, and to all along down the line of descent. In one case we may find a mental trait, in another a physical peculiarity; and in a great-grandson we shall see often the bodily habits of his remote ancestor reproduced.

The question is then asked, "How am I to be held responsible for such strange inclinations when I never knew this man from whom I inherit them?" As theories go at this day, it would be impossible to answer this question. For if I have come from the bosom of God as a new soul; or if what is called soul or intelligence is the product of this body I inhabit and which I had no hand in producing; or if I have come from far distant spheres to take up this body with whose generation I was not concerned; it would be the grossest injustice for me to be held responsible for what it may do. From the premises laid down there can be no escape from this conclusion. Hence, "heredity" is a very serious matter.

It is even hinted at that there is necessity for legislation on the subject. That is to say, if we have a case of a murderer to consider, and we find that he has come of a race or family of murderers, the result of which is to make him a being who cannot prevent himself from committing murder, we have to conclude that, if this is due to "heredity," he cannot in any sense be responsible.

Take the case of the tribes, or family, or sect of Thugs in India, whose aim in life was to put people out of the world. Their children would of necessity inherit this tendency. It is something like a cat and a bird. It is the nature of the cat to eat the bird, and you cannot blame it. Thus we should be driven to pass a law making an exception in the case of such unfortunate persons. Then we should be met by the possibility of false testimony being adduced upon the trial of the criminal, going to show that he came under the law. This possibility is so great that it is not likely such a law will ever be passed. So that, even if the legal and scientific world were able to come to any conclusion establishing the great force of heredity, it would be barren of results, unless the truth of Karma and Reincarnation were admitted. For in the absence of these, no law, and hence no remedy for the supposed injustice to be done to irresponsible criminals, could be applied. I am stating, not what I think ought to be done, but what will be the inevitable end of investigation into heredity without the aid of the other two great laws.

Heredity is a puzzle, and will remain one so long as the laws of Karma and Reincarnation are not admitted and taken into account in all these investigations. But if these two doctrines should be accepted by the supposed legislators, it would follow that no such law as I have adverted to would ever be put on the books; for the reason that, once Karma and Reincarnation are admitted, the responsibility of each individual is made greater than before.

Why should we be born in a particular nation and in a particular family? Because of the effect of a particular set of our Karmic attractions, which assert themselves in that manner. One set of our past Karmas exhaust themselves in throwing us in our present incarnation amidst a particular nation, another set introducing us into a particular family; and a third set serving to differentiate or individualize us from all the other members of the nation or of the family. One of our Eastern proverbs says: "The five children of a family differ like the five fingers of a hand." Unless we look at this difference from this standpoint, it must always appear to us a riddle, a problem too difficult to solve, a mystery, in short, why children born of one family, while they have some traits common to all, should still appear to differ vastly from one another. What applies to the family applies also to the nation, of which families are but units; and also to mankind as a whole, of whom nations are but families or units.

Each Ego is attracted to the body in which he will meet his just deserts, but also for another reason. That is, that not only is the body to give opportunity for his just reward or punishment but also for that he in the past was connected with the family in which the body was born, and the stream of heredity to which it belongs is his too. It is therefore a question not alone of desert and similarity, but one of responsibility. Justice orders that the Ego shall suffer or enjoy irrespective of what family he comes to; similarity decrees that he shall come to the family in which there is some characteristic similar to one or many of his and thus having a drawing power; but responsibility, which is compounded of justice, directs that the Ego shall come to the race or the nation or the family to which its responsibility lies for the part taken by it in other lives in forming of the general character, or affecting that physical stream of heredity that has so much influence on those who are involved in it. Therefore it is just that even the grandchildren shall suffer if they in the past have had a hand in moulding the family or even in bringing about a social order that is detrimental to those who fall into it through incarnation.

An Ego may have no direct responsibility for a family, national or race condition, and yet be drawn into incarnation there. In such an event it is similarity of character which causes the place of rebirth, for the being coming to the abode of mortals is drawn like electricity along the path of least resistance and of greatest conductibility. But where the reincarnating Ego is directly responsible for family or race conditions, it will decide itself, upon exact principles of justice and in order to meet its obligations, to be reborn where it shall receive physically or otherwise the results of its former acts. This decision is made at the emergence from Devachan. It is thus entirely just, no matter whether the new physical brain is able or not to pick up the lost threads of memory.

So today, in our civilization, we are all under the penalty of our forefather's sins, living in bodies which medical science has shown are sown with diseases of brain and flesh and blood coming in the turbid stream of heredity through the centuries. These disturbances were brought about by ourselves in other centuries, in ignorance, perhaps, of consequences so far-reaching, but that ignorance lessens only the higher moral responsibility which tends to confine the results to physical suffering. This can very well lead, as it often does, to efforts on the part of many reincarnating Egos in the direction of general reform.

It was through a belief in this that the ancients attempted to form and keep up in India a pure family stream such as the highest caste of Brahmin. For they knew that if such a clean family line could be kept existing for many centuries, it would develop the power of repelling Egos on the way to rebirth if they were not in character up to the standard of that stream of life. Thus only teachers by nature, of high moral and spiritual elevation, would come on upon the scene to act as regenerators and saviours for all other classes. But under the iron rule of cyclic law this degenerated in time, leaving now only an imitation of the real thing.

The whole difficulty, in connection with this question of heredity, arises from the inherited transmitted habit in the Western mind of looking at effects and mistaking them for causes, and of considering the instruments by means of which the laws of nature work, as causes. Heredity has been looked at as the cause of crime and of virtue. It is not a cause, but only the means or instrument, the cause being hidden deeper.

There is no very great puzzle in "Heredity" as a law, from the standpoint of Karma and Reincarnation. Heredity in giving us a body in any family provides the appropriate environment for the Ego. The Ego goes only into the family which either completely answers to its whole nature, or which gives an opportunity for the working out of its evolution, and which is also connected with it by reason of past incarnations or causes mutually set up. Thus the evil child may come to the presently good family because parents and child are indissolubly connected by past actions. It is a chance for redemption to the child and the occasion of punishment to the parents.

This points to bodily heredity as a natural rule governing the bodies we must inhabit, just as the houses in a city will show the mind of the builders. And as we as well as our parents were the makers and influencers of bodies, took part in and are responsible for states of society in which the development of physical body and brain was either retarded or helped on, debased or the contrary, so we are in this life responsible for the civilization in which we now appear. But when we look at the characters in human bodies, great inherent differences are seen. This is due to the soul inside, who is suffering or enjoying in the family, nation, and race his own thoughts and acts which past lives have made it inevitable he should incarnate with.

Heredity provides the tenement and also imposes those limitations of capacity of brain or body which are often a punishment and sometimes a help, but it does not affect the real Ego. The transmission of traits is a physical matter, and nothing more than the coming out into a nation of the consequences of the prior lives of all Egos who are to be in that race. The limitations imposed on the Ego by any family heredity are exact consequences of that Ego's prior lives. The fact that such physical traits and mental peculiarities are transmitted does not confute reincarnation, since we know that the guiding mind and real character of each are not the result of a body and brain but are peculiar to the Ego in its essential life. Transmission of trait and tendency by means of parent and body is exactly the mode selected by nature for providing the incarnating Ego with the proper tenement in which to carry on its work. Another mode would be impossible and subversive of order.

Again, those who dwell on the objection from heredity forget that they are accentuating similarities and overlooking divergencies. For while investigations on the line of heredity have recorded many transmitted traits, they have not done so in respect to divergencies from heredity vastly greater in number. Every mother knows that the children of a family are as different in character as the fingers on one hand -- they are all from the same parents, but all vary in character and capacity.

But heredity as the great rule and as a complete explanation is absolutely overthrown by history, which shows no constant transmission of learning, power, and capacity. For instance, in the case of the ancient Egyptians long gone and their line of transmission shattered, we have no transmission to their descendants. If physical heredity settles the question of character, how has the great Egyptian character been lost? The same question holds in respect to other ancient and extinct nations. And taking an individual illustration we have the great musician Bach, whose direct descendants showed a decrease in musical ability leading to its final disappearance from the family stock. In both of these instances -- as in all like them -- the real capacity and ability have only disappeared from a family and national body, but are retained in the Egos who once exhibited them, being now incarnated in some other nation and family of the present time.

Karma and Reincarnation include the premise that the man is a spiritual entity who is using the body, which he has acquired by Karma. Hence the responsibility cannot be placed upon the body, nor primarily upon those who brought forth the body, but upon the man himself. This works perfect justice, for, while the man in any one body is suffering his just deserts, the other men (or souls) who produced such bodies are also compelled to make compensation in other bodies. As the compensation is not made at any human and imperfect tribunal, but to nature itself, which includes every part of it, it consists in the restoration of the harmony or equilibrium which has been disturbed.

The only effectual way to get out of family defects is to discharge all our duty to our family before we die. I must add, that by "family duties" I do not at all mean sacrificing your duty or conviction and Truth, to gratify the whims or selfish nature or sectarian views of any of your "relatives." But I use the expression "family duties" in a peculiar sense, namely "that course and only that course of action, speech and thoughts by which you can not only get rid of your family defects in this very incarnation, but also strengthen in yourself all the noble qualities of your family, and which will at the same time enable your relatives (parents, brothers, sisters, wife, children, etc.) also to get rid of the same defects, and strengthen in themselves the same good qualities -- so that they might be born again and again in the same family."

Blessed is he who, in each of his incarnations, then and there, gets rid of the defects of the family into which he is ushered, and then strives to be born in the same family again and again, until he himself becomes a Buddha and assists his family to become a family fit for a Buddha to be born into, while he becomes the cream of all the noble qualities of the family without being tainted with its idiosyncrasies. If family duties are taken due care of, our duties to the nation and to humanity would, to a great extent, take care of themselves and unimpeded. Here is the operation of the sublime and divinely intelligent law of universal and natural economy asserting itself.


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(1) NOTE.--Collated from the writings of William Q. Judge.
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